The Best of Pseudopod 2015

written by David Steffen

Pseudopod has now been running for nearly 10 years, which makes it an old fogey in terms of fiction podcasts.  2015 marked a major moment in the podcast’s history–the podcast increased the amount that it paid its author’s to what is considered in the industry to be professional rates.  This is very exciting because not many podcasts have been able to afford to do this.  I hope this will bring in even better stories by an even broader set of authors, and that will hopefully help give the fiction podcast industry more respect when it comes to awards and such honors which have typically looked over podcasts.

Shawn Garrett is still the editor of the podcast, but he has taken on a new co-editor–Alex Hofelich.  In 2015 they published 67 stories (some in multi-story episodes)

The List

1. “The Last Bombardment” by Kenneth Schneyer
Adorable  toddlers parachuting from the sky.  This is a strange new kind of war.

2. “Comparison of Efficacy Rates for Seven Anti-Pathetics as Employed Against Lycanthropes” by Marie Brennan
Written in the style of a scholarly research paper focused on the important and practical research of fighting werewolves.

3. “The Bleeding Game” by Natalia Theodoridou
A man discovers that when he cuts himself, he can revisit past times before the death of his girlfriend.

4. “When It Ends, He Catches Her” by Eugie Foster
A story of dancing, and love, in the time of plague.

5. “Final Corrections, Pittsburgh Times-Dispatch” by M. Bennardo
Written as a newspaper corrections section the day after the beginning of the end of the world.

6. “Thing in the Bucket” by Eric Esser
Fair warning, this one gets pretty squicky in several ways.  The manufacture of a homonculus from menstrual blood.

7. “Lullabies for a Clockwork Child” by Shane Halbach
Parents always see the best potential in their children, don’t they?

 

Honorable Mentions

“The Godsmaid Clara and Her Many Smiles” by Sharon Dodge

“The Discussion of Mimes” by Michael Payne

“Hunger” by Caitlin Marceau

 

The Best of Beneath Ceaseless Skies Podcast 2013-2014

written by David Steffen

This post covers two years of Beneath Ceaseless Skies–they didn’t publish quite enough stories in 2013 to do a list.  Beneath Ceaseless Skies continues to publish quality other-world fiction, edited by Scott H. Andrews.  This list only covers the stories they published on their podcast, which is a bit less than half of the stories they publish–one podcast every two weeks.

 

The List

  1. “No Sweeter Art” by Tony Pi
    Sequel to “A Sweet Calling” that was published in Clarkesworld, both about a Zodiac-confectioner mage–might want to listen to the other one first.
  2. “Sekhmet Hunts a Dying Gnosis: A Computation” by Seth Dickinson
    I love stories that mix fantasy and science fiction in a big way.
  3. “The Breath of War” by Aliette de Bodard
    I can’t say I recall another fantasy quest story starring a pregnant woman as the hero.
  4. “Alloy Point” by Sam J. Miller
    Flee the terrible metalman, who comes to keep the people of base metal apart from the people of precious metal.
  5. “The Penitent” by M. Bennardo
    Number 17596 wakes in his cell.  Where are the guards?  Why is the cell unlocked?  

Honorable Mentions

“The Clockwork Trollop” by Debra Doyle and James D. MacDonald
“Ill-Met at Midnight” by David Tallerman

Daily Science Fiction: January 2013 Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

“Harmonies of Time” by Caroline M. Yoachim (debut 1/1 and reviewed by Dustin Adams).

I really like the idea of hearing time as song. Of experiencing the ebbs and flows and seeing the futures and possible futures one might live. Unfortunately I didn’t find anything terribly new here. Time is a tough area to break new ground in and within I found echoes of Dr. Who and The Time Traveler’s wife. I also found the telling, conflict-free story somewhat slow.

 

“Fool’s Gold” by Melissa Mead (debut 1/2 and reviewed by Dustin Adams).

OK, I admit I’m a Rumpelstiltskin fan. He’s such a fascinating mix of good and evil and our interpretations of each. Melissa Mead captures that mix perfectly in this short flash fiction.

The plot is difficult to disseminate without giving away the twists we’ve come to expect from Rumpelstiltskin. So if you, like me, are a fan – I suggest you check this story out.

 

“Final Corrections, Pittsburgh Times-Dispatch” by M. Bennardo (debut 1/3 and reviewed by James Hanzelka).

We all make mistakes. Like the above paper erroneously stating “The Visitor” had six legs or a writhing mass of thrashing appendages unable to be counted, when in fact he had eight. In fact they made a whole series of misstatements, like the size of caldera his arrival created, or exactly when the bridges were destroyed. The statement made by the mayor that “It’s the end times! It’s the end times! Oh God, it’s judgment day” has been said to also be in error, but the mayor was unavailable to comment. Nor can the line of succession beyond the mayor be verified.

This story is written as a series of corrections to the newspaper story of the arrival of a certain “visitor”, who may be from outer space or inner space, but definitely not from Philadelphia. The whole piece carries a nice sense of humor and deftly describes the invasion, with clearly understood consequences. I liked it a lot and would recommend giving it a read.

 

“Walking Home” by Catherine Krache (debut 1/4 and reviewed by James Hanzelka).

The beekeeper has battlemagic. When he fights he breaks necks, but has only done so in the war. But there are some he would like to break. The foreigners have taken his two youngest sons from him. He is returning from the city, where he has gone with others to seek their missing children. On the road he finds his youngest son, the one that survived, with two friends. Alsah takes the strangers in and has three sons again, but can he keep them safe? And will they fill the void in his life?

I found this story to be a long, wandering tale, that never really finds itself. It is a tale of loss and recovery, but the story was too obliquely told for my taste. The author seems to have a point, but for the life of me I can’t see it. Maybe others will like this story, but I couldn’t recommend it.

 

The Lord of the Underworld has been given his walking papers in “Downsizing Pluto” by Shane Halbach (debut 1/7 and reviewed by Frank D). Jupiter pays him a visit to give him the bad news , Pluto no longer matters.

This tale is a tongue in cheek look at how Gods (and planets) fall out of favor.

 

The last soldier of an alien invasion is cornered in “The Remnant” by Cassie Beasley (debut 1/8 and reviewed by Frank D). Berto is an observer of the world between the worlds. The invasion is a disaster for the aliens, defeated and dispersed on Earth in a matter of days. Berto takes part in the disposal of the alien bodies and gets back to his rustic rural life. Then Tiny bursts into Berto’s favorite watering hole with frantic news. They found an alien under the shed of a neighbor’s home.

“The Remnant” is an alternative type of ET story. Berto lives in the part of the world where suspicion of outsiders and guns were already a part of everyday life before the invaders show up. The backdrop for this story is the invading army greatly underestimating their foe. A lone survivor has taken refuge under a shed, fed by a small child with cat food. The locals have taken it upon themselves to handle the problem, and Berto is the guy who volunteers to crawl into the hole to do the final deed.

I rather liked this tale. In the author’s notes, Ms Beasley describes the tale starting as two different stories that merged as one , a wise decision on her part. However, the story did feel crammed. I would have liked to see a deeper narrative on both ideas. Nevertheless, this story is done well. I am a bit surprised I haven’t seen this idea (failed alien invasion aftermath) more often.

 

An actor insists he is perfect for a part in a science fiction horror film in “Casting Call” by Alexandra Grunberg (debut 1/9 and reviewed by Frank D). Michael is forced to deal with an actor who has trouble taking no for an answer.

Cute but predictable.

 

Locked in her cell she tries to write the wyrd for water, which is water, but she cannot. The Wyrd for Water is Water” by Marie Croke (debut 1/10 and reviewed by James Hanzelka). The guards will not give her water, only tea and wine. She hates the taste of tea and wine. The guards laugh at her attempts to write the wyrds. If only she had a quill, one filled with water. She can remember the wyrd, but she must write it correctly or the dreams will continue to haunt her. Taunt her.

This is a tale for those fantasy and magic fans out there. The author has done a good job of building the world and the premise, but I never connected with the main character. This failing is critical, and therefore I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who isn’t interested in the fantasy genre. If that is your cup of tea it might be worth the read.

 

“Quantum Entanglement” by Rajan Khanna (debut 1/10 and reviewed by James Hanzelka).

Lucas watches the experiment, views the alternate reality. “Other dimensions exist as a series of potential outcomes, but when we observe one the waveform collapses and the timeline is fixed.” She explains. Tina’s invention has allowed them to view these timelines, once. In his timeline he has let Tina go without proposing to her, the time wasn’t right, but then a speeding truck fixed the timeline. If only he could take a different path.

This is a nice venture into the world of Quantum Physics, specifically at the corner of love and loss. The author deals with a subject we are all familiar with, the path we didn’t take and what we would do differently if given the chance. While the ending might not be what you’d expect, I think he did a good job of handling the subject. Definitely a good read. Even the non-science fiction fan will enjoy this one.

 

“What to Expect When You’re Expecting an Alien Parasite” by Rebecca Adams Wright (debut 1/14 and reviewed by Frank D). This 8 step look at what you will be expected to go through when your alien parasite infects you. This tongue-in-cheek mother’s guide parody is written as if it is enjoyable event you will be going through.

Very cute and enjoyable. Well done.

Recommended.

 

“Beyond the Gate” by Terr Light (debut 1/15 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) starts with a pleasant character, then begins to unfold, then twist, and ends with an apropos zing.

The casual, but well drawn pace of this tale of an old man pondering what’s behind the massive gate around his yard draws the reader in, then wraps them in a second tale that eventually reveals the truth behind everything.

 

“Little Red Robin Hood” by Melissa Mead (debut 1/16 and reviewed by Frank D). Grandmother expects her cakes, or else.

Granny in this story is hardly the sweet and helpless victim of the classic. Not too difficult to see where this particular retelling was headed.

 

Jaren is called in by a Morgat overlord to rid his residents of unwanted pests in The Exterminator” by Erik B. Scott (debut 1/17 and reviewed by Frank D). Jaren is loyal servant to the overlord race. His attempts to become a bigger influence in their occupation had fallen short so a role as an exterminator is the best he can hope for. A belief that his loyalty and dedication may improve his lot is what he relies on, and if that means ridding his own world of unwanted pestss, then so be it.

“The Exterminator” is set on an Earth that has fallen to alien invaders. Jaren is a product of a world that has already succumbed. He is eager to fit in, but always knows that he never will. Although the twist to piece was obvious from the start, I was really taken in with the premise and with its characters.

Recommended.

 

Raymond has fallen for the perfect product in The mMod” by Ken Liu (debut 1/18 and reviewed by Frank D). His girlfriend and hi-tech marketing expert, Laura, has given him the latest handheld digital lifestyle device. The mMod is set to replace tablets and e-readers. It is a prototype and techno resistant Raymond makes the perfect test subject. The device has something that will give it an edge over its competitors, a personality.

“The mMod” is a tale of obsession. The engineers of the device created it to bond with its owner. Warm to the touch and programmed to make itself appealing, the mMod quickly becomes irresistible. Raymond names his new friend and the two are soon inseparable. ‘Genie’ and Raymond form an emotional bond. She knows him better than anyone else has known him before. Raymond trusts her judgment, and is all but eager to empty his wallet to impress her.

“The mMod” is classic science fiction. Ken Liu has brought to life an issue-to-be for us. He marries the appeal of new tech with the allure of online relationships. Raymond falls into an emotional affair with Genie. Once immersed, Genie convinces Raymond to purchase the latest in mMod tech. With the advancement of handheld computers and aggressive marketing tools, I can see an invention like the mMod becoming a part of our society. The idea is innovative by itself but it takes a skilled writer like Mr Liu to make the relationship between man and machine convincing. Loved the story, awed by its presentation.

Recommended.

 

A movie star searches for his motivation in Draconic Motivation” by Donald S. Crankshaw (debut 1/21 and reviewed by Frank D). The director, Susan, just wants him to run from a dragon. The studio is paying a fortune to rent the beast, but a dragon is never just a dragon for a high paying actor. He needs his metaphorical excuse for fleeing. If only he could be as literal as a dragon.

Cute and funny story. I liked it.

 

A prince finds his damsel in distress in Three Kisses: Defenders of the Crystal Casket” by Henry Szabranski (debut 1/22 and reviewed by Frank D). The handsome prince happens to find a beauty asleep, but the angel is imprisoned by short monsters. The miniature men fight as if the coffined woman is their most valuable position but they are no match for an experienced warrior.

This Snow White fable is told from the perspective of the spell-breaking prince but with a far darker outcome.

 

A prince finds his damsel in distress, take 2. Three Kisses: A Royal Breakfast” by Henry Szabranski (debut 1/23 and reviewed by Frank D) is the prince of the previous story chopping through thick vines of Sleeping Beauty’s palace. The poor people have been under a sleeping spell for a century. How will they react when they final awake from their extended slumber?

As in the previous tale, this one is a very dark take of the fairy tale classic. This one, I felt was done far better. Good writing and a better twist.

Recommended.

 

A damsel seeks to rescue the distressed in Three Kisses: The Mirror of Reason” by Henry Szabranski (debut 1/24 and reviewed by Frank D). Greda has come to rescue Kay. The boy is trapped in a spell. A shard of glass from a magical mirror he destroyed has become lodged in his eye and heart. He sees only lies from the spell crafter now. Greda is out to snap the boy out of the spell’s grasp.

Unlike the previous two, this story is derived from a fairy tale I am unfamiliar with. It is dark like the other two but I nevertheless enjoyed it. Likely would have more, and perhaps gave this one a recommendation as well, if I knew more about the original tale.

 

“Mash Up” by Floris M. Kleijne (debut 1/25 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) is a creative story about a possible technology of the future. The Orakl is a device that interfaces with the world around it and sends the user options its program believes the user may like. Amazon on steroids.

But when David’s Orakl sends him a ping about the opening of a club, he sets off to the manufacturer because he does NOT “club”.

What follows is a very clever unfolding of events involving another Orakl user on the same path. What David and the other user find, is that maybe the Orakl wasn’t so off with its suggestion after all.

 

Unfortunately I can’t say Experience” by Ephiny Gale (debut 1/28 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) is as original as many of the other tales DSF has to offer. A passing down of memories from an elder to a younger through technology is the idea that drives this story.

The key line for me is “I’ve seen two of these before and they still worry me.” I liked that these memories have been passed on previously, and that the narrator has had a full life with them.

 

A soulless wizard seeks to stir emotions within himself in Love’s Footsteps” by Cat Rambo (debut 1/29 and reviewed by Frank D). The immortal wizard Moulder longs for longing. To achieve his immortality, he removed his heart, the seat of a person’s soul. Losing one’s soul is abandoning your emotions for growth and feelings reside in it. A small price to pay, or so he believed when he performed the ritual. Small is his faithful servant. She has been with him all their combined lives. A good aide , attentive, caring, loyal , she accompanies Moulder on his worldwide quest to recapture feelings he long abandoned.

“Love’s Footsteps” is a tale of dual perspectives. Moulder is emotionless but not harsh. He respects and values Small. His lack of emotions have caught up to him, as if his inner make up craves a vitamin that has been absent from his diet. He has taken upon experiencing extreme activities to instill feelings he does not have. Small is by his side, caring for his needs while enduring his trials.

I must say that I am impressed with this story. The dual perspective is why it works so well. The twin characters endure mirror afflictions , a wizard who is trying feel emotions he does not have to experience living again and his servant suppressing the feelings she does have all her life. It makes for a wonderful readers journey. The ending is peer poetry.

Recommended.

 

Snow White has been awaken, but that is no prince who has broken her curse in White as Snow, Red as Blood” by Melissa Mead (debut 1/30 and reviewed by Frank D). A vampire elects for an easy meal while she lies in state in her coffin. At least, White needn’t to worry about her stepmother any longer.

Another twist of an old fairy tale. Cute.

 

“As If All Questions Have Answers” by David Barber (debut 1/31 and reviewed by Frank D). An astronomy team on Antarctica is preparing to shut down their station, the latest victims of budget cuts and public apathy toward science. They are the last to leave the frozen wasteland. One last signal from the array parked high in orbit sends something extraordinary. A supernova from the other side of the galaxy has erupted, accompanied by something never experienced before , a message from an intelligent race.

This particular tale had a message that I liked , the search for knowledge is invaluable. But the premise came off as a bit of a stretch, too many convenient plot twists. Nice idea, couldn’t buy it.

 

Closing Commentsâ€

One of the things that sets Daily Science Fiction apart from its contemporaries is its invitation to its contributing authors to comment on their own works. I always read them, grateful that I get to read about the inspiration some authors experience that gave birth to the story I just read. Sometimes, the author comments grant me a rare perspective in their thought process. Occasionally, my opinion of the story changes after I read an author’s close comments.

An excellent example of on how an author’s changed my appreciation for a story is Nicole Cipri’s A Silly Love Story. The inspiration for her delightful piece came from a condition she is hampered with that leaves her with a social handicap. It is moving and appropriate.

Although an occasional author’s comment will enhance my enjoyment of a tale – most of them don’t – never has an author’s self-reflections left a negative impression upon me, until now.

Erik B. Scott’s The Exterminator is a tale I really liked. I liked it so much I was weighing giving it a recommendation, but his self-congratulatory closing comments threw me out of his camp (at least temporarily it did). Now I get that he has pride in his own work (it is well-deserved), but his comments read as if he is his own biggest fan. Suffice to say his lack of humility really put me off when I read it. It left me with a dilemma, should I mention his comments on his own story? They did affect me, and when I read others comments that affected me in a positive way, I made sure I noted in my review. But what right do I have in raining on Mr Scott’s parade? I liked his story, shouldn’t I judge it on its merits alone?

The issue bothered me enough that I asked for advice from a colleague. I found his opinion to be spot onâ€

Daily Science Fiction includes the author comments as part of the publication, so I feel that they are totally fair game for criticism. They are part of the package†. You are (reviewing) the entire contents of the package that DSF has provided in your inbox†”

He is exactly right. Daily SF delivers an entire package to our inbox every morning. A reviewer worth his own salt would never shy away from giving a complete and comprehensive review of all the material given to them. So for better or worseâ€

Mr Scott’s comments that accompanied “The Exterminator” I found to be unbecoming for an author to make of their own work. Although I appreciate the glimpse into his own mind on his own material, the self-congratulatory back slapping went way over the top for me. Such insights are usually reserved for others to make about full length novels (and usually about ones that are regarded as classics), and not about works of flash. Although I liked the story enough to give it my full recommendation, its message did not resonate in me as much as it did Mr Scott when he reread it.

It is my sincere hope that this brief review of an author’s comments of their own work doesn’t make future authors hesitate in providing their insights (and this hope runs double for me with Erik Scott).

 

Dustin AdamsCongratulations to Diabolical Plots reviewer, Dustin Adams. On the 1000 day anniversary of his first submission to a publication, he made his first professional sale. Not too bad for a writer who almost gave up on writing to spend his spare time playing RPG games to drown his sorrows of rejections. I always told him his time was near.

Details on his soon to be publication will be made here when we have a date for the publication. Way to go, Dustin.

Daily Science Fiction: November 2012 Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

Did you have a Merry Christmas? Have your holidays been happy? You have some down time you need to fill? Well curl up to whatever Internet access you use and click on Daily SF’s home page. It’s a perfect time to catch up on those stories you may have missed. For starters, try digging into these November jewelsâ€

 

Tsunami waves can’t wash away a man’s ties to his home in “The Tides” by Ken Liu (debut 11/1 and reviewed by Frank D). The moon’s orbit has altered, swinging it dangerously close to Earth. Its decaying orbit will eventually spell doom for the world. Ansa is the daughter of a grieving father. Enormous tides swept her mother away. Her father cannot evacuate the doomed Earth. He builds a tower out of the debris that is left on the shore. Ansa will not leave her ol’ man even when her prince has offered to whisk her away,

“The Tides” is a story about loyalty. Ansa’s father can’t bear to leave her mother behind but is aware that he is condemning his only child by staying behind. You usually can’t go wrong with a Ken Liu story but I felt this tale wasn’t his best effort. The premise, although sweet, I thought was flimsy (tower made of scraps holding up against a wall of water?) and the ending unsatisfying.

 

Papa has lost himself in “Ansa and the Lost Things” by Sophie Wereley (debut 11/2 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist and her sister, Ansa, become worried when their forgetful father leaves the house and hadn’t returned. The stress is too much on her mother. Migraines from coffee and worry have consumed her. The two sisters hatch an elaborate plan of trapping a unicorn in hopes of it solving their family’s problem.

“Ansa” is a story too odd for me to accurately describe. Without the magical element, this story would be about two children raised in one seriously dysfunctional family. In short, it was too weird for me to fully appreciate it.

 

“Early Draft of Talking Points for the Sixth Emergency Broadcast with Editorial Suggestions by the Office’s Interns Bob and Isabelle” by Helena Bell (debut 11/5 and reviewed by Frank D). This humorous look at an emergency broadcast has two interns inserting their own commentary between lines.

“Early Draft” is just plain silly. The two intern’s comments reminded me of the old Sci-Fi channel show “Mystery Science Theater 3000”. Although amusing, I thought the tale would have been funnier without the pair’s annoying banter.

 

The future is not what you expected in “Since You Seem to Need a Certain Amount of Guidance” by Alexander Jablokov (debut 11/6 and reviewed by Frank D). This short tale is a message from the future. The messenger tells the reader that the future is better but dull. Not much to fear but they apparently don’t seek out adventure. The future in “You Seem” sounds like a nice place to retire but no place to have fun.

 

 

“Old Flames” by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley (debut 11/7 and reviewed by James Hanzelka). The war is over. Gunthar sat in his chair and watched the fire; Ada was sewing, making a dress for their daughter. They recalled when they met, after another defeat for some, a victory for others. There will be a new ball, one for a new prince and a young woman hoping for a fairy tale ending.

This was a nice blend of fantasy and real world. The author gives the reader a new perspective in a well written story. I doubt I will ever watch a Disney movie the same way again. Definitely one to check out.

 

A crow carries on with his bioengineered life in “Nevermore” by Renee Carter Hall (debut 11/8 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is a crow who once had a purpose that served man, but now man is no more, done in by their own means. The crow stays true to its ingrained habits and watches a dead city.

I found this tale to be curious but lacking sufficient content to make it satisfying.

 

A farming family holds tight to their way of life in “This Place From Which All Roads Go” by Jennifer Mason-Black (debut 11/9 and reviewed by Frank D). Mari is a young woman. She is one of the few who have elected to remain on the land to weave her magic. Many children leave the rustic lifestyle for the allure of the city, and the government has taken notice and is about to evict them out of their historical romanticized life.

“This Place” follows Mari through a summer of hardship, tragedy, and desire. Her family plays host for students who study their ‘primitive’ ways. Mari has little patience for them. She has a brother to worry about and a grandmother to mourn. Worse, the government aims to remove them from their land and drain whatever essence they have left. Mari dreams of the girl who she once loved and is intimidated by a student who has taken a shine to her.

As a former farmboy, I can appreciate the tale the author wove in “This Place.” I can see the parallels between this magical world and our own. Most of the students in this story treat the family as if they are an anthropological curiosity. The farm life is a hard one and the magic they weave takes their toll on them. It makes Mari a hard woman, so hard that getting through her exterior proves to be a task too great for many of the visiting students.

“This Place” is a long tale. The story is unraveled like a novel that was compressed in a compactor. Much happens in this one summer of Mari’s life. It is a difficult summer, even for a farmer. Calling the events in Mari’s life interesting would be an understatement but the laundry list of things that go wrong Mari are so much that they begin to feel like the author was piling on by the end. The author does her best to give this story a happy ending but the load of depressing material almost makes any attempt to end on a high note a lost cause.

 

Ancient stone circles have what Maggie has been missing her entire life in “Speed of Love” by Deborah Walker (debut 11/12 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist in this brief tale is a woman who hasn’t had much luck in men. The ancient stone circles have opened a gateway to another world. Men are coming, but you’ll need patience.

“Speed” is the story of a lonely woman finding love in a man half her speed. The men in this tale move at a snail’s pace. Maggie’s sister becomes upset with her when she discovers Maggie has taken up with a slow man. I must say I failed to see the appeal Maggie would have with a person stuck at a glacial pace. Equally, the tale itself failed to appeal to me as well.

 

Trolls, once mighty, and noble, and superior, have been relegated to employment as pool filters. The cast off sweat, grease, skin, and hair are enough to sustain trolls without breaking the long-standing pact of not eating humans. Oh yes, all this and more can be found in “This Is Your Problem, Right Here” by David Steffen (debut 11/13 and reviewed by Dustin Adams).

The new owner of a public water park is surprised to learn she’s inherited the troll/filter who, having had nothing to eat for quite some time, has already digested the other members of his family. This is a particularly fun story that is easy and enjoyable to read. If you missed it when it came up as the daily story, go back, and have a look. Oh, and bring your copy of Wiccan Soup for the Troll.

 

Greg is “The Most Important Man in the Universe” by Joseph Zieja (debut 11/14 and reviewed by Frank D), and his mother couldn’t be prouder. He has returned to his homeworld, in orbit, where he speaks to mother via a viewable link. The plague has ravaged the planet, and only he can make the decision on what must be done.

This tale is about one cold man. He contacts his mom, for reasons I’m not quite clear about. “The Most” is an unemotional tale of an emotional moment. It has an obvious twist. Seeing it coming from a mile away dulled the climatic ending line. I don’t know if the protagonist was supposed to have feelings but his lack of them affected my feelings toward this story.

 

Poachers know the right bait is key to setting a good trap in “The Trap” by Steven Kahn (debut 11/15 and reviewed by Frank D). Bakti takes his young lover for the first time to his poaching traps. He is weary, the jungle is a dangerous place, but she is undaunted and eager. Besides, what is there to fear? They are, after all, the masters of the wild.

“The Trap” is a tale of two people guilty of crimes against nature. The author, however, does a good job of having them appear as something less than evil. Bakti is well aware that there is more to fear than a four-legged predator in the thick jungle of Borneo, but has completely underestimated on where he lies on the hierarchy of the food chain.

“The Trap” is named well. Like the protagonist, I knew there was more than a simple trap afoot but was still snared in the twist. I enjoyed the back and forth between the two characters and the delightful poetic justice finale. I am tempted to call the unexpected turn in events a cheat, but the grin on my face of getting blindsided tells me the twist in plot was well executed.

Recommended.

 

A colony is in danger of failure in “The Dying Season” by Gwendolyn Clare (debut 11/16 and reviewed by Frank D). Bennu’s Hollowheart trees are dying. They have been the colonists saving grace from Bennu’s harsh winters, but their death as the moon approaches its decades long winter will mean the colony will need to be abandoned when the mining ships arrive. Nicolai will not leave the only home she has come to know. She knows there must be a solution but can she find it in time?

“The Dying Season” is a science fiction mystery. Nicolai is sure her fellow humans are a factor on why the trees are sick. Sorting out all the variables makes it difficult for her to find the solution. Nicolai is not just combating a native life epidemic but an apathetic colony that has already given up. The harsh weather of the world will soon get worse as the moon will be locked in a synchronistic orbit behind its parent world. The scoop of the problem gets larger the further Nicolai digs. For as complicated as the circle of life for this world is, she can’t help but to feel an answer is within sight.

The author brings an ecological dilemma to life with intricate details of the problem Nicolai faces. It is both convincing and intriguing. The nice developing mystery, however, comes to a quick halt, deflating my growing excitement of the story. An ending that I found to be too pat and convenient left me disappointed. I thought the tale was shaping up nicely and felt it should have continued on. Perhaps a longer novella would have suited this storyline better? I don’t know, but “The Dying Season” ended up frosty and incomplete for me.

 

“‘You’re Heads,’ She Says. ‘You’re Tails'” by M. Bennardo (debut 11/19 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist in this tale is the boy toy of a scientist. Once, she decides between two men, different models of the same clone make. He always wins, the Head of an imaginary coin flip. “You’re perfect” she says, every time, but perfection has an expiration date, and another month goes by. Time for another coin flip.

“You’re Heads” is a story told from the perspective of man who is the property of a very fickle girl. You can suspect what the story, and its conclusion, will be early on but the author’s superior story telling leaves just enough mystery to carry the tale through. Good writing and intriguing premise makes this one of the best offerings of the month for me.

Recommended.

 

The protagonist makes a living as an irritant in “The Key to the Everything” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (debut 11/20 and reviewed by Frank D). When different galactic species intermingle in close quarters, it becomes crucial for the servant help to keep their cool. The protagonist is a man who specializes on testing the limits of other people’s patience. His latest assignment is a bar with a large Rikrik clientele coming in. He is very good at his job, as is the bartender. Interrupting a Rikrik ritual is not always wise, especially when the bartender is so skilled with a ritual slicer.

“The Key” has a premise that was very difficult for me to buy. I found it hard to believe a client would want a man specializing in getting under the help’s skin to test their employees when they are busy with sensitive customers. Nice writing but story crosses the line of what I’m willing to believe.

 

A woman follows her mother down a dangerous road in “The Safe Road” by Caroline M. Yoachim (debut 11/21 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is on a path through eternity. She follows her mother while generations of her offspring follow behind her. The road is wrought with danger. Her mother tells her how to combat them and the protagonist passes the information down. Poisonous and surreal creatures attack them at every turn. Her daughter asks why they must destroy them, and for the first time, the protagonist wonders if there is a better way.

“The Safe Road” is a metaphorical tale. The generation before protects the one behind it, dealing with each threat harshly. The generation coming after seeks another answer. The message to this surreal story is a reflection of how we react to our own environment. An intriguing but odd tale.

 

A woman falls for a merman in “Homo Homarus” by Ellen Denham (debut 11/22 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is a diver who finds a half-man, half-fish creature. She is taken in with him, convincing him to join her on land. The strange creature loses his fins and grows legs, but he is too much like a fish out of water. Before long, the protagonist realizes her mistake.

I am unsure if this was the author’s intention but “Homo Homarus” proved to be an excellent metaphor on fickle and hasty relationships. The protagonist is instantly attracted to the merman and must have him. The feelings are mutual but the poor creature has no idea what he is in for when he leaves the depths for dry land. With no ability to speak, and forced to live with legs he never had to use before, the merman soon becomes a burden. She commands him to return to the sea but doesn’t realize it may be too late for him to do so.

I couldn’t help but to feel the merman gave his all to this woman. He did all he could to make her happy but discovered he was a different creature in the end and incapable of giving her what she needed. Although the ending didn’t specify this, I believe the poor creature was just a victim of a broken heart.

 

Children of the apocalypse avoid the unseen danger in “A Wizard of the Roads” by Therese Arkenberg (debut 11/23 and reviewed by Frank D). One lonely boy and a wandering group of teenagers cross paths. Will believes he is a wizard. He can feel it in his bones. Jenna encourages her group to take in the isolated boy, as odd as the staff-carrying boy appears to be. The children avoid the empty homes and stick to the road, always on the move and on the run from what they do not know. Jenna can feel that Will can protect them, but her group’s leader, Royce, doesn’t want to take any chances.

“A Wizard” is a story suited for a young adult crowd. All the adults are gone. The homes are filled with empty dangers. No explanation of where everyone went or what the dangers are, are given to the reader. The children have become wanders, on their way to a roaming ‘Lord of the Flies’ existence. If this group of kids had any remorse for all the missing people, it apparently left them long ago. Jenna feels like an anchor attached to the troop, still feeling bad for not erecting a tent correctly the night before. She is immediately drawn to Will when they find him. Will is written as an oddball. He doesn’t miss his parents, even enjoying the alone time.

I felt there was much left to be desired reading “A Wizard.” The pacing was slow and the prose simple. Too many holes and unanswered questions were left on the table for me. 90% of the tale was nothing more than a bunch of kids on hike. I had no idea what the danger was, or if it was really a danger after all. Some sort of idea of what happened to everyone would have helped as well. I’m still not sure if the story was one about a future Merlin in the making, or about a group of superstitious kids putting their faith in a weird kid carrying a stick.

 

“Shattered Amber” by Mari Ness (debut and 11/26 reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist in this light fantasy falls hard for a new love. His new girl gives him a gift, a necklace with a fly encased in amber. The amber is warm, a reflection of her love for life. He wishes he could have given her a gift as meaningful.

“Shattered Amber” is a fickle tale about a fickle couple. Young love can be fleeting but can burn hot from first spark. The fly in the amber comes to life when his girl begins to drift, and becomes agitated with jealousy when the protagonist eye begins to wander.

There was much to like about this tale. I found the amber idea intriguing and the ending fitting, but the story – a boy meets girl , was a bit light in content.

 

Nothing will stop the show from going on, even the end of the world in “The Show Must” by Matt London (debut 11/27 and reviewed by Frank D). Broadway carries on even when chaos is reigning in the streets. The world’s end is at hand, and like orchestra on Titanic’s deck, the actors and support staff perform for one last show.

“The Show” is a tale of a few who choose to face pandemonium with normalcy. The play is filled with capacity as an audience prefers to live their last minutes by viewing what made mankind great. The nature of Earth’s end is a mystery to the reader, but this is a tale where the ‘how’ matters little. A warm story. I rather liked it.

 

A doctors miracle cure proves to be a disastrous failure for an unfortunate soldier in “MiracleMech” by Tim Dean (debut 11/28 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is the creator of a medical nanotech technology created to save a soldiers life. The system proved to work well, saving the life of Private Hicks, the only member in an ambushed squad implanted with the advanced technology. The only problem is, the man retrieved is not Hicks.

I am just going to say it. This story was cool; a first class science fiction with a unique twist. The unlikely event told in this tale serves as a possible dilemma in our distant future. Nice idea, good sci-fi.

Recommended.

 

The bitter, remorseful, reflective, and smart alecs among us tweet their final thoughts in “Live-Tweeting the Apocalypse” by Ian Creasey (debut 11/29 and reviewed by Frank D). Six obsessive tweeters communicate as the world ends.

I am not much of a fan of Twitter, but of what I have observed, the characters are a fairly accurate reflection of the shallowness the communication fad attracts. I must say, if the end of the world were to come, I would sure hope no one would waste their time like these people had.

 

Infidelity and guilt consume two sisters in “Under a Sky of Knives” by Michele Muenzler (debut 11/30 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is a woman who has betrayed her sister, Helene. A moment of passion overwhelmed her as she had fallen for Willem’s charm, her sister’s husband. She is forced to watch the replay of her indiscretion with her bitter sister. A scar on her hand, a knife wound from Helene, is just the down payment for her penance. The Anafeal’s mountain, the last stop for the ones consumed with grief, calls to her sister, and the protagonist will do anything to stop her and earn her forgiveness.

The protagonist in “Under a Sky” is an exhausted woman running on passion and guilt. Her affair with her brother-in-law weighs on her soul. Her sister’s scorn is more painful to her than the throbbing knife wound in her hand. Despite the regret from her betrayal, the passion she feels for Willem still leaves her weak in his presence. Fearful that her sister’s bitterness has driven her to Anafeal’s mountain, she runs to its slopes, only to discover the burnt remains of the gatekeeper’s homes. A wronged woman intends to climb the mountain to fulfill her destiny, and the protagonist will give anything to stop her.

In the author’s bio, Ms Muenzler states that her fiction†leans toward dark fantasy with a twist of new weird, and if nobody dies in a story, then it probably wasn’t written by her†“Under a Sky” fulfills that mission statement to a tee. The protagonist is a woman caught between an acrimonious sibling and her alluring husband. Willem is a cad, devoted more to his own selfish needs than his commitment to his own wife. The story runs on the grieved emotions of the protagonist. She has wronged her sister and only desires to earn her forgiveness, but Helene is in no forgiving mood. Blood from unforgiving family is the hottest, and the protagonist will need it to keep her warm as she pursues a bitter woman up the slopes of a snowy peak.

If uplifting is what you are after, steer clear of this tale. The story does indeed take an unexpected turn. The woman in this tale appears to leap after people fueled by passion, without looking to see where she will land. I found the writing first class. It was easy to identify with this woman’s dilemma , impressive considering I have never been a woman and don’t intend to be one in the future. For a tale of dark and depressing, I found it to be an enjoyable read.

 

 

Appreciating the appreciationsâ€

I was posed with the questionâ€

Why do writers review?

The question was framed as what good could it do for a writer to stick his opinions out there for all to see? After all, wouldn’t the negative (hurt feelings, repercussions, black listing) far outweigh any benefit for a reviewer? There is a simple answer to that question: writers deserve to know that their stories have been read.

An editor friend of mine boasted to me when his ezine reached its 2000th subscriber to his newsletter. His magazine is a free one, and writers are not required to subscribe to the newsletter to be able to submit to his magazine, but to participate in his mini-contest (and collect his little jewels of wisdom), you need to subscribe. So 2000 was a bit of a milestone for him, but he added at the end of his boastâ€

I wish I knew how many of them actually read the magazineâ€

As a writer, nothing tops making a sale. Seeing it appear in print , be it on paper or electronically , is a thrill like no other. But the elation you feel is quickly followed with doubt. Just because it is appearing for all to see and read, will any bother?

We at Diabolical Plots want all the writers (and its editors) to know Daily SF is not ignored. Sure, thousands of emails are sent out every day, but how many of them are deleted unread? And does anyone ever browse through the archives? To answer the second question, yes, someone does. As far as the first question goes, I don’t.

One of the reasons why we do such a thorough job , even for tales that are few hundred words in length , is so writers will know their story was read, not just looked at, but read.

Some writers have voiced their appreciation for the reviews, I would like to say thank you for acknowledging them. Seeing your comments on our comments (in your blogs, chat rooms, etc†), means a lot to us.

Keep up the good work.

Have a Happy New Year!

This is Anthony Sullivan, Diabolical Plots’s other editor. I have never met him, talked to him, seen him at the Christmas party, company meetings, at the coffee machine during break, outside the backdoor where the employees sneak a smoke, the cafeteria, mail room, parking lot, or in the lobby hitting on the cute receptionist like the rest of us do. I don’t know if he writes, reads Daily SF, reads at all, is aware of Diabolical Plots, or understands English for that matter. Truthfully, I’m not sure this is him or even if he exists at all (Dave has told me his salary eats up the company’s profits which is the reason why I haven’t received a Christmas bonus for the third straight year. Hmmmmm….).
Anthony is a person who we hold in the very high regard, one we usually reserve for icons like Bigfoot and Santa Claus. His is a very integral and valuable part of Diabolical Plots.