Daily Science Fiction: April 2013 Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

It has been a while since I posted a review , I’ve been a very busy writer. The editors of Daily SF have been busy as well. They have proudly announced that Year 2 of Not Just Rockets and Robots is about to go into print. If you haven’t had a chance to read Volume 1, by all means, order a copy. You won’t regret the purchase. Now onto this month’s storiesâ€

 

On first read, I enjoyed reading “Past Tense” by James Beamon (debut 4/1 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) very much. I let it happen and followed the time line to a catchy conclusion. There’s a kind of all-life-in-an-instant vibe that I particularly enjoy.

However, in trying to frame my review, thus reading the story over, I became confused and started asking questions. I also noticed the distinct lack of space the character(s) inhabit.

My advice: Read this one once. You’ll like it more if you don’t look too deep.

 

“Parallel Lines” by Russell James (debut 4/2 and reviewed by Dustin Adams).

At first I thought I’d comment on the characters being simply “he” and “she” which, in my opinion, leaves them without much personality. (There’s something about a name, even for fictional characters.) However, as the story progressed, more and more details were revealed, and eventually, I discovered there was a good reason for the vagueness upfront. Next, I was going to comment on the lack of a speculative element early on, but here too the story catches up and then soars with its idea.

“Parallel Lines” refers to parallel Universes, and about the more healthy of the two aged protagonists has found a way to tap into and record the lives of those more happy other he’s and she’s.

Russell James scores a heartwarming story with Parallel Lines. It may start slow, but keep reading, you’ll be glad you did.

 

I fear that if I provide a review about “Rocket Dragons” by Larry Kincheloe (debut 4/3 and reviewed by Dustin Adams), a story that is about stories, I may create a circular paradox and the entire universe will be destroyed. So I will sum up.

A girl from a dystopian post-dystopan future, living in a time where today’s conveniences and technology have been forgotten by all but the eldest, finds a copy of a DSF book. She enjoys the stories, but can’t resolve what it means to rate a story by Rocket Dragons.

The tongue-in-cheek, inside-joke, breaking the fourth wall combination makes for a sure-fire smile-on-face read.

 

The Sandman brings dreams to boys and girls using dust in a sack he wears around his waist in “The Sandman’s Dream” by Jess Hyslop (debut 4/4 and reviewed by Dustin Adams). He’s followed one girl, Susan, into adulthood. At some point, she needs to put an end to his visits. Dreams are for the young.

Unfortunately, this story didn’t have the effect on me I believe was intended. I found the Sandman eerie and stalker-like. He’s a child, who wants to play and give dreams, and does to children, such as Susan’s son, but also to her well into her adulthood. She tells him, “I have a husband now, a son.” Which he already knows. So her dreams must end, but he asks if he can still visit the son, to which Susan replies yes. Not exactly solving the problem created in the opening, which is that it’s time for the Sandman to go.

 

“When The Trumpet Sounds” by Sean Melican (debut 4/5 and reviewed by Dustin Adams)

I’m torn on this one. First, it starts out with a boy having his blood drawn. He’s got a cold, and this is significant. He’s thrown out and won’t be going. If that sounds difficult to follow because of a lack of world info, then you’ll understand why I’m torn. Because once I figured out what’s going on, and saw the details and images of the world, the story started to rock. In time, I learned that we’ (humans) are getting off planet. The giant ship in the sky (ark) is recruiting based on what the main characters can only speculate is logic. An untold number of humanity is standing on the line, some several days away from being examined, and the narrator “works the line” for his livelihood.

This story is more about the journey than the destination. Let it unfold, and trust everything will make sense.

 

Duty outweighs our most cherish possession in “Leaving Home” by Kurt Pankau (debut 4/8 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is visited by an Eraser-man. This is the second time she has met one but the details of the previous visit are unclear. He has come for her son, Chris, but not to arrest him. He has decided to join the force.

“Leaving Home” is a tale about loss. The mysterious agency the Eraser-man represents enforces disturbances to the timeline. Chris will lose his existence to be a member. His mother will to remember him, a reality she senses as he walks out the door. A good work of flash, heart-wrenching with a sad ending.

Recommended.

 

An enterprising young woman offers a nostalgic service in “Cleaning Lady” by J. Kyle Turner (debut 4/9 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist in this tale is an out of work college graduate who creates a niche in the market , cleaning done by human hands. Her clients prefer the human touch of a cleaner, so she puts on a show while they are watching. Once satisfied, the clients leave her to her work, which is when she brings out the robot.

“Cleaning Lady” is the tale of a clever girl. The cleaning robots are flawless , and that apparently bothers some. The protagonist lets the robot do its work while she flows behind it to give the job the flaws that make a human touch. The story follows a woman who employs the old bait-and-switch tactic and puts it to good use. I give her crooked but brilliant business practice a high five. Nice idea and an original premise. I liked it.

 

“Snake Sister” by Melissa Mead (debut 4/10 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is the sibling of a cursed girl. The jewels she vomits when she speaks have attracted a prince, but the jewels are not long for this Earth. The protagonist is determined to fix the problem and force the witch to remove the curse. Instead, the witch rewards the protagonist for her sharp tongue.

“Snake Sister” is based on a fairy tale that I am unaware of. The story is told with a vengeful voice. The open ended finale has a dark promise. I found the tale delightfully sinister.

 

“Daughter of Mettle” by Aaron DaMommio (debut 4/11 and reviewed by Frank D).

The protagonist of this tale is the child of a superhero, angry atthe lack of time he has for her. But she has a plan to force him to make time for her and keep his promises.

This tragic tale is written from the perspective of regret. The story could have been told from an attention neglected child of a celebrated fireman, police officer, or soldier , as a little girl would be envious that others receive her hero’s heroics rather than her.

 

“Heart of Joy” by Kate O’Connor (debut 4/12 and reviewed by James Hanzelka)

Luscinda, the dancer from Ymir, has stolen the heart of the most powerful man in the galaxy. Feon, the Senior High Chancellor, delights in her public performances and her private attentions. When he is given an automaton that can dance perfectly, however, the relationship cools. Luscinda eventually leaves to go home, but can she leave the emotional attachment behind?

This is a love story. Like so many it deals with the loss of love through indifference or misperception. The author handles the subject well and it gives us a new take on the subject. The metaphor of dance for love is clear. I found the story entertaining, not really something I would seek out, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Give it a try, particularly if tale of love and loss are your cup of tea.

 

“Never Leave Me” by Michelle Ann King (debut 4/15 and reviewed by James Hanzelka)

Katrine loves Aron, but hears the stories about him when he delivers his wares to the village. She has visions of him in others’ arms. When she visits the old woman in the forest to put a spell on him to remain true, the old witch refuses. In desperation Katrine kills the old woman and takes her power. Now she can hold on to Aron, but at what cost?

This is a poignant story about love and fear of loss. It was well written and engaging, and there is a strong cautionary ending. The story does tread a well-worn path, so there’s a bit of predictability to the ending. It is still worth the time spent in reading it.

 

A magician uses the art of misdirection on a very direct man in “Legerdemain” by Gabriel Murray (debut 4/16 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist tempts a lustful man. Geoffrey Spencer is a man of free love, and is used to getting what he desires. Geoffrey’s wife introduces him to Claude, a talented illusionist. Geoffrey is interested in Claude’s vanishing trick and in Claude. A good magician will never reveal his trick, but may allow you to experience it.

“Legerdemain” is a tale of deception. The author of it preforms a deception on the reader while his protagonist preforms it on a disloyal misogynist. Not fair, Mr. Murray. At least Geoffrey had a chance to see the illusion coming.

 

The Chosen One has a destiny to fulfill in “The Chosen One Can’t Lose” by Sean Vivier (debut 4/17 and reviewed by Frank D), and it will be fulfilled, no matter which path is taken.

“The Chosen One” is a parody of the ‘chose your path’ adventure books, where the reader decides the direction the protagonist travels in the tale. In this particular tale, more than one path is offered but all roads lead to the destination. Loved the ending of this funny tale.

 

“What Merfolk Must Know” by Kat Otis (debut 4/18 and reviewed by James Hanzelka).

She first saw the Deathships when she was ten migrations old; from then on she was filled with curiosity about the humans they carried. But the humans were dangerous. Counseled by her Mamma to avoid the ships and the dangerous humans they carried, she avoided the ships. Until she was twenty migrations old, then she went out to find answers to her questions, but with the help of the Sea Witch finds more.

This is a nice little fable that fits in with any number of other stories. The writer does a pretty good job of blending the old with her own vision. I found myself drawn into the main character’s struggle to follow her own curiosity in spite of the warnings of her mother. This is a good read and worth investing the time in it.

 

“Paradise Left” by Evan Dicken (debut 4/19 and reviewed by James Hanzelka).

Rob was feeding Whistler when Ashley stormed in from the Rebellion. Five and a half feet of ash covered Rebellion. “How did the war go?” Rob asked. “Great,” Ashley replied. But it wasn’t great, though they’d beaten the machines and been granted the right to govern themselves, it was all a charade. The machines were humoring them, allowing them to live in a faÃ’ ade of the world. Rob had left the rebellion because he saw no reason to fight anymore; Ashley could never give it up. The rift was growing, but would it drive Ashley to another world? And if it did, would Rob follow?

This is classic science fiction. The author deftly explores subjects like the relationship between man and machine and that between man and woman. He also pictures a future where the machine’s loving care for humans provides an Idyllic world that smothers individuality. Some can live in it, succumb to the lotus blossoms, others rebel against it. A well crafted story and one I would recommend, particularly those that love old school SF.

 

A codebreaker turns to an old Cold War veteran for help deciphering small snippets of signals from the stars in “Snippets” by k. b. dalai (debut 4/22 and reviewed by Frank D). A National Security data analyzer is given the task of determining if years of random SETI signals have meaning. The snippets of data are random and few, buried in the back ground noise of the galaxy. He turns to his father-in-law, an old communications expert. The old vet points out what everyone has missed, and leaves the protagonist with disturbing questions that need to be answered.

“Snippets” is a collaboration effort from a married couple. This is a rare work of flash that touches on a present day scientific dilemma and sets it in an outstanding science fiction premise. The story is set up as a mystery , mysterious signals without a meaningful pattern , that leaves small clues for the reader to piece together; very difficult to do but is outstanding when done well. This compelling tale has a finale I found chilling, and left me questioning our place in the universe.

Good flash fiction is rare. Outstanding flash fiction should be celebrated. I can’t remember a work this brief that had me this hooked and left me this satisfied when I read it. Rarely do I feel compelled to reread any work immediately, this one I did twice.

Recommended.

 

A son’s error in time cannot be undone in “Grief In The Strange Loop” by Rhonda Eikamp (debut 4/23 and reviewed by Frank D). A ten year-old boy is left to watch over his father’s time machine while Pop makes a jump, and makes a mistake that strands his dad centuries in the past. His mother has never forgiven him. Racked with guilt, he spends decades trying to correct his mistake. The entire family discovers time changes people, and that time can produce wounds that weren’t there before.

“Grief” is a story of guilt. The protagonist sandwiched between opposite ends of blame spanning centuries, and an even wider gap of a few decades. The parents of this tale act like spoiled children in this tale. Resentful, bitter, and shallow , the mother and father seem like two people that do not deserve children who moved the very heavens to make them happy.

 

An envious sister wants to fly in “Swan Song” by Melissa Mead (debut 4/24 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist in this dark tale is the sibling of a boy born with wings instead of arms. Her parents and friends mistake her bitter demeanor as concern for her deformed brother, but her brother understands that what she feels is envy.

“Swan Song” is based on a tale I am unfamiliar with. The girl wants to experience flight and forms a plan that will be doomed to failure. It has a very ominous exclamation point for a conclusion.

 

A man has fallen for the light of his life in “The Lady Electric” by Gary B. Phillips (debut 4/25 and reviewed by Frank D) but society needs that light. A brilliant inventor named Edison can put the energy she secretes to good use. “Lady Electric” is a tale of man who will do anything for the woman he loves. His love has become a prisoner to Edison, but our hero has a plan to rescue her.

“Lady Electric” takes a couple of dark turns. The protagonist’s plan relies on Edison’s vanity. I found the tale murky; details of the woman’s condition, origins, and how she became to be a source of electricity were never explained. The story hints that she is a mystery. I would have preferred a solved mystery or two to go with its conclusion.

 

A dying and honorable breed is sacrificed for its healing power in “Chasing Unicorns” by Terra LeMay (debut 4/26 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is a desperate man in league with desperate people. They hunt unicorns, using their virginity as bait for the magical beasts. Although they cannot resist the allure of a virgin, the unicorns are not defenseless.

“Chasing Unicorns” is written from the perspective of an addict. The horn of the magical beast can heal anything , even the poison men put in their own bodies. The protagonist is eager to cure his brother, an addict in bad shape. Anticipation for the hunt begins to haunt him in his dreams. Unicorns are becoming rare, and may soon be gone. A conflict of helping blood against destroying a natural treasure wracks the potential killer.

“Chasing Unicorns” is a tale a modern day poacher could tell. Guilt competes with greed. Knowledge that he may be ending a great species tears at the protagonist. Compounding his dilemma is the unicorn’s psychic link with its virgin.

The disclaimer before the tale warns the reader of a dark tale, and dark it is indeed. There are no sympathetic characters to root for , even the unicorn proves to be deceptive. Guilt fills the protagonist from the start and he becomes so saturated with it that the reader absorbs his overflow by the end. If you don’t wish to feel dirty after reading, you may want to steer clear of this tale. If you’re the type that would want to see a poacher feel awful by his deeds, by all means, dive right in.

 

“Shades Of The Father” by M. Adrian Sellers (debut 4/29 and reviewed by James Hanzelka)

Aubrey is amused by the graffiti scrawled across the Marty-Mart wall as he pulled in front of the building. Inside he can’t help but laugh while paying for the pack of smokes. Martin Paxton notes he is wearing his old man’s sunglasses, the only possession his late father left him. The sadness and confusion about the gift brings Aubrey back down from his temporary high. As he drives back home each building has graffiti on it, almost as if someone had tagged the whole neighborhood overnight. The witty words of wisdom pull him back from his funk and he starts to appreciate his father more than he did in life.

This is a good tale for the month of Father’s Day. It deals with fathers and sons. The story lets us understand how sometimes we don’t appreciate the relationship until it’s too late. I loved the premise and how well the writer let us in on the inside joke, as well as how he made us feel about the relationship of Aubrey and his father. It also reminds us that often the best gifts are the ones we least expect. Take the time to read this story; you won’t be disappointed you did.

 

“It’s Good to See You” by Douglas Rudoff (debut 4/30 and reviewed by James Hanzelka)

Most on the ship don’t like the Necropolis, but one has to pass through it to get to the viewing port. Brad doesn’t mind because it gives him time to reflect on what he left behind on Earth. Anyway he will be joining the dead soon, taking his eight year shift in darkness. As he stands at the nose of the ship, he thinks ahead to the end of the forty year journey. A message from his ex-wife pulls him back to the past. It’s been fifteen years since they parted and somehow they had ended up on the same ship. Was he strong enough to go back emotionally? It was a question that would also answer his strength to go on.

Set in the future, where mankind is leaving Earth, searching for new worlds to explore, the piece does a good job of showing the burdens we will carry along with us. The author lets us see Brad’s pain, but helps us to understand that in order to move ahead we sometimes have to deal with the past. This one is well worth the read.

 

To Be Heard, Or Not To Be Heardâ€

†that is my question. Daily Science Fiction is a publication that has earned its stripes. It is a top market, in readers and in pay rate. It is receiving more accolades for its efforts every year (not as many as I believe it should but that is another topic for another time). It is still the only publication that uses the Internet’s email delivery system to distribute its product. I applaud it’s originality for tapping into this outlet, but think it is time that it expands into a new and growing market.

My profession as a traveler has granted me an outsider’s view in the rise in the audio book market. The racks for the CD imprinted publications in traveler stops has become larger than the video (movies and TV serials) DVD/DVR shelves, at many places, and dwarfs the printed paperback carousels and music CDs. Audio books are becoming a hit, yet few authors have cracked into it.

A few wise bestselling names (Stephen Coonts, Danielle Steele, Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy) have gone all in and dominate the shelves. Others , like Stephen King , are testing the waters and are displaying old classics in this market. There are a couple of publishers (Angry Robot) who have elected to showcase new works and authors. The shelves have a mixture of fiction and non-fiction. Most are old bestsellers but a few are new. You’ll find a science fiction tale or two, but there is one type of book I have yet to see; the short story collection.

As someone who drives for hours at a time, I have wondered why no one has tried to market the short story (i.e. anthology or collection format) in an audio market. Quick, a tight frame, and complete , they’re perfect for a person who needs a distraction to help pass the miles but doesn’t require an audience’s complete attention that would divert their mind from the road. Listening to a short story would be also like listening to a single cut on an album. It is a niche that needs filling.

I recommend the editors of DSF consider looking into this market, but if they do, to dip their toes warily into this water. Not Just Rockets and Robots would be a great collection to listen to, but at 425,000 words, would be a logistic nightmare to record , and likely be too expensive to market. Dividing it up into smaller bites would be the ticket. The first three to four months of Daily Science Fiction would be a great place to start. With the right readers, the collection would be affordable and short enough to encourage potential customers to give it a chance. Reliving previous DSF tales would be a whole new experience when it is read by another, hopefully with all the minor inflections that come with storytelling.

So what do you say, Jon and Michele? Care to take a shot at another innovative leap?

Me and my Bob_EnhancedFrank Dutkiewicz writes. Frank Dutkiewicz eats. Frank Dutkiewicz probably excretes, but for some reason Frank Dutkiewicz is reluctant to talk about it. Frank Dutkiewicz puts his pants on one leg at a time, except when he doesn’t. Frank Dutkiewicz flies a spaceship. Unlike Han Solo, Frank Dutkiewicz can make the Kessel Run in only nine parsecs. Frank Dutkiewicz has a cybernetic badger/weasel hybrid as a friend. When Frank Dutkiewicz says “Jump,” frogs say “How high?” If Frank Dutkiewicz jumped as hard as he could one night, the Earth would fall into the sun. Frank Duktiewicz’s last name is hard to spell. Frank Dutkiewicz’s last name is also hard to pronounce. Frank Dutkiewicz says that anyone who says these things about his last name is just jealous. Frank Dutkiewicz did not write his own bio this month.

 

Daily Science Fiction: July 2012 Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

Riddle time! Where would you find Shakespeare, Merlin the magician, the Green Lantern, time machines, aliens, dragons, dead worlds, the afterlife, creation and (most impressive of the bunch) is over 900 pages long? The answer is below…

 

A day of celebration is a bitter reminder for Ellen in “Man on the Moon Day” by Amy Sundberg (debut 7/2 and reviewed by Frank D). Today is the day when the neighborhood acknowledges favorite son, Rick Murray, one of the first colonists on the moon, father of the lovely Sarah, and the man responsible for making Sarah a single parent.

Man on the Moon Day” is tale of a wet blanket. Ellen is bitter. Her daughter idolizes the man who abandoned them. It is unclear the circumstances but it appeared that her pregnancy happened on the eve of Rick’s last days on Earth. What Ellen was hoping for from him is never explained but she seems to blame him for her current state of affairs.

 

An abused boy’s friend opens his eyes for him in “Suburban Pixies” by Story Boyle (debut 7/3 and reviewed by Frank D). Ben’s father has beaten him once again. India invites him over to her house and offers him a place to stay. Her house has its own protectors, and she has said only people who can use your real name can control you.

Suburban Pixies” is a story where the metaphysical is reality. Pixies fly about the yard like mayflies in the spring while other mythical creatures reveal themselves to Ben’s opening eyes. India shows Ben the world is not as it seems and only his perception governs what is real in his reality.

Suburban Pixies” is an escapist’s wet dream. India is a girl who refers to her mother by her first name. The horrifying looking pixies mean little to her. She claims people are less real because of the forces of electrons keep anything from coming into contact. We are mostly blank space. This claim is hollow when Ben has broken ribs from a father who has no trouble making ‘contact’ with a son who failed to make the football team. The lesson of this tale is if your reality is not how you like it, then reject it exists. Perfectly fitting for one who prefers fantasy over reality.

 

Tom is a careful man in “Too Careful” by Seth DeHaan (debut 7/4 and reviewed by James Hanzelka), he has to be if he is to survive. He is careful in his habits, meticulous in his precautions and thorough in his study of those around him. Returning from his monthly shopping trip his caution pays off, he detects the tell-tale differences in his neighbor Kyle. But his attack, meant to protect himself from those chasing him, only shows he is wrong in his assessment. Wrong again with tragic consequences.

The author did a good job putting us in Tom’s world. It isn’t a world of sanity, but one of paranoia. We feel Tom’s pre-occupation with his personal safety and his sorrow at being wrong again, at being too careful once more. There are a couple of syntax issues and a few constructions I found difficult to read, but otherwise a good story.

 

“X Marks the Spot” by Kat Otis (debut 7/5 and reviewed by James Hanzelka).

Ever since they found the map on the dead trapper, the one marking the site for the treasure, Ranulf has become more paranoid about it. When they reached the marked meadow Ranulf attacks his partner of five years to prevent him from sharing in the treasure. It is unfortunate when Ranulf is killed in the struggle that ensues. But when his partner gets a good look at the map, the X has moved to another spot, but it’s the change in appearance of the thing that is more disturbing.

Nice ghost story set in the old west of trappers and buried treasure. The history of the time is littered with tales like this, most of them tinged with truth. Every western town has a tale of its own Flying Dutchman Mine, and every one of these tales is just as intriguing as this one. A well told tale.

 

“Love, the Mermaids, and You” by Holli Mintzer (debut 7/6 and reviewed by James Hanzelka).

After her graduation a girl visits a group of mermaids, her friends since the day she almost drowned some years ago. Since that event the mermaids have provided advice and help for the girl, advice that has helped her grow into the person she is now. With each life event changes come into the girls life. They have helped her through her parent’s divorce, school and now as she goes to college.

I really didn’t care for this story. Not that it’s written badly and not that I didn’t particularly not care for the subject matter, but it may be a little too gender specific. I didn’t ever really grow to like the main character or get that involved in her problems. It may be a story for someone else that is interested in the mermaids and their advice.

 

A wizard is dissatisfied with a “Disputed Delivery” by Alter S. Reiss (debut 7/9 and reviewed by Frank D). Sycorax the Dread’s order for basilisk hide goes horribly wrong when the delivery company drops off live monsters to his door. Complicating the matter, the delivery company still demands payment for the basilisks. Unable to reach an agreement, Sycorax settles the matter with an equal trade.

This is one of many tales at Daily SF I have had the pleasure to read before hand, a result of my good fortune of participating in Codex’s yearly Weekend Warrior challenge. I found “Disputed Delivery” to be a delight to read then, just as I do now.

Recommended.

 

The protagonist enters cyberspace to find her daughter in “The Most Complicated Avatar” by Mary E. Lowd (debut 7/10 and reviewed by Frank D). Daria is hiding from her father. It is the abusive man’s weekend with her and she doesn’t want to go. The protagonist is Daria’s mother. Unable to find her daughter in the real world, she searches the one place where she knows she can find Daria.

The Most Complicated” is a sign of things to come. Second World is Daria’s virtual reality escape. She has been building an avatar for herself in it. As her home life becomes more stressful, her avatar takes on traits to make her stand out. The protagonist, as many parents with today’s technology, is slightly out of her element in this virtual world, and finding Daria in there will not necessarily help her locate the scared child’s real location.

Ms Lowd deserves accolades for this inventive idea. Aside from a near future I find very likely, she examines the psychological eventuality young children will use with this ultimate form of escape. “The Most Complicated” is a story that could have ended very badly but I am one that was satisfied with the conclusion to this piece.

Science fiction shines when authors can show us a world that may yet come while exposing our own faults of our present. When this is achieved, writers win awards. By this definition, Ms Lowd deserves consideration for her efforts.

Recommended.

 

Happily Ever After rarely is in “Seven Sins” by Melanie Rees (debut 7/11 and reviewed by Frank D). A marriage counselor has a difficult job counseling fairy tales. His current clients, Mr and Mrs Charming, are having trouble getting along. With a lobby full of Disney characters, and a brewing headache, the protagonist is bracing himself for a very long hour.

Seven Sins” is a tongue-in-cheek look at what the ‘after’ in ‘happily ever’ is like. The story focuses on Snow White after her marriage to Prince Charming. The story pokes fun at the very nature of fairy tales. Amusing.

 

In “After the Earthquake” by Caroline M. Yoachim (debut 7/12 and reviewed by Anonymous) a young man goes to visit his grandmother after an earthquake and finds that some of the vases she stores her memories in have broken. In this story memories are liquid-like and can be stored in containers–she likes to store them in pretty vases. He sets about to help his grandmother rescue what he can, but she appears to be dementing, having lost so many memories.

I thought this was an excellent story. It was well-written, thoughtful, poignant and moving. What more can I say? Oh yeah…seven out seven rocket dragons.

Recommended.

 

An indentured servant is asked to betray her master in “The Suicide Witch” by Vylar Kaftan (debut 7/13 and reviewed by Frank D). Yim is a village mortician in the ancient Far East. Property of a warlord, she prepares the deceased souls for their afterlife. Her specialty is presenting those who have taken their own lives so their dead ancestors will not torment them for eternity. Her talents are necessary, but make her a pariah among her people.

The Suicide Witch” has a dual plot. Yim leads a solitary life. As a peasant girl of the streets, a suicide witch is about as good as it can get for her, but she is still the property of her lord. Then one day the duke’s son stops by to pay her a visit. Jiang Kai-hu is the lover of the girl his father has chosen for a wife. He plans on giving her a paralysis potion then whisking her away after her funeral. For his plans to work, he needs Yim’s cooperation. He offers Yim a normal life – normal for a back breaking peasant – and promises her an unbearable hardship if she refuses.

Yim is a woman who has accepted her life, then Kai-hu enters her world to disrupt it. He offers her freedom, but the privileged man born into wealth does not know what that word truly means to Yim. Yim’s resentment to the well off in society surfaces as she is forced into a plan that is all risk and little benefit for her.

The Suicide Witch” explores the life of a woman who has never had control of it. She has always been someone else’s pawn, and the love struck Kai-hu is willing to put the pawn at risk for his own selfish desires. Yim is left with few choices, as it would seem. The author works hard to make her protagonist seem reprehensible, yet sympathetic – a hard task to accomplish. It is difficult to pull for Yim, but knowing she is a woman who never had a chance to make a real choice in her life is enough to remain invested in her blight. For a story that looked like a viewing of an unwilling partner of deceit, I can say the ending to this tale had a delightful twist.

The Suicide Witch” is just the type of story the editors of DSF receive complaints for being ‘too long’. It is a tale that requires an investment for the reader to follow. But the depth of a character like Yim cannot be told in a flash sized tale.

 

The king has passed away and 13 maiden warriors in arms ride to Death’s Gate to ask the gods for his return in “The Cost” by Laura Anne Gilman (debut 7/16 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) . The king’s daughter pleads, but there’s no returning; so says the god/dog.

The first person narrator of “The Cost” might be considered the sidekick, until her lady is presented with a riddle only a loyal, loving companion can solve.

Fresh and tight writing, but unfortunately not an earth-shatteringly new idea.

 

“Broken Glass” by Jacquelyn Bartel (debut 7/17 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) is a story of a curious boy who gets an opportunity, through a genuine crystal ball, to witness his own future. It flashes through his mind in scenes that make him tremble and weep.

How would a child deal with adult themes being thrust upon him? Would there be any basis for understanding what he sees? Can he comprehend the emotions behind what he sees? I feel there’s a great set up for the answers to these questions, but sadly the story ends without having explored these theme as much as I feel it could.

Still an interesting concept, even if not fleshed out enough for my tastes.

 

“The Mechanical Heart of Him” by Cate Gardner (debut 7/18 and reviewed by Anonymous).

A woman and a man are in a failing relationship and “The Mechanical Heart of Him” by Cate Gardner (debut 7/18 and reviewed by Anonymous) charts the final few days of it. What is different is that the two people are members some unexplained fantasy version of humanity, made from cogs, strings and flesh. The emotional connections that people have to each other result in a tiny version of that person living within their body and affecting it–pulling heart strings. If they are in love with that person then the little version of that person lives close to their heart and may be quite large, etc. It all requires quite an explanation.

The actual story is simply about the break-up of this couple and how another woman has found her way into the man’s heart. I wasn’t particularly engaged with the story as I found all the emotion-made-literal a bit hard-work and the unfolding of the story a little predictable. The writing was nice, and the idea was novel but that doesn’t equal a great story. Four rocket dragons.

 

“The Power of the Cocoon” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (debut 7/19 and reviewed by James Hanzelka)

Christmas is a sad time of year for Emma; the debris of shiny paper and ribbon reminds her of promises unfulfilled. The holiday reinforces she is not the most talented, smartest or best looking in her family. But this year her Grandma will provide Emma with special gift that shows her everyone has a talent that can make them special.

This is a story for all of us who think we aren’t the smartest or the most talented. Each of us has a special talent, if only we can find the right teacher and mentor. This is a nice little story with a nice moral undertone, if a little predictable. It carries the expected teaching point forward with deft writing and well drawn characters, but without the lasting impact that will stay with the reader long-term.

 

“Twenty Ways the Desert Could Kill You” by Sarah Pinsker (debut 7/20 and reviewed by James Hanzelka).

Her mother moved her to the desert from Baltimore, taking only what little they could carry. It was an “adventure”, Mother had said, but the girl knows it’s more. Mother has her telescope trained on a “star” that grows bigger each night. Why are they here? She thinks she knows, her mother is protecting her, but from what?

The author weaves the little tale of loss and loneliness between a list enumerating all the dangers in the little girl’s new world in the desert. The author does a good job of building the story of the girl and her mother while using the list of dangers to show the girl’s angst about living in a different environment. It was well done and has a nice air of suspense about it.

 

“Henry, Caesar of the Air, His Life and Times, or, The Book of Qat: Parts 1 – 5” by Lavie Tidhar (debut 7/23 – 7/27 and reviewed by Frank D).

The uturgurgur find a white giant of a man sprawled on the ground. They take the mysterious stranger to their village where he finally awakes. Henry is a man who has vague recollections of who he was – a man who once flew metal birds in the sky – but the memories are a like a dream, difficult to grasp and quick to fade. Like Gulliver, he finds himself in a strange place and he should beware because the land of Qat is filled with jealous and mischievous spirits.

Henry” is a story adapted to a Melanesian myth. Henry is a WWII pilot shot down on Vanua Lava, an island in the South Pacific. He finds himself in a mystical world where spirits transform from man to beast. Henry falls for one of these spirits, the wife of Qat, Iro Lei. He will need to battle and blend in with the creatures of this world to fight for his love.

Lavie Tidhar is a very popular author. His work has appeared in almost every meaningful publication that features fantasy, and he is one of the favorites of the editors at DSF. “Henry” makes his 7th appearance for Daily SF, and it is the publication’s first week long series. If any author deserved the honor of being a ‘first’, multi award nominated Tidhar would top the list. Clearly, he has an appeal to a large audience. Unfortunately, I am not one who finds his writing all that appealing.

I have been reviewing speculative fiction for the past three years for four different outlets. Lavie Tidhar is the author whose works that I have reviewed the most. My reaction to them range from lukewarm to meh. Usually, I find his tales have a fine craftsmanship quality to them, but the plots are, for the most part, incomplete. I have even passed some of his stories to my helpers, thinking perhaps it is all a matter of taste, hoping one of my crew would find the genius of his tales and show me the light. Alas, their reactions have been similar to mine.

Henry” is a departure from his other stories. It is written as a mythology. According to his bio, Mr Tidhar lived in Vanuata, which is how he likely became familiar with the South Pacific myth. The story is laid out just like a religious myth, reading as if it was translated from an ancient and archaic language, much like how the first half of Tolkien’s The Similarion is set up. And like a mythology, the tale lacks the intimacy to its readers that modern epics strive for. Everything is told from a distance, third hand, with glossed over descriptions to important details – battles, intimate moments, and such. It is difficult to get grounded into this tale, and often impossible to make heads or tails with what is going on. As a result, becoming invested in any of the characters proved to be too great of a task for me. I was grateful that the editors choose to break this up in five installments, I must say. Trying to take in “Henry” in one big bite might have been more than I could handle.

 

Clare yearns for a change in her diet in “Sweet as Peaches” by Shane D. Rhinewald (debut 7/30 and reviewed by Frank D). Her family lives on a constant diet of meat. At school, her friends will sometimes share their vegetables and fruit with her. Her parents can’t afford things like celery and apples. So if Clare wants fresh fruit, she’ll have to grow it herself.

The premise to “Sweet as Peaches” is based on an advancement in genetics. Meat is grown in a vat, quickly and cheaply, while the land to grow produce is expensive. Clare spends her hard earned allowance to buy a peach tree. As a child who was raised on a small farm, I could appreciate the trouble Claire had in trying to grow a peach. What she chose to do with the tiny fruit she raised made this tale one of the sweetest stories I have read on DSF yet.

Recommended.

 

“The Curious Case of Version 47.13” by Ekaterina Fawl (debut 7/31 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist to this tale is an android, a companion and servant for Jenny. He looks after her, in tune to her habits and whims. He is due for an upgrade to his software, but the version 47.13 has an error in it and now Jenny’s poor android feels broken.

The Curious Case” is a curious look at a future us. The android in this tale is something of a pet. It is loyal and concerned for its owner’s well-being. The software upgrade it has installed has given it the equivalent of an anxiety attack. Like a pet however, part of the android’s problem is Jenny’s own anxiety and how it feels powerless to fix it. I found this story to be sweet and possibly prophetic.

 

Over Salad and Soup…

Recently, I was very fortunate to be in Jon Laden’s neck in the woods. Since I didn’t get the chance to attend Worldcon, we decided a nice lunch at a local Panera Bread would suffice. We had a delightful conversation, and Jon hand delivered an astounding book that I already read before it made print.

Not Just Rockets and Robots is a collection of Daily SF‘s first year of publication. I took the time to reread a few of my favorite stories when I got back to my hotel. For substance, the book cannot be beat. Most of the stories are short, perfect if you need a quick bedtime story to tell little Suzy (although, I would heed the warnings headlining each one if you do intend to replace it with Mother Grimm). I can’t praise the content enough, and I would be redundant if I did so, but it wouldn’t be review outlet if I didn’t voice my complaints instead of keeping them to myself.

One thing I was sad to have seen missing is all the wonderful art. Aside from the cover, there are 11 months of brilliant and inspiring works of imaginative speculative scenery that didn’t make DSF’s first year collection. That is too bad because they were just as much a part of the publication as the stories were. I hope, if there is a year two collection, the next Daily SF to reach print won’t exclude them.

And since we are speaking of a year two, I would like to see a different type of break up in the material. Not Just Rockets and Robots is presented just as the publication was debuted, chronologically as they were sent out. I would rather see a break up in genres, as they are in archived on the publications web site. NJR&RII (try to figure that one out) would be nice if broken into 11 ‘chapters’ with an introductory work of art (from the year’s collection) heading off the chapter. Stories fitting the art’s theme (this could be tough) would follow. Of course, art work # 12 would be the cover of the book. I think mixing up the order of the stories would give it a refreshed look.

Jonathan Laden is one of the editors of Daily Science Fiction, publisher of the very heavy book you see, and the guy who created that very neat T-shirt. You can buy the book, but the shirt is the only one he has, at the moment. Bug him if you discover you can’t go on with life without one.