The Best of Cast of Wonders 2018

written by David Steffen

Cast of Wonders is the YA branch of the Escape Artists podcasts, edited by Marguerite Kenner, covering all speculative genres and aiming to appeal to YA audiences. 

This year’s offerings included their usual staff pick re-airing of stories from last year, as well as one story that was split into seven episodes, for a total of about 45 stories.

Short Stories that are award-eligible for 2018 are marked with an asterisk (*).

The List

1.“All Systems Go” by Gerri Leen
As told by intelligent cleaner bots at an airport.

2.“The Death Knight, the Dragon, and the Damsel” by Melion Traverse*
Recruited as a squire by an undead night, Cori and the knight set out to rescue a damsel from a dragon and get more than they bargained for.

3.“Secrets and Things We Don’t Say Out Loud” by José Pablo Iriarte*
A boy has the ability to find out all of everyone’s secrets with just a touch, but it’s a two-way connection, and he is fleeing with the woman who helped him escape from a lab.

4.“Ten Things Sunil and I Forgot to Prepare For, When We Prepared for the Apocalypse” by Shane Halbach
It is exactly what it sounds like, I like list stories.

5.“Skinned” by Amanda Helms*
Ransacking a warehouse with an android guardian in a post-apocalyptic setting to find skin repair kits to fix the guardian’s rusty skin.

Honorable Mentions

“Sidekicks Wanted” by Laura Johnson

“And Flights of Skuhwiggle” by Charles Lee McDaniel*




The Best of Toasted Cake 2015-2017

written by David Steffen

Toasted Cake is back!  After the last Best of Toasted Cake list for the year 2014, Tina Connolly decided to put her idiosyncratic podcast on hiatus.  With a young child in the house and books on deadline, Tina needed to find more time.  But she has missed it enough, and she has decided to run Toasted Cake for a school year run, and revived the podcast in September for that reason.  So, this list covers the last few months before hiatus in 2015, the one story Toasted Cake slipped quietly into the feed in 2016, and the fall portion of the school year run of the revival, for a total of 35 stories considered for this list.

Toasted Cake has already raised author pay rates, so now pays at least 1 cent/word, which is also exciting.  It sounds like Tina might want to run the podcast longer term if there’s some Patreon support, so if you love some weird flash fiction you might want to consider tossing in a couple bucks a month.

Toasted Cake did publish one of my own stories, my only original story published in 2017, “Cake, and Its Implications” published  just before the end of the year, a funny flash story about an android who loves cake.  But of course I don’t consider my own fiction for these lists.

Note that I did end up including a story that Toasted Cake reprinted that I originally published (#2 on the list).  I decided to make the list one item longer than it would usually be to accomodate for this, so that a story I published wouldn’t bump another off the list.

Every short story that is eligible for Hugo nominations this year which were first published by Toasted Cake are marked with an asterisk (*).

Welcome back, Tina, and long live Toasted Cake!

 

The List

1. “Un Opera nello Spazio (A Space Opera)” by Oliver Buckram
A space opera that’s an actual opera.

2.  “St. Roomba’s Gospel” by Rachael K. Jones
A sentient Roomba lives in a church and tries to help preach the gospel to the congregation.

3.  “Copy Machine” by Shane Halbach
What would you do if you could copy yourself?

4.  “Carla at the Off-Planet Tax Return Helpline” by Caroline M. Yoachim
The story is exactly what the title sounds like.  🙂

5.  “Beholder” by Sarah Grey
In a world where everything is defined by social media popularity, how do those of us who are less savvy get along?

6.  “So You Have Been Claimed By a Magical Cat” by Beth Cato*
Also exactly what the title sounds like. 🙂

Honorable Mentions

“Gunfight Over an 8-bit Rhythm Two-Step Skank at the O.K. Corral” by Ken Brady

 

 

 

The Best of Cast of Wonders 2017

written by David Steffen

Cast of Wonders is the YA branch of the Escape Artists podcasts, edited by Marguerite Kenner, covering all speculative genres and aiming to appeal to YA audiences.  I think their definition of YA is significantly broader than most, which I see as a positive thing–I had very broad tastes when I was a young adult, so it makes sense to me anyway.

After Cast of Wonders joined Escape Artists in 2016, they increased their pay rates which helped them become qualified as a SFWA-qualifying market, which is a great sign of progress.

In 2017 they produced weekly episodes very regularly, and during their Banned Books week they published a story a day for an extra stretch of bonus content, for a total of about 63 stories

Cast of Wonders reprinted one of my own stories in 2017, titled “Always There”, about a grandmother who has maybe died but not yet admitted it (it is an episode on the subject of grief).

 

Every short story that is eligible for Hugo and Nebula nominations this year which were first published by Podcastle are marked with an asterisk (*)

The List

1. “Lost In Translation” by Afalstein Kloosterman*
The ancient texts prophecying the chosen one are… hard to translate.  This has caused some problems seeking the fulfillment of those prophecies.

2.  “Random Play All and the League of Awesome” by Shane Halbach
Teenagers with debatable superpowers form a semi-superhero team.

3.  “More Than Machines Will Fall to Rust” by Rachael K. Jones*
A pair of friends become superhero and archenemy, can they rekindle their friendship?

4.  “The Scent that Treason Brings” by Holly Schofield*
A bookbinder in a hive society decides to rebel against the oppressive leadership.

5.  “Cross the Street” by Marie Vibbert*
When city design makes it harder and harder for poor people to survive, it can become an obstacle to even get from place to place.

6.  “Single Parent” by Sarah Gailey*
Great story about a widowed father trying his best who is called into his kid’s room and finds a real monster there.

Honorable Mentions

“Contractual Obligations” by Jaime O. Mayer*

“Brothers in Stitches” by Dantzel Cherry*

“Strong as Stone” by Effie Seiberg

Con Report: SFWA Nebula Conference

written by Shane Halbach

The Nebula awards are one of the two big awards you can win in speculative fiction (the other being the Hugo awards). The Nebulas are put on by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), and include not only the big, fancy, academy award-style award ceremony, but also a conference for professional writers.

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So, the panels weren’t focused so much on writing, per say, (although there were a few) but more on all of the aspects of business around writing. Things like running a Kickstarter, how to teach workshops, questions on intellectual property, and how to be interviewed.

I was a speaker on two panels: “Social Media Puzzle Pieces” and a panel just entitled “Humor” (no pressure there — hey, stare at these people, they are HILARIOUS! Okay go!). I think they actually went really well (though of course nobody would tell me if they were awful, now would they?) I was particularly anxious about Humor, because…what do you say about humor? Who’s to say anybody should listen to me on the matter? Did someone think it was funny to schedule my panel in the absolute last time slot on the absolute last day of the conference, and then expect me to have enough brainpower left to be interesting, much less make people laugh??? But the panel was actually well attended, and I thought we had a very deep, intellectual conversation about humor (if not actually that funny).

In addition to all of the panels, socializing, and networking, you also get a HUGE PILE OF FREE BOOKS, plus the opportunity to buy more. There was even an enormous autographing session (open to the public) featuring over 80 authors signing books.

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(My haul)

The autographing session was certainly one of the highlights of the weekend for me, not only because I got to meet Naomi Novik and have her sign a copy of Uprooted (which would go on to win Best Novel), but also because I knew so many people that I hardly had time to say hello to everybody.

I think that’s ultimately what made this the best con experience I can imagine. Everybody was someone I wanted to meet or talk to. The Nebula Conference was actually very small (well, 300ish people small), and you couldn’t help but trip over everybody you wanted to see. It was the absolute crème de la crème of the writer’s world, and for the first time I actually felt like I was successful enough that these people were my peers.

I could start listing names, but seriously I would just end up listing every person who was at the conference. I met so many online friends that I had never met in person before. I met new awesome people that I didn’t even know existed before the weekend. People were actually excited to meet me, like I was somebody to meet. I chatted with Nebula nominees, SFWA Grandmasters, editors, and bestselling authors like it ain’t no thang. Lunches were had. Friends won awards. I spoke on panels like a boss.

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People make the distinction between introverts and extroverts: introverts “recharge” by spending quiet time alone, and extroverts “recharge” by spending time around people. By that definition, I am a classic extrovert, unlike 99% of all other writers. (“So you’re the one stealing all of our energy!” said my friend Danielle.) After spending all day Friday at the conference, I was charged up enough to arc lightening into anybody who sat close enough on the train home.

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(Apparently this drink was called a “Hugo” which seemed both ridiculously appropriate and inappropriate at the same time)

I didn’t actually attend the Nebula awards ceremony; since I was local and since I had already called in all my favors to help watch the kids all weekend, it seemed like a good place to go home and actually help out around the house. My plan was to watch the livestream of the awards but…I may have ended up falling asleep at 8:30.

I wanted to mention my three favorite panels:

  • “I Remember When” 
    This panel was basically just the “elder statesmen” (and states-women) of SFWA telling stories about the good old days. These stories were amazing, and talk about name-dropping! These people remember a time when Asimov and Heinlein were members. There was something so adorable about Damon Knight secretly throwing peanuts at Joe Haldeman’s head. I don’t know, if this panel was scheduled for every timeslot of every day, I would just keep going to it.
  • “What Teens are Looking for in YA Literature”
    Real, live teenagers talking about what they want and what they don’t want to see (love triangles) in their books. This panel was so great. These teenager were such teenagers, it was hilarious. They had strong opinions. I’m amazed that they could get up in front of a room of strangers and speak so confidently. Seriously, though, you can’t pay for that kind of insight.
  • “How to Give an Effective Reading”
    Any time I have ever heard someone ask about giving a reading, someone directs that person to Mary Robinette Kowal’s website. So I was very happy to attend this one in person. Mary didn’t just tell you silly tips or something, she actually explained WHY you should do certain things. Like, the science behind it. This was by far the most informative panel I attended over the weekend.

The whole experience was absolutely amazing, start to finish. It was so amazing, that it’s almost like it wasn’t real. I feel like I forged some lasting friendships, learned a lot about the business of writing (a peek behind the curtain, if you will), and most importantly I feel like I gained a ton of confidence.

I fit in. I belonged among the best writers in the field.

It’s a magical feeling. So magical, in fact, that I had trouble adjusting back into the real world on Monday. It was how it must feel to be kicked out of Narnia.

Maybe time to start planning for Pittsburgh next year?

 

Shane lives in a secret lair deep under Chicago with his wife and three kids, where he writes software by day and practices his maniacal laughter by night. His fiction has appeared in Analog, Escape Pod, The Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction, and elsewhere. He plots (diabolically) at shanehalbach.com or can be found on Twitter @shanehalbach.

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 Cast of Wonders 2013+

written by David Steffen

Cast of Wonders is, as ever, the young adult fantasy/SF podcast. This list covers all of their episodes from when my last list was published on October 15, 2012 to the end of 2013. They published 56 stories in that timeframe. They also published a serialized young adult fantasy novel called Phoenix Watching, about a summer camp for mythical creatures.

The List

1. The Cardinals of Ever June by Sylvia Anna HivÃ’ n
The last story of the year tops my list. A boy and his sister lost in the cold find a gateway to a magical land of eternal summer. It’s hard to explain why I thought it was so well done without spoiling it, so just go read it.

2. Daphne’s Daughter by Jennifer Tiemann
From the POV of a draiad who finds herself interested in a human man. Very cool point of view, well executed throughout.

3. Nuclear Family by Alex Shvartsman
A well-done child’s point of view in a bleak post-apocalyptic setting.

4. The Eye of Reason by S.R. Algernon
Something like a science fair in a land where what would recognize as science has been abandoned in favor of magic.

5. The Monster and Mrs. Blake by Alethea Kontis
A child has to deal with the monster in his room, and his mother’s attempts to help.

6. Downsizing Pluto by Shane Halbach
With the demotion of Pluto from planethood, a modern myth meant to parallel the real life demotion.

 

Honorable Mentions

The Treasure Hunter by Alexandra Grunberg

 

Con Report: WisCon 2014

written by Shane Halbach

Despite trying to be a serious writer for more than 5 years now, it has never occurred to me to attend a con. Writing has always been a very solitary activity for me, and sometimes I have this thing where going to do something just sounds like so much work (I think it’s called laziness). On the other hand, I’m a raging extrovert who is energized by being around people. Enter WisCon.

WisCon 38 logo

WisCon was a very easy “intro con” for me because 1) I live in Chicago and Madison is very close by, 2) I could crash with my brother, and 3) everyone kept repeating over and over again what a kind, small*, welcoming con WisCon was. I’m happy to report, the experience was absolutely wonderful, and I would be more than happy to attend again, or perhaps branch out to other cons.

*Note, did anyone actually say it was a small con? Because it totally wasn’t, at least by my definition, but that was certainly the impression I had been given! But kind and welcoming were accurate at least.

On the other hand, we do have a longstanding commitment for Memorial Day, which conflicts with WisCon. This meant that I attended the con without Sara and the kids, which was probably best for all of us. (Side note, holy childcare Batman! $1 per kid for the entire con??)

To show how absolutely committed I was to attend this con, I rode the bus from Chicago. It was very crowded, but it wasn’t nearly so bad as it could have been. However, though I did get *some* writing done, it wasn’t as much as I had hoped. Turns out bouncing around in the dark, shoulder to shoulder with strangers, is not the conducive writing environment you might think it would be.

In David Steffen’s WorldCon 2012 report, he spoke of “finding fandom”. That’s definitely how I felt. I met so many writers that I’ve known online for years. It felt like everywhere I looked I saw nametags of people I recognized. “Hey, I enjoy that guy’s stories!”, “Hey, that woman sends me rejection letters!”, and “Don’t I see that name in my twitter feed a lot?”

Being as this was my first con, and never having attended any panels, it didn’t seem right to sign up to be on any panels. I didn’t know if I would have anything to offer on a panel. That was a mistake. In the very best panels, I was dying to chime in on everything. I will not make that mistake again. (Did I mention I’m an extrovert?)

I found myself wearing a lot of different hats at the con. Some panels I attended as a writer, some as a blogger, and some just as a fan (a Welcome to Night Vale panel? Say whaaaaat!?). When I didn’t find a panel that sounded interesting, I attended readings, wandered the dealers’ rooms (print of a tiny dragon snuggling with a kitten for Evie’s birthday? Check!), or grabbed a coffee in the con suite. Oh con suite, you were exactly as advertised: stuffed full of free pop and coffee, frozen pizzas, and those hot dogs on rollers. With dusseldorf mustard! DUSSELDORF MUSTARD!

The biggest and best part of the con is that it made me feel like a writer.

The first part of that was the reading I did as part of Clockwork Lasercorn on Sunday morning.

clockwork lasercorn

(Sorry Catherine, we didn’t think to take a picture until you were gone!)

Considering that I hadn’t actually met any of the others in real life until about 15 minutes before the reading, and considering that we were slotted at 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning opposite a lot of other great programming, it all could have gone horribly wrong. But it didn’t! At all! Our group totally meshed, everybody’s stories were awesome, and mine seemed to be well received. I got compliments afterwards. I don’t think anybody knew I had never done a reading before.

Our reading was at a coffee shop, which I kind of liked, because anybody could just come in off the street and listen. It was pretty dead when we got there, but it actually filled up. I think we had about 18 or so, plus the 5 of us. And best of all? Ann “Ancillary Justice” Leckie came to my reading! Little did I know, she’s friends with my co-readers, and also super, super nice. This was the closest to my fanboy moment of the con. She just beat Neil Gaiman out of a Nebula for best novel, what, a week ago? And now she’s listening to my story? Awesome.

But! But! That was not all, oh no, that was not all.

I dropped by the Crossed Genres booth to pick up a copy of Long Hidden (which sold out after their excellent panel, so I’m glad I grabbed a copy early!) and to see if I could say hi to Bart and Kay who published me in OOMPH. Not only did I get a chance to chat with Bart for awhile, but he asked me sign all the copies of OOMPH they had on hand.

signing

I can’t tell you how much that made my con. I’ve never done any kind of book signing before, and it was pretty cool. They even put a little “author signed” tent on top of the books later. The only downside is that I kept bumping my head on the door after that, since I was walking around 10 feet tall. The thing is, Long Hidden is blowing UP right now (for good reason! I just started reading it and it’s already so good!), and Bart had a lot going on this weekend. Yet I felt like he really was enthusiastic about meeting me and went out of his way to make me feel good whenever I bumped into him at the con.

Now, since I was staying with my brother, I didn’t have the “true” con experience of hanging out in the bar, attending any of the con parties, or signing up for any of the tabletop gaming sessions (I missed a chance for both Last Night on Earth and Small World). The fact that there was a Jem party that I did not attend is outrageous. Truly, truly, truly outrageous. On the other hand, while I would no doubt have had a good time doing any of those things, I think I would enjoy them more if I had “con friends” whom I was anxious to see. Maybe in years to come.

However, I did get a chance to experience some of the general Madison ambiance, such as drinking liters (that’s plural) of beer out of a boot to the tune of polka music, attending the world’s largest brat fest, and grabbing a to-go lunch from a place that offered to substitute your fruit cup with a “cheese cup” (yeah, that’s pretty much what it sounds like).

beer boot

I did want to make one final note about WisCon. As you might have guessed from the logo at the top, WisCon is the “world’s leading feminist science fiction convention”, with a strong focus on embracing people traditionally left out of science fiction fandom: women, people of color, people with disabilities, gay people, transgendered people…you know, the vast majority of everybody in the world.

Now, I must admit, as a white, cisgendered male, this made me a little nervous. Not because I feel uncomfortable around these groups of people (which is good because, you know, they’re the vast majority of everybody in the world), quite the contrary; I believe anybody who knows me would tell you I am fully prepared to rock a feminist science fiction convention. No, I was nervous because I was worried about intruding.

As a person of undeniable privilege, I kind of thought, “Maybe this one’s not for me. I can go a lot of places and be comfortable doing a lot of things that many of these people can’t. Maybe I should let them have this one, since us white, cisgendered men already kind of have all the rest of them.”

However, I have to say, it wasn’t an issue at all. Not only was everyone wonderful and welcoming as only a crowd of people who know what it feels like to be unwelcome could be, but there really were people of ALL stripes present, including people like me. And honestly, when I looked around the con, it didn’t occur to me to see women, people of color, people with disabilities, gay people, or transgendered people. What I saw was just a lot of people. The best kind of people: science fiction and fantasy nerds.

MY kind of people.

Head ShotShane lives in Chicago with his wife and two kids, where he writes software by day and avoids writing stories by night. His fiction has appeared on Escape Pod, Daily Science Fiction, OOMPH: A Little Super Goes a Long Way, and elsewhere. He blogs regularly at shanehalbach.com or can be found on Twitter @shanehalbach.

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.