Daily Science Fiction February 2014 Review

We continue our author spotlight with this months featured author Damien Angelica Walters. Damien is a favorite Friday featured author. Her work has appeared 7 times at Daily SF, including this month’s finishing tale.

 

Android copy finds its creator. Children of Frogs by Morgan Brooks (debut 2/3 and reviewed by Frank D) is the tale of a robotic engineer who escaped the paternal grip of her oppressor. She built a cyborg copy of herself but now the copy has found her. There is no room for identical women in the same place. Someone will need to go.

“Children” is the tale of obligation. The protagonist ran away from her sick father. Her Asian roots committed her to care for him but she was eager for a life on her own. What her cyborg replacement lacked in outward appearance she made up with for an identical inward personality.

I must say this tale perplexed me. Tying the story’s title with its premise is something I completely missed. Piecing together the backstory with the characters motives also eluded me. I don’t know if the man she left behind was a bad guy or just a burden. What I didn’t miss was its moral , you can run from your sins but you can never escape them.

 

Exchanges in No Man’s Land by C J Paget (debut 2/5 and reviewed by Dustin Adams)

Two women within a VR (I think) are on a secret mission. One is a super spy fully cut out for this type of subterfuge, the other joined to try to change the world through radical peace.

What we discover the true nature of the mission to be, is not what was assumed, but a world-changing technology that if twisted and put in the wrong hands will have catastrophic consequences. Loyalties reverse and doing the right thing becomes pitted against survival.

 

Pair of Rogues by Jonathan Vos Post (debut 2/5 and reviewed by Dustin Adams)

This story is interesting, insofar as the facts contained within are disseminated with professionalism and lead me to believe they are truth framed in a tale.

The tale is of a narrator observing a planet named Partner, which orbits the same sun. The facts are how it’s possible for planets to leave one solar system and wind up in another.

I felt this story was dry and tell-ish until I read the author comments. Then things made more sense and I appreciated the tale for the author’s intent. I suggest reading them first.

 

When You Want Another Man’s Girl by Stefanie Freele (debut 2/6 and reviewed by Dustin Adams)

Envy, as mentioned in the author’s notes, is the crux of this micro-flash. The observation is the more things change, the more they stay the same.

An illegal party is a most excellent place to have one’s competition for affection arrested. I wouldn’t call this a twist as much as a revelation, and it’s a wicked one at that.

 

Grand Kitsch by Jane Elliot (debut 2/7 and reviewed by Dustin Adams)

Interesting and completely believable story about a young girl in our inevitable, amped up future. She figures she’ll try anything once, and the particular anything the story focuses on, is getting married. But it’s not married like it is today, it’s disposable.

The style here is inventive, as if the author time traveled to the future and returned with vivid details of vernacular and how people behave while high (which is how the narrator spends the entire story.) I enjoyed this story more from a writer’s point of view than a reader’s because of the way it’s told, instead of what transpired.

 

Jesus has returned in Revelations by Brenda Kezar (debut 2/11 and reviewed by Frank D), and he is seeking converts. A reporter investigates a small church’s claims that Jesus lives within the walls. The reporter soon discovers who he really is , immortal, all powerful, and a vampire.

“Revelations” is a faith challenging story. The author explains much on the Biblical version of His miracles with this version but is sure to inflame a few of the faithful with its premise. Proceed with caution if you are a regular church goer.

 

If She Pushes the Button, Turn to Page 116 by Robert Lowell Russell (debut 2/11 and reviewed by James Hanzelka)

Susan and Phil are exploring their basement, now cluttered with images generated by the paperback manual in Phil’s hands. Susan is amazed at how personal and detailed the text is. Following the text they explore the clutter of Phil’s grandfather that now populated their basement, right down to the dust the images carried in with them. The two follow the path the manual leads them on, flipping from page to page, watching their movements captured on the page. They follow the manual down to the hidden cavern the manual has created under their basement where they find the box housing Phil’s evil twin from the same dimension as the manual.

This story takes a little effort to get into, but if you let it carry you along it can be fun. The plot twists and turns like the ladder the couple follow to the cavern beneath their house (or their make believe house, I was never really sure). The author does a good job using the reflection of the characters off their opposites in the story to build the storyline. Overall a pretty well done effort, give it a read.

 

Dear John by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley (debut 2/12 and reviewed James Hanzelka)

John Smith
C/o NASA Ceres Project
Dear John.
I’m sorry to tell you this while you are so far away (you must be at the end of the solar system by now) but I think it’s only fair you hear it from me and are not left wondering. Besides we’ve always told each other the truth (although you never did explain Lisa Walter’s panties in your glove box after your going away party). So I wanted to tell you before you heard it from someone else first that I’m seeing someone else. I know we never made a promise to wait for each other, but with how difficult it’s become to find food and drink since we got hit by the plague it’s probably better to move on. And Melvin was so sweet to fight his way through the zombies (they’re not really zombies, that’s just what we call the roaming bands of rioters looking for food after the nuclear exchange) that I just couldn’t send him back outside, so I let him sleep in the spare room. He really has been a godsend.

This is a tragedy in a one page note. The author deftly weaves the dear John letter together with the telling of the disaster that Earth has become after the astronaut left. In spite of the horrific situation the writer describes the humor comes through quite clearly. This one will brighten your day, even if it is just in comparison to how bad things might have been.

 

Love dies on the infield of a Little League diamond in St Valentine’s Day Mashup by G.O. Clark (debut 2/13 and reviewed by Frank D). An alien with striking resemblance to the mythical Cupi, steps outside his tiny saucer with his bow and arrow in hand and is cut to ribbons by a paranoid military.

“St Valentine’s” is a very amusing, but short, mashup of a couple of different premises. Very funny.

 

A strange rock brings two people uncomfortably close together. Rob Lithim Used to be Two People by Brynn MacNab (debut 2/14 and reviewed by Frank D) is the tale of an obsessed man and his dysfunctional attempts at maintaining a relationship. He can’t let go of his girlfriend, Tam. Lithim is a close friend (lover?) who happened to be near Rob when he comes into contact of a rock with special powers , condemning the two to be one.

“Rob Lithim” is a strange story that is difficult to grasp. A mish-mash of flashbacks made it cumbersome for me to determine the where and when of disconnected scenes. The story clearly shows Rob as one F’ed up individual who now possess a disturbing superpower. If the tale stuck to that simple frame of a premise, it would have been majestic, but the real story wasn’t about that, but of a needy man’s self-absorbed character. Too bad.

 

A starving boy hooks the catch of a lifetime in Mermaid by Jonathon Schneeweiss (debut 2/17 and reviewed by Frank D). Izam latches onto a huge fish, but the monstrous catch gets away before he can pull it in. His family needs money and food, the lost fish would have helped them make it through a few more days. So when a mermaid surfaces, holding the squirming fish in her hands, an opportunity of a lifetime is just a net’s throw away.

“Mermaid” is a tale of fortune and empathy. Izam is so hungry he can count the ribs under his skin. His father had told what to do if he were lucky enough to be so close to a mermaid. Catching it will change the fortunes of his family overnight but the beauty and kindness of the creature causes him to question the intentions of his actions. It takes an enticing bait to net a clever catch, a lesson Izam’s dad never taught him.

I have seen many of stories with a premise nearly identical to “Mermaid”. However, the author here managed to package a familiar twist quite nicely. Well done.

 

A stage of life goes up in flames. Saltcedars by Shannon Peavey (debut 2/18 and reviewed by Frank D) is the story of young woman on the verge of adulthood. The time has come to burn her tamarisk tree , the origin of her birth. Her hopes and expectations of an idealistic youth go up in the flames. It is time for her to move on and wait. From the ashes of the tree will spring a new tamarisk. The next generation awaits.

“Saltcedars” is a tale of growth. The story is set during a time when the children of this community are on the cusp of becoming adults. The trees are phoenix-like anomalies , the old growth is torched to make way for the new. Ms Peavey created a tale that serves as a wonderful metaphor on the uncertainty and anxiety of growing up. A new chapter is turned when we emerge from our innocent youth into the responsibility that is adulthood. Well told.

 

An instruction guide for a human hosting a parasitic matrimony is What is Expected of a Wedding Host by Ken Liu (debut 2/19 and reviewed by Frank D).

The story is an instructional guide for people about to become a home for advanced alien parasites. Clever but the premise is a familiar one.

 

All the diamonds and jewels cannot buy peace for a kingdom, or happiness for a marriage. Toads by Mari Ness (debut2/20 and reviewed by Frank D) explores the eventuality of an old fairy tale’s consequences.

“Diamonds and Toads” is a fable I had missed in my youth. The story lacks a satisfying conclusion for me.

 

A condemned man gets more than one chance. The Seventeen Executions of Signore Don Vashata by Peter M Ball (debut 2/21 and reviewed by Frank D) is the story of immortal man who sentence to death, over and over. The protagonist is one of Vashata’s many executioners. Despite three fail attempts to complete the deed himself, he is called as an consultant by his predecessors on how to proceed with Vashata’s sentence. The protagonist becomes fond with the criminal, even willing to become his friend.

“Seventeen executions” is a commentary on the merits of the death sentence. I believe the author sought to point out the futile of punishment and on how robs its victim of atonement. Vashata is cast as a romantic but flawed man. He has a charm about him. The failed attempts to kill him have left many scars on the man which lend to the sympathy more than one executioner feels for him.

Vashata is cast as a likeable character but I couldn’t help but to notice the nature and acts of his crimes were never explored. His crimes could have been as inconsequential as littering as far as the reader could know. One thing that didn’t escape me, whatever he did more than one jurisdiction , and nation , felt his crimes deserved death as a penalty. There is only one description that would warrant multiple attempts to exterminate an immortal man: a monster. A man like that doesn’t earn freedom because it is too hard to carry out his sentence. A man like that needs to be in cage, as would any monster too dangerous to be allowed to roam free.

 

Inebriation gets a lot simpler. Fermentation by Christopher Kastensmidt (debut 2/24 and reviewed by Frank D) is the tale of a fungus that turns any stomach into its own brewery.

Silly and frightening. I agree with the author, way too many people would willingly accept this infliction, damn the consequences.

 

All the town is abuzz when Miss Violet May from the Twelve Thousand Lakes by Tina Connolly (debut 2/25 and reviewed by Frank D) arrived into town. Miss May is a girl from the far north that has come south to marry a local boy. There are rumors that frightening ghosts live up there, but Miss May seems far too cheerful to have come from a place like that. Married life proves to be not it’s all cracked up to be. The smile, and Violet, slowly begins to fade away with each passing day.

“Miss Violet May” is a metaphor on failing relationships. The protagonist in this story is another man who is sweet on the married woman. To him it is apparent that Violet married the wrong man. I was appalled by Miss May’s decision in the end, and like many woman who find the courage to opt out of violent relationship, I do hope she found herself again.

 

Be wary of the local cuisine. La Paella by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley (debut 2/26 and reviewed by Frank D) is a letter of regret from a diplomat. He wasn’t as careful as he needed to be when he made his choice of picking clams on the beach.

This one is another in Ms Wrigley’s Postmark Andromeda series. A man’s eagerness to break a bland diet lands causes an interstellar incident.

 

A meat packing company is rewarded an unusual contract in On Disposing of a Corpse by Tom Jolly (debut 2/27 and reviewed by Frank D). The company paid for the rights of salvaging the remains of an icon. Although the cleanup was costly, they more than made their money back on novelty sales.

Interesting look at the after effects of a well-known classic. I love this type stories.

 

Green is for Silence, Blue is for Voice, Red is for Whole, Black is for Choice by Damien Angelica Walters (debut 2/28 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist of this apocalyptic tale is a young woman named Leda. She is a survivor, one of the lucky few healing in a futuristic regeneration ward. The war has left the Earth devastated and humankind scarred and disfigured. Medical science works feverishly to heal the repairable, but the damage is extensive. Therapy and time is needed, but how much time no one can know.

“Green is for Silence” is a grim story. One could argue that the theme is one of hope but the sheer devastation that is only hinted about, would be more for any ordinary person to comprehend. Leda is just like all the other patients of the ward , alone, mutilated, and without a future. Everyone she ever knew and all she ever had is gone. All she has left to look forward to is a life where she can feel whole again. The wait will be a log one.

Leda’s journey in this bleak tale takes a turn toward the end. It completes the moral of the piece , time heals all wounds. The conclusion leaves the protagonist with a life of uncertainty, but it is a life where she can make her own choices once again.

 

The Scary Career of a Prolific Writer

Daily Science Fiction is a treasure chest of jewels. This unique publication has proven to serve as an excellent metal detector for the precious gold that lies right under our feet, and Damien Angelia Walters (previously known as Damien Walters Grintalis) is one of the brightest gems they have brought to my light.

To share the vast wealth of published material she has to her credit would take pages for me to write, but an excellent example of her talent is her debut horror novel Ink. The many reviews I have read about it our quite glowing (and also too numerous for me to share), but Horror Review’s own Christine Morgan summed up the larger consensus by describing it asâ€

INK, the book, is a gorgeous piece of work, with a rich and enticing cover. INK, the story on the inside, is also a gorgeous piece of workâ€

†and later statingâ€

Debut novels should not be this good

We wanted to know about Ms Walters in hopes of uncovering the magic elixir that makes her such a good writer.

1) What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment as a writer?

I think my greatest accomplishment is realizing that there is no one accomplishment. Writing is a continuous series of accomplishments, both small and large, like selling a story to a magazine I thought of as a white whale, and then selling a second story to that same magazine, or being able to look back at an older story and see how much I’ve grown as a writer.

2) Who would be your choice as the best undiscovered/ up and coming author in short fiction today?

Although they’re not undiscovered, I’d like to first give mentions to two of my favorite short fiction authors: Sunny Moraine and E. Catherine Tobler. Their prose and their stories make my heart hurt, in the best possible way.

Honestly, it’s hard for me to designate who is up and coming and who is not.
Some other authors who I’ve only read a few stories from but think they’re on the right path to eventually be very well known are Usman Tanveer Malik, Martin Cahill, and Brooke Bolander, although in truth, Ms. Bolander has had quite a few stories published in high profile magazines so she might not be up and coming but already arrived.

3) Do you have a recommendation for a Daily Science Fiction tale for us? The one story you think is a must read for the lovers of speculative fiction?

Tastes are so very subjective. All too often, one person’s must reads are another person’s did not finish, so I’ll simply point out two DSF stories that I adore:

Tell Me How All This (and Love too) Will Ruin Us by Sunny Moraine

Falling From Earth to Haphazard Sky (Tadpole Remix) by E. Catherine Tobler

 

Damien WaltersDamien Angelica Walters’ work has appeared or is forthcoming in various magazines and anthologies, including Lightspeed, Nightmare, Year’s Best Weird Fiction Volume One, Strange Horizons, Apex, and Glitter & Mayhem. Sing Me Your Scars, and Other Stories, a collection of her short fiction, will be released in Fall 2014 from Apex Publications.

Review: Writers of the Future XXIX

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

Welcome to my yearly review of the Writers of the Future anthology. This marks my sixth review of the contest. An explanation on my approach to reviewing this anthology I provided in my review of WotF 28. WotF 29 marks a change in tenure of Coordinating judge. Dave Wolverton (a.k.a Dave Farland) , gold award winner of contest #3 and bestselling author of the Runelords series, takes over for the departed Kathy Wentworth. With the exception of a portion of the first quarter, all the entries from last year went across Dave’s desk. Many writers had studied and pondered on what it took to impress the late Ms Wentworth. The abrupt change in first reader sent shockwaves through the forums populated by writers hoping to crack into the anthology. The big question was ‘would the standards change’ for winning the contest. If the winners are indication, my answer would be a soft yes, but by all means, judge for yourselfâ€

 

“War Hero” by Brian Trent second place, fourth quarter
Harris Pope is the hero of the resistance. The only one to successfully infiltrate the enemy, he destroyed the Partisan’s Phobos base and won the war to free Mars. Feigning loyalty to the isolationist’s cruelest commander , Corporal Peznowski , he is eager to put his past behind him. A simple saving of his conscious and he will begin his post war life , it is the last thing he remembers when he awakes forty years in the future in a new body.

“War Hero” is set in a future where death can be a new beginning. Memories of who you were are downloaded and can be uploaded later in a fresh body. What had seemed like a war that was almost over for Harris, turned to hell for Mars when a Partisan last resort protocol nuked the red planet’s surface. The resistance has learned Peznowski has returned and lives in the body of mid-level official. Harris’s conscious has been loaded into his nineteen-year old son, Peter , the victim of an accident. Harris’s mission is to kill his ‘father’ and learn what he can of Peznowski plans, but the sadistic Partisan commander has doubled his chances of success, downloading his mind into a second person he can trust. As horrifying as it is for Harris to learn his most bitter enemy is now his father, he discovers that the same man’s mind is also in the head of his mother as well.

“War Hero” is a futuristic sci-fi war story , not unlike the fast action tales woven by the likes of Dickerson, Drake, and Pournelle. I got the impression that the two sides had no qualms about total annihilation for all over defeat, a complication amplified when downloading a conscious can resurrect friends and enemies. The twist of one man becoming two and mating with himself was , I’m not sure how to identify that type of creepiness , and unique. It made the second half intriguing and a delight to read. Not as gripping was the interview opening with a bookish type of technician , I found the Shane character needlessly wooden and was glad he wasn’t in the second half of the story. Although I found the premise, protagonist, and antagonist worth the price of admission, the solution to the protagonist’s dilemma was nothing more than a cheat; an out-of-the-blue convenient rescue early short cliff hanger films would spring on their audience. No hint it was coming, nor an indication that the hero set it up from before.

“War Hero” makes for a good opening for a speculative anthology–quick and smart. It also strikes a tone that is different from past editions: darker, more intrigue, but with no promises that the ending will be a happy one.

Grade B+

 

“Planetary Scouts” by Stephen Sottong third place, first quarter

The scouts need a few brave (and naÃ’ ve) men and women, and Aidan Pastor is one of the best. At nineteen missions, he has survived five partners and is six missions away from retirement. Lester, fresh out of the academy, is his newest partner. He has a ten percent chance of surviving his first mission, but Aidan doesn’t plan on losing another partner and isn’t above teaching Lester some hard lessons so he can learn about survival quickly. The galaxy is a mean place. Humanity needs fresh worlds and it’s up to the scouts to find them, regardless the cost.

Stephen Sottong is an author who grew up reading the old Cold War science fiction masters of the 50’s and 60’s. “Planetary Scouts” honors those old action classics. The story is set up like many old cop movies where the wise veteran is saddled with an eager rookie. Aidan instills in Lester that idealistic notions – like sparing all intelligent life – is the best way to get killed. The galaxy is filled with life , hostile, aggressive, and territorial. It is the scout’s job to find out which worlds out there harbor intelligent life. Those that aren’t are sterilized for human occupancy.

“Planetary Scouts”‘ main protagonist is a hard man whose amusing but harsh tactics of training reminds me of a couple John Wayne and Clint Eastwood characters they brought to life. The worlds the pair land on are full of crafty and murderous lifeforms. The author deserves high praise for coming up with a round variety of hostile, yet original, natives. The story is one of the longest of the anthology but it read short to me. It is an idea that could , and should , be lengthen to a novel, with room for many sequels afterward. The humans of this future are narrowly pragmatic; the scorch and raze solution for colonization would horrify the progressive of our today. Life, as it seems, does not mix well with extraterrestrial newcomers. If you want to colonize a new world, you best exterminate the natives.

“Planetary Scouts” is so much like the stories I would find in the book stores of decades ago: adventurous humans taking on a mean galaxy not unlike the old explorers that braved the west of two centuries before. I found the tale gripping, exciting, and a complete delight to read. The character’s lives are filled with struggle, but most of that turmoil is of an outward variety. The inner turmoil past anthologies practically demanded, is only superficially present here. The ending to this piece is less than a happy one. That may disappoint some, but not me. Personal growth of fictional people matter less than riding shotgun in a wild ride like this story gave me.

Grade A

 

“Twelve Seconds” by Tina Gower first place, first quarter, Gold Award winner

Howard works for the police department. It is his job to process memory siphons; the image of the last moments a person sees before their death. Sera Turner’s siphon is off. It is only nine seconds and is missing something Howard has never failed to see in one before: the halo marking the end of life.

“Twelve Seconds”‘ protagonist is an autistic man. He wears special goggles to filter out the overload of sensory input, and help him to decipher the proper social protocols he often misses. The absence of a halo bothers him. Most view the halo image as proof that an afterlife exists: the light marking the opening to heaven. Howard’s investigation uncovers other siphons who failed to show a halo as well. Howard’s colleagues become impatient with him as he digs for answers. Ava tells him to look for a common thread. His simple mind has a hard time figuring out what is common, but he eventually stumbles on what others have missed , and his friend may be in danger when he does.

Ms Gower braved a risky tactic when she chose to write a first person perspective through the eyes of a mentally disabled protagonist. Howard is a functional handicap, made partly possible with the same technology created by the two doctors that made siphons possible. Howard is a man who has a hard time interacting with others. His co-workers all have socially disabling issues as well, but Howard appears to be the one having the hardest time fitting in among his colleagues. His desire to be more than what he is motivates him. He has dreams of becoming a real officer, often imagining that his closest colleague, Eddie , a policeman who lost his wife , as his partner and fellow detective. He is told to forget about the halo but the more he digs the more reports he uncovers of similar siphons.

“Twelve Seconds” is a different type of mystery. Howard takes on the role of a detective but unlike all the other mysteries I read before, he is successfully written as one not as bright. His inability to absorb the overload of sensory input in this futuristic society helps him to maintain a laser like focus on what is wrong with the vision of the last moments of Sera Turner’s life. The trail leads him to a cover up, and to a source brighter detectives may have overlooked. It easy to see why the judges chose this story as their Gold Award winner: it is different, brave, and with a protagonist you can’t help but to pull for. As much as I loved the idea of the memory siphons, and admire Ms Gower’s ability to write a convincing mentally handicapped protagonist, I wasn’t satisfied with the way the story rolled out.

The first half of the tale I thought was dynamite: good mystery, intriguing technology, and a likeable protagonist. The problem I had with it was the conclusion. The mystery on why the halos were absent from the victims was never explained to my liking. I also didn’t understand the antagonist’s motivation for their crime. Why was a cover up even necessary? Nevertheless, I found the tale very worthy for inclusion into the anthology. Nice work.

Grade B

 

“The Grande Complication” by Christopher Reynaga first place, fourth quarter

Nine-year old Neil’s world comes to a stop when he is about to board the train taking him to the orphanage. His handler isn’t nice and he wants to go home, but all his problems come to a halt when time stops around him. The only things that still move are himself and an old man who claims to be the caretaker of the World Clock. Time is breaking down, and it is up to the old man to fix it. He needs an apprentice, and Neil is the only person for the job.

“The Grande Complication” is a story that reminds me of the Twilight Zone episode title “A Kind of Stopwatch”. The world has frozen into place. Only Neil and the mysterious old man can move in it. The old man takes Neil into the realm of the World Clock through a seam in reality. The clock is home to things that have fallen out of time. Some, like Jack the Pigeon, were living beings but now exist in a metal-like shell. The clock is broken, and has been falling apart for some time. Chronaphage’s , small metallic locusts , have been chewing away at the clock. The clock caretaker is old and does not have long for this world. He must teach Neil how to repair the clock but Neil has never been good at putting things back together , only at taking them apart.

“The Grande Complication” has an opening with a sudden start. We are immediately thrown into his world and quickly become familiar with the problem he faces. The introduction to Neil trying to escape the clutches of the woman trying to send him away made for an excellent hook. Like the previous tale, I fell for this story right away. I became intrigued with the dilemma young Neil faced. But also like the previous tale, the conclusion left me unsatisfied. So not to spoil the outcome, I won’t reveal the ending scene that baffled me.

I rather liked how this story unraveled and adored the writing. However, I became confused with the shifting events and with a solution that seemed more like an accident that worked out for the protagonist.

Grade B

 

“Cop For A Day” by Chrome Oxide published finalist

Mark Rollins, convicted felon, has been selected for law enforcement detail for the day. He is given all the equipment they can spare for him to perform his duty , bullet proof vest, an AI disabled car, weapons , and is told if he collects a half-a-million dollars he can keep the job. A resourceful man like him just might have a chance to succeed, but then again, when it comes to the government, the rules keep changing to stack the deck against him.

The setting and premise for “Cop For A Day” is a libertarian’s worse nightmare. The government is nothing but semi-organized thuggery. Taxes are collected by theft. Any attempt to conduct an honest business is seen as capitalistic shenanigans that must be dealt with by with heavy-handed authoritative methods. The crime Mark was convicted of was conducting a black market repair service. His business was fair, and he was good at it, which made him a competitive danger and an avoider of taxes for not turning in all his profits for government confiscation. Mark is given a car that is barely functional. He is able to repair the vehicle’s AI brain thus making his job easier. The trick to being a good cop is taking advantage of crimes in progress so he can seize any evidence for the greater good. With the help of his car, he is able to interrupt a very big crime in progress.

The premise of “Cop” is one that teeters on edge of seriousness. The background characters have been dumbed down to a common denominator so low it defies belief. The community Mark lives in makes the most depressing and crime-ridden city of today seem like a paradise getaway in comparison. The government departments have colorful acronyms , which lends to a light-hearted tone, at the expense of the serious nature of the piece. The car (nicknamed EDGE by Mark) has a cold personality that makes moral judgments, reminding me of a mothballed KIT (of Knightrider fame) brought out of retirement.

Despite an abundance of cartoonish characters, “Cop For A Day” has a decent foundation for a science fiction tale seeking to achieve a futuristic moral premise. Mark is written effectively as a hero existing within the cracks of an oppressive society; a believable anti-hero hero. I can imagine a few of my progressive leaning friends disliking the message of this piece , government, left unchecked, is a government destined for corruption. I can see why this right-leaning tale of dystopia would fail to crack the top three, but I am one that is glad it made the pages of the anthology. I found it amusing and can imagine further adventures involving Mark and his EDGE.

Grade B+

 

“Gonna Reach Out and Grab Ya” by Eric Cline second place, second quarter

Dr Molly Boyle is left alone in the corner office when the sheriff delivers a naked John Doe for her to examine. Her colleagues have been called into Fort Benteen to deal with a quarantine event emergency. The dead man was found outside the military base. He is young, has three unique tattoos, and a clenched fist. His tattoos are remarkable. A woman depicted on his chest is done so well it almost looks like a photo. Molly wonders if they may hold a clue to his identity, but the mystery only deepens when she breaks protocol and touches the tattoo with her bare finger. The woman in ink moves under her touch.

“Gonna Reach Out” has a premise fitting an old Twilight Zone episode. Molly is a woman filled with anxiety. Her desire to become a doctor has left her in debt, overworked, and depressed. She is drawn as a lonely woman riding on the edge of a mental breakdown. John Doe is a handsome cadaver full of mystery. The dead man has tattoos that replay like short film clips when they are touched. His hand proves to have a life of its own, grasping at anything close enough to grab. It becomes clear to Molly that the man is part of something secret and big from the base. She is certain that the military will suppress anything Molly discovers, and the hasty , but lame , cover story only confirms her suspicion.

One way to describe “Gonna Reach Out” is as a Roswell cover up from another time. I found the mysterious John Doe as intriguing as Molly did. The setting for this story was ripe for a horror premise but the author chose a direction a little less scary. The presentation, protagonist, and overall premise I found very appealing and kept me glued to this story throughout , well done. Not as intriguing was Molly’s backstory. I found them to be mildly distractive. I also thought the protagonist solved the mystery a little too easily. Her conclusions were, in my opinion, a lucky guess.

“Gonna Reach Out and Grab Ya” is a story I wished would have been longer, invested less in the protagonist’s mental state, and been a bit creepier. Nevertheless, the tale is a good one. The premise reads peripherally familiar, but is unique enough to qualify as an original work of speculative fiction. In short: I liked it, but wished it had more.

Grade B-

 

“Vestigial Girl” by Alex Wilson third place, third quarter

Charlene is a genius. She is four years old, has the physical development of a pre-toddler, is the biological product of same-sex fathers, and is plagued by a monster. The monster is clever. It is wrapped around her voice box, inhibiting her ability to communicate with her fathers. CAT scans have failed to detect it, but Charlene has seen it with the help of a mirror she has constructed from bits and pieces around her home. Charlene knows the monster is against her, but she has a plan to free herself from its clutches. She has but one chance. It is now or never.

“Vestigial Girl” is a prison escape tale. Little Charlene’s prison is the underdeveloped body she is locked in and her jailer is the monster constricting her voice box. There are other children like her. Charlene briefly met such a girl capable of communicating the only way she could , through whistles. Her parents believe she is mentally and physically handicapped: her Daddy Oliver believing the science that merged his and Gary’s cells as being responsible for her condition. Charlene is more sophisticated than any child , and most adults , have ever been. Her plan is to conduct surgery on herself. The gambit is all or nothing. She knows that if she fails, the monster will have won, or will kill her for trying.

Alex Wilson is a name I was surprised to see in this anthology. I’ve seen his work in other places before, enough to make me believe that he was already a veteran professional writer. “Vestigial Girl” is an indication that he is indeed a seasoned speculative author. The backdrop of this story is of a same sex couple arguing in the next room. Charlene has heard it before and has become bright enough to know what the meaning in the tone and inflections in their voices really mean. The monster in her throat has her locked in a baby’s body. What its origins are is never explored in this tale but it may be responsible for Charlene’s underdeveloped condition. Other than possessing a mind Einstein would have been envious of, the one thing that Charlene has going for her is a glacial level of patience to cope with her fumbling digits. The tale is gripping as we follow along with her battle to defeat her monster, knowing her well-meaning parents can bring it all to an end if they check on her at an inappropriate moment.

Although I enjoyed the struggle of the patient and brilliant protagonist, the back drop of arguing couples took me a bit out of tale. Not only did I find it mildly distractive(parents who argue so loudly about a child, are irresponsible in their own right), but the nature and tone of a same-sex male couple, came off as clichÃ’ . Do all gay men fight like diva self-centered women? I would like to think not. It sounded as if they were attempting to one up each other in self-pity. That aside, the tale made for a wonderful slice in a greater drama. I would have liked to know more of the monster and why it chose children like Charlene to torment. Was it a conspiratorial attack? I would like to have known. Perhaps that may be told in another tale.

Grade B

 

“Holy Days” by Kodiak Julian third place, second quarter

The days of remembrance fill our lives. Four magical days mark what we once were, what we have lost, and what we would sooner forget. Evie is expecting her first child. It is her second pregnancy. For her bright and full-of-life but sick sister, Rosie, these days is a chance to step away from her chemotherapy. Her husband, James, tries to use the days to reconnect with his wife. The days are opportunities to get closer with family and loved ones but they instead expose the wounds we had allowed to callus over with time. Scabs that are exposed are scabs we can’t help but pick.

The “Holy Days” in Ms Julian’s story are miracle days. There is a day where our aliments leave us, a day where we return to a happier state, a day where the secrets we hold are revealed to those who share their common sin, and a day in which are departed loved ones come back. The protagonist in this tale is about to give birth to her daughter. The days are bitter sweet ones for her, as they are for others she is close to. Instead of appreciating re-experiencing the things and people she has lost, a forebearing regret fills her as it becomes apparent the people that are close to her will be leaving her soon.

I confess, the days in “Holy Days” would be ones most of us would embrace. Wouldn’t it be great if the arthritis and sickness that plagued us took a day off? And wouldn’t it be nice if you could spend one day with the parent you lost again? How about a day as the innocent and precise child your mother remembered you to be? Instead of looking forward to them, the protagonist in this tale treats the days like family get-togethers; days that force the ill feelings you’d rather not remember to the surface. The events that should have been looked upon as a gift from above, instead they make the reader feel dirty from the emotive residual that came with the package.

Although I liked the premise of “Holy Days” I found the subplots that dotted the story distractive. One sidetrack to the piece told of a relative of Evie’s husbands, a child that died at a young age. The sidebar was long and barely related to Evie’s dilemma. I was surprised it survived the authors final cut. The subplots and depressing tone of the tale, I admit, affected my final analysis of this piece. A few years back I would have likely given “Holy Days” a higher grade, but the quality of the writing and the appeal of the stories has raised the stakes of what I consider a good tale for WotF these days. Although I had no qualms with Ms Julian’s skill as a writer, or of her ability to tell an intriguing tale, the story was one of my least favorites.

Grade C+

 

“The Ghost Wife of Arlington” by Marilyn Guttridge second place, third quarter

Vivian is Arlington’s Shade. She serves as the town’s ambassador to their immortal; a much feared supernatural being she has named the Shaker. She is a divorced outsider who stumbled onto the immortal’s doorstep in the middle of the night. The town folk are frightened of her but are grateful she took a role one of the locals would have had to fill. Shaker is unlike other immortals Vivian has known. He acts more a like an aloof Lord to the people of Arlington than a mischievous deity that toys with mortals. Serving as Shaker’s Shade gave Vivian a purpose in life when she needed it the most. Assuming the role of Death’s companion is not a job most mortals would want. She never expected to fall in love with a man with no heart, nor had she ever thought she would crave having a child with him.

If I were to choose the author who would be most likely to succeed as a bestselling author in this anthology, my vote would have gone to Marilyn Guttridge. This very young winner has an intuitive talent of capturing the attention of a reader. The opening scene to “The Ghost Wife” unravels like the first chapter of a fantasy romance novel. Vivian is shown as a woman with a very unusual job, a servant to a powerful being that is treated like an equal by her master. Shaker is a distant ruler. Mortals confound him but being the only immortal around leaves him lonely. His home is filled with ghostly things called ‘Shadows’ , shy and elusive around Vivian. Shaker is a being that mimics the shell of a human. He can change his form at will but can’t maintain a consistent skin temperature. His touch is usually ice cold but he can burn like a hot stove if he chooses. He works hard with his relationship with Vivian, a difficult task when you have no idea what it is like to be alive.

“The Ghost Wife” is Beauty and the Beast retold. Shaker’s beast is of a being that is alien to the concept of what it is to be human. Try as he might, he can never really be like a man, but his efforts in trying for Vivian’s benefit make him more of a man for a woman who lived with an unkind husband for years. The first half of this tale is warm. You can feel Vivian’s sympathy for a man who is feared by the town he watches over. He is the bringer of death, escorting the souls of the departed to his street until they are ready to move on. When Vivian asks for a child, Shaker becomes angry. Children he sires cannot be alive, eventually becoming the Shadows that hide in his home. The warm opening scene of the first half of the “The Ghost Wife” gives way to a tale that reads like an epilogue. I found the proceeding story to be rushed , as if the author crammed the remaining chapters of her novel to fit into a short story. As a result, the tale lost some of its luster and warmth that captured me at the opening. The last ten percent of the tale where a new, and important, character is introduced, devolves the story into a footnote status , an explanation of what happened to Vivian in the end. It was so distant I came to not care of the character who burst onto the scene.

“The Ghost Wife of Arlington” is a tale written with two dynamic players. I cared about them and I could see many readers falling in love with them. Of all the stories in this anthology, this tale fits in to what I imagine the late Kathy Wentworth searched for: character led tales of speculation. I can’t remember a tale in all the years of the contest where the story would have been better served as novel, if only to see the characters evolve to their full potential. Perhaps Ms Guttridge will one day rework it and create one for Vivian and Shaker.

Grade B+

 

“Everything You Have Seen” by Alisa Alering first place, second quarter

Min-Hee is a young Korean girl caught in the middle of a war. She hides from the shells bursting overhead, hunts down the chickens that have fled the coop, and avoids her cruel brother. Her family is in shambles. Her father has gone to war and left her mother to care for a baby, Min-Hee, and Chung-hee , Min-hee’s older brother. Min-hee discovers a strange boy hiding in the chicken coop and names him Turtle. Turtle wears strange clothes, speaks a foreign language, and can summon food at will. The strange boy is unlike any person Min-hee had met and represents something she had little of before; hope.

“Everything You Have Seen” is a tale told from the frontline of the Korean War. Min-Hee and her family are villagers who have the misfortune of living where the armies have stood to fight. Chung-hee has joined a gang of boys. Their mother has lost control of the family. Turtle is a refuge but Min-hee cannot fathom from whence he came, or if he truly exists. He is lost, but what he is lost from is a mystery. Helping Turtle be found will help Min-hee find herself.

My description of Ms Alering’s story is imprecise. The tale had two themes; the destructive nature of war on a family’s structure and the fantasy element of a lost and magical boy. Turtle, scared and lonely, offers Min-hee a glimpse of a better life. His vision of peace and serenity are a sharp contrast to Chung-hee’s descent into savagery and barbarism. It becomes clear to Min-hee that accepting current events as they are will not serve Min-hee, her mother, and infant brother.

I found Ms Alering’s winning entry tough to follow. For example, I assume her story was set in the Korean War of the fifties from my own knowledge of history, but truth be told I could be wrong. Turtle was more of mystery to me. What he really was I could only make an educated guess. His exit from the story left me unsatisfied and was set way before the end of the tale. Far more intriguing to me was Chung-hee and his choice to attach himself to a marauding band of thugs – deciding his own family were nothing but exploitable items to barter and control. A fascinating subplot. I found her tale interesting but I failed to find solid ground with her premise.

Grade B-

 

“Scavengers” by Shannon Peavey third place, fourth quarter

Mara is a girl with poor sight. Her sister, Keera, serves as the guard for Goldwater , a job that was meant for her. The Lady and her metallic finches warn Mara when a Harvester – dangerous men from outside Goldwater – approaches. It is up to Keera, Mara, and Keera’s husband, Rey, to shoot the Harvesters before they can harm the village. Keera and Rey’s sharp shooting has never let the town down, but when the latest intruders fail to hold scythes suspicion brings to creep into Mara’s mind.

“Scavengers” is set in an isolated town. Goldwater is watched over by the Lady , a woman who is half vulture. Mara was chosen in her youth to be the guard for the town but an illness that struck her sight barred her from the job. The Lady has cared for Mara and has been working to improve her vision. She cares deeply for the town, and for Mara. The trio has the task of assassinating any scythe-carrying men who dare enter their area. Their latest kill are two men who proved to not be holding scythes. Keera decides she must find out the truth and leaves Goldwater. Mara and Rey are left to defend the town, and when another Harvester arrives, Mara suspects the worst when the dangerous man is found riding the same horse Keera rode out on.

“Scavengers” is a tale very much like recent winners from Ms Wentworth’s watch; character-building struggle set in an unusual speculative element. Mara is a woman racked with guilt. Guarding the town became Keera’s by default when Mara’s deteriorating eyesight prohibited her from assuming responsibility. The uneasiness Mara feels toward the Lady is apparent from the start. Although she is grateful to the vulture woman for treating her sight, she can’t help but wonder why the self-appointed guardian would care so much for the town, setting up a mystery that was very thin from the start. The tone of the piece was quite solemn, in my opinion. Regret, guilt, and suspicion bleeds from the story, leaving this reader feeling a little icky. The story was well-written, with an intriguing premise, and stocked with interesting characters, but if you’re looking for an uplifting tale you better come back to this later.

Grade B

 

“Dreameater” by Andrea Stewart first place, third quarter

Alexis and her mother, Linda, are drifters. They travel the southwest in a car without air conditioning. Linda earns a living stopping at motels to meet strange men. The men aren’t usually kind, but they lose their mind when Linda lets down her hair. Eventually, Linda will take their mind for good.

“Dreameater” is a horror story in the narrowest of terms. Alexis lives a life no teenager should experience, a daughter of a prostitute without a home. Complicating Alexis’s predicament is her mother’s temper. Linda would never hurt Alexis but she can be deadly to others. Dumping bodies of Linda’s clients is a common practice the pair has endured. Alexis has lived with this horror but when the police stake out the hotel room where met her latest client, the scene Alexis witnesses is worse than she could have ever imagined. Life for Alexis takes a turn she never expected. Child services have found her father, and he hints at a grim future for Alexis.

If there is one story that would mark the difference between a Wentworth edited anthology and this one, this would be the piece. “Dreameater” is the darkest tale I can ever remember reading for the contest. Alexis’s father is a ‘dreamcatcher’, a man who can shape the dreams of people. Linda is a ‘dreameater’, a person who consumes them. She is a monster who will eventually consume all a person has to offer until she feasts on their brains to satisfy her insatiable hunger. It doesn’t take long for Alexis to realize that no jail will hold her mother, and she knows Linda will come for her when she escapes.

I am a fan of dark tales. “Dreameater” has a premise fit for a Stephen King novel. Alexis is dealt a bad hand in life, leaving a wealth of sympathy for the reader to grasp onto. The opening pages left me wondering about Linda, not sure if she was a desperate woman doing what she can to provide for her child or an irresponsible parent of the worse kind. I found the set up for this horror to be enticing , a good ambush to spring on an unsuspecting reader. While I adored the premise to this piece, the narration is one that didn’t grab me. Ms Stewart stayed true to telling the story from a teenage girl who has neglected an education while traveling from town-to-town living in a car. Her first person account was done with a girl subtle in a solitary life absent a sound social setting , making for a simpler dialog and narrative. This approach made the tale less appealing to me, I confess. Nevertheless, the story was original and worthy its first place finish.

Grade B-

 

“Master Belladino’s Mask” by Marina J. Lostetter second place, first quarter

Melaine seeks a miracle. Her mother has been wasting away from disease. Only one man can cure her but he is dead. Fortunately, a mask of his likeness still exists. Melaine has gathered all the bottled time in her possession and hopes to don the mask and create the cure as Master Belladino. But renting the mask will cost more than she has, and there is a danger. To wear a mask is to assume their personality, and sometimes the will trapped inside the mask can be greater than the wearers.

“Master Belladino’s Mask” is layered tale. A number of subplot twists leant to this gripping premise. The story revolves around two and half characters (more on the half character in a moment). Melaine is a girl from the country that has been caring for her ailing mother. She has come to the city with her mother to find the master healers mask. The mask shop clerk is unsympathetic to Melaine’s blight, unwilling to rent her mask she needs with the currency she possess. Fortunately, the Inn keeper, a man named Leiwood, takes pity on her and covers the fee while offering a place for them to stay. He has had a bad experience with a previous mask, putting on his departed father’s in an effort to understand the cruel man. He is leery of Belladino’s mask but knows it will be Melaine’s only chance to save her mother.

Ms Lostetter’s story would have been solid if she just stuck to this narrow premise, but an effort to fill out a complete world with magical rules widen the scope of “Master Belladino’s Mask”. A novel concept of selling time , taken from newborns , was particularly intriguing; a sort of deposit for future needs. Leiwood’s backstory with his father also supported the girth of the storyline. His experience made him an advocate against mask wearing and time selling. It is only Melaine’s desperate predicament that allows him to overlook his opposition to the practice.

It isn’t until halfway through the tale when Melaine first affixes the mask to her face, an appropriate point of the story based on the subtle building of tension. The gradual realization of the power of the magic and of the strong personality (the half character) it stores becomes apparent to Melaine and reader alike, setting up a carefully crafted climax. Well done.

A note of admiration for the editor of the anthology. Although “Master Belladino’s Mask” was one of the shortest stories in this year’s contest, it was fullest tale in the bunch , a fitting finale to a complete collection of short stories. It is unfortunate that Ms Lostetter’s story competed in the same quarter as Ms Gower’s. I believe if she were up for the big award, it would have been her story that would have walked away with the champion’s honor.

Grade A-

 

 

As Predictedâ€

In my previous review of the yearly anthology, I commented on how the choices for the finalist nominees would differ with the passing of the previous coordinating judge, Kathy Wentworth. After reviewing the past anthologies where Kathy served as first reader and editor, and as a reader of Dave Farland’s Daily Kick in the Pants writing tips, I noted how I thought the winning stories may have a different flavor to them. While I can’t make a definitive conclusion on a new direction the anthology may be taking in its choices in winners, I can note on how this collection of stories have differed with the recent past.

Darker

Violence, cliffhanging scenes, avenging heroes all had a place in past anthologies but finding one that had less than a happy ending was a rare find. A good third of the tales in this year’s collection would have left readers who demand a happy ending disappointed. For readers like me, tales where the outcome could go either way is how I prefer them.

Funnier

Aside from one tale, all of the stories here had very serious premises, but there were a couple that employed a light hearted tone to establish a characters personality. Humor was rare to see while Ms Wentworth ran thing, warning to writers that it would be a hard sell. Mr Wolverton has asked the submitters to please send your funny tales, and Chrome Oxide proved that it does indeed have a home in the anthology for now.

Less robots

With the exception of a talking car, this year’s anthology was absent of artificial intelligences. I once commented in a review that a WotF anthology could have been titled “I, Robot” by the abundance of android-like creatures dominating each tale. I believe Ms Wentworth had a soft spot for Tin Man characters. Mr Wolverton has no such attachments.

I commented in the past that Ms Wentworth had a preference for stories with a fairy tale-ish quality to them. The genre didn’t matter but most followed a familiar blueprint. Whenever I spotted a pattern to the ones that made the final cut, I would do my best to share my findings here. It wasn’t always easy to spot, and I may have not always been right, but I believe my instincts proved to be largely correct. Finding a pattern that best suits Dave Wolverton may not be as easy but I do believe I have found one common quality that is present with many of the stories in this year’s finalists; unforgettable finales.

The soft landing for endings I would see in past anthologies are largely missing here. The finales of these tales are sharper, more definitive, and written as stories that leave little room for a follow up sequel. More importantly, the tales in here have more of an exclamation point finality to them. That could be just my perspective of what I read, but I will be looking for that same flavor of a sharp end in the stories in next year’s anthology.

As for similarities with this collection compared to the ones of the recent past , if I were to pick out the pieces that would have been mostly likely to catch Ms Wentworth’s eye, I would have chosen the four first place winners. They all had that character building, compelling struggle, storyline that dominated past winners before. Although the finalist choices may have changed, what attracts the attention of finalist the judges, have not.

 

FrankCurtainFrank has been reviewing the Writer’s of the Future anthology for years. You’d think he would use that knowledge for good and win the damn thing outright, but alas, he hasn’t yet. He’s been close (oh so close) but he’s still the guy who outside looking in.

Someday…someday.

Daily Science Fiction: May 2013 Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

Hey there fans of Daily Science Fiction. Have you’ve been enjoying all the free works of speculative fiction all these years? If you have, maybe you can show the editors some love. First, here are this month’s storiesâ€

 

Stories about or containing affairs as plot are fairly common, yet “Persephone at Arm’s Length” by Bridget A. Natale (debut 5/1 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) stands out because of how polar opposite the two characters are.

The protagonist puts up with more than any man rightly should (which is deftly “shown” not “told” by the author). And she is solely in need of companionship while her husband is away(Where he is gives this tale quite a boost).

There’s a distinctly lopsided relationship here, even for two people married to others, and I gather that it’s not likely to change.

 

“Lyam” by Jez Patterson (debut 5/2 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) is a fun, flash piece about human parents struggling to come to grips with their adopted baby. Their alien baby.

The father is on board, ready to go, and soothes his wife with humor and love, but she — she’s not so sure. Decent story. Simple, and enjoyable.

 

“Things We Leave Behind” by Alex Shvartsman (debut 5/ 3 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) is a story about a Russian couple and their son leaving their country, town, and legacy, not so much to find a better life but to escape a not-so-great one. Fueled by the matriarch and with the young son eager to explore, the father eventually acquiesces and parcels their belongings, including his vast collection of books. The books that have kept their town safe for generations.

Personally, I enjoyed this story very much. There’s subtle hints of magic here and the timing of world events leads the reader to believe they are absolutely true.

 

“The Taking Tree” by Emily C. Skaftun (debut 5/6 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) according to the author’s notes was inversely inspired by The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. While I can certainly see the author’s motivation I admit I was disappointed to discover this fact because I quite enjoyed the story as-is.

A tree, having been cut down by a life-long friend, grows anew around the stump with rings of saplings that together become the mightiest tree in the forest. Sadly, however, the tree’s thoughts are bitter and when other children come to play she doesn’t trust them; she hurts them.

 

“Smaug, MD” by Andrew Kaye (debut 5/7 and reviewed by Dustin Adams) is a brilliant story in which dragons have returned to the Earth but are small enough to become our physicians. They’re better at doctoring than their human counterparts, and have set up complex insurance programs which culminate in the consumption of the patient at the time of death.

However, the narrator’s father is let in on a secret mere moments before he is to be eaten that shakes his foundation, and that of his daughter. What did the dragon tell him?

Unfortunately, I found myself so interested in what the revelation was, that the story itself, the journey, lost some of its luster. Good stories start with a question that’s answered at the end, and this one was great. Possibly too great.

 

“Puss” by Melissa Mead (debut 5/8 and reviewed by Frank D). The famous fairy tale cat readies himself for the next chapter in his life, and takes a previous rival as a convenient companion.

In this alternate fairy tale, Puss has had enough , electing to strike out on his own. It isn’t clear to me if this is an unwritten epilogue of the old classic, or a divergence in the original story.

 

Peter Whitt stands accused of the most heinous of crimes, the attempted assassination of the angel. In “Ichor” by Jess Hyslop (debut 5/9 and reviewed by Jim Hanzelka) he shows no emotion as the charges and sentence of death is read. He stares straight ahead not looking at the priest as he rolls up the scroll. He doesn’t react as the executioner strides to the handle, doesn’t acknowledge the jeers and thrown dirt clods from the crowd. Only when he falls through the trap door does he react. He smiles. It is as if he knows something no one else does.

This is an interesting story. I can’t say I really cared for the layered flashback structure the author uses to tell the tale, but still the sense of the story comes through. The author does a pretty good job of setting and character development for a short work and the ending works well. Overall an interesting read, if not one of my favorites.

 

The princess withers under the overbearing hand of her father in “The Princess and Her Tale” by Mari Ness (debut 5/9 and reviewed by Jim Hanzelka). She is aware of her value only as a princess, but her father sees her as the reincarnation of her mother and seeks to hold her unmarried at his side. The minister concocts a plan to free the princess. She adopts a disguise and with her maid leaves the city. Along the road they meet three women who give them gifts to aid in their goal to have the princess meet and marry a princess from another land.

The author has crafted a well written tale that flows well for the most part. The problem is it seemed a little too familiar and in the end just wasn’t interesting enough to hold my attention. The story also seemed cramped in this format with not enough space to allow the spectacle to flourish or the tale to unfold gently. Overall not a story I would recommend, unless you are a devotee of fairy tales, then it may be worth a read.

 

A medium has a special bond with her dead in “Forgiving Dead” by Jeff Stehman (debut 5/13 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is visited by a pair of customers. Like many, they wish to contact a lost relative , a victim of a tragic accident.

“Forgiving Dead” is a story of condolence. The protagonist’s gift is her own penance, a reminder of her role in the spirits of this tale’s fate. A nice, but not jarring, twist at the end. I rather liked it.

 

The yearly family get together would not be complete without the telling of the traditional tale in “The Troll (A Tale Told Collectively)” by Marissa Lingen (debut 5/14 and reviewed by Frank D). Telling the tale , much like the outcome of the tale , always ends in disaster.

This light-hearted look at family reunions centers around the conflicting story of a troll that had a habit of disrupting past reunions , until the day long-gone grandpa rudely put the trolls intrusion to an end. The telling of the tale is never completed but the story within the story wasn’t really the story anyway. “The Troll” is a tale of dysfunctional family dynamic and is an excellent analogy on why so many of us don’t look forward to holiday gatherings every year.

 

Faith powers the “Airship Hope” by Laurel Amberdine (debut 5/15 and reviewed by Frank D). The lighter-than-air ship is a vessel prophets deemed necessary. A labor of a thousand years, monks ride in search of a new land, steering through the skies on the power of prayer. Only doubt can doom the vessel. Those who lose faith, are cast aside , no matter how important they are.

“Airship Hope” is a tale of commitment. The captain of the craft is the bishop of the order. A test craft proved doubt will spread and spell the end of the vessel. Blind faith is a must. The tale has a slight twist but it isn’t the climax of this short tale. The bishop’s own faith is tested, and you can see the seeds of his own doubt sewn in the fabric of the finale.

 

A hard woman makes her man hard in “Puppet Man” by Cate Gardner (debut 5/16 and reviewed by Frank D). Walter is a mealy married to an overbearing woman. Maeve is a bully who is never satisfied with her husband. To combat her boredom (and to get away from Walter) she acquires a hobby , taking up woodworking at the local college. Her instructor also teaches sorcery, and Mauve is eager to combine the two talents, and experiment on Walter.

“Puppet Man” is a tragedy. Walter is a spineless man who can’t please , but never stops trying , his wife. Maeve is the worse type of spouse; judgmental, unsympathetic, rude, selfish, bossy – and with all the tenderness of a cactus. She doesn’t like her husband one bit. Walter is very unhappy with his marriage but lacks the courage to put his foot down. Maeve is out to change him once and for all.

The story is told from Walter’s perspective. The reader ends up hating Maeve and her lack of any redeeming quality whatsoever. Weak, indecisive, complicit; Walter doesn’t come off well either in the sympathy department. He internally contemplates leaving Maeve but outwardly endures her masochistic actions. “Puppet Man” attempts a twist but twist fails to turn the story. The changes Maeve imposes on Walter does nothing to change him or his mind. Instead, it only serves as another pin for Maeve to poke her man with.

 

An extrinsic cybernetic man buys “The Last Tiger” by Joanne Anderton (debut 5/17 and reviewed by Frank D). Edward is a wealthy man. He fills his home with replicas of extinct animals. The Last Tiger is his most unique possession , a creature that is mostly alive. Its brain and heart are cybernetic units – such are the limitations of biological components – but the creature smells, defecates, and acts like the predator it once was. The living creature requires a lot of care but there is something alluring to it. Edward is drawn to its primeval need to hunt, as if its desire to kill is what makes it seem so alive.

“The Last Tiger” is a tale of decay. Earth has become a sterilized world where the electronic has merged with the biological. Society, the landscape, and personalities mimic what once was. The tiger in this tale acts like an overgrown house cat for Edward, seeking his owner’s affections and bringing his fresh kills for Edward as ‘gifts’. The large creature drives a wedge between Edward and his wife, and between Edward and his reality. So fascinated he is with his pet that he forgoes the basics of substance for himself. The story at this point changes. What was set up as a metaphor on our decaying society becomes a diverting Trojan Horse finale.

I found this story to be well-conceived. The people of this future are barely people anymore and I got the impression that civilization was operating on an auto-pilot. Biomechanical humanity has become a sterilized society; a mimic of what we once were. This portion of the premise attracted me. However, the payoff I was expecting never came when a twist took the story in a direction I wasn’t expecting and into a conclusion I didn’t fully understand. Let me just say the disguised antagonist’s motives I don’t get. It left me scratching my head and wondering ‘why?’

 

“Private Memories” by Michael Haynes (debut 5/20 and reviewed by Jim Hanzelka).

The main character can control time and is using this ability to prevent Sara from killing herself. Over and over again he tries to change the events, failing each time. Five, six, seven tries are not enough. Finally he succeeds, finds the right words to pull her back. But someday the time will come when even this ability isn’t enough, and the fates will have their due.

This story has an interesting premise. If you had the ability to go back in time and correct some mistake, should you; or are you doomed to eventually pay the price. While I like the concept, I can’t really say I care for the execution in this case. The author has chosen to put this in a first person format that felt a little distant to me. I never really felt for his characters, therefore I found the piece a little flat.

 

The narrator is in the basement with her friend’s lover in “The Left Side of Your Lover’s Broken Face” by Brynn MacNab (debut 5/20 and reviewed by Jim Hanzelka), but they are only playing ping pong. She’s comfortable with him as a friend, maybe more so than her female friend. Their discussion ranges from politics to cows to shoes. The lover is distracted by the conversation, which leads to an unfortunate accident with a ping pong ball. This event cascades into a darker event, one that reveals a secret that changes the narrator’s perspective on life. Eventually.

This is another oddly constructed story, but with a less interesting premise. I found the characters oddly flat and distant. Even the narrator seemed to display a lack of passion, even when fleeing for a weekend. Even odder, the author tries to portray her as terrified, but the next week she’s back acting as if the traumatic event is merely bad socialization. I found the whole story a little disjointed.

 

A princess seeks an escape in “A Little Sleep” by Melissa Mead (debut 5/22 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is a bright daughter of a widowed king. His only surviving child, she will make an excellent bargaining chip for an endowment. She does have a choice but it is a radical one.

“A Little Sleep” is a darker side to the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ fairy tale. The princess is well aware of the curse on her head, but has managed to steer clear of spindles thus far. Her predicament, as a married off princess, is not to her liking, which makes the allure of the spindle actually enticing.

I liked Ms Mead’s addition to this tale. Logical and gives the story more meaning. The ending had an amped up dark mystery to it as well. Well done.

 

Family togetherness involves a “Nitpick” by K. S. O’Neill (debut 5/23 and reviewed by Frank D). The characters of this story live in a future where parasites are accepted companions.

This story’s point was lost on me. There were a lot of subplots that had no obvious connections to me. The central theme to this story is the tolerated lice that live on their human hosts. The humans have come to frown upon the serious arts , like science and math , while pushing their children to take up frivolous activities.

I hate to nitpick at “Nitpick” but I found this tale not that all fulfilling and a little bit gross.

 

Pest, pet, or partner? “An Exodus of Wings” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (debut 5/24 and reviewed by Frank D) is the story of three people whose lives intersect from a fairy infestation in Michael’s apartment. He had always taken steps to keep them at bay but when he fell for Heidi, his attention to detail waned and the fairies soon appeared. He doesn’t dare harm them when she is around. It becomes clear that it is the fairies that draw her to his apartment and he realizes that there will be no future between the two. Time to call an exterminator.

“An Exodus” is a tale of three perspectives. The writer chose to tell each person’s tale in a different point of view (distant 3rd person, 1st person, and 2nd person), unique and accomplished well. It takes talent to pull that challenge off well , kudos to Ms. Stufflebeam. Although her story telling skills are impressive, the story itself was thin. The tale was just about a boy who was willing to live with an inconvenience to impress a girl. The fact that the inconvenience was a magical pest made the premise only slightly different. The ending left me unfulfilled.

 

A man strikes a deal to achieve everything in “The Bargain” by Henry Szabranski (debut 5/27 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist is in the midst of the final scene in a final act of a tragedy of his own creation. He had made a deal with the devil without weighing the costs.

“The Bargain” is a very short tale on greed. It is written as if it were the final page of a much longer story. What happens before is not known to the reader but it doesn’t matter with the conclusion that is left for us anyway.

A great work of flash. I can imagine plenty of readers unsatisfied with its brief telling and sharp conclusion but I liked this commentary on overpaying for your deepest desire.

Recommended.

 

“The Wheel of Fortune” by Alexander Lumans (debut 5/28 and reviewed by Frank D). Aliens have invaded Earth and are tearing up the ground to extract its minerals. The protagonist is a young soldier whose dreams are big and plans bigger.

This story is told with headers pertaining to cards in a Tarot deck. I don’t know of the orders of the cards or their meanings, so part of the point of this tale may have been lost on me. That aside, I could only follow about half of what the story was about. The conclusion felt as if a large section of the tale was missing. I got the nature of the interstellar conflict, but the protagonist’s inner turmoil fell out of my grasp.

 

Four witches are out to concoct a special thing from the “Jumbo Gumdrop Serenade” by E. Catherine Tobler (debut 5/29 and reviewed by Frank D). The thing they have been waiting for has arrived on their porch. The four brew their potion, speak their spell, dance their dance, in hopes of creating something greater than themselves. What they get is a something so different from what they are.

“Jumbo Gumdrop” is a tale I had to read twice, and read slowly to grasp what it was about. A big mystery is kept from the reader as the author dangles encrypted hints. The effort of deciphering it was laborious. The ending did have an appropriate twist that made reading the story worth it.

 

A ghost baby cries relentlessly in “Ghosts in the Walls” by Shannon Peavey (debut 5/30 and reviewed by Frank D). The spirit of a baby in Laura’s apartment wall is a wailer. It cries until an earthquake comes then is silent as if it is rocked asleep. Its screams are wearing on Laura nerves but she is compelled to endure them.

The protagonist in “Ghosts” is a woman racked with guilt. She is in the midst of a divorce. Her child was lost in a crib death months ago. Earthquakes plague the city but leave her building unharmed. Any or all of these occurrences may be the reason why the baby in her wall screams but the reader and protagonist are clueless why. The story does have a straightforward conclusion, which likely was the reason why I never saw it coming. It was hidden in plain sight along.

“Ghosts in the Walls” is a very good ghost story. Short, sweet, and little sad. Everything a ghost story should be.

Recommended.

 

A political pundit lives on with the help from “The Suit” by Robert Reed (debut 5/31 and reviewed by Frank D). Garrett is a writer on matters of public policy. His articles are popular and his Sunday appearances on news programs are influential. His conservative principles hold much influence but his mental faculties take a hit after a small stroke. Ill-conceived words threaten his credibility, but a wealthy fan offers him a solution so he won’t fade from the public eye; an artificial intelligence assistant hidden in a suit.

“The Suit” is a long tale in a small package. The protagonist is a crafty man who has done well masking an average intelligence with timing and keen insight on outward appearance. His conservative opinions strike a fascist tone one day, nearly derailing him for good. A benefactor salvages his credibility and enhances his intelligence with the help of his suit. Soon, his radical notions become policy. He is a star once again, but age has its effects, ending his life. However, the suit remains, and the people closest to Garrett would love to wear it.

You cannot ignore the veiled distaste the author has for his protagonist. Although Garrett could represent one of many real life pundits, the fictional character’s beliefs really didn’t matter. The story could have been told if his views were a mirror opposite on the left. The tale was a commentary of the effects of artificial intelligence and how its benefits for a few could have disastrous effects for those who have not the means to acquire such assistance for themselves. Although the story made its ‘point’, it lacked a discernible moral I would have expected for a politically motivated piece. It was very much like the political debates on TV; thoughtful words from (a) smart sounding pundit(s) to make you believe you are learning something, but in reality resolve nothing when it ends.

 

A Chance to Settle a Paying Forward Debtâ€

As I have stated before, a leading editor and reviewer once told me that he doubted Daily Science Fiction would have a long lifespan because of a non-existent (at least one he couldn’t see) business model. Jon Laden and Michele-Lee Barasso proved him , and many other , doubters wrong. They have managed to maintain DSF as a free distributor of speculative fiction for three years strong , and counting. At eight cents a word and publishing hundreds of thousands of words a year you don’t have to be a mathematician to know that can’t be cheap. Paying authors aside, there is the expense of maintaining and sending a story to 7000+ subscribers every work day. A friend of mine once calculated what the cost of just running the web page must be for the editors. I was floored.

So, our two founding heroes have done it without asking for a dime, but the pot they found at the end of the rainbow just might becoming a little bit light. They now could use some help.

Through Kickstarter, – an online project funder , DSF is asking its long standing members for a small donation. The amount they are asking for I don’t think will fund a month’s worth of stories, but it is all they are requesting. If every subscriber donated $1, they would meet their goals with enough left over for them to each grab a coffee or two at Starbucks. Of course, you know that guy next to you won’t give a cent (freeloader), so it’s up to you to throw in an extra buck for him.

Note: At the time of this writing, the campaign still needs over 2 grand more to meet its goals , and has two weeks left to do it. I confess, I am bit surprised they didn’t reach the very modest target in the first few days. So be a champ, and give.

Editor’s note: at the time of scheduling this post, the campaign needs about $700 in 7 days. Deadline is August 16–4 days from when this post becomes public.

 

Dustin AdamsThe Lord of the Underworld and all the damned souls in his realm would like to thank Diabolical Plots contributor Dustin Adams for achieving another sale , thus saving them a costly air conditioning bill for this month. His latest work will soon be appearing in an upcoming issue of Plasma Frequency. Congrats Dustin. And here I was worried it would take another million words for you to get published again.