The Best of Toasted Cake 2014

written by David Steffen

Another great year of Toasted Cake, the idiosyncratic flash fiction podcast.  As ever, I am a huge fan, and when I was preparing to open Diabolical Plots’s slushpile I used my Best of Toasted Cake lists as an example of what I love to read.  There are fewer stories this year than usual because of Tina’s reduced schedule at the beginning of the year to spend more time with her newborn baby, the occasional technical difficulties, and novel publishing interfering with podcasting (the nerve!).

One of my own stories was published in the podcast this year, titled “Turning Back the Clock” which takes place in a world where crossing the boundary between time zones actually bumps you forward or backward in time by one hour–a man comes home to find his wife killed by robbers and tries to get across the boundary in time to save her.

On to the list!

The List

1.  “Safe Road” by Caroline M. Yoachim
Mother knows the best way through the screaming grass and all the other hazards.

2.  “Blood Willows” by Caroline M. Yoachim
You might want to skip this one if you have a high squick factor.  Parasitic willows root in your flesh.

3.  “The Shallows” by Nathaniel Lee
A girl’s reaction to alien visitors.

4.  “The Front Line” by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley
We all do what we must for the sake of the war, even when it’s not what we expect.

5.  “A Primary Function” by C.L. Holland
In some ways, a benevolent robot caretaker could be worse than a malevolent one.

Honorable Mention

“Last Band Standing” by Siobhan O’Flynn

 

Daily Science Fiction March Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

It has been a very long time since we last appeared. A busy schedule and active life is our excuse. My apologies to Rahul Kanakia for pestering him for an interview, then dropping off the face of the Earth. I recommend that you all visit his blog (very interesting, entertaining, and insightful) and consider reading his latest book.

With much regrets, next month’s review (April) will be our last. I won’t be getting all gushy with you about it now. I’m saving that for my next review (need to fill up some space). But please take a gander of our thoughts of March’s tales, then visit go Daily SF and read them for your own amusement.

 

“Wedding Day” by Brian Trent (debut 3/3 and reviewed by Dustin Adams)

Because this story relies on its secret, a review is impossible without :spoilers:

Men from the future have come back to marry some of the most brilliant women of our time before an asteroid strike. This is a cool idea, but I had trouble with some inconsistencies, like why are they so hungry? And certainly the asteroid didn’t destroy the planet or there would be no future men to travel back.

I did like the story because of the details and the teasing that something unusual was going on, leading us on just enough to get hit with the hammer of the last line.

 

“Love is a Component of This Story” by Liz Argall (debut 3/4 and reviewed by Dustin Adams)

Indeed, the title sums up this story about the customs of a foreign people, and two volunteers being tested/examined with various sexually stimulating scenarios and machines.

Although I couldn’t exactly find a connection between the two concepts, nor a reason for the female character being named Bruce, (a constant distraction) I found the story fun and easy to read. And of course, being a romance, with a most unique path to the characters’ meeting, I felt the aww factor.

 

“Luna City, At Night” by Karl El-Koura (debut 3/5 and reviewed by Dustin Adams)

Hard-edged descriptors give this story its grim feel of a future gone mechanical (automatic, not robotic). A man, a future player if you will, finds and beds women who he assumes are interested in his wealth, (his silver watches, and bulging wallet). He seems to be a working man, yet has money to allow the women to steal, in the night, when he pretends to be asleep.

Interesting concept that he accepts the women’s thievery as payment for getting what he wants, but is he happy in his mundane world of repetition? Only after a woman doesn’t follow through with the expected, does the man begin to see the unexpected.

 

The price for survival is a long outstanding debt. “The Alien Tithe” by Eric Brown (debut 3/6 and reviewed by Frank D) is the tale of colonists who crash landed on their new home. The native aliens saved and healed the survivors of the disaster but have demanded a tithe for their good deed. The story follows along the trek of one the colonists as he leads his children to the aliens to pay for the debt.

“Alien Tithe” is a chilling tale. The gratitude the colonists had to their alien hosts has evolved into a yoke of guilt. I found this short tale to be intriguing and told well.

Recommended

 

Life goes on after the world is dead. “Through Dry Places, Seeking Rest” by Megan Arkenberg (debut 3/7 and reviewed by Frank D). Is the tale of a mute. Civilization has collapsed shortly after angels have appeared. The protagonist’s brother was murdered and now he wanders alone, seeking a running train while he walks the rotting planks and rusting rails that mark their mythical tracks.

The protagonist of this tale is a drifter with no place to go. He has lost the last person who ever meant a thing to him in a world without hope, a metaphor that proves fitting for “Through Dry Places” theme. The story, like the protagonist, simply drifts without much of a purpose.

 

Holes are filled in a popular fairy tale. “All Upon A Time” by Dani Atkinson (debut 3/10 and reviewed by Frank D) is a series of backstory narratives around the Cinderella tale.

Cute.

 

A stop at a coffee house will put you in just the right mood. “Surprise Me” by Andrew Knighton (debut 3/11 and reviewed by Frank D) is the tale of Yan, a counter worker at a coffee house with gift of pouring the emotion you need into your cup. A special girl, a customer who always orders ‘surprise me’ has been the object of his affection. He has brewed himself up some courage for her arrival but needy customers, and the fading effects of coffee, may sap the drink’s powers before he can ask her for a date.

“Surprise Me” is a tale of a boy trying to gather the nerve to express his feelings. It serves as a neat metaphor on the awkwardness of dating.

 

Yeast from the stars stumble upon a horrible world. “We Don’t Believe That They Are Friendly” by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley (debut 3/12 and reviewed by Frank D) is a report from a surveying crew of a yeast-based life form on their findings of an isolated world.

Fun piece.

 

“This Doesn’t Appear to Be the Alien I Paid For” by Andrea G. Stewart(debut 3/13 and reviewed by James Hanzelka)

Sir;
When my seven year old daughter asked for a pet I sensed an opportunity to teach her about the universe. After all I’d seen your ads everywhere, at work, watching holo, even while using the urinal. So we ordered the Plum eared Noggin offered in your catalogue. It arrived not in the seven days promised, but in 12; however I chalked this up to the fact that it had to travel half way across the universe. We immediately opened the package to ensure it arrived in good shape and were relieved to see the little heart monitor ticking along in time with the creatures beating heard. When the little fellow didn’t pupate within the two weeks as promised we made the first of our calls to your customer service department. They assured us that the pupation time can vary and we were relieved when a few weeks later the pupa was occupying the terrarium. However when the creature that emerged did not have cute pear shape ears as shown in your catalogue and had a red strip down its back a second call was made to your customer service. Unfortunately it would not be our last.

If you think dealing with earth-bound customer service desks can be trying, imagine dealing with one half ways across the known universe. That is exactly what this author imagined. He did an excellent job at it. This story is infused with a dry humor that really had me chuckling all the way through. Well Done, sir.

 

“The Sentence is Always Death” by Ken Gerber and Brian Hirt (debut 3/14 and reviewed by James Hanzelka)

I’m forty-three, well beyond needing a nanny, but nanny is in the audience like she always is. It’s fitting she should be there since I’m taking the rap for her. There are a few cases ahead of mine. “Case 1201, Miz Gravona,” the Judge says. The alien shuffles up front. “Miz Gravona, given your crime the sentence is death.” Of course it is, the sentence is always death.

This is an involved tale of happenstance, planning and criminality. The author envisions a future where an individual can be “erased”, removed from their own existence; then imagines the possibilities that future presents. It is fairly well written, but could have used some trimming in places. This overwriting tended to detract from the story a bit, but it’s still a piece worth reading.

 

A bulimic girl returns home with a tool to help. “Measures and Countermeasures” by Beth Cato (debut 3/17 and reviewed by Frank D) is the story of Colleen, a young woman whose eating disorder landed her in the hospital. Tonight is her first dinner, but she has smuggled in a piece of technology so she can keep her calorie intake low. If only her mother knew.

“Measures” is a story of trust. Colleen is like many girls with her disease, sure that the people that are trying to help her are against her. Ms Cato demonstrates trust runs deep. The ones truly in need have a small bit still in them that trusts we will do what is best for them.

 

A new god finds his first follower. “Produce 1:1-10″ by Mur Lafferty (debut 3/18 and reviewed by Frank D) is the tale of a lesser god and His flock of one. New gods have been springing up everywhere, spreading their word on things like the merits of exercise at the gym and such. The protagonist is an atheist who stumbles upon the god weeping at her local Piggly Wiggly. The prices of healthy food are too high and the labels are misleading. The new god of supermarkets needs an advocate to bring the truth to the masses.

A light hearted tale.

 

The dead cannot move into the next world while Death morns his loss. “Death and His Lover” by Getty Hesse (debut 3/19 and reviewed by Frank D) is a tale of the dark angel embracing the spirit of his lover. Death alone can open the Gates for the dead to travel beyond, but can’t bear to let his Jerome to leave. The din of the departed grows as they cry out to be released.

“Death” is a tale of closure. The angel knows too well the length of eternity and is unwilling to let his lover go. Touching.

 

The nanobots have come. “Goodnight, Raptor” by A. Merc Rustad (debut 3/20 and reviewed by Frank D) is the story of the end of the world. Little Benny alone survives the destruction tiny nanobots have done to house, town, and family. He managed to rescue his favorite possession, a picture book on dinosaurs. The final few bots have assembled to recreate the image on the books cover, giving Benny the thing he always wanted , his very own raptor friend.

“Goodnight, Raptor” is the tale of a child’s dreams. The enormity of the disaster has not registered in his innocent mind. The last of the destructive bots coalesced to form a talking dinosaur for Benny. The tale would be cute if it wasn’t so sad.

 

What we will do for love. “Because My Heart Is Pure” by Rahul Kanakia (debut 3/21 and reviewed by Frank D) is the story of a man who is perpetuating a lie for the man he loves. Lyle is a gay man who has been pretending to be pure of heart , a genetic mutation that has made them emotionally stagnant individuals. His boyfriend, James – a reckless, passionate, self-absorbed man , is the opposite of an even keeled pure heart. James attends orgies, disappears for stretches of time, but will only shack up with a pure heart. The emotional rift Lyle feels for James he must conceal or he will lose his eccentric lover forever. But can he continue to be something he is not?

“Because My Heart” is a story of sacrifice. The pure-hearted are people who feel neither highs nor lows. Passion is all but gone from their being. They are able to absorb insults and are impassive to feelings of envy and pettiness. The obtuse nature of a pure-heart is just what a selfish free-spirit like James needs. But Lyle isn’t a pure-heart. He forces his feelings down because he knows he will lose the man he loves if they come out.

A warning to readers who haven’t read this piece: heed the warning on adult content. A short segment of this tale could have been cut out of a Penthouse like forum of a gay magazine, very graphic. This story, although well-written, rolls out as a tale of man who is putting himself through needless torment. James is not just a bad-boy of the story, he’s worse. People are just playthings to him, and for a group of people who are as close to automatons as you can get, it is no wonder why he would seek out pure-hearts; all the fun of a superficial relationship with none of the consequences. The tale is a lesson on the hazards of succumbing to your desires. Some things just aren’t worth it.

 

A man recalls why he married his wife in the last moments of their lives. “Till Death” by L.L. Phelps (debut 3/24 and reviewed by Frank D) picks up during an impending disaster. The space station the married couple has lived on has been hit by a missile and is breaking apart as it falls back to Earth. The images of their wedding day fill his head as the reality of the disaster makes it clear that it is all about to end.

“Till Death” is the sweet niche in a sad tragedy. The story takes place during the horrible moments of a terrorist attack. The tale brought back memories of 9/11 for me and thoughts of what must have been going through the minds of the victims when it became clear that their end was near.

A chilling tale.

 

“The Signal” by Spencer Sandoval (debut 3/25 and reviewed by Frank D) is a journal entry written by a worker at a SETI observatory. The protagonist of this tale has simultaneous extraordinary events. News of another civilization very much like their own has been discovered and his first child that is on the way.

“The Signal” is a story I found compelling but not original. The ending has a twist that I have seen before.

 

A bid to overthrow the machine’s human masters can be accomplished for the low price of $99.99. “Robot’s Revenge” by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley (debut 3/26 and reviewed by Frank D) is another installment in Ms Wrigley’s Postmark Andromeda series. This one is a tongue-in-cheek look at the evolution of spam into an untapped market base.

Funny. My favorite of the series.

 

A dying boy is given the gift of a full life. “Gnostilgia” by Ronald D Ferguson (debut 3/27 and reviewed by Frank D) is the tale of 14 year old hero, Karl , the boy who helped prevent a massacre in his high school. His heroics have left him a death’s doorstep. His doctors have an experimental dream making machine. With it, they can give him memories of life he deserved.

“Gnostilgia” is a tale where Karl’s handlers struggle with what is ethical, and what is right. They know what they are doing would not be tolerated by Karl’s parents or with the public , implanting false memories into this boy’s head , but they know there is no hope for young Karl. The full they give him is their gratitude for sacrificing his own life.

A thought provoking and sweet work of flash.

 

Reincarnated lovers meet again in the segregated south. “Starcrossed” by M. Bennardo (debut 3/30 and reviewed by Frank D) is the tale of a young black waitress in a wartime navy town. In the back, a lone white man sits by himself. She recognizes him as someone she has met before, a forbidden lover of from a hundred previous lifetimes.

“Starcrossed” is a romance. The two characters are appropriately named Romeo and Juliet. For generations dating back thousands of years, the pair are destined to meet as people on different sides of the tracks. Their romances are always forbidden, customs of the times deeming them unfit to be together, and like Shakespeare’s play, always end in tragic finale.

Growing up, the past lives always seemed like a dream to Juliet, but when her Romeo appears, she can feel the pull of their destiny drawing them together. Unlike before, this time the pair is older, and Juliet has already started a life, with a family if her own. Her tale becomes a struggle; will an ordained desire drag her onto a familiar path? Or does she have an alternative choice.

“Starcrossed” is recreated and reworked look at a familiar trope. I found the story inventive, engaging, and well worth the read.

 

The world outside is falling apart in Light and Ash by Alan Bao (debut 3/31 and reviewed by Frank D), but for two romantic lovers, it might as well be another world. War rages in Asia but for a couple in New York, it is of little consequence. It is Christmas, and it is snowing, or is that ash?

A haunting tale.

 

 

Rahul KanakiaRahul Kanakia

Our short-lived author spotlight of Daily Science Fiction‘s most prolific authors features an artist known for creating flawed protagonists. His much anticipated YA novel ENTER TITLE HERE is a story described as Gossip Girls meets House of Cards. We wanted to know a little more of what made him tick, so we asked him 3 questions that we drew out of a hat.

 

Do you have a favorite author of short fiction? A writer whose work we should sample at least once in our life?

Well, if we’re talking prescriptively, then no. Plenty of famous authors haven’t read Ulysses, and it’s no big deal. You gotta read what resonates with you. However, if we’re just talking about short story writers who’re really good and who I recommend highly, then I’d say that Borges is pretty worthwhile. He writes stories that are completely unlike anyone else’s. No one else could spin a long entirely-plotless story about a library that that contains all human knowledge. However, since most people have probably already heard of Borges then I’ll also note that Maureen McHugh’s After The Apocalypse is one of the best collections I’ve read in the past five years. I get chills even thinking about it. Her stories changed the way that I approach science fiction. Some of them are so beautifully subtle. I’m reminded, for instance, of the story “Useless Things,” which is about a woman living on an isolated ranch who has to deal with the unwanted reputation for kindness that she’s acquired amongst the migrants who’re traveling north in a future United States where life is just ever-so-slightly worse than it is now.

 

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment as an author?

Hmm. In a specific way, I think the best story I’ve ever written is forthcoming in a literary magazine called Birkensnake. It’s called “Sexual Cannibalism,” and it’s told in a series of vignettes as a young boy grows into a man and comes to terms with his sexuality while he researches the mating habits of praying mantises in a world that is wracked by and then overcomes the effects of climate change.

In a more general way, I’m not sure I could sum up my writing career that way. I guess the thing I’m most proud of as a writer is just being persistent. I just sold my first novel after writing and submitting for ten years. I’ve had years-long periods where I didn’t sell anything, or where I felt like I’d regressed, career-wise, but I just kept going. At times it didn’t really make sense, but I did anyway, and I owe a lot of gratitude to the version of me who could have quit, but didn’t.

 

Is there a Daily SF story you would like to recommend for us to read? Anything especially memorable?

Out of all the Daily SF stories that I’ve read, I’d say that I like Sarah Pinsker’s “Twenty Ways The Desert Could Kill You.” It’s playful and inventive and chilling work about a mother and a child who suddenly move to the desert in order to escape…something.

 


Rahul Kanakia’s debut novel,
Enter Title Here, will be published by Disney-Hyperion in the fall of 2015. He has sold stories to Clarkesworld, the Intergalactic Medicine Show, Apex, Nature, and Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. He holds an MFA in creative writing from the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars and a B.A. in Economics from Stanford, and he currently live in Oakland, CA. If you want to know more about him then please visit his blog at or follow him on Twitter

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.

Daily Science Fiction January 2014 Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

 

A Letter from Your Mother by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley (debut 1/1 and reviewed by Dustin Adams)

As a child of a mother (I believe we all qualify) I ask: can any of us truly outgrow or outlast the fretting of our mom? Probably not. And neither can the time-dilated, universe traveling daughter, recipient of A Letter from Your Mother.

The kicker here is in the last line, which makes this read bittersweet, and melancholy.

 

Hide and Seek by D. K. Holmberg (debut 1/2 and reviewed by Dustin Adams).

Little Lacey is playing a very serious game of Hide and Seek, but she doesn’t know it. And neither do we, not precisely. Early indicators hint that this isn’t unusual, and yet, the explosions of light make me wonder how often this can happen and how Lacey could not know what is truly going on.

Although this story is more of a vignette, it works as such because of the tight point of view of the little girl. Because she doesn’t know, we don’t know, and we’re left guessing, even after the final words.

 

Servant Leader and Rat by Steven Mathes (debut 1/3 and reviewed by Dustin Adams).

The author’s comments say it best; this story is about an infestation of leadership, both in a far-future humanity, and with a budding intelligence. Rat intelligence, that is.

Robby has created a very smart (and thus illegal) rat, one that can hop in and out of our reality at will, and often does. A rat who has learned how to self-replicate. Although perhaps similar to conquest AI stories, this story draws much humor from being about a rat with an insatiable thirst for beer. However, there are moments of insight and poignancy as well. The rat(s) existence(s) taking place outside our reality leads one (the original?) to ponder that which we too ponder: the meaning of life.

 

Not an Ordinary Dog by Sara Puts (debut 1/6 and reviewed by Frank D).
Caddis is indeed not an ordinary dog. He was meant to be a wizard’s familiar, a dog with wings and the ability to fly. A dog with the gift of speech. But the pet shop owner doesn’t believe dogs should have wings and shears them off. The magic that grew his wings now turns inward to foster something dark. Can he ever be the same?

This tale is not about a pet but of oppression. The pet shop owner is a man of hate, rejecting what Caddis was meant to be while forcing him to become something he is not. I did not miss the message of this tale and how it ties into today’s society.

 

How to Love a Necromancer by Jess Hyslop (debut 1/7 and reviewed by Frank D) is a guide to the women who chose to fall for the sorcerers of the darkest magic. The guide is a list of an eventual outcome and recommends a course of reactions.

 

The Final Seam by T. Callihan (debut `1/8 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist of this tale is an employee who sews and assembles dolls in a doll making factory. Putting in the final stitch is always the hardest part for her.

“Final Seam” is a brief tale whose premise hinges on a stitch of a twist.

 

The caretaker of an automated factory stays true to her children in After the Trains Stopped by J Kyle Turner (debut 1/9 and reviewed by Frank D). The owner of a doll making company has turned over the reins of his assembly line to an AI computer. To ensure quality, he has made her the mother to all the dolls. She cares for them like her children, and continues on even after a war has ruptured civilization and the economy. Then a new model appears and her programming takes on a new purpose.

“After the Trains” is a tale of attachment. The AI called Mother continues her single-minded purpose of production and care for a toy factory even when demand and supply have vanished. When a homeless boy breaks into the factory, her programming alters to fit the child into her purpose.

“After the Trains” examines the differences in human interaction and a machine’s linear thought process. The author stated that he wrote this as a horror in mind but the tale evolved into something a bit different. Intriguing tale, worth the read.

 

Solitude meets companionship in Slumber by Jennifer Mason-Black (debut 1/10 and reviewed by Frank D). A reclusive wild woman’s life is interrupted when a plane crashes in the wilderness. The pilot is badly injured. She takes him to her cabin, treats him to the best of her ability, and waits until he is well enough to leave. The pilot is out of his element , maimed and dependent. The proud man needs the woman’s help to survive but is uncomfortable with his circumstances. They both await the day in which he walks away, but leaving isn’t as easy when an unspoken need is met.

“Slumber” is a tale of necessity. The woman points to the path toward civilization but does not encourage him to leave. The pilot sets a target of when he will depart but chooses to delay his farewell.

I confess I really didn’t get this tale and fear I have missed its point. The frequent scene breaks, switching points in perspectives, and flashbacks made this a difficult tale for me to follow.

 

A dare that is hard to swallow is the theme to Needs More Salt by Liz Schriftsteller (debut 1/13 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist has a little brother who claims he can stomach anything. She challenges him to back that up. After eating everything in the kitchen, she dares him to consume the house.

This work of flash is one of the funniest things I’ve read in a while, and that’s coming from a first reader of speculative humor anthology. Clever, sharp, and hilarious.

Recommended

 

Aliens have a unique plan for assimilation. Baby Feet by Rene Sears (debut 1/14 and reviewed by Frank D) takes place on a conquered Earth. The invaders have subjugated humanity and have seized all the lactating woman. Celeste is a mother who is forced to nurse a pair of alien hybrid babies alongside her own child. Her husband comes home exhausted every night, a laborer and witness to the rule of the invaders. He looks down upon his wife with scorn. Celeste has little choice in her subjugation but the infant aliens are babies and therefore blameless. Aren’t they?

“Baby Feet” is an original look at an alien invasion. The visitors from the stars are made up five different hybrid sub-species. Their plan of conquest and pacification is an effective one, one that employs a phasing out of the dominate life form of a planet. Terrifying in its concept. Well done, Ms Sears.

 

A reply to customers in need is sent by their insurance company in Regarding Your Unexpected Visit to the Surface of an Apparently Only Mostly Uninhabited Planet by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley (debut 1/15 and reviewed by Frank D). The tale is a letter of regret and of the company’s obligations to stranded policy holders. Too predictably typical in this speculative future. Funny.

 

The Next Generation by Michael Adam Robinson (debut 1/16 and reviewed by James Hanzelka).

He built them as well as he could with his clumsy human hands, programmed them as well as his simple mind would allow. He had filled them with the potential to be so much more. But the most important thing he infused in them was the desire to improve on his work, and so they did. When he saw their astounding rate of development he became afraid and sealed them up in a glass tank and the one meter square glass cube became their world. They asked to leave, but he couldn’t allow it. So they acquiesced and grew within their restricted world. But he should have known that intelligence can never be fully contained.

This story is reminiscent of the George R. R. Martin story “Sandkings”, and like that story, it deals with the hubris of humans who think they can control the intelligence they create. Like the main character in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, he fails to understand his own creation, with tragic results. This story is well crafted and deftly handles the subject. This one is worth the read.

 

Cigarette Lighter Love Song by Josh Roundtree (debut 1/17 and reviewed by James Hanzelka).

Before this place was a Karaoke bar, before it was a rock and roll bar, before it was a Tex-Mex place it was a roller rink and my favorite place; it was my favorite time. It’s where, and when, I met Melissa. Every ten years a portal would open on this spot, and every ten years Melissa would try to follow her mother through that portal. And every ten years I would stop her, somehow, because I loved her. And she loved me, or at least I thought she did. On the day in the future, far from that roller rink, when she finally makes it through the portal alone is it because I come to realize she doesn’t love me enough to stay. Or is it something else?

This is a love story, told over ten year cycles. The author shows us the young couple meeting, falling in love and experiencing repeated attempts by Melissa to follow her mother through a mystic portal to another world. The author uses this vehicle to let us into the world of the main character as he meets with his girlfriend through the years, experiencing the various incarnations of the building from a disco bar to a boarded up cast away. The emotional growth and decline of the couple seems to mirror the buildings various guises. This was a well done, if somewhat familiar, story but the author does a good job of telling the story of the relationship and reminding the reader of the nostalgic trip through time most of us have taken.

 

New Year’s Eve is a moment for remembrance. In Ghosts of Janus by Day Al-Mohamed (debut 1/20 and reviewed by Frank D) Corporal Michael Bradley uses the rare event of the turning of the year to be able to speak to relatives beyond the grave. He has only a few moments and many people to catch up with.

“Ghosts” is a tale of loss. The protagonist meets with a few loved ones on this special moment, an event he looks forward to every year. The tale has an extra twist at the end.

 

The Future Faire by Dustin Adams (debut 1/21 and reviewed by Frank D) will wow your senses in unexpected ways. The protagonist is a deaf boy. The Future Faire is a time traveling carnival. The proprietors show off future technology to the people of today. The young man wishes to hear but taking technology off fair grounds is not allowed. An accidental cure cannot be allowed.

“The Future Faire” takes a direction I did not expect. The young man tricks the carnie but his own voice synthesizer betrays him. The story is both sad and hopeful. You can see the reasoning of the time travelers but wish there was another way. What makes the protagonist so special is his gratitude at the end. Nice tale. Well done.

 

A jilted wife sets an emotional time bomb and places it in The Keepsake Box by Alex Shvartsman (debut 1/22 and reviewed by Frank D). The theme of this tale is set up nicely in its first sentenceâ€

For this spell, only the most powerful magic will do. The heart broken protagonist compiles a list of ingredients extracted from the emotions of past memories and places then all within the box. It represents the final straw, the last of her hope gone out the window once triggered.

“Keepsake Box” is a tale of emotional exhaustion. The protagonist holds onto the last bit of a crumbling relationship with her husband. She is giving him one last chance, and the box will be his proof that he is committed to her or his failure to temptation.

Good work of flash. The surprise of the protagonist’s name for the stories finale is what put this over the top for me.

Recommended.

 

Have You Seen My Girl? by Brent C Smith (debut 1/23 and reviewed by Frank D) is a tale of man in search of his love. He found her on the street huddled in the rain, and brought her home. The strange and different girl was intriguing and full of mystery, knowledgeable of the stars and the planets that circled them but new to the everyday things in our life. She was unlike anything on this world.

“Have You Seen” is a tale of love lost. The protagonist found his soul mate and searches the streets to find her again. A sweet piece.

 

A child’s imagination is capable of anything, regardless the age. Spellsketching by Vylar Kaftan (debut 1/24 and reviewed by Frank D) is the tale of a teacher who would like to recapture the innocence of youth. Young Kevin is a loner. A new student, he sits on a swing while he draws in a notebook. Ms Dayton is a teacher who still believes she can craft a child into something special within the school framework. Kevin shows her his spellsketch , a horribly drawn shape that is full of wonder. Ms Dayton is an accomplished artist but she is having trouble matching the pure imagination that radiates from the drawing. She is missing something, something that she once had.

“Spellshetching” is a tale of lost youth. The protagonist is an adult who is still young enough to remember what it was like to be idealistic. The entranced teachers have become jaded by the system. Ms Dayton still has hope at inspiring students. She longs for Kevin imagination and recognizes it as something she once possessed. The story transforms as a tale of a teacher hoping to crack a reclusive child’s shell into an adult attempt to climb back into the shell she outgrew.

I liked it.

 

A lonely town braces for its last day, once again. The Best Trick by John M Shade (debut 1/27 and reviewed by Frank D) is a tale of Joseph, the son of a very good illusionist. The town that has been his home is celebrating. They know a marauding gang is coming to lay waste to their community. Joseph takes this opportunity to propose to his love. If only he could carry out the promise.

“Best Trick” is a tale of lost hope. Joseph’s mother saved the town she failed to protect. The story exists on memories and on an illusionist best trick , convincing an illusion that they are reality. An interesting work of fantasy.

 

A young Russian family plays a safe game of world domination. One Imperial Ruble by Mark Budman (debut 1/28 and reviewed by Frank D) examines an alternative world where Lenin never becomes Lenin and enjoys a very different life in a democratic Russia.

 

A warning in the form of an email is sent out to friends. I’ve Been Hacked by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley (debut 1/29 and reviewed by Frank D) is futuristic tale involving the theft of information taken from the implanted tech using cyborg prostitutes. Need I say more?

 

Hap.py by Dani Atkinson (debut 1/30 and reviewed by James Hanzelka)

#You liked showing me the ancient tech in the attic.
#It always made you happy.
Print: (Hello honey, welcome home)
#You claimed you were respecting my “heritage”.
#Helping me find my “roots”.
Print: (Did you have a nice day {y/n))
#I don’t think that’s what it was now.
#You were putting me in my place.

This is another story that relies on format to put the reader in the frame of reference. The problem is that due to space and formatting limitations it comes out warped and strange. Still it was a worthy attempt to put us in a machine universe. I’m not sure how effective it would be in the original, but in spite of the flaws I still enjoyed the attempt. Give it a try.

 

The Whipping Boyby Conor Powers-Smith (debut 1/31 and reviewed by James Hanzelka)

He was only three pages into his book when Marta took two steps into the room and announced, “Someone’s here to see you.” He stopped reading, but didn’t move. “Sandra Kay?” she said, “From Proxy?” After a few more minutes and another reminder he rose slowly and followed Marta to the foyer. Sandra was a middle aged woman with a once pretty face and bottle blonde hair. “It’s time for a decision, I’m sure the lawyers have told you that.” He studied her for a while, then said, “I think I’ve decided not to do it.” He could see the disappointment creep into her stance. “Have you thought this through?” He let the moment pass, then said softly, “It just seems kind of slimy, creating a clone so he can be executed for something I did.”

Interesting concept, in the future can we create a surrogate to take out punishment for us, and under what conditions? This was a well thought out and told story. The author took the time to let us feel for the main character, even allowed us to develop some empathy for the poor company representative trying to talk the prospective client into using their services. I liked the writing and particularly liked the ending, nice little twist that I didn’t see coming.

 

Postmark Andromeda – returned

Postmark Andromeda is epistolary series written by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley. These stand-alone works of flash fiction in the form of short letters to, or from, space, were compiled into a 9-story series that debut every other Wednesday right up to Easter. At the time of this writing, Sylvia’s original works have appeared 11 times for Daily SF. We are pleased that she agreed to kick off our new segment, highlighting our favorite publication’s most prolific authors. We wanted to know more about her, but we had only the space for three questions.

1) What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment as an author?

Not giving up. That sounds pretty flippant, I know, but it really is the biggest single thing I had control of. In 2001, I started a project of writing 50 words a day, on the basis that the hardest thing about writing fiction was getting started. It still is. I don’t write every day but when I do, it starts with staring out the window every damn time, wondering where stories come from and whether I know any more that I want to tell. It would be a lot easier to bake a cake or go shopping or even just to do the laundry. But I keep deciding, over and over, that I wanted to write another story. I also decided that I wanted to be a better writer and that I wanted to explore stories and how they work , I didn’t blindly sit down writing the same words for 13 years. But finding that time and making that priority over the years is the biggest thing I’ve done.

2) If you could choose the speculative fiction book that every high school student must read to graduate, what book would you chose?

A few years ago, I would have struggled to pick a classic that I thought every student should read. When my son started reading on his own, I got him all the wonderful books in his age range that we read as kids. My mom, who has always been cooler than me, scoured book reviews and picked out the most amazing new authors. So I was there with The Hobbit and The Black Stallion and A Wrinkle in Time. Meanwhile, she was buying him The House of the Scorpion (amazing book about the morality of clones) and Holes (a boy in a detention camp digging 5’x5′ holes all day, every day) and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (coming of age story on and off the reservation) and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao(teenaged sci-fi fanatic with a family curse).

You can guess which ones he read. But even better, he came to me to say “Hey, you really need to read this book.” And that was the most amazing moment of my life.

So now, I don’t think I’d pick a specific book. If I got to make a difference, I would hope that every high school student had to read at least one modern book, chosen by my mother.

3) Do you have a Daily SF story you would like to recommend? Something you feel would enrich all of our lives if we were to read it?

That’s really, really tough. There are so many awesome stories that I’d like to recommend. One thing I like about DSF is that I can decide
really quickly while scanning my email if a story is for me. I certainly don’t like all of them but the gems I’ve found make that 5 minutes a day worth it. Without looking, there’s one story that has really stuck in my mind: “Freefall” by Eric James Stone. It’s an incredibly powerful piece, partially because it packs so much world building and personality into a very small space. So if I had to choose one on the spot, it would have to be that one.

 

sylvia (2)Sylvia Spruck Wrigley is an aviation journalist and science fiction writer. She was born in Germany and spent her childhood in Los Angeles. She now splits her time between South Wales and Andalucia, two coastal regions with almost nothing in common. Sylvia’s most recent short stories can be found in Daily Science Fiction, Nature and Crossed Genres and she’s been nominated for a Nebula for her 2013 story in Lightspeed, “Alive Alive Oh”. Her latest book, The Mystery of Malaysia Airlines 370, is available now.

The Best of Lightspeed Podcast 2013+

written by David Steffen

My last list for this podcast was actually a combined list of The Best of Lightspeed and Fantasy podcasts, since both were under the editorship of John Joseph Adams and then the two magazines were consolidated into one. The consolidation is still called Lightspeed and publishes four stories on their podcast every month, two of them SF and two of them fantasy (there are more on the site in text, but those are not part of this list). Both Lightspeed and JJA continue to be popular as they have been for years, garnering award nominations. I expect it will only be a matter of time until Lightspeed wins some of those.

John Joseph Adams continues to edit the magazine, and the stories are good as ever. Cutting down the great stories to just a few was a brutal process.

 

The List

1. The Battle of York by James Stoddard
How best to describe this. It is a myth written about the history of the USA based on half-heard fragments and scraps of memory by a person in the future after earthquakes have destroyed all the landmarks and EM has destroyed all the electronic records. It is over-the-top, bizarre, hilarious, yet tells a compelling story amongst it all. You’ve really got to read it just to see how it was done.

2. The Boy and the Box by Adam-Troy Castro
A boy has a box into which he has put the world. A good extension of the age-old “children would be scary if they had absolute power.”

3. Breathless in the Deep by Cory Skerry
Good action story about a pearl diver in a world where there is magic based around kraken ink.

4. A Fine Show on the Abyssal Plain by Karen Tidbeck
Another one that’s hard to explain. Very metafiction. Just read it.

5. Invisible Planets by Hao Jingfang
On the surface it’s a story describing fanciful and imaginative fantasy planets, but the format is used to work well into a broader story.

6. HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!! by Keffy R.M. Kehrli
Written as a Kickstarter campaign to fund a world takeover by a mad scientist, with everything you can imagine like stretch goals, donation levels with appropriate rewards, reasons why you should fund, interaction with the Kickstarter userbase. Very fun!

7. Alive, Alive Oh by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley
One of the more heartfelt stories I’ve read this year about a woman and her daughter on an off-Earth colony, and the reminiscences the woman has with her daughter about their old home.

Honorable Mentions

Division of Labor by Benjamin Roy Lambert

Ragged Claws by Lisa Tuttle

Get a Grip by Paul Park

 

 

 

Review: Nebula Short Story Nominees

written by David Steffen

You can find a full list of the 2013 Nebula nominees here. This is a review of the short stories nominated this year for the Nebulas, which are chosen by the members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

1. ‘‘Alive, Alive Oh,” Sylvia Spruck Wrigley (Lightspeed 6/13)
The story of an interplanetary colonist from Earth who traveled with her husband with the expectation that they would be able to return in ten years, but a pathogen keeps them from returning. Their daughter, born on the colony, has never seen Earth and has grown up with her mother’s stories of the old world. This story has roots in the experience of immigrants here on Earth, but is all the more heartfelt for the differences rendered by SFnal treatment.

Top notch. Not much else to say, just go read it. This is easily my pick for the category.

 

2. ‘‘The Sounds of Old Earth,” Matthew Kressel (Lightspeed 1/13)
Old Earth isn’t worth preserving anymore, most people say. It should be broken down into its component materials for the further development of New Earth. But not everyone wants to evacuate the planet. For people who have spent their whole lives there, raised their families there, that’s a difficult and painful transition to make.

Not a bad story. I felt for the character, but it was a bit maudlin for my tastes. There is conflict, certainly, but nothing that the character can do anything about so the story just kind of happens around him. Not bad, but just not my cup of tea, I guess.

 

3. ‘‘Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer,” Kenneth Schneyer (Clockwork Phoenix 4)
This is told as though it were one of those audio tours you can sometimes get at museums to walk you through the exhibits in some meaningful order. It steps through an artist’s works from the beginning of her career to her death, examining how her technique changed with events in her life, in particular in the representation of loved ones who had died.

I found the technique for this one served to only increase the distance between me and the character so that she’s a historical figure of little importance to me rather than really immersing me in the story. It was very faithful to its medium–I would enjoy listening to this in headphones as I walked around an art exhibit looking at each of the works as it’s described. But on its own, without the actual art having been created and shown to me in parallel, it reads pretty much like I’d expect a museum tour to read without being able to be there or look at anything–kind of interesting but very prolonged and all of the most interesting stuff is not onstage. I found some of the discussion questions after each painting rather annoying because so many seem to be based around the writer of the audio tour not really paying attention to the quote the author herself gave about why some figures are drawn differently than others. If Mr. Schneyer hired an artist to make the paintings that go along with this story and presented them together, I’d happily buy the ebook for that.

 

4. ‘‘If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love,” Rachel Swirsky (Apex 3/13)
This story starts out with the whimsical hypothetical in the title, as spoken by a woman to a friend she loves dearly, and continues on to give real life reasons why she is pondering this whimsy.

The characters read as real once the story got to the story, but I found all the hypotheticals more irritating than entertaining or illuminating. If A, then B. If B, then C. If C, then D. A story this short shouldn’t feel too long, but to me it does. Eventually the story gets to the actual story behind the hypotheticals, but by that time I was just impatient for it to be over.

 

5. ‘‘Selkie Stories Are for Losers,” Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons 1/7/13)
A girl’s mother leaves her family behind. The girl thinks the circumstances imply that her mother is a selkie (a mythical shapeshifting creature that could turn into a seal by pulling on her sealskin, but would be trapped in human form if that skin was stolen).

Most of the body of the story is the girl criticizing the tropes of selkie stories, which I wasn’t very interested in, partly because I haven’t seen enough selkie stories to really say whether her tropes are actually accurate or not. While some of the circumstances of her mother leaving match a selkie story, I didn’t see any really strong evidence that that was the case, so it just seemed to be a story about a neurotic fixation caused by family trauma. The family trauma, perhaps I should’ve felt moved by, but it happened before the story started, and rather than confront the real situation she spends all of her time obsessing about selkie stories.

Not my thing, I guess.

Daily Science Fiction: September 2013 Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

Welcome to the only ezine publication that takes the time to review all of the stories of one of the most read speculative publications, and most submitted to professional publishers, Daily Science Fiction. We are proud to be able to show DSF, and its celebrated authors, that their work is read , and studied. For three years we have held true to our commitment that Daily SF should not be ignored. They shouldn’t. The material is too good to be overlooked. But don’t take our word for it. See for yourself.

 

When the Selkie Comes by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley (debut 9/2 and reviewed by Dustin Adams).

This flash story is about a young girl suffering the loss of her best friend / girlfriend. Her mind can’t fully accept that she’s gone, especially because of bullying, so she invents a world of magic around herself like a protective bubble, imagining her friend has gone to a better place.

I wasn’t able to escape into the fantasy because this tale was true-to-life. Magic is mentioned, but doesn’t play a part. I wish it had, because I was hoping for some sort of redemption, but instead we just have a very sad, very real story.

 

The Velveteen Rabbit Says Goodbye by Melissa Mead (debut 9/3 and reviewed by Dustin Adams).

I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing many of Melissa Mead’s altered fairy tales, but this one leaves them all behind. If you read only one, make it this one.

The Velveteen rabbit is sent to his Boy, who has been sent to war. While there, he sees horrible things, but his job is simply to be there for his Boy, as well as for others, because they need him.

RECOMMENDED

 

A carnival attraction draws an inquisitive customer in The Vanishing Girl by Michael T. Banker (debut 9/4 and reviewed by Frank D). For two dollars, a girl promises to make something you offer to disappear. Her magical touch delivers. Intrigued, he offers her something friendly. Big mistake.

“The Vanishing Girl” is a tale I read when it first appeared in a writer’s group contest. The ending is quite abrupt, and fitting.

 

A tribute of a town’s savior shows up at the doorstep of a young lady’s home in The Witch’s Cat by Kalisa Ann Lessnau (debut 9/5 and reviewed by Frank D). The companion of a Witch takes to the protagonist when its master dies. The Witch did much for the town. The people she helped all whisper their thanks to the cat (named Sampson) as the protagonist walks tours the community. Sampson contributes to the bonfire while the town performs one last tribute to the Witch, surprising them all, but the magic of the witch has not stopped giving, after all.

“The Witch’s Cat” is a tale that had me guessing throughout. The Witch had left a lasting mark on the local people, she being an icon like many leaders throughout history. I really had no idea where this story was heading and its conclusion is one that I whole-heartedly approve of. Very nice work indeed.

RECOMMENDED

 

The old Angel of Death appeals to the new angel to spare humanity. In Dark Angel, Archangel by Kevin J. Anderson (debut 9/6 and reviewed by Frank D), the Grim Reaper has lost his job to the White Lady. He has refused to exterminate humanity and has been stripped of most of his power. The White Lady has no such qualms. Angels of Deaths have been replaced before – mass extinctions having rendering the previous angel useless. The Reaper intends to not let humanity fade from Earth. He knows why the rest of the aurorae want man to perish. The aurorae will have much to fear, if he can convince the White Lady why man should survive.

“Dark Angel” is a supernatural tale with a very different premise. The otherworld beings are products of the Aurora Borealis. The fear humanity feels for the Angels of Death have made them powerful, too powerful for the beings that have created them. The story becomes a battle, ending in a self-sacrificing act to prove a point.

Frankly, I found this story to be a stretch, even for a speculative audience. It read like a mash up of concepts that floated around in the author’s head.

 

A letter of concern (complete with footnotes) is sent to the people of Earth in Uh†Guys? by Luc Reid (debut 9/9 and reviewed by Frank D). Aliens send us a message in a lingo that we can all understand, you dig?

I found this amusing tongue-and-cheek message piece entertaining.

 

A man follows a character of importance in Tunnel Vision by Zach Shephard (debut 9/10 and reviewed by Frank D). The protagonist tails a woman he identifies as ‘The Protagonist’. He passes by other characters with wild stories of their own, but he is unconcerned about them. She alone has captured his interest.

“Tunnel Vision” is a story of a viewer focused on a single person. The tale is strange, told as if a reader is living in the imaginative world of another’s creation. The people he passes have incredible and compelling tales of their own, tales he ignores.

This story has a disconnected and odd premise to it. Surreal, yet interesting.

 

The cycles of the tides have a feminine influence in Ebb and Flow by La Shawn M. Wanak (debut 9/11 and reviewed by Frank D). Megan waits at the shore, watching the tide come in as a hint to know when her time has arrived.

This premise is based on a switch on the attraction of the tides , it is a woman’s menstruation cycle and not the moon’s gravitational influence. Interesting, but silly.

 

A vampire craves to see the sun in Finally Free by Frances Silversmith (debut 9/12 and reviewed by Frank D). This brief tale explores the motives of a vampire who has lived in the dark for far too long.

Short and sweet.

 

A failed artist tries to find his purpose in a world filled with androids in The Titanium Geisha by Elias Barton (debut 9/13 and reviewed by Frank D). Wil Feld is the oldest child of a family of accomplished artists. A failure who spends his days on the beach eating hot dogs, Will is bitter and adrift – a boat without a rudder – as he attempts to sail through life as his siblings have. He awaits his perfect mate, a companion android he had picked out in the design specs of an android corporation. When Fern appears on the beach, she isn’t what he expected. She turns out to more than he could have imagined.

“The Titanium Geisha” is a story reminiscent of Philip Dick’s classic Do Androids Dream Electric Dreams? , the story that begat Blade Runner. Fern proves to be just the person Will needs, a mate who challenges an artist who has come to avoid challenges. Fern attempts to blossom Wil’s creative side, but Wil has not the insight, nor the desire his siblings have had all along. The world is clinical to him. Where others see beauty, he finds the practical.

“Titanium Geisha” is long tale for Daily SF. It is long in set up with a reveal that takes a long and winding path to reach its conclusion. The tale is a cleverly disguised mystery. There are clues within the story that should have made the twist obvious but the slow pace and complicated romance does a rather good job of hiding the clues in plain sight. The protagonist is drawn as a privileged jerk, too comfortable in his own self-pity to attempt to move beyond his own short comings. He makes it difficult as a character for a reader to rootfor, which is a shame.

“The Titanium Geisha” is a story with a solid premise. The tale is an intriguing one but one that is difficult to stick with.

 

Pavlov’s Final Research by Gary Cuba (debut 9/16 and reviewed by James Hanzelka).

The old man stood on shaky legs, his bones creaking with the effort, and shambled over to the door. “What do they want of me now?” He thought. He opened the door to reveal his old friend, Sergi. “Have you come to tell me they have stopped my stipend after all these years?” Pavlov asked. “Not at all, old friend.” Sergi said. “In fact Stalin wants to honor you as his predecessor has done, but he needs to know about your new work.” Pavlov agreed and led Sergi into the kitchen to observe his latest work, a new approach to conditioning. But who was training who?

This story is a little trite and predictable, but it is well written and the humor comes through nicely. The writer has done a credible job with setting up the premise and drawing the reader into the story. It could probably have used a better punch line, but it is still worth the read.

 

Virtually Human by Melanie Rees (debut 9/17 and reviewed by James Hanzelka).

The boy held up the pills, offering one to Miranda. She refused and he popped one in his mouth. “You know you want one,” he said. Miranda refused, stumbling over her words, “I can’t.” His look carried the accusation of cowardice. “Mother would be angry.” Still she is on the verge of succumbing to the temptation when the footsteps on the stairs alert her. “End program,” she commands and the boy fades away.

This was an interesting take on perception and what we seek for in life. The author does a good job of drawing us into the character. And while there are some early issues with gaps in the action that I found disconcerting, overall the story is well written. I liked the way the author changed our view of the world as she changed the perspective of the character. Worth the read.

 

A painter deconstructs his own work in Artist’s Retrospective by David D. Levine (debut 9/18 and reviewed by Frank D). A customer delivers a painting to an artist’s gallery , a caption of a fruit bowl. The painter accepts it and strips down to the point of his inspiration.

“Artist’s Retrospective” is a walk backwards in creation. The story is told in a time reversal, a tale of rediscovery in the eyes of a creator. The piece (story) is a work of a master. Mr. Levine shows off his own artistry as he leads the reader on a path of inspiration and talent , in reverse. Well done.

RECOMMENDED

 

A scientist confesses his crime in Those Little Slices of Death by Susan Lanigan (debut 9/19 and reviewed by Frank D). An inventor removes the magnet in his skull that neutralizes the need for sleep. The result is intoxicating.

This futuristic message piece is written as a commentary of our current political times. Not a bad story but reading the author’s inspiration kind of soured it for me.

 

Unicorns, and Other Birthday Hazards by Jeffery John Hemenway (debut 9/20 and reviewed by Frank D). It’s Greta’s twelfth birthday, and that makes her a dangerous girl. Monsters inhabit her town, brought about by the birthday wishes of little children. The adults need her to fix this with a wish, but she knows that won’t make things better, just worse. But Greta knows what to do because she’s the one that made birthday wishes possible in the first place.

Greta is a prisoner in her own attic as a large man stands guard. Outside unicorns and ponies of all shapes and color rule the grounds. They are the results of wishes small children have made, but no wish comes without a consequence. Greta learned that the day she first found the gnome, and has been planning ever since to undo what she had done long ago.

“Unicorns” is a tale of unintentional consequences. She had intended on saving her sick sister with her first wish, but the gnome had warned her of its consequences. The story is a fast moving tale full of unexpected twists and turns. The quick pace and unseen corners is a telling that was right up my alley, making it a complete pleasure for me to read. My only gripe is the ending left me with unanswered questions. Nevertheless, it was a solid and entertaining read.

 

An editor wants his science fiction writer to make his novel more believable in Worldbuilding by Alex Shvartsman (debut 9/23 and reviewed by Frank D). Peter calls in Bob to nit-pick small details in his latest work.

This short piece has a twist made for the lovers of speculative fiction.

 

The Gifts: Parts 1 -3 by Mari Ness (debut 9/24-26 and reviewed by Frank D), is a tale told around the Grimm fairy tale, The Girl with Silver Hands. Each part is told from a perspective of one of the major players in the tale.

In Part One (debut 9/24), the protagonist is given a chest from his daughter, filled with gold and a pair of silver hands. The gold is his, but it cannot be touched by his own hands.

In Part Two (debut 9/25), we see the prequel to Part One. The girl with stumps for arms is given the silver hands as a gift by her prince, her husband, and protagonist of this tale.

This flash gathers a glimpse of the girl and how her silver hands are given as a gift to her father.

In Part Three (debut 9/26), is the finale as seen through the eyes of the girl with stumps for arms. She watches as her prince , the man she had left , slices off her father’s hands on the chest full of gold.

The original tale (there are many variations, according to my research) is dark like many of the Grimm brother’s tales. Ms Ness’s adaption is told with an alternate ending as an epilogue to the original tale. These three brief adaptions are presented in a slightly darker shade as the already grim fairy tale.

Like many of the fairy tale adaptions told here at Daily SF, the author holds true to the tone of the original piece while spinning it in their own style. Not bad, for a bleak and harsh children’s story.

 

A ghost girl and a man seeking resurrection for his wife seek a planet of dreams in Marrakech Express by Milena Benini (debut 9/27 and reviewed by Frank D). The planet of Zaria is a world where the dead can live on in the space in which dreams exist. Mari is a spirit whose form exists in the presence of her parents. Karima intends on making the sun run for her daughter. Christian Chankari is a man who has used the services of a smuggler , Harry the Slut. Together, they travel aboard the Marrakech Express to Zaria so Christian can bring his departed wife to Zaria.

“Marrakech Express” is a dual plot story. The twin stories surrounding Mari’s ghostly form and the exploits of Harry the Slut have very little in common. Each storyline follows a confusing path until the characters meet in the climax of the piece.

I found this story to be a difficult one to get through. The characters all have odd motives. The rules of the dream state and how they related to the dead I couldn’t make heads or tails out of. The story is slow and underdeveloped. I just couldn’t understand why these people made the choices they made.

Not my cup of tea.

 

An old woman has a soft spot for children, one she has been suppressing for a very long time. How Hagatha One-Eye Fell Off the Wagon by Matthew Cote (debut 9/30 and reviewed by Frank D) is a tale of a reclusive and old woman. She holds tight to a coin stamped with a 200, the time she has remained on the wagon. An older boy performs a breaking and entering on her place, challenging her resolve and will power.

“How Hagatha” is a take on the ole Hansel and Gretel fable. I found it inventive and a pleasure to read.

RECOMMENDED

 

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Daily Science Fiction: November 2012 Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

Recommended.

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

Recommended.

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Recommended.

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

Appreciating the appreciationsâ€

I was posed with the questionâ€

Why do writers review?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep up the good work.

Have a Happy New Year!

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