The Best of Toasted Cake 2013-

written by David Steffen

Tina Connolly’s Toasted Cake podcast is still going strong! She reduced her publication frequency for a little while to spend time with her newborn baby, but pretty soon Toasted Cake will be back up to its weekly rate. By my reckoning, Toasted Cake published 41 short stories between my last list on January 21, 2013 and the end of 2013.

Two of my own stories were also reprinted on the podcast. I don’t consider my own stories for inclusion in the lists, so I’ll just mention them here in the header: This Is Your Problem, Right Here and What Makes You Tick.

 

The List

1. The Girl Who Was Loved By The Sea by Spencer Ellsworth
The POV character here is the personification of the ocean, who has fallen in love with a girl because of the myths she makes up about it. The ocean tries to interact with her as she grows older.

2. The Oracle of DARPA by Bogi TakÃ’ cs
Written as a transcript of a DARPA researcher with an oracle meant to predict threats. But the Oracle speaks so cryptically so as to be basically useless. Fun stuff! Some of the oracle’s language reminds me of conversations with the Orz when playing Star Control II.

3. Through the Cooking Glass by Vylar Kaftan
When baking gingerbread cookies, a woman finds that she has spawned a tiny little civilization of cookie people.

4. Hazelwitch v. Hazelwitch by K.G. Jewell
Follows the court proceedings involving the breakup of two magic-users.

5. Taking Care of Ma by Lee Hallison
This one reminds me of my dad and his distrust of technology, trying to help out an aging mother with technological solutions.

 

Honorable Mentions

After the Earthquake by Caroline M. Yoachim

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.

Daily Science Fiction: July 2012 Review

written by Frank Dutkiewicz

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

Recommended.

 

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

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

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

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

Recommended.

 

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

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

 

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

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

Recommended.

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Recommended.

 

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

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

 

Over Salad and Soup…

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

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

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

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

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

“WorldCon 2012 Con Report” or “David Steffen Finds Fandom”

written by David Steffen

I’m beginning to write this article from the huge lobby of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Chicago. It’s 10 o’clock Monday morning, the last day of WorldCon, which this year is Chicon 7. As I sit here and watch the escalators, ambushing familiar faces to sneak in some goodbyes, I am feeling very nostalgic about the weekend already.

This is the first big SF convention that I’ve ever been to, and the only one where I came with a large number of friends I’d known ahead of time. The only convention I’ve been to besides this has been MiniCon in the Twin Cities, which is a few hundred people, and although I’ve made some friends there, I didn’t know any of them ahead of time. Here at WorldCon there are literally dozens of people whom I have met in some respect, varying from casual acquaintances from forums, to editors who have considered my stories for their magazines, to close friends who I’ve been in continuous contact with for years. I tried to write down all the names of these people I’d met, and came up with at least 60, and I’m sure I’m forgetting some, with another dozen that I would’ve liked to meet but never quite got the chance.

I think I finally understand, to a much larger extent, what fandom is all about. The greatest thing about SF fandom is how welcoming it is to everyone. No matter what race, nationality, religion, sexuality, body type, no matter what, you are welcomed with open arms. I’ve always loved that, but previously–I don’t know exactly how to explain this–although I never felt unwelcome, I don’t think I ever felt like I was a PART of the group. I felt like I was being welcomed warmly into a group but not exactly part of the group. I think that everything about it was the way I have approached MiniCon attendance. I go to MiniCon during the day, show up at the first panel that I’m interested in and leave after the last panel I’m interested in. Since so much of the programming emphasizes panels, it seemed to me like panels were what it was about (despite others telling me that that wasn’t the point at all). And I would talk to people as the opportunity arose, but since I was so panel-focused, most of the time I spent was sitting listening to other people talk without a lot of opportunity for conversation with others. But now I’m realizing that the way that I have been approaching MiniCon is all wrong. Panels are good, but they’re not the point.

I can pinpoint the moment when this became real to me. One of the first panels I went to was “Short Story as Proving Ground” with some panelists that I’ve known online, Brad Torgersen, Vylar Kaftan, and others. I arrived late, and so I didn’t get a chance to talk to anyone beforehand. After the panel, I met quite a few people that I’ve known online for a long time, shook some hands and was quite happy to be meeting them. But when I met Annie Bellet, who’s been a friend online for years, she didn’t go for a handshake, she immediately gave me a big hug. And moments later a similar greeting from another longtime friend, Laurie Gailunas. I really felt, at that moment, like these people aren’t just friends, aren’t just colleagues. These people are family, welcoming me with open arms. I realize that sounds corny. But that’s how it felt, and that feeling has persisted through the rest of the con. So, thanks Annie, Laurie, and thanks everyone else who has made me feel so welcome.

I’m not even sure where to get started with this con report.

Dude, you’re really only getting STARTED? You’ve written flash fiction stories that are shorter than that introduction.

Don’t pay attention to that italicized bit. That’s my internal critic. He’s just cranky from being ignored–I don’t know how he got out of the dungeon. Anyway, back to the topic of where to get started: I thought about splitting it up by day, but figured that would get a bit too dry of a “list” format that wouldn’t at all match how I feel about my first big con experience.

The People

There is no way that I can possibly list all of the people that I met this weekend, so I’m not even going to try. I will mention a few. I roomed with Donald Mead and Bryant Thomas Schmidt, both very nice guys. I was very excited to meet Annie Bellet, Hugo-nominated Brad Torgersen, Laurie Gailunas, and Alastair Mayer, who I’ve been in a writing group with for the last few years. There are so many others that I met that I know through various forums or publications, Brennan Harvey, Thomas Carpenter, Alex Kane, Laurie Tom, Dawn Bonnana, Christie Yant (who wrote my favorite story in years, the Three Feats of Agani), Nancy Fulda, Gio Clairval. Many others whose work I have enjoyed over the years, like Rajan Khanna, David D. Levine, Ferret Steinmetz. And I got an autograph from Mr. George R. R. Martin, while managing not to go too fanboy on him.

As I have been sitting here writing this article, others have come and gone around me. I have been sitting next to a woman for the last hour as I type away, and moments ago realized that the woman is LaShawn Wanak, whom I have had many a discussion about fiction on the Escape Artists forums over the last few years! Man this is a crazy place, to meet so many people I know digitally.

The Editors

Wait, wait, aren’t editors people? What kind of stupid categories are these, anyway?

I concede that editors are people. Many of them might even be entirely human. Not John Joseph Adams, clearly, because he regularly violates causality by sending rejections from his Lightspeed EVEN BEFORE the story has been sent to him and somehow he does this without unraveling spacetime. On top of that, no flesh and blood human being could possibly juggle all the anthologies that he puts together all at the same time. Regardless of his superhuman state, he seems to be a very nice guy, even though he’s rejected my stories more than any other editor on the planet.

Also met Gordon Van Gelder, who was one of the first editors I submitted to at Fantasy & Science Fiction. And Stanley Schmidt, the current editor of Analog who has seen all the SF stories I’ve written, as well as Trevor Quachri, who will soon be inundated by my stories in Stan’s stead. Jason Sizemore. And Mur Lafferty, who has the unique distinction in my mind of being the only magazine editor I’ve met who has bought a story from me (for Escape Pod).

It was fun meeting these people, whom I’ve corresponded with so often, if in only the most spare and businesslike way.

Those dulcet tones

What kind of stupid category is that? “Those dulcet tones”. Sheesh.

There was one very small category of people whom I was especially excited to meet.

Wait, wait, so you had a category called “The People” followed by two categories which are subsets of people. Your Software Engineer’s license is going to be revoked if anyone ever founds out–

Ah, that’s better. I found my handy dandy internal critic club that I’d left in my other pants, and put it to good use. He’s back in the dungeons where he belongs. Anyway…

So this very small category is but a category of two, podcast hosts who have been keeping me company in a unidirectional fashion on my daily commute. Mur Lafferty, editor and host of Escape Pod, and Kate Baker, host and narrator of the Clarkesworld podcast. I have talked to both of them before this convention. Mur has bought one of my stories. I’ve talked to Kate before, both as part of her work as a staff member of SFWA, and to share my Best of Clarkesworld lists. Corresponding with them via email was one thing, but easy enough to separate from the podcast because of the different medium. Talking to them in person, though, was very strange (in the best possible way). I have listened to both of them for SO many hours, I felt like I was talking to best friends of many years. They both have such beautiful reading voices.

It sort of reminded me of those times when I’ve gone to a play with incredibly good actors, and then greeted the actors afterward. Theater can establish such a perceived intimacy that it’s easy to feel like you know the person as a close friend, and so if I follow my instinct and greet them as a warm friend without thinking, it’s very confusing for both parties. I think in this case it was more so, because I have listened to them both for so many hours. I kept waiting for Kate to say “Let me tell you a story.”

It was really, really surreal, as if I talked to my iPod and it suddenly started responding to me. And, so far, I haven’t been served a restraining order, so at the very least I think I managed not to creep either of them out with one-sided over-familiarity.

The Parties

Every night, parties. Usually I don’t like parties much, but these are writer parties. Many familiar faces, and you can stand around and talk about writing. There’s not really anybody in real life that I talk to about writing without them getting bored after a few minutes, so this was a lot of fun. Tor and Baen both hosted big parties, but one of the highlights of the weekend was the “Pink and Blue” release party of Cat Rambo and Stina Leicht. Cat Rambo just released an anthology of her short stories titled “Near + Far” (she’s the pink) and Stina Leicht (she’s the blue) something as well, I think it was her book “Of Blood and Honey”. This was a highlight of the weekend, a good turnout with lots of people I wanted to meet.

Panels/Events

I’ll just list the ones I went to briefly, for anyone who’d like to know more than I said, ask in the comments.

Thursday

Opening Ceremonies–formatted like a late-night talk show with the entertaining John Scalzi as host, he interviewed all of the major guests of the con.
Mike Resnick Reading
Nancy Fulda Reading
The Short Story as Testing Ground–This was the first panel I went to that I’d mentioned previously, with Brad and Vylar as panelists. Good content, but especially exciting to meet a bunch of people after.

Friday

Mark J. Ferrari Reading–I’ve critiqued some book chapters of Mark’s upcoming book, was nice to meet him
George R. R. Martin Autograph Session–Got a copy of “Game of Thrones” autographed
John Joseph Adams Reading–Fiction reading of stories bought by JJA, including by Christie Yant and David D. Levine. Very enjoyable, especially Levine’s clever parody of Superman from a Lex Luthor point of view justifying his seemingly evil actions.
Filling the Magazines–Great panel of editors, Gordon Van Gelder, Stanley Schmidt, John Joseph Adams, Jason Sizemore, Ellen Datlow
Ferrett Steinmetz Reading–I think Ferrett’s really hit his stride lately, I like each story more and more.
Open Mic Reading–Ferrett inexplicably was scheduled for another 90 minute session and he opened it up for volunteers. I was very happy about this since I registered for the con much too late to be in any programming. So I read my favorite of my own work, the unpublished “Hungry Void”. I had a lot of trouble keeping my voice steady because that story always makes me want to cry.

Saturday

Codex Breakfast–Great fun to meet dozens from my favorite online writer’s forum
George R. R. Martin Interview
Effective Habits for Aspiring Authors–
A panel with Annie Bellet and Brad Torgersen
Critique Session–My sole programming commitment, Deirdre Saoirse Moen and I lead a critique session of 3 authors who signed up. A very enjoyable experience. I like critiquing anyway, was enjoyable to do this in person for a change.
Escape Pod Meetup–I showed up very late for this due to the critique session commitment, but was happy to find some people still hanging around. Met some great people involved in one of my favorite podcasts.

Sunday

The Future of Analog–Panel including Stanley Schmidt (editor until Friday), Trevor Quachri (editor after Friday), Brad Torgersen and Richard Lovett to discuss the editorial change and just generally the future of the magazine.
Podcasting 101–Okay, so I have little interest in starting a podcast (though I’d like to try some voice acting). I mostly went to hear Mur Lafferty and Kate Baker talk.
Neil Gaimain Theatre–One of four plays performed at this convention written by Neil Gaiman, this one a reimagining of the Snow White story with the stepmother as the hero and Snow White as a vampire. It feels entirely more real than the original story.

The Hugos

The Hugo award ceremony was a lot of fun. John Scalzi made a very entertaining host. This was an odd experience too, because it had a feel very much like the major award ceremonies you see on TV (but without the upstaging and with half the runtime), but I KNOW some of these people. I was particularly rooting for Brad Torgersen, Mur Lafferty, and Nancy Fulda to win in their respective categories. They didn’t, but I hope they’re not too disappointed about it–to be voted by fandom to be one of the top 5 favorite in any category is an amazing accomplishment.

I won’t list all the winners here, because those have been published for days. I was excited to see Jim C. Hines win for Best Fan Writer. If you haven’t read his blog posts about female and male poses on fantasy covers, you should–he actually reproduces all of the poses he discusses, to both thought-provoking points and comic effect. I was disappointed that the “Remedial Chaos Theory” of Community didn’t win for Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form, because that category is always dominated by Dr. Who. Game of Thrones Season 1 on HBO won Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form, against a tough field. Ken Liu‘s “Paper Menagerie” for Best Short Story, a well deserved win, that story is so good.

Wrap Up

I’m wrapping this up in my office at home on Wednesday, having hopped a plane home on Monday and gone back to my engineering work yesterday. I still feel a bit disoriented, culture-shock I guess, at being back in my daily life instead of this brief but intense visit into the convention scene.

This has been a really great experience for me, which I’m having trouble finding just the right words to describe. I feel like I’ve found fandom, after never quite being able to see quite where or what it was, and when I finally got here someone had saved a seat for me. Thank you to everyone who has made me feel so welcome–even just the little things added up to a great experience.