Many years ago, I discovered the Writers of the Future contest, a quarterly competition for today’s new sci-fi and fantasy authors. I’ve entered every quarter for the last four quarters, and, although I have not placed in the competition yet, I have enjoyed getting to know the Writers of the Future atmosphere through the anthologies of the twelve winning stories of each year. The stories are short, so you can read each one in about a half-hour to an hour. They also vary in tone, talent, and content, which (for me) is half the fun.
Most of these stories contain a smattering of crude language or swear words (for example, h--- and d---), though use is not excessive. SHUTDOWN contains a few sexually-themed jokes and THE POLY ISLANDS includes a non-graphic scene of a sexual nature.
Today, I will review Volume 28, which was released in 2012.
OF WOVEN WOOD by Marie Croke
Lan’s woven wooden body holds drawers of all the things Haigh needs for his experiments: a hummingbird, a dead rat, herbs and plants, and more. But when Haigh dies under suspicious circumstances and representative of the Queen arrive with many questions, Lan learns that his master has hidden something of great value—perhaps inside Lan himself.
The idea of a basket-man is intriguing and unusual. I particularly enjoyed the character of Jaddi, a no-nonsense but compassionate neighbor who aids Lan after Haigh’s death and who seems to know more than she says. However, the end of the story felt awkward to me, and devoid of the emotion I expected. It left some unanswered questions for me.
THE RINGS OF MARS by William Ledbetter
Malcolm’s friend Jack has abandoned the base on Mars and, when Malcolm finally catches up with him, he learns that Jack has made a discovery—a discovery that could change humanity’s entire conception of the universe.
I really enjoyed this story. The descriptions of Mars’ stark beauty and the tense friendship between Malcolm and Jack drew me into the story. The mystery of the strange basalt formations on Mars and the subsequent discoveries were absolutely mesmerizing, and left me wishing that this were the beginning of a novel. Note: This story includes some swear words.
THE PARADISE APERTURE by David Carani
Jonathan Ward has an unusual gift. When he photographs the right doors, those photos become recursion doors: portals to paradise worlds. It is a gift much sought-after by many of the world’s richest men—for only the rich can afford the cost—but Jonathan is not interested in riches. He has only one goal: to find the door that will lead him back to the paradise where his wife disappeared many years ago.
Jonathan’s quest is one filled with emotion, first a dull longing, then a keen desperation as he comes closer to his goal. I enjoyed the fact that the fantastical elements were grounded by universal human themes. The ending was unexpected for me, though somehow satisfying.
FAST DRAW by Roy Hardin
Jake is a level G-30, which means that he can live at about a hundred times the speed of a normal G-1, an unenhanced, slow-as-molasses human. But, although Jake is old and slow compared to the new G-100s, he enjoyed his relationship Gloria, a G-1 with the fastest draw in her generation. When Gloria comes seeking revenge against her old lover, Jake finds that a few surprises await him.
This story is written in terms of fractions of a second, each new section marked with a header like [0.06 second] to remind us that Jake’s experiences and reflections take up only a millisecond of Gloria’s time. I enjoyed this aspect and felt it was very creative. The ending was interesting, but I felt it was a little disjointed from the story as a whole, involving a character whose presence and motivations are a little mystifying. However, overall, it was an entertaining story.
THE SIREN by M. O. Muriel
Janie’s only wish is to escape the Honeycomb of the Collective Human Consciousness, and to be rid forever of the horrible Grunge who live in her house. As she teams up with a strange team of misfits, the tune that she hums in moments of panic becomes more powerful than she realizes.
I spent the first half of the story totally discombobulated, as the narrator talked about things I didn’t understand, and flashed back and forth between the past and the present. Once I realized what was actually going on, THE SIREN became my absolute favorite of all the Writers of the Future stories I’ve read so far. This is an alien invasion like I’ve never read before, with characters whose psychological issues become their greatest weapons, and it feels like it packs a whole novel in just a few pages.
CONTACT AUTHORITY by William Mitchell
Jared Spegel has one job: to find the person at the station who has been contacting the Caronoi, a new species on a planet. The Alliance—a confederacy of humans and aliens—has strict rules against contacting the inhabitants of a new planet. But as Jared digs deeper, he discovers that there is a great deal more at stake than he at first thought, and it might forever change humanity’s place in the Alliance.
It took me a while to understand the rules of the Alliance and of the Contact Authority, and I never truly understood the technical jargon, but none of the complexity ruined my ability to understand the thrust of the story, or the stakes involved. The author’s characters are quite relatable, and his Game Theory lent a fascinating twist to the storyline. This is another of those stories that I would read if the author expanded it to a novel.
THE COMMAND FOR LOVE by Nick T. Chan
Holy law states that golems and women are unthinking, but only God can change a law. Ligish, a titanium war golem, desires to save his master’s daughter, Anna, from an arranged marriage to cruel General Maul. To do so, Ligish must go to God’s soul and ask for God to change the law. But can he reach God, and will God agree?
The story is interesting, and Ligish’s loyalty to Anna is sweet, but I do not particularly like its treatment of God, whose body makes up Ligish’s world and who appears distant and difficult to entreat. I also do not quite understand what the homunculus is, though I gather that the symbols it printed are the commands that determined Ligish’s actions or limitations.
MY NAME IS ANGELA by Harry Lang
Angela is a clone, and therefore forbidden to have a soul. When she goes to the Soul Man, the soul that he gives her awakens her to more consciousness of life than she thought possible—and more than she is ready to face.
This story, for me, carries a kind of slate-gray horror, with flashes of golden hope. Angela’s awakening consciousness changes her relationships and her abilities, and also makes her more vulnerable to the authorities, who are ever watchful for clones who may have gained souls. The inhuman treatment of the authorities coupled with the very human feeling of Angela is horrifying in its contradiction, and the end left me thinking long afterward.
LOST PINE by Jacob A. Boyd
Gage and Adah have only each other after an alien disease called “the crud” envelopes every adult on earth. Living at the Lost Pine farm, the two scratch out a living—until their lives are interrupted by Monk, a young man who knows more than he says and who is preparing for the next move of those who seeded the crud.
The story starts off slowly, gathering speed as it approaches the climax. However, I wasn’t bored. I enjoyed getting to know Gage, the main character, and observing his subtly sweet relationship with Adah. The ending, though somewhat reminiscent of other alien tales, somehow didn’t feel cliché at all and left room for the imagination. I was so drawn into Gage’s world that LOST PINE directly influenced my novelette PROMETHEUS.
SHUTDOWN by Corry L. Lee
Amaechi has an ability that can save her life, and the lives of many others. She can kill herself at will, depressing her vital signs to the point at which no sensors—alien or human—can register signs of life. Then, at the right time, she can revive herself. Amaechi’s ability earns her a vital mission: to single-handedly penetrate a deadly jungle and to disarm whatever alien force that guards it.
This was one of my favorite stories from this anthology, because of its combination of unusual (almost supernatural) abilities, high action sequences, unique alien life, and a courageous female main character. There are some stories which are just plain fun, and this was one of those stories.
WHILE IRELAND HOLDS THESE GRAVES by Tom Doyle
Dev Martin makes PRs, nearly living cyber-representations of Ireland’s most influential and memorable people from history. As Dev interacts with his creations—including Old Yeats, Young Yeats, and Newly Dead Yeats—he finds himself one step behind his enemy and one-time lover and co-creator, Anna, who has joined forces with the mysterious creature known as the Morrigan.
I really didn’t understand this story. I tried. However, I kept feeling as though I was right on the edge of understanding, so perhaps a re-read will illuminate me. The idea of the PRs, and their half-human, half-cybernetic existence, was quite fascinating to me, and was a unique take on what a nation might do in the future in order to generate tourism and keep its own history alive.
THE POLY ISLANDS by Gerald Warfield
Liyang, fleeing from an Asian tong, takes refuge on one of the ocean islands made of poly-materials—the product of a polluted world. She must choose whom to trust amongst the various factions on the Poly Islands, for the islands are changing, and tearing apart. What, or who, is causing the change, and will that change help or harm the planet?
No summary could do the depth of the story full justice. There is a lot more going on here than just a rant against pollution or a power-struggle amongst various islanders. This story held my interest to the very end, which was one of the most satisfying ends of the entire anthology. The characters are believable and unique, the storyline is suspenseful, and I wished for more exploration of the Asian-influenced world created by Mr. Warfield.
INSECT SCULPTOR by Scott T. Barnes
Adam Clements dreams of being an insect sculptor as legendary as the Great Gaja-mada, but his fear restrains his potential. As he struggles to capture the attention of both the Gaja-mada and the great man's beautiful assistant, Isabella, he realizes that not all is as it seems, and the Gaja-mada's most incredible work is more powerful than he imagined and that he might be able to save the Hive.
It took me some time to accept the novel concept that the sculptures are created with live insects, arranged by the sculptor's mind-connection with the insect consciousness. My first reaction: "Okay, this is weird." However, the story's pace and the mysterious identities and abilities of the various sculptors captured my attention and held my interest until the end. At that point, I was still thinking, "This is weird," but the novelty of the ideas kept me thinking past the last sentence.