I have several volumes of this series, but this is the only one I’ve read — probably because a review was expected since I got it from the publisher via LibraryThing.
A retro review from February 16, 2013.
Don’t think of this as a collection of amateur stories. These stories are as proficient as those you will find in any anthology, more than many I’d say. Many of these stories are not even the first publication of their authors.
And don’t think of this as some sort of talent-spotting exercise, a dutiful survey to see who might be the subject of “buzz” in the future. As with past winners, some of these authors will go on to distinguished careers. Others will fade away.
There is something here for most tastes in the fantastic: fantasy, surrealism, a bit of steampunk, and military and straight science fiction.
Some of that science fiction is conceptually inventive. If it isn’t entirely groundbreaking, it at least looks at some old ideas in a new way. Three stories in this category were my favorites.
Actually, my favorite, Gerald Warfield’s “The Poly Islands“, may do something completely new in its setting – the famed island of floating garbage in the Pacific Ocean. Here, it’s populated by criminal gangs, those on the run from those gangs like protagonist Liyang, and political refugees. Add in the mysterious nature of the Crab, leader of the Poly Island community, some intrigue, and the well-worked out details of living on an unstable platform of plastic garbage, and you have a winning story marred only a tiny bit by a somewhat schmaltzy ending.
You don’t have to be enamored of James Joyce or all things Irish – and I’m not – to appreciate Tom Doyle’s “While Ireland Holds These Graves“. In a second revolution of independence, Ireland has decided to turn its back on the global order, to become a self-consciously ethnic state (though anybody, from anywhere, can join – Gallic speaking enabled by brain implants) apart from the bland global order. New wealth and new possibilities from solar and fusion energy and nanotechnology allow the recreation of an early 20th century Ireland complete with the recreated personalities of its celebrities like W. B. Yeats and James Joyce. The story follows the co-creator of the Joyce personality and his creation in the few remaining days before the borders are sealed. Celtic mythology, Irish nationalism and literature, the effects of globalization, artificial intelligence and personality reconstructions all fuse in a noir plot. It could be argued that the motivations for all its intrigue aren’t entirely clear, but I think Doyle conveys them well enough in an intuitive way.
“Fast Draw” from Roy Hardin takes the transhuman postulate that humanity can be greatly altered by advances in biology and cybernetics. To that starting point, he adds the simple observation that those improvements would, like our current technology, proceed in waves. The description of how humans of successive technological iterations exist – sometimes quite uneasily — together is quite novel and interesting. Mix in geriatrics prowling a single’s bar and a jilted woman who happens to be quick draw artist, and you a have a winning story – literally since this was the top entry for 2011. The story, for me, had a slight misstep at the end in the revealing of the true identity of one character, but overall an impressive story.
Continuing riffs on familiar notions are William Ledbetter’s “The Rings of Mars” and William Mitchell’s “Contact Authority“. Ledbetter’s story starts with a planetary geologist kidnapping his old friend who has come to Mars to send him back home. He wants a chance to prove that alien ruins exist on Mars – and not give his corporate bosses a chance to exploit them. I’m always up for alien ruins on Mars or Martian stories in general, and this one had a rewarding payoff. Mitchell’s is a first contact story but with a catch. Humanity is on probation with the alien Alliance which has delegated it to make first contact with the Caronoi. The trouble is that somebody is culturally contaminating the Caronoi culture prior to that first contact, and, if the Alliance finds out and decides man has failed its unknown criteria, genocide will result. The nature of that criteria forms the heart of the story, and the answer to the question struck me as innovative.
“My Name Is Angela” from Harry Lang starts out with the old notion of manufactured people to do crappy jobs. Here narrator Angela is an elementary school teacher of violent, warehoused kids. She decides there might be more to life and seeks out the Soul Man to give it to her. Over all, it’s a sad story but leavened with bits of humor in some of the character’s names. “Lost Pine” by Jacob A. Boyd is a post-holocaust story where most of man has succumbed to the “creeping crud” and ended up in yellowish cocoons. It’s all due to an alien invasion. The question for survivors like Gage and Adah and Monk is the actual condition of their cocooned love ones and each comes up with different answer to that question.
“Shutdown” from Cory L. Lee was a briskly told military science fiction tale. The dancer heroine is recruited to be part of an elite unit that will assault an alien fortress with a new tactic – temporarily dying when needed to avoid detection and thwart weapons from homing in on them. I liked it overall though the change in the dancer’s character at the end seemed a bit clichéd. Scott T. Barnes’ “Insect Sculptor” effectively evokes the experience of unexpectedly becoming romantically obsessed with an odd woman. The story takes place in the world of insect sculpting – psychically willing insects to take desired forms. The narrator is going to study under the greatest sculptor of all, the Great Gaja-mada, but it’s his assistant, Isabella, that fixes his interest.
M. O. Muriel’s “The Siren” was the one story that didn’t work for me, possibly because there was a surrealistic edge to the events, an element I often don’t respond to. The story seems to involve an alien invasion that has imprisoned the consciousness of most humans into the Honeycomb with a few people, like the heroine, able to move about. Overall, I found the story confusing though I appreciated the interesting characters which included the teenaged girl narrator and a veteran of the Afghan War.
A satisfying mix of steampunk (with zeppelins) and medieval magic (golems and homunculi) and science as magic, Nick T. Chan’s “The Command for Love” has adventure, an intriguing religion that believes the world is the body of God and , therefore, worships maps, and a rumination on the nature of true intelligence. Its golem has fallen in love with his master’s daughter. Is he just responding to his programming or does he have a “soul” of his own?
Venturing further into fantasy territory is “The Paradise Aperture” from David Carani. Its narrator has the freakish and singular ability to capture pictures of alternate dimensions and use them to create portals to pocket universes – a quite profitable and controversial business. But what he desperately wants is to find the dimension his wife may have fled to to escape death.
Pure fantasy is well represented by Marie Croke’s rewarding and poignant “On Woven Wood“, the tale of a magical and intelligent cabinet, how he makes his way in the world after his master’s death, and the mysteries of his origin.
The Writers of the Future anthologies have always presented advice for writers. Here Hubbard himself speaks of how much “story vitality” research can give a story. Kristine Kathryn Rusch revises Robert A. Heinlein’s rules of writing to emphasize concentrating on satisfying – and not prettily told – stories. She also warns against constant rewriting except at an editor’s request, and speaks of the importance of writing frequently. Her particular emphasis is on short fiction.
This volume also showcases the winners of another contest – L. Ron Hubbard’s Illustrators of the Future. The renowned Shaun Tan offers advice for new illustrators. The winners of the contest were turned lose to illustrate a winning story with black and white drawings, so the book contains some striking art as well as good fiction. I particularly liked John W. Haverty Jr’s work for “The Insect Sculptor” and Fiona Meng’s drawing for “While Ireland Holds These Graves”.
Don’t worry about the future careers of these writers. Just buy this and appreciate the fine work they’ve given us now.