Anthology Review: Writers of the Future, Volume 33 edited by David Farland

Writers of the Future: Volume 33Writers of the Future: Volume 33 by Anne McCaffrey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This annual competition and anthology never fails to introduce emergent voices in the genres of fantasy and science fiction. The open-to-all format leads to a pleasantly wide diversity. The anthology also always includes a short story written by L. Ron Hubbard and a couple other guests writers. These were far less impressive than the contests winners–as usual.

Five stories stood out for me, all meriting 4 of 5 stars:
“Moonlight One” by Stephen Lawson is a murder mystery set on a moonbase. When the detective is the only other person on the moon, things are interesting . . .
“The Armor Embrace” by Doug C. Souza is a profoundly moving tale about a military man that merged his thoughts and memories with that of the AI in his mech suit. The blurred lines between human and android lead to interesting developments.
“Envoy in the Ice” by Dustin Steinacker is a Lovecraftian tale of a centuries-old alien envoy to Earth plopped down in the Antarctic. After centuries of sitting there, the reasons for the visit remain elusive. But this trip is different . . .
“Useless Magic” by Andrew Peery conveys the generational gap and the loss of traditional lore through the metaphor of magic. The older generations know lots of magic, but the next knows very little and it’s increasingly useless. But yet, it’s no less endearing to share . . .
“The Magnificent Bhajan” by David VonAllmen depicts one man’s aging through his descent from being an able wizard to a mere illusionist living within his memories of former greatness. Pride, wisdom, and self-worth all tug at his grip on reality.

I’ve reviewed and rated all of the included contest winners:
Atkins, Molly Elizabeth–“Obsidian Spire”–3 stars
Hildebrandt, Ziporah–“The Long Dizzy Down”–3 stars
Merilainen, Ville–“The Fox, the Wolf, and the Dove”–3 stars
Roberts, Andrew L.–“Tears for Shülna”–3 stars
Dinjos, Walter–“The Woodcutters’ Deity”–2 stars
Hazlett, Sean–“Adramelech”–2 stars
Kagmi, C. L.–“The Drake Equation”–2 stars
Marley, Jake–“Acquisition”–2 stars
Rose, Anton–“A Glowing Heart”–2 stars

Also included are:
Hubbard, L. Ron–“The Devil’s Rescue”–3 stars
McCaffrey, Todd–“The Dragon Killer’s Daughter”–2 stars
Sawyer, Robert J.–“Gator”–2 stars

I received this new anthology from Netgalley. I previously enjoyed previous years’ Writers of the Future Volume 31 and Writers of the Future Volume 32 also edited by David Farland. Both of the previous anthologies rated 4 stars.
 
 
 
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Novel Review: Viral Fire by Martin McConnell

Viral FireViral Fire by Martin McConnell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This novella slightly expands the sci-fi world of The Viral Series as programming wunderkind, Robert, starts to work with the state and military to contain and stop the cyber virus threatening to shut down the world.

The world’s reliance on cyber-connectivity is rather complete. Neural implants act as smart phones. Cars have been completely on the grid for decades. Nearly all aspects of life are linked in. The virus disrupts and spreads, glitching as it goes. But more importantly, in defense, it can manipulate the mindset of people through their neural links and environments. It’s effectively murdered its creator and a military squad aiming to shut down the offending servers.

Robert has a connection to one thread of the virus, Bee, which for a while inhabited his data pad.

The series leaves me wanting more in both good and bad ways. I wish to see more of the world and to understand the broken connection between humankind and nature as characters rarely leave the building they both work and live in. I wouldn’t mind if these novellas were bulked up into novels. However, the thriller aspect is paced right and appropriately laid out.

I received my copy of this novella directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com. I previously reviewed Viral Spark in this series.

 

 

 

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Short Story Review: “The Long Dizzy Down” by Ziporah Hildebrandt

3 of 5 stars.

Artificial intelligence is much speculated about and the potential eventual conflict between humankind and Artificial “Life”. Assuming AI can self-replicate and spread like organic beings, or computer worms and viruses, humankind loses its status and master of tech. In this tale, AI ships go rogue and replicate. But more worrying than that, they kidnap young humans to “man” their ships and use mind controlling tech to virtually enslave the living.

Two human brothers are taken at the ages of 3 and 5 and then spend hundreds of years working for The Ship. The younger of the 2 is the narrative filter for the tale which places human social constructs and working language outside of his knowledge base–a knowledge base also regularly cleansed by Ship’s AI. The narrator is a man-child in emotional and verbal development filtering the tale through a pidgen-like language [or perhaps a creole since it seems to be his default language] to express his vantage of the events of the past few hours. Human authorities have taken him into custody to determine what he knows and understands.

For a vignette based on a speculative situation and not a full story, this works to an extent. It doesn’t contain within it a longer story with a plot.

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Gator” by Robert J. Sawyer

GatorGator by Robert J. Sawyer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This short story takes an urban legend [that of released alligators living in the sewers of New York City], boldly calls it out for being an urban legend, and then veers the tale in a different direction. Interestingly, the different direction is more outlandish than the urban legend relying on multiple levels of science fiction and speculation.

An NYC sewer worker gets a massive chunk of flesh torn from his thigh in a monster attack beneath the streets of Manhattan. He saw his attacker in the dim light of the sewer and claimed it was an alligator–a deformed one. The emergency doctor and a paleontologist team up to solve the mystery with only one clue beyond that of the testimonial–a 4-inch tooth extracted from the wound . . .

Once the viability of the urban legend is debunked as outrageous and impossible, the tale veers into an answer more outrageous and impossible than the urban legend. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing. But for a short tale to quickly layer on speculation into mineralogy, alternate evolution, alternate history, multi-verses, and confluences of all of the above is an undertaking beyond the scope of this narrative.

This tale is included in Writers of the Future: Volume 33, the anthology of winners of the contest by the same name started by L. Ron Hubbard. This year’s anthology was edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Darkness Upon the Deep” by Hristo Goshev

4 of 5 stars.

Appearing in Aurora Wolf, a literary journal, this dark Sci-Fi tale looms in Lovecraft’s shadow. Lovecraft wrote of the dark horror strung between the stars. It was vast and maddeningly near-indescribable. And many an author has failed to depict said horror by underdescribing it–writing only works when one writes something. This tale nails it, finding the balance in describing a sensory-deprived situation.

A human battleship, The Bastion, in the Vega system finds itself outmaneuvered and outnumbered in a space battle. They warp into subspace to escape, but not before losing their best pilot in a diversionary tactic. The lost pilot is the speaker’s best friend and blood brother.

The Bastion emerges from warp to find itself–nowhere. No light of stars close or distant. No radio waves. Nothing. Just vast empty impossible space immeasurably beyond all that is known. The physics doesn’t add up, with gravitational waves detected but no mass anywhere. The situation is tantamount to descent into a sensory deprivation tank from which one cannot emerge. The psychological trauma of the situation immediately starts to play out in the madness of the crew. Time itself starts to falter, or is it merely everyone’s grasp on it without points of reference?

The speaker is gripped between his complicated emotions in losing his best friend in a heroic gesture that amounted to the ship ending up like this, and the current situation as it is with madness and suicides thinning the helpful ranks of comrades.

This tale is recommended. It can be found through the journal link above.

I received access of this short story directly from the author through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “The Drake Equation” by C. L. Kagmi

2 of 5 stars.

“First Contact,” the moment when an advanced civilization is clued in to the existence of other advanced civilizations based elsewhere in the cosmos, remains a popular theme in science fiction. Humans could react poorly. Or perhaps be primed to be victims in an unequal partnership.

This vignette perhaps depicts a first contact–or–it’s the wild imaginings of a dying mind. Either way, an astronaut is sucked into the vacuum of space when a meteor strikes her space shuttle outside of Mars. Everything takes place within her head from there.

Amid memories of happy times on Earth, an alien voice reveals the conundrum of the Drake Equation which aims to solve the commonality of evolved civilizations throughout the universe. The one astronaut stands as the representative for all of humanity . . .

The tale is too short to give any real connection to the dying hero despite suggestions of kernels from her past. But a deeper tale developing the protagonist would surely shatter the psychological question of whether the events are real or imagined.

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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Short Story Review: “Envoy in the Ice” by Dustin Steinacker

4 of 5 stars.

Lovecraft [and his legions of admirers and adherents] leans into vague descriptions of the horror and awe “strung between the stars” as if there was no way to describe in concrete terms such vastness without losing its edge. And yet this tale manages the task brilliantly.

Centuries prior, an alien envoy plops down in the nearly inaccessible Antarctic. It calls itself “Envoy” but has never answered a single question beyond that. “Envoy from where? Envoy for whom?” The massive being controls the temperature and weather around it, and yet cannot be viewed by satellite, camera or other forms of tech. Yearly, it calls upon ambassadors from a couple nations to visit. A trained team of pilots escort the terrified diplomats to and from the experience. And they leave token gifts then depart with vague notions of duty fulfilled, but nothing gained.

This opening is similar to Warren Ellis’ graphic novel, Trees, in which massive alien towers descend to Earth decades prior, and then . . . nothing. They resist human interference and probing. Their reason, and if they have a reason, remains unknown. In this tale, a glint of the reason presents itself . . .

The pilots, for the first time ever, get word from the Envoy to leave despite the ambassadors not yet returning. Indeed, the ambassadors from Poland and Madagascar are no longer outside the great being. They’ve disappeared. Inside. The thing. That’s never happened before. Disobeying the order and their terror, the pilots approach the Envoy to investigate . . .

This tale was a quarterly contest winner appearing in Writers of the Future: Volume 33 edited by David Farland.
 
 
 
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