So as promised, here is the second half of my Writers of the Future Vol. 37 review. If you missed the first post, you can read it here. Or just go out of order and read this post and then that one. Sometimes it’s a backwards day.
Right. I don’t have anything else important to say, so on to the good stuff!
The Phoenixes’ War by Jody Lynn Nye
So if you’ve been paying attention to the WOTF contests, you know this story is special even among the anthology pieces because it’s inspired by the cover art and is a companion to Jody Lynn Nye’s story from Vol. 36–which I didn’t have a lot of nice things to say about.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of phoenixes and I’d been dying to read a Nye story because my local library didn’t have Mythology 101 (the shock and horror of the injustice still smarts, I know), but “The Phoenix’s Peace” just wasn’t my thing.
You can read last year’s review if you’re that curious.
Unfortunately, I’m not much more impressed by this second installment than I was by the first. It doesn’t use the same tropes that annoyed me the first time, but it just seems–kind of pointless. The plot seems like it’s going to be violent and painful (I mean, “Phoenix’s War,” hello), but at heart it’s just a royal boy trying to pass a chivalrous test to impress the girl he’s engaged to with cult magic fluffed on top. Everything that happens could have easily been avoided. And when that’s the case…well, it’s a hard sell to get me to pay any attention to anything else.
On the other hand, I might have been transferring my grumpiness from the previous story onto this one. Only way to find out is to read it yourself.
Soul Paper by Trent Walters
Content Warnings: the stereotypical abusive asylum, electroshock therapy, themes of death, loss, and racism.
The illustration for this one is beautiful. As for the story about a grandfather and granddaughter, and music as its own kind of magic?
If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know I had to be on board with that.
It’s a sad story. Sad and kind of beautiful. And colorful. It’s nice to have a young protagonist once in a while, in between all these serious adults doing science and worrying about magical things. She’s ordinary. And she’s spunky. Honestly, she reminds me a little of my mom, the way she’d tell stories about herself when she was young, having fun, getting into trouble. In the best way.
The stories often lacked women. I pointed out that either the boys had to self-replicate or they needed women. So the stories started to get more women, but a few featured self-replicating boy armies.L. Ron Hubbard. Writers of the Future Vol 37 ARC Copy (Kindle Locations 5655-5657). Kindle Edition.
See? Spunky. It’s pretty hard for me to dislike this girl.
But one of my favorite lines, one that’s probably going to be rattling around in my brain for a while as I get the violin out of the case and into my hands?
Silly old song, right? But why do you know it? Why do people try to steal its bars for their own songs? It’s got a piece of someone’s soul fluttering there. If you don’t feel it, you haven’t heard it played with the right feeling or you haven’t got soul yet.L. Ron Hubbard. Writers of the Future Vol 37 ARC Copy (Kindle Locations 5778-5780). Kindle Edition.
I’m not sure I can argue with that.
The Skin of My Mother by Erik Lynd
Content Warnings: body horror/some disturbing imagery, plotting murder, some strong language.
A word of caution. Outside of the annual WOTF anthologies, I don’t read much horror. The inside of my mind is scary enough.
So I’m probably not the ideal reader for this one. Don’t get me wrong, it was interesting. The opening descriptions are great, the little details of sounds, smells, drawing you in as if you’re there, sitting in the car with Elise. And at the risk of misquoting Chekhov, when you start with a gun like that, your audience is going to pay a little more attention.
On the other hand…
I kind of…knew what was going to happen.
Not like I could guess every plot point. That would be ridiculous. But just as I’m moseying along through the story, before the characters are fully introduced, I’m like “Oh, that’s her mom. Clearly that’s her mom. No, you’re not going to pull this off, honey. You can try. Yup, the gun comes out now…okay, that’s a little weird, oh, that’s a little gross, okay, makes sense, moving on.”
In other words, not too many surprises. And since I don’t read the genre, I kind of expected there would be.
The ending’s dark. And creepy. If I liked that kind of thing, I’d say it’s good. But I don’t, so I’ll say it’s descriptive and unfortunately memorable.
(Cue sounds of bookmarkedone regretting editing this part of the post at 1:30 a.m.)
Death of a Time Traveler by Sara Fox
Content Warnings: themes of death, grieving, depression, losing a loved one.
What happens when a time traveler dies? Is time an endless loop? How do you love someone that’s there sometimes and gone others, who is always changing while you stay the same?
Okay, time travel is both tricky to write and endlessly fascinating. Fox masters both. And while I’m not a big fan of a story that takes place mostly around a hospital bed (too hopeless. Too sad. Too much disinfectant.), the idea of being “temporally challenged,” that there’s a side to time travel you can’t control, that isn’t all sunshine and roses, it’s really good. And I love the idea that being “temporally challenged” runs in families, but it doesn’t matter if you’re related by blood.
And of course there’s the lure that time travel offers in any story. That maybe there’s the hope that we can change our future, if nothing is set in stone, even the past.
The Battle of Donasai by Elaine Midcoh
Content Warnings: mild language, themes of battle, genocide, and PTSD–no graphic scenes.
This one is a little more idea-oriented than action-oriented–the author has a clear idea of what they’re trying to get across, and it’s more a discussion of topics than pulp fiction. I didn’t feel my heart race, but I did feel myself leaning in, thinking hard.
My attention was caught as soon as we are introduced to Linae, this tired, “please let me rest” character with the moniker of Destructo and a villainous reputation to match it.
I love going behind what the surface reputation is, looking at characters that have legends built up around them, just to see what that person thinks of it all. The truth is that we all aren’t what people think we are. The contrast between the two versions mesmerizes me.
And beyond that, it’s great to watch Linae and the other characters deal with their weaknesses and strengths, watch them suffer as soldiers and see them take hold of their own choices. Sometimes fighting is the answer. And sometimes it isn’t. And watching someone learn to tell the difference, to puzzle their way out, it’s a sight to behold.
Interlude: The Rewards of Imagination by Craig Elliott
Skipping over the nonfiction again because it can’t compare to the lure of fiction. I’ll just leave you with one quote from this one to give you an idea of the kind of advice you’re getting.
I was once told that a dragon I painted didn’t look like a dragon, and I needed to repaint it. Think about that for a second. Nobody has ever seen a dragon, so how can one idea of a dragon ever be incorrect?L. Ron Hubbard. Writers of the Future Vol 37 ARC Copy (Kindle Locations 6982-6985). Kindle Edition.
The Museum of Modern Warfare by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Content Warnings: mild language, PTSD, some graphic/traumatic battle imagery, implied extramarital affair.
You know, in one of my first creative writing classes, we were warned off writing characters with psychological scars from war unless we had personal experiences to draw on because they are so hard to write respectfully and convincingly.
That being said, “The Battle of Donasai” and “The Museum of Modern Warfare” both pass any test I could make for them. You feel for the characters in these stories. You know they’ve gone through a lot.
The protagonist in “The Museum of Modern Warfare” is witty and ironic and deals with her pain the only ways she knows how–and sometimes that means ignoring it. No matter who we are or what we’ve gone through, I think we can all relate to this story. We’ve all got somewhere we never want to go back to. We all have someone we’ve lost, a hero, a friend.
So even though it’s a lot of sand in the opening descriptions (and a reminder of why I have trouble with harsh alien geography), and a lot of pain, that idea of looking back so you can finally move forward is worth hanging on to.
A Demon Hunter’s Guide to Passover Seder by Ryan Cole
Content Warnings: heavy flirtation, monsters/demons, religious imagery.
It’s not often that I get to read a fantasy story with a Jewish background. And it’s well-researched. If Cole isn’t Jewish, he’s taken the time to read about the Passover Seder, the traditions that are part of the holiday…and a lot of more folklore-related demonic stories.
At heart, it’s a simple story about family with monsters chucked in (because hey, if you can’t solve your problems, try fighting a giant demon monster together and see if that helps you work things out. Can’t hurt!), simple and sweet. It’s about a little brother trying to hold his family, their traditions, sacred.
I guess I just hesitate over this one for the same reason I hesitate over any story that uses religion as a plot device (Paradise Lost, Good Omens, I’m looking at you). It’s because I’m always afraid some idiot is going to read it and think that’s what people in that religion believe. And when something is that personal, that sacred…
Again, that’s just my personal reservation. If you enjoy it, great, enjoy it. Just don’t confuse religion with fiction, for all our sakes.
Hemingway by Emma Washburn
This one was just lovely. And the colors in the illustration are so bright and charming. It feels like a fairytale. And everyone, even hardened adult sci-fi writers, needs fairytales.
I wonder if it’s because the author is so young, still in high school, that this story captures something a lot of mature writers have lost. There’s a dreamlike quality to it, a kind of carefree beauty that you get when you are only telling the stories that go wherever they want to, only telling them to yourself. No pressure about plot or in media res or action, just a beautiful, floaty fairytale.
And seriously now. Classic books, a cup of tea, and a house on the ocean? What more could anyone possibly ask for?
On the other hand…
The ending is very sad. And I’m a little concerned because there’s a fine line between accepting death at the end of a full life and tones of suicide in writing. The latter is something I never support in any writing, so I desperately hope I’m misinterpreting. In fact, let’s just pretend I didn’t say anything and that I’m imagining nonsense. The rest of it is too sweet.
Half-Breed by Brittany Rainsdon
Content Warnings: 1 instance foul language, themes of bullying, xenophobia, self-harm.
Okay, hold on to your hats, tea, and wayward pets, because this is my favorite story from the second half of the book. I was looking forward to this one as soon as I read Rainsdon’s bio. It’s hard to believe a person who likes Narnia and fuzzy socks is anything but likeable.
I was not disappointed.
This story is gorgeous. And it’s the kind of story I needed to hear, that I think a lot of us need to hear. It’s hopeful and unique and beautiful. It’s one of those puzzles that you try and try to figure out, a situation where there seems to be only two options, both of them full of misery and failure, and that isn’t all there is. You aren’t trapped. You don’t have to be alone.
And trees. I have a major weakness for dryads. Rainsdon’s are exceptional urban fantasy creations. I never would have thought of writing them this way, and that’s what makes her story so delightful.
And that’s Writers of the Future Vol. 37! Thank you for reading and one more round of congratulations to the new writers who wrote and typed and dreamed against all odds and won their hard-earned place in the anthology.
Until next time, happy reading!