Writers of the Future Vol. 38 ARC Review (Part II)

Back for a second round!

You know the drill by now, so if you need to catch up and read Part I here, you may do so, but otherwise, it’s on with the show!

“The Daddy Box” by Frank Herbert

TW: physically abusive relationships, mild language, innuendo

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Spoilers–I’m not a big Frank Herbert fan. So I sort of grumbled a little, settling into this one.

And the story of a boy living in an abusive household? That’s–delicate.

“The Daddy Box” is the story of an ordinary kid discovering an alien box, but what’s inside is far more complex than most people would dream.

And after reading the story, I’m still not 100% clear on why it’s called a Daddy Box in the first place?

To understand what happened to Henry Alexander when his son, Billy, came home with the ferosslk, you’re going to be asked to make several mind-stretching mental adjustments. These mental gymnastics are certain to leave your mind permanently changed.

You’ve been warned.

I can’t lie. It’s a pretty great opening.

Galaxy Press, Publisher. Writers of the Future Vol 38 Advance Reading Copy (Kindle Locations 5439-5442). Galaxy Press, Inc.

Why do we call it a “Daddy Box” when “ferosslk” is so much cooler and more fitting?

Whatever.

To be fair, it has its brilliant moments. It has its way of drawing you in, wondering what this thing is, this box that looks like it could be made of jade. The protagonist has the Harry Potter/Percy Jackson vibe of a boy who just needs a good break for a change, so you start rooting for him and hating the villain without much difficulty. And it (sort of) has a happy ending, so–?

It feels like part of something bigger, some bigger world, bigger story, but at the same time, belongs only to itself. That’s all there is. But inside your mind, the story of that box is going to keep unfolding.

Not half bad. Not quite my personal cup of tea, but not bad.

Interlude: “Teamwork: Getting the Best out of Two Writers” by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

It’s a nonfiction essay with some sound advice on writing with others. Cool? Cool. I learned my lesson in Part I. Back to the brand-new stories before I make another ridiculously long post.

Like skipping this will really stop me.

(maniacal laughter)

“The Island on the Lake” by John Coming

TW: 1 instance strong language, themes of suicide, the cost of knowing the future

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I came away from this one feeling like I missed some greater meaning that despite my closest reading, swept straight over my head and went whistling through the branches of the pine trees.

Or maybe it’s just what it is and I’m overly suspicious. Hard to say.

“The Island on the Lake” reads like a fairytale, fitting the old story structure that’s so familiar it’s like a comfortable worn sweater with a hole in the left elbow–go three times to your health, but a fourth to your peril, beware all types of magic for there’s always a cost, behold the forces of the world personified, ageless and knowing but lacking the innocent happy freedoms of mortal man–but it kept nagging me, why? What’s really going on here? What am I missing?

There’s some beautiful description in this one. So much that sometimes I was thinking how did you get away with this someone would have yelled at me to stop talking about the trees hours ago?

But I think it’s the little notes, the colors, that make this story beautiful.

…the days stretched on like taffy.

Galaxy Press, Publisher. Writers of the Future Vol 38 Advance Reading Copy (Kindle Location 5907). Galaxy Press, Inc.

Oranges like fading fire, and reds like dark apples.

Galaxy Press, Publisher. Writers of the Future Vol 38 Advance Reading Copy (Kindle Location 6203). Galaxy Press, Inc.

See what I mean? Gorgeous.

But it probably also didn’t help my opinion of the piece that I don’t like stories that end where you can’t feel satisfied, where you keep wondering for days with a tight feeling in your gut, hoping everyone is going to be okay.

Yeah…this is one of those.

The illustration is beautiful. I’ve–known a lot of forests in my life, and that one, that one felt…right. I’ve never been to one quite like that, but in a strange way it reminds me of the ones I know. The vines, the electric splashes of purple, the huge elephant ear leaves, the trees so much taller than the minuscule people, the lake that doesn’t throw back any clear reflection–it’s just beautiful. I probably missed the mark on this story, because I know given the chance, I’d most likely row out to that island just to meet those trees.

“The Phantom Carnival” by M. Elizabeth Ticknor

TW: some scary imagery, violent/thematic content, kidnapping, forced memory loss.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“What makes you so sure you could?”

“Because I’m me.” Danny’s face splits in an ear-to-ear grin…

Galaxy Press, Publisher. Writers of the Future Vol 38 Advance Reading Copy (Kindle Locations 6524-6526). Galaxy Press, Inc.

So I wasn’t “in love” with the stories immediately prior. It happens. I settled in to this one on a rainy afternoon, tired, not really paying attention–

And promptly was grabbed, snatched, dragged, and otherwise forcefully brought into this world of story until my eyes were bugging out a little and I was flipping pages, thinking am I really reading this oh this is gorgeous what on earth oh oh YES and other (clears throat) incoherent little fangirl thoughts.

I mean…just taking a glance at my notebook scribblings…

…yeah, I’ve got nothing to say for myself.

No lie. This was amazing.

I was so excited I got on Twitter and yelled at everyone about it, spoiling my review a little…anyway.

Brace yourself for a Depression-era, rail-riding, trouser-wearing, monster-stabbing protagonist named Alice in the historical fiction/fantasy/horror/carnival short story you had no idea you needed.

You need this. You do.

It reminds me so much of stories I devoured during endless summers as a kid, watching other girls take on the world, no matter how impossible the challenge seemed. It’s spunky and voicey and unique and so well-researched on both fantastic and historical levels (screams)–I never considered a Depression-era fantasy, but now it makes so much sense I’m envious of Ticknor’s brilliance. Of course there was a secret magic world in the ’30s. Of course there was a creepy carnival and Fay kids riding the rails. Oh, naturally.

I want to go to that carnival. I know, I know, I know. But just to visit. It’s so weird and wonderful there. Just sneak in. Nobody would notice a thing.

And can we talk about the platonic friendships? I am always here for platonic friendships.

I only trusted him with my secret because he trusted me with his.

Galaxy Press, Publisher. Writers of the Future Vol 38 Advance Reading Copy (Kindle Locations 6689-6690). Galaxy Press, Inc.

This isn’t even a review anymore. It’s just me gushing over this thing.

It’s good. Read it. Now.

“The Last Dying Season” by Brittany Rainsdon

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

TW: xenaphobia, genocide, something like possession/mind control, suspense and danger, forced memory loss

So the first thing I thought about this one was “Fuzzy socks and Narnia…this bio seems familiar…Brittany, Brittany–didn’t we read something by her before? Wasn’t she the one,” (cue frantic rustling through my ARC copy of Vol. 37 until I find “Half-Breed,” the gorgeous Dryad story from last year and much internal screaming that Rainsdon is back yes yes yes yes yes!).

Yeah. I was excited. But also–there was some trepidation. What if she couldn’t live up to her last story? What if this wasn’t as good?

No sense in holding my breath. I turned the page.

Flowers and vines were their technological hardware, storing entire libraries of data in a single seed, leaf, or flower’s DNA.

Galaxy Press, Publisher. Writers of the Future Vol 38 Advance Reading Copy (Kindle Locations 6965-6966). Galaxy Press, Inc.

Guys. She did it. It’s good.

If her first story was urban fantasy, then this one is standard colonialist sci-fi. You know the stuff. Earth died, so humanity moved to another planet and trashed it in 20 seconds flat. You’ve read that plot before, if you’ve read any of the old stuff.

But here’s the thing. It’s Rainsdon.

…without conscience, courage becomes cruelty.

Galaxy Press, Publisher. Writers of the Future Vol 38 Advance Reading Copy (Kindle Location 7385). Galaxy Press, Inc.

(muffled sounds of bookmarkedone screaming it’s Rainsdon! from the rooftop and my neighbors mowing their lawns in fear)

So please. Allow me to be the first to introduce you to Edrei Muller, skilled geneticist and botanist on the planet Kalefe, and more importantly, a mother, in a world on the brink of collapse.

Like, you know I’ll fight for my found family dynamics, my platonic friendships, but a mother/daughter relationship? It changes the entire story. Rainsdon writes it with such tenderness, such free admission of flaws, of struggles, of love–

ARGH.

Read. Now. Go.

Interlude: “The Third Artist” by Diane Dillon

Okay, I know I said I’d skip the essays this time, but you should know that this one is a good read. I’m not a member of the visual arts community, and yet I found myself carried away by the way Dillon writes. For one reason because not only is it advice,

…it’s also a love story.

It’s the story of two artists who fell in love with each other and each other’s work and somehow figured out a way to embrace their creative passions together without scratching each other’s eyes out.

Leo and I were born in 1933, eleven days apart, 3,000 miles apart on opposite coasts, and from different worlds.

Galaxy Press, Publisher. Writers of the Future Vol 38 Advance Reading Copy (Kindle Locations 7541-7542). Galaxy Press, Inc.

Frankly, it’s riveting. Nothing stops them. Their successful career. How many other creatives can say they managed that?

“A Word of Power” by David Farland

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

So this is a special one because it’s Farland’s last contribution to WOTF before passing away.

Yeah.

I think it would satisfy him to know that he managed to finish editing the last anthology with his name associated with it, that he had the honor of writing the story to go with the cover illustration.

It’s not every day you get a story with mammoths and robots. I mean, have you looked at the cover art?

An it’s flash fiction! Which if you don’t write SF/F is really, really hard. This genre takes a lot of explaining, so if you just throw someone in the deep end for a few thousand words, usually the best you get is gibberish and a headache.

For what it’s worth, Farland pulls it off. And he makes his characters leap off the page from the start.

But…it’s flash. You don’t get a complete ending tied up with a bow in flash. You get the opening, the beginning, something being brought to life, the first time a bird springs from the nest and beats its wings against the sky, and then–

The end. That’s all there is.

There’s just too much we don’t know. It’s scary.

But maybe that’s the point. Anytime we do anything, take any risk, it can feel like standing on the edge of the cliff. Maybe Farland’s story is there to remind us what it feels like to hope, to take the leap, to believe that there’s something good out there if we just reach for it.

And maybe he just left it open at the end so we could draw our own conclusions and fill in the blanks more eloquently and personally than he could.

Some good writing techniques really include “just be lazy.” It’s ridiculous that it works.

“The Greater Good” by Em Dupre

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

TW: affairs, abusive relationships, murder, flippant remarks about sexuality, some violently graphic imagery, suspense, forced memory loss

Presenting an intergalactic murder mystery with a sci-fi confessional and an ageless man who really just wants to have a nice dinner in peace–

I feel like I did that wrong.

I’m not wrong, though.

How do you keep peace between a team of colonists alone in space for years when they’re going to feel cooped up and start stepping on each other’s toes, ruining their marriages, and killing each other since they have all the maturity of middle-aged teenagers?

Memory erasure. Only logical option. Clearly.

And so we get Counselor Adrian Parrish, who remembers everything and has the energy of an exhausted teacher on a school trip.

Poor man.

It’s a little difficult to stomach some points, since Adrian knows all the gruesome gossip about literally every character in the story, and in such a close POV, we the readers get to hear every last morsel of it–

Right. Anybody else feeling sympathy for Adrian’s grey hairs?

But aside from that…it’s really quite fascinating. It’s all so delicate when you look at it, so close to falling apart socially, and then there’s the murder mystery…

Just know what you’re in for. And good luck.

“For the Federation” by J. A. Becker

Rating: 4 out of 5.

TW: mild language, body horror, concubinage, genetic breeding, sterilization, violence (high body count), xenophobia, interplanetary colonization

YES IT’S TIME FOR THIS ONE!

All caps. Not professional. Right. Sorry.

Okay, so it’s pretty much a smack-in-the-face opening. And then with Craig and Beth start fighting–I wasn’t sure this was going to really suit me.

I was so happily wrong.

Presenting:

  • Beth, the genetically-modified assassin thug who could probably have an anvil dropped on her leg and wouldn’t bat an eye,
  • Craig, her misguided but caring spouse and the politician she’s charged with protecting,
  • and Sam, the son Beth would do anything for.

I am a gun, and he’s just pointed and pulled the trigger.

Galaxy Press, Publisher. Writers of the Future Vol 38 Advance Reading Copy (Kindle Locations 8595-8596). Galaxy Press, Inc..

In the action scenes, Beth is a machine. She’s incredible. I–yes. We salute the lady tank. And in the more tender, emotional moments? She’s there.

It’s not smooth sailing. It’s messy and chaotic and painful, and they’ve got their own share of hurt and betrayal and back stabbing and I love it.

It is so hard to see an enemy an inch from my face and I can’t kill it. It breaks me.

Galaxy Press, Publisher. Writers of the Future Vol 38 Advance Reading Copy (Kindle Locations 8535-8536). Galaxy Press, Inc.

(muffled bookmarkedone screaming)

If last year was the Year of the Granny, I’m voting this one as Good Moms. And this is another trend that I am more than ready to see become a trope because it’s going to be a long time before I get tired of complex, conflicted, beautiful characters like this.

My complaint?

The ending.

I really would like just a little hint more. I just–need to know after all that, after everything they went through, that everybody is going to be okay.

I always do complain about the endings, don’t I?

“Psychic Poker” by Lazarus Black

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

TW: strong language, some unfavorable/callous comments toward religious faith

So time for something a lot less serious than the legal standing of time travel or watching an assassin try her hardest to be a good mom.

Let’s see what happens when clairvoyants try to play cards against each other!

Yeah, there’s no more serious message here. It gets scary for the characters, but that’s it, that’s the plot.

To be fair, it’s pretty voicey, and it’s interesting to see how Black’s particular version of psychic powers work–what do you see? What do you miss?

And the protagonist, while being the Hawaiian-shirt wearing callous and selfish type, isn’t without his own merit.

Can’t hurt my kiddo if I’m just stupid lazy. I hope.

Galaxy Press, Publisher. Writers of the Future Vol 38 Advance Reading Copy (Kindle Location 8966). Galaxy Press, Inc.

The psychics are all different too, all with their own stories and backgrounds–which, of course, since the protagonist is psychic, the reader gets to know in rich detail.

Really, I should probably appreciate the clever bits of writing more than I do.

So why don’t I?

Well, besides Mr. Young getting under my skin a little, there’s a twist.

Frankly, I think I’m irritated by the twist because it feels like cheating and I really should have seen it coming.

You can be too clever, sometimes.

And that’s the end!

What did I think? Well, there were a lot of stories I loved this time. A few I didn’t, but that’s how anthologies go. I’m still delighted I got to be part of the advanced reader team and I hope I have the chance again next year.

My rating?

Bookmarkedone Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Thanks for reading, and again a huge thank-you to GalaxyPress for making this possible and for all the lovely writers who put so much effort into these stories. It’s quite easy for me to read a story and snub my nose at it, but it takes much more time to make something good.

So thanks for the adventure!

Until next time, everyone, happy reading.


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