So! Time to plunge into all things science fiction and fantasy with this year’s collection of the best of the best contest winners.
A few explanations and bookkeeping notes before we start:
Writers of the Future, and the accompanying Illustrators of the Future is an international contest for writers (and artists) in the field of science fiction and fantasy. The rules? Write a super awesome story that stuns the coordinating judge David Farland, who has seen and read every SF/F plot (twice), into weepy, awed silence in 17,000 words or less.
It’s even more difficult than it sounds. I’ve entered six stories myself, so believe me when I say the winners of this year’s contest deserve the world’s notice.
As for reviewing the book?
Yes, I received an advanced reader copy from the publisher. No, that will not change the way I do my reviews if I can help it. I can be a brutally honest and a curmudgeonly writing critic regardless of if the book was free.
I also think it’s unfair to rate an anthology as a whole when every story is so stunningly different…so I’ll be rating each one individually, and you can judge for yourself if you think the anthology is worth a read.
“The Trade” by C. Winspear
Trigger/Content Warning: 1 instance strong language, mild language, 1 violent death.
This turned out to be one of my favorite stories of the anthology. Presenting one Lena Sokolov, astronaut, and beautifully conflicted character. In one brief story, Lena must decide between what she wants, who she loves, and what the world needs. She is set in the sort of situation you can spend a week contemplating, wondering if there ever was a right answer all along.
That being said…it did verge a little on being just an essay of “what is ethical for this situation…” but not enough to be too distracting.
What I loved about this one the most? There’s no real way to put it, but a lot of SF/F stories have a–wanderlust. The reason we write this genre is because we constantly want to experience something new–what’s beyond the next horizon? Can we really ride on the back of the sinking sun? Tell us, show us, let us taste and feel.
So many stories I’ve read recently haven’t had that feeling. This one embodied it to its core.
Also, the artwork was super gorgeous. I’m not even going to attempt to describe it. Too good.
Rating: 3/5: Good, but didn’t stir me deeply as others.
“Foundations” by Michael Gardner
Trigger/Content Warning: mild language, some skeleton/horror imagery.
Confession: I don’t read much horror, so to me, this was a bit weird.
But weird can be said for most of the stories in the SF/F genre, and this one was also a sweet fantasy horror story about father/daughter relationships and family.
It’s refreshing once in a while to have a story that takes the family side of things rather than the trope of “parents-must-die-so-adventure-continues.”
Even though I really wanted more worldbuilding. So many little things–! Where did the houseless live? How did one become tied to a house? Where were we? When were we?
I’m guessing the grumbly questions just mean I liked it more than I’m willing to admit.
Rating: 3/5: Interesting, but plot is somewhat guessable for someone who’s read a lot of these, and horror is not my personal style.
“A Word That Means Everything,” by Andy Dibble
Trigger/Content Warning: innuendo, religious themes in science fiction context.
It’s a personal pet peeve when existing religion is repackaged for story purposes. This story didn’t do that, but the similarity was enough to make me fear the trope monster hiding under the bed.
The fact that I can’t claim to be a Biblical scholar aside, the concept of the story was fascinating. Presenting two translators locked in an argument over a single word, over language, over the ever-present question of how religion in fantasy or science fiction actually could exist.
Smack in the middle of a dystopian, multiple-planetary world with Cthulhu vibes. Well-researched, too.
My complaints? The characters were so petty! Pius spends as much time being hateful as he does translating, and very little time praying, which you would think an evangelist would do. It’s further ironic that despite arguing over a single word, the main characters unhesitatingly accept the “old earth” theory with millions of years…and I know more than a few Christians who would fight to the death over that one.
Religion in sci-fi. Never yet seen it perfect. Exceptional attempt, though.
“Steps in the Right Direction,” R. Walton Willems and L. Ron Hubbard
I tend not to say too much about writing advice…at least not until I’ve used it for a while. So we’ll skip ahead for now, and if my writing is suddenly illuminated by brilliance, we may have another blog post.
“Borrowed Glory” by L. Ron Hubbard
My personal favorite of the anthology–tied with “Yellow and Pink.”
AAH! Tear my heart out, will you?
This is actually the first time I’ve read an L. Ron Hubbard short story–everything else I’ve gotten my grubby claws on was an essay or writing advice (usually both). I didn’t really have expectations.
If I had, they would have been blown to bits in disbelief.
Oh, this story.
It reminded me of a lot of Tolstoy short stories, and fit my reading tastes perfectly. Meredith and Tommy–this is the sort of love story I really can appreciate. Just when I was starting to think it was impossible in the genre and give up on it entirely.
Artwork for this one also beautiful. I have a weakness for rich colors, and the illustrations of the anthology made that very clear.
Rating: 4/5–opening somewhat lackluster, cannot reconcile myself with tragic ending.
“Catching My Death” by J. L. George
Trigger/Content Warning: strong language, implied unconventional relationship
Everybody has their own death, as much a part of them as their identity. But what if that death is about the size of a mixing bowl, and warm and fluffy like a cat?
I can say with some certainty in all my fantasy wanderings, I’ve never seen death like that. Caught with butterfly nets and carried everywhere. Put it on the shelf next to the “affable” Death in The Book Thief.
I’m less keen on the social/political side of it–I’ve always been an adventure rather than political drama girl–but that’s my personal taste.
“A Prize in Every Box,” by F. J. Bergmann
Trigger/Content Warning: 1 instance strong language, heavily implied adult content in television show.
The plot is one we’ve seen before…but hey, why not have miraculous things as prizes in your cereal instead of cheap toys? Couldn’t the future be the age of wonders for everyone? Especially for kids who want to help each other?
If only it didn’t fall into the school story trope bullies and distant, unintelligent parents…
Rating: 3/5–interesting, but plot and setting too familiar to be really engaging.
“Yellow and Pink,” by Leah Ning
Personal Favorite (tied with “Borrowed Glory)
ARE ANY OF THESE STORIES HAPPY ONES? AAAAAAAH!
I had tears in my eyes at the end. I’m probably going to burst into sobs a month from now and have everyone stare at me just because I’m looking at a yellow daisy.
Murdery time travelers with gorgeous romance, anybody?
The half of Writers of the Future Vol. IX that I read was horrible when it came to girl characters in romance. Every last one irritating and dull. But between Meredith and Tommy in “Borrowed Glory” and Nathan and Holly in this story–could someone please write a sweet fantasy romance like this with a happy ending, now that you’ve restored my faith that it exists?
Excuse me while I stare at a wall and pretend I’m not crying.
To be continued…
There are too many stories in the anthology for me to write about them all in one post without it becoming longer than anyone is willing to read, so we’ll stop on my favorite for now.
A link to the Writers of the Future blog for the curious:
For writers: come join me in this contest and see what weird and beautiful things we can add to David Farland’s reading pile!
For illustrators: contest for you too!
As always, happy reading. More stories are on the horizon.