So yeah, it turns out I’m not a big fan of L. Ron Hubbard. But that didn’t stop me from requesting a copy of L. Ron Hubbard Presents: Writers of the Future, Volume XXVII from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program. I always enjoy a good sci-fi/fantasy anthology, and I was at least subliminally aware of the Writers of the Future program, and figured this’d be a good bet for some high-quality SF/F short fiction (SFFSF?).
I love it when I’m right.
The Writers of the Future contest seems a fairly reputable program, with contest entries judged by such esteemed SFF writers as Orson Scott Card, Anne McCaffrey, Larry Niven, and Frederik Pohl, among others. And past contest winners include such notable names as Stephen Baxter, Patrick Rothfuss, and Dave Wolverton. So right off the bat, this book showed the promise of some good stuff inside.
And on the whole, it delivers. There are some weaker stories, but they’re merely decent, not bad. But beyond that, there are a few truly phenomenal entries. Here’s a (very) brief review for each story:
- “The Unreachable Voices of Ghosts” by Jeffrey Lyman — Almost every story in this collection is a science-fiction piece; this is no exception. A lonely man goes on what is essentially a suicide run to the edge of the solar system, fishing for a miniature black hole, and finds something else besides. There’s a nice atmosphere to the piece, and if the twist at the end isn’t entirely unanticipated, well, it’s still a solid and oddly-moving start to the anthology.
- “Maddy Dune’s First and Only Spelling Bee” by Patrick O’Sullivan — Maybe this fantasy story should have been held until the end of the collection, because it sets the bar impossibly high for everything that follows. I’m not going to spoil anything by going into any detail, but this is hands-down the best entry here; it’s worth buying the book just for this one. I would love to see someone pay O’Sullivan to turn this into a series.
- “The Truth, From a Lie of Convenience” by Brennan Harvey — A reporter on the Moon discovers that a Crazy Conspiracy Theory just might be true! Shocking! Nothing really new here, though it is still mostly enjoyable, even if the ending is kind of weak.
- “In Apprehension, How Like a God” by R. P. L. Johnson — Another strong story, this time a sci-fi murder mystery. I guessed the killer early on, but I never guessed the killer’s actual identity. Color me impressed.
- “An Acolyte of Black Spires” by Ryan Harvey — Fantasy or sci-fi? I couldn’t tell, but it doesn’t really matter. This one felt fairly cliché and dry throughout, though the mild twist at the end made me appreciate it more.
- “The Dualist” by Aaron Hughes — At this point, the trend seems to be that the even-numbered stories are my favorites. It wasn’t until the last couple of pages that I figured out where this story was going, and it wasn’t until the final paragraphs that I understood, and was thusly blown away. A surprisingly moving tale.
- “Bonehouse” by Keffy R. M. Kehrli — An intriguing premise: hunting down people who’ve run away and fully immersed themselves in the internet. But it didn’t really do much with it. Enjoyable, if entirely forgettable.
- “This Peaceful State of War” by Patty Jansen — A decent “first contact” story, and if the fact that mysterious alien biology is the culprit is fairly predictable, the truth of that biology is stunning.
- “Sailing the Sky Sea” by Geir Lanesskog — A fairly-entertaining tale about survival in a gas giant’s atmosphere. I loved how they pulled off the rescue, though I wish it had been foreshadowed earlier, instead of just coming out of the blue as it did.
- “Unfamiliar Territory” by Ben Mann — This might be my least favorite story here. It felt pretty clichéd, and didn’t really have a whole lot of plot, though it managed to tease at a larger story to be told later.
- “Medic!” by Adam Perin — This story saves the collection from a comparatively-weak second half. We get the story of a crotchety battlefield medic as he attempts to save his 1,000th life and earn his transfer out of the service. The main character is entertaining, and the ending is nicely emotional.
- “Vector Victoria” by D. A. D’Amico — Another weak entry, based on the otherwise-intriguing premise of a government-engineered virus and the protesters (terrorists?) that try to counter it. Unfortunately, the story is a ho-hum rehash of old government-is-good/government-is-bad arguments, with no real resolution. And I found titular protagonist to be incredibly naive (as intended, I’m sure) and irritating (likely not).
- “The Sundial” by John Arkwright — This might be the second-best story here. If you pressed a gun to my head, I’d probably classify it as “fantasy”; it almost feels like it doesn’t belong in the same book as the rest of these stories. I won’t spoil anything, though; you have to pick up this book to read “Maddy Dune”, anyway.
Also included are three essays on advice for writers and artists; I’ll be honest: I skimmed ‘em. I was just there for the stories. On the whole, it’s decent collection, elevated by the presence of 4-5 particularly strong stories. If I had to rank the top five, I’d have to go with “Maddy Dune”, then “The Sundial”, with “How Like a God” and “The Dualist” tying for third, and “Medic!” bringing up the rear. It’s worth checking out just for those stories. And I’m going to have to keep an eye out for previous collections, as well. [4 out of 5 stars]