Writers of the Future #34, edited by David Farland

Saturday, 27 January 2018 09:32 Victoria Silverwolf

Writers of the Future #34


Edited by

David Farland


(Galaxy Press, April 10, 2018, pb, 468 pp.)


"Turnabout" by Erik Bundy

"A Smokeless and Scorching Fire" by Erin Cairns

"The Howler on the Sales Floor" by Jonathan Ficke

"The Minarets of An-Zabat" by Jeremy TeGrotenhuis

"Odd and Ugly" by Vida Cruz

"Mara's Shadow" by Darci Stone

"What Lies Beneath" by Cole Hehr

"The Face in the Box" by Janey Bell

"Flee, My Pretty One" by Eneasz Brodski

"Illusion" by Jody Lynn Nye

"A Bitter Thing" by N. R. M. Roshak

"Miss Smokey" by Diana Hart

"All Light and Darkness" by Amy Henrie Gillett

Reviewed by Victoria Silverwolf

Since 1984, the Writers of the Future contest has awarded quarterly prizes for novice authors of science fiction and fantasy. Anyone may enter who has not published more than three short stories or one novelette. The judges are distinguished writers. In addition to earning substantial cash awards, the winners have their works published in annual anthologies. The Illustrators of the Future contest began in 1989, with similar rewards. Finalists in both contests attend free workshops conducted by professionals.

The latest volume in the long-running series of anthologies offers a dozen award-winning stories. Each is illustrated by one of the winning artists. The illustrations appear in color in a special section of the book, as well as in black-and-white within the text of the stories. As a bonus, the volume contains a new story by an experienced writer, inspired by the book's cover art. There are also reprinted stories by L. Ron Hubbard and Brandon Sanderson, as well as essays on writing and illustration by L. Ron Hubbard, Orson Scott Card, Jerry Pournelle, and Ciruelo.

The anthology opens with "Turnabout" by Erik Bundy, (illustrated by Adar Darnov). A man whose girlfriend has just left him finds a genie in a sealed jar while wandering through the Moroccan desert. She offers him a single wish in return for her freedom. Instead, he refuses to make the wish, and the genie learns another kind of freedom as they travel together. This is an enjoyable story, which takes a familiar theme and makes it seem fresh.

"A Smokeless and Scorching Fire" by Erin Cairns (illustrated by Kyna Tek) features an artificial human who thinks of himself as insane because he has desires, which his conditioning is supposed to prevent. He intends to destroy himself. Instead, he accidentally participates in a symbolic gesture that causes him to be married to a woman. Since she is eager to escape a forced marriage to a man she despises, she accompanies him gladly. This is an interesting story with an unusual background.

"The Howler on the Sales Floor" by Jonathan Ficke (illustrated by Sidney Lugo) is a satiric comedy about a demon working in the sales department of a business corporation. He has to go through sensitivity training due to his habit of projecting terrifying images into the minds of his co-workers. This is a very light story, which will win a smile from anyone who has worked in an office.

"The Minarets of An-Zabat" by Jeremy TeGrotenhuis (illustrated by Brenda Rodriguez) is a romantic fantasy adventure. The narrator works for the government of an empire that conquers other peoples by learning the secrets of their magic and adapting it. He is of mixed ancestry and learned the fire magic of his grandmother, which he must keep secret from his employers. While working for the conquerors, he meets a woman who knows the wind magic used by traders who remain free of the empire. He becomes involved in intrigue that eventually leads to war. The setting of this story is vivid, but the plot may seem familiar.

The narrator of "Odd and Ugly" by Vida Cruz (illustrated by Reyna Rochin) is a tree giant of Filipino legend. He allows a young woman to live in his arboreal world as his housekeeper, in order to pay off a debt owed by her father. Slowly the reader learns that their relationship is much more than it seems. This imaginative fantasy also deals with a violent period in the history of the Philippines.

"Mara's Shadow" by Darci Stone (illustrated by Quintin Gleim) is a medical thriller about a devastating disease that threatens to wipe out humanity. Over many years, the protagonist discovers the bizarre nature of the disorder, and learns that it strikes close to home. Alternating with the narration of her investigation is the diary of a nineteenth century European traveler, who learns of a local myth that relates to the disease. The main interest in this story is its speculative biology.

In "What Lies Beneath" by Cole Hehr (illustrated by Maksym Polishchuk), an immortal warrior sets out to rescue a young boy from a god-like sea serpent. He makes a bargain with the creature, and pays a high price for the lad's freedom. This is an effective fantasy with a dark mood.

"The Face in the Box" by Janey Bell (illustrated by Bruce Brenneise) takes place in a future where levitating, automated farms fly over the land. A woman who raises sunflowers in the old-fashioned way confronts the computer that controls one such farm, which blocks the sunlight from her crop. She learns that it is more than just a machine. This is a pleasant story, which features unique, if not very plausible, technology.

A hunchbacked punk rock musician narrates "Flee, My Pretty One" by Eneasz Brodski (illustrated by Alana Fletcher). She lives in a strange version of the modern world where supernatural beings, summoned by black magic, ravage the environment to collect resources for their masters. (This seems intended as a metaphor for a particularly rapacious version of capitalism.) She is part of an underground movement against the creatures, which evolves from protest to violent rebellion. The plot deals mostly with her relationship with her lover, who does not agree with the methods used to oppose the oppressors. This is an unusual and powerful tale of love and betrayal.

A story from a seasoned professional shares the pages of this book with its twelve new authors. The cover illustration by artist Ciruelo is the inspiration for "Illusion" by Jody Lynn Nye. A wizard who is a master of illusion, but unable to wield more powerful magic, must defend his land when it is invaded by overwhelming forces. This is a typical medieval fantasy with a touch of humor. It is likely to be enjoyed by those seeking light entertainment.

A love affair between a human woman and a centaur-like alien appears in "A Bitter Thing" by N. R. M. Roshak (illustrated by Jazmen Richardson). The extraterrestrial comes from a world where blue is a very rare color, and is fascinated by the woman's blue eyes. The aliens display their emotions on their skins, and experience the feelings of those they see on others. The combination of these two traits leads to an unexpected revelation. The story is interesting, although it is difficult to believe that such an intimate relationship between two very different species could exist.

"Miss Smokey" by Diana Hart (illustrated by Anthony Moravian) takes place in a fantastic version of the 1980s in which people who can change into animals exist, and have the legal status of second-class citizens. The narrator is a woman who is able to transform herself into a bear. She would prefer to be a naturalist, but has to support herself by amusing schoolchildren at a park while in ursine form. When another were-bear kills humans in self-defense, she has to go into the wilderness to save his life from hunters. This story shows a fine appreciation for nature.

Rounding out the anthology is "All Light and Darkness" by Amy Henrie Gillett (illustrated by Duncan Halleck). A man forced to serve in the military of an authoritarian regime becomes an invincible warrior through nanotechnology. He deserts the army and tries to hide the devices that cover his body. When a woman and her young brother fall victim to slavers, he must risk discovery by the regime in order to rescue them. This is a brooding tale with a great deal of violence.

With a baker's dozen of stories containing a wide variety of moods and themes, almost any reader of science fiction and fantasy should be able to find something of worth in this volume.

Victoria Silverwolf is a Reviewer of the Present.