Sunday, February 15, 2009

Writers of the Future Volume XIII by Dave Wolverton

Note: This is an older review that I never bothered to post, but I'm trying to post at least once a week, and the contents are still interesting. The reference to Realms of Fantasy however is just sad.

As with any short story collection, there were stories in this anthology that I enjoyed, and ones I thought were not as strong. I was surprised at how many of the ends didn't really resonate with me. I had the same problem with a recent issue of Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction where I enjoyed almost all of the stories with the exception of their ends. I did enjoy some of the stories all the way through, but a surprising number didn't click. Which tells me that the issue might just possibly be me ;).

Every reader has different preferences and apparently mine are for an ending that resonates differently than at least a couple editors. Oddly, I have to wonder if the opening story of this collection, The Scent of Desire by Bo Griffin, wasn't the inspiration for a short story in an issue of Realms of Fantasy called something like Icy Hot I think, but can't remember. In both cases, the stories are about a person whose desire literally burns his partners to dust. It's an interesting little story with a laugh at the end that I won't spoil in case someone looks it up.

I was rather surprised at the level of sensuality in this collection. Several of the stories dealt with people's sex life. I actually have a collection of the Writers of the Future (including one from 1985) that I decided to use as an exercise in market research for my writing group. We're all reading one and coming back with what patterns we had. It's a slightly different focus than I would normally have had and it's affecting how I react to the book.

For example, one of the stories that caught my attention was Wings by Alan Smale. It's an interesting story as much for the content as for the story. Had I been reading just for the story, it still would have stuck in my head, but it's the wide end of the sexual content. The Gods Perspire by Ken Rand on the other hand is pure fun in the old style of fantasy. Nothing has to make sense, you just accept the manifestation of Thor and Zeus in a modern bookie's shop and roll with it.

Recursion by S. Seaport is right up my alley being anthropological SF at least on the surface, but didn't manage to click. I could see where the story was going and yet when it got there it didn't have meaning...this goes to what I was saying above about endings. I want the ending to mean something. It doesn't have to be a big something, but something. And inevitability is not enough of a something to comply.

Altar by Malcolm Twigg on the other hand was wonderful. I really got the characters, and when I thought the ending would leave me hanging, a last little twist made everything fall beautifully into place.

In contrast, both Orange by Sara Backer and Black on Black by Kyle David Jelle frustrated me. I enjoyed the stories, both of them had me reading page after page to see how this would work out (they're very different but both well written), then I got to the end and they ended with a fizzle instead of bang. In the first, the culture is set up with DNA as king. By denying us the true ending, how do I know that that principle was properly eased so the truth could out? In the second, a lot happens at the end and it's just not clear to me whether the end was a heroic sacrifice, an attempt to make good after a betrayal, or a betrayal right then and there. It left me lost, and therefore sour.

Now this is an old issue (something I didn't realize when I started reading), so my guess is even the names I don't recognize have gone on to do bigger and better things. The writing skill of these two stories, Orange and Black on Black, make me want to seek them out...but only if they've learned how to end cleanly.

The ending of A Prayer for the Insect Gods by Morgan Burke also got a grimace, but for a completely different reason. I connected with this story almost from the start after an initial confusion over the insects actually being AI robots. But I really wanted the end to go one way when it went the other. However, in this case, the ending is properly supported and understandable in the circumstances. So I like the masterful moment, but I'm kicking my feet that it couldn't have turned the other way :).

The Winds by Heidi Stallman on the other hand is a completely different type of story. It's evocative and more of a mood piece even to the last moments with a few nods toward actual physical events. It's powerful.

The Garden by Cati Coe didn't work for me. It was an interesting setup with a character who was acting rather than sitting passively, which are wonderful things. I was with the MC all the way up until the end when it fizzles. Part of that is story appropriate, but it's also apathetic and counter to the character. Just letting it happen doesn't match her character for all that it matches her world, so it lost me.

Troder by David L. Felts had much the same environment as The Garden, but there the characters take the law into their own hands. They risk themselves to find vengeance and give as is due. But the most powerful moment is the very last one where the MC has a choice...and makes the right one.

And finally, For the Strength of the Hills by Lee Allred. Honestly, I don't know what to make of this story. It's historical fantasy, and yet so plausible and sensible that it should have been predictable. But the blend of characters undercuts that so you never quite know how the answers are going to roll out.

Okay, I take back what I said about the endings. There were a lot of strong stories in this collection, some of them even the ones I thought whose endings fell flat. It's an enjoyable read and I wonder what I'll find in the next Writers of the Future I pick up from my pile.


David L. Fetls said...

o stumble across a review of my story Troder a dozen years after it was published. What a pleasant surprise!


Margaret said...

LOL! Yeah, well, that's the advantage of published stories. New readers have the chance to discover you through them.

Thanks for the fun read.