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Writer's of the Future XXIX
edited by Dave Wolverton
Galaxy Press, 474 pages

Writer's of the Future XXIX
Dave Wolverton
Dave Wolverton (aka David Farland) decided to become a fantasy writer over 20 years ago. He tried his hand at doing a few novels, then decided to learn how to write by studying textbooks and doing some classes. Several pieces of work were published in the mainstream but he wanted to get back to fantasy. He started by doing the legwork necessary to build the world, to add in the magic system and to develop a sense of how he wanted the imagery/artwork to appear. That work has led to the development of a number of spin-off products available at The Runelords website.

David Farland / Dave Wolverton Website
Runelords Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Three Tales
SF Site Review: The Best of David Farland: Volume 1 and 2
SF Site Review: The Runelords: The Sum of All Men

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Dave Truesdale

Each year I look eagerly forward to the Writers of the Future original anthology. Dave Wolverton is this volume's editor and has put together 13 stories exemplifying the best new talent in the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres as judged by a who's-who lineup of SF's most accomplished authors.

Longtime SF/F readers who for some reason have not yet picked up any of these annual volumes, or those relatively new to SF who might think that since the writers are new and just starting out that it might be an iffy purchase, the writers being as yet untried and not yet proven, I say to them that they couldn't be more mistaken. The L. Ron Hubbard Writer's of the Future competition, as the editor explains, "is one of the longest running short story competitions of all time." And to that I add the indisputable truth that it has proven to be the most effective. For out of the thousands of stories submitted each year, the quarterly and annual winners are carefully vetted by each year's judges for imagination, style, and overall craft, and an inordinately large number have gone on to have stellar careers. Over the almost three decades of the contest's life, the judges have been the likes of Gregory Benford, Orson Scott Card, Larry Niven, Frederik Pohl, Jerry Pournelle, Tim Powers, Mike Resnick, Robert Silverberg, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, and countless others who have proven themselves by their award-winning fiction. It doesn't get any better, or tougher, for the contestants.

There is no quota of SF, Fantasy, or Horror that each volume must include. The stories are simply chosen as the best (or runners up) for each quarter, with no regard for internal genre classification. Thus, each volume includes an unpredictable mix of fiction that has proven to be one of its many strengths, for the lucky reader never knows what to expect, and I can't tell you how refreshing this is.

This 29th volume consists of roughly half being some sort of SF, while the remaining half consists of either fantasy or horror excursions of one sort or another, with a steampunkish offering included among the latter.

Fine examples of this year's offerings include, but are not limited to, Stephen Sottong's "Planetary Scouts," which is also the longest of the bunch at short novella length. In classic SF mode, mankind has conquered space travel and is actively searching for habitable planets. We have the grizzled veteran of the Planetary Scout Academy mentoring yet another academy cadet wet behind the ears who knows only what the manual has taught him, unaware of the harsh realities ahead of him and of which the hardened veteran makes him aware -- the hard way. The mortality rate is high for those following "the book," and it is up to the veteran to keep his new partner alive. There's a nice side story involving the veteran and someone he loves, an emotional counterpoint to his harsh exterior providing rounded character depth to this otherwise action filled tale.

"War Hero" by Brian Trent trades on the trope of switching downloaded minds into different bodies to tell how a rebel infiltrator in the last stages of a human-settled war on Mars, several hundred years in the future, works his way into the home military headquarters of the cruel Partisan forces to destroy it. But one of the most cruel officers in the Partisan heirarchy survives and our infiltrator is sent again to finish the job, this time as the cruel officer's son. It's a keep-you-guessing cat and mouse game, for in this future time both sides have the same technology, making it impossible to tell who anyone really is. The resolution is effective, but perhaps not as much of a surprise as the author might have hoped. Nevertheless, the story is effective on its own terms and worth a read.

Tina Gower's "Twelve Seconds" opens with these lines, setting the stage immediately for what turns out to be an intriguing exploration of a murdered person's last thoughts as captured and analyzed by a team of experts, one of whom is either slightly autistic or is plagued by some degree of OCD, but whose affliction is instrumental to the solving of a unique case, a dandy mystery involving the lost "Twelve Seconds": "Eddie and I process memory siphons. I clean and sort. Eddie approves for archival. We are cogs, endlessly pinching, prodding, and polishing homicide victims' last memories on aging holodisks in a dark room."

Gower has worked out her concept nicely and it was interesting to see how it all worked, especially how she dovetails the solution of the anomaly of the missing twelve seconds to the afflicted person's personal life in a satisfying resolution.

Christopher Reynaga's "The Grande Complication" adds a steampunk flavor to his heartwarming fantasy tale of a nine-year-old boy, seemingly bereft of his parents for whatever reason and being harshly carted off to a home by an unsympathetic matron, when all of a sudden Time stops. Crowded streets and the people on them stop, birds are frozen in mid-air. Everything becomes immobile save for the young boy -- and a strange man who approaches him with an offer he is understandably wary of, then willingly accepts in order to start the World Clock again. Said clock given to us as a giant affair of magical metals, engraved symbols, cogs and wheels, that has for some reason been halted, and young Neil has been chosen as the one to aid the caretaker of the clock. Metaphor and magic are the order of the day here, and again it works out to a satisfying resolution on the human level as well.

Marilyn Guttridge's horror tale "The Ghost Wife of Arlington" invokes several themes associated with the vampire canon -- notably the angle of sexual attraction -- to tell the haunting story of one young woman's slavery to the town vampire turned to romantic love, and how the Immortal, at war with his long lost human side and knowing it is not in his best interest to give love he may not now possess, wars with himself and is torn by his latest companion's selfless desire to reach out to him by having his child. If such a union be possible, what would this child, if born alive, be? Full vampire or human, an unearthly admixture perhaps, and what sort of life could the unholy offspring expect to lead in a small superstitious village? Emotionally taut and heart-wrenching on one level, the author also provides well-received horror trappings in the form of the whispering ghosts of former slaves of the vampire, who is known variously as Bone Rattler, Black Coat, the Orphan Maker, or simply the Shaker. Dark, brooding, shadowy atmosphere played out with a chiaruscuro of conflicting emotions makes this one of the anthology's most impressionable stories.

Marina J. Lostetter takes us to the fringes of Lovecraft territory with "Master Belladino's Mask," to a shop of magical masks that can be purchased or rented for a time, payment exacted in trade for minutes from one's life. When a young girl hasn't enough payment for a healer's mask to cure her ailing mother a stranger steps in to help. Their stories come together in an unexpected manner, along with an evil presence set free when the girl, despite warnings, is unable to remove the mask she has given all to acquire. Set within familiar horror elements, this one is nevertheless a nice read.

Writing under the byline of Chrome Oxide, this otherwise unknown author provides what is perhaps the most refreshing story of the lot. "Cop for a Day" skewers liberal economic and progressive policies when the author shows how society would devolve should these policies be taken at face value and the disastrous results that would inevitably follow. "Cop for a Day" gives us a society where jobs are virtually non-existent, where hundreds if not thousands apply for jobs both dangerous and deadly that only the lucky (or conniving) few are able to get, how bloated and inefficient bureaucracies exacerbate the problem, where everyone lives behind locked doors due to the breakdown in police enforcement, and where the overcrowded poor and jobless are manifestations of the new normal as they wait for government relief from a broken welfare system.

When such an inordinate percentage of science-fiction today is pervaded by liberal politics or viewpoints in any number of ways -- overt or subtle -- (whether the authors realize it themselves or not), from the theme of stories themselves to offhand comments by characters or tossed off one-liners in stories or novels -- from a purely literary standpoint these stories soon become trite, boring, and unimaginative. A single set of like-minded viewpoints on any number of contemporary issues, in the long run, does the genre no good. There's no spark, no vitality, no uncomfortable viewpoints explored or examined. Authors putting forth the identical politically correct viewpoints (by rote, like robots) time after time after time makes for very stale stories.

Science-fiction has a reputation for penning the controversial, for going against the prevalent cultural assumptions as it did in reaction to John W. Campbell's anthropocentric view of humanity as it claimed the stars for its own, human beings always the center of the universe as they overcame all odds in their righteous quest for new worlds. But now the shoe is on the other foot, the pendulum has swung far in the other direction, where the seeming predominant view for many decades now that mankind is the problem, we're basically evil oppressors, that we're destroying everything we touch, that we're a morally evil blight on the universe -- is drilled into us over and over in many of the stories we read and the films Hollywood makes. And woe unto those who dare now question the accepted consensus, for they are vilified in print, stripped of honors or otherwise cast out as pariahs for saying or believing anything a vocal liberal minority deems offensive. The sort of events I've just described have actually taken place in the SF community, and is not only disheartening but alarming, for it portends ill-health for the entire field when voices are silenced and the fiction becomes tame and toothless.

So it with great relief and joy to be able to read something so daring (these days at least) like Chrome Oxide's wonderfully conceived and executed, dead-on-target contra-liberal-punk story "Cop for a Day."

As mentioned at the outset, one never knows what to expect from a Writers of the Future volume. And this one is no exception, providing an enticing buffet for those whose imaginative appetite needs sating... and for those not satisfied with the status quo and thrive on different points of view.

Copyright © 2013 by Dave Truesdale

Dave Truesdale has edited Tangent and now Tangent Online since 1993. It has been nominated for the Hugo Award four times, and the World Fantasy Award once. A former editor of the Bulletin of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, he also served as a World Fantasy Award judge in 1998, and for several years wrote an original online column for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Now retired, he keeps close company with his SF/F library, the coffeepot, and old movie channels on TV. He lives in Kansas City, MO.

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