The following review just came out on Writers of the Future Volume XXII. LOCUS MAGAZINENOVEMBER 2007
L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume XXIII. Algis Budrys, ed. (Galaxy Press 978-1-59212-398-8, $7.99, 588 pp, pb) 2007.
The yearly Writers of the Future volumes present the winners of a quarterly contest for new SF writers. I have to admit I have not previously read any of these books. But a look at previous winners shows that the contest has unquestionably supported very promising writers: alumni from the first volume alone include Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Karen Joy Fowler, Dean Wesley Smith, and David Zindell. Later volumes introduced Caroline Ives Gilman, Howard V Hendrix, Martha Soukup, R. Garcia y Robertson, Mary Tursillo, and even Jo Beverly, now a best-selling romance writer, among others. More recently such writers as Jay Lake, Carl Frederick, and Jason Stoddard have appeared in these anthologies.
This year’s volume features a somewhat comfortable selection of writers in that a full half-dozen are familiar to me – in pretty much every case with solid work. (Contest rules allow submissions by writers whose publication credits are in small press venues.) And overall the stories are quite enjoyable. That said, in every case they are in some way flawed – there aren’t any potential Hugo winners here. The most distinguishing characteristic of these stories is that more often than not the central ideas quite arresting, even wild. Also, the prose is at least competent – none of these stories made me want to stop reading. Where they failed was in closing the deal. Either the resolution was flat, or the characters were in some way unbelievable, or the plot was a bit too routine. But in writing that I feel I am doing the book something of a disservice – I really enjoyed reading it, I think because there is a sense of freshness to things, a sense of writers trying new things – perhaps because they are new writers!
I’ll briefly mention some highlights. Andrea Kail’s “The Sun God at Dawn, Rising from a Lotus Blossom” is a series of letters from a recreated Tutankhamen to similarly recreated Abraham Lincoln – it gains its power from letting Tutankhamen grow up. Jeff Carlson’s “The Frozen Sky” is a tense adventure story set on Europa, where explorers encounter intelligent beings who seem to have no way to respond to strangers but by attacking them. Tony Pi’s “The Stone Cipher” has one of the wildest ideas: statues around the world begin to move, apparently in unison, but very slowly. The story is in the end an ecological message – but a bit too long and with not quite plausible leads. Another gloriously wild idea is at the center of Stephen Kotowych’s “Saturn in G Minor”: a great composer wants his final piece to be played using Saturn’s rings as the instrument. Again, the characters and their motivation didn’t quite convince me, and the plausibility of the idea was a bit of a stretch (though not horribly), but I was pleased by the audacity of the whole thing.
“Obsidian Shards”, by Aliette de Bodard, is an effective mystery set in Aztec times. “Ripping Carovella”, by Kim Zimring, does a good job making the impact of a rather vile new technology personal. The technology is “ripping”, by which unscrupulous people extract (destructively) the skills of artists for implantation in their own minds. Edward Sevcik’s “The Gas Drinkers” is a clever story of a rogue trapped by other rogues on a lunar surface – and then of ice-haulers on a dangerous on a dangerous asteroid. And John Burridge’s “Mask Glass Magic” is about an artist who is forced to seek a new position when her old shop is closed because of a crackdown on drug paraphernalia. Her new superior seems a remarkable artist of masks in particular – but he has a sinister secret.
All in all, this is a very fine showcase for some promising work by some promising new writers.