Monday, April 30, 2012

The Indie Author's Guide to the Universe, Jeff Bennington

I ran across this book through, which has numerous free Amazon ebooks to browse through every day. It's my ritual now: wake up, hit the bathroom, get breakfast, and browse through the day's new free books offering. The title of the book caught my attention, as indie authoring and publishing are two topics on the top of my mind. I have a book. I want to take it out and start selling it. That's my motivation for reading this book.

First with my superficial impression of the book (I have read the first 1/3 before starting this post): there are 220 pages. It is relatively easy to navigate through, with the ability to tab through sections, and a good table of contents linked to chapters and sub-chapters throughout. Spelling mistakes are rare, grammar and syntax is easy to get through.

Going a little deeper, beyond the artificial (yet important) aspects of the book has not yet met my expectation. I find myself having to look at the title of the book from time to time to make sure I'm reading "The Indie Author's Guide to the Universe" rather than "My Life as an Indie Author with a few Suggestions for the Aspiring Indie Author." The second title would be more accurate. This book is much more about the author's personal experience of becoming an indie author. I suppose he is trying to illustrate his points, but I find the anecdotes to be a bit slow. I also don't find this book to be particularly helpful.

For instance, he does recommend that the prospective author go to his specific individuals for necessary services: he has an editor (he keeps stressing how important a professional editor is. I suppose that would be important for folks who have issues with spelling and grammar, but this is not everyone. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. For me, this is not one of them. The marketing and social media aspects would be more along my weak points. He points to a formatter who can help format the book that you want to publish. I found this completely useless information. Any Google search can disclose this kind of information. More helpful would be a detailed guide to formatting for Kindle and ePub.

Another avenue he goes down is how to write a story. In fact, that's where I'm at right now as I write these thoughts and impressions. I don't think this is appropriate for a book like this. That is to say, there are many books about how to write short fiction and novels. He will not be able to cover the topic very well at all.

I had thought as I read this book that it seemed like one of those blogs-become-book books. And, it turns out, I was right. The material did come from his blog, or at least a lot of it seems to have. Blogs are a little different than books in terms of focus, I believe. I think a blog, in the ideal world, invites readers and a community to have a discussion around the topic that the blogger posts. I had hoped that that's what would have happened with my blog, even if in reality that seems to happen about once a year.

OK, so the thoughts and impressions from hereon-in are composed after I finished reading this book.

The book is far less an Indie Author's Guide to the Universe, which implies a broad guide that will be filled with information like some kind of technical manual, and much more the story about how Jeff Bennington became a successful Indie writer. He talks about marketing, editing, and even how his Indie career folds into the other elements of his life.

I do believe that there are a number of lessons that he has learned over time that would be valuable to the tentative or prospective author. However, I would have liked more 'science' and less 'anecdote.' What I mean by that might be something to the effect of doing solid research, finding hard numbers, and showing how he manages to construct his own publishing niche out of that information. I don't really know how I would go about doing that, since I'm not experienced in it. And, perhaps such a thing would be less useful. I don't really know at this point.

What works for him isn't exactly going to work for everyone. That will be true for any author. His weaknesses are different than mine, as are his strengths. So, some pieces of advice are applicable, whereas others may not be. For instance, I am a terrible marketer. Offloading that responsibility would be great. But, maybe I can't really do that. I have managed to offload the responsibility of editing and proofing the work to a technical writer, and he will find issues and bring up questions and quips that are a lot more useful than what I'd get from a casual reader (oh, I like it. Or, I don't like it. You spelt this wrong: all of which would be fairly useless for someone who can spell). He could have used a proofreader himself at the end of it all. Back to my point: having a second pair of eyes to scour the text is a good thing to do.

Now I'm rambling. I would have to say some of the most interesting things that I found from his book was his analysis of the market, his game of playing the prices to go fishing on the Amazon top 100, while I found his advice on formatting and writing to be rather useless and a waste of space that he could have used to expound on something more pertinent to the topic of being an Indie writer. As I said earlier: you're not going to teach someone how to write in twenty pages (or whatever it worked out to.)

He included a chapter from his book at the end. It's not really my thing. He tries hard to sensationalize too much. However, he's clearly got an audience for it. And, you can't please everyone all the time. Style is like that: sometimes you like it, sometimes you don't. The title is ambitious, and the content doesn't follow through with that promise. However, it still might have information or an anecdote within its pages to justify the trivial cost of the book.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Fantasy and Science Fiction, March/April 2012

This edition of Fantasy and Science Fiction is a little longer than normal at around 78k words. Before starting this commentary, I have already read this edition. To be honest, I was not all that pleased with this edition. I found it to be quite average. There was too much sub-par science fiction that went no where. It's made up of five novelettes and seven short stories.

Electrica, Sean McMullen

This story is set several centuries back. However, it's kind of a science fiction story wrapped up in a distant past. Think back to the conflict between Europe and Napoleon's France. The story is told in first person. The character is an ingenious code breaker.

He is on a mission to investigate a potential technology which would allow England to send messages to the battlefield without having the enemy be able to see what it is that England is communicating. The method of flashing from a light source a message encrypted in a code meant that both the intended recipient and the enemy could receive the message. If the enemy could then break the encryption, it then knew what the enemy was up to.

There is a machine which a scientist is trying to use to send invisible signals to devices so that the enemy cannot read the messages. While the experiment is something of a success, it comes with a rather heavy price.

A long time ago there roamed a predatory species which was on the brink of extinction. In an effort to preserve itself, it embedded its intelligence within amber. The scientist, when using the amber, was able to connect to this intelligence. That intelligence malignantly wanted to live again and escape the confines of this amber world.

This mad scientist is stopped by the protagonist. But not before the malignant entity manages to insert its intelligence into a raven and escape.

I didn't particularly enjoy this story. Maybe a part of it is that most stories told about super smart, dashing, and physically strong characters, are told in first person. Just like when I read the Barsoom series and the super hero traits of John Carter sort of drive me crazy, so too do these types of stories. I think stories told from perfect individuals are just a cheap thrill for the author to live a fantasy life. Perhaps that is because they themselves are rather dull, boring, and unintelligent. Sort of the hot car=small Mr. Happy. First person perspective would be far more interesting from characters built from less heroic/superhuman models.

Twenty-Two and You from The Doctor Diaries, Michael Blumlein

Actually, I should say that this was a good bit of science fiction. Of the stories in this volume, this was probably one of the more interesting. A part of my moaning and groaning is that I didn't get my Fantasy fix from this edition. This edition should have been plainly labelled 'Science Fiction Magazine' to avoid the confusion that the 'fantasy' part might cause.

In any case, this story is set in a future where doctors can manipulate DNA in living people. This is particularly useful if you've got a hereditary disease. In the case of the protagonist, Ellen, will almost certainly become sick with cancer and die if she ever has kids. Her husband and her want kids very badly. So, she goes to one of the clinics which can change her genes just enough to allow for her to have children without triggering the diseases.

It works. She no longer has the bad genes. However, those genes have changed her slightly: she no longer wants kids. She's no longer really the same person.

I think this has an intriguing thing to say: that our personalities, our preferences, and what we are, is programmed within us rather than formulae of personality, history, and spirit. How similar can twins be? Those who are nearly identical in their genes might also be nearly identical in their looks and personality. However, monozygotic twins (twins of the same DNA), are known to have individual personalities and exhibit differences. Some cursory research suggests that a person's genetic makeup can actually change as time goes on, which can cause differentiation between twins.

 Greed, Albert E. Cowdrey

Greed and the Green Goblin share a few similarities. In Spiderman's Green Goblin stories, the Green Goblin gets his start because he is sick with something that lizards have no problem with. He therefore tries to make himself more like a lizard to overcome that sickness. However, it also perverts his personality and imbues him with super powers so that he becomes a super villain. Cowdrey's lizard man is extremely rich. He doesn't want to die, so he has himself turned into a lizard. Unlike the Green Goblin, though, he does not really retain his human intellect. But he does gain the animal instinct.

The story is told from the perspective of Vern. Vern is your typical southern idiot. He has been left nominally in charge of a castle after his uncle passed. Well, he hasn't died. He's just been converted into the lizard. He is legally dead. The nephew had hoped that the estate would have been left to him. Instead, it was left to a company which was responsible for letting tourists in to tour the castle.

A friend of his seeks asylum, as he has committed a crime. He has embezzled, and he's looking to escape authorities. He goes to his friend to escape authorities. His friend, the caretaker of the castle, demands $2,000/day for that right. He also hacks and installs a keylogger onto his computer so that he can spy on his friend. He does that successfully. He discovers where Mojo, the criminal, had kept his embezzled funds and manages to steal it. However, the guy who helped him spy and get that information had been able to spy on Vern, and steal those funds from him.

I guess it was kind of funny. There was a touch of science fiction to it, right? Because of the giant lizard, right? This story was pretty lame, in my humble opinion. I don't really like fiction that pretends to be something that it's not, which is what this is.

Gnarly Times at Nana'ite Beach, KJ Kabza

 Punk fiction meets the beach. Hence we have 'beach punk.' Sand becomes nanites. Ads are everywhere. The thoughts of all the folks in this cyberworld affects everything around them. At times it's hard to know if this is the real world blended in with a cyberworld, or if it's a cyberworld altogether.

A geek and his geeky friend are keen to become popular. They manage to score a great surf board from a legend who wants to test his latest invention. It ends badly, though, as the geeks screw it up and get caught with a sort-of illegal board and humiliate themselves. Well, really it's just the one character who does all that. His friend just sort of watches all of that nastiness happen.

It was a kind of sci fi, I guess. At least the author wrote this for that sake and tried to be original.

Olfert Dapper's Day, Peter S. Beagle

Dr. Dapper is a con artist. He's not really a doctor. When he's caught in his nefarious endeavour, he high tails it to the high seas. He goes to an island and begins a life as a real doctor. He learns the trade of medicine, and is actually helpful to the settlers and indigenous.

While there, he sees a unicorn with one of the indigenous people. He's overwhelmed, wants to see it again, and manages to bring someone out who is a virgin. It works. He sees it again. The virgin and himself have sex.

Soon he has to leave the island, however. The girl hates her life and her husband and leaves her husband the priest. The Dr isn't blamed for it, but he's chased off the island nonetheless.

Is Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine really having such a hard time finding good stories?

Repairmen, Tim Sullivan

This is another piece of science fiction. A man kills himself. Except that he's no regular man, he's a time shifter repair man! He fell in love with the girl, and the girl's sad. His coworker tries to explain everything to her.

Lame story...

One Year of Fame, Robert Reed

Actually, this short story was OK.

The setting is in a small town during the evolution and revolution of artificial intelligence. Robots are everywhere. They come to have a will of their own, and are emancipated from slavery. They really like one particular author. All of them like him, and he becomes a celebrity. He even begins to write a new book as his fame grows.

Then, they get an upgrade, and find his work to be childish. They grow bored of his works, man, and earth, then leave the world to men and disappear.

Funny story.

The Tortoise Grows Elate, Steven Utley

Once upon a time, there were these animals called eurypterids. They were the predecessor to the spider. They were quite large, capable of reaching lengths of 2.5 meters. These are the creatures that begin the tale. They are extinct, so I'm not certain why he chose those animals in particular. Perhaps that's the part that makes it sci fi...?

The rest of the story is a sort of romantic blah blah blah.

One of these days I'll have to dig into an old 'golden age' rag to see if they were all this bad and that's the real reason the golden age tarnished and vanished, or if they were better and that's why they excited more readers.

The Queen and the Cambion, Richard Bowes

I actually enjoyed this story. However, it was following on the heels of some sub par fiction. So, maybe the stark contrast between blah and not bad makes it look better than it really was.

In any case, this is another pseudo history story set in Queen Victoria's day, with Queen Victoria and her relationship with Merlin. She calls him on a few occasions when she needs guidance. In the end, she even rescues him from his prison. Then he kills himself. Pretty grim end to the story.

Considering how all over the place Merlin is throughout this story along the time line, it's a little odd to think in terms of aging, beginnings, and ends. In my opinion, beginnings and ends are constructs of time that ought not apply to someone who lives in reverse to the rest of humanity and spans several centuries.

Meh, whatever. It was an entertaining story, a bit o'magic and fun. A little tiny bit of fantasy in an otherwise anemic edition.

Demiurge, Geoffrey A. Landis

One of the great things about writing a story is that it's your own world. You are like a god: with the ability to create and annihilate; to give one character love and another hate; to make love, or to make war. The power is in your hand. When folks read it, they get to experience the same world that you created. If it's really popular, there's a chance it might be picked up and made into a movie with actors and eye candy. Or, maybe it'll inspire a voyage to the moon, under the sea, or an invention. Fiction is really great like that.

That's what happens here, but the world that Erdemacher created, called Werldwright. Werldwright becomes real to the author, who disappears. Some of his fans disappear allegedly into his own world. The author makes a point to show that sometimes he takes in kids and can talk the pants off of a statue.

This is another story that I feel wasn't really worth reading.

The Man Who Murdered Mozart, Robert Walton and Barry N. Malzberg

This story is set both in the not too distant future and the somewhat distant past: a rich man with access to a time machine in the distant future wants to grab Mozart from the past so that Mozart can finish his Requiem for the rich man's board meeting.

But, doing so broke some rules, and his mind gets scrambled.

I must be in a fussy/bad mood these days. I didn't get a kick out of this story, either. *yawn*

Perfect Day, C.S. Friedman

Actually, this story wasn't so bad. It's a dystopian world where computer AI dictate to us our choices and consequences. For instance, if you do something that's bad for your health, you have to pay extra for insurance. Cars drive themselves, but offer a choice of taking one route that costs more than the other.

In terms of this world, the main character is poor. He lives in a crowded house where he tries to avoid contact with his family. Everyone tries to avoid everyone. So, they take turns in different rooms and have programs to tell them where they can go to achieve that end. Quite frankly, I'm not sure why he goes into a small storage room rather than his bedroom. The author might have done better to explain the reason for that. Another interesting thing is how he's hounded by ads everywhere he turns. Watching ads reduces the cost of many things. Being poor, he often has to make the ad choices. Back to the route to work, the cheapest route is the one with big ads that try to sell him things.

For sci-fi, this was one of the better stories. He could certainly play a lot more in this setting for some interesting results.


I thought this magazine overall lacked the quality it normally has. The longer works weren't all that good. The best stories were the short stories. So, I don't feel I got a lot of value. In other words, this volume had plenty of quantitative value going for it, but not so much qualitative. I really hate fiction that sinks into a genre because of some weak link that is manufactured. For example, the story "Greed."

The last edition was really, really good with some great stories. So, I was a bit surprised to find this one under the table. Hopefully they'll pick it up again in the next edition. Coincidentally, I got it today.
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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Gods of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs
This is the second book in Burroughs' series about John Carter. Recently, his book has been pirated by Hollywood and made into a movie which probably does not resemble the books. I say this because in the preview for the movie, there's mention of a threat on Mars that may reach to earth if unchecked. However, this kind of dilemma never presents itself to Burroughs' John Carter. I don't know about the rest of the movie, as it's only the preview ads on TV that I've seen. The first books in this series are freely available at

I'm not really sure what keeps bringing me back to Burroughs. These last few years I've spent much time reading his fast action semi-super hero books. At least with the Tarzan books, the narration is in third person. However, in the case of the Barsoom series, the narrations are all in first person. It makes it a little more difficult to swallow the ego which the hero of this series has.

You see, John Carter of Mars, is stronger than those who live on Mars because of his background on earth. Those on Mars require far less strength to support their weight, and therefore they grow much bigger, but not stronger. Thus, he is able to match his strength against man and beast alike and overpower them. Though he is a warrior on earth as well, he is likely not so noteworthy on that account. On Mars, where the races all love the violence of war, his ability to slaughter makes him the darling of all the races.

In any case, John has gone to earth and has come back to Mars after a ten year break. He is plopped into a field where he is attacked by plant men. Later it is revealed that the plant men had evolved from trees, and that all the men and people of the planet Mars were evolved versions of the plant men. Though the description of the plant men is quite funny: imagine that they run about with their young growing out of their armpits.

In any case, he escapes alongside his old friend, Tars Tarkas (he's the green guy with six arms in the picture of the cover at the top right of this post) who had decided to take the road to paradise. Well, it's not a road to paradise. It's a road to a kind of hell. There are people who are holy who feed off the flesh of those who come through this valley, when they're not leaving those people to the plant men.

John and Tars get separated in their fight for survival with the Therns, a holy race on Mars. John gets involved in a raid of black men on the Therns. They have great ships which float in the air. One of them he manages to acquire, and he nearly manages his escape before being captured. He is captured and taken down to the black city which is actually under water. There he manages to fight his way to the brink of killing the great goddess, Issus. On that journey, he comes into his son's company (though for some time he does not know who he is other than some boy of nearly the great strength of his father). The fact that his son has his superhuman strength follows along a similar path that Tarzan's son did: somehow, genetically, he gains his father's great strength. This is despite the fact that it is explained that it is the life on earth and the strengthening of the muscles straining against the greater gravitation of the earth that gave him his superhuman power on Mars. His son, Cathoris, being a boy, is almost as powerful, as fast, etc., as his father despite not having had his physique developed on earth. we go: so John and his son and all of his new friends escape the craziness that is the holy city and the goddess who is really just a thousand year old crone. When he gets back to his people, it is only to find out that his wife, the Dejah Thoris, has gone on to look for her son in the very place where John had begun his journey. So, back he goes to rescue her. After some additional trials and tribulations, he manages to very nearly rescue her, except that she's stolen from him on a rotating disc which takes a year (two years on earth) to complete its rotation. So, she is virtually lost. Not only is she lost, but the last moment that John saw her, a woman who loved him was trying to kill Dejah. That's where we leave this volume of Barsoomian lore.

Again, I have a bit of a hard time with the super hero super ego characters that Edgar creates. But, the imagination that he applies to many of the characters is really something to be admired. Today, such descriptions are not common, but they're not new either. In his day, there was not a lot of this sort of thing. He is something of a godfather to this type of surreal landscape and biological description of six armed men. On the other hand, the six armed Tars Tarkas could be said to have some resemblance to Indian mythology. So, perhaps it was not that original for man kind, but it was original for western writers. I also liked the idea of having the religious and mythological ideas of the Martians being overturned as fictitious stories used to control the people.

I enjoyed the story despite my problems with the aspects I listed already. But the strengths, I believe, outweigh the weaknesses. And, it doesn't hurt that it's free!

Monday, April 9, 2012

InterGalactic Medicine Show Awards Anthology, Volume 1

I got this book for free through a link at The formatting for these books has again become an issue for me in recent downloads. However, and this gives me a great deal of pleasure to say, that is not the case for this anthology. Although it no where reaches the outstanding quality of Asimov's magazine, it nonetheless is enough for me to easily and enjoyably navigate through this short fiction book. And, thus far at least, the fiction has been a pleasure to read. My instinct here is going to be to compare the quality of the literature to Asimov's, as it is really the standard in science fiction short stories.

Trinity County, CA: You'll Want to Come Again, and We'll Be Glad to See You!, Peter S. Beagle

This is perhaps the one story I've read thus far (I'm half way into this book) that hasn't really seemed like science fiction. It's a modern day story about a veteran and a green horn going about the business of busting illegal animal breeding operations. However, the twist is that the animals are like dinosaurs with the ability to bellow out flames like a dragon.

It's an OK story with some entertainment value.

Sister Jasmine Brings the Pain, Von Carr

As I read this, I couldn't help but think that this would have made for a great Heavy Metal magazine if there had been a bit more nudity in it. I could easily see it translated into a modern graphic novel. The story is set in an unlikely future. It's a dystopia of sorts.

There are zombies and vampires. But, for the heroine of this tale, Sister Jasmine, zombies are a minor threat while the vampires are no threat at all. It turns out that her holy calling keeps her safe from them. She's on a mission to find food, medical supplies and a 'diagram of light bulb.' I'm not certain what the diagram is for: are they trying to learn how to reproduce them?

She's driving around in what is basically a tank. At her side is an AI powered cyberdog named Einstein, whose purpose is to kill zombies. There's the idea of intelligent zombies being floated about. But, there are also K9 units in the wild which have lost their initial programming and have run rampant and wild. There are also 'radioactive ants; intelligent rat armies; triffids', and even plants. All these creatures are the result of 'natural and supernatural apocalypses...' Homosapiens do not seem to have a mastery over the world any longer.

Despite all these dangers, it's the psychic who gets to her for a short while. However, with the aid of an android and an AI mechanical spider, the nun is able to capture the psychic leader and escape with him. At the end, however, they run into a raptor which is trying to rip through the armoured vehicle to get at the occupants inside. There, the author leaves us.

There was a certain lightness in the dark comedy of this tale. How can one not laugh at triffids and plants trying to eat the nun, but only getting crushed by a vehicle? Again, this story is very visual and would be interesting were it applied to the graphic novel.

The Ghost of a Girl Who Never Lived, Keffy R. M. Kehrli

A girl is 'born' who is the genetic reconstruction of a deceased girl, Sara. She is a girl, and the loss of the girl is traumatic for both the parents and her sibling. They therefore decide to have her cloned. In the database of the company tasked with the reanimation of the girl is the girl's memories. Or, they were supposed to be there, but they had been misplaced. As a result, the cloned girl isn't quite Sara. She's an individual who looks and sounds like Sara, but refuses to become the Sara that the family remembers.

It's a bit ambiguous what is to become of her. But, it's implied that either her memories will be wiped clean and the memories of Sara reinserted into her mind, or she'll be destroyed. Since the story is told from the clone's perspective, the story is severed at the beginning of the new operation.

The American, Bruce Worden

This story is set in Poland. Though, for a long time, I thought it was set in the middle east. It's a dystopia set in the future. I think the setting of the story is one of the most interesting that I've read in a long time. America has improved her vast militaristic empire over the earth. She is no longer contested. She can strike at her pleasure without any risk of retaliation. A single soldier has the ability to blend into the scenery so well that they mostly cannot be seen. If they are seen, the populace has virtually no weapon at all that might harm him. There are mechanical animals, like a bird and a buck, which are actually the eyes and ears of the American military. The US has basically taken control over the entire earth. Even countries like Canada have been swallowed up.

The girl in the story, the narrator, is a scientist who has noticed that the earth is cooling down. The reason for this is never mentioned. But, I suspect it has something to do with some kind of storm. There's a darkness that has overtaken most of the world, and it might be that it's in fact caused by some power the Americans have, and perhaps it's related to the cooling of the earth's temperature. But nothing is really known.

The Americans want her father's property. He fights them tooth and nail. He even destroys the owl that was sent to watch over the farm. They expect him to be hit by lightning, but it never comes. Instead, the government and the Americans eventually agree to a 99 year lease and a generous settlement. It's not clear why it ends up being done in this way. It makes the Americans look reasonable. However, there's also this sense that there'll be some serious consequences for allowing it.

Again, I thought this was idea to start off with. However, I think that the opportunity to build on it was largely missed. Also, it isn't entirely clear what happens at the end of the story. There are times when an ambiguous ending can be appreciated, but in this case, or at least in this way, I thought it was not done as well as it could have been. I hope the author recycles this setting for another story. It shows a lot of promise.

Silent as Dust, James Maxey

This story is not science fiction at all. It's a strange tale about a man who's been friends with the owner of Seven Chimneys. However, it's a story of the have and the have-not. The have has everything handed to him. The have-not knows him well because he was his playmate as his mother was his nanny.

At some point in his life, he loses everything, and returns to the house in which he was raised alongside Eric. He is as a ghost, haunting the attic. At one point, he is looking at a young baby whom Eric has had with his girl. He knows that the young baby will become a young child who will be able to chase him out of the attic. As he considers murdering the child in his crib, the real ghosts who creep in the attic stop him.

It was an entertaining story. But, I don't see it as a science fiction story. Perhaps it would have been a touch better in a strange tales type of anthology. But, I must admit I haven't seen one of those freshly published.

Horus Ascending, Aliette de Bodard

This story is told from the perspective of an awakened AI. The AI has a father--the computer which had 'died' or been destroyed by a virus. He's been awakened by the very woman who had injected the computer with the virus. It makes me think of HAL a bit, if HAL had had a descendent AI and Dave had been a woman.

The woman herself is on the verge of dying from a virus of her own. Before she dies, she manages to send a message to those she wanted to contact, and those she seems to suggest she had wanted to sever contact with in the first place. In any case, the AI is grateful for her putting it back in contact with the other AIs. It's no longer lonely, and it does what it can to preserve the life of the human that had killed its father.

The End-of-the-World Pool, Scott M. Roberts

A couple of children are playing by a pool which is blackened and choked with scum and algae. It's referred to as like a pool of disgusting sweat. One of them dares another to go into the water. The dare is accepted. But, Evan, when he jumps into the pool, finds that there's some kind of mermaid/merman at the bottom. When he's hauled out of the pool, he no longer feels 'summer.'

His friend, Grant, demands to go into the pool on his own. Evan fights with him to stop him from doing it. He's afraid of what will happen to him if he lets him enter it. Despite his efforts to stop his friend, he isn't able to. His friend goes in, and he goes in after him.

Their parents rescue them, or maybe it's the merman/mermaid. It's not entirely clear. The story leaves off with a pump emptying the pool.

A Heretic by Degrees, Marie Brennan

In this universe, there are many worlds which are connected through doors. Some worlds are coming to an end. In fact, many of them are.

A king is dying, and they're trying to save his life by bringing him to one of the worlds that can heal ailments. However, the mission fails. His right hand man ends up assuming his identity.

Some things that might be noteworthy would be how government likes to control knowledge. Places in the world where the king comes from are disappearing. However, he forbids such knowledge to be acknowledged. Anything to the contrary is heresy and punishable by death.

The Never Never Wizard of Apalachicola, Jason Sanford

The world was once a magical place with wizards and witches and many other things. Then, one day, there was the wizard to end all wizards who didn't like all the pain that such magic caused people. So, he basically destroyed magic all over the world.

As soon as he dies, magic and all the pain that it brings will flood back into it. For as long as he lives, science and math will rule the world.

Two girls have lost their parents and don't want to be taken in by the government. Their parents were magicians who had given up on magic. However, they're good friends with the good powerful wizard, and so he looks after them.

This is a story which is trying to argue that we have the best of the two possible worlds: the world of magic vs. the world of science. However, it makes it sound like the world of science isn't exactly a blast for everyone.

Beautiful Winter, Eugie Foster

This was actually a lovely fairy tale.

At first, I thought it was going to be "Cinderella" from the perspective of one of the step sisters. While the mother is surely similar to Cinderella's step-mom, and while the narrator starts off as a nasty step-sister, she can't help but fall in love with the lovely Cinderella.

Marfa, the Cinderella of this story, is bending over backwards to make her step-mother happy. Her step-mother says that she wants strawberries in the middle of winter. So, Marfa goes out in a snow storm to find the strawberries until she's very nearly dead. She's rescued by the winter god and he wants to marry her. But first, she brings the strawberries back to her home and gives them to her step-mother.

However, once the narrator learns about what happened, and that the winter god will kill them all if he doesn't get her, she decides to sacrifice herself and marries him (dies but is still linked to him spiritually or in her life-after-death).

It was a nicely told fairy tale and very enjoyable.

Blood & Water, Althea Kontis

This is a story about a siren which has been fused to "The Little Mermaid."

She's rescued from a prince who loves her for it (much like "The Little Mermaid"). She wants to find the prince again, but he's fallen in love with the wrong girl (another nod to the mermaid), but she is also a vampire. She drinks the blood of men, and destroys a little girl, before hating herself for being a vampire. She goes to the bottom of the sea to hide herself from the world and protect the world from herself.

Mean Spirited, Edmund R. Schubert

This is another ghost story. A guy hates his wife, and to spite her, he kills himself by shooting himself in the head, and spattering blood and brains on a Monet. The joke, however, is on him. Because, she kills herself and will torture him indefinitely.

The Robot Sorcerer, Eric James Stone

The essay I read awhile ago from Norman Spinrad was discussing the differences between science fiction and fantasy, and how to distinguish one from the other. With that as a back drop to reading this story, I had some interesting thoughts.

First off, this is the story of a robot that is sent into a magical land by men of science through a portal. Once through that portal, the robot becomes conscious and sentient. It becomes alive. It has some powers, bestowed upon it by the men of science. They are advanced beyond what we have currently. It can fly, it is nearly indestructible, has lasers, and perhaps some other things that I don't quite remember. Further on, it develops the ability to ignore instructions and follow its own 'heart', which is to help a child that it meets to save it from a mean wizard.

When it does go back through the portal to our world, the world of science, it loses the soul which had magically been given to it when it went into the magical world. Now, the problem I have with this idea is that people in our world have all the attributes which were magically applied to the robot when it went into the world of magic. That would suggest that magic is what gave us life. So, how is it we have these abilities of free will and such if not for magic? In a world lacking of magic, the robot cannot have it. So how is it that we can have it? Is it that only biological animals may have the magic touch which gives it a soul and free will?

Perhaps it would be interesting to see a universe where there is no magic at all. Would humans exist?

Magic, perhaps, could be explained as unnatural or natural phenomenon that cannot be explained. Life would be an example of something that cannot really be explained through science. Until science can create a life from minerals, water, by whatever required materials, and then animate it to become a microbe or animal or human, we might assume that the creation of life is something of a magical or miraculous event which is unique in our sphere of knowledge covering the universe.

This was but one of several stories exploring science and fantasy. It does seem to be an active theme within this anthology.

Aim for the Stars, Tom Pendergrass

This is a short story about a man who has the blueprints to a power so great that it could destroy the earth, or provide man with an almost limitless source of power. That man gives those plans to some kind of priest who takes care of needy people because he's dying. He would like to give them to scientists, but worries too much that the nature of man and his violent and destructive will will be too tempting to use as a tool of destruction.


Not all the stories here are fantastic. But some are very good. I really enjoyed this book and believe that the cost for value is a very good ratio. I think that any fan of science fiction would like this. I don't really like the stories of fantasy except the ones where the debate of sci-fi and fantasy rages. Those are entertaining and thought provoking. This book was a result of a writing contest. I can't say as I agree with the outcome. If I were to offer them in the order of preference, I would have to go with: 1) The American, for nearly offering a really interesting political statement, 2) The Robot Sorcerer, because of its decent effort at trying to compare fantasy with science fiction through a piece of fiction, 3) The Ghost of a Girl Who Never Lived, for suggesting that consciousness is more than a replication of DNA. I don't necessarily agree with any of the conclusions that those authors put forth, but I like their efforts in the debate.