Book Review: Writers of the Future, Volume 34

Book Review: Writers of the Future, Volume 34 edited by David Farland

Disclaimer:  I received a download of this book through a Goodreads giveaway for the purpose of writing this review.  No other compensation was offered or requested.

Writers of the Future, Volume 34

Back before he became involved with…you know, L. Ron Hubbard was a prolific author of stories for pulp magazines, including some for the science fiction category.  In the 1980s, he decided to give back to the field (and self-promote) by creating a contest to find exciting new writers in science fiction, fantasy and horror.  Thus, the Writers of the Future competition.

Each quarter, three submissions from hundreds win the chance to be featured in an annual compilation volume.  In addition, a set of Illustrators of the Future compete to be able to present a picture based on one of the stories.  This is the 34th such volume, which is frankly amazing.

The introduction goes over some of the selection process, including that since these volumes may be appearing in school libraries, excessive violence, explicit sex scenes and rough language will usually knock a story out of consideration.  (Some of these stories come very close to the line.)  Next, there’s a description of how the Illustrators of the Future contest works.

The stories themselves open with “Turnabout” by Erik Bundy, about a traveler who discovers that he is owed one wish by a djinn.  He realizes she is under no obligation not to twist his wish, but what if he can grant her a twisted version of the djinn’s own desire?  Note:  there’s an ethnic slur used, but I think the author is well-meaning.

The final story is “All Light and Darkness” by Ami Henri Gillett.  An AWOL super-soldier attempts to blend in with a stream of refugees, but finds himself getting too involved with two of them, young siblings.  At the same time, he struggles with his own abandonment issues.  There’s some musings on what makes a person human.

In between are a number of other stories, and essays on writing and art from past and current contest judges.  (Mr. Hubbard may have left this mortal coil, but he is very much a presence here.)

Standouts include “The Minarets of An-Zabat” by Jeremy TeGrotenhuis, about a junior bureaucrat in an empire that absorbs all magical schools into its own or destroys those it cannot tame.  He becomes fascinated by the wind-calling natives who are the last major holdouts against the Empire’s hegemony.

Also “Mara’s Shadow” by Darci Stone, an effective blend of horror and science fiction.  In the near future, a Vietnamese researcher happens to be called in to the first known case of a human being eaten from the inside out by moth larvae.  We follow her story as this becomes a worldwide pandemic, with flashbacks to how this all got started about a century before.  Content warning:  there are multiple suicides in this story.

My black and white Kindle does make most of the illustrations less effective, which is a particular shame for Jazmen Richardson’s illustration of N.R.M. Roshak’s “A Bitter Thing.”  This tale of a young human’s relationship with a color-shifting alien relies very heavily on colors as a central theme, and the resulting picture doesn’t work in monochrome.

The one exception is Ven Locklear’s illustration for “Death Flyer” by L. Ron Hubbard.  This chiller about a ghost train lends itself to an evocative picture that works just fine in grayscale.

The cover story reverses the process, with Jody Lynn Nye writing “Illusion” to match Ciruelo’s painting Dragon Caller.  A court wizard is in fact just an illusionist, but when his country is invaded, he must come up with a plan to defend it against very real enemies.  It’s a clever story.

Overall, this is a decent enough collection of stories by writers you probably haven’t heard of before (plus Hubbard and a lesser piece by Brandon Sanderson) but at least some of whom you’re likely to hear of in the near future.   Check it and previous volumes out at your library!

Manga Review: Rin-Ne Volume 25

Manga Review: Rin-Ne Volume 25 by Rumiko Takahashi

Quick recap:  Rinne Rokudo is a shinigami, a psychopomp who guides stray spirits to the afterlife for rebirth.  But he’s part-human, so he has to use (often expensive) tools to make up for his weak powers.  That, plus debts his deadbeat father Sabato saddled him with, and being seriously unlucky, keeps Rinne in dire poverty.

Rin-Ne Volume 25

Fortunately, Rinne has his black cat familiar Rokumon and Sakura Mamiya, a mostly normal schoolgirl who can see spirits and is blessed with common sense, to help him.  See previous reviews for more.

This volume opens in June, the rainy season in Japan.   There have been reports that a ghost in a bridal gown and veil has been haunting the neighborhood, looking for a wedding chapel.  Rinne and Sakura quickly discover that the old wedding chapel was turned into a cafe, but why the ghost bride was looking for it is a bit more complicated than it appears.

The final story concerns a summer fireworks display.  Each year for the last three years, one of the shells has burst into the form of a kanji (Chinese ideogram), a different one each year, though they look similar.  Behind this mystery is a tale of heartbreak and ineptitude.

In between, the major story is the discovery of forged shinigami gold licenses.  These licenses show the bearer to be an expert in sending spirits to the afterlife, and come with an increased salary and other perks.  (Rinne only has a silver license.)  To no one’s surprise, Rinne’s father Sabato is the man behind the forgeries.

What does cause surprise is that Sabato’s model for the forgeries is his own genuine gold license.   He’s always been a slacker who would rather come up with get rich quick schemes than work as a shinigami, so how did he get that–in high school, no less?  Time for Rinne to finally get some answers from the old man!

Also in this volume are stories involving new recurring characters Annette Hitomi Anematsuri, a teacher who is descended from a French witch and thus has some magic powers she’s not that good with; and Ayame Sakaki, a miko (shrine maiden) who has a crush on inept exorcist Tsubasa Jumonji (who has a crush on Sakura, who has feelings for Rinne, who has feelings for Sakura but won’t do anything about them because of his poverty.)

The stories continue to be funny and the art is good, but none of them advances the main plot or introduces important characters, so you could probably skip this volume if you’re on a budget.

Book Review: Respectable Horror

Book Review: Respectable Horror by K.A. Laity

Horror is a wide-ranging genre, which can be tailored to a variety of tastes.  Some folks prefer their scary fiction with a maximum of gushing blood and sharp objects being plunged into soft flesh; others like a more genteel approach that emphasizes the subtle wrongnesses and growing atmospheric dread that comes before the end.  This collection is geared towards the latter audience, with one of the inspirations being the work of M.R. James.

Respectable Horror

There are seventeen stories in all, starting with “The Estate of Edward Moorehouse” by Ian Burdon.  The title character went missing in a remote section of British coastline seven years ago.  He’s been declared dead, and a relative is looking through his estate and discovers that Mr. Moorehouse was searching for traces of a buried village on a beach mentioned in an old text.  He decides to honor the man by visiting the same beaches.

This is a thoroughly modern story with Facebook ™ and SIM cards, but ancient evil has adapted to the new technology.

The final story, “The Astartic Arcanum” by Carol Borden, is more of a period piece.  A Cthulhu Mythos tale, it pits poet Nita Sloan against a cabal of wealthy old men in Detroit who want to change the world.  It would appear that her latest work might be the only thing that can stop them–provided they don’t manage to sacrifice her to their dark god first!

Some other standouts include: “The Feet on the Roof” by Anjana Basu.  Set in 1960s India, there is culture clash between a wealthy widow and her daughter.  The daughter just up and vanishes one day, but then mysterious footprints begin to appear where no footprints should be.  It’s nice to see a horror story set in India that is by someone who actually comes from there.

“Miss Metcalfe” by Ivan Kershner is a Bradburyesque story about a substitute teacher.  It is the day before Halloween, and there’s a new substitute teacher, with a radically different lesson plan.  It involves bats.  Nicely spooky, and dances right up to but not past the line.  Read it to your kids.

“The Well Wisher” by Matthew Pegg concerns a series of poison pen letters.  One target of the letters has already been driven to suicide.  A governess may be able to unravel the mystery of the “Well Wisher”, but can she do so without revealing her own dark secrets?  Innovative, but also comfortably period.

My least favorite story was “Recovery” by H.V. Chao.  An author with writer’s block has moved to a small French village in the hopes it will help.  It hasn’t, but he’s enjoying listening to the guest next door speak to a lover who never answers.  The story never reaches spooky, just barely making it to odd.

Most of the other stories are decent to quite good; this would make a fine Halloween present for a sweetheart or other book  lover.

Manga Review: Monster Collection: The Girl Who Can Deal with Magic Monsters, Volume 5

Manga Review: Monster Collection: The Girl Who Can Deal with Magic Monsters, Volume 5 by Sei Itoh

Kasche was an apprentice summoner, gifted at bringing magical monsters from where they are to the place she needs them, and controlling them using name magic.  But her recklessness made Kasche less than popular with most of her teachers.  When Lord Duran stole the Encyclopedia Verum, a living book that contains all the knowledge of past summoners, it just so happened that Kasche was the only summoner capable of going after him!

Monster Collection: The Girl Who Can Deal with Magic Monsters, Volume 5

Monster Collection was originally a collectible card game, much like Magic: the Gathering, in which the players are summoners who use monsters to battle for them, each having special powers and weaknesses.  It spawned this manga, a video game (which merged it with a board game mechanic) and an anime adaptation, Mon Colle Knights.  None of these share any continuity.

In this volume, Kasche and her team: human warrior Cuervo, who Kasche has a crush on, lamia sorceress Vanessa, and “spirit animal” Kiki finish up their battle with the fallen angel that had been summoned against them.  It’s at this point that  Shin, a lizard man ally of theirs who might or might not be he Lizard King, reappears.

Turns out the only reason they had enough time to finish that grueling battle is because Shin was distracting the other monster in the area, a high dragon.  None of them feel up to the task of fighting such a powerful creature.

Until, that is, Shin reminds Kasche that she in fact knows the true name of this dragon, as that being had previously sent her a dream asking for help.  If Kasche can free the dragon from Lord Duran’s control, it will be a powerful ally.  So Kasche goes into the spiritual realm to battle Lord Duran’s magical sealing, while the others protect her from a swarm of giant ants summoned by Lord Duran’s servant.  Shin turns out to be able to summon himself, but only other lizard folk.

Kasche is at a severe disadvantage until she realizes there is one category of monster she can summon in the spiritual realm.  But will this demon be her trump card or her doom?

There’s some nice detailed monster and battle art, but the writing is only so-so and the volume is essentially wall-to-wall fights.  There’s relatively little gore; the “mature readers” label comes because Kasche is usually naked on the spiritual plane, complete with nipples.  (There’s also some male nudity on display, particularly in the humorous bonus chapter.)

This one may be hard to find.  CMX was DC Comics’ attempt at creating a manga line, which was mismanaged and quickly folded.  Some of their titles were “rescued” for printing elsewhere, but not this one.

And now, the opening video of Mon Colle Knights, so you can see just how different a treatment it is.

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