Review of Writers of the Future Volume 30 (anthology)

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Pretty much all the illustrations inside are better than this cover art.

L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 30 by various authors and illustrators. ★★★

Writers of the Future is a contest for new or amateur writers of science fiction and fantasy. It’s an entirely legitimate contest – there’s no entrance fee, the prize money is good, and the judges are all professional writers, some of whom I’m already familiar with (Todd McCaffrey, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and Orson Scott Card were among this issue’s judges). There’s also a parallel contest of Illustrators of the Future, the winners or which were included in this collection.

My biggest umbrage is probably how the contest is used to promote Hubbard, the founder of the contest, who also founded Scientology. While I’m thankful that Scientology isn’t mentioned in relation to the contest, it is amusing how the contest material acts like he’s famous for being a science fiction writer and nothing else.

I skipped all short stories that weren’t written by the contest winners. The contest functions on a quarterly system with four mini-type contests each year, the winners of which compete for the grand prize. The illustration contest functions in a similar manner, but the winning illustrators are assigned one of the winning short stories to illustrate. It’s these illustrations which compete for the illustration grand prize and that are included in the anthology (black and white with the stories, color inserts in the back of the book).

As with all anthologies, the short stories were a mixed bag. There were some I really enjoyed, some that were okay, some that were plain strange, and some that just weren’t very good. The winning short stories were the following:

“Another Range of Mountains” by Megan E. O’Keefe had an interesting, art based magic system. It was very good, although I didn’t feel the relationships worked that well. It’s hard to have strong relationships in short stories – there just isn’t enough page space. But in all, the story reminded me of The Emperor’s Soul, which is praise indeed.

“Shifter” by Paul Eckheart had another interesting concept. The main character and his/her family members can change not only their bodies and appearances but their personalities as well.

“Beneath the Surface of Two Kills” by Shauna O’Meara was okay. The premise is of a hunter going after a rare species that lives high in the mountains, because a murder requested it as his last meal and cannot be executed until he had it. I’d assumed that the hunter had some relationship to the victim (the story is a reflection on her death, and he says that he didn’t want to kill endangered animal), but it’s never actually mentioned. The entire plot falls apart if I think about it – the solution he reaches in the end should have occurred to him earlier.

Then, there’s “Animal” by Terry Madden. I don’t really know what to make of this one. The idea is that most species have gone practically extinct, with a zoological center outside of Las Vegas holding the last elephants, gorillas, and such. But Las Vegas has grown, the land has gotten valuable, and the government decides to shut down the center and sell all the animals to high end restaurants. Then it gets weird. SPOILER Apparently the government also has to issue you a license to have a kid, so a desperate worker at the center implants her fetus in a gorilla. She gets the kid for a few years before the government finds her (this is told to us near the end), but it gives the main character an idea. The story ends with her heading off to get a gorilla fetus implanted inside her. See what I mean by weird? END SPOILER.

“Rainbows for Other Days”by C. Stuart Hardwick is about an android that serves as a sort of park ranger, looking after the wilderness, when he finds the stereotypical teenage girl who makes him question the world around him. It was a pretty standard story, not too much stood out about it.  SPOILER Except that in the end the android knew he would forget meeting her and the truths she’d revealed. Just like he forgets any disturbing events, because he’s programmed that way or something. END SPOILER Like the last one, it had a pretty heavy environmental message.

“Giants at the End of the World” by Leena Likitalo had good world building but bad characterization and plot. It’s really ham-fisted about the narrator’s “Incident in His Past.” Really, the first mention or two was enough to figure it out. It doesn’t need to be repeatedly brought up. The story also features a randomly rebellious, wide-eyed innocent teenage girl who decides to run away from home for no good reason. At least the illustration was pretty for this one, and as I said before, the world set up was interesting.

“The Shaadi Exile” by Amanda Forrest focused on a system of arranged marriages between different planets. It was all right, but I don’t know what I think of the ending.

“These Walls of Despair” by Anaea Lay was pretty interesting. The set up is a society where different emotions can be created or repressed chemically by specialists who mix them. The main character is challenged to find a recipe for despair.

“Memories Bleed Beneath the Mask” by Randy Henderson felt like part of a larger story. The short story is centered around a twelve-year old boy who is hoping to inherit his grandfather’s memories. Apparently memories are very valuable and sought after in this world.

“What Moves the Sun and Other Stars” by K.C. Norton was one of my favorites of the collection. I loved it mainly for the setting – a completely hopeless prison asteroid far from Earth inhabited by mutants and robots and strange and dangerous prison wardens.

“The Clouds in Her Eyes” by Liz Colter was one of weakest stories of the collection. It didn’t feel like anything new – lonely farm girl discovers magical powers. I’ve seen that many times before.

“Long Jump” by Oleg Kazantsev focused on a pilot trapped for eternity in a small spaceship with no hope of escape who becomes enmeshed in a virtual world.

“The Pushbike Legion” by Timothy Jordan was the grand prize winner. It’s about this small English town that was surrounded by this giant desert many years ago. The residents eke out a living in their little bubble, but anything that crosses into the sand immediately dissolves into dust.

The illustrations are absolutely amazing. They’re all completely gorgeous, especially the color versions included at the end. If you ever run into a copy of this collection, I’d suggest picking it up and at least flipping to the back to check out the artwork.

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