Author Archive

John Fleskes, president and publisher of Flesk Publications, teams up with renowned portrait photographer Greg Preston to produce a special book created on the showroom floor of the Spectrum Fantastic Art Live event, held May 9-11th in Kansas City, Missouri. Sessions: Spectrum Fantastic Art Portraits will feature the art, a brief bio, and a portrait created by Greg Preston of at least 50 of the creators behind today’s best contemporary fantastic art. This project is a singular opportunity that YOU can make happen, and as an added bonus you are invited to witness its creation.
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REVIEW SUMMARY: Today’s Short Fiction spotlight focuses on the four works of original fiction presented in Issue 91 of Clarkesworld.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: These four short fiction offerings look at the presence of the truly alien on Earth, the child-rearing of an A.I. spaceship, a young woman with no magic of her own who suddenly finds herself possessed of an unusual way to travel her world, and the April Fool’s Day pranks of a future genius involving the then-common way that matter is transferred.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: A refreshing presentation of aliens who are truly alien; elements of “science” woven into the science fiction; plot lines which urge the reader to delve further into the stories.
CONS: All four stories share the trait of ending with questions unanswered (a “pro” for those who enjoy that type of storytelling).
BOTTOM LINE: I often speculate what percentage of one’s enjoyment of, or disappointment with, short genre fiction is based on the frame of mind/desires/expectations going in vs. the skill and story choices of the author. I have noticed within myself a preference for short stories that share a structure with novels–a tight beginning, middle and definitive end–as opposed to those that end with more questions, or simply a new beginning. Then there are times, like with this issue of Clarkesworld, in which the stories end in thought-provoking, questioning ways as opposed to wrapping up the vignette with a nice and tidy bow, and I find myself having an equally enjoyable reading experience. That is a long-winded way to posit the belief that the skill of these writers and the interesting variety of storytelling will be a rewarding experience for most readers who take advantage of what Clarkesworld Issue 91 has to offer.

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March 31st is fast approaching, and as the month goes out like a lamb, the period for nominating for the 2014 Hugo Awards is coming to an end.

This marks my first experience at nominating works for the Hugo Awards. When I asked our fearless leader, John DeNardo, about reviewing short fiction over the course of 2013 for SF Signal, it was with the intention of focusing on short fiction for this very reason.

It was a rewarding journey, though I quickly discovered how impossible it was to keep up with the amount of original short genre fiction being produced each month in print and electronic magazines, collections and anthologies, and as single stories on various websites. I’m not complaining. As a fan of short fiction, I am thrilled to see so much of it being produced every month.

It was a great pleasure to offer up my opinions on the short fiction I read throughout the year. The choices I have made for Hugo nominations are based solely on my own personal experience, not on the basis of who wrote them or what publications they appeared in. I regret that I wasn’t able to read more and that my reading was limited to but a handful of the worthwhile short fiction venues championing short genre fiction. Apologies to any authors whose works should have been among my consideration, and thank you to all of you who are keeping the pleasure of short fiction alive and well.

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“I’m watching the future of art unfold before my eyes!”

—Michael R. Whelan (Said at the inaugural SFAL event)

As part of the promotional content for the upcoming Spectrum Fantastic Art Live event, sculptor Tim Bruckner has created a series of short videos highlighting a handful of the nearly 200 painters, sculptors, and illustrators who will be in attendance May 9-11, 2014, in Kansas City, Missouri.

Spectrum Fantastic Art Live is an event you don’t want to miss, and these minute-long teasers are sure to tempt you with their examples of the immense talent of the artists working in the field today. Biographic information on the artists is drawn largely from their respective web pages.

Altogether there is approximately 15 minutes of total viewing time here, but I promise you that they are minutes packed with eye-popping goodness. So sit back, enjoy the show, and let us know if any of the art speaks to you. Spectrum Fantastic Art Live has been described as “The Art Fair with a Sense of Wonder”. This is a mere glimpse of why that is so.

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The Illustration Academy and Spectrum Fantastic Art Live are offering aspiring artists the opportunity to put their illustration skills to the test and compete for a number of valuable prizes.

Spectrum Fantastic Art Live 3 (SFAL) will be held the weekend of May 9-11, 2014, in Kansas City Missouri. SFAL will feature some 200 artists who work in a variety of mediums creating art that falls in the realm of the fantastic. In addition to providing the opportunity for fans to interact with artists and buy great art, SFAL provides the opportunity for budding artists to have their portfolios reviewed by creative directors from some of the prominent SFF publishing houses (including Tor and Orbit) and attend educational opportunities held during the weekend.

The Illustration Academy is offering some tremendously valuable prizes for young people in high school and those continuing education artists aged 18 and above.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: This week’s Short Fiction Friday looks at the three works of original fiction in the March 2014 issue of Clarkesworld.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Space travel, war, and the variable nature of ghosts are examined in the original shorts in the latest issue of Clarkesworld.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Fans of space-faring science fiction will find much to like in two of the featured short stories; intriguing look at humanity from the point of view of an advanced alien race; one story provides the opportunity for examining folklore/mythological aspects of the Japanese culture.
CONS: One story ends slightly more abruptly than it should have; restrictions of short story format inhibits the effectiveness of one offering.
BOTTOM LINE: One of the greatest things about a foray into current offerings in the short fiction worlds of science fiction and fantasy is that you truly have no idea what you are going to get. Forrest Gump’s “box of chocolates” reference is so apt here. Whether that chocolate contains a surprisingly delightful filling…or coconut (no offense to you coconut lovers out there)…you always get a little bit of chocolate in the mix. So it is with the original works in this issue of Clarkesworld. They may or may not turn out to be to your taste, but they all have something going for them that makes them worth reading. For those who lean towards science fiction, two of the three featured stories are far into the science fictional spectrum. The other story uses fantastical elements of the Japanese culture to examine the stress and pressure of growing up. Links are provided. Give them a taste.

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Marking Time with Author Alex Scarrow

When last we spoke with author Alex Scarrow he was just about to self-publish the first in a new series featuring a young female protagonist by the name of Ellie Quin. A year and change later and the fourth episode in the series, Ellie Quinn in Wonderland, has just been released with the ninth book in Scarrow’s TimeRiders series on the way.

By way of reminder, Alex Scarrow is a British author whose road to publication took him through music, graphic art and computer game design. He then began writing screenplays, one of which became the novel A Thousand Suns , which ties a contemporary storyline with WWII Germany. Alex Scarrow is perhaps best known for his work in Young Adult science fiction and it is there where we concentrate today’s discussion.

Without further ado, let us welcome back author Alex Scarrow.

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“Fantastic art should never be boring. And no one should ever be ashamed of having a love of–or connection to–genre.” ~Arnie Fenner

For twenty years Cathy and Arnie Fenner have celebrated the love of genre with the annual release of Spectrum: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art. In 2012 the Fenners brought this multiple-award winning art book to life with the first Spectrum Fantastic Art Live event. Held in Kansas City, Missouri, the event featured over 200 artists whose creations fit within the broad definition of genre art.

This incredible interactive event returns to Kansas City for its 3rd outing on May 9-11, 2014 and it promises to be something special.

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Short Fiction Friday: The Anderson Project

REVIEW SUMMARY: The Anderson Project is a Tor.com original ebook presenting three science fiction novelettes inspired by a preexisting work of art.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SUMMARY: Three science fictional stories written by authors Ken Liu, Kathleen Ann Goonan and Judith Moffett, inspired by a painting by Richard Anderson. The painting is featured as the cover illustration.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Meaningful use of the elements of Anderson’s painting; nice variety between all three stories; solid narrative voice; significant word count allows room for the stories to develop.
CONS: Two of the stories have weak endings when compared to the overall story arc.
BOTTOM LINE: Editor David G. Hartwell points out in his introduction that there is a long tradition in the SF field of stories being written to accompany existing art work, a tradition that has fallen by the wayside in recent years. Hartwell teamed with Tor.com to reinvigorate the idea with The Palencar Project, based on an image by artist John Jude Palencar. Hartwell and Tor.com return to the idea with The Anderson Project. This is a fantastic science fiction image that compels you to wonder what is happening with these people apparently tethered to some sort of space craft. Each of these authors does an admirable job in interpreting the painting through story and this experiment has produced three solid stories that are well worth reading.

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Short Fiction Friday: EMBER by James K. Decker

REVIEW SUMMARY:Ember” is a novella prequel to James K. Decker’s novel, The Burn Zone, and the recently released sequel, Fallout.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SUMMARY: Dragan Shao had been an exemplary soldier, defending his nation’s resources by guarding the borders and dealing with the hunger-driven people who see the alien haan not as our saviors, but as parasites that need to be destroyed. Shao has his reasons for turning in his resignation and returning to civilian life, and he will find himself examining those reasons as his former skill set brings him into confrontation with the reality of what humans will do in order to survive.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Tightly wound prose; novella does everything it should to hook readers into the world fleshed out in Decker’s novels; inventive look at how an advanced alien race might interact with humanity; just the right level of gripping action with nods given to character development.
CONS: For some, the quantity of story present may not justify the $2.99 ebook price; revelations regarding the alien presence are few in number.
BOTTOM LINE: This series by author James K. Decker promises much with its imaginative future technology, look at the coexistence of an alien race with humanity, and acknowledgment of the economic and environmental issues our world is sure to face in the decades/centuries to come, coupled with a solid, action-packed story.  Decker gets things right straight out of the gate with this novella which introduces readers to a few pivotal characters and lays a bit of groundwork for the world-building, all while providing an exciting story.  If the goal of “Ember” is to get you to want more, it succeeds brilliantly.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: Holy Unicorns, Batman! This novella, set in Charles Stross’ Laundry universe, will leave you sleeping with one eye open anytime a young girl mentions a penchant for the mythical horned beast.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SUMMARY: What agent Bob Howard hopes to be a bogus assignment fueled by surviving death-bed letters written by H.P. Lovecraft, turns out to be a true eldritch nightmare. The mythical one-horned horse and its magical connotations are pushed through a Lovecraftian meat grinder with results both comical and frightening.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Stross channels Lovecraft masterfully; story is short enough to be read in one long sitting while not skimping on plot; works well as an introduction to the Laundry universe; balances wry humor with suspenseful elements.
CONS: Those familiar with Bob Howard and his adventures may find themselves skimming past introductory material, despite its brevity; in-jokes abound that will not have the same impact for new readers.
BOTTOM LINE: This is not my first experience with the writing of Charles Stross, but was my first foray into the world of his Laundry novels. I was encouraged to read the novella after seeing mentions of it on Hugo nominations lists and wanted to read it for consideration as I compile my own list. Given Stross’ ability to channel Lovecraft so well, it is a strong contender for a nomination. This is fun, funny and chock-full of the rich horror atmosphere that has helped the stories of H.P. Lovecraft remain popular to this day.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: A deeper look at a new work of short fiction by Hugo, Nebula, Locus and World Fantasy award winning author Ken Liu. This story is featured in Clarkesworld Issue 88, January 2014.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A bounty hunter who has successfully nabbed her quarry inadvertently learns more about him during their journey through hyperspace as she kills time with a text-based computer game of his creation.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Clever execution of the story-within-a-story device; unconventional story structure fuels the fires of discovery; enjoyable blend of science fiction and fantasy devices.
CONS: Readers may be left with the desire for further resolution between Alex and Ryder.
BOTTOM LINE: Ken Liu has won several awards for stories that are out-of-the-ordinary and explore complex topics and emotions.  Those talents allow him to excel at telling a more straight-forward story as well, albeit one with signature Ken Liu flourishes.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: The second novel in the Legion of the Damned prequel series brings readers back to the adventures of socialite-turned-solider, Cat Carletto, as her alter ego Andromeda McKee seeks vengeance on the ruler who murdered her family while trying to survive both the assassins set on her death and the hostile forces intent on the Legion’s destruction.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Her success as a Legionairre has earned Andromeda McKee the Imperial Order of Merit. In order to receive it she must leave the battlefield and return to Earth, which is possibly the most dangerous place she could ever find herself. An unanticipated opportunity for vengeance, a surprise reunion, and an assignment against overwhelming odds will teach the woman formally known as Lady Catherine Carletto several things about herself, some of which she may not like.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Builds upon the solid foundation laid down in Andromeda’s Fall; significant character development; intense battle sequences; satisfies the craving for strong military science fiction while building anticipation for the next book in the series.
CONS: Resistance story line is touched on far too briefly; the reaction of one character to a specific choice by the protagonist seems unnaturally absolute and was not supported by enough background information.
BOTTOM LINE: Author William C. Dietz has created a new jumping on point for readers unfamiliar with the long-running Legion of the Damned series that features a multifaceted character who matures over the course of this second novel. The first two novels in this series were released in 2013, giving readers an opportunity to get well and truly immersed in this world and in the journey of Andromeda McKee.

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Short Fiction Friday: My Favorites of 2013

REVIEW SUMMARY: A look back at what I consider the best of the short fiction that I read in 2013.

It has been quite a run. I did not realize how time-consuming and challenging it would be to take on the task of attempting (and sometimes failing) to review works of short fiction each week for 2013 here on SF Signal. I have appreciated the opportunity and the rewards have been rich indeed, as will be apparent in the following post. Many of the stories featured were first published in 2013, though some are not and were simply discovered by me for the first time this year. I have included links to each short story, when they exist, as well as my edited review notes and a notation of where I found each story. All of the stories featured in this annual overview received either a 4.5 or 5 star rating from me at the time of review.

This is a great selection of short stories, novelettes and novellas. In the mix you will find the presence of both established and up-and-coming authors, a great variety of style and subject matter in both science fiction and fantasy, and will see that various selections unintentionally play off of one another for interesting thematic contrast. As a disclaimer I will state that ratings are a matter of personal opinion and thus you may not experience these stories in the way that I did. A shortage of time means that many potentially noteworthy stories were missed and my personal desire to stay current with a handful of short fiction publications means that many other purveyors of short fiction were not featured during this year of reading and reviewing short fiction. So feel free to tell me where you agree or disagree and let me, and all the SF Signal readers, know what short fiction I missed in 2013 and where it can be found.

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Short Fiction Friday: The Future’s So Bright…

Here we are, less than two weeks away from Christmas Day, less than three weeks away from a new year. Gift giving guide posts abound and lists of the best reading and viewing and gaming experiences are popping up all over the interwebs, stirring excitement, touching off friendly debate and adding to everyone’s never-ending list of things to buy (or for those with more self-control, borrow from the library).

Exciting times, truly. I don’t know about you, but I love this time of the year. Though I have yet to look back to fully examine my own 2013 experiences, there are a number of books I am excited about for 2014, including anthologies and short story collections. Given that is it Short Fiction Friday, I thought I would mention a few of these. This is by no means an exhaustive list and I strongly encourage you to share in the comments any additional anthologies or short story collections that you think I, and the rest of the community, should be awaiting with bated breath.

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Short Fiction Friday: New Fiction from Tor.com

REVIEW SUMMARY: Two short tales from Tor.com touched with a seasonal chill.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SUMMARY: A deeper imagining of a familiar heroic tale and a glimpse of psychological interrogation in an alternate, magical-filled Europe make up the latest free fiction offerings on the Tor.com website.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Lyrical prose; storytelling that evokes the mood of Autumn-Winter transition; tight narrative structure.
CONS: I tried folks, I really did…nothing leaps to mind.
BOTTOM LINE: Fantasy with a hint of folklore, when done well, can create a rich sense of history, a texture that makes a story more than the sum of its parts.  Both of the recent selections from Tor.com showcase talented writers mining familiar territory to craft memorable stories.

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Here in the United States it is Black Friday, a day that actually began in the early evening hours of Thanksgiving Day, where, satiated with turkey and the fixins and done with football, the consumerism of Christmas began in earnest.  Drawn by irresistible temptations of deals too good to pass up, people are out all over the place navigating the mine field of the holiday shopping season.

Not me. I’m at home, reading, and thinking of what gift giving means to those of us who are readers.  Over the course of this past year I have been able to present a variety of short stories to the readers of SF Signal, an opportunity that I appreciate as the medium is one I feel very passionate about. A recent Mind Meld approached the idea of anthologies and if they are important and why, which got me to thinking: if I could play editor and put together my own anthology of previously released works, beautifully bound with a stunning cover, what stories would I pick.  Keeping in mind that the gift giving season is upon us, I would want to put together an anthology with stories that I want people to read, be they classic, modern or a mix of the two.

And of course the curious side of me wonders just what the Table of Contents would be if you were able to create such an anthology as a Christmas gift for the readers in your life.  And so today, instead of reviewing short fiction, let us simply talk about short fiction.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: This week’s Short Fiction Friday features a review of the December 2013 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SUMMARY: Aliens visiting Earth, teenage rivalry, lingerie sales, frightening creatures on other worlds, frog deformities, discrimination…a wide variety of subject matter and style exists in 2013′s final issue.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Similar themes are examined in dissimilar fashion in a couple of the stories, offering much to provoke thought/discussion; one short selection showcases sfnal humor done well; the cover story provides the opportunity for Western readers to experience science fiction from a different culture; nonfiction offerings are engaging.
CONS: One novelette and one short story are slow-moving and overly long for the story being told, diminishing their effectiveness.
BOTTOM LINE: Science fiction comes in many forms, as this selection of stories proves. The trope of aliens visiting Earth is examined in two very different stories, one humorous and one quite serious and the theme of intra-species discrimination is also present in two of the stories and while they couldn’t be more different in tone, both offer interesting commentary on existing problems. Overall the December issue is a fine way to end the year. Two great stories, a few good and two that ultimately do not deliver opened by the kind of passionate editorial one expects from Sheila Williams and the educational article written by Robert Silverberg make this one worth picking up.

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Short Fiction Friday: Lightspeed Issue 42, November 2013

REVIEW SUMMARY: This week’s Short Fiction Friday looks at the Original Short Science Fiction and Fantasy offerings in the latest issue of Lightspeed. The November issue has additional reprint short stories as well as nonfiction and exclusive extras in the ebook addition.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SUMMARY: Four nicely-paced original works of short genre fiction that offer ideas sure to stir the imagination.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Strong science fictional aspects, even in the original fantasy selections; wide variety in style and subject matter; solid nod to two classic science fiction authors; offerings demonstrate that short story writers haven’t forgotten that stories can be fun.
CONS: Purists might feel the two original works of fantasy contain too many science fictional leanings.
BOTTOM LINE: The original fiction presented in the November issue of Lightspeed showcases the variety in subject matter and style that makes engaging in short fiction so pleasurable.  Not every story will work for every reader but the stories chosen demonstrate a proficiency with the medium that allows the ideas, and in some cases the characters, to shine through.

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Short Fiction Friday: Recent Selections from Tor.com

REVIEW SUMMARY: To welcome November, Short Fiction Friday focuses on two of the latest free fiction selections from Tor.com.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SUMMARY: The two stories reviewed this week focus on two different stages in the lives of young girls, one that examines disappointment and regret over birthday wishes not granted and the other looks at an adolescent girl whose coming-of-age changes are reflected in a series of strange and unsettling events at her house by the sea.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Tight, solid prose; well-written female protagonists; seasonal sentiments are present in both stories with one having a nicely wicked thread of humor.
CONS: None for me folks, I liked these both very much.
BOTTOM LINE: These two October 2013 offerings from Tor.com provide two different emotional experiences for the reader: one is mysterious and creepy and has some nice depth to sink one’s teeth into in regards to discussion points, the other is wry and a bit twisted but also very sweet without resorting to saccharine sentiment.  The characters are easy to relate to and the prose is skillfully wrought.  Don’t miss these.

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