Review: Tyche’s World by Stephen L. Antczak

April 29th, 2011

Reviewed by Stephen Cashmore
This story has an interesting premise – namely, suppose “luck” is something that could be created at a quantum level? Would it not therefore be possible to create good luck by conscious thought? On the assumption that a quantum field wasn’t already in place, wouldn’t it be possible to create one? The protagonist, a hard-headed scientist on Tyche, thinks the whole idea is nonsense, and sets out to disprove it. Does he succeed? That’s for me to know, having read the story, and you to find out.

The writing is reasonably solid – one or two phrases are a little odd, but nothing to get excited about. The dialogue flows well and feels real. I think my main issue with Tyche’s World is that it should either be longer, or it should drop some of the detail. For example, it tries to go into detail about each of the three main characters, and there simply isn’t room for that, so it comes across as slightly superficial. Ditto with the “science” and environment of Tyche. Contrary-wise, the build up to the experiment described in the story is put over in a couple of paragraphs, when it is clearly a key factor to the whole thing. The personal conflict between the characters, which leads to a pretty fundamental break-up, is not explored in much detail either. As a consequence of all these factors, the story relies heavily on its “big idea” – the characters and environment are vehicles for conveying the big idea, rather than being integral to it. Very much like sf used to be.

So if you’re looking for an sf story with a slightly 50’s or 60’s feel to it, Tyche’s World will fit the bill. If you’re looking for a more modern take, with a bit more depth and exploration of character to it, then it probably won’t.

Review: The Other Side of Silence by Ruth Nestvold

April 28th, 2011

reviewed by Stephen Cashmore
I quite liked this story. It’s set in a fairly bleak future, and Nestvold’s description of the use of armoured cars, houses with baby-sitting functions, the power of corrupt corporations and extinct animals all, it seems to me, hit the nail on the head.

The Other Side of Silence weaves two stories together – the turmoil of Judith who thinks, rightly or wrongly, that her husband Vance is cheating on her, and the business of manufacturing life, usually for pets or for show. Usually. That’s a cryptic remark that I can’t explain any further without giving away too much of the plot, so you’ll just have to read the story to find out how the two parts of it interconnect.

The writing is pretty good. I especially like the descriptions of how the train of events impacts on Judith. The dialogue is realistic, even that of the children. By and large the sequence of events is plausible too, though at one point Vance takes Judith somewhere in a car and to be honest I can’t see that it achieved very much. The end of the story is quite clever although I did wonder how Judith found the time to do what she did, and… there was something else which I thought a little unlikely.

But I’m a reviewer looking out for things to moan about. I doubt a casual reader would notice many of these things, and overall, I think this story would sit quite well in an anthology that was looking for sf with a distinctly human element.

Review: “Eschersketch” by Stephen L. Antczak and James C. Basset

April 26th, 2011

Reviewed by Ziv Wities
Stephen L. Antczak and James C Bassett’s “Eschersketch” has a brilliant premise and a lot of problems. The premise is this: protagonist Evan is in charge of a fabrication machine, which can make physical reproductions of most anything imaginable. Aiming both to test the machine to its limit and to impress co-worker Janey, Evan tests the machine by having it recreate the impossible realities of M.C. Escher – building up to a life-sized version of Escher’s Relativity.

I love this concept – it’s a perfectly plausible use of SF-nal technology, yet the moment Evan starts toying with Escher’s designs, the unspoken promise is loud and clear: Evan is going to make the impossible real. The anticipation is tremendous; the reader won’t rest until he sees the result.

But the rest of the story, alas, does a poor job of supporting this enthusiasm. Much of the story’s attention is devoted to Evan’s social awkwardness and to his infatuation with his co-worker; Evan is presented as an utterly pathetic individual, disliked by all – and justly so. I’m sure this was, to a large extent, the authors’ intention, but lacking any redeeming features, Evan’s resentful internal monologues becomes simply tiresome to wade through. It certainly doesn’t encourage me to feel invested in his romantic feelings towards Janey:

He decided that he desperately needed to get rich like Roberto. Then he could have the life his boss had, with the ThinkSmart and the hot young trophy wife — maybe even a passionate affair on the side with a woman like Janey. Just like Roberto.

Actually, that was unfair — Evan had no proof other than his own jealousy that there was anything going on between Janey and Roberto.

Yeah, there’s the start of a nice, healthy relationship. Evan clearly isn’t meant to come across as a particularly nice guy, but somehow his obsessive fascination with Janey seems intended to sustain and propel forward a 50-page story. Making matters worse, we get a few jaunts into Janey’s point of view, which portray her to be every bit as superficial as Evan’s interest in her – she doesn’t seem to have any life or interests beyond assessing the sexual and romantic potential of the story’s various cast members.

A poor romance/drama arc might have been only a minor ding against the story; unfortunately, “Eschersketch” plays more to its weaknesses than to its strengths. There are long swathes of the story where Evan’s pestering of Janey is the only thing going on; these may stretch the sense of anticipation beyond the point of genuine interest. Most disappointing is the ultimate payoff – when Evan does step into the much-awaited Escher-world, the result is an absurd and arbitrary conclusion which comes out of nowhere and gives little in the way of satisfaction.

In fairness, I think what Antczak and Bassett were attempting was less an SF yarn about intriguing applications of fantastic technology, and more of a classic horror structure: the Escher-world as a dark fate that lurks ominously in the wings until the big reveal. If I’d enjoyed the character arc more, this structure might have worked – it certainly does have that sense of ever-present dread, and something momentous about to happen, and when will he go in there already… that typifies that type of story. And I won’t reveal the ending, but I will say it would certainly fit the structure. Nonetheless, I can’t quite buy this as a horror story, simply because for so much of the story, there’s no actual sense of threat – quite the opposite, many details are provided that make the attempt seem perfectly safe and unlikely to produce anything remarkable. And again, a horror story relies on a measure of sympathy with the protagonist; for me, at least, “Eschersketch” didn’t have that.

It’s clever; it’s fresh; it draws the reader in right from the start. Alas, it doesn’t carry him through to the finish.

Featured Anthology: Through the Rosebush

April 25th, 2011

$12.95

Through the Rosebush: stories by Heather Kuehl
I started publishing short stories in 2007. It wasn’t until 2010 when “Promises to Keep” was being published that I realized that these short stories created an entire fantasy world. I had learned about this world bit by bit, creating fantastical characters in amazing situations.

In our modern world, there is a rosebush behind a historical house in Charleston, South Carolina. That bush is a portal in to Verella; a fantasy realm filled with dragons and magic.

Please, step through that rosebush and see what Verella has to offer. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

–Heather Kuehl

Review: “Barking” by Tracie McBride

April 21st, 2011

Reviewed by Stephen Cashmore
I’m afraid to say that I didn’t really take to this story. Why not? Well, the main reasons are that it isn’t telling me anything really new, despite its obvious efforts to shock; and the style in which it is told (“this isn’t me telling a story, it’s me talking to a psychiatrist”) is these days a little tired.

Barking tells the tale of a man whose chat-up line is that he’d been regressed by a psychiatrist, and it had come out that he had been a dog in a previous life. A fierce dog. He’d told the story so often that “he’d almost come to believe it”… and I expect that brief description together with the title gives you enough of a clue that you can guess the direction in which the story goes. It contains no direct speech. Events are described by “this happened… and then this happened…” and so on. In my opinion the overall structure is far too simplistic and the underlying plot far too obvious and – in this day and age – simply not shocking enough. Further, the story presents no real explanation of what is happening.

Maybe I’m being unkind, but I have a feeling that McBride is capable of much better stories than this. So, even if you are putting together a horror anthology, I don’t think I would recommend that you include Barking.

More Options for Authors and Artists

April 21st, 2011

In order to facilitate this summer’s promotional activities, I’ve created an opt-in form for artists who’d like to make their artwork available for use as promotional badges and flyers. Artists will receive a 50 cent royalty each time someone uses their artwork for promotional material.

The same form allows authors to opt in to our experimental electronic distribution program. We’re going to start small, with no DRM, and downloads only available in PDF format. (i.e. Don’t opt in if you’re concerned about electronic piracy.)

I’m really not sure how extensively we’re going to move into the e-market at this point, or whether kindle, nook, and epub anthologies will ever become a reality. But I’m going to get my feet wet and see what happens from there.

Promotional Buttons

April 20th, 2011

Because people have been asking…

Yes, I’m willing to print promotional badges for authors to take to conventions this summer. If you’re in the continental US, I can get you 100 1.5-inch buttons for $55 (shipping included). If you’re outside that region, it will cost a bit more.

The last time we did promotional badges, several of AnthologyBuilder’s artists graciously allowed free use of their cover art. If you’d like a particular cover image featured on your badge, I’ll see if I can arrange permission to use it. If you’d like to use an image of your own or something from the public domain, that can be arranged, too.

You can place an order by emailing nancy@anthologybuilder.com.

[Edited to add: I should mention that discounts are available for bulk orders. Also, if you received free buttons for the Great Convention Scavenger Hunt and would like to use the same design, I can knock $15 off the price. (Because then I don't have to spend any effort on layout.)]

White Shadow, Brother Sleep, and Making up with Betty Crocker

April 20th, 2011

We’ve got new fiction by Larry Hodges, James Fox, Tim McDaniel, R. S. Pyne, Marie Brennan and Jacinta Butterworth.

I particularly liked Jacinta Butterworth’s Making up with Betty Crocker. It’s a mainstream literary story about a woman at the brink of a major priority shift. It’s… I dunno. It made me feel sad and hopeful at the same time, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it afterward.

Other stories of note include White Shadow by Marie Brennan and Brother Sleep by Tim McDaniel.

Featured Anthology

April 18th, 2011

$12.95

Tales Retold
I love retold fairy tales. Love them with a passion, ever since I first read Robin McKinley’s BEAUTY. Later, Tanith Lee’s RED AS BLOOD was a huge influence, as well as the Fairy Tale novel series edited by Terri Windling. I started rewriting fairy tales back then, too, but it wasn’t until I was well into adulthood that I actually finished one and felt semi-satisfied with it. That’s the first story in this anthology–which is first only because I knew where to find it!

The second story, by Elizabeth Counihan, I have been looking forward to reading for three years, ever since I met Liz at the Milford writing workshop in Wales. The rest of the stories I picked from the Anthology Builder database because I have come to know the authors’ styles from reading their other fine works. I am eager to read them all!

–Merrie Haskell

Review: The Hotel Astarte by M.K. Hobson

April 15th, 2011

Reviewed by Ziv Wities
In “The Hotel Astarte,” M.K. Hobson manages to pull off something often attempted and often unsuccessful: “The Hotel Astarte” is a beautiful example of crafting modern-day mythology. Clearly and simply, Hobson populates her story with mythical characters: the King and Queen of the Midwest, living in a farmhouse, wearing workboots; the warlock Licorice, who brings the taste of the temptations of the metropolitan East; and the Prince, who’s got a little bit of both. These characters are larger than life, yet vivid and intense, setting in motion a story of deep human emotion.

The key to pulling off mythology is finding resonance, the details and the atmosphere that get readers to nod along thinking, “yes, yes, I’ve never come across any of this before, but this all fits together perfectly, just as it should.” Hobson has certainly accomplished this in this piece.

I’d most particularly recommend this story to fans of Neil Gaiman’s writing, especially his shorter pieces, which are usually all about describing one compelling, resonant idea. Hobson’s strengths are very similar – and the subject matter will certainly strike a chord with fans of Gaiman’s Sandman and American Gods. I found this story to be less outlandish than most of Gaiman’s creations, but also better structured, more solid, and more satisfying.