Figure 1 – WOF 40 Cover ‘Starcatcher’ ©2024 by Dan dos Santos

Over forty years ago, I went to several people in the SF group I founded in Moscow, Idaho (“PESFA,” the Palouse Empire SF Association), and said “Are you serious about wanting to be a writer? I’m starting a writers’ group.” Among those who responded positively were Nina Kiriki Hoffman, V.E. (“Vicki”) Mitchell, Jon Gustafson, and Dean Wesley Smith, along with Lori Ann White and a few others (Amy Thomson soon joined the crowd); and “Writers’ Bloc” was born. Our little group produced such a high percentage of WoF winners and professional writers that none other than Algis Budrys (“AJ,” we called him) nicknamed us the “Moscow Moffia.” He became a regular at our annual local convention, MosCon. (We called him the Lithuanian Songbird; he had a beautiful singing voice.)

Coincidentally, a year or so later, the best-selling “pulp” writer Lafayette Ronald Hubbard—who was better known as L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Dianetics and Scientology—decided to “pay it forward” to celebrate his success as a writer with a writing contest. So several of the group (me included) decided to enter the contest, which promised cash prizes and publication!

Figure 2 – Writers of the Future Vol.1

Surprise! The very first prize winner of the Writers of the Future Contest was our very own Dean Wesley Smith, along with Nina Kiriki Hoffman (the rest of us got Honorable Mention certificates (mine’s still on my wall), and Jon got publication in the very first volume (Figure 2) of the book. Whoo! (Click on the above link for more information about the book.) They were feted at a party at Norwescon in Seattle, along with the other winners, including Robert Reed; I got my copy of the book signed by many of the winners. Alas, my copy of the book got waterlogged in a flood in our basement some years later and no longer exists. But the winners went on to major success in writing—Dean is now the author and/or editor of over 800 books (including major movie tie-ins); Nina won the Stoker award with her very first book, and so on. Most of the winners over the years, including Dean and Nina, as well as Robert J. Sawyer, Nnedi Okorafor, Robert Reed and many more have gone on to be judges and major writers in genre and other fields. Hubbard himself may be a controversial figure, but in my opinion, the best thing he did in his life was to found the Writers and Illustrators of the Future! (I have to confess I liked a bunch of his pulp writing, but I investigated Scientology in high school and wasn’t impressed.) Regardless of Hubbard’s non-science-fiction activities, this is a worthwhile venture.

About five years later the Illustrators of the Future began—again, sponsored by Hubbard, with some of my artist friends (like Alex Schomburg and Frank Kelly Freas) as well as other giants of the field, like Frank Frazetta, as judges; and although—it’s a crying shame—the illustrator winners are not as well known as the writer winners, those winners are, as is the custom, illustrating the stories in this volume. I will mention the illustrators of the stories as well as the authors in this review.

And now it’s forty years later and in the intervening years some of those winners have become judges (as well as writing and art successes); so here’s the 40th volume (Figure 1) of the book.

The book comprises twelve winners’ stories, fifteen colour illustrations, and several non-fiction pieces; three other stories are not contest entries; in fact, one’s by Hubbard himself with L. Sprague de Camp. There are also essays on writing and illustration by Gregory Benford, Bob Eggleton, L. Ron Hubbard and Dean Wesley Smith. (Some of my links are, unhappily, to Wikipedia entries, as some of the authors’ own pages have disappeared, just FYI.) The book itself is edited by Jody Lynn Nye, and the illustrations are art directed by Echo Chernik. The review copy I got is a massive paperback, 5.5”x8.5”, with about 490 pages. I don’t know the price, but this book will definitely be worth it! It will be available May 7 at your favourite bookstore, or on Amazon.

0Figure 3 – The Edge of Where My Light Is Cast ©2024 by Carina ZhangThe actual contents are:

  • “Introduction,” by Jody Lynn Nye
  • “The Illustrators of the Future Contest,” by Echo Chernik
  • “The Edge of Where My Light Is Cast,” by Sky McKinnon
  • “Son, Spirit, Snake,” by Jack Nash
  • “Nonzero,” by Tom Vandermolen
  • “On Writing and Science Fiction,” by L. Ron Hubbard
  • “The Last Drop,” by L. Ron Hubbard and L. Sprague de Camp
  • “The Imagalisk,” by Galen Westlake
  • “Life and Death and Love in the Bayou,” by Stephannie Tallent
  • “”Five Days Until Sunset,” by Lance Robinson
  • “Forty Years of Writers of the Future,” by Gregory Benford
  • “It Seemed Like Just Yesterday,” by Dean Wesley Smith
  • “Shaman Dreams,” by S.M. Stirling, inspired by Dan dos Santos’s “Starcatcher”)
  • “The Wall Isn’t a Circle,” by Rosalyn Robilliard
  • “Da-ko-ta,” by Amir Agoora
  • “Squiddy,” by John Eric Schleicher
  • “L. Ron Hubbard’s Illustrators of the Future at Thirty-Five!,” by Bob Eggleton
  • “Halo,” by Nancy Kress
  • “Ashes to Ashes, Blood to Carbonfiber,” by James Davies
  • “Summer of Thirty Years,” by Lisa Silverthorne
  • “Butter Side Down,” by Kal M
  • “The Year in the Contests
  • “Writers’ Contest Rules
  • “Illustrators’ Contest Rules
  • “Get Exclusive Content
  • “Become the Next Writer of the Future

The list of colour illustrations (I’m referring here to the print issue) near the beginning of the book is as follows:

  • “The Edge of Where My Light Is Cast,” by Carina Zhang
  • “Son, Spirit, Snake,” by “Pedro N.” (Pedro Nascimento)
  • “Nonzero,” by Jennifer Mellen
  • “The Last Drop,” by Chris Arias
  • “The Imagalisk,” by Arthur Haywood
  • “Life and Death and Love in the Bayou,” by Ashley Cassaday
  • “Five Days Until Sunset,” by Steven Bentley
  • “Starcatcher,” by Dan dos Santos (also the book’s cover)
  • “The Wall Isn’t a Circle,” by Guelly Rivera
  • “Da-ko-ta,” by Connor Chamberlain
  • “Squiddy,” by Tyler Vail
  • “Halo,” by Lucas Durham
  • ”Ashes to Ashes, Blood to Carbonfiber,” by May Zheng
  • ”Summer of Thirty Years,” by Gigi Hooper
  • ”Butter Side Down,” by Selina Meraki

As well as grayscale versions of each illustration with each story.

If you’re anything like me, you will be torn between the desire to devour the whole anthology in one sitting, which is possible—and the desire to read one or two and then think about what you just read and savour it. Forrest Gump might have said that “box of choc’lits” thing about this anthology, as each one is different, yet all appear to have been written by professional writers, as I didn’t find one amateurishly written clunker in the book. (Okay, if you want my honest opinion, the Hubbard/de Camp story was very much of its time. Maybe not so great these days, especially when compared to a couple of the gems in here, though I have always been a giant fan of Sprague, as he told me to call him on the one occasion I spent time with him.) Same goes for the illustrations. Because the book is not yet released (May 4), I’m unable to show any of the illustrations.

About half the stories are science fiction, the rest are various sorts of fantasy, although Stirling’s “Starcatcher,” which is set in the Paleolithic Age, is a bit of both. There are no “faeries” here; most of the fantasy is firmly grounded in varied cultural practices and morés involving Earth spirites, etc. The different descriptions allow for a greater depth than any number of stories using familiar fantasy tropes, I’d say. The various nonfiction articles are invaluable to any would-be entrant in the two contests; I only regret that my own professional sales in both writing and art prevent me from entering again, as I’m envious of anyone who will have the exciting chance of winning even a minor prize in these contests!

Every story is prefaced with an introduction to both the author and the artist. Although these people may be amateur by definition (face it, the word “amateur” means literally “lover of”), each one seems to have spent years learning to be a writer or an artist, and therefore in my opinion each one is at least a “semi-pro.” The stories and illustrations are professional quality; I’ve seen much worse published elsewhere by acknowledged pros.

On to the stories (I won’t attempt to critique the art in this review. I’m mainly a book and film reviewer). I can’t possibly—without making this entirely TLDR—critique them all, so I’ll do a representative sample. What I will say is that I don’t think that you—wherever you start in this book—will be disappointed.

“The Edge of Where My Light Is Cast,” by Sky McKinnon involves a dying woman and her artificial cat.”A.I.” is such a trigger phrase these days, but a true A.I. (as opposed to the “smart” programs we’re seeing lately) might be able to learn how to overcome its programming while maintaining the spirit of it. An unbound A.I. won’t necessarily be smarter than or hostile to humanity; rather guided by the lessons learned while programmed.

“Son, Spirit, Snake,” by Jack Nash, appears to be set in Africa (some place where French is or was used a lot) and concerns a village named Deng Deng where the inhabitants have forgotten their usual connection to the spirits of the animals and the forest, and have turned to the grubbing of gold. But is praying to spirits any more effective than praying to gods? A well-thought-out fantasy.

No spirits in Tom Vandermolen’s “Nonzero,” except possibly the A.I. in the protagonist’s suit. There’s a lot unexplained in this story: aliens invaded? Suit with no emergency air supply? I don’t want to say more (in a way, it’s a tiny bit similar to Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations,” but in many ways entirely dissimilar; that’s just what came to mind while reading it). Is it a sad story? You’ll have to decide that for yourself.

“The Imagalisk,” by Galen Westlake, is another fantasy without elves or fairies, that owes nothing to Tolkien or Brooks. Westlake puts us in the mind of a man who is being—as they say—“warehoused” in a care home. Fortunately for him, as the past becomes clear again, he can rely on his old Ifs to help him and maybe the other “inmates” (excuse me, “old dears”). What’s an IF? Dunno, I never had one, did you?

“The Wall Isn’t a Circle,” by Rosalyn Robilliard, posits a near-future world where a company has been able to VR-connect everyone to anyone in the entire world that has ever lived before 1945 or so. In my opinion, this would require more computing power than will be available in my lifetime. She never really says if it’s really mental time travel, or incredibly vivid simulation, but I find both to be rather unlikely. Regardless of my own skepticism, it’s an involving story, and worth reading.

In “Ashes to Ashes, Blood to Carbonfiber” by James Davies, the colonists on planet K2-18b (“Kaybee”) live in a world of sand and salt and it’s all Rickard’s fault. That, and the fact that the Billionths own everything that’s left, including the people. Anything anyone needs can be replicated, but the price is in blood and bone. What will Rickard pay for redemption?

“Da-ko-ta,” by Amir Agoora, is about a young Native American taken from a Residential School by President Teddy Roosevelt as a sponsor—and also so Teddy (the “Great White Hunter”) could hunt the Wendigo. “Dakota” means “friend” in Sioux, Teddy says to the 13-year-old, who harbours an evil spirit called The Tarnished, and who has sworn on the dead souls of his tribe to kill the Great Chief of the Whites. A bold exploration of America’s past.

And lest you think I’m too effusive in my praise, I can say that one story didn’t seem to integrate the character as well as the others; one story was perhaps too predictable—which didn’t stop the ending from being satisfying! And a good copyeditor might have pointed out at least three places where “lay” was used when “lie” was appropriate—but none of those detracted from the overall impact of this collection for me. After all, these reviews are subjective, and your impression might be different from mine.

Again, to keep this from being Too Long, Didn’t Read, I won’t attempt to talk about every story in the book. I hope the few I mentioned sound interesting enough to make you want to acquire a copy of this book.

Don’t forget that, wherever underlined, the names in this column are linked to the authors’ and artists’ own pages. Please click on them and explore! If they’re not linked, you can still Google the names (or use DuckDuckGo or any other search engine/browser).

I’m still hoping for your comments. You can comment here or on Facebook, or even by email (stevefah at hotmail dot com). Any and all comments are welcome, as long as you keep it polite. My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owner, editor, publisher or other columnists. See you next time!

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