(spoilage factor: about the same as a heaping spoonful of stuffing taken out of an undercooked Christmas turkey)
So far, things have been going well with the Challenge. Starting out with the Fall 2008 issue of On Spec as my primary reading material was a good way to rack-up a bunch of short stories quickly.
Fall 2008 (which I received in the mail in December) was On Spec's special Youth theme. The editors focussed entirely on getting stories from young authors in two categories: ages 15-18 and 19-23. For some, the lack of maturity, learning and experience was evident. Others, however displayed some fine talent and will be a treat for fans of good SF to read if they keep up with their writing. Here are the highlights:
"Too Long to Forgive" by Brittany McCartney
This could have been an interesting development on the Merlin legend, if not for the fact that it was far too deliberately vague, to the point where I didn't much care about what happened by the end.
"Lifeshop" by Susannah Ripley
Not a bad little description of the location for a possible turnaround after death, just not much of a story to it.
"A Cat Named Wellington" by Seanah Roper
Not a bad story. The Beatles' "Elinor Rigby" kept running through my head as I was reading it.
"Mad Science" by S. R. Kriger
Disturbing yet cute. Kriger has the makings of a good, solid writer.
"'No Entry' Signs and Other Cosmic Mysteries" by Stephanie Gray
Now this was a cracking good yarn. A typical young person in an uninteresting job pushes the boundaries in a banal kind of way and winds up, briefly, in a tunnel (feelings of the old "Zork" text-only computer game here) which she follows into a horrific scene, and upon escaping comes across an old guy at a coffee shop who shares some secrets of the universe. The importance of the "no entry" signs reminded me of the explanation for roadside attractions in Gaiman's "American Gods". Loved the little details in this story - having Odin wearing a Zepplin T-shirt was awesome - from that point on I had Robert Plant wailing "The Immigrant Song" in my head as I read the story. Gray's got some real talent.
"The Finale" by Yuri Fabrikantov
A solid, melancholy story.
"Blank" by Leah MacLean-Evans
Not really an SF story. Not an especially wowing piece of writing either.
"Paddywhackers Come Home" by Don Norum
Another good one. Not great, mind you, but a good story about an encounter with the other side.
"With Love" by Ashlin McCartney
This one read more like an installment from the middle of a novel the author's been working on, rather than a short story. Didn't feel terribly original either.
"Emily's House" by Andrew Campana
This one didn't feel terribly original either - I've come across a few stories over the years about kids in their creepy houses. That being said, this story was well done, especially in giving the sense that the girl in question was more-or-less at home in the place without herself being creepy. I'd look forward to reading more from Campana as he developes his talent.
"Charlotte's Eyes" by Priscilla McGreer
Another good, solid story worthy of this collection. McGreer knows how to write believable characters.
"Burning Feathers" by B. L. Trogen
Not bad. Not good. Kind of meh. The whole robot rights in court thing has been done before - a lot - and this twist on it wasn't especially gripping.
Now that this issue of On Spec out of the way, I've slowed down a bit. I'm currently focussing most of my attention on reading Neil Gaiman's "American Gods", but I'm adding to the short story tally every now and again by keeping a back-issue of On Spec - the Fall 2003 edition - on hand for when I go out for something like a haircut where I know I'll be waiting a little while and can get a short story or two under my belt. I'd missed Fall 2003 when it initially came out (I was buying off the shelf at the bookstore - which stocked the mag pretty irregularly - at the time, whereas now I have a subscription) but I was lucky enough to find it in the back-issues pile at the On Spec table in the Dealers' Room at VCon a couple of years ago. Having this in the back of the car to pick up now and then when I'm out and about will be a good way of making sure I don't fall behind.
Stay tuned for more updates.