Yes, you can judge a book by its cover. Writers of the Future Volume XXIX features a breathtaking cover by Stephen Youll titled “Retro City.” Take a good look. There’s a little bit of Flash Gordon and old fashioned pulp. The adventurer poised on some futuristic/retro rooftop is holding a ray gun and sporting an aviation helmet. The jetpack on his back says it all. Now look at the detail of the cityscape. I want to be there, and so do you!
Such magnificent covers are not unusual for the Writers of the Future, now entering its 30th year. Previous artists such as Frank Frazetta have offered eye-splitting covers for several of these anthologies. Best of all, this contest works in tandem with the Illustrators of the Future contest and the stories are illustrated with work by the winning contestants. The winners for this 29th volume are John Eno, Joshua Meehan, Luis Menacho, Olivia Xu, Daniel Reneau, Jackie Albano, Aldo Katayanagi, Sida Chen, Karsen Slater, James J. Eads, Lucas Durham and Tiffany England. All of their wonderful illustrations had another depth of quality to this book.
As expected, the stories are all top-flight entertainments. “War Hero” by Brian Trent kicks the anthology into high gear with this outstanding tale about vengeance and warfare. A few slight-of-hand plot twists and really solid writing make “War Hero” a splendid piece of science fiction writing. Next up is “Planetary Scouts” by Stephen Sottong, a hard-hitting sci-fi tale that had me mesmerized from the first paragraph. Two scouts are sent to distant planets to report on the possibility of discovering intelligent life, and quite often surviving the expeditions can be hair-raising if not fatal. Tina Gower’s “Twelve Seconds” is the third straight science fiction story and equally as good as the others. Except “Twelve Seconds” is also a nifty mystery tale. An autistic man named Howard works at processing memory siphons in order to help solve homicides. But Howard uncovers a series of deaths that require additional investigation.
With three superb stories opening this anthology I wondered if the quality would hold up as I delved deeper. I needn’t have pondered such a foolish thought. The next three tales were equally as mesmerizing. Christopher Reynaga’s “The Grand Complication” turned out to be a favorite; a beautifully written tale where time is out of place and needs to be fixed. “Cop for a Day” by Chrome Oxide is a futuristic story where Mark Rollins is called upon to work a day for Amalgamated Security; and “Gonna Reach Out and Grab Ya” by Eric Cline put me at the halfway mark in this outstanding collection. Cline’s story is a riveting page turner that will change the way you think about autopsies.
That brings us to “Vestigial Girl” by Alex Wilson which puts a unique and fresh spin on childhood. You should read this one slowly, and savor every word. “Holy Days” by Kodiak Julian tackles life and death so brilliantly that I read the story twice. This is another perfect story in what is obviously now a perfect anthology. “The Ghost Wife of Arlington” by Marilyn Guttridge had me intrigued just from the title. The story matches that title perfectly; a love story with a delicious gothic twist and one that you will remember long after setting the book down.
The last four tales round out this 29th volume with acute craftsmanship. “Everything You Have Seen” by Alisa Alering brilliantly offers a discovery of new worlds amidst the destruction of war; “Scavengers” by Shannon Peavey is a remarkable fantasy about deception and truth; “Dreameater” by Andrea Stewart is a chilling gem about a daughter who fears she may be too much like her lethal mother. The final story, “Master Belladino’s Mask” by Marina J. Lostetter, magically explores a healer’s gift in the form of a mask that holds his consciousness. This great tale concludes the 29th volume of Writers of the Future. The journey is worth your time.