"The Mindexciser” by Asgrímur Hartmannsson, posted 7/5/05
"Report to the Cosmic Fellowship" by Kevin James Miller posted 6/28/05
“Straight Time” by Harrison Howe posted 6/21/05
ScienceFictionFantasyHorror.com (SFFH) seems slapped together, which is a shame, because the editor does put some effort into the site. It seems like there is an attempt to do "too much." Unfortunately, good intentions are not all one can rely on when delivering quality fiction, and even greater effort and attention to detail on the part of the editor will be required before I am interested in visiting the website again. I feel that posting fewer stories of higher caliber is more important than posting high quantities of stories of questionable quality, and the site editor would do well to more closely scrutinize the submissions.
“The Mindexciser” by Asgrímur Hartmannsson is a perfect example of the muddled fiction found at SFFH. I began reading with an open mind, as I greatly enjoy good science fiction, but I was swiftly disappointed. The author doesn’t even make it past the first paragraph before he begins committing amateurish errors in narration, flow of language, cliché overuse, and sadly, simple spelling and grammar errors. I struggled gamely on, hoping for a plot, or a cohesive tone to emerge. The author attempts to use humor and dark, disjointed visions (as in the movie Twelve Monkeys), to frame his story, but none of the elements seem to work well together. The entire effort was executed with so many simple errors that I was unable to believe this made it past the editor. Even if I could look past the spelling and grammar problems, I’m afraid the complete lack of “flow,” and the utter lack of a cohesive tone or effect would continue to render the story unreadable. For their fiction to be pleasurable to read, a short fiction author needs to write purposefully. The plot, characters, setting, narration, and tone should all contribute to a “single effect.” There simply isn’t enough time to meander across the pages incomprehensibly. Short stories require words to be chosen frugally, and used wisely. (I never intend to discourage an author with a review, but rather to offer areas for improvement for the author and a guide about what to expect for a reader.) In this case, the editor also has plenty of opportunity to improve, since the story would never have been posted in this condition if it had been actively edited. Most editors don’t have time to train a writer to write, but at the very minimum, I think this editor should have cleaned basic unintended spelling and grammar errors from the submission before posting it, or should have sent the flawed submission back to the author with a few suggestions for improvement.
While the next story, "Report to the Cosmic Fellowship" by Kevin James Miller was more sophisticated than “The Mindexciser,” it was also riddled with typos. “Report…” is a not-so-thinly disguised jab at President George W. Bush’s disaster in Iraq, with a few added pokes at puritanical fundamentalists. While Miller does stick with a theme, uses sarcastic humor fairly effectively, and wraps up with a cute punch-line, I felt he could have dug a little deeper to polish the story. The story feels like it was dashed off and submitted, and the author would have done well to send it through a round of peer-review and editing before submitting it for publication.
After the pair of flawed stories, I was wondering if I should abort reviewing the site altogether, but Harrison Howe kept me from leaving with his fair story “Straight Time.” The tale takes place in a future (but not too distant) world where virtual reality scenarios are used to test and rehabilitate inmates of prison. The premise is a good one, and the execution on the idea was even better. Howe disturbed me with descriptions of the urges that serial killer Manny Liston felt when he interacted with women. “The teller at the drive-thru window at the bank had long golden hair that he could run his hands through, twist his fingers in, pull til she—.“ The researchers and technicians who worked on Manny seemed realistic, like people with a real investment in the project and not mere window dressing for the story. Manny himself seemed drawn much more effectively than the “typical” serial killer. “The sound of those steel cages being drawn over storefronts was the only sane sound he could find, walking the streets as the stores closed and it was like a symphony, something he could understand, hold on to. The urge to call out his name in answer to some unheard roll call made him bite at his tongue.” Howe’s tone is consistent and chilling, his setting and dialogue is solid, and the story leaves the reader with a bit of thought-provoking grist to chew on once the story is finished. I was very pleased to discover that SFFH was not fully populated with unreadable stories.
I felt that three SFFH stories was enough reviewing to convince me to spend my time reading science fiction from Asimov’s or Analog rather than from SFFH. Wading through less-than-stellar writing in order to find the intermittent solid story is a frustrating way to spend one’s time. I hope the editor makes improvements to the site and to story selection and editing so that SFFH can better serve the science fiction reading community.