"Lonesome Cosmogonist" by Ian Creasey
"Granvort Goes to War" by R.E. Mendel
"Murder in the Shadows of Exile" by Steven Mohan, Jr.
"Many a Knot Unraveled by the Road" by Fraser Sherman
"Reciprocating Wind" by Uncle River
"Ridin’ the De Novo Shinkansen" by A.R. Morlan
Compared to Issue #19, Challenging Destiny #20 was an abysmal failure. I was surprised at the contrast in quality.
"Lonesome Cosmogonist" by Ian Creasey follows the story of a man on the verge of divorce, searching the skies for alien life via SETI, and diddling away his time on Google. Via the simplistic and easygoing style of the prose and eclectic juxtapositions of aliens, God, and marriage, the author transforms a depressed character sitting around a computer and contemplating his life into an entertaining experience that all readers should enjoy. Even though the protagonist is sedentary, the story still moves fairly quickly and manages to be entertaining, defying the typical rules of writing (which suggest your protagonist should be active). The author adds some stylistic originality by throwing in Googlewhack phrases that help the forward action of the plot and triggers the character’s solution to the internal conflict.
"Granvort Goes to War" by R.E. Mendel is another farcical tale following the strange, semi-modern kingdom the author presents in the last issue of Challenging Destiny. Again, I felt like the author was trying too hard to be funny. The quasi-mix of hackneyed fantasy tropes with the absurd is something too many authors attempt and never pull off convincingly. However, unlike its predecessor, this story did have a few moments of chuckles, such as when the two kings deliberate over the crisis of magical beans and when the prince of Thaghtland first makes his appearance. This story might be worth your time for the couple times it manages to be funny.
"Murder in the Shadows of Exile" by Steven Mohan, Jr. creates true "speculative" fiction. The author tells a detective story investigating the murder of an imprisoned dictator. At first, I didn’t like the story. One of the speculative elements, the usage of simulated A.I., tricked me into believing it was going to be another trite, prison A.I. story, but then things changed and turned into something else entirely. In the end, I loved how the murdered dictator’s persona played out and is used to help solve the case. It also provided an intimate picture of the victim, as well as ambiance for the detective to play against. The beginning misleads the reader, but the circuitousness pays off in the long run when everything starts to connect–not to mention I love the skiffy element of a prison of dictators. Like I said before, the ambiance of the piece really shines. It doesn’t surprise me that I liked Mohan’s story from last issue also. He is a talented author, and I think I would like almost anything he wrote.
"Many a Knot Unraveled by the Road" by Fraser Sherman has Apropos, Fate, Jesus, Chess, and so much more. However, the story fails to convince and suffers under a heavy hand, especially the dialogue. It’s not really fair to call this a story, rather it’s a philosophical diatribe hidden under the veneer of story.
"Reciprocating Wind" by Uncle River is not a traditional short story in that it follows a female doctor and her family through their various relocations during and after the American Civil War. This lends itself to a non-conflict-oriented story. It also doesn’t employ a traditional plot, but rather meanders with the descriptions, nuances, and changes the family experiences with each new location. Although I commiserate with the author’s "original" attempt at writing an original story, the lack of a compelling conflict or plot cannot be ignored. Not every tale needs a conflict; not every story needs people with machine guns vaulting out of elevators. But I never cared what happened in "Reciprocating Wind," and that’s the ultimate sin. Not to mention the "hick" voice utilized irritates rather than envelops.
"Ridin’ the De Novo Shinkansen" by A.R. Morlan is another story that attempts to be funny and fails. In a nutshell, it’s about futuristic skateboarding/snowboarding. The beginning tries too hard to shove a simulated comedy down the reader’s throat, and for this reason never grips the way a good story should.
It should be apparent why I said at the beginning of this review that this issue is a huge disappointment compared to Challenging Destiny #19. Hopefully, the editor will turn this trend around for issue #21 because Challenging Destiny—from the few good stories in this issue and the stories from the last—proves it has the potential to compete with the big magazines.