edited by David Farland
(Galaxy Press, April 2017, pb, 400 pp.)
“Moonlight One” by Stephen Lawson
Reviewed by Kevin P Hallett
This anthology contains fifteen original stories, including three novelettes and twelve shorts. In addition, there is a reprint of an L. Ron Hubbard short story.
“Moonlight One” by Stephen Lawson
Gwen and Ehrly are a married couple and lunar colonists in this who-dun-it SF novelette. Alone on the moon, they live a pleasant life until one night Gwen wakes up by herself. A search of the habitat finally reveals Ehrly, dead in the rain forest biosphere. After alerting mission control, she calls her ex-boyfriend, Jonas, a writer of detective stories, for help.
Jonas remotely guides Gwen on gathering evidence, looking for clues and carefully eliminating many possibilities. They are in a race against the arrival of an investigation team from mission control, because that team will treat her as the killer.
As Jonas eliminates the more likely possibilities, he is left with a rather unlikely alternative. Finally, with time running out, he asks Gwen to leave the habitat to check this last possibility. Soon it becomes apparent that he has sent her to face the same fate as her husband.
A well-crafted story that worked from the opening until the surprise ending. Laced with both intrigue and danger Lawson’s novelette read quickly.
“The Armor Embrace” by Doug C. Souza
While fighting in his massive mech suit, a soldier and his unit come under attack in this SF short. The armor piercing spiker projectiles assail the unit almost killing the soldier. Badly wounded, the mech suite’s nanobots try to keep him alive as he retreats from the battle.
Uncertain about the extent of his injuries, the soldier stays in the mech suit and rushes home to see his young daughter, Flora. Flora is happy to see him in his suit, but he slowly begins to realize something is wrong with him. Will they both be able to accept the new reality?
This was an intriguing twist on a well explored idea in SF. The prose was engaging and the author did an excellent job in hiding the final twist in the tale’s tail.
“Envoy in the Ice” by Dustin Steinacker
In this SF novelette Sang and Lukas are flying two ambassadors to meet Envoy in the Antarctic. Envoy arrived on Earth over a century before and continues to allow certain invited guests to visit and expand its knowledge about humanity. Today those guests were Jaroslawa from Sweden and Odon of Madagascar.
Envoy allows no electronic surveillance of it and appears as an orb sitting on the snow in the eye of hurricane-force winds. For over a century people have debated the purpose of Envoy, even built religions around its presence. But Envoy remains enigmatic in its purpose.
Sang and Lukas settle their quadopters inside the wall of the hurricane’s eye and, after warning their passengers, send them off to meet Envoy. After some time, Envoy instructs the pilots to leave. But the ambassadors haven’t returned and are nowhere in sight. Never before had any visitors physically entered Envoy or been harmed in any way. After some hesitation, Sang and Lukas decide to disobey Envoy’s directive and walk towards Envoy, uncertain of what they can do. When they discover a miniature recording device in the snow, they realize one of the visitors had broken the unbreakable rules.
Now Envoy will either ignore them, punish them, or welcome them. When a hole appears in the orb, Envoy seems to offer the third and scariest of the options. Has Envoy finally decided to reveal its purpose to humanity?
This was an interesting and engaging story. The mystery of Envoy’s purpose and the pilots’ attempts to do what’s right despite their fears pulled the reader through to the story’s conclusion.
“Tears for Shulna” by Andrew L. Roberts
Roberts’ short fantasy is about William’s love for his father and fulfilling his father’s last wish to join with the selkie he loved as a youth. William’s old sea–beaten father lost his legs to a sea accident and is home drawing his last breaths.
When William remembers some words from the past he decides to use his father’s sea conch to summon Shulna. When she appears, she remembers fondly the old man when he was full of vigor and they were lovers in the sea. Can she fulfill her erstwhile lover’s final wish?
The author successfully created the feeling of a hard sea-life coming to an end and the love of the people around him. The prose was engaging, the story passed quickly and overall it was an enjoyable read.
“The Drake Equation” by C. L. Kagmi
A tiny meteor that is too fast to detect ejects Carol into space in this SF short. With no space suit, she only expects a fast death. So, when she sees a perfect man standing on a beach she must be hallucinating. The man, an alien, explains that he is part of the universal consciousness.
Carol listens as the alien explains the evolution of the universe and how certain civilizations survive long enough to conquer their naturally violent natures. The question posed to Carol is whether humanity is ready to join the collective. Is it ready for immortality with all the responsibilities that entails?
This story explored some interesting ideas about the evolution of civilizations across the universe. This discussion alone was enough to make the tale worth reading. The prose itself was not uplifting and came over as more of a sermon than an engaging dialog.
“Acquisition” by Jake Marley
Barlow is a scavenger of lost souls in this enthralling short fantasy. Blessed with the ability to sense a tormented ghost, he stops along a desert highway to ‘rescue’ a twenty-two-year-old girl. She is unaware that someone murdered her fifteen years ago and that mystic forces bind her to the site of her burial. But her spirit is strong, maybe too strong for Barlow to capture and sell to a collector.
Following her essence back to her burial location he tries to deflect the spirit’s attacks as he steals the body’s left hand to take the metacarpal of her ring finger. He uses this to bind the tumultuous spirit to the bone. This spirit is so strong, he wonders if he can finally accomplish another goal in his life.
Marley’s short story was hard to put down. From the opening the mystery pulled the reader in and the prose had a nice rhythm to it that zipped along until the shadowy end.
“Obsidian Spire” by Molly Elizabeth Atkins
In this short fantasy, a local Lord sends his daughter, Varga, to investigate the possible arrival of a legendary mage. The local villagers at first refuse to even provide a guide to the mage’s obsidian tower. Finally, Fiske, a thin, gangly young man with a fishing spear joins her as a guide.
At first, Varga cannot imagine how Fiske can be any help if there is a fight. But he leads her to the tower where they find the remains of a relic hunters’ camp. Also, they find signs of the massive magical bear that killed them all. That evening the spire gives birth to the magical bear. Determined to make a name for herself, Varga prepares to do battle, warning Fiske to stay safe. Will she be strong enough to kill the bear by herself?
The writing craft was good, but the plot was too predictable to give it a ‘thumbs up’.
“A Glowing Heart” by Anton Rose
Nevan’s younger brother must kill a light hawk in this short fantasy. The light hawk’s glass feathers and glowing heart will fetch enough money to buy the medicine to save their Mam.
Each day, the young boy heads out to the cloud peaks to search for the rare hawk. Each day, he sees it, but cannot bring himself to kill the magnificent bird. Each day, Nevan berates him, urging him to save their beloved Mam, who is dying from a fever.
One day, the young boy sees his mother having a seizure and Nevan lovingly holding her. This day, he shoots and kills the light hawk to save his Mam. But was this the last light hawk, and can the young hunter overcome his guilt?
The action and prose was good and this short SF passed quickly.
“The Long Dizzy Down” by Ziporah Hildebrandt
Billy is helping the authorities solve the riddle of a rogue AI ship in this obscure SF short. Billy receives both instructions and guidance through a telepathic link with the ship that leaves him dizzy. A seemingly good man at heart, the link forces his actions, making Billy amoral.
The authorities try to interrogate Billy, but the link has left him with the mind of a child. Gradually they draw out the full story and discover the link broke when the ship fled from the station. Deeming Billy to be safe now, they release him, but then Billy gets that dizzy feeling again. What will the ship instruct him to do?
Told in the first person through Billy, the language was that of a simple mind confused by what was happening around it. This made it hard to follow in places, which was okay if the mystery was enough reward to pull the reader on. In this story, it was barely enough.
“The Woodcutters’ Deity” by Walter Dinjos
In this short fantasy, the town exiles four princes to the woods until one of them becomes the new king. Their parents, the old king and queen, died when the gods fought each other. Now there is fear that the gods too have died. Nduka is the youngest prince and he endures his brothers’ torments as he befriends a tree imbued with a mysterious spirit.
Due to his brothers’ torments, a scorpion, a snake, and a spider each bite Nduka. But each time the venom makes him stronger, wiser, and more spiritual. In time, he discerns what spirit has possessed the tree and comes to realize what role he must play.
The author created a disjointed plot. In the beginning the story was repetitive, and in the latter parts fragmented. The prose itself was fine, but the plot let the story down.
“The Dragon Killer’s Daughter” by Todd McCaffrey
Paksa is the daughter of Colbert, the hero dragon slayer in this entertaining short fantasy. Paksa’s grandfather sent her father to the valley to kill the local dragon that was killing the villagers when its natural supply of raksha ran low. Now her father enjoys a special place in the village; but with no dragon, the raksha have multiplied and are killing the villagers’ livestock.
As the villagers leave for safer locations, Colbert relies on the gold he took from the dragon to survive and keep Paksa happy. On her twelfth birthday, he will give her all the gold she needs and tell her the truth about the dragon he’d killed. When that birthday came, she was eager to go with him to the place where he’d slain the dragon, but the truth turned out to be far stranger than she ever imagined.
Full of mystery, this story had an easy pace to it from the start. McCaffrey built up Paksa’s character, engaging the reader in wanting to find out the truth too. The ending had its surprises along with an element of charm.
“Useless Magic” by Andrew Peery
On every fourth of July, John’s bitter 70-year-old father uses old magic to entertain his family in this short fantasy. The grandfather is one of the last of the full magicians, people who can conjure many spells. The next generation, John’s, can only cast a single spell, while the grandkids have lost all magical abilities.
When the cantankerous old man passes on, his children bury him in the woods, but his acerbic magic lives on, slowly killing the land around his grave. The still living full magicians come once a year to celebrate the old man’s life and try to stop the slow death of the forest. In time, John learns to appreciate the true value of the old magic, and maybe, if he embraces it, his abilities will flourish.
This was a pleasant short fantasy, taking a more whimsical view of magic.
“Adramelech” by Sean Hazlett
In this foreseeable short fantasy, a young man has a haunting dream. As he wakes, he discovers that he has written a two-hundred-page demonic book, written in ancient cuneiform. When a professor begins translating it, the enchanted words force the young man to sell his soul to the Mesopotamian demon, Adramelech, in return for the ability to possess any human soul at will.
For the next thirty years, the man must obey the demon even as he searches for a solution. Can he find a way to save his immortal soul, and can he find a way to break the contract?
The prose was not engaging. The plot started several branches that disappeared as if forgotten, leaving the reader uninspired.
“The Fox, the Wolf, and the Dove” by Ville Merilainen
Ivy, Rose, and Lily are the fox, the wolf, and the dove in this fantasy novelette. The three girls were trained by their parents to save the World Tree and free the valley of winter’s blight. When Lily, the youngest, is six, they set off to finish the task that their mother and father had died trying to complete.
Down in the valley they encounter a starving wolf pack, led by Garm. Unable to convince the pack leader to let them save the tree and bring prosperity back to the valley, they must fight a running battle with the wolves all the way to the tree. Ivy uses her magic to slow them and Rose has her sword for those who get too close. But eventually the girls run out of options and Garm forces them to make a last stand beside the tree. But legend and fate also have a role to play in the outcome of their quest.
This story’s flow was difficult to follow as it often took on a choppy feel. The plot pulled together several concepts from fantasy and offered few innovations for the fantasy genre.
“The Magnificent Bhajan” by David VonAllmen
Bhajan is no longer the ‘magnificent’ in this short fantasy. Age has shriveled his magical powers and all he can do now is conjure some illusions. But he hopes to find relevant service once more in the Maharaja’s court. The same court the Maharaja banned him from, at the height of his powers, when Bhajan embarrassed his master by exposing Ranjeet as a usurper.
Now, forty years later, the Maharaja’s fiftieth anniversary is starting. When Bhajan perceives a potential plot, planned by Ranjeet the Usurper, he wonders if he can be relevant once again. But with no magical powers can the much wiser old man find a way to expose Ranjeet without embarrassing the prideful Maharaja?
The prose had an easy flow to it. But the ending was too predictable to make this a strong story.