I’ve been reading the Writers of the Future annual SF/F anthology for a few years now, since WofF31, so I was excited to receive this year's Writers of the Future 39. These are always a good collection of new scifi and fantasy fiction with new artists and new authors.
To me, a good scifi story has to have speculative concepts, but be grounded in realistic life. A lot of good scifi includes these imaginative and specfic ideas that add to our current understanding of science, technology, and society in general. Solid scifi takes our current tech, whether that's communications, medicine, weaponry or anything else, and takes it further, imagining a possibly future. Connecting this kind of imaginative story-telling with realistic scientific advancement can help scifi readers fall into the story, and consider the author's world.
However, without well-developed, relatable characters, it's hard to care about the exciting new tech or new worlds in the stories. So squeezing in the worldbuilding and the character development is kind of the challenge in these short stories.
Here are just a few stories from this year's collection that struck me:
Moonlight and Funk, by Marianne Xenos, is an engaging new take on vampire stories and the question of immortality. The story is whimsical and heavy by turns, which is a vibe I really like in fiction. This also had warm friendship elements, which made a good counterpoint to some of the heavier time-travel thought experiments in this collection.
I tend to be on the scifi side more than fantasy, but I do like a peek at a wild fantasy world. Good fantasy can be escapist fun, with imaginative worlds and epic themes. Here, we have engaging mystical elements, like a vampire and a dragon, set in an offbeat little beach town. This kind of fantasy can be really fun because it hints at a wilder, magical world just below the surface in our own world. And this feeling works well in this particular story, with our vampire considering mortality.
I wasn't expecting to like Kitsune, by Devon Bohm, as much as I did. The basic theme is women leaving their disappointing and distressing lives to become foxes, creating a wave of unknown species, some with recognizable markings, in places that foxes have never been sighted before. That basic idea didn't pull me in, but the scenes of dispiriting working life, with mounting disappointments and inertia worked to make fox life appealing. This had that mix of every day life and fantasy potential that makes good SF/F stories work.
Death and the Taxman, by David Hankins, is a fun little comedy of a tax auditor challenging death. If you read Piers Anthony as a kid, there's a familiar feel around the rules of immortality and soul-collecting, but with a humorous twist. The artist for this one is Sarah Morrison, and this is the very first time I've seen her more realistic illustration. I've basically only seen her fantasy work. It was great! But I was definitely expecting a dragon!
I also really enjoyed Piracy for Beginners and White Elephant, both of which revisited familiar old scifi elements (maybe even tropes?) in new ways. Piracy for Beginners, especially, felt like I was reading a retro scifi adventure, telling the story of a brave pilot fighting evil space criminals, but with more character development and intriguing personalities and relationships, even in such a short story.
Another great anthology from Writers of the Future!