In 1983, L. Ron Hubbard created the Writers of the Future Contest to help discover and nurture aspiring new science fiction writers by giving them a workshop for developing their skills and the opportunity to be professionally published. Since then, it has expanded to include its companion contest, Illustrators of the Future, and an impressive list of well-known judges compiled throughout the years. This year’s Writers of the Future anthology marks the 30th year of the publication (the 25th year of Illustrators of the Future) and does well to show why it continues to thrive while other competitions have fallen to the wayside.
I’ve been familiar with the Writers of the Future Contest for over 20 years. There was even a time, many moons ago, that I entered. Surprise, I didn’t win. My forte isn’t short stories, but I’ve enjoyed reading the anthologies, some more than others, and love looking at the illustrations. They even include short stories and thoughts on writing from well-known authors and illustrators. Of course, one of L. Ron Hubbard’s pulp fiction short stories is included, Beyond All Weapons the chosen story this year (if you remember, I reviewed the audio drama not too long ago). Plus, there are contributions from Mike Resnick, Val Lakey Lindahn, Robert Silverberg, and Orson Scott Card, who was honored this year at the awards ceremony.
Perhaps, it’s a reflection of the world today or something the judges were going for, but many of the stories in volume 30 have common themes – characters trying to escape the guilt associated with a death in their past, the struggle to conserve humanity at the end of times, and machines trying to understand humans. Then again, one could say that these themes are to be expected in science fiction, but I found it interesting that they appeared so often.
One of my favorites was actually the first story in the book, “Another Range of Mountains”. The main character, Lacra, is a mirrorpainter, someone who can pull moments in time, past images, from reflections – mirrors, water, glass, etc. She’s been called to a count’s home to help track down his kidnapped daughter, but she must navigate a city that fears her and her own strange past. She soon realizes that not everything is as it seems. The author, Megan O’Keefe, paints a colorful world and an interesting main character with a skill I’ve never had the pleasure to read before. Her descriptions made me feel like I was right there seeing what Lacra was seeing, and I know for certain I would buy a whole series featuring her. Also, I really like the illustration by Sarah Webb that accompanies this story. It tells a colorful story all by itself.
My next favorite was “Long Jump” by Oleg Kazantsev. It basically asks the quest, “What happens when you stick a person in an experimental star craft with only an intelligent computer simulation to keep him company?” The story was a little hard to follow at first, but I loved where Kazantsey took it. He really delved deep and calculated in how a person’s histories and flaws could be reflected back on them. The computer’s response was enlightening, and I love when a story stretches the mind. Also, I liked the illustration by Adam Brewster that went with this story, especially the color version.
Finally, I want to bring attention to Timothy Jordan’s “The Pushbike Legion”. When I started reading it, I really thought it was going to be a snorefest. It’s an end-of-times type story where a single town has been spared from a cataclysmic event. The town is surrounded by a desert that just appeared out of nowhere one day and anyone who tries to enter it turns to dust. The human race is dying off and there aren’t enough people with creative skills, like leather crafting and blacksmithing, so they just keep reusing resources until a simple bike chain is as valuable as gold. The collective mind of the town has degraded and many of the residents act like sheep following the flock. It got to be frustrating to read. It wasn’t until when one of the local farmers decided to recount the day the desert appeared did I start to actually get into it. Jordan takes the story into a whole direction I really didn’t see coming. The illustration by Cassandre Bolan that accompanies this story takes the image of the town to a whole new level. She definitely made the desert more dramatic than I first imagined it.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Writers of the Future Volume 30. I had my doubts at times, but ended up pleasantly surprised. I recommend it to readers who like science fiction and fantasy, or stories that stretch the mind.
Purchase Writers of the Future Volume 30: