Stop right there! Don’t you dare go searching for our reviews of Writers of the Future volumes 1-37, because you won’t find ‘em! Nope, this is our very first outing with Galaxy Press’ short fiction contest, chock full of fascinating fantasy and sci-fi ideas. Writers of the Future Volume 38 has bards, monsters, mystical creatures, time-traveling secret agents, squid-like symbiotes, mysterious sentient islands, psychic poker players, and much more!
The Writers of the Future Contest is open to up-and-coming creatives who haven’t been published before or have only sold a few pieces. The annual volume of the best submissions collects stories from a variety of talented writers. For my part, I was floored by the sheer diversity of the concepts within Volume 38. And because Writers of the Future isn’t a single narrative, I’ll discuss a few of my favorite stories from the volume to beef up this review and help you decide whether you should pick it up.
Azure Arther’s story opens Writers of the Future Volume 38 with one hell of a concept: what if strong emotions and trauma manifested as real, physical monsters?
In Agatha’s Monster, protagonist Agatha lives with a family of monster hunters and relatives with related professions. But Agatha has a secret: Martin. Martin the monster (and Agatha’s friend) lives in her closet, and she fears her monster-hunting dad and brother may find and kill him.
Agatha’s Monster explores the implications of trauma as a physical being and, by extension, the nature of trauma itself. We learn of Agatha’s past, of the events that brought Martin into existence. We learn about her career aspirations and past struggles, all contextualized by the existence of a very real monster in her bedroom.
The story isn’t overly long, though I found myself wanting more. Arther squeezed a lot of story into a small space, but Agatha’s Monster deserves a more robust treatment, possibly as a novella. As it stands, it’s an intriguing exploration of trauma and family dynamics, and an imaginative opening story.
The Squid Is My Brother
I never thought a story about squid symbiotes would feel so endearing. Mike Jack Stoumbos’ story tells the tale of Michaela Kessler, a Neptunian on Earth (along with her symbiotic squid-like organism, which she calls her brother) while her mother is on a diplomatic mission. Michaela must navigate day-to-day life as Earth children utter xenophobic slurs and openly express their disgust at the “squid,” which Michaela must keep hidden.
Stoumbos weaves a sympathetic yarn here, commenting on issues of bullying and of feeling like the “other” at a young age. The Squid Is My Brother feels like a unique sci-fi tale, grounded in the schooling experience of youth but drawing on high sci-fi concepts to add an element of flair.
Lilt Of A Lark
Oh, YEAH. If you’ve followed The Quill To Live or any of my work for a meaningful stretch of time, you may have picked up on my proclivity for all things bardic. For various reasons, Lilt Of A Lark is my favorite story in Writers Of The Future Volume 38, and it’s not close.
Michael Panter’s Lilt Of A Lark revels in the unique qualities of bards, shunting protagonist Malk into the heroic spotlight when he’d normally be relegated to a supporting role. Malk is a lark, capable of influencing people with song, a sort of magic hypnotism. Armed with his trusty cannotina, Malk ventures to Cathgol, a rough-and-tumble city in the mountains. Cast from the Aviary for some mysterious events in the recent past, Malk aims to rebuild his reputation and prove he belongs among the Aviary’s best.
Panter’s story is full of elegant world-building and loveable characters. Everything in Lilt Of A Lark feels distinct and real, like it all fits together as neatly as a well-cut puzzle. Beyond the focused story within, he hints at a much larger world of bards boasting different abilities. The Aviary remains an offscreen mystery save for a few key mentions, but Malk’s insights tell us it’s a political and hierarchical organization reserved for various types of bards.
But Malk’s adventures in Cathgol are the real draw here. He meets with a shady contact in a local tavern, soon discovering a band of misfits intends to overthrow the city’s ruler. Malk agrees, intrigued by the plot, and all sorts of bardic chaos ensues.
I’ll save the remaining details so you can discover them for yourself. For now, suffice it to say Lilt Of A Lark stands out, even among the amazing stories within this volume.
Though I’ve only highlighted three stories, it’s important to emphasize the overall high quality of the tales contained within Writers of the Future Volume 38. The writers whose work is featured are clearly voices to watch, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some impressive novel debuts coming from this class in the next few years.
Beyond the easy “glimpse into the future” vibe of the volume, the tome also connects many themes despite the stories within being uniquely creative in direction. Many of the tales in Writers of the Future Volume 38 play with typical SFF tropes in intriguing ways. Each story reinvents something about the genre, and the result is a collection of fresh storytelling and new perspectives.
If you’re in the market for a collection of cutting-edge SFF ideas, Writers Of The Future has you covered.