Welcome…to the FUTURE. Hold up a minute, though, because we need to take a brief journey to the past. Namely, way back in 2022, when I reviewed Writers of the Future Volume 38. Back then, I reviewed the anthology by selecting three of my favorite stories within it. If you liked that format, great news: I’m doing it again, but with four favorites! This year, though, I’m adding a section at the beginning to discuss general trends, likes, and dislikes from this year’s volume.
Now that we’ve taken a brief journey to the past, let us jump to the present and look forward, once again, to the future.
Writers Of The Future Volume 39: Trends & Loose Ends
My first thought upon finishing Writers of the Future Volume 39 was a simple “wow.” The sheer quality of the storytelling on display shows that the ante is higher now than ever. We owe this both to the growth of the WOTF contest, which garners more entries every year, and to the continuous rise of SFF.
This trend is not without its hiccups, of course. A few of the stories could use a polish, but they’re still fun and plenty good. I chalk most of this up to the word limit (no more than 17,000) and the fact that, obviously, these are heretofore unpublished writers.
What did I notice next? This is the year of sci-fi. There are two or three fantasy stories in this year’s collection, but sci-fi dominates. I wonder if there’s a connection between our crumbling social and societal structures and the desire to imagine a different future. I’ve always felt sci-fi gets a bad rap—not necessarily among those of us who adore the larger SFF umbrella, but among the readers who dip their toes into every genre. It’s nice to see new writers embracing the universe as a limitless setting for their unique stories.
Finally, I noticed many of this year’s stories featured a first-person perspective. I think it, too, is underappreciated. Volume 39 makes a case for the format as a worthy and amazing avenue for deep character stories told from the perspective of one person or being.
Now, let’s jump into three of my favorite stories.
The Children of Desolation by Spencer Sekulin
Anyone published in Writers of the Future is already a literal winner, earning a nice payday and the prestige of being a published writer. This year, I’m tacking on a completely useless award to the already-amazing accomplishment: Cole’s Favorite WOTF Story. The Children of Desolation takes it in this volume.
Tumelo Laska lives in Underhaven, an underground refuge from the desolate and dangerous wastelands on Earth’s surface. He runs his late father’s locomotive company, which makes transport runs on the surface. He hopes to make enough to afford his wife’s cancer treatments, and a well-paying job comes along just in time. All he has to do? Bring a worn-down young girl and her dog far beyond the borders where most trains dare to go.
Listen, I’m not a train guy, per se. I know a few people who have elaborate model setups in their basements, and I admire the hobby. I also enjoy Wynton Marsalis’ Big Train, a jazz concept album about trains. After reading Spencer Sekulin’s story, I’ll be damned. I heavily considered making “trains’ my entire personailty. This story is the single coolest take on trains I’ve read in recent memory, and that includes Brandon Sanderson’s train heist in The Alloy of Law.
Sekulin imagines a well-realized world complete with dangerously powerful beings called Desolates and a literal underground crime ring. I’m leaving a helluva lot for you to find out on your own, but suffice it to say this was a page-turner. I hope Sekulin expands on the world in his future work.
Kitsune by Devon Bohm
Devon Bohm’s Kitsune opened the anthology and charmed me with its brevity and whimsy and relevance. Foxes, long thought extinct, reappear on Earth in blazing color, and nobody is quite sure how or why.
Soon after, young women begin disappearing. Reyna, our protagonist, fields countless calls from her mother about the wondrous development. Reyna isn’t all that interested, but soon she starts connecting the dots. I won’t spoil the short story, but it’s a dang good one, and I lingered on its ending for a while after I finished it.
The Fall Of Crodendra M by T.J. Knight
It’s official: T.J. Knight is now my second-favorite writer who goes by the first name T.J. and a last name starting with “K.” T.J. Klune remains my first.
Jokes aside, The Fall of Crodendra M is the perfect sci-fi for our current era of wanton media consumption. Hank Enos works for Net1, a broadcaster of doom. Net1 is known for finding planets near destruction and broadcasting their apocalyptic misery live. Hank stumbles upon a pre-industrial planet whose denizens are unaware of their approaching armageddon. He gets a foul taste in his mouth after realizing he has doomed an already doomed people to be entertainment for elites.
The closest comparison I can draw is to Robert Jackson Bennet’s Vigilance, which details a society that consumes mass shootings as entertainment. Crodendra M is distinctly more light-hearted, but the same ick permeates the story. We are willing to consume almost anything and call it entertainment, but at what cost?
The Withering Sky by Arthur H. Manners
Let’s just call this one a brain-addling sci-fi fever dream. I loved it. I’m not quite sure I completely understand it, and I’m not sure I need to! It’s a fascinating story of a crew sent to protect a mysterious asset, only to descend into the chaos the thing exudes. Manners whisks readers into a weird and horrific world of something completely alien, and the results are chilling.
I’ve gotta be real here: it was hard to whittle my list down this year. The winners of this year’s WOTF contests came to play, and they delivered some top-tier stuff. If this is just the beginning for them, we’re in for an amazing incoming class of SFF writers and stories. This year’s Writers of the Future Volume 39 is absolutely worth the read.
One thought on “Writers Of The Future Volume 39 – On The Up & Up”
I was looking forward to this review which makes me want to pick this one up. I’ve read a few WOTF stories in the past, and several are super memorable. In fact, secret project #2 reminds me of Primetime from Vol. 23. It’s also the first that’s not edited by Dave Farland, so it’s good to hear the quality is still very high.