Monday, December 21, 2009

Book Review: Beacons of Tomorrow (1st Collection) edited by Bret Funk

Featuring thirteen stories originally submitted to Tyrannosaurus Press’ The Illuminati, Beacons of Tomorrow is an interesting attempt at collecting together original short fiction from writers who have largely been undiscovered. While the collection holds some promise, many of the stories lack the literary flare of the speculative genre either because the characters, writing style, or plots were uninteresting or annoying, or because some of the stories were practical direct retellings of tales we’ve seen so many times before that they’ve been recreated in various television shows like The Outer Limits and Sliders. Still, there are a few gems here worth mentioning. Below are my mini reviews of each story: “A Dream Within” by Danielle Parker An interesting journey into a deserted city, Parker’s tale has a unique, almost Verne-ian style that lends an authentic air to the entire piece. “A Dream Within” is one of my favorites from the collection, though I think Parker could have gone a step farther with the story to give it that extra something that every story needs. “The Spider” by Simon Todd One of the things I liked about “The Spider” was how it went about portraying its horror elements. The supernatural elements notwithstanding, the descent of Christopher into madness made for an interesting read. Not a perfect story, for sure, but certainly one of the better ones in this collection. “Nirvana, Inc.” by Mark Hardwidge Despite having seen ideas like this before, I found Hardwidge’s take on greed and weird metaphysical companies making obscene promises rather enjoyable. It follows a rich business man who is unhappy with his life. When he is approached by a company promising him eternal happiness, he reluctantly gives up everything for the opportunity. The story has a pretty interesting ending too. “The Prisoner” by A. Christopher Drown What do you get when you mix a western with demons? A. Christopher Drown’s “The Prisoner.” While not as strong as it could have been, this story about a young deputy filling in for the most unusual night shift at his local jail is enjoyable and has the potential to spawn further stories in this particular version of the old west. Hopefully Drown will deliver in the future. “Intelligence” by Jennifer Graham Graham’s story is an interesting twist on the first contact cliché, though I felt like I had seen it before. Still, the story was entertaining in the way a lot of science fiction stories tend to be: interesting concept, decent presentation, and a little hint of the gosh-wow moment at the end. This one is definitely worth a read. “Over a Cup of Hot Chocolate” by Gary William I vaguely remember what this story was about. There’s some deal about the main character experiencing other lives, but the story never grabbed me. I finished it, but it didn’t stick with me primarily because the whole thing seemed meaningless in the end. Maybe there was deeper meaning, but the execution failed to make an impact. “Evil, Inc.” by Douglas Roper Roper’s story is another reason why I really don’t like superhero/supervillain stories told in prose form. While the idea is cute, the execution is too ridiculous for its own good, leaving a mostly irrelevant and forgettable story. “Evil, Inc.” happens to be about a bunch of dysfunctional villains trying to explain their failings to a new director of operations at a company making profits from their schemes. Cute? Yes, but ultimately not all that interesting. There’s a whole lot of telling and not a lot of story. “Slugger’s Holiday” by Charles Gramlich Of all the stories in this collection, I hated this one the most. The author’s use of sailor lingo throughout the dialogue and the exposition left me thoroughly annoyed, so much so that I stopped reading about two pages in. Gramlich desperately needed to pull back on his overuse of all the lingo so that whatever story he was trying to tell could come through. “Return to Arthanas” by Sean Bradley Ridiculously cliché, poorly plotted, too condensed, and overall a story that a) goes nowhere; and b) is sort of pointless. Bradley’s tale is about a half-elf prince who is trying to put together enough allies to kick the Imperials out of his kingdom. But none of that ever happens. There’s a really long fight in the beginning in typical old west style, and then a long lecture in the end about why princes should be smart. Anything that changes in the characters is shallow at best. One of the worst in the collection as far as execution is concerned. “A Pyg’s Perspective” by Terry Crotinger First contact with a hidden AI? Check. Some plucky robotic dialogue? Check. Story? Nope. Some great ideas get wasted here, because, ultimately, nothing happens. There’s lots of dialogue, but no conflict whatsoever. Somewhat boring, I’m afraid. “Woman of the Web” by Garrie Keyman Another curious concept (a writer afflicted by a strange woman who visits him through his computer claiming to be his muse) that falls prey to having an incomplete plot. Each section of the story represents the beginning and end of a larger story, and unfortunately there are no answers to why anything is as the beginning tells us. We’re just supposed to accept the unknown. Doesn’t work for me. “The Pale Prince” by Erik Goodwyn While this story is certainly interesting, it is also one I’ve seen before. In fact, the idea of a doomed man of some description meeting with some version of Death is so ingrained in mythology that short of having something new and brilliant to say about the narrative itself, anything trying to mimic the myth ends up sounding like a broken record. Such is the case here. “Labor Day” by Patrick Tucker I really wanted to like this story. It takes place in a world where people gain status by becoming super shoppers. The problem? Well, I’ve seen it before. It was an episode of Sliders. The only difference is the end, which is, unfortunately, mostly meaningless in the greater context of the world. So, while the idea had potential, Tucker didn’t go anywhere with it. It was just Sliders, but without Jerry O’Connel. Despite some severe eye-rolling for some of these stories, there were a few that I enjoyed. Hopefully the second collection is better than this first attempt. You can find Beacons of Tomorrow for sale at Tyrannosaurus Press, Amazon, or anywhere you get your books.


SQT said...

Ah, you're killing me with this. Charles Gramlich is a friend. ((cringe))

Charles Gramlich said...

Well, at least my story wasn't in the forgotten "middle of the pack." lol.

The lingo certainly isn't for everyone. Since it's my one and only pastiche, the language is based, realistically, I hope, on the language that Robert E. Howard used in his Sailor Steve Costigan stories, which some people love and some folks hate. I don't ever use that kind of dialect approach in my own writing.

I started out disliking those stories in general myself, but later they grew on me and I began to find 'em pretty humorous. I've had other folks criticize the dialect, for sure, though.

S.M.D. said...

Charles: I think taking it as a personal taste deal might be best. Some may like the use of dialect; some will hate it. I'm sure a lot of folks hated the Howard books too :P.

SQT: I didn't know he was a friend. Not that that would change my criticism, but hmm.

SQT said...

Charles-- I haven't read it so I can't say how I would respond to it. I love stories set at sea, but I don't run into more than a smattering of sailor lingo.

S.M.D-- I wouldn't ask you to. It was just my initial reaction. But honesty is always the best policy. And it seems that Charles understands that it's not for everyone.

Charles Gramlich said...

A friend of mine who was into boxing kept telling me I should give Howard's Costigan stories another chance and one summer while I was off I read the whole bunch of 'em back to back. I really began to feel like I could get a feel for the way he used language so the story was largely an experiment. Of course, all stories are personal taste, some more than others. No hard feelings on my part.