I'm a regular reader of WOTF books, and a contest contributor. I like these because it's a chance to read some new ideas and some new points of view. ...It's a chance, sometimes I see something new and interesting, and I'm very pleased when I do.
Here is my assessment of the WOTF 25 crop:
Garden of Tian Zi
The strong part of this story is its exotic setting, western China. The weak part is the pretty standard story formula. We have evil corporate monopolist types chasing down an entrepreneurial go-getter who is doing his enterprising for the rebels. He has to do his work, raising genetically modified frogs, under cover. It's never clear why being in this remote location is going to offer any safety, and, as the story unfolds, it doesn't. So, it's an action-love-spy story, and not too special from my point of view.
The Shadow Man
This story has an interesting twist. It takes some contemporary Japanese urban legend -- that the "shadows" of people created by the Hiroshima atomic blast shelter their spirits -- and weaves it into an interesting tale. The tale centers around protagonist conflict with some ho-hum gangster types, but the ending twist is good enough that I liked this one.
Life in Steam
The setting for this story is exotic -- the firmament is a for-real ceiling, and there are ships that wander from place to place on this ceiling and visit colonies of humans. That's the interesting part. The story part is a science versus religion conflict as told from the point of view of a conflicted Grand Inquisitor, and it's not as exotic.
The Assignment of Runner ETI
This is yet another death race story. In this case we have young lady cross-country marathon runners who are running to win money for various charities. They run through various obstacles, and betrayals, and... ho-hum. I could not suspend disbelief at the obstacles they encountered, and the twist at the end did not work for me at all.
The Candy Store
A mix of having the townspeople of nearly ghost town Old West town meeting a Mephistophelian magic wish-giver who sets up a magic candy shop on Main Street overnight. The people of the town are not completely amazed by this turn of events because they pack some magic as well.
The story has its moments.
Risque Man I liked a lot. It's my kind of story because it deals with the ramifications of a new technology. In this case we have some effective computer-aided personal forecasting that works well enough that the government gets interested... and then things get screwed up.
Gray Queen Homecoming
This one set up an interesting exotic setting that is similar to ones I write about: we have a slower-than-light space ship returning home after an interstellar journey, and a lot of time has passed on the home world. In this case the ship is crewed by only a single person and the ship's computer. When they get home they find their world has completely changed, and not for the better for them.
I like the setting and I liked the story. But since I have written about his concept myself, and thought a lot about it, I found this one not well thought through -- their final tragedy should have been avoided.
The Dizzy Bridge
This has some interesting characterization in a different style of fantasy setting. The characters have unconventional magical powers and the setting is not a common one. That I liked. But by the end I didn't find I was relating much to the characters, so this did not end up one of my favorites.
The setting of this story was easy to relate to -- a secret base on a distant planet where a high value military prisoner was being kept. And the story flowed well. I would have liked it a lot, but the motivations of the various players kept me scratching my head, so it came out as average likable for me.
The Reflection of Memory
This story has a nicely exotic setting. I liked the use of magic in it and enjoyed the first half a lot. But the second half gets contrived, and it ends up average instead of really good.
After the Final Sunset, Again
This story has an interesting premise -- a woman who literally lives just one day at a time, and then manages to change that routine -- but it's not well thought out, so it went from good to average.
The Farthest Born
This story has an interesting premise -- trying to start a new colony of humans on a distant planet... without sending humans there. Instead of sending humans, the humans are grown there. Another interesting catch in this is that there is instantaneous communication with Earth, so Avatar movie-style avatars can be used to raise the children.
So far, so good... but then it gets conventional. The kids face lions and tigers and bears, Oh My!, and the communication link with Earth breaks down so the kids are on their own. ...these people set up no fall-back for a communications failure?
In sum, this edition of WOTF is the usual mix of some very interesting stories, some stories with interesting beginnings but ho-hum execution, and some that left me scratching my head as to what the editor saw in them.
On the whole, a worthwhile read if you like stories that are new and different.
Oh, and if you like this review, you might like reading one of my books. Tips for Tailoring Spacetime Fabric : Vol. 1