What a fantastic round of stories! The Sci-Fi Horror theme really seems to have resonated with the Wily Writers, and conspired to make the judges' job extremely difficult this time around.
In the end, we chose two stories that exemplify what we love in a SF/horror hybrid--but since we received so many excellent submissions we went ahead and chose eight stories for an unofficial "honorable mention" category as well. These will be mentioned at the same time as the second winner, near the end of April.
Both contest winners featured original, stylish, confident, and compelling writing that hooked us right from the start--but otherwise, the two tales could not be more different.
"TWO THINGS" by Amanda Davis
Ms. Davis summons comparisons to the holy nerd-cool trinity of Neil Gaiman, Douglas Adams, and Terry Pratchett. This witty, gruesome story begins in a deceptively straightforward and lighthearted style, and then the author effortlessly adds a burgeoning undercurrent of dread that pays off beautifully at the end.
"BESTIARY" by Nicholas Oakley
We are quite interested in seeing more from Nicholas Oakley, whose story "Bestiary" proved heartbreaking, horrifying, and impossible to put down from the first page. Mr. Oakley's effortless prose reminded the judges of SF greats like John Scalzi or David Brin, and the deceptively simple story of loneliness, friendship, and the unintended consequences of compassion left a lasting impact. This one's an instant classic with a truly dark finish.
Any one of the following stories could have won this contest had the winners not been submitted.
"CALL HIM MAURY" by Thomas Malafarina
Rich in character and style, this story of an aging workaholic comedian's lowbrow gig on an out-of-the-way Pennsylvania stage was a sentimental favorite.
"E-IRONY" by Pete Wingard
This character-driven tale of doomed romance shows impressive range from Mr. Wingard, who has a gift for understated dialogue and realistic imagery reminiscent of a Fincher film.
"EVERY ACT OF CREATION" by Rich Larson
A richly plotted story of explorers on a distant world, this viscerally described piece exploded with cinematic imagery and action.
"EXODUS" by Toby Vaughan
After leaving Earth behind, the remnants of humanity spend entirely too much time alone on their starships in this grim, vivid, and thoroughly engaging tragedy.
"GIFTED" by Michelle King
Top-notch characterization and authentically realized child protagonists who feel both heroic and real imbue this story of strange powers and deadly consequences.
"HAPPIN3SS101.COM" by Philip Harris
This clever and accessible cautionary tale veers into completely unexpected and surprising directions, with some truly funny moments and some seriously twisted ones as well.
"HOW I LOST ELEVEN STONE AND FOUND LOVE" by Ian Creasey
A wholly original parable reminiscent of classic authors Pohl or Asimov by way of Woody Allen, this piece takes an almost silly concept and uses it to tell an unexpected love story.
"NOT PART OF THE FAMILY" by George Walker
An imaginatively realized undersea-city setting makes this classic "haunted governess" story mesh strikingly well with a postmodern industrial dystopia.