The first thing I looked for, of course, was for debut short story writers. As in the author's first short story sale, ever. In a magazine like this one, that's going to be rare and this issue was no exception.
Of all the authors in this story, I have only previously read Stephen King.
"Inside Story" By Albert E. Cowdrey
This was a strange little story about post-Katrina New Orleans. A fat retired cop comes back to the force on a temporary basis to investigate some people missing from a FEMA trailer park. It started out weird, and then it got even weirder. But it was fun. Especially the part about Bush the Second. This was one of the more enjoyable stories.
"Sleepless Years" By Steven Utley
Utley speculates about heaven and hell, or the lack thereof in this chilling story. A man commits suicide and has donated his body to science. The only problem is, they manage to revive him, and now they own him. This story omits dialog tags to great effect. The revelation at the end was great. I should have seen it coming, but I didn't.
"The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates" By Stephen King
I don't always like Stephen King stories, but I liked this one. A middle-aged woman loses her husband to an airline crash. Or she thinks she does, until she gets a fateful phone call. This one had loads of drama and kept my interest like none of the others. But what can I say? It's Stephen King. He knows how to tell a story.
"Dazzle Joins the Screenwriter's Guild" By Scott Bradfield
This story has a "different" point-of-view character, and I'm not going to go into detail for fear of giving it away. However, if I don't tell you what the point-of-view character is, I really can't sum up the opening. It would sound deadly dull. But it's not. It's one of the more enjoyable stories in the magazine. It must have been inspired by the recent screenwriter's guild strike. The author's experience in Hollywood shows in this story.
I hate to sound ignorant, but this one I just didn't get. Literally. It was like a joke that was too sophisticated for my brain. Although I like science, I took Freshman Physics, and that's it. To paraphrase McCoy from Star Trek, "I'm a computer programmer, not a quantum physicist." This story was extremely short, and probably qualifies as flash fiction.
"Private Eye" by Terry Bisson
This story was very naughty. But it was interesting. There was not much drama, just two humans who are attracted to each other, but cannot touch . . . yet. It's a near-fiction story and a guy and a girl who meet in a bar and get to talking. Then, they discover that they share certain things with each other. It's also about cybersex (or lack thereof) vs. the real thing.
"Whoever" by Carol Emshwiller
In this intriging story, a woman finds herself on the street without any recollection of who she is. She wanders around, wondering who she is, until she encounters a helpful stranger. She wonders if she can play the piano. There isn't a lot of drama in this story either, just a sweet love story, or at least a friendship story. And an unexpected bit of action toward the end.
"Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment: One Daughter's Personal Account" By M. Rickert
The premise of this story is built on a quote by Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue. In this future, anyone who commits an abortion is tried and executed. However, the mother of the narrator of the story disappeared instead. And the daughter would have preferred that her mother had died. This is the sort of story where I don't know what was expected of me as a reader. Was I supposed to suspend disbelief and actually believe that the girl wishes her mother had died? I just didn't get it, nor did I enjoy it.
"The Scarecrow's Boy" by Michael Swanwick
This story is told from the point of view of an andriod, who is trying to help a young boy across the border of an unnamed country. Along the way he enlists the help of a talking car, and he holds up a talking MiniMart. He is a housebot, but he is called a scarecrow because his owner put him out to pasture to keep away the birds. It's fairly entertaining with some good action.
Overall, none of the stories I have read so far were a chore to get through. However, I can't think of any I really loved either.
One thing I wish they would include is a letters section. I always read the letters section of any magazine I read, and I miss it here. I think it would help sell back issues. For example, if I read in this issue's letters section that a certain story in the previous issue was awesome, I might be intrigued enough to buy an electronic copy of the previous issue. Or send away for a back issue. Or, I might remember the name of the author when I go to the bookstore.
I suppose a possible rationale for omitting a Letters section is to squeeze in one more story, but why omit the feedback from the readers?