I have to concur, these are truly the writers of the future. However, a lot of the submissions seemed quite similar. All but one take place in the future, and most take place in space or on another planet. Several feature a type of envoy as the main character. So, let's break it down:
"The Unreachable Voices of Ghosts": Spacers set out to catch black holes, but if they don't get one, they (usually) don't come back. It's kind of a community out there, and some people end up closer to each other -- both physically and emotionally -- than they had originally planned. :: This is dark and very character-driven, which is hard to do in the limitations of a short story with such a complicated world to build. 3.5 stars.
"Maddy Dune's First and Only Spelling Bee": I'm not telling you anything about this. You have to go read it. :: Dear Patrick O'Sullivan, I would like to read a novel featuring Maddy and Tan. Love, Emily. 5 stars.
"The Truth, From a Lie of Convenience" : At first, this seemed very, very similar to Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. It seems to be pretty much the same setting, except the fight for Luna's independence was won in a very different way. Our hero is a washed-up journalist who might have possibly stumbled upon a conspiracy that killed many Luna City residents. :: I liked Heinlein's work a lot, but could really see how the Lunar government could have tried some different tactics to secure sovereignty. Particularly if they didn't have Mike. However, I didn't particularly connect with Marianne, and found it hard to root for her. 3.5 stars.
"In Apprehension, How Like a God": An envoy-type guy is investigating the apparent suicide of a high muckety-muck at an Academy that - I think - controls the veracity of the internet. The internet has evolved quite a bit, though. :: To tell you the truth, I didn't really understand this story until I was almost at the end. I thought about reading it again, but didn't particularly want to. 2.5 stars.
"An Acolyte of Black Spires" : Most of the civilization in this was not explained, but rather shown. I still don't have a clear picture of it. The basic premise is that a secretive historian-type is assigned an intern who pulls him out of his shell a bit. Nearly literally. :: This is an interesting twist on the kooky-girl-meets-dour-boy-and-loosens-him-up trope. However, I found it a little boring. 3 stars.
"The Dualist" : A literal Envoy is on a planet trying to get one religious group to knock off the continued genocide of the other. The denizens are creepy bug-like creatures, with whom I had a hard time identifying. The ending was pretty inspiring and cool to visualize, though. 3 stars.
"Bonehouse" : * This might be a spoiler. Skip it if you want. * In the future, people plug into the internet pretty much permanently and live in these group homes where nurses keep their bodies alive (but atrophying). Our protagonist is a bounty hunter/rescuer who "evicts" the netizens and brings them home to their families or arrests the cyber criminals. :: I would also like to read a novel set in this world, particularly Chris' backstory. 4.5 stars.
"This Peaceful State of War": Another literal Envoy is trying to decide whether humans are going to try to prohibit one of this planet's sentient species from wiping out another. :: Very, very similar to "The Dualist," but with a much more twisty ending. I think I would have liked this better if it had come first in the book, or if I'd come across it in another book/magazine. As it was, it was just too samesy. 3 stars.
"Sailing the Sky Sea": The rocket that Vic is working on in the asteroidal atmosphere is attacked and explodes. All he has is his suit. He'd prefer getting rescued to dying, and has to make his own luck. :: This survival-in-space tale was suspenseful and interesting while I was reading it. When it was over, I promptly forgot it. 3 stars.
"Unfamiliar Territory": Mira is a bodyguard for an engineer. The two are sent out to repair and recover company ships that are damaged or get attacked by space pirates. Her new engineer is a trainee. Mira is not pleased. They encounter a couple of ships that were attacked in a way that Mira's never seen before. They try to rescue a survivor. Then, I'm not sure what happens. I'm not sure who/what the attacker is. I think the author made a vague or oblique reference, but I don't really get it. I think this author needed more space in which to develop/explain his story. 2.5 stars.
"Medic": I'm not clear on why, but in this space war, the medics are under the surface of the planet and use a drill to burrow up underneath the wounded and have them slide down into their extremely high tech and futuristic operating room. Our anti-hero needs to save 1,000 lives and then he can go home. He's curmudgeonly, but I liked him. :: A very dynamic character and some well-developed world building make this one of the best of the bunch in my opinion. 4.5 stars.
"Vector Victoria": Victoria's task is to spread her germs. She thinks she's saving people from the evil government plot to give them some different germs. She thinks this because her boyfriend told her so. But then, a government vector shows up and undoes all her work. He also starts explaining things from the government's side. She's suddenly not so sure she's on the right one. :: The author's bio says he's developing a full-length novel from this story. To that I say, 'Yes, please!'
"The Sundial" - The aforementioned only story that doesn't take place in the future! Hept lives during the time of the American Civil War. Hept is a very unusual person. I don't want to spoil for you what makes her unusual, but she has to decide whether to save a Yankee soldier and possibly save herself, or give him up and possibly die. That seems like an obvious choice, but part of what makes Hept unusual, is that it's really, really not. :: I'm not sure whether I really liked this story because it was genuinely good or because it was just so refreshing after all that hard-science-y stuff.
You might notice that I didn't say anything about the three essays that were also interspersed amongst the short fiction. That's because I skimmed them. I have no desire to become an author or an illustrator, so I really wasn't interested. If you do have those aspirations, you might find them helpful. Or not. I really wouldn't know.
P.S. Re-reading this review I think I've been more critical than necessary. These are first-sale authors, and as such the stories were really, really good. I think it's more the editors and judging panel that are responsible for the homogeneity of the collection. If you think about the fact that these are not established authors, they are all really very good. I did enjoy reading this book, and am now thinking about collecting the other twenty six volumes, particularly because some past winners are some of my current favorites.