Weavers of dreams
Creators of worlds
Melders of souls
In a literary blink,
Your imagination bursts upon us
Magic is unleashed
by those purveyors of pithy words
O twice blessed, short story writers
We devour your story and salute you.
There are few written forms more exquisite than a well written short story. The precision of each word’s placement, the crafting of a narrative arc in a narrow space and the flights of fancy reached in a short take-off are stunning. Experimenting in style, genre and content seem easier at this scale. In particular, the best of SciFi short stories consist of a tightly crafted narrative where a whole world, people and situation are conjured up whole-cloth without having to develop it all. Which, of course, is another way to say – magic
A great project that showcases modern and classic short story is Summer Shorts 2014. (By the way, you can support ProLiteracy buying a bunch of narrated short stories for a mere $10 at Tantor Audio until the end of the summer.) Another great way to experience short stories is when they are narrated. Some fabulous ones, produced by those exemplary media mavens at Skyboat Media, are Bears Discover Fire, and Other Stories by Terry Bisson, The Complete Short Stories of James Purdy and Honeymoon in Hell by Fredric Brown. Also, if you want to hear some of the benefits of narrating a short story, here’s an interview with Stefan Rudnicki and Gabrielle de Cuir on that topic (and others):
There is a long and illustrious tradition of science fiction short story whose expression still finds its modern home in places like Lightspeed, Tor, Clarkesworld, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Analog and, relatively recently joining the party, Bastion. The exciting thing is that this is not an exhaustive list. A lot of vibrant work is happening right now in SciFi short story.
In today’s post, I simply want to highlight some work in hope of whetting your appetite for more. These literary bon bons are digestible during your lunch break, while waiting in the dentist office or simply as a quick bed-time read without fear of getting sucked into something which will, once again, leave you sleep deprived the next day. While there are many stories to choose among, I will highlight some from the current issues of Bastion and Clarkesworld (and I will avoid Aliette de Bodard, reigning queen of contemporary SciFi short story, IMHO, since I’ve already reviewed her short stories Immersion and Ship’s Brother.)
Before we start off with a young writer in a young magazine, Hannah Goodwin and her Dreamers of many tales in Abandoned in Bastion, let’s bask in the wonderousness (it’s a word now) of the cover and the beautiful work by Milan Jaram. Ms. Goodwin explores the importance of story in our lives in the form of Dreamers who have and share stories. In Red Rubber Nose, Robert Quinlivan explores the directives (laws) of robotics that the focus on entertainment rather than avoiding harm to humans. This may also be a lesson for setting our priorities correctly. Both of these stories are beautifully done. The headliner short story is Axel Taiari‘s Degausser. Mr. Taiari writes a SciFi techno-thriller that ties in love, loss and family in a tightly developed world in which there is simply too much to bear. (What it is about French writers, and those raised in France, that they produce such wonderful short stories? It’s not as if our Gallic friends are revered for their terse tongues.) Mr. Taiari is able to build suspense, provide action, lay out background and create relationship in a brief piece in a perfectly poised way. He does so in a manner that epitomizes what I love in SciFi short story: his side-ways references, hints, presumptions and responses establishes this whole world with back-story and character’s relationships in the blink of an eye. Interweaving three story sub-plots and bringing them together in a conclusion as precisely executed as his protagonist’s heist is extraordinary magic.
More lovely cover art, in this case by Albert Urmanov for Clarkesworld’s latest issue. (Of course, SciFi magazines have been known for their covers). Among the stories I will highlight here are Yoon Ha Lee’s The Contemporary Foxwife. It is an exquisite story of family, obligation, graciousness and entertaining angels (or Foxwives) unaware. Kanseun has challenging relationships with her Older Father, her roomate(s) and, to be frank, herself. She is confronted with these relationships and herself through dealing with a Foxwife who shows up (or not) on her doorstep. For a special treat, listen to Kate Baker narrate it. Ms. Baker could read the phone book with that velvet voice of hers and I would still fall all over myself listening. N. K. Jemisin‘s Stone Hunger is a stark story of a girl who lost everything when “the world broke.” She became a monstrous power and requires revenge on the breaker of her world. Yet it is more than loss and revenge, it is also a poignant story of community and the lack thereof. It must be by sheer accident that this other example of a great short story is narrated by Ms. Baker as well.
So, if you haven’t read or listened to short stories in awhile, I hope this glimpse encourages you to do so. These are some great venues in which to dive into the short story world. If you’re a long time aficionado of short story, I hope I’ve given you some more fodder to feed your habit. As always, if you like the work being done at Bastion and Clarkesworld and you want it to continue, there are a plethora of ways to support them. Subscriptions to both Bastion and Clarkesworld are available at Weightless Books, but there are lots of others ways to support their work so it can keep on coming.
Happy brief reading.