(Cross-posted to Seven Deadly Divas.)
I was going to refer to short stories as bite-sized fiction, but if I’m going to draw parallels between food and word-count, flash fiction would have to be bite-sized. Short stories are a bit more substantial. Thus, a tasty snack.
The inspiration for this post comes from Anna, who asked me:
So I have the attention span of a gnat on crack right now, which has lead to a disturbing tendency for me to, uh, not finish books. Books are too big for my spazzbrain to handle. So I was thinking maybe you could do an awesome Divas post on some short story anthologies that might be good? I think it might be easier for me to digest stories in smaller chunks like that.
I think I can help with that!
My first foray into short stories is an odd one, one that’s been hanging out on the outskirts of my reading memories for I-don’t-know-how-long. If you’d asked me last week, I’d have said the first short story collection I read was Stephen King’s Skeleton Crew.
But I’d have been wrong.
Up until about, oh, twenty minutes ago when I went off to research and gather titles for this post, it really was my first memory of picking up a “grown-up” collection of short fiction. But then, in searching the interwebz for “Short story collections,” I came across a listing for 100 Great Science Fiction Short-Short Stories, edited by Isaac Asimov.
And memory, that fickle, wily wench, kicked in.
When I was a wee nerdling, I had a friend who lived down the street. We’d spend weekends sleeping over one another’s houses — she’d stay at mine Friday; I’d stay at hers Saturday, or the other way around. The big opposites-attract difference between us was, she wasn’t so big on books. I’d always go to her house armed with my own mini-library in case there was some sort of downtime. But when you’re as voracious a reader as I am, well. Sometimes you run out.
But even if she wasn’t a reader, someone in her family was. I suspect it was her dad. I’d peek at his bookshelves and snag something that looked interesting. While I couldn’t tell you the names of other books I’d grabbed of his, this one collection sticks out. I was far too shy to ask if I could borrow it, so instead I looked forward to the times I was over there and could sneak in a quick read while my friend was finishing her homework.
I was starting to despair of finding the names of the stories and authors that were in there for you, but lo, the internet brings me the table of contents. My god, look at all those great names from sf: Fritz Lieber, Larry Niven, Fredrik Pohl, Roger Zelazny.
Pardon me a moment, while I boggle at my younger self.
I don’t know if I read all of them. I remember “Sanity Clause.” I think I remember “Mail Supremacy,” if it’s the story about how mail seems to arrive at its destination faster the further away you send it — especially if you’re sending it to another galaxy… And holy shit, I might have read George RR Martin when I was 10, years and years before I’d pick up A Game of Thrones — his short story “FTA” is in here!
So, yeah. Ahem. The point of my rambling here is that short fiction can be pretty damned awesome, especially if you don’t have the time to immerse yourself in a novel. Sometimes life keeps you from curling up with something in long form — whether it’s work, social demands, or just plain “My brain is tired.” Brief forays into other worlds might be all you have time for.
Short fiction also helps introduce you to new authors without requiring the same time investment.
There’s a brilliant pair of collections, Legends I and II, made up of stories set in well-established worlds. If you’re already a fan of the series, the stories within are a visit with familiar characters and settings. But the authors did something really cool here for people who weren’t familiar with their series: these stories are also meant as invitations to new readers. You don’t have to catch up to what everyone else already knows — the author catches you up.
So what’s good out there? Here’s a list that’s nowhere near complete. Feel free to add more in the comments!
- Best American Short Stories 2010 What it says on the label. If you’re looking for something a little more mainstream, no dragons or rocketships, this series is worth a try. They’re published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and there’s a collection for just about every taste: essays, travel writing, mysteries, sports writing. Hell, there’s even one for comics! Check out the whole list here.
- The Year’s Best… Genre collections! Many of these stories were previously published in print and online magazines or in anthologies. Now they’re rounded up for pure awesomeness:
…Science Fiction, edited by Gardner Dozois
…Dark Fantasy and Horror, edited by Paula Guran
- Any collection edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. You want great storytelling? They’ll find it. (Also, check out Terri Windling’s art. Gorgeous!)
- The Shamus Winners, edited by Robert J. Randisi — collecting the winners of the Shamus Award for Best Private Eye Novel.
- Mystery Writers of America Presents: The Blue Religion, edited by Michael Connelly
- Swords and Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery, edited by Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders — Entries from Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie, Steven Erikson… are you drooling yet?
- The Living Dead and The Living Dead 2, edited by John Joseph Adams. Get your zombie fix!
- Steampunk and Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded , edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer. You know you love gears and goggles and dirigibles.
- Crucified Dreams, edited by Joe R. Lansdale. Supernatural meets noir. How awesome is that?
Perhaps you’re in the mood for single-author collections. I don’t blame you! A few to get you started:
- Fragile Things and Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman — stories, poetry, tidbits.
- At the Mountains of Madness and Other Tales of Terror by H.P. Lovecraft Ia! Ia!
- Different Seasons by Stephen King — two of my favorite short works of his are in here: “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” and “The Body.”
- The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
Don’t forget about print magazines and online webzines for a short story fix. From my bookmarks:
- Ideomancer — mostly fantasy and slipstream, but some sf. Also, check out the poetry.
- Lightspeed — SF. If you haven’t read “I’m Alive, I Love You, I’ll See You In Reno” by Vylar Kaftan, what are you waiting for?
- Beneath Ceaseless Skies — Literary adventure fantasy.
- Escape Pod, Pseudopod, and Podcastle — don’t have time to sit down and read, but you’ve got headphones and a magical listening device that might end with “pod” or “oid”? Download their podcasts and listen to awesome stories! Escape Pod is sf, Pseudopod is horror, and Podcastle is fantasy. /glee
One last link: John Scalzi’s got a post up for authors and editors to post works eligible for the 2011 Awards season. Great links in the comments to MANY WONDERFUL THINGS.
So let us know — read anything great? What collections have I missed?