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Author Topic: Let's talk about science fiction short stories  (Read 4594 times)

KharBevNor

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Let's talk about science fiction short stories
« on: 23 Jun 2010, 06:28 »

Novels are great, but I've always been a real sucker for really good sci-fi short stories. I think some of the best writing of the genre is in this format. What do you think? Any recommendations? I feel like I have read all the essential classics but you just don't know!
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Re: Let's talk about science fiction short stories
« Reply #1 on: 23 Jun 2010, 07:20 »

This is a genre I'm extremely interested in, but sadly haven't read much from. I've read most of Philip K. Dick's short work (Minority Report  et all) and enjoyed it. I'm about to dig into a Gene Wolf collection, forgot it's name though.
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Re: Let's talk about science fiction short stories
« Reply #2 on: 23 Jun 2010, 08:17 »

My favorite sci-fi short stories are by J.G. Ballard, Harlan Ellison and Ray Bradbury. I had for a little while a really good collection of Ellison's short stories called Paingod and Other Delusions until my sister borrowed it and never gave it back. For a little while in April and May I was working my way through an anthology of Ballard's complete short stories, but I didn't finish it before having to return it, and at that point I sort of wanted a break. It was really interesting though, seeing the progression of his style and interests over time.

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Re: Let's talk about science fiction short stories
« Reply #3 on: 23 Jun 2010, 10:11 »

Seconding Harlan Ellison and especially Ray Bradbury - if you can find his sci-fi/fantasy sort of collection, The October Country, it is wonderful. It has some strong moments of horror, though, so be aware. I'm not even usually a fan of stories with horror themes, but some of these are just so beautifully executed that I couldn't abandon the collection once I realised it would scare me a little bit, and it's more psychological speculation with fantastical themes than blood/gore/spook stuff.
There's also a Peter Carey collection called The Fat Man In History with some very strong character-focused sci fi/speculative fiction.
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Re: Let's talk about science fiction short stories
« Reply #4 on: 23 Jun 2010, 10:22 »

Recently finished The Winds of Change, a collection of 21 Asimov stories.  A handful were pretty lame and dated, but there were a handful that were typical, great Asimov.  One of a tour guide saving her colony from sabotage, another of a Computer communicating with an alien object hurtling toward Earth, and two good ones of a man who had a little demon friend who he could convince to do favors for his friends (which always turn out to be pretty mean favors.)
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Re: Let's talk about science fiction short stories
« Reply #5 on: 23 Jun 2010, 12:29 »

The great thing about science fiction short stories is that most science fiction starts with a great "What if...?" idea, and a lot of the time there just isn't enough to flesh out an entire novel.  But a short story can explore the idea properly without getting too deep into the characters and all that.  It's not about the characters, although it does help to have good ones; it's just about that one idea.

Anyway, all of my favorites have already been mentioned (Asimov, Ellison, Bradbury) but you used to be able to pick up some really good anthologies all the time.  Every year, Omni would publish the "best of the year", and you can always find collections of past Hugo and Nebula winners in paperback.  You get a whole lot of variety and also get exposed to a lot of different writers, then you can check out more from the writers who really grabbed you.
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Scandanavian War Machine

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Re: Let's talk about science fiction short stories
« Reply #6 on: 23 Jun 2010, 13:33 »

ooh there was this really fun little book I read in highschool called Einstein's Dreams and it was a bunch of short stories basically just describing worlds where time wasn't constant. Where it was affected by other, more earthly things.

for example: in one world, time moved slower the further from the center of the earth you were, so everyone lived on mountain tops to live longer and nobody ventured down into the areas with faster time unless they were reckless or trading from town to town.
In another world, the faster you went, the slower time went, so everyone lived in mobile home-type vehicles speeding around never-ending super highways.


I wanna look that book up again, I don't remember much about it besides those two stories.
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Re: Let's talk about science fiction short stories
« Reply #7 on: 23 Jun 2010, 14:29 »

When I was younger, I borrowed Arthur C Clark's "The Wind From the Sun"[1] from the Library.  It's definitely worth a read.  Most of the stories have stings in the tale.

[1] The book I read was "The Wind From the Sun and other stories" but, a quick search on Amazon, shows the title changes but always has "The Wind From the Sun" in it.
« Last Edit: 23 Jun 2010, 14:33 by HiFranc »
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Re: Let's talk about science fiction short stories
« Reply #8 on: 23 Jun 2010, 15:20 »

Bradbury's easily my favorite, but Ellison is pretty good and if you're more into magical realism, Neil Gaiman's short story collections are good too.

China Miéville has a book of stories out called Looking For Jake that's pretty much my favorite collection besides R is for Rocket or The Martian Chronicles. It tends to be pretty dark and creepy contemporary/speculative fiction/urban fantasy, and it cemented my belief that he's one of the best writers actively working. Can't recommend it highly enough.
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Re: Let's talk about science fiction short stories
« Reply #9 on: 23 Jun 2010, 16:06 »

Ahh, yeah, Miéville's a great novelist, but I haven't had a chance to check out his short fiction. I should do that.  A friend of mine just finished reading Perdido Street Station after I gave it to him like 4 months ago.

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Re: Let's talk about science fiction short stories
« Reply #10 on: 23 Jun 2010, 16:51 »

There's probably a rule somewhere about how if you like sci fi, you're meant to read Jorge Louis Borges' "The Library of Babel", just to be aware of it. It gets referenced a fair bit, and is worth reading in its own right.
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Re: Let's talk about science fiction short stories
« Reply #11 on: 23 Jun 2010, 18:36 »

I've loved short stories before I knew what a short story was, but sci fi has never been a main interest of mine. I prefer fantasy/other spec fic. genres, so the few sci fi authors I know have already been recommended. Speaking of Borges he along with A. Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo released a really good collection of short stories called The Book of Fantasy which is basically everything from folk tales to 18th century New Weird. It's not exactly sci but it's worth checking our if you can find it.

Gene Wolfe is a favourite of mine too. The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories is a great collection and a good read if you've read and enjoyed his novels.

Sci fi has always been a genre I've been interested in but never had the time to look into, I'm definitely going to be checking out this thread.
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KharBevNor

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Re: Let's talk about science fiction short stories
« Reply #12 on: 24 Jun 2010, 18:42 »

A lot of the novelists discussed are great, but there's plenty of fantastic stories out there that might be from authors people might not otherwise have read, some of them perhaps fairly minor. The reason short stories are so important to the sci-fi genre is I think the roots of so much great sci-fi literature in former pulps like Astounding Science Fiction. People like Campbell, Asimov, Sturgeon and Heinlein all first emerged in that context.

I realised I hadn't made an opinionated list in ages so here are some of my top sci-fi short stories that I think people with more than a passing interest in the genre should make some stab at reading (actually they are just my faves):

Isaac Asimov – Nightfall
Alfred Bester – Fondly Fahrenheit
James Blish – Common Time
Phil K. Dick – We Can Remember it For You Wholesale
Thomas M. Disch – Problems of Creativeness
E.M. Forster – The Machine Stops
William Gibson – Burning Chrome
Tom Godwin - The Cold Equations
Damon Knight - The Country of the Kind
Walter M. Miller, Jr. - Crucifixus Etiam
Frederik Pohl - The Tunnel Under the World
Raccoona Sheldon - The Screwfly Solution
Cordwainer Smith – The Game of Rat and Dragon
Bruce Sterling - Swarm
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Re: Let's talk about science fiction short stories
« Reply #13 on: 24 Jun 2010, 21:24 »

Two newer writers (as in the past couple of decades rather than going back to the classics) to look for are Ted Chiang, and Robert Reed. They mostly do short stories and appear in the magazines, but every time they write a story, it's exquisite. I believe each has a collection available, but it might take some digging.

A very good way to get an overview of the better new short works is to take a look at the various "Best of the Year" anthologies that come out each year. Gardner Dozois' in particular because it's a big book with a lot of good reading. This is a good way to browse for writers you might like to find more of as well. There are also fantasy anthologies that do the same one, the standard there being by Ellen Datlow (and is essentially the companion book to Dozois).

I don't know the particulars of what's available for these year's best outside of the U.S./Canada, but these 2 should be obtainable.

I'm a big fan of the magazines, but since the stories aren't distilled down by time or further editing, the quality is more uneven. In the US you have Asimov's, Analog, Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Realms of Fantasy as the big pro mags. Canada has a small press magazine On Spec, UK has Interzone, and Australia has Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine and Aurealis. There are also a number of online magazines these days as well so you can check out a lot of work for free.

Here's a pretty good list of possibilities.
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Re: Let's talk about science fiction short stories
« Reply #14 on: 24 Jun 2010, 22:03 »

bleh, I hate the Gardner Dozois anthologies. there's usually one or two decent stories in there but man the rest tend towards awful/unreadable.

the last really good anthology i read was rewired: the post-cyberpunk anthology. among the 16 stories featured most are excellent, with only a couple duds. can't rec this highly enough.
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Re: Let's talk about science fiction short stories
« Reply #15 on: 25 Jun 2010, 00:02 »

I feel obliged to throw a recommendation of Roadside Picnic out there. It is Russian (Soviet Russian, at that), though, so it is somewhat depressing and morally ambiguous. That seems to be a common trend in fiction that comes out of there, I don't know why. It is a long short story, but not anywhere near long enough to count as a novel. And you can find a lot of e-book copies online, including one with side-by-side English and Russian text. Not sure if the online copies are legal, I don't understand how copyright of soviet-era stuff works. It is hard to find a print copy in the US, though, and the ones on Amazon are going for well over $100 for a used copy, which is ridiculous.
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Re: Let's talk about science fiction short stories
« Reply #16 on: 25 Jun 2010, 09:26 »

Isaac Asimov – Nightfall
Alfred Bester – Fondly Fahrenheit
James Blish – Common Time
Phil K. Dick – We Can Remember it For You Wholesale
Thomas M. Disch – Problems of Creativeness
E.M. Forster – The Machine Stops
William Gibson – Burning Chrome
Tom Godwin - The Cold Equations
Damon Knight - The Country of the Kind
Walter M. Miller, Jr. - Crucifixus Etiam
Frederik Pohl - The Tunnel Under the World
Raccoona Sheldon - The Screwfly Solution
Cordwainer Smith – The Game of Rat and Dragon
Bruce Sterling - Swarm

Great list!

I first read "Nightfall" in an Asimov collection called (get this) "Nightfall and Other Stories" and thought it was pretty long for a short story.  It was really a novella, and I think Asimov eventually padded it out to novel-length later, but I never read it because... well, I really didn't think he could improve on the original, and every time I got to any new material, it would stick out and annoy me.

I read "The Machine Stops" in an English class in college and immediately grabbed a collection of E. M. Forster, only to discover that "The Machine Stops" was very much an anomoly in Forster's work.  Turns out he'd tried his hand at sci fi specifically to show how lame it is (or something like that) but he inadvertantly ended up writing one of my favorite shorts of all time.

"The Cold Equations" -- wow.  I think I might have cried the first time I read this.

"We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" is one I've always meant to read, because I thought the movie presented some really interesting questions about memory and identity and stuff.  Yeah, it was also a ridiculous action movie (and I won't name it here) but honestly, I loved the sci-fi premise most of all.
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Re: Let's talk about science fiction short stories
« Reply #17 on: 29 Jun 2010, 18:00 »

Italo Calvino - Cosmicomics

I should really read this again, but I remember particularly liking The Form Of Space and The Distance of the Moon. There's an excellent comic touch to it all, as you might expect with Calvino. Rather wistful and I always thought of the stories as being somehow very Italian. There's definitely a strong influence from Calvino's interest in Italian folk tales, which works well with science fiction. Both are often concerned with one central idea.

Primo Levi - The Sixth Day and Other Tales

In Man’s Friend tapeworms compose beautiful poems to their human hosts. All the rest are great too, what with Levi being pretty much the greatest writer who ever lived. One's an excellent homage/pastiche of Calvino's style, particularly in Cosmicomics. As usual with Levi all the prose is stunning and it's actually worth reading Cosmicomics first just to see how incredibly he gets Calvino's style right.

Stanislaw Lem - Tales Of Pirx The Pilot and More Tales Of Pirx The Pilot

The dude wrote Solaris, if that doesn't make someone's sci-fi output essential I don't know what would. These are much funnier though, more like his excellent novella The Futurological Congress. Pirx is one of the great ordinary blokes of science fiction.

Garry Kilworth - Hogfoot Right And Bird Hands and Surfing Spanish Style

Both appear in In The Country Of Tattooed Men, which varies between science fiction and, er, generally odd short stories. Hogfoot Right And Bird Hands is a well executed tale describing the practice of forming pets from the amputated limbs of people so idle and machine-reliant they no longer need them. Surfing Spanish Style is a good dystopian Britain story about kids riding on top of trains due to having nothing else to do and no prospect of anything either. You can tell it was written under Thatcher, and it's all the better for it.
« Last Edit: 29 Jun 2010, 18:02 by a pack of wolves »
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Re: Let's talk about science fiction short stories
« Reply #18 on: 29 Jun 2010, 18:19 »

I feel obliged to throw a recommendation of Roadside Picnic out there. It is Russian (Soviet Russian, at that), though, so it is somewhat depressing and morally ambiguous. That seems to be a common trend in fiction that comes out of there, I don't know why. It is a long short story, but not anywhere near long enough to count as a novel. And you can find a lot of e-book copies online, including one with side-by-side English and Russian text. Not sure if the online copies are legal, I don't understand how copyright of soviet-era stuff works. It is hard to find a print copy in the US, though, and the ones on Amazon are going for well over $100 for a used copy, which is ridiculous.


This is also the book that all things Stalker are based on (that is, the brilliant Tarkovsky film and a few solid, if not buggy PC games).


I do know that George R.R. Martin has done a few short stories that could fall under this label.  There were two of his that came in the same paperback, except that one side was upside down from the other.  Can't be arsed to remember the name, though.  It's definitely not on his Wikipedia page.
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