I was amazed and pleased at the response to the previous installment’s listing of my top 10 novels, so to begin 1998 off with, here’s another list: My Top 10 Favorite Short Stories. Several correspondents commented on the novel list’s reliance (or crutch, if you will) on science fiction and fantasy, which surprises even me. Discussing it with Jill, I find that those books are my favorites because each one taught me something new about reading or writing. In short stories, the reasoning is a little different. I like each of these stories for what they say or the manner in which they say it. And, even more than in the novels, I find my favorites in the SF/F genre. I gladly solicit recommendations for “mainstream” short stories that are heavy on plot and less reliant on mood. In my experience, non-genre short stories are little more than vignettes, but I would welcome having that impression dispelled.
Enough of that, here’s the list (alphabetical by story title):
“Bloodchild,” Octavia Butler
A chilling story of alien reproduction. Everything in this story is just a little too real for my stomach, which makes it all the more fascinating.
“The Calvin Coolidge Home for Dead Comedians,” Bradley Denton
A story about art and artists, about why we do the things we do, and the freedom to do it. How can a story in which Lenny Bruce, John Belushi, and Eddie Murphy all are characters be anything but fascinating?
“It’s You,” Theodore Sturgeon
It’s a simple story about relationships–no spaceships, aliens, or dead comedians, just a man, a woman, and a problem. The title is a hint, but you don’t know it until the end.
“Neither Your Jenny Nor Mine,” Harlan Ellison
I could have named a number of Ellison stories–he is currently battling with Sturgeon as my favorite short story writer. This story is a non-fantastical account of a horrifying situation: abortion before Roe v. Wade.
“Night They Missed the Horror Show,” Joe R. Lansdale
The single most effective horror short story I’ve ever read (and, yes, I’ve read all of Edgar Allan Poe and Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”). You have to hate the rednecks who lead off this story, but they are nothing compared to real evil, and that’s the point.
“The Scalehunter’s Beautiful Daughter,” Lucius Shepard
One of Shepard’s fantasies about the Dragon Graiule, a twenty mile long slumbering creature. In some ways, it’s kind of a Princess Bride plot. Except for the beginning, and the middle, and, especially, the end.
“Scanners Live in Vain,” Cordwainer Smith
A classic about a group of workers who are being downsized. Unions and management today might take a look at this one.
“The Screwfly Solution,” James Tiptree, Jr.
Now that you know the solution, the trick to this story is figuring out what is the problem. I could have named several Tiptree short stories (why won’t someone do a complete set of her short stories?), but I picked this one because I never forget the solution.
“Think Like A Dinosaur,” James Patrick Kelly
The most recent addition to the list. Kelly’s take on the Star Trek transporter is clever and deeply moving.
“Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” Jorge Luis Borges
What if you ran across an entry in the encyclopedia for a country you had never heard of? Like Philip K. Dick, only shorter and weirder.
Like last time, I welcome your comments on this list and possibly a listing of your own. And, while you are at it, try to think of a friend who might enjoy First Impressions, and forward this message to them.
[Finished 15 February 1998]