10 memorable short stories

A few years ago I wrote about 10 memorable science fiction and fantasy stories. Now it’s time for another 10.

In terms of collections of related short stories, The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury and City by Clifford D. Simak are both 5/5.

“The Pedestrian” by Ray Bradbury (in The Golden Apples of the Sun)

Leonard liked to walk around the city in the evening. But he was the only one — everyone else was in their home with the curtains drawn. Since no one but him used the sidewalks, they were gradually being taken over by grass. One evening when he’s out for a walk, the police come upon him — and they fail to understand why he would be out walking.

This is a fairly straightforward story but like all of Bradbury’s work it’s effectively written, and I’ve remembered it for a long time. As Bradbury saw in 1951, it could be a problem if people sit in front of their TVs for hours — not talking, not walking, and not thinking about anything that’s really going on.

I recently read Ray Bradbury’s Dandeline Wine, and I highly recommend Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles.

“Adjustment Team” by Philip K. Dick (in Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick)

A life insurance salesman visits Ed in the morning, making him late for work. But when he gets there something incomprehensible has happened — everyone is grey and frozen, buildings are crumbling into dust, and even the sun is gone. Then he sees people in white with strange machinery. What he doesn’t know is that an adjustment is underway — he was supposed to be there earlier, but there was a mistake.

This story is suspenseful. You’ll keep reading to find out what happens to Ed, who the people in white are, and what exactly they’re doing. I think the concept is fascinating, and well executed as always by the author.

In addition to his short stories, I enjoyed Philip K. Dick’s Ubik not too long ago. Further in the past I also enjoyed The Man in the High Castle and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Dick’s stories and novels show up on the big screen on a regular basis — for example, Blade Runner, Minority Report, and The Adjustment Bureau (the latter based on “Adjustment Team”).

“Changeling” by Barbara Hambly (in Once Upon a Time: A Treasury of Modern Fairy Tales)

Brown Michael is Lord of the White Marches, so it’s his responsibility to kill the dragon. In the dragon’s lair he finds the expected bones and dead bodies. He also finds the unexpected: a two-year-old girl, a green deer-like creature, and a sparkling cloud of lights. He takes them home, but worries in the back of his mind that one or more of them might end up being dangerous in some way.

There’s a moral here, but it’s a great story. I like how it’s not just Michael who comes off well — his wife Anne also holds her own, with her knowledge from books and willingness to go off and meet the fairies. The story is accompanied by a painting by Michael Pangrazio, which is also memorable.

Barbara Hambly is one of the first fantasy authors I read — I have vague but fond memories of novels like The Time of the Dark, The Ladies of Mandrigyn, Dragonsbane, and The Silent Tower.

“Thousandth Night” by Alastair Reynolds (in One Million A. D.)

The 999 Gentian clones were virtually immortal, and spent most of their time roaming the Galaxy seeking new experiences. Once every 200 000 years they all gathered together for a reunion. Each member of the line constructed a strand of what they’d been doing for the last 200 000 years. For 999 nights, each member’s strand was inserted into everyone’s dreams. On Thousandth Night, they voted on whose strand was the best. But this reunion was different — on Thousandth Night the identity of a murderer and the mystery of the Great Work would be revealed.

The reunion is an interesting event, the Gentians are fascinating people, and the Great Work is a mind boggling project. The anticipation of what will happen on Thousandth Night will keep you reading.

I haven’t read anything else by Alastair Reynolds yet but I will soon.

“Just Like Old Times” by Robert J. Sawyer (in Iterations)

A process called chronotransference has been developed which transfers a person’s consciousness back in time into another person’s mind. The problem is that there’s no way to sever the link — until the historical person dies, at which point the person from our time will also die. Because of the overburdened social welfare system, the government allows anyone to undergo chronotransference. Cohen, a convicted killer, is forced to undergo the procedure. He gets to choose who he transfers his consciousness into — he chooses a Tyrannosaurus rex.

This story contains details about Tyrannosaurus rex and the time it lived in. It also contains a plausible starting point for Cohen’s murder spree. You’ll want to find out what happens to Cohen and the dinosaur.

Robert J. Sawyer is one of my favourite authors — his books are full of scientific and moral speculation. I particularly recommend Calculating God, Factoring Humanity, Golden Fleece, Hominids, and Starplex. I recently read his WWW trilogy: Wake, Watch, and Wonder. Sawyer’s novel Flashforward was made into a TV series.

“The Big Front Yard” by Clifford D. Simak (in Over the River & Through the Woods)

Hiram is a handy man and antiques dealer. One day he discovers a new ceiling in his basement — and he has no idea how it got there. He tried to drill through it but the drill bits just broke off. Hiram’s dog Towser had been digging, he assumed for woodchucks, but when he went to look it was some sort of tank he’d discovered in the forest. A tank that looked like nothing he had ever seen before.

We expect science fiction stories to take place in the future, but this story of Simak’s takes place in the past. The main character is a regular person who is confronted with something extraordinary. He deals with it because he has no choice. And he’s just stubborn enough not to go along with what the officials want to do.

In addition to City, I recommend Clifford D. Simak’s Way Station and Project Pope.

“The Moon Moth” by Jack Vance (in The Best of Jack Vance)

On Sirene in order to fit into society you had to wear a mask, and you had to learn to play certain musical instruments. When you talked with people you sang while playing the appropriate instrument for the occasion. Thissell was a Consular Representative, who one day received an urgent message: he was supposed to detain and incarcerate the notorious assassin Haxo Angmark. But that would be difficult, as he had only been on Sirene for three months and was still learning how things were done.

I liked the description of the different way they do things on this planet, and the way the story proceeded logically from the premise. The absurdity of some situations reminds me a bit of Connie Willis’ stories. Thissell is a great character to follow: he was unprepared for Sirene but that wasn’t his fault. Once he realizes how unprepared he is, he takes steps to remedy that.

I haven’t read anything else by Jack Vance yet but I will soon.

“Tableau” by James White (in The Aliens Among Us)

MacEwan had been fighting in the war for some time. He was a successful ship captain, but the enemy had been learning things about Earth armament and tactics. Each engagement was a huge risk — the Orligs’ primary weapon could easily destroy their ship if they weren’t careful. Of course, no Human knew exactly how the war had started — the team that had made first contact with the Orligs had all been killed.

One thing that’s great about this story is the surprise — things are not always as they seem. White draws you into a certain point of view, only to astonish with you a totally different one.

I haven’t read anything by James White except for this collection.

“Spice Pogrom” by Connie Willis (in Impossible Things)

Chris lives on a space station. Her fiance Stewart, who works for NASA, asked her to let an alien stay in her spare bedroom. She has difficulty pronouncing the alien’s name, much less communicating effectively with him. Stewart said to let the alien do whatever he wanted, because negotiations were at a delicate stage. But then the alien wanted her to let another man stay in her apartment.

Humans are looking for a space program from the aliens — but do they really have one? This story is about communication between humans, and between humans and aliens. It’s also about what happens when space is at a premium (landlords make out like bandits). I like the inscrutable nature of the alien, and the slightly absurd sense of humour.

Connie Willis is a fabulous author at novel length as well: I read and enjoyed Lincoln’s Dreams, Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, and Passage.

“The Perseids” by Robert Charles Wilson (in The Perseids and Other Stories)

Michael buys a telescope, to look at the Perseid meteor shower among other things. And he starts going out with Robin, the woman who sold it to him. The story is about relationships, the Fermi Paradox (why aliens haven’t visited Earth), and the gnososphere (Robin’s friend Roger’s idea of the domain of culture, art, religion, and language). It’s about something happening with humans that’s never happened before.

I like the juxtaposition of the everyday location (one I’ve been to many times), Toronto, and the science fictional speculation. The climax of the story is a bit more mysterious than I usually prefer, but the rest of it is very interesting.

Robert Charles Wilson is one of my favourite authors — he invents fascinating situations and characters. I particularly recommend Blind Lake, The Chronoliths, Darwinia, The Harvest, and Spin.

Runner ups

“Atlantis” by Orson Scott Card (in Keeper of Dreams) is about someone in the future using the Pastwatch system to find out what really happened with Noah and the ark.

“The Dance of the Changer and the Three” by Terry Carr (in The Light at the End of the Universe) is about aliens who are so different from us that we could never understand them.

“The Lifecycle of Software Objects” by Ted Chiang (free on the Subterranean Press web site) is about digients, virtual pets who have some amount of artificial intelligence so they can interact with their owners.

“Mountain Ways” by Ursula K. Le Guin (in The Birthday of the World and Other Stories) is about mountain farmers whose marriages consist of four people, two men and two women.

“A Piece of the Great World” by Robert Silverberg (in One Million A. D.) is about an expedition to seek out the Sea-Lords, a race long thought dead — this is far in the future after humans are long gone.

This entry was posted on Sunday, July 8th, 2012 at 12:34 pm and is filed under Reviews of books. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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