• Steve Haywood

Reading short stories

I’ve never been a big reader of short stories, always preferring novels, and I don’t think that is going to change anytime soon, but I’ve recently started reading some short stories and I have been surprised how much I’ve enjoyed some of the stories I’ve read. There’s also quite a lot that left my cold (and bored and at times confused). In this and more posts to come I’ll be talking about my findings and reviewing some of the stories I’ve read, particularly ones I’ve really enjoyed. Where these are available free online I’ll include a link too (and so many stories are available on the internet). I’ve been reading quite a wide mix of stories, there’s a lot of science fiction and fantasy short stories, but quite a few others too. The great thing is that you can easily read a big variety in a short space of time, no getting stuck in a book for weeks or months on end.

I’m going to start off with some science fiction & fantasy stories this time.

‘Nightfall’ by Isaac Asimov (available as an audio story here or as a pdf here). This was written in 1941 but has not aged at all, and is everything a science fiction story should be. The story is about a solar eclipse, but also is a story about superstition and ignorance versus knowledge and science. At least I think it is, it is a while since I’ve read this one.

‘The Paper Menagerie’ by Ken Liu. (available here) If you don’t read science fiction short stories, you’ve probably never heard of Ken Liu, but in science fiction circles he’s considered one of the finest modern short story writers (modern as in the last 10 years). I suppose this is technically a fantasy story, but really there’s just the smallest touch of magic in it, other than which it is a normal contemporary short story and a very good one too. It is about family, parenthood and the problems that can come when different cultures collide. This story won the Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Award.

Talking about good modern authors, Ted Chiang is another name most people won’t have heard of, not surprisingly as he’s not written any novels, and has only published 14 short stories in a 20 year career although many of them have won science fiction’s top awards. You don’t get many science fiction short story writers being written about in The Economist, but you can read this excellent article about him here. I’ve only read a couple of his stories so far, including ‘Exhalation’ about a strange universe inhabited by sentient mechanical beings. I read this online, but can’t seem to find it now. There is a free audio version though. Chiang’s stories can be quite philosophical, and really make you think.

So there you go, five stories all available online. If you are after classic sci-fi, go for Nightfall, if you fancy a bit of nostalgia, go for the Sounds of Old Earth, and if you aren’t much into science fiction or fantasy, have a read of The Paper Menagerie. Or just read them all.

If you read (or have already read) any of the stories, do comment and let me know what you think, or if you’ve got any short stories you really recommend – in any genre – then tell me, I’m always on the look out for good short fiction to read.

Next time I’ll probably talk about some more mainstream, non science fiction/fantasy short stories, but despite reading some supposed classics I am struggling for stories I really love. Anyway, that’s for next time.


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