Ah, short stories! Who doesn’t love a good SF one? I know I’m preaching to the choir here; Analog readers obviously appreciate short stories. But what is it about the form that we like so much?
For one thing, a short story is quick to read. When you enter the world of a novel, you know that you’re going to be in and out, like a tourist in a fancy parking garage. Like it or not, you have to put the book down now and again to deal with the real world and its distractions. Not so with a short story; one can often finish in a single setting, so the outside world never has to intrude.
Another appeal of the short story is its focus. Novels have room to spread out all over the place: multiple interesting locations, complex multilayered plots, many intriguing ideas, and the proverbial cast of thousands. A short story, on the other hand, is all about minimalism: one idea, one plot, one major setting, at most a handful of characters. If the best novels are a full-course gourmet meal, the best short stories are a perfect, exquisite, handpicked strawberry.
This quality of focus allows a short story to pack an enormous punch in a way that longer forms simply can’t. Think of some of the classic short stories of the field, and how they left you reeling the first time you read them: Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Star,” Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” or Damon Knight’s “To Serve Man.”
In terms of focus and punch, you can’t beat the “short-short story” of fewer than 1,000 words—the length featured in Analog’s Probability Zero department. A good short-short is a whiff of ammonia, a shot of smooth whiskey, a bite-size confection that lingers for hours on the taste buds.
Finally, short stories—like tapas or smorgasbord—allow one to sample unfamiliar things. The investment of time isn’t huge; if you don’t like the story, you haven’t lost much. Readers can try out new authors, different genres, exotic voices. Writers can experiment with techniques, viewpoints, modes of expression. And short stories are a great way to introduce SF to those who don’t ordinarily read it.
For a long time the SF field was composed almost exclusively of short stories. This period lasted from the foundation of the pulp SF magazines in the 1920s until after World War II, and covered the entire era usually called “The Golden Age of Science Fiction.” In those days, the field’s most talented writers worked in short stories, and the magazines were the only source of the full variety of SF. However, finding older stories required enormous effort, haunting used bookstores and digging through endless bins of moldering pulps.
That changed in 1946, with the publication of perhaps the most important SF anthology ever published. Adventures in Time and Space, edited by Raymond J. Healy and J. Francis McComas, collected thirty-three of the best stories (and two essays) from the prewar pulps (most of them originally published in Astounding). The list of contributors is a “Who’s Who” of Golden Age SF. The commercial success of this anthology demonstrated that there was a market for science fiction in book form; it’s entirely fair to call it, as Frederik Pohl did, “the book that started the science-fiction publishing industry.”
When the SF community began giving the annual Hugo Awards in 1955, it was only natural to include short stories as one of the main categories. In 1966 the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) followed suit with their own Nebula Award.
While magazines (and now, webzines) have remained an important source of short stories, anthologies and collections are an important way to preserve and spread good stories. (A collection is usually made up of stories by one author, while an anthology consists of many different authors.) Adventures in Space and Time, sadly out of print, remains a good source of Golden Age stories. The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, edited by Robert Silverberg based on a vote by the membership of SFWA, contains twenty-six of the best short stories published before 1965.
Over the years, many editors have put together annual “Best of the Year” collections of short stories; currently The Year’s Best Science Fiction edited by Gardner Dozois is into its twenty-seventh year, and editor Rich Horton’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy is on its third annual volume.
Not all anthologies contain reprints. In 1953 Frederik Pohl published Star Science Fiction, the first of a series of anthologies of previously-unpublished stories (such an anthology is termed an “original anthology.”) Star was essentially a magazine in book form, and that pattern continues today in such anthologies as The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction edited by George Mann.
But there’s another type of original anthology, and that’s the “theme” anthology—a book where all the short stories flow from the same inspiration. These can be as sublime as Bruce Sterling’s Mirrorshades or Nick Gevers’ Steampunk (both of which encapsulated entire literary movements: cyberpunk and steampunk respectively) or as ridiculous as my own Carmen Miranda’s Ghost is Haunting Space Station Three. The heyday of theme anthologies was the mid 1970s, when literally hundreds of them flooded the market—as much as 25% of them produced by a single editor (the infamous Roger Elwood).
This time around I have a selection of anthologies containing over seventy short stories and novelettes (a novelette is basically a long short story) plus an assortment of essays, poems, and other short pieces.
Nebula Awards Showcase 2011
edited by Kevin J. Anderson
Tor, 416 pages, $17.99 (trade paperback)
Kindle, Nook: pricing not available (e-book)
Genre: Reprint Anthology
Nebula Awards Showcase 2011
As mentioned above, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) awards the annual Nebula Award to the best SF works, as chosen by vote of the members. While the Hugo Awards are chosen by readers, Nebula voters are professional writers. As with any award, controversy eternally accompanies the Nebulas, and the arcane rules are continually being revised. Nebula voters (who are actually a self-selected subset of SFWA) tend to prefer works that are move literary and avant-garde than the average Analog story—indeed, the only piece in this current volume that was published in Analog is a 1981 Joe Haldeman story. (This story, the volume’s sole pre-2009 tale, is included as a sample of Haldeman’s work; Haldeman was awared the SFWA Grand Master Award this time around.)
None of that matters. Whatever the process, the Nebula Awards generally go to fine stories on the cutting edge of the field.
The 2011 Showcase presents the results of the 2010 Nebula Awards, which were given for stories published in 2009. Editor Kevin J. Anderson includes all of the nominees in the short story and novelette categories and the winning novella, as well as three poems that won the Rhysling Awards (presented by the Science Fiction Poetry Association).
Dark Futures: Tales of SF Dystopia
edited by Jason Sizemore
Dark Quest, 268 pages, $14.95
Genres: Dystopian Futures,
Original Theme Anthology
Dark Futures: Tales of SF Dystopia
One place the short story really shines is in the genre of dystopian futures. While everyone enjoys a nice, dismal dystopia, the problem is that they’re all so bloody depressing. By the end of even the best-written dystopian novel, you tend to feel tense and wrung-out, if not downright paranoid. But with short stories, you can dip into and out of an unpleasant future world before it starts to get to you.
Editor Jason Sizemore has put together a book of nineteen dystopian tales ranging from gritty Big Brother cityscape (Maggie Jamison’s “Memories of Hope City”) to thought-provoking faux nonfiction (“A Marketing Proposal” by Sara M. Harvey) to positively poignant (“Black Hole Sun” by Alethea Kontis & Kelli Owen, in which two digital-native teenagers react to news of the upcoming end of the world). As is often the case with theme anthologies, it’s fascinating to see how different authors go in a different direction from the same staring point. There’s certainly enough variety here to keep the various dystopias from becoming too oppressive.
Welcome to the Greenhouse: New Science Fiction on Climate Change
Let me get this out of the way immediately: global climate change is a controversial topic with passionate feelings on all sides. None of that matters right now. Science fiction has always explored possibilities without claiming that they are real. You don’t have to believe in psionics to enjoy Theodore Sturgeon’s More Than Human any more than you have to believe in flying saucers to enjoy The Day the Earth Stood Still. SF is about answering the question “What if?” even when the particular “if” might be unlikely or even impossible.
Gordon van Gelder has put together a strong anthology of sixteen stories that answer the question “What if global climate change happens?” Some pretty impressive names have given their visions: Brian W. Aldiss, Gregory Benford, Bruce Sterling, Alan Dean Foster, and Paul Di Filippo, but there are also some relatively unknown bylines here as well.
The key to a good story about any huge trend, like worldwide disaster, is to make it personal. This is a lesson the authors know well; all of these stories are written at the scale of individual human beings, with compelling characters facing personal problems. From a paddlewheel trip across a drowned California to the family problems of an adolescent in a transhuman world, there’s something here to please everyone. (If you’re not a fan of global warming, there’s even a story about a new ice age.)
No matter what you believe about climate change, Welcome to the Greenhouse is a treat for anyone who appreciates good SF in the best speculative tradition.
By Other Means
edited by Mike McPhail
Dark Quest, 218 pages, $14.95
Series: Defending the Future 3
Genres: Military SF, Original Theme Anthology
By Other Means
Military SF comes in short story form, too. In the Defending the Future series of anthologies (the two prior volumes were Breach the Hull and So It Begins), editor Mike McPhail brings together some satisfying single-servings of military-themed science fiction. Analog readers will see some familiar names here, among them John G. Hemry and Bud Sparhawk. David Sherman contributes a story from the science fantasy Demontech universe.
Altogether, By Other Means contains fourteen stories. You might expect lots of huge space battles and epic derring-do, but many of these tales are more personal and character-driven. There’s more than a bit of introspection and moral reflection, as well.
Reading By Other Means, it’s easy to imagine yourself at the off-base bar on a deep-space transfer station, overhearing the tales of passing space marines, naval officers, and assorted other soldiers. If you enjoy a well-told story in the military SF genre, this is the book for you.
edited by Joan Spicci Saberhagen
& Robert E. Vardeman
Baen, 467 pages, $20.00 (hardcover)
Bean Webscriptions: $6.00 (e-book)
Genres: Alternate History, Original Theme Anthology, Parallel Worlds, Time Travel
A type of anthology that’s becoming more common nowadays is what we might call the “tribute anthology.” In this type of book, authors write stories in honor of a big-name colleague; they can be set in worlds created by the honoree, or written in his/her style, or otherwise inspired by the great one. Sometimes these tribute anthologies appear to commemorate a special anniversary or birthday (as with Elizabeth Anne Hull’s Gateways, published for the 90th birthday of its honoree, Frederik Pohl). Sadly, too many of these tribute anthologies are posthumous.
Golden Reflections is such a posthumous tribute to the late Fred Saberhagen. In 1979 Saberhagen published a clever little alternate worlds novel called Mask of the Sun, set in an alternate world in which the dominant Aztecs are fighting other timelines for control of the multiverse. It was a fairly successful story of warring parallel worlds, with many devoted fans.
About a year after Saberhagen’s death in 2007, his widow (one of this volume’s co-editors) got the idea of inviting other authors to write stories set in the Mask of the Sun universe. The idea turned out to be a popular one. Early on, the editors decided to feature only longer pieces, novelettes and novellas. Golden Reflections presents the results: seven stories, plus a reprint of the original novel that started it all.
As is usually the case with tribute anthologies, the list of authors is impressive: Daniel Abraham, Jane Lindskold, John Maddox Roberts, Dean Wesley Smith, Harry Turtledove, David Weber, and Walter Jon Williams. Even more impressive is the stories themselves. Every one is meaty, engaging, well-written . . . and a true tribute to Fred Saberhagen. From ancient Pharaohs to Cervantes, the cast of characters is both fascinating and fun. Including the source novel was a good choice; it’s great fun to see what threads the other authors have picked up and woven into their own tales.
Jar Jar Binks Must Die . . . and Other Observations about Science Fiction Movies
Short isn’t just for stories. The nonfiction equivalent of the short story is the essay—and essays are popular for much the same reason as short stories.
Daniel M. Kimmel is a science fiction fan and movie reviewer. In this volume he’s collected several dozen short essays on science fiction (and related genre) films. These aren’t reviews, written to help you decided whether or not to see the movie; these essay generally assume that the reader is familiar with most of the movies mentioned.
Kimmel obviously loves SF, and that love shines through even when he’s castigating individual films. Whether he’s explaining why Metropolis is such an important film, or joining in with the obligatory George Lucas bashing, his writing is intelligent and entertaining. You may disagree with him (in fact, you almost certainly will on something), but you can’t say he doesn’t give reasoned arguments in support of his positions. And his knowledge of SF movies is encyclopedic.
This is the guy you want sitting next to you when Channel 45 has a weekend “sci-fi” movie marathon.
For anyone who likes SF movies, this volume is worth the price of admission.
Thatís about it for this issue. When youíre done reading the short stories in this issue, go forth and read more.
Don Sakers is the author of Dance for the Ivory Madonna and A Voice in Every Wind. For more information, visit www.scatteredworlds.com. Genre and series information is based on listings at www.readersadvice.com.
"The Reference Library" copyright © 2011, Don Sakers