BLOGBUSTERS Best SF, Fantasy & Horror Short Stories

What bite-sized reading matter do the SFX bloggers recommend?

It’s that time again, ladies and gentlemen, when jumpsuits are thrown on, particle accelerators triggered and the tricked out Hearse with the surprising amount of DVD storage in the back and the X-Wing taped to the roof hits the streets of Geek City. We ain’t afraid of no blogs!

Especially this week, where the question is:

Whilst genre fiction still gets sniffed at by a lot of the mainstream press, short genre fiction continues to thrive. What’s your favourite fantasy, science fiction or horror short story and why?

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John Cooper: I couldn’t name any one favourite story, but I do know from which book I’d pick it: HP Lovecraft’s Haunter Of The Dark And Other Tales Of Terror, a collection of shorts bought for me by a mate who was a massive Brian Lumley fan. The stories have some bizarre and inspired titles like “The Color Out Of Space” and “The Thing On The Doorstep”, but I recall being affected by “The Whisperer In Darkness”, involving a brain in a jar, which I foolishly read late at night.

I particularly like the way the Lovecraft stories overlap and reference one another, hinting at a vast dark otherworldly dimension that would send you mad to even glimpse it. There was another story that I only vaguely recall, about a man who built a kind of cosmic evil telephone to speak to Cthulhu, which inspired me to make a Lovecraftian birthday gift for a friend. I went the local DIY shop and bought lots of odd-looking spare parts: hinges, brackets, switches, etc. I put them all in a box labelled the “The Whitworths End Device”, and inside were rough nonsensical diagrams I called “configurations”, with the words, “No instructions necessary if you are a member”. Then left it on his doorstep. Spooky.

Lee Harris: I have so many favourite short stories, and they change depending on my mood, so I’m going to cheat, and pretend that the question was, “What is your favourite short story of last year?”

Oh, now that’s an easy one. It’s a very short, short story by Kij Johnson, called “Ponies”. It was shortlisted for a Hugo award this year, and although it didn’t win, I don’t think many people would have complained if it had. The story has everything you need: a pinch of the weird, a spoonful of the saccharin, and a kick-ass ending. It’s also extremely short (shorter than many features on the SFX website), so whatever you’re doing right now, you have time to go read it, which you can do at http://www.tor.com/stories/2010/11/ponies. It’s a story of growing up, and of how schoolchildren are the biggest monsters of all (anyone with any memories of secondary school will know how true this is). I don’t want to say too much about this one because anything I say will spoil it, so just go read, and discover for yourself.

Matt Risley: Well, seeing as though I already inadvertently answered this in our “Most Terrifying Stories” Blogbusters a couple of weeks back (I chose Stephen King’s “Autopsy Room Four” from his 2002 short story collection Everything’s Eventual), I’m going to opt for one that’s probably a little left of centre.

You’ll probably know Hans Christian Andersen’s Den lille havfrue better as Disney’s heart-warming sing-along The Little Mermaid. As with the majority of Disney’s short story-inspired features though, the original has a distinctly more ominous origin story. While the lack of reggae crabs and prince-ly Abercrombie leads is distressing enough, it’s Andersen’s original plot that truly unsettles. Apparently, mermaids don’t have souls (cheery), meaning that when the titular fishwoman dies, she’ll simply turn to sea foam and cease to exist.

When she sees a handsome seafaring Prince from afar (he never sees his Little Merstalker), she barters with a seawitch to become human (with the minor drawbacks that she’ll have her tongue ripped out and every step she takes feels on human legs will feel like she’s stomping on swords), and – long Fatal Attraction story short later – she just about stops herself from stabbing her beloved and his missus through the heart before tragically karking it herself.

It’s the macabre spin on the tale that grabbed me, prompting a quick trip to eBay to collect all his other stories and truly scar what’s left of my childhood.

Steven Ellis: I’m a big fan of short fiction. I have a shelf full of anthologies and collected short stories by many authors. I’ve even written some myself with varying results. I think there is a real skill in writing short stories: the discipline involved in getting the information and relevant story across in as few words as possible; the ability to build an entire world sometimes in just a few thousand words. There’s something about the short story form that is really refreshing – little bite-sized stories that you can dip in and out of are sometimes preferable to big tomes.

I’d be hard pressed to pick out a single favourite, if I did it would probably be something about robots by Isaac Asimov. His creation of the Three Laws Of Robotics and then the subsequent plethora of short stories where he challenges those Laws in any way he can led to some very inventive and engaging stories. I think they are some of his best work by far. But I also really like a lot of the stuff in the Star Wars “Tales From” books, Karen Traviss’s little Republic Commando snippets and Peter F Hamilton’s short story collections too.

Alasdair Stuart: I actually have two, which is a cheat, but as one of the stories is two lines long, I figure I can squeak it in. That one, written by Fredric Brown, first appeared in his anthology Space On My Hands in 1953 and is one of the most beautiful, all encapsulating pieces of writing I’ve ever encountered. The first line is, “The last man on Earth sat alone in a room.” and the rest, well, the rest you can find online. Look, it won’t take long and believe me it’s worth it. Brilliant, tight writing and a fun little shiver of a piece.

My favourite, though, is Reports Of Certain Events In London by China Mieville. It’s in his anthology Looking For Jake and opens with him, the author, receiving a packet of documents. They’re sent to the right address and, almost, the right name, so he decides to open them. What he finds is the story of a very odd London society, of expeditions to explore something which has been camouflaged from us for centuries and betrayal, violence and high adventure in the arteries of London. I can’t say any more because it’s one of those pieces that really needs to be read as a surprise, but it’s beautiful: a really smart, horrible, glorious piece of writing. (I wholeheartedly agree with this, and, agree that Looking For Jake is an extraordinary collection – online ed.)

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So there you go, the trap is steaming, the grateful citizens haven’t yet noticed the hideous property damage we did busting the blog and it’s time to go back to the fire station before this Ghostbusters metaphor gets even more torturous. Join us next week when we get all teary with this question:

What’s the single moment in geek fiction that gives you the biggest emotional reaction, and why?

We’ll see you then. Bring tissues, chances are we’ll need them.

Check out our pervious Blogbuster features