BLOG Short And Sweet: Some Short Story Recommendations
Short stories are a bit of a passion of mine and while hanging around the genre section at my local library I noticed the book Death’s Excellent Vacation, a collection of short stories by various authors and edited by Charlaine Harris, of Sookie Stackhouse fame.
I read the list of contributing authors and a fair few of them were completely unknown to me and I thought, “What the heck? I’ll give it a go.”
I think the book was designed and marketed to paranormal romance fans and reading some reviews I think they were disappointed as there are few of those kind of stories in there. That wasn’t really the tone of the book. However, to be honest I was absolutely surprised by the quality of the collection. It had silly and predictable stories – which is sort what I was expecting – but it also had stories full of depth, melancholy, mystery and humour. If you are a fan of the short story genre don’t be put off by the tone the dust jacket implies; a big proportion of this book is high quality genre fiction. (Not that I am dissing the paranormal romance genre I hasten to add – I’m an unashamed fan myself.)
This tiny and inadequate review of this book is just an excuse to talk to you about my deep love of short stories. The story that worked least well in this anthology was Charlaine Harris’ own; that’s because it isn’t a true short story in the style that makes my geeky heart sing. Short stories set in established universes are difficult to pull off – they work best for people who already love said established world and are often nonsensical or meaningless for those who don’t. The best short stories have – rather obviously – a beginning, middle and an end which happen within the story. They are stand-alone and this makes them work much better. There are authors who can write short stories and those who can’t. It’s a talent in of itself and when I find an author who can do it and do it well they have a loyal and avid reader in me.
I do have to admit my favourite all-time top three short story writers may be a bit predictable (and I care not a jot about that, good is good – fact!), starting with Philip K Dick. I have not found a Philip K Dick novel that I have got on with, not one that I have managed to finish. But his short stories – oh man, the ideas, the humour, the cynical twists. Occasionally even the very shortness of the story is breath-taking. His stories are rollercoaster reading that leave your mind upside down and back to front.
A great starting point is the collection called We Can Remember It For You Wholesale which contains the (very) short story on which the (very) brilliant film Total Recall was (very) loosely based. This collection has a lot of humour and is really very accessible.
“Smoke and Mirrors” by Neil Gaiman is a flipping joy of a collection and a fantastic example of short story storytelling, in which pacing is everything! I love the modern fairytale feel of this book; it’s clever and funny and gory and scary, and if you’re reading this book for the first time do not skip the introduction.
One of the tricks of short story telling I love most is a sense of subtlety and not everyone can manage it. But there is a king of this trick; a most masterful storyteller who never feels it necessary to tell you everything; who allows you the joy of deciding for yourself; who tricks you and turns you and makes you love every second and will also make rereading his stories just as enjoyable even when you know what’s coming; a genius of plotting, pacing and tension building…
I am, of course, talking about Roald Dahl, the absolute king of the short story as far as I am concerned. A man who can make you question your morals with utter joy, with stories in which you find yourself wilfully hoping for bad things to happen to people; where you find yourself cheering for the bad guy or hoping a murderess will get away with it. Oh, and don’t be mistaken thinking that his stories aren’t genre. I think it would be nigh on impossible to categorise his collections under any banner (except short stories!), but you can’t tell me that ‘William And Mary” isn’t science fiction or “Royal Jelly” doesn’t have a genre kick… and so on and so on.
If you haven’t read his Tales Of The Unexpected or the amazing The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar, or if you have only seen dramatised versions of his stories., then I urge you in the strongest of all possible ways to do so as soon as you can and I mean right now!
I can’t be the only one with a passion for this genre, so c’mon who do you love? Which authors or collections do you recommend?