This week’s topic was suggested (separately) by Blue Tyson and Scott A. Cupp:

We’ve discussed essential science fiction novels, but what about essential short fiction? Many authors have published collections of their short fiction over the years, so we asked this week’s panelists:

Q: What single-author, non-“Best-of” collections of sf/f/h stories should be in every fan’s library? You may choose between 1 and 10 titles.

Is your favorite single-author collection listed below?

Elizabeth Anne Hull
Elizabeth Anne Hull, Professor Emerita from Harper College in Palatine, IL has been honored as a Distinguished Faculty by her own college, by the Thomas Clareson Award for service to SF research and teaching by the Science Fiction Research Association (of which she is a past president), and by the Northwestern University Alumni Award for service to her profession. She has been active in community service work, promoting international peace and understanding, preventing violence, and politics all her life. More info in Who’s Who in the World and Who’s Who in America, among other sources.
  • A Touch of Strange, Theodore Sturgeon, 1958. This contains, among a number of good stories, “The Pod in the Barrier,” “Affair with a Green Monkey,” “The Girl Had Guts,” and (my favorite of all Ted’s stories), “The Other Celia.” This last story has such universal appeal in part because the viewpoint character is a voyeur, and all fiction readers are voyeurs, looking at other people’s lives, living through the characters in stories.
  • Nine Hundred Grandmothers, R. A. Lafferty, 1970. Besides the story which gives the anthology its name (a study in the mathematical concept of infinite regression), it has the wonderful tale, “Slow Tuesday Night,” a satire that has been in the process of becoming our reality for at least the last fifteen or twenty years.
  • The Deathbird, Harlan Ellison, 1975. In addition to the masterpiece story that gives this volume its title and its twisted perspective, it has a story with one of the most memorable and haunting titles ever, “Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes.”

Most other writers are better represented by novels. These three are at their best in the short form.

Jeff VanderMeer
World Fantasy Award winner Jeff VanderMeer grew up in the Fiji Islands and has had fiction published in over 20 countries. His books, including the bestselling City of Saints & Madmen, have made the year’s best lists of Publishers Weekly, LA Weekly, Amazon, the San Francisco Chronicle, and many more. He reviews books for, among others, the New York Times Book Review, the Washington Post Book World, and the Barnes & Noble Review, as well as being a regular columnist for the Omnivoracious book blog. Current projects include the short story collection The Third Bear, the UK publication of his noir fantasy novel Finch (Atlantic) and the forthcoming anthologies, co-edited with his wife Ann, The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Fictions (Atlantic) and Steampunk Reloaded (Tachyon). He maintains a blog at http://www.jeffvandermeer.com.

I don’t believe these kinds of lists should include too much from the last decade before their creation, because it’s not yet clear what will become “essential reading”-what will hold up and what will not, all hype aside. I also think in the internet age it’s very easy to focus only on the last ten minutes and not see the full picture. It’s in that spirit that I offer up this list of 10 essential collections. Any such list will of course be incomplete by definition-I could easily have also included books by Nalo Hopkinson, Merce Rodoreda, Jamaica Kincaid, Poppy Z Brite, Joyce Carol Oates, Kurahasi Yumiko, Rachel Pollack, Kathe Koja, Margo Lanagan, Elizabeth Hand, and many others I will no doubt curse myself for forgetting as soon as this feature runs.

  1. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter – Any one of Carter’s collections, including her first, Fireworks, is required reading for a serious fantasy fan, but The Bloody Chamber‘s visceral, take-no-prisoners approach to revised folktales revitalized the genre. The omnibus Burning Your Boats collects all her stories, including those in The Bloody Chamber, and reveals the true depth and breadth of a master storyteller and a brilliant stylist.
  2. The Lottery & Other Stories by Shirley Jackson – Although there is no single Jackson collection that encompasses her talent (unless you buy the latest Library of America Shirley Jackson: Novels and Stories), this collection gives readers a good look at why she is such a powerful writer. Economy of language and expression work with an innate ability to fully explore her premises and characters while subverting reader expectations of them. Jackson stories feel inevitable and yet surprising at the same time.
  3. Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link – Sometimes it takes awhile to get acclimated to an author. That’s certainly the case for me and Link’s fiction, which didn’t really “click” with me until a re-read of the amazing “The Specialist’s Hat” and some of the other stories in this collection. Link’s strength, beyond gorgeous yet clear prose, is in creating something disturbing below a surface that often seethes with positive energy and good cheer. There’s a kind of outer layer of treacle that hides the bitter almond taste-indeed, Link affects the reading palate in several waves, like a good wine or whisky.
  4. The Zanzibar Cat by Joanna Russ – Fully the equal of Angela Carter in her range, sense of humor, and style, Russ’s best fiction is collected in The Zanzibar Cat and The Hidden Side of the Moon. I love Russ because she’s equally ironic and earnest, and because of the sharpness of the mind behind the writing. These are very wise stories that only grow in the imagination on a re-reading. It’s somewhat shocking to me that a collected stories edition does not yet exist.
  5. Bloodchild by Octavia Butler – Powerful, humane, and always intellectually curious, Butler’s stories are continually seeking and always honest. The title story is, in essence, a strangely compassionate SF horror story. The style is always clear and muscular, her openings, as in “Speech Sounds,” ambiguous in the sense of letting the reader enter into the work without received ideas from the author. Butler’s most famous works are her novels, but this slim volume demonstrates mastery of the short form as well.
  1. Star Songs of an Old Primate by James Tiptree Jr – If you want your mind blown, just start by reading “Her Smoke Rose Up Forever” from Star Songs. It’s not the only such occurrence, nor is this the only collection by Tiptree I’d consider essential. But it contains all of the subtlety-boldness, passion, and sheer verve intrinsic to this writer. This collection showcases Tiptree in all kinds of modes–“The Psychologist Who Wouldn’t Do Bad Things to Rats” is a great example of something that’s both an interesting character study but also didactic and pulpy in the best possible way.
  2. The Seventh Horse by Leonora Carrington – If you want an idea of the forebears of modern fantasy and a parallel evolutionary thread shadowing modern fantasy even to the present day, you must pick up Carrington’s The Seventh Horse. It collects a short novel and several stories that must have influenced Carter, and that showcase Surrealism in a linear context. These aren’t the ramblings of Breton, but neither are they the rational, carefully plotted stories of most fantasy fiction today. They’re too wild for that, and too essentially mischievous. You grok meaning out of them sideways at times, and you marvel at grotesqueries offered up with nonchalance.
  3. To Charles Fort, with Love by Caitlin R. Kiernan – Along with Thomas Ligotti, Kiernan is the greatest practitioner of the weird to come along since Lovecraft, and To Charles Fort, with Love is just one of the many collections she’s produced that contain modern classics of the form. Kiernan’s fiction is refreshingly visceral and uncaring about modern convention. It goes to transgressive, often forbidden places, and does so with not a hint of self-consciousness. Her eye for detail is perfect and her sense of time often epic.
  4. The Wind’s Twelve Quarters by Ursula K. LeGuin – Again, you could take just about any collection from this amazing writer and dub it “essential”, but I like The Wind’s Twelve Quarters because it shows off Le Guin’s talents in several different areas-from fantasy to SF and beyond. “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” has rightly been reprinted many, many times, and remains a disturbing and ambiguous fantasy that poses an essential ethical and moral question. She seems to me most aligned with Tiptree in the way in which she melds the literature of ideas to more organic and instinctual elements. Each story will make you think as well as feel, and that is hard to do without preaching.
  5. Tainaron: Mail from Another City by Leena Krohn – Although these interlocking vignettes do create a mosaic novel, they also consist of perfectly formed stories that manage by way of subtext to also be deeply philosophical. The anonymous narrator, writing from a city populated by giant, talking insects witnesses strange, burning burials, sand lion traps, and many more oddities that speak clearly to the human condition. These stories are among my favorites of all time.
Mike Resnick
Mike Resnick is the author of 61 novels, 250 short stories, a pair of screenplays, and the editor of over 40 anthologies. According to Locus, he is the leading award winner, living or dead, of short fiction. His work has been translated into 25 languages.

A couple of givens: I assume we are not supposed to include omnibus collections of novels like Stapledon’s To the Ends of Time or Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy. Ditto for collections of related stories that were shaped into novels, like Simak’s City or my own Kirinyaga. All that said, here is my list, alphabetically by author:



  • Alfred Bester, The Light Fantastic (Berkley/Putnam)
  • Ray Bradbury, The Illustrated Man (Doubleday)
  • Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chrocicles (Subterranean Press)
  • Fredric Brown, From These Ashes (NESFA Press)
  • Robert A. Heinlein, The Past Through Tomorrow (Putnam)
  • Cyril M. Kornbluth, His Share of Glory (NESFA Press)
  • Henry Kuttner & C. L. Moore, Two-Handed Engine (Centipede Press)
  • Barry Malzberg, The Passage of the Light (NESFA Press)
  • C. L. Moore, Northwest of Earth (Planet Stories/Paizo)
  • Robert Sheckley, The Masque of Manana (NESFA Press)

I was surprised at how many specialty press editions there were: seven out of ten. But these days, if you want the complete or near complete stories of an author, you’re much more likely to find them published by NESFA Press or another specialty house rather than mass market, which is simply not geared for recovering those production costs.

Catherynne M. Valente
Born in the Pacific Northwest in 1979, Catherynne M. Valente is the author of the Orphan’s Tales series, as well as The Labyrinth, Yume no Hon: The Book of Dreams, The Grass-Cutting Sword, and five books of poetry. She is the winner of the Tiptree Award, the Mythopoeic Award, the Rhysling Award, and the Million Writers Award and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Spectrum Awards as well as the World Fantasy Award. She currently lives in Northeastern Ohio with her partner and two dogs. Her latest novel is Palimpsest.

This is going to be a popular answer, I suspect, but I have to go with In the Forest of Forgetting by Theodora Goss, and Stranger Things Happen, by Kelly Link. Both these books changed the way I looked at short fiction, and moved me in ways I can barely express.

John Ottinger III
John Ottinger III is the proprietor of the Science fiction and fantasy blog Grasping for the Wind. His reviews, interviews and articles have appeared in Publisher’s Weekly, The Fix, Sacramento Book Review, Flashing Swords, Stephen Hunt’s SFCrowsnest, Thaumatrope, and at Tor.com.

Hmmmm. This is a hard question to answer, as very few collections are not reprints of other stories, and for newer authors without a following, any collection is essentially a “Best-of”. Any established author who republishes older work in a collection format, though without the “Best-of” moniker, has done essentially the same. But let’s give it a whirl anyway, shall we?

I am not nearly well versed enough to tell you which authors “should be in every fan’s library” but I can tell you whose collections I have kept on my shelf, and why.

First up is The Green Leopard Plague and Other Stories by Walter Jon Williams. Williams work is some of the most intellectual, philosophically poignant, culturally relevant writing in the SF genre today. If you haven’t read any of his work, you can read “The Millennium Party” at Infinitematrix.net. This is one of the stories from the collection, just to give you a taste. This is one of those collections I will be going back to again and again and again.

Ian McDonald’s Cyberabad Days is another intellectual collection, but I think McDonald also brings into the mix an alien flavor, a sense of the “Other” that is captured like no one else. His work is emotionally challenging as well as intellectually and his writing style is of the high literary form; you would think you are reading a book for your college-level English-Lit class, but with content that is appealing to you, the SF fan. The collection is really an addendum to McDonald’s popular novel River of Gods in that it is set in the same time and place – a near future India – but each story is beautiful in its own right. I could wax more rhapsodic, but you can find more thoughts in this blatant self-promotion of a review at my own blog. But you don’t have to take my word for it either, “The Little Goddess” one of the stories of the collection is available online at Asimov’s.

Moon Flights by Elizabeth Moon is ever y military SF fan’s dream. Here are collected a significant number of her military SF stories, including works set in her popular universes, several non-military SF tales, and an original work called “Say Cheese”.

Tobias Buckell also has a collection out called Tides from the New Worlds. Buckell may be a fairly new author, but he is on the cutting edge of breaking SF out of its West-centric mold and remaking it in a multicultural image. This collection reflects that, as well as the diversity of stories Buckell can write, from humor to magic realism. If you are a”try before you buy reader”, check out Buckell’s “A Jar of Goodwill” at Clarkesworld.

David Drake’s Balefires is a significant collection to own if you are a writer and want to get into the mind of a successful and prolific one. Drake’s collection houses not only 24 stories, but also thorough introductions, in which Drake explains how the story came about, what he was attempting to do with it, and how it first got published. Drake is also of the generation of Vietnam-era war writers, and he brings a dwindling perception of how SF and Fantasy can explore humanity’s darkest and most hopeful aspects, one that most of the successor generations lack.

One cannot leave this subject without mentioning a collection by Neil Gaiman. You are unlikely to go wrong in picking any of the collections Gaiman has written, but my personal favorite is Fragile Things. This is poet and prose author at the height of his powers, and not a one disappoints, so long as you like stories that simply ooze mystery and the ethereal. You can find two of the stories from this collection online at Free Speculative Fiction Online.

Just about everyone knows the name of George R. R. Martin. He is the “American Tolkien” according to Lev Grossman in Time. But what many readers do not know is that he published a collection of science fiction stories entitled Tuf Voyaging which collected Martin’s stories of Haviland Tuf, a space trader who likes cats. Only two of these stories appear in his two book “Best-of” collection Dreamsongs. Sadly, the publisher (Meisha Merlin) is now out of business and copies of this quirky collection are hard to find. But it is one all GRRM fans, and those who like the work of Poul Anderson, ought to try and find.

I’d like to also mention a shared world collection by Ed Greenwood. Silverfall is a collection of linked stories of sword and sorcery about silver-haired sorceresses that complete heroic feats in the name of Mystra throughout Toril, the world Greenwood created for his Dungeons and Dragons campaign setting Forgotten Realms. It is an excellent collection of Greenwood’s work, somewhat hard to find, but one of my most prized possessions.

I’d like to close out my suggestion list with a shout-out for Peter Beagle’s We Never Talk About My Brother. Beagle is one of the best authors writing in genre today, and this particular collection gives a really good cross section of Beagle’s work, showcasing his high fantasy, ghost stories, urban fantasy, and sword and sorcery. You can read one of the stories in pdf format for free from Tor.com (registration required). There are few authors of this quality writing in SF and though Beagle is a low output author, every tale is a finely crafted work of art.

Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
Alvaro Zinos-Amaro grew up in Europe, mostly, and despite the advice of his betters earned a BS in Theoretical Physics and studied creative writing. He now lives in California. His fiction has appeared in Farrago’s Wainscot, Neon Literary Magazine, New Dead Families (forthcoming) and other online venues. His reviews and critical essays have appeared in The New York Review of Science Fiction, The Internet Review of Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, Foundation and elsewhere. If you too are waiting for your own pet Aineko, visit Alvaro’s blog.

Being able to select only ten titles means choosing a maximum of ten authors — only a madman or visionary would include multiple collections by the same author — and that, perforce, means excluding dozens of other folks with collections of equal, greater or sidewise value.

Within the straitjacket of these restrictions (but taking advantage of the fact that career retrospectives are permitted) here’s ten that come to mind without having to think long enough for them to come to mind, in no particular order:


  1. Alfred Bester, Virtual Unrealities (1997)
  2. Robert Silverberg, Phases of the Moon (2004)
  3. Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths (1964)
  4. Robert Sheckley, The Masque of Manana (2005)
  5. James Tiptree Jr., Her Smoke Rose Up Forever (1990)
  6. Cordwainer Smith, The Rediscovery of Man (1993)
  7. J. G. Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition (1970)
  8. Barry Malzberg, Down Here in the Dream Quarter (1976)
  9. Philip K. Dick, Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick (2002)
  10. Jeffrey Ford, The Drowned Life (2008)

I realize there’s only one female author on the list. One of the collections even dares refer to “Man.” Also, a full four of the ten start with the letter “J”, at least two are pseudonyms, at least one was an expert in psychological warfare, at least one committed suicide, at least two wrote while on amphetamines and at least one plays the violin. Oh well. Only Philip K. Dick would know what that all means. Fortunately, he’s on the list.

Yes, I’m appropriating Borges. His stories are more infinite and mind-bending in scope than much of the Triple New Ultrahard SF, so why not? (Besides, there’s precedent. James Gunn appropriated Borges in the excellent The Road to SF).

Now, on further reflection, let me provide a partial remedial list and name some of those “dozens of other folks” I alluded to above, again in no particular order: Michael Swanwick, Lucius Shepard, James Blish, Michael Bishop, Ursula K. Le Guin, Brian Aldiss, Poul Anderson, Jack Williamson, Theodore Sturgeon, Mike Resnick, James Patrick Kelly, Ray Bradbury, John Kessel, Samuel R. Delany, Thomas Disch, Philip Jose Farmer, Harry Harrison, Greg Egan, Nancy Kress, Joe Haldeman, R. A. Lafferty, Fritz Leiber, Frederick Pohl, Pat Cadigan, Jack Skillingstead, Norman Spinrad, Clifford D. Simak, James Tiptree Jr., Robert Heinlein, Jack Vance, Roger Zelazny, Henry Kuttner, C. L. Moore, C. M. Kornbluth, Bob Shaw, John Varley, Ted Chiang, Peter S. Beagle, Karen Joy Fowler, Terry Bisson, Kelly Link, Carter Scholz, Robert Reed, H. P. Lovecraft, Tim Pratt, Connie Willis, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Stephen Baxter, Walter Jon Williams, Brian Stableford, Elizabeth Bear, Alastair Reynolds, David Marusek, James van Pelt, Kage Baker, Ian Watson, George Alec Effinger, Pamela Zoline, Stanislaw Lem, Joanna Russ, Gardner Dozois, Isaac Asimov, Stephen King, and Harry Turtledove.

Each of these authors has one collection (often more) that should be in every fan’s library.

I admit that perhaps my vision of a fan’s ideal library is, well, somewhat idealized. So be it.

I’ve excluded authors, no matter how celebrated, whose short fiction currently doesn’t do much for me. This is an arbitrary move, and probably a foolish one, since many of these authors have appealed to me in the past and may appeal to me again in the future. Also, since it’s a partial list, I’ve left out exactly all the authors that keep it from being complete.

For readers with an inclination towards recent work, Jonathan Strahan had some good conversation about best collections of the decade (the 00’s) back on his blog at the end of 2009 (he excluded career retrospectives).

Happy — and delirious — reading.

Dave Truesdale
Dave Truesdale began the pioneering short fiction review magazine Tangent in 1993. Since then, it has been honored with 4 Hugo nominations and 1 World Fantasy Award nomination. For several years in the 1990s, he was deeply involved with the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for Best Short Fiction of the Year, and in 1998 was a World Fantasy Award judge. He edited the Bulletin of the Science Fiction Writers of America from 1999-2002. In 2006 he began an irregular column (the first original online column) for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Tangent Online can be found at www.tangentonline.com.

Excluding single author Best Of… collections as requested, it is still virtually impossible to choose merely ten as being “essential,” when there are easily three times as many deserving to be on any “essential” list. Nevertheless, and in alphabetical order by author, here are my top ten single author collections.

  1. Virtual Unrealities by Alfred Bester (1997) – Winner of the first Hugo Award in 1953 and named SFWA Grand Master in 1987, Bester’s short fiction is at times stylistically experimental, always energetic and original, but most of all attention-grabbing. Many of his stories are nothing less than iconic, and include such classics as “Oddy and Id,” “Fondly Fahrenheit,” “Adam and No Eve,” “The Men Who Murdered Mohammed,” and “Star Light, Star Bright.” This collection includes 17 of Bester’s most unforgettable tales from his short fiction prime in the 1940s and 1950s.
  2. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (1950) – In recent years it has been the fashion to rather casually dismiss some of Bradbury’s work (primarily some of his novels) as overly sentimental (rightly or wrongly), but in his early years he produced some of the most beautiful, lasting, canonical works the genre has ever seen. It was extremely difficult to choose among The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man (1951), and The October Country (1955), for each of these collections is, in its own way, a classic. Rereading The Martian Chronicles recently I was struck by the fact that none of the stories have lost their emotional impact, notwithstanding the elegiac nature of the prose. Bradbury was named SFWA Grand Master in 1988, the year following Bester.
  3. The Past Through Tomorrow by Robert A. Heinlein (1967) – Heinlein, honored with SFWA’s first Grand Master Award in 1974, became, in the late 1930s and throughout the 1940s, perhaps the most influential and respected writer in the field with such classic stories as “life-Line,” “Misfit,” “The Roads Must Roll,” “Requiem,” “If This Goes On–,” “Blowups Happen,” “Universe,” and “The Green Hills of Earth,” among many others. All of these are included in this 22-story collection, which also includes most, if not all, of RAH’s Future History stories. A collection of seminal works by one of SF’s greatest names.
  4. His Share of Glory: The Complete Short Science Fiction of C. M. Kornbluth (1997) – Cyril Kornbluth died in 1958 at the age of 34, but between the years of 1941 and 1958 he produced a remarkable body of memorable short fiction. Often scathing indictments of humanity, his satire and wit were among the most biting the SF field had seen to that time (with perhaps the exception of William Tenn). For social satire and originality he ranks with other masters of the form in the 1940s and 50s such as Fred Pohl, Henry Kuttner, Robert Sheckley, and the aforementioned William Tenn. From the introduction to this must-have collection Fred Pohl writes: “For brilliant conceptions and literate use of words, for exciting imagination and characters to make it real, the science-fiction field is fortunate in many talented writers–but none better than he.”
  5. Mutant by Henry Kuttner (1953) – Kuttner was just flat out brilliant, and, like Kornbluth, died at an early age, 42, also in 1958. Close friend Edmond Hamilton once remarked that, “The only two writers who could write for Campbell all the time and the other magazines all the time were Murray Leinster and Henry Kuttner.” Kuttner sold his first story in 1936 and was quite prolific during his short lifetime. He was most famous for his collaborations with wife C. L. Moore, but on his own wrote several series, including the hilarious Gallagher Robot stories, the hillbilly alien Hogben stories, the sword & sorcery tales of Elak of Atlantis, and last but not least the series of “Baldie” tales which comprise Mutant (written from 1945-53). Following a future atomic war, a few mothers gave birth to children with a (hidden) difference: they were telepathic. Shunned and hated for this frightening ability, misunderstood and hunted to the death, Baldie families retreated to mountain tops and other remote places where they could rear their children in peace, staying alive at all costs until Mankind could be given the gift their children possessed. Emotionally and intellectually riveting, and in lieu of no overall, definitive collection of Kuttner’s work to date, I think this collection shows Kuttner at his most sophisticated, mature, and literary best. Those who are Different, the Outsider, the Stranger theme never done better.
  6. The Ghost Light by Fritz Leiber (1984) – Leiber (1910-1992) was one of the most talented writers the field has ever known. He won the Hugo, Nebula, Derleth, Lovecraft, and World Fantasy Awards, as well as being honored with the fifth ever SFWA Grand Master Award in 1981. His accomplishments at both the novel and short story length are legion. Many, many collections of his wide-ranging work have appeared, most notably the many collections of his world famous Fafhrd & Gray Mouser stories. Though several collections containing more stories have appeared more recently than The Ghost Light (one in 2000 and two in 2002), this 350+ page collection contains not only the 1968 Hugo winner “Gonna Roll the Bones,” but such classic tales as “Coming Attraction,” “Space-Time for Springers,” and a Fafhrd & Gray Mouser tale, “Bazaar of the Bizarre,” among others. The real treat, however, is the first publication of Leiber’s 100+ page “Not Much Disorder and Not So Early Sex: An Autobiographical Essay.” Chock full of rare Leiber photos, the author discusses each of the included stories simultaneously with those years of his life in which they were written, including his numerous lengthy bouts with alcoholism, his thoughts on religion and sex, and other fascinating segments of his amazing life (he was a champion chess player and fencer, not to mention actor). Leiber wrote with sophistication and ease in science-fiction, fantasy, and horror, and this collection highlights examples of each, with the title story written especially for this volume.
  7. The Masque of Mañana by Robert Sheckley (2005) — Sheckley (1928-2005) was regarded by many of his contemporaries as one of the most highly respected storytellers of the 1950s. Known for his wit, satire and humor, he was the quintessential Galaxy author under Horace Gold’s editorship (with Fred Pohl not far behind). Not nearly as well known today, his best work is priceless–and there was a lot of his best. Neil Gaiman has said of Sheckley, “Probably the best short-story writer during the 50s to the mid-1960s working in any field.” And Harlan Ellison remarked that “If the Marx Brothers had been literary rather than thespic fantasists … they would have been Robert Sheckley.” Doubling down on Gaiman’s praise of him, Alan Dean Foster has said of Sheckley: “Robert Sheckley: the best short-story writer the field has produced.” Sheckley was duly honored in 2001 as SFWA’s newest Author Emeritus.

    While I have nothing against multi-volume, complete collections of any author’s short fiction, I’ve shied away from them here (save for one instance, below). That said, 1991 saw a five-volume Collected Works series of Sheckley’s short fiction, including by its very nature, the good, the less than good, and the excellent. In lieu of such a massive set of his works, I have chosen the above single volume, which because of its date, includes stories not available in the 1991 series. It includes 41 of Sheckley’s very best efforts, has an introduction by David G. Hartwell, and was produced to honor Sheckley as Guest of Honor at the 2005 World Science Fiction Convention. If you are unfamiliar with the work of Robert Sheckley then without reservation The Masque of Mañana is the best single volume of this short story master’s work.

  8. City by Clifford D. Simak (1952) – An undeniable classic of the field by any measure and winner of the 1953 International Fantasy Award. A series of collected stories first begun in 1944 telling of the centuries after the fall of Mankind, when only sentient robots and dogs are left to tell the tales of Man–if he existed at all. At once touching, philosophical, and deeply moving, these stories must stand as testament to Clifford Simak’s genius. Four of the stories remain to this day outright classics (“City,” “Huddling Place,” “Desertion,” and “Aesop”), the former trio all from 1944 and “Aesop” from 1947. In Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories 6 (1944), ed. by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg, Greenberg says of “Desertion” that it “is one of the great stories about the difficulty of making choices in all of literature, and contains one of the great last lines in the history of science fiction.” Simak was honored as SFWA’s third Grand Master in 1976, and while he would go on to win numerous awards throughout his lengthy career, including a Hugo and Nebula for another of his short works, City, to my mind, is an absolutely essential collection for any SF lover’s shelves.
  9. Immodest Proposals: The Complete Science Fiction of William Tenn, Volume 1, and Here Comes Civilization: The Complete Science Fiction of William Tenn, Volume II by William Tenn (2000 & 2001 respectively) – William Tenn (1920-2010) was the pseudonym of Philip Klass. Along with Kornbluth, Kuttner, and Sheckley, his stories peppered the magazines of the 1940s and 1950s with trenchant social and political satire, insight, wit, and wisdom. Writing but a scarce novel or two, his output was confined to the shorter lengths, which stories were collected in six volumes by Ballantine under individual titles in the 1960s, much to the joy of SF fans and professionals alike. His stories are at turns controversial, outrageous, bitingly cynical, but above all brilliant.

    Theodore Sturgeon has said of Tenn:

    “It would be too wide a generalization to say that every SF satire, every SF comedy and every attempt at witty and biting criticism found in the field is a poor and usually cheap imitation of what this man has been doing since the 1940s. His incredibly involved and complex mind can at times produce constructive comment so pointed and astute that the fortunate recipient is permanently improved by it. Admittedly, the price may be to create two whole categories for our species: humanity and William Tenn. For each of which you must create your ethos and your laws. I’ve done that. And to me it’s worth it.”

    In 1999 William Tenn was honored by SFWA as that year’s Author Emeritus.

  10. The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth, by Roger Zelazny (1971) — In lieu of the six-volume NESFA Press Collected Works series of Zelazny (which include poetry, articles, and assorted miscellany), I have chosen this early single volume as representative of the best of Zelazny’s work to 1971, the period (the 1960s) when he broke onto the scene and took it by storm, as well as from the viewpoint of selecting one of the most popular and award-winning authors of the 1960s, when science-fiction began its radical change due to the influence of the New Wave, with which Zelazny was in some circles associated. He would win either a Hugo or Nebula (or both) seven times for his short works, including a Nebula in 1966 for this collection’s title novelette. Zelazny brought a breezy, energetic, poetic lyricism to his work that readers found irresistible–and so did those fans and fellow professionals who handed out the awards. His best work contained a seriousness and depth that was belied by his always poetically expressed sensibilities–a potent and alluring combination. This volume also contains the early classics “The Keys to December,” the unforgettable (and perhaps his signature story) “A Rose for Ecclesiastes,” “The Great Slow Kings,” and “The Man Who Loved the Faioli,” along with 10 others, each and every one uniquely a Zelazny story. Like Kornbluth and Kuttner, Roger Zelazny died early, in June of 1995 at the age of 58. His loss was a tremendous blow to the science-fiction field. He was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2010.

For a bit of inconsequential trivia, I note that of the three authors listed here as dying early, both Kornbluth and Kuttner died in 1958, and Zelazny died at the age of 58.

As mentioned at the start, choosing only ten single author collections as “essential” to any SF/F/H library was nigh impossible (even with the mandate of excluding Best Of… collections). Citing another twenty would still leave out several authors. Therefore, my sincere apologies to the following authors (living or dead), all of whom rightfully deserve a place on a much larger list of “essentials” for their canon of short work: Poul Anderson, Gordon Dickson, Frederik Pohl (!), Harlan Ellison, George O. Smith, Murray Leinster, Frederic Brown, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, C. L. Moore, Cordwainer Smith, Gregory Benford, Greg Bear, Jack Williamson, Damon Knight, James Blish, Robert Bloch, H. P. Lovecraft, Richard Matheson, R. A. Lafferty, Tanith Lee, Jack Vance (!), Gene Wolfe, Robert Silverberg (!), Theodore Sturgeon, and…you get the picture. And I’m not at all certain that some of today’s most popular and well-regarded short story writers will have stood the test of time in decades to come as have those of forty, fifty, or sixty years ago, so I have been reluctant to include them. Their time will come, and only time will tell.


Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 2!

Filed under: Mind Meld

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