This week, we invited participants from the Six by Six Kickstarter collection of shorts stories to contribute their suggestions about what short stories people should be sure to catch. We asked them:
Here’s what they said…
AT THE MOUTH OF THE RIVER OF BEES: STORIES
It’s no secret that I adore Kij Johnson’s writing, so perhaps it’s no surprise that I also adore her collection, At the Mouth of the River of Bees: Stories. I mentioned in a recent podcast (when talking about a similar subject), that Kij is so good at the short form I feel like she’s toying with the reader. She knows exactly what she wants to do with every step, and executes with such dizzying skill, that I feel not merely transported, but consumed. My favorite? I’ll have to give a nod to “Spar,” which was the source of a lively conversation between me and Gregory A. Wilson that led to us forming Speculate! The Podcast for Writers, Readers, and Fans. “Spar” is a devastating story about relationships and loss and healing that deserves all the attention it received.
STORIES OF YOUR LIFE AND OTHERS
The second (cheaty cheaterson) collection I feel compelled to mention is Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others. I bought this collection for a trip to Stockholm, Sweden. I was on my lonesome there for a few weeks for a work gig, and thought a collection would be a nice companion. And wow, was it ever. I adored every story, and marveled at how gifted Ted is at weaving a tale that is both intensely interesting from a science fiction perspective and deeply personal. I would recommend all the stories in the collection, but I’ll admit that the title story, “Stories of Your Life,” has stuck with me ever since I read it. His take on alien language was revelatory for me, but when played against the achingly personal story of the lead scientist studying that language, it instantly became one of my all-time favorites. I can’t recommend this collection enough.
ELSWHERE, EDITED BY TERI WINDLING AND MARK ALAN ARNOLD
I think my favorite anthologies of all time are the Elsewhere fantasy series edited by Terri Windling and Mark Alan Arnold. The first one came out in 1981, when I was sixteen, and all three books were stuffed with stories and poems I had never read before. There were familiar authors, like Tanith Lee and Patricia McKillip and Jane Yolen, but these anthologies also provided my first introduction to authors like Amos Tutuola, Joanna Russ, Maria Luisa Bombal, Evangeline Walton, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, M. Lucie Chin, and Somtow Sucharitkul. They were amazing collections and the breadth and variety of the stories and voices was a huge influence on me. I had a lot of favorites, but one that comes to mind was P.C. Hodgell’s “Bones,” set in Tai-tastigon with her character Jame. That story was in Elsewhere III which came out in 1984, and I was hugely excited to see a story set in the same world as Hodgell’s book God Stalk, which had come out a couple of years before and which I had read until the paperback fell apart.
I’m going to be strangely nit-picky and grab a single anthology out of my favorite series, which is Gardner Dozois’ Year’s Best series. It’s not even the best year for that series – but there were two stories that completely knocked my socks off. Ian McDonald’s “The Days of Solomon Gursky” remains easily the most excellent ambitious short story that I have read. It spoke to me about science and the far future, and also about love and bicycles and being in the moment. In other words, it talked about what it means to be human. It is also a perfect example of why I read and write SF. The second story was Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life.” Wow. I have, admittedly, read pretty close to everything that Ted has published in the genre, but this was my introduction to his work. If you have not read this story, you should go find it and read it.
Despite being over ten years old, Ted Chiang’s collection Stories of Your Life and Others, feels as fresh as ever, ranging over a whole smorgasbord of philosophical questions from the ethics of augmented human intelligence to how humanity might communicate with extraterrestrials. What makes Chiang’s work so powerful, however, is his ability to marry intriguing concepts with sympathetic characters. Stories of Your Life and Others is populated, not by brash, loud-mouthed protagonists, but by quiet, thoughtful people struggling with exhilarating change. The titular piece is a highlight, but my personal favorite is the story “Understand”, a dizzying sprint through ideas of the mind, and a death match between two geniuses with a stunning and well-won climax.
My first favorite collection – Saki, the complete works. I found the book at my grandparents’ house and delightedly read through the dark, bitey adventures of Clovis and Reginald and terrible children and hyenas named Esme over and over. (“Esme”, is in fact, particularly hilarious.)
STORIES OF YOUR LIFE AND OTHERS, BY TED CHIANG
The collection I recommend to everyone as a good place to start in SFF short fiction – Ted Chiang, Stories of Your Life and Others. When I went to Clarion West in 2006, I discovered I was extremely ill-read in the contemporary SFF short story department. Half the class called out Chiang as their favorite short story writer, so I went home and bought this collection. The stories in there are sort of perfect, like they’ve always existed and he just uncovered them. The title story, “Stories of Your Life” blew my mind away.
THE POTTAWATOMIE GIANT AND OTHER STORIES, BY ANDY DUNCAN
My most favorite recent collection – Andy Duncan, The Pottawatomie Giant and Other Stories. I was lucky enough to hear Andy read part of the first story at the Campbell Conference in 2012. So when I sat down to read the rest of the story, I could still hear his voice reading it along with me.
AT THE MOUTH OF THE RIVER OF BEES, BY KIJ JOHNSON
The collection I’m most looking forward to – Kij Johnson, At the Mouth of the River of Bees. (Two children under 4 makes me a little behind on recent books.) I love Kij’s work, and “26 Monkeys; Also the Abyss” is one of my all-time favorites.
ANGEL DUST, BY IAN MCHUGH
The collection I’m most looking forward to, Clarion West-classmate edition. Angel Dust, by Ian McHugh, which just came out from Ticonderoga Press. The novelette “Bitter Dreams” is in here, which he wrote as his first story at Clarion West (thereby making us all terribly jealous), and which then went on to win the whole shebang at Writers of the Future.
EXPLAINING CHTHULU TO GRANDMA, BY ALEX SHVARTSMAN
The collection I’m currently narrating – I’m busy recording the audio for Alex Shvartsman’s first collection, Explaining Chthulu to Grandma. Of course I’m a wee bit biased, but this collection is so fun. Two of my favorites are the delightful magical pawnshop stories – the title story, and “High-Tech Fairies and the Pandora Perplexity.”
One collection that has stuck with me is Jonathan Lethem’s The Wall of the Sky, the Wall of the Eye. I remember distinctly why I sought it out in the first place. When I was a student at Clarion in 2003, James Patrick Kelly referred to a story in it, about a prison with walls constructed of prisoners. That premise fascinated me. The story, “Hardened Criminals”, was as strange and affecting as I’d hoped. All of the stories in The Wall of the Sky, the Wall of the Eye tend to be built on bizarre premises (a man is intermittently raised from the dead to support his family while his mind remains in hell; basketball players receive suits in a lottery that give them the ability of a former legendary player), yet the core of each is a very relatable human drama. These stories come from a time when Lethem primarily wrote science fiction, and it’s fascinating to read the MacArthur Fellowship winner’s work from that early period.