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August 9th, 2006

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04:58 pm - Top 10 SF short stories
While I was on holiday I spent some enjoyable time thinking about my 'top ten SF short stories ever'. Because I couldn't get to a bookshop or the Internet it all had to be done by memory. These are only in roughly in order of preference. I would be interested in your opinions and alternative suggestions.

I've linked to the story on-line if I can find it.

1. The Colour Out Of Space by HP Lovecraft

A beautiful story, recounting the impact of an alien infection or radiation on a small farm in rural New England. SF told as Gothic. Well worth a read.

2. The Winter Flies by Fritz Lieber (also known as 'The Inner Circles')

Almost not SF. A tired business man daydreams while his family relax in the evening. Or, possibly, a family is menaced by evil forces. The ambiguity is maintained to the end. The winter flies.

3. The Heat Death of the Universe by Pamela Zoline

Also almost not SF. A woman ruminates on entropy as she cleans the house. Brilliantly written. I wrote a review of it here. and looking for that link I found this lj page about the story.

4. Intracom by Ursula K LeGuin

When I first read this I didn't know there was fanfiction, and I was thrilled to bits. This is Le Guin's Star Trek fanfiction. Well, almost. She demonstrates (and this was back in 1974 or something) what is now commonplace - that the crew members of a space ship are aspects of the personality. As I like to say 'The Hull is the Skull'.

5. God's Motorway Settling the World by M John Harrison

I read this back in the seventies, and thought about it often since. It is only now that I discover it isn't called 'God's Motorway' although that's what it's all about. The climax of the story happens on the M6 just north of Coventry - yay for the West Midlands. Everyone is this story is deluded about the nature of reality, leading to constant anxiety, but when they find out the truth it doesn't help them. Cheery stuff.

6. Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link

Oh, you can't do better than this in modern SF. Fandom as magical practice, and an incredibly well written story too. Has won bags of awards. A must-read.

7. Houston, Houston, do you read? by James Tiptree Junior

A radical feminist SF story, setting the standard for that whole sub-genre, about a world without men, and what happens when modern men (actually men of the early 1970s) encounter it. I often think of this story when I see how men behave to each other, that paralysing hierarchical deference some of them can't seem to snap out of.

8. A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury.

Bradbury is a great SF writer, and this is his most famous short story. Man, it's so famous it was made into a Simpsons episode. This is the one where a guy goes back to the Jurassic, treads on a butterfly, and comes back to the present to find that - oops - he's changed history. I read this when I was almost too young to read.

9. The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin

This is not the type of story I like: it's the type of story beloved by engineers and computer scientists who think they are the alpha class. Nevertheless it is probably the most discussed SF short story ever, and I am very interested in it. Its basic idea (shuttle craft low on fuel - must we eject one of the passengers?) has been frequently borrowed, not least by Blakes 7.

This must be available online but I can't find it - can someone send me a link to it?

10. Inconstant Moon by Larry Niven (link is to partial version only)

I kind of dislike Larry Niven but this is a classic story, where our hero deduces, from the brightness of the moon, that the sun has gone nova and a wave front of boiling air is racing towards the dark side of the Earth. Good premise.

ETA - I have managed to nab two minutes on the computer to say that temeres is right to nominate Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut. It is more famous and influential than 'Inconstant Moon' and Vonnegut is more to my taste than Niven, so I'd probably swap. Oh, and I've defined 'short story' liberally rather than restrictively.

(30 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:August 9th, 2006 04:20 pm (UTC)
I think 'The Diary of the Rose' by Ursula Le Guin might be the SF short story that made the strongest impression on me. Actually, a lot of the short stories in The Compass Rose made a big impression on me: 'Pathways of Desire', 'Sur', 'The Author of the Acacea Seeds'.
[User Picture]
Date:August 9th, 2006 04:37 pm (UTC)
I'll read Compass Rose tonight I think, to remind myself of these. For now I can only remember 'acacia seeds' just from the title, and it's a great one.
Date:August 9th, 2006 05:02 pm (UTC)
Since you're allowing novellas, I don't think any list would be complete without Ted Chiang's "Story of Your Life" and John Crowley's "Great Work of Time."
[User Picture]
Date:August 9th, 2006 08:43 pm (UTC)
I don't know either of those (or possibly I do and I've forgotten the names, which I tend to do) are they likely to be easy to find?
[User Picture]
Date:August 9th, 2006 05:47 pm (UTC)
I doubt if I could even list ten favourites, not having read that much in the way of SF shorts. But if I were to pick a Lovecraft, it would be The Shadow Over Innsmouth. Really creepy, with all those frog people hopping out of the cellars as twilight falls.

I've had to cheat and look at the one SF anthology on my shelves, but it does contain a few classics that aren't on your list:

'Descending' by Thomas M Disch. Another scary one.
'Harrison Bergeron' by Kurt Vonnegut Jr
'The Tunnel Under the World' by Frederick Pohl
and of course 'Arena' by Fredrick Brown, if only because it spawned episodes of Star Trek and Blakes 7.

I can also recall something called (IIRC) 'Down Among the Dead Men', but I've no idea who it's by. It's set in a future war where bits of casualties are recycled as new soldiers called blobs or globs, and an officer has to win the trust of the squad of blobs he's been assigned to. I don't remember much more than that but I know it impressed me at the time, though that was many years ago.
[User Picture]
Date:August 9th, 2006 08:44 pm (UTC)
Ah, yes, I think those are good selections, but particularly Bergeron, which I would substitute for Inconstant Moon. I seem to remember that Dead Men story too.
[User Picture]
Date:August 9th, 2006 05:50 pm (UTC)
A good list! I have similar feelings about The Cold Equations. Will have to look up that Le Guin.
[User Picture]
Date:August 9th, 2006 08:45 pm (UTC)
I once read a load of reviews of it, and there are millions of them online, everyone with a different opinion, which makes me think there's somethign important about the story even if it isn't very good
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
Date:August 9th, 2006 08:46 pm (UTC)
Yes, I would have liked a story by Russ. I know I've read 'The Cliches' but I can't remember it very well.
[User Picture]
Date:August 9th, 2006 07:24 pm (UTC)
Ooh, um. Dunno what would be on my list. Probably something like--

Alfred Bester, "Fondly Fahrenheit"
Ted Chiang, "Story of Your Life"
John Crowley, "Great Work of Time"
Greg Egan, "Reasons to be Cheerful"
Kelly Link, "The Girl Detective"
Ian R. Macleod, "New Light on the Drake Equation"
Bob Shaw, "Slow Glass"
Racoona Sheldon. "The Screwfly Solution"
Lucius Shepard, "Over Yonder"
Vernor Vinge, "True Names"

-- a list which includes a lot of novellas, obviously.
[User Picture]
Date:August 9th, 2006 08:49 pm (UTC)
Yes. I'd probably put 'Screwfly' in place of 'Houston, Houston' now you mention it. 'Reasons to be cheerful' is a great story, a really good example of Egan, and meets my criterion, which is that it should be a story I think about a lot. Can't think what I'd drop to fit it in though. I can't remember that Bester story, though I was trying to think of one by him.
[User Picture]
Date:August 10th, 2006 04:21 am (UTC)
9. The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin

A very overrated story IMHO.

I kind of dislike Larry Niven

I dislike him with a passion. I dislike him nearly as much as I dislike Heinlein. For much the same reasons - repulsive ideas and atrocious writing.
[User Picture]
Date:August 10th, 2006 09:36 am (UTC)
I think there is so much wrong with 'The Cold Equations' but it is such a pivotal story which has produced so much thought and discussion which is superior to the story itself if you see what I mean. 'If it hadn't existed it would be necessary to invent it'.

Larry Niven, yeah, I've decided to drop 'Inconstant Moon' for 'Harrison Bergeron'. Do you know that story? It's definitely available online. It's a very interesting story for someone with the political approach to SF which you and I share. It's by Vonnegut, who is deeply humanitarian (IMHO) but it has been taken by libertarians and neo-con sympathisers as some kind of 'attack on socialism' or 'attack on political correctness'. I think this misunderstands the meaning of the story very badly, but I can see why it is read that way.
[User Picture]
Date:August 10th, 2006 12:04 pm (UTC)
Mmm, so in agreement about the ones I know that I'll track down the ones I don't.

A great big YES to Descending, and The Eye Altering too (which is probably one of my personally seminal sf stories partly because I read it first in the small-press anthology of stories from a writer's workshop Le Guin ran in Melbourne in the seventies. It makes a lot of sense read as a reaction to both the Australian landscape, and Australia as a young settler society).

Also, for myself, I'd probably add some Philip K Dick. The two that stick with me are nowhere near his cleverest, and I totally disagree with the politics of one of them, but they've been reference points I've tested my thoughts against over the years: The Mold of Yancy (written in the fifties, about social marketing) and The Pre-Persons (seventies, abortion).

Also probably The Mountains of Mourning, by Lois McMaster Bujold, which I love but which bugs me from a feminist point of view (on the one hand, it's complicit with exalting the male gaze and tropes regarding women as the root of all evil; on the other, however, it turns out to be a surprisingly subtle presentation of how little agency women trapped in those narratives have). And Continuity Errors by Stephen Moffat. Which is technically licenced Doctor Who fanfic, but is also a great little exploration of an sf cliche you wouldn't have to know DW to get something out of.

There's another one scratching at the door at the back of my head too, but whenever I go to let it in it's not there.
[User Picture]
Date:August 10th, 2006 12:10 pm (UTC)
Continuity Errors by Stephen Moffat

Ooh! Which anthology is that in?

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