Suggest for me some SciFi short stories.
May 7, 2010 7:20 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for some Sci-fi to read, but I have some pretty specific requests: Short stories, bold endings. More inside.

I really love the science fiction short story. Nothing against the novel, but I just really, really love surprising, creative ideas delivered in short, smart packages. I'm willing to consider a novel if it's bold enough.

My platonic ideal here is something like the comic book Planetary. Big, creative ideas delivered in little bites. I'd be willing to go to novella size on this. I really love the reveal. Like "Jim and Steve are on a mysterious space ship. The space ship is spooky. In the end it turns out THEY ARE INSIDE A DINOSAUR. IN SPACE!!!".

I don't like cheap shocks ("Jim is also a WOMAN!"), but I like outlandish things. Anyway, I've pretty much hen pecked my way through all those Dozio's Best or whatever. I'm looking for more stuff.

If it's any help, I really adored that Terry Bisson story about time travel which was packed with these little 'smart' ideas (i.e. The people in the future who are done creating). I also once read a novella about a 100,000 year space craft trip where all the people evolved and there was one dude who was awake through the whole thing.

Anyway, I'm not much of a sci-fi literature nerd, I don't keep up with it outside of those "Best Of!" books, but Planetary has really put me in the mood. Bonus points for Kindle availability.
posted by GilloD to Writing & Language (31 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
Isaac Asimov: Let There Be Light

Best Science Fiction short story I have ever read, hands down!
posted by elsewhen at 7:23 AM on May 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

You want "The New Weird," and, for that matter, anything with the name Jeff VanderMeer on it.

Also, it's pushing things a bit to call hiim sci-fi, but the short stories of Richard Matheson will probably delight you as well. More in the horror camp, often, but with lots of fantastical elements.
posted by jbickers at 7:25 AM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

crapcrapcrap I totally put the wrong title on that short story. If an admin could change that, the real title is The Last Question
posted by elsewhen at 7:27 AM on May 7, 2010

Response by poster: Funny you bring up Matheson, my 2nd Platonic ideal is probably The Twilight Zone. I always say the hour-long, self contained anthology is my favorite genre of TV. It doesn't matter how crappy it is.

Also, Let There Be Light is also something I had in mind. I'm glad we're all thinking along the same lines :) Thanks guys!
posted by GilloD at 7:28 AM on May 7, 2010

You want Greg Egan and Ted Chiang. Both incredibly smart short-story writers. Egan's story "Luminous" in particular is likely to blow your mind.
posted by kindall at 7:30 AM on May 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

Ted Chiang might be up your alley. My good friend and I - both Planetary fiends - love his stuff. His "Understand" (which I found via MeFi!) is one of my favorite short stories ever. "Story of Your Life" is great too (albeit a little sentimental.)
posted by griphus at 7:33 AM on May 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

Peter Watts' stuff is good. Bulk Food is fantastic, Nimbus is really clever.
posted by Lemurrhea at 7:40 AM on May 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've been listening to Starship Sofa a lot lately. It's a podcast that has a weekly short story reading, but it talks about the Sci Fi community. It turns out that the culture of Sci Fi magazines of short stories is alive and thriving, e.g., Asimov's. Might be worth checking out.

Also, here's a list of Hugo award winners and nominees for best short story, going back to 1955.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:40 AM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Get yourself The John Varley Reader.
posted by Zed at 7:55 AM on May 7, 2010

Isaac Asimov: Let There Be Light

Best Science Fiction short story I have ever read, hands down!
posted by elsewhen at 10:23 AM on May 7 [+] [!]

Wow, I just came in here to say EXACTLY that. Except the story's title is "The Last Question".

Another amazing story that I highly recommend (and I think fits your criteria) is "Think Like a Dinosaur".
posted by Salvor Hardin at 8:19 AM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Two of my all-time favorite short stories have surprising endings:

"Silly Asses" by Isaac Asimov
"The Star" by Arthur C. Clarke
posted by DrGail at 8:19 AM on May 7, 2010

Oh, another great one, which is a little denser with a longer buildup, but awesome nonetheless, is "Understand" by Ted Chiang.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 8:20 AM on May 7, 2010

Ooh, ooh, also "The 9 billion names of god" By Arthur C. Clarke.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 8:21 AM on May 7, 2010

I came here to add Tim Chiang too.

Also Gene Wolfe. Storeys from the Old Hotel is a great collection to start with. He has a new Best of Gene Wolfe out too.

I've also really enjoyed the New Space Opera series by Gardener Dozois (who else?) and Jonathan Straham. I think I liked the second volume better than that first.
posted by bonehead at 8:24 AM on May 7, 2010

Several people have mentioned Ted Chiang, whom I consider to be the greatest writer of short SF ever. He has published one anthology which is called "The Stories Of Your Life and Others". Every single story in this anthology is fascinating, but one of them would also be tremendously offensive if you are at all religious, so be warned. (God is crazier than you have even imagined.)
posted by grizzled at 8:33 AM on May 7, 2010

I'm not sure where I found this one, but I think it may have been a recent MeFi thread. Anyway, it's awesome.
posted by aqsakal at 8:55 AM on May 7, 2010

Asimov does this very well, it might be worth getting an anthology 'best of', but try to exlude the 'Robot' only ones.
posted by doozer_ex_machina at 9:11 AM on May 7, 2010

I wonder if some old-school Harlan Ellison might not spin your wheels. It's a shame there isn't a concise collection that only has his 15-20 best stories -- the main thing I see searching the web is some monster 50-year collection that's like a thousand pages long, which is appropriate for Ellison's ego maybe but too expensive for a non-devoted-fan. Anyhow, you want something with stories like "The Deathbird," "A Boy and His Dog," "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream," "Repent Harlequin...," "Adrift off the Islets of Langerhans...," and "Jefty Is 5" (among others). Ellison was a truly great and surprising/shocking writer in the 70s, and has since settled into a long cranky dotage.

Seconding Greg Egan (more physics-y) and Ted Chiang (more literary) for what you're asking for, and I wonder if you might also get something out of flipping through (classic literature, not technically science fiction but amazing and surprising) Jorge Luis Borges' classic collection, Ficciones (or Labyrinths, they overlap sufficiently for the non-completist).

Re Gene Wolfe: many of his stories fit the sense you're looking for, but many others really really don't. Plus he's a tricksy writer who you have to read very carefully not to miss subtle clues and weirdnesses. That said, some of his stories are honestly among the best sf ever published, though I always find his collections uneven (I don't think he's a good judge of the quality of his own work - I sort of wish some editor would put together a best of Wolfe, because I was disappointed in the recent Best of collection that Wolfe himself chose).

Maybe on the Jphn Varley. It's been a long time since I read him. He was startling and amazing for the time (70s), but I wonder if it might seem old hat now?
posted by aught at 9:16 AM on May 7, 2010

I've really enjoyed what I've read of Harlan Ellison's work, and I've been meaning to get more into reading Philip K. Dick. If you can get a copy of The Essential Ellison it might be a good place to start.
posted by JauntyFedora at 9:18 AM on May 7, 2010

Van Vogt and occasionally Tiptree can be good for this.
posted by amber_dale at 9:18 AM on May 7, 2010

Anything by Cordwainer Smith.
posted by elendil71 at 9:24 AM on May 7, 2010

Speeking of Ellison, the Dangerous Visions collections might also be a good choice for this.
posted by bonehead at 9:26 AM on May 7, 2010

2NDing The John Varley reader. "Press Enter ■" has haunted me since I read it decades ago, and seems to become more and more poignant as time goes by.
posted by No Shmoobles at 9:29 AM on May 7, 2010

Philip K Dick's short stories are all about bold, creative ideas. Generally fast-paced page-turners. The quality of his prose won't blow you away, but he makes up for it with sheer quantity, variety, and inventiveness. PKD must also hold some sort of record for movie adaptations, which include Total Recall, Blade Runner, Minority Report, Paycheck, Imposter, Screamers, A Scanner Darkly...

Ray Bradbury wrote some very Twilight Zone-esque short stories, which I believe are collected in The Dark Carnival or October Country. His science fiction stories are also thought-provoking - The Toynbee Convector is a short story collection that would be a good intro to his work.

David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas is like a collection of short stories and a novel in one. The structure is beautifully constructed, as the stories all nest together so well despite all being written in different styles.

Heinlein's "—All You Zombies—" is a classic that takes time travel paradoxes to an extreme. You probably wouldn't miss much by reading the Wikipedia article instead of the actual story, though. I actually discovered the story by reading Michio Kaku's non-fiction book Hyperspace, where he summarizes the plot. I find Heinlein's writing style a bit annoying, so I actually preferred Kaku's paraphrasing to the original.
posted by mshrike at 9:56 AM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I always say the hour-long, self contained anthology is my favorite genre of TV.

A little off topic (into TV rather than prose), but for the bold endings part, you might want to track down the first season of the 1980s Twilight Zone revival. It put anywhere from two to three stories of varying length in its hour-long slot. The limitation of hour-long TV is that, well, it is an hour. At the 8:52 mark you can see things folding up so you know that the protagonist has just a couple of minutes to pull a resolution out of his ass, or else you can tell from the number of balls in the air this must be a two-parter. And on the other side of the screen, you come to know that stories must be written so that they fill an hour: if it would have made a good 35-minute story it will get padded and flabby. If it would have made a good ninety-minute story, it will get padded out to two hours or severely chopped back to an hour.

With that first season back on TV inn 1985-1986, TZ had great freedom: if the story took eighteen minutes to tell, so it did. It would get anthologized in with a story that ran 42 minutes. I recall several episodes where the audience expectations were played like harps... we would be seeing a story that intuitively we knew still had to do A, B and C to resolve, but it would turn out to to do A and then finish with a unexpected resolution that spun us around.

Anyway, I was coming to recommend the short stories of Harlan Ellison (who, perhaps not coincidentally, was the creative consultant for that first season of the TZ revival -- I recall at least one of his short stories being adapted).
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:00 AM on May 7, 2010

Seconding October Country by Bradbury, though it may not be Sci-Fi enough for this inquiry. I also like Gaiman's Fragile Things collection of short stories. Again, not as sci-fi on the whole, but a lot of good twists in a short amount of space.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:11 AM on May 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ray Bradbury wrote some very Twilight Zone-esque short stories, which I believe are collected in The Dark Carnival or October Country

I'm reading The October Country at the moment, and I'm finding the stories to be effective at evoking a creepy mood... but not really having much substance. They've tended toward shock endings that I saw coming and didn't care about. His "Zero Hour" (in his S is for Space and The Illustrated Man collections) would be a good one for the OP's criteria, though.
posted by Zed at 10:14 AM on May 7, 2010

Also Nthing Ted Chiang.
posted by Artw at 5:31 PM on May 7, 2010

For short fiction, I'd have to recommend Ellison. Try looking for Deathbird Stories (probably his best collection), Shatterday, Stalking the Nightmare, and Angry Candy. Any of those are pretty fantastic, and each one has at least one story that you'll love.

Other than that, Bruce Sterling and William Gibson both have some pretty good short story collections out, though perhaps not as shocking-endy as you might want. Philip K. Dick is probably a good place to start for short stories, too, as well as Theodore Sturgeon.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:02 PM on May 7, 2010

Response by poster: Global Frequency has the same kind of thing going that Planetary did. Highly recommended!
posted by GilloD at 12:00 AM on March 12, 2011

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