SF/F short fiction encapsulating whole sub-genres or universes
September 14, 2014 11:58 AM   Subscribe

I enjoy SF/F short fiction that takes a wide view of a sub-genre or universe, evoking its possibilities without spending much time on any given situation/episode. I can offer some examples, but I would be glad to read more.

A wide scope is probably all that these exemplars definitely have in common, but here's the kind of thing I have in mind:
  • Catherynne M. Valente's "How to Become a Mars Overlord" conjures up the idea of Martian/planetary romances in general and, among other things, rattles off a bunch of different images that could be the heart of a story.
  • K. J. Bishop's "Alsiso" traces a criminal/roguish legend down through time, pointing out many different possibilities for how it could re-emerge and what it could mean.
  • Rachel Swirsky's "The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window" follows one character through eons of change, and H. P. Lovecraft's "The Shadow Out of Time" is similar. Both follow conventions of realism so closely they're almost too focused in perspective, but they still encompass enough to work for me.
  • Matthew David Surridge's "The Word of Azrael" (abridged version, unfortunately) to me feels almost like an inventory of all the kinds of adventures a sword & sorcery hero would typically have.
I love how these stories briefly say so much about other stories that could theoretically be written and then don't go into many details. I'd be grateful if anyone could suggest more like them.
posted by Monsieur Caution to Writing & Language (10 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
You might want to check out World War Z if you haven't.

And though I haven't read them, you may want to try out Aasimov's Foundation series. From what I understand, it's similar. Broad view of a universe, not going into too much detail.
posted by hanzoschmanzo at 12:27 PM on September 14, 2014

Perhaps Neil Gaiman's Changes about the effects on society of a cure for cancer with the side effect of swapping the patient's physical sex.
posted by eruonna at 1:41 PM on September 14, 2014

Callahan's Crosstime Saloon was the first that came to mind. You can meet aliens, "time travellers strictly cash," and a few other interesting folk set in a Long Island bar.
posted by mearls at 3:13 PM on September 14, 2014

There's a recent trilogy of short story collections, edited by Jonathan Strahan. I forget which order they were published in, but "Edge of Infinity," "Engineering Infinity," and "Reach for Infinity." The stories are not set in the same universe, though some are set in universes fleshed out in other books (e.g. James S.A. Corey's short story "Drive" (in "Edge...") is set in the Expanse universe).

The common element is that they are all set at a time when mankind is reaching for the other planets in our solar system, while as yet the stars are out of reach. Sometimes it's about a first colony; other times it's about older, stranger civilizations that are adapted to non-Earth planets.
posted by Sunburnt at 3:41 PM on September 14, 2014

It's been a while since I read them, but I think the novels of Patricia Anthony fit with what you're describing.
posted by jbickers at 4:20 PM on September 14, 2014

Best answer: Stephen Baxter's "Children of Time" seems to be exactly what you're looking for. The version linked there is only the first half, though. You may have to purchase it. It's also available in the Year's Best Science Fiction, 23rd edition.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 5:25 PM on September 14, 2014

I like the way Larry Niven grabs onto the idea of teleportation as a working public transit method, and wrote a series of short stories each playing with an idea of one or two ramifications of these "transfer booths". It's not one story that mentions a ton of ideas, but the one book "A Hole in Space" includes a variety of related short stories.
posted by aimedwander at 8:01 AM on September 15, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks folks. The only one of these I can really validate at the moment is the Baxter story, but I look forward to checking out more of them!
posted by Monsieur Caution at 5:56 PM on September 16, 2014

Were you able to find the full version of the Baxter story? Did you like it?
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 2:00 PM on September 20, 2014

Response by poster: Yep, there are just 5 sections, so the excerpt includes most of it and probably the best part (section III). I liked it a lot, though many, many years of reading ethnography made me wish for maybe one or two more throwaway cultural tidbits per scene, because the natural science stuff in it is so much more detailed than the human science stuff that it feels like half hard SF and half fable.

I also looked up the Neil Gaiman story, and I thought the lifetime and world-spanning chronotope was nice there too, especially as a point of differentiation from John Varley's story "Options." Thanks again for all of these suggestions.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 3:40 PM on September 20, 2014

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