This week’s stories are about what happens to humans when they reach out to the stars, and what happens when the stars come crashing into us. But before we get into the stories...
Earlier this week in her final roundup of Puppy-related Hugo Awards thoughts, Charlie Jane said:
...if there’s one thing I would love for everybody to come away from this year’s crazy mess with it’s: “Read more short fiction.” Read lots and lots of short stories, novelettes, and novellas. Enough people read and discuss novels that there will always be popular waves of people nominating for the Best Novel category (as there were this year, in spite of the slates.) But not enough people read and talk about shorter works of fiction...
Pretty much this.
If you’re a regular reader of this column you know that the whole reason it exists is to get folks reading more short fiction. I love reading it, and I try to read as much as possible and share the stories I love where I can. Many of you appear to appreciate this, as you tell me from time to time (and I’m always glad to hear from you).
And with the new quarterly Best Of The Year So Far column, hopefully those of you interested in reading short fiction are finding the suggestions and reviews helpful in discovering great fiction.
I know that Neil Clarke of Clarkesworld seems to think reviews of short fiction aren’t that useful because they don’t cause a huge spike in his traffic. That viewpoint kind of misses the point of reviews—people might not click on the link today but on another day, or they might not ever click on the story link, but instead head straight to Amazon and subscribe, or whatever—and also this doesn’t address what’s needed for greater engagement with short fiction.
I have long felt that there’s a real need for spaces where people can get together and passionately discuss the short fiction they read. That having such a space would make it easier for readers to find more short stories they’ll like. A place where anyone can rate and review stories and also easily find write-ups by pro reviewers.
A Goodreads-type site for short fiction.
And before you ask: no, Goodreads itself wouldn’t be a great space for this. The company isn’t interested in adding individual short stories, and the few that are on there now are either shorts that were issued with ISBN numbers or put there by community librarians. We need a site and service that is committed to creating a database of short fiction, with the ability for signed-in users to rate and/or review that also pulls in links or review text from pro reviewers where they exist.
Having such a site could also make it easier for people to nominate for the Hugo Awards when that time comes around. As everybody knows, you don’t need to have read everything in order to nominate faithfully and well. You only have to nominate the best of what you’ve read. However, if you want to see what other folks have read and loved, you could just go to the list of short fiction published during the year, sort by highest rating, and read the top 10 or 15 or 20.
I would love to spearhead such a project. But: money. Anyone know a venture capitalist?
Until we get that started, here are my favorite stories from this week:
Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World by Caroline M. Yoachim | Lightspeed Magazine
Mei dreamed of a new Earth. ...
She conducted small-scale experiments, but they always failed. She could not move even a single atom faster than light or outside of time. An array of monitors filled the wall behind Mei’s desk, displaying results from her current run on the particle accelerator, with dozens of tables and graphs that updated in real time. Dots traversed across the graphs, leaving straight trails behind them, like a seismograph on a still day or a patient who had flatlined. She turned to go back to her telescope, but something moved in the corner of her eye. One of the graphs showed a small spike. Her current project was an attempt to send an electron out of known time, and—
“Why are you tugging at the fabric of the universe, Prime?”
“My name is Mei.” Her voice was calm, but her mind was racing. The entity she spoke with was not attached to any physical form, nor could she have said where the words came from.
“You may call me Achron. This must be the first time we meet, for you.”
Mei noted the emphasis on the last two words. “And not for you?”
“Imagine yourself as a snake, with your past selves stretched out behind you, and your future selves extending forward. My existence is like that snake, but vaster. I am coiled around the universe, with past and present and future all integrated into a single consciousness. I am beyond time.”
The conversation made sense in the way that dreams often do. Mei had so many questions she wanted to ask, academic queries on everything from philosophy to physics, but she started with the question that was closest to her heart. “Can you take me with you, outside of time? I am looking for a way to travel to distant worlds.”
“Your physical being I could take, but your mind—you did/will explain it to me, that the stream of your consciousness is tied to the progression of time. Can you store your mind in a little black cube?”
“It must be difficult to experience time. We are always together, but sometimes for you, we are not.”
This is an extremely ambitious story. And there are times, particularly early on, that I don’t quite feel Yoachim pulls it off. However, it’s compelling enough that I kept going, and I could feel the stretch and the heights to which the author aspired, and at times I was truly touched as well as impressed.
It reminds me of The Rose in Twelve Petals by Theodora Goss in structure and Ken Liu’s The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species in the way it tries to give a sense of a people, a culture, a universe by examining it through a series of specific lenses.
Taken as a whole, I think the story comes together nicely even while some parts didn’t sing as well as some others.
art credit: Elizabeth Leggett
Find a Way Home by Paul Cornell | Uncanny Magazine
Alan Thompson was used to looking at radar displays. He knew the shapes of aircraft, advertising balloons, and birds. He’d worked in RAF control towers for twenty years. Right now, he was staring in shock at the green trace on the screen in front of him. He’d stood up, just a little, as if he could get a better view by being half out of his chair.
He’d been watching a series of RAF exercises over the English Channel. A flight of E–3 Sentry aircraft had been testing new anti–submarine gear by trying to find a Royal Navy submarine that was doing its best to get lost.
That’s when the amazing thing had appeared.
The new officer, Wing Commander Devereux, appeared at his shoulder. He’d been poking his nose into everyone’s business, without anyone seeming to know why he was here. “Problem?”
Alan put his finger on the green streak that was moving towards the South Coast of England. “That, sir. It’s been going back and forth. Like an aircraft with engine trouble, looking for a place to land.” Alan was experienced enough to recognise aircraft behaviour, even particular types of aircraft and species of bird. It’s got a radar signature like nothing I’ve ever seen before.”
“Could be a meteorite.”
The thing on the screen suddenly changed course. “Or… not.” Devereux suddenly sounded very interested.
“But the really weird thing, sir… It’s the speed.”
“How fast is it?”
“Mach Eight… Nine… I swear it’s hit Mach Ten on some of those turns. Sir, no pilot could survive that. No… human pilot.” He looked up and met Devereux’s stern gaze.
“I’m just going to make a phone call,” said the senior officer. “You keep an eye on that thing. And Thompson—”
“You’ve got a wife and kids, haven’t you?”
“Then remember: this never happened. You haven’t seen anything strange. All right?”
The silver thing shot over the trees and vanished into the distance.
This story skews a little younger than I usually find in mainstream SF magazines—the main characters are all middle-graders and the overall tone is very kids-to-YA—which is not a criticism at all. It’s fun and silly in places and the characterizations are so sharp that you feel like this could be part of a wider world without necessarily feeling like the story isn’t complete in itself. And aliens are always cool.
image credit: Mr. 5er3 nee/Flickr
All right, readers: Name me one really good short story, novelette, or novella you’ve read this week. Drop a link in the comments—and if you had to rate it between 1 and 5, what would you give it?