We’re huge short story fans around this way, but while we definitely foster great big loves for the likes of Alice Munro and V.S. Pritchett, we also very much dig the science-fiction greats. We reckon newcomers to the sci-fi field might get the impression it’s dominated by novels or series of novels, but that’s not really the case: excellent science-fiction short stories abound. And as a field it’s pretty easy to plunge into without much prior knowledge – the story anthology has been a staple of the sci-fi domain for quite a while now (though, sadly, that phenomenon does seem to be on the wane). If you haven’t got an anthology to hand as a taster, though, here are ten collections to get you going:
I, Robot, Isaac Asimov (1950)
Okay, it’s an obvious choice, but Asimov’s nine stories are must-reads: they’ve got the Three laws of Robotics, for a start! If you’ve seen the Will Smith film you’ll have an idea what the stories are like in that they’re all about robotics and morality, but trust us: the stories are way better than the movie, and you’ll want to be a robopsychologist before you’re hallway through!
Chronopolis, J.G. Ballard (1971)
Ballard’s a master at conjuring a dystopia: the worlds he sketches for us are sinister and vivid and unforgettable. These sixteen stories date from the late 1950s through to the late 1960s, and they’re free of the hyperbolic style that crept, arguably, into Ballard’s work in later years. If you didn’t like Crash, fear not: his style here is simpler and cooler, though it looses nothing in impact.
The Sentinel, Arthur C. Clarke (1983)
A selection of Clarke’s short fiction spanning forty years, this is definitely a keeper: Clarke’s vision is hard to match. The title story, in particular, is one worth seeking out – it’s the famous piece that originally sparked the idea for 2001: A Space Odyssey. These are very smart, very funny, and very, very tense reads: not recommended if you’re about to embark on a space mission!
The Days of Perky Pat, Philip K. Dick (1990)
In a career spanning 30 years, Philip K. Dick wrote approximately 121 short stories, most of which appeared in science fiction magazines during his lifetime. Although, he spent most of his career as a writer in near-poverty, ten of his stories have been adapted into popular films since his death, including Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, Paycheck, Next, Screamers, and The Adjustment Bureau. The Days of Perky Pat includes one of these and 17 other stories, prompting the Washington Post top call the collection “awe inspiring”. Sentiments which we endorse 110%.
Axiomatic, Greg Egan (1995)
Time reversal, poetry-spouting dolphins, eugenics and brain implants (the titular ‘axiomatics’): this is imaginative hard sci-fi, probably stronger on the ideas than the prose, but that’s okay –we love a crazy idea or two, and what’s the point of sci-fi that doesn’t dabble in philosophy and stretch the bounds of possibility? Check it out, we promise you won’t be disappointed.
The Man Who Lost The Sea, Theodore Sturgeon (2005)
Sturgeon’s won just about all the sci-fi awards available – Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy Life Achievement Awards – so you know you’ll be in safe hands here. As matter of fact, this is volume ten of his collected stories, so you could really go for any one of them. The stories here are beautifully told with great psychological depth, but they’re also clearly rooted in a science-fiction aesthetic, so don’t think we’re veering off track! Honestly, he’s one of the greats and this book will steer you right. Then you can get down to all the other volumes…
Looking for Jake, China Mielville (2005)
China Mieville is a genius: we’ll shout that from the rooftops. He’s more well-known for his novels (Kraken, The City and the City, and others) but his short fiction is as brilliant as you’d expect if you’ve already encountered his breadth of imagination and shockingly vivid way of rendering the uncanny. There are thirteen stories here, including one set in New Crobuzon (fans of Perdido Street Station and it’s semi-sequels, pay attention!) and one in graphic form, so there should be plenty of goodies to sate the fans and excite the newcomers.
Overclocked: Stories of the Future Present, Cory Doctorow (2007)
Zipping forward to contemporary(ish) times, Doctorow’s second collection is well worth a gander; one of the stories was nominated for that year’s Hugo Award and another hit the mainstream via the 2005 Best American Short Stories anthology. Unsurprisingly, given the focus on information technology in this collection, Doctorow himself does plenty of work campaigning for Creative Commons licenses and the liberalization of copyright law. More importantly, though, for our purposes, these are excellent stories and they’ll give you an idea of where the field is at the moment.
The Stories of Ray Bradbury (2007)
A titan in the world of science fiction and fantasy writing, Ray Bradbury is credited with d over 600 short stories, his motivation was the sheer joy of creation. Consequently, if you pick any one of the Ray Bradbury collections; you’ll probably find yourself exploring some trippy far off planet, experiencing the strange effects of some new technology or hearing the eerie call of some dead civilization. The one criteria for any of his collections is that it includes There Will Come Soft Rains, which happily this Everyman Library classic does.
Pretty Monsters, Kelly Link (2010)
We love Kelly Link, and we’ll promote her whenever possible: virtually unclassifiable, her sci-fi/fantasy/horror/literary stylings are best described as slipstream, but we guarantee that even the most hardcore of sci-fi fans will be smitten. She’s weird and imaginative and humane, she loves zombies, and she’s probably one of the best story writers working today in any genre. This is one of her two full-length collections, and if we were to have a list of eleven books, we’d include the other. In the meanwhile, buy and read!
If these don’t get you hooked on sci fi short fiction nothing will. That said, we know there are plenty more sci-fi short collections out there, which hit the wow spot. If any get you buzzing, we’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments below.