25 May 2010

Top five short stories

From my list of short fiction what would be my top five?

A few are easy to pick. Chris Adrian's "A Tiny Feast' because it was so moving. The characters are powerful beings, Oberon and Titania, but childish in many ways. Being powerful, they don't have to grow up. There is nothing that can test their metal. They steal changelings into their keeping, and then forget about them. This time, though, the changeling is dying and there is nothing they can do stop it, and in their fairy way they care. The parallels with the rich and powerful of this world are obvious, but knowing this just makes the story sadder.

Eva Sallis' "A Life Sentence" is a remarkable story. Once you begin reading and realise that it's about a cockatoo, and a mad one at that, you begin to see that there is something Human about the cockatoo's sense of entrapment and rage. He remembers a time of being loved, when he rode freely on his Human's shoulders as they went about in the open, but then he was put in a cage, trapped, and in his rage at the waste of his life began to go mad. It was this story that set me on my quest to find out what other remarkable stories might be waiting out there online for us.

Roger Zelazny's "A Rose For Ecclesiastes" is a story I have liked for years, and I was thrilled to find it online and be able to share it with you. It is about a man on Mars who falls in love with a Martian woman. This love is tearing him apart, for on the one hand it is wonderful, but on the other it represents a rebellion against the strictness of his father. It turns out, however, that the Martians, having their own sorrow, were only using him. What I like about the story, though, is its poetic use of language to tell the story. This was part of what was called New Wave, at one time, and represented a break with the traditional, rather dry way, of telling SF stories based on hard science. Then, if I recall rightly, there was another New Wave which represented a return to hard science fiction

Nathan Crowder's "Deacon Carter's Last Dime" is maybe an odd one to choose because I think Crowder's most finely written story is actually "None Left Behind". However, I have a fondness for this story with its offer of redemption even for someone who, not understanding what he was being offered, fails to take it up. It doesn't have a happy ending, but it does show something wonderful about the way Humans can care for each other.

What to put for my fifth? There are a lot on my list that I like for various reasons. I like Joe Haldeman's "Angel of Light" because it is so very different from any other work of his that I've read. Ruth Nestvold's "Mars: A Traveller's Guide" is funny and horrific at the same time, and also represents a number of other works about disasters in space. Then there are the stories by famous writers such as D H Lawrence, Robert Bloch or Cyrano de Bergerac, and the various authors of Hugo and Nebula award winners, and other stories that, like Crowder's story, I just feel fond of.

I'm going to go with Italo Calvino's "Daughters of Moon" because that's the kind of mood I'm in today. Maybe it's because one of my children has been learning to play the Tears For Fears song "Mad World", a sad song bemoaning the apathy of the city and the inability of people in modern society to care or connect with each other, on the keyboard. "Daughters of the Moon" has some of the same themes, but at the same time is wonderful antidote them.

I love this line from a review of one of Italo Calvino's books: "Metaphysical conceits are a thing of the past. Now with moon shots and interstellar probes, a writer really in tune with his age has to think of scientific conceits, ..."

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