Rather than annoy you all every time one of the columns I curate I is published on Tor.com, I've allowed them a life of their own of late, but with awards season in full swing, I wanted to make an exception today.
Before the Short Fiction Spotlight, short stories were a blind spot of mine, and I have reason to believe that's the case with a great many genre fiction fans. By dint, I dare say, of our well-documented fondness for vast sagas and expansive narratives, fiction of the aforementioned form is sometimes seen as inadequate, inessential.
But it isn't. I've come to believe that some of the most important stories being told today are expressed in 8,000 words or less. And it's so satisfying to start and finish something quickly, especially for a serial reader like me.
In short, short fiction = awesome. Particularly short fiction along the lines of the two tales I've shone the Spotlight on in recent weeks. And you don't have to take my word for it, either. The subject of the first column I want to point you all towards today—'The Waiting Stars' by Aliette de Bodard—just won the Nebula Award for Best Novelette:
Catherine’s contemplative sections can of course be read as a response to the real-world brainwashing of so-called “savages” by the dominant races of the day: an uncomfortable subject which de Bodard addresses as sensitively as ever. It’s of particular significance that her depiction of the issue does not insist; instead, it suggests, allowing readers to make the story their own by bringing different details to the table.
This openness is no less than I’ve come to expect from de Bodard’s short stories. She’s an incredibly generous author, well-practised in her purposes and dexterous in their development. Crucially, she’s also capable of writing gripping science fiction. Take the other half of the whole: though it is no less nuanced than Catherine’s, our time with Lan Nhen is more typical, more traditional. It’s practically action-packed, in fact—at points I was reminded of reading a story by James S. A. Corey.
Likewise, Laird Barron just took home a Bram Stoker Award for 'The Men From Porlock,' an immensely unsettling short that's haunted me since I reread it recently:
Few authors can pull off cosmic horror as confidently as Laird Barron can, and this story is a stellar example of his carefully controlled craft. As Norman Partridge notes in his introduction to The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All, ‘The Men From Porlock’ “mates Lovecraft with the best of Sam Peckinpah. It’s The Wild Bunch versus the Old ones, and it’s a magnificently brutal tale that would make HPL cry for his momma.”
I don’t know about that—dead men tell no tales, and I dare say it’s about time we left off talking about the historical origins of this form of fiction anyway—but contemporary cosmic horror doesn’t get better, and it pleases me a great deal to hear the HWA say so.
Long story less long: please do pop on over to Tor.com if you're in the least interested in short fiction. And if you aren't, then there are something like sixty editions of the Short Fiction Spotlight in the index as it stands—more than enough to spark a short fiction fire.