Sci-Fi fans say sometimes short stories and anthologies tell it best

Dec 17, 2012

Credit Rebecca Thiele, WMUK

Wenger: Short stories have always been the heart of Science Fiction. Sci-Fi is a genre of ideas and even though some novels and series span galaxies, ideas can often be shared best in short form. Some stories you just can't get over, like Ray Bradbury's The Sound of Thunder, when, while hunting dinosaurs in the distant past, a hunter steps off the trail onto a butterfly and changes everything. Or the haunting last line of Arthur C. Clarke's The Nine Billion Names of God, when a computer has calculated all the possible names of God and the programmer looks up and "overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out."

Johnson: Beginning with the early pulp magazines, science fiction authors often got their first introduction to readers through their short stories. Published short stories were usually an authors first step towards publishing their first full length novel or being nominated for an award. A few of the classic magazines still exist in one form or another, such as Asimov's, Analog, and The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Online too, can be found Lightspeed Magazine and Subterranean Press magazine, with short stories zapped right to your e-reader or MP3 player. Nervous about making a 500 page committment to an author you've never heard of? No problem, short story anthologies are an excellent way to discover authors that are brand new, or simply new to you. Anthologies come in all flavors and themes, some are just over a hundred pages, and others like the 29th Annual Years Best Science Fiction, edited by Gardner Dozois, comes in at over 700 pages. But that doesn't mean you need to read it all at once.

Wenger: The classic science fiction anthology has to be Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison in 1967 and featuring truly ground-breaking "new wave" stories. Many of the stories collected, like those by Philip K. Dick, Fritz Leiber, Philip Jose Farmer, and Samuel Delany were nominated or won Hugo and Nebula awards. Ellison received a special citation for editing "the most significant and controversial science fiction book" that year. 

John Wenger and Andrea Johnson in the WMUK studio
Credit Rebecca Thiele, WMUK

Johnson: The theme of the Robots: The Recent A.I. anthology is easy to guess, it's artificial intelligence. I didn't know it when I first read the anthology last year, but two of these authors, Catherynne Valente and Mary Robinette Kowal, would be nominated for Hugo awards. The collection includes fantastic works by other award winning authors such as Robert Reed, Ken Liu, Tobias Buckell, Rachel Swirsky, Tim Pratt, not to mention the other dozen highly talented writers. Some of my favorites from this anthology include Valente's Silently and Very Fast, and Stalker by Robert Reed.

Wenger: My favorite single-author collection of recent years is easily Ted Chiang's Stories of Your Life and Others. Chiang has only written about a dozen stories in as many years, but almost all of them have been nominated or won awards and for good reason. I've never read a collection by anyone where every story is as good or better than the last. I suppose Nebula-award-winner Story of Your Life is really the standout, but Tower of Babylon, Seventy-two Letters, and Hell is the Absence of God are all just as amazing.

Johnson: One of my other favorite recently published anthologies is a little more difficult to explain. From Jeff and Ann Vandermeer comes The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities, part themed anthology and part eulogy for a fictitious character, the cabinet of curiosities is one of the strangest, most wonderful volumes I have ever come across. While Rachel Swirsky comes clean about her medical condition, Ekaterina Sedia talks about a lichenologist. Charles Yu takes on the momentous task of categorizing everything and Michael Cisco guesses what the "thing in the jar" could be. If your imagination tends towards the weird, this cabinet of curiousities is just the book for you.

Wenger: A recent anthology with a surprising lineup is Shadow Show: Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury, Bradbury passed away this year. There are stories from genre authors like Neil Gaiman and Joe Hill, but also by authors like Margaret Atwood, Alice Hoffman and Kalamazoo’s own Bonnie Jo Campbell. If you haven’t read a Bradbury story since you were in school, this would be a great re-introduction to science fiction short stories.