Short Stories

I don’t read a lot of short stories.  The truth is, most people don’t.  As Aaron Goldfarb has pointed out,

In a world where people seemingly crave shorter and shorter content, where attention spans for art and entertainment continue to diminish, where long novels and epic movies and four hour baseball games are being all but marginalized, if not avoided, for pithy Tweets and YouTube videos and Tumblr posts, where you are even getting sick of how long this sentence has been going on for…

You would think that the short story would conquer.

But, for some reason, it doesn’t.

I can think of at least one reason why.  Starting to read any kind of story is harder than most people acknowledge.  The effort it takes to become attached to a new network of characters, to immerse yourself in a whole new world, can seem a little futile if the story only lasts fifteen pages.

And yet, a good short story can burrow its way into your brain.  Oftentimes I’ll remember a random line or moment from a short story for far longer than I’ll remember a novel.  And while I’m a big fan of a novel’s ability to kill time over a six hour flight, there’s something nice about reading a worthwhile piece of literature in the time it takes to eat dinner.

For your reading pleasure–here are three amazing short stories you can (and should) read online right now:

Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang

This is a perfect science-fiction story, from the point-of-view of a linguist who is involved in humanity’s first contact with an alien species.  I loved it for its matter-of-fact style, and the fact that it uses its fantastical scenario to explore the notions of thought, communication, and memory.  And all the while, still keeps its characters grounded in recognizable and heart breaking human emotions.  The best science fiction is always, at heart, about human nature, and this story is no different. Read it if you love science fiction.  Read it even if you normally don’t touch the stuff with a ten foot pole.

Egg-Face by Mary Yukari Waters

The protagonist is Keiko, a deeply shy Japanese spinster.  The plot involves a family friend’s attempt to arrange a marriage for her.  It’s a story that’s light on plot twists and cheap melodrama, heavy on sharply observed details and subtle characterizations.  Keiko herself is kind of a marvel, simultaneously sympathetic and frustrating, and in a few short pages her whole family comes into sharp focus.  It stayed with me for a very long time.

Sand Kings by George R.R. Martin

This is an early work by the man behind Game of Thrones.  It’s not fantasy–one might consider it to be science fiction, but in my mind it’s straight up horror.  It’s a deeply creepy yarn about a man who likes to adopt exotic pets.  I can’t say that there’s a deeper meaning behind it (other than “be nice to your exotic and scary pets”) but it’s a tautly woven, suspenseful, and terrifying without being disgusting.  And if you feel like George R.R. Martin tends to go one for hundreds of pages without ever getting to a point, you’ll like how much ground this story covers in less than twenty pages.