Shorts about Shorts! Short Story Collections I read in 2015

Normally, I spend my lunch hours trying to not drip salad dressing on my keyboard, but this year, I promised myself I would interrupt my daily toil to close my office door and read during my lunch hour every day. No email, no clients, no spreadsheets.

(Excuse me while I snicker at my silly January 2015 self.)

That maybe happened like three times. Damn you, capitalist work guilt, which doesn’t even make sense because I am a public servant, but I just can’t close my door to read a book because people might need me. I just can’t.

I’ve gotten a little bit better about taking my lunch hour this fall, which requires physically leaving the premises, but the truth is, I’m just not very good at, nor am I motivated to, read short fiction. I know it doesn’t make sense, but it takes a long time for my wacky attention span to focus on a book. Short fiction doesn’t provide for that kind of luxury, and a lunch hour of ducking the dreaded “what are you reading?” question doesn’t help.

Anyway, I got through a small number of short fiction collections this year. Here they are, in the order in which I read them:

Shorts about Shorts!


Nebula Award Stories Six
(1971) ed. Clifford D. Simak

NebulaAwardStoriesSixA strong collection of SF stories, all Nebula nominated in ’71. If a theme can tie them together, it might be … and they were never really there… or, better yet, Attenuated Worlds—cliché by today’s standards maybe, but the sense of storytelling delight from Russ (a teen girl uses fiction to escape life) and Wolfe (little boy uses life to escape fiction) celebrates a fandom raised on SF as respite from the ugly world. All are good, including the award-winning Sturgeon piece, except the Leiber Ffhhharrd and Mouse (or whatever you call them), which was best for reminding me I had a desk drawer to organize. Recommended by the SF Ruminations guy, Joachim.

 


Bloodchild and Other Stories
(1995) by Octavia Butler

BloodchildQuite possibly the most genuine and inviting science fiction writer I’ve ever encountered, Butler’s short fiction has raised my expectations of personal intimacy from an author. Her tales are frank and open, eerie and unworldly, yet blue collar and real. It’s an enthralling combination. Expecting the titular “Bloodchild” to be the pinnacle of the collection, I passed over most of these tales for months. Boy, was that stupid. “Speech Sounds” and “Amnesty” might be my favorites. A compelling and enthralling collection that does so many things well, but most memorable are her depictions of alienation (metaphorical, but also literal in two ways) in the factory setting.

 


Feminine Future
(2015) by Mike Ashley

FeminineFutureA sampling of female-written SF from 1873-1930, some good, some not so good, but all centering on ideas still employed by current SF authors: reverse aging, sentient landscapes, alternate worlds, etc. The author bios that precede each tale make even the most dated tales worth reading, but recommended only for the most die-hard vintage SF fans. There’s a great full-length review at Battered, Tattered, Yellowed, & Creased.

 

Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick (2002) by Philip K. Dick

PKDstoriesA delightful way to spend American colonial Independence Day: reading the paranoiac fantasies spawned by the pressures of conformity, consumerism, and irrational reality. By the way, PKD short fic is brilliant for when you’re stuck doing jury duty in the Texas court system and that UPTIGHT, FASCIST BAILIFF KEEPS TELLING YOU TO SPIT YOUR GUM OUT. I’m hungry, mofo. Quit oppressing me.

I can’t think of a better experience to tote along a collection of PKD stories.

 

Dangerous Visions (1967, 2002 edition) ed. Harlan Ellison

DangerousVisions1More like Desperate Visions from the Editor’s Buddies, But Mostly Deluded Vainglory from the Editor Himself, Though a Few Stories are Pretty Good, Especially Toward the End. And Three Women.

Reading Christopher Priest’s account (which is hiding online somewhere) of the never-to-be-seen Last Dangerous Visions is most satisfying after slogging through Ellison’s introductory spew. The Zelazny and Delany stories are expertly written, and there were a few other stories I enjoyed, but not enough to ever recommend this collection to anyone other than to discover just how very regressive and sexist New Wave can be.

I tweeted some things about one of the stories, after a warning from Marooned Off Vesta. Of course, I had to be annoying about it:

 

DespatchesFromTheFrontiersoftheFemaleMind

I’m sorry, Women’s Press, but no. This cover is not helping the cause.

Despatches from the Frontiers of the Female Mind (1985) ed. Jen Green and Sarah Lefanu

The Joanna Russ and Racoona Sheldon (Tiptree) stories are well worth the too-many speedbumps that drag down what could have been an important addition to science fiction history. More importantly, these stories and their intro blurbs highlight the diversity of ’80s feminist sensibilities, including Naomi Mitchison’s surprisingly conservative statements on the matter. There’s a rather unenthusiastic review about it at SF Mistressworks.

I might do a real review of this one, because that Sheldon piece, wow.

 

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever (1990, 2004 edition) by James Tiptree Jr.
HerSmokeRoseUpForeverLike any short fiction collection, there are some speedbumps, but among some unforgettable reads. Sheldon/Tiptree is graphic: she writes trancelike sex and gut-wrenching violence. Stories alternate between catchy, aggressive prose, and overly-poetic narrative (I prefer the former). Led by memorable, eye-opening moments like “The Screwfly Solution,” “A Momentary Taste of Being,” and “We Who Stole the Dream”, it also includes historically-critical works (“The Girl Who Was Plugged In” “And I Awoke and Found Me…”) and important socially critical works (“Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” “The Women Men Don’t See”). Alice Sheldon is one SF writer I wish I could talk to. Highly recommended, but remember to pay attention to the timeline and pseudonym swaps as you read these. There’s a slightly contrarian point-of-view at Speculiction, which sparked an engaging discussion between Jesse and me.

 

In short, read Butler’s Bloodchild and Other Stories and Tiptree’s Her Smoke Rose Up Forever. The Nebula collection is good for dedicated vintage fans, and the PKD collection is fun, too.

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39 thoughts on “Shorts about Shorts! Short Story Collections I read in 2015

  1. Steph says:

    For someone who doesn’t read short story collections…you’ve read quite a few… Also, I’m a person guilty of not taking my lunch break but I try to make a point of doing it at least once a week. -it helps

    Liked by 1 person

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      I used to hate lunch breaks because they interrupt my focus and make the day feel longer, but now I kind of look forward to them, if only for an excuse to move around and go outside. It’s just hard to refocus when I get back.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lunch breaks? We don’t need no stinking lunch breaks! I evenly distribute my lunch break across the entire workday in 30-second increments, wherein I compulsively check my phone because I got a notification or something.

    I actually hate reviewing short fiction even though I’ve always really liked (and originally preferred) good short fiction… I’ve found it gets me into a “one-and-done” mentality, “well I read my short story of the day so no more reading for me.” Or I stop after reading one because I want to micro-review each freakin’ story, and after getting sidetracked, I never get back to reading the collection. So I can definitely empathize with attention span-related issues with short fiction.

    You’ve read some pretty sweet collections, though. Bloodchild and other stories is an awesome first dip into Butler, and her novels are better in some ways! The PKD collection is a fave of mine, it’s a solid overview of his career and I personally found it a good introduction to his work. The last two look awesome, and are now on my wish-list… and if you happen to write full reviews for them, I think they’d be great fits for SFMistressworks (especially given the, uhm, first review you linked).

    Liked by 3 people

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Oh, you count the phone glances? Aren’t you the dilligent worker bee. I do that all day long. S’why I took the Twitter off my phone. But I also put my daily sched and meeting notes and everything on my phone, so it’s my taskmaster AND task distractor.

      Although nowadays, it mainly just yells at me about upcoming meetings, “wind advisories”, shoe sales, and mass shootings. All day, every day.

      Bloodchild is technically not my first Butler, because my mom made me read her when I was quite young. I think I was going through a phase where I kept going for the picture books at the library (Halloween-gothy type stuff) and she pointed at a Butler on a display and told me I should read “something like that.” I just grabbed it to make her happy, but I’m pretty sure it was one of the Lilith’s Brood books. I’m not even sure my mom knew who Butler was, but I think she was trying to expand my interests. I just thought it was too serious and weird. I wasn’t ready for it yet.

      I bet Ian has enough Tiptree reviews, but he could probably use a more thoughtful review of Despatches. But that means I have to write a grown up review, Waah!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Joachim Boaz says:

    I still think about the stories in that Nebula collection! Glad you enjoyed them 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Laughing out loud at your tweet. It’s how I feel about most short stories, if I’m being honest with myself. I admit I’m not big on short fiction/anthologies, though I’ve been trying to branch out more this year.

    Liked by 1 person

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Yeah, short story reading is a different kind of skill. It probably doesn’t say much for my intellect that it maybe takes me 300-600 pages to get subtext, but short stories don’t give that kind of time! And then, I have to decide if I don’t get it because of poor writing, or did the author do some kind of clever trick.

      I dunno, I guess I just enjoy settling down into somebody’s world for a while, walking around in their head. Short stories kick you out before you can even decide if you like it there.

      Like

  5. In 2016 I vow to not read any short story anthologies. Hahahahaha. Yeah right. Still, I can dream–we all know I am just going to complain about them if I do read them. There are three PA story collections on the list fo 2016, but NO MORE.

    You all are creeping me out with your talk of not liking to take lunch breaks cause they are distracting. If I didn’t have a distraction in the middle of the day my brain would be fried by 3 pm. Perhaps paradoxically, without distraction I can’t muster any concentration.

    Liked by 1 person

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      I’m tempted to make that resolution. I had all these big plans to read some 2015 collections in 2016, but now I don’t wanna.

      I totally get the need for distraction. When it comes to reading and blogging, I usually need some sort of physical activity before my brain can focus. I’m sure the issue at work is that my brain is not yet in the habit of leaving and coming back, so it thinks the day is over already and then rebels when I sit at my desk for another three to four hours.

      Like

      • nikki says:

        That makes sense, re: lunchbreak. Habit is an inflexible master.

        The more I think about it the more I think I really should stick to my resolution not to read any short story collections next year. I would probably be the happier for it. A few of these sound interesting, but…BUT.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. S. C. Flynn says:

    Strong group! Tiptree is TBR

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Holly Best says:

    This must be the year that those of us who do not like shorts read shorts and actually enjoy them. Beyond Kage Baker’s amazing collection ‘Mother Ægypt and Other Stories’ I was a “it’s gotta be over 300 pages” kinda girl but this year I read a lot of collections. Like a lot …. who have I become?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joachim Boaz says:

      I have found it helpful to make a sort of theme one follows, “I am going to learn the history of women in pulp pre-1960” or something along those lines. No fan of pulp myself, hence the necessity of a theme… In short, I wish people read more Miriam Allen deFord! haha, and she really isn’t “pulp.”

      Liked by 1 person

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Haha! I feel the same way. I’m going to try to keep up the short story reading next year, too. I might even move into more recent collections.

      Like

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Maybe it is the year for that. I have some short story collections on my list for next year, but I also don’t want to feel dragged down by them. Who knows. Maybe by this time next year, we’ll have DOUBLED our short story reading… 😉

      Like

  8. Hestia says:

    I love short stories, but I have a confession: in a good number of the collections or anthologies I read, there’s one story I can’t make head or tail of. And I walk around for the next week wondering if I missed a joke or a nuance or something.

    I love Tiptree’s and Butler’s short stories. “Speech Sounds” is amazing. Something about Kelly Link’s short stories reminds me of them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      I’m the same way. I really don’t get the title story, “Her Smoke Rose Up Forever.” I liked it, but I have no idea what’s going on at the end. I reread pieces of it, and it still didn’t make sense. I looked up other people’s interpretations and don’t see it. Maybe my dendrites just weren’t connecting that day and I need to try again.

      Tiptree and Butler are such different writers, I can’t even imagine what a writer like both of them would be like. I have never read Kelly Link, but I keep seeing her name pop up.

      Like

      • Hestia says:

        They aren’t anything alike, really, but they all write in a way that really unbalances the reader. Well, at least if the reader is me.

        After years of reading Heinlein and the Golden Agers and All! The! Positivity! Butler and Tiptree both wrote things that came from such a different perspective, often a grim one. I appreciated that so much at that point in my reading life.

        Like

        • fromcouchtomoon says:

          That’s a really good way of putting it. Even compared to the New Wave, non-Golden Agers, Tiptree and Butler seem to be better at destabilizing the reader.

          Like

          • Joachim Boaz says:

            Wait, I’m slightly confused, you wouldn’t call Tiptree a New Wave SF author? She was publishing short fiction in the late 60s….

            Like

          • fromcouchtomoon says:

            That’s why I said “even compared to.” Her work affects me differently. She’s different, even from those who were breaking the mold.

            Like

          • Joachim Boaz says:

            Definitely! I was just curious whether you thought she was New Wave 🙂

            Like

          • fromcouchtomoon says:

            I’d say she’s definitely New Wave, but now you’ve got me thinking… something about her sets her apart from her peers. As Tiptree, it’s like she’s performing New Wave: doing really private things in an exaggerated way she thought she could be heard. I think that’s why some of her stories are so shocking and noticeable. Because she can remove herself from it, it’s like she takes more risks.

            When I read the other New Wavers, it also feels like performance art, but they are more invested in the professional appearance of skills, being clever over being real. There are some real protective barriers there. I guess it could be argued that Russ is more like the way I describe Tiptree, but even with Russ, there’s a sense of intellectual distance, even when she’s shouting.

            I guess it’s a different kind of raw I get from Tiptree (and Butler, not really New Wave, but an inheritor, I guess)… And it just now occurs to me that the difference probably has to do with social privilege vs disenfranchisement. Tiptree and Butler came from worlds and frustrations that Russ and Brunner and Zelazny and the like could imagine, but could never really access.

            Like

          • Joachim Boaz says:

            Definitely — there’s great variation in the visions of the movement. And, her unique position (pseudonym, etc etc etc) allows her to create some distinct works. While of course, Silverberg and many of the others are shifting with the market… (creating brilliant works along the way).

            Liked by 1 person

  9. L Zahrah says:

    nice post! ivenever heard of some shorts but ill definitely check those out right away

    Liked by 1 person

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