I love short stories. Otherwise I wouldn’t write them, because they are a pain in the ass. Sure, you can get the whole idea in your head at once, but there’s no room for error. So when I read a great one, I sit in awe. Here are a few of my favorites. What are yours?
The Creature from the Cleveland Depths, by Fritz Leiber
This one felt silly when I first read it, but now that we have cell phones, ol’ Fritz is laughing in his grave.
In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried, by Amy Hempel
Amy Hempel paints pain so beautifully, without ever using fancy brushes.
The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, by Ursula K. LeGuin
An incredible fable that puts civilization in perspective and asks us why we can’t walk away.
The Gentle Way, by Lawrence Block (available in his collection “Enough Rope”)
Mr. Block writes damn fine short stories. This one, about an animal shelter dealing with a vandal, resonates deeply. His excellent story “See the Woman” is available online.
Placebo is a pared down work of great power. Working Roots is a gritty urban fairy tale. I wish Andrew Vachss would write a novel about these kids.
Houston, Houston Do You Read? by James Tiptree, Jr. aka Alice Sheldon.
How do you end violence? The answer is simple, if unpleasant.
Speech Sounds, by Octavia Butler
The last Ms. Butler is interviewed by Charlie Rose here:
The late, great Ms. Butler captures the terror of a true apocalypse and losing the power to communicate in this gut puncher.
The Man from the South, by Roald Dahl
One of my favorite horror tales. You’ll be clutching your fingers!
The Chaser, by John Collier
One of the funniest and best short story writers, Collier is oft forgotten but has many lessons to teach writers today and many joys to bring readers for centuries hence.
The Appointment in Samarra, by Somerset Maugham
A classic bit of flash fiction.
Why I Live at the P.O., by Eudora Welty
A great picture of a family from one of its loony members.
A Good Man is Hard to Find, by Flannery O’Connor
If you don’t like this story, hit yourself in the face.
Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell
The inspiration for “The Thing,” this one is terrifying on a cellular level.
“I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” by Harlan Ellison. He has written a ridiculous amount of great short stories. How to choose one? This has always been the most memorable to me. A supercomputer destroys humanity in retribution for creating him–a genius who cannot truly move, feel or love– but he saves five individuals to torture for eternity. Misanthropy at its most dire. A close second is “The Paladin of the Lost Hour,” a wonderful fantasy story about a man who guards the “clock” that keeps the world from doomsday, and how he shares a moment with a veteran wracked with survivor’s guilt. The first is available in the collection of the same name, the second is in “Angry Candy.” I am also fond of the entire collection :”Deathbird Stories,” especially the title story, which retells Genesis from Satan’s–I mean “Snake’s” point of view.