May is National Short Story Month, and if you’ve been following me for a while, you know that I love short stories. So, I figured I would share a few that I’ve read recently that I really enjoyed. I hope you do, too.
Packing, by T. Kingfisher
This flash fiction piece was published by Uncanny magazine, and was timely when I read it the week of Earth Day. Given that we get more awful news about the environment almost daily, it’s not likely to seem dated any time soon. Told from the point of view of what sounds like an adult talking to a child, it asks the question: if you were leaving Earth and could only save the creatures and plants you could carry, what would you take?
“No, you can’t take the polar bear. I’m sorry. I know you loved him. He takes up too much room, and he requires refrigeration. So does his food. We have to make hard choices now.”
How to Say I Love You with Wikipedia, by Beth Goder
This is from Fireside Fiction, which is one of my favorite magazines for contemporary speculative fiction. Rocky is the mission computer for a mission on Mars, and while none of the crew knows it, he’s begun to feel emotions. How he expresses them is alternately funny and heartbreaking.
Do you remember the popular meme recently about the Mars rover’s last message, “my battery is low and it’s getting dark”? Well, as much as I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, that was a rather poetic interpretation of the rover’s last data dump to NASA. After reading this story, though, you might have greater appreciation for it.
My Name Is Cybernetic Model XR389F, and I Am Beautiful, by Monica Valentinelli
Model XR389F is a custodial cyborg and her programmer, Bob, is frankly an asshole. Unfortunately, assholes like Bob don’t usually get what’s coming to them, but Model XR389F responds to workplace sexual harassment in a way that’s eminently logical.
All Your Soul Mates Are Dead, by Hannah Gordon
One of the things I like about mainstream literary fiction is when it either lightly touches, or strides headlong into, the weird and the speculative. If you’ve read the novel Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, that’s a perfect example. Another is Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. This story is yet one more. It’s a short piece that is funny at the same time as it paints the universe as a bleak and ultimately apathetic place. The last paragraph makes that plain.
Lighthouse Waiting, by Gwendolyn Clare
So, this may be a bit of a cheat. I assigned this to my undergraduate scifi/fantasy creative writing workshop. This is one of the joys of teaching: I get to make other people read the stories that I love. This can also be one of the sadnesses, if they finish reading them and go, “Meh.” (Luckily, they enjoyed it.) This one is about a lighthouse at the edge of a black hole-like rift, warning ships away from certain doom as it awaits the return of Guilhermo, its creator, who has had to depart the station to take part in a conflict. But, he promised to be back as soon as he could.
Bonus: Listen to the song that inspired the story
After I finished reading the story, I contacted the writer and asked if she’d ever heard a song “The Lighthouse’s Tale” by a bluegrass band called Nickel Creek. I was delighted when she replied and said it had been part of her inspiration! Like her story, it’s lovely and heartbreaking. Listen to it on YouTube. (Have a Kleenex® handy.)