If you feel pushed to find time to read, don’t panic! You’re not alone! Maybe you feel like the world is against you and your reading habits – you sit down to settle into a long night of reading but then remember you have the washing to do, or a dog to walk, or a loved one to call. Or maybe you like to take breaks from long novels with stories that are short and (sometimes) sweet. Maybe it’s hard to out down your phone and pick up a book instead. It happens to the best of us, and I love a good short to help me out. They’re great to help kickstart the imagination or provide a little relief without the commitment of a full novel, and many of them can be found online for free.
That being said, I don’t often make a lot of time for shorts, and it’s something I’ve been trying to improve upon for a while. Now, I try to read some on the metro to work, or while waiting for the kettle to boil. Here are a few that I’ve recently really enjoyed.
And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead
This one is a gritty, violent, sweary novella sitting at just over 11,000 words.
Rhye is a grade A, no bullshit, bonafide badass – the kind you would really want to stay far, far away from lest you get a punch in the face and a boot up the arse. She finds herself in a sticky situation when her partner’s brains get blown out while trying to extract important data from a security system. She has to plug in herself, destroy the security system, rescue her lover, and retrieve said data.
This story barrels along at breakneck pace, impossible to tear your eyes from. Each sentence is carefully crafted to shock and squeeze (and sometimes bark with inappropriate laughter). There’s blood and guts and whale penises and grime and acrid smoke you can almost taste. There’s enough profanity and gore to rival a Tarantino marathon. Safe to say, it’s not for the faint of heart, but for those whose dream movie is a mashup of Goodfellas, Blade Runner and Kill Bill – MAN, are you in for a treat.
The Tomato Thief
Don’t just take my word for this one being good – it won the 2017 Hugo Award for Best Novelette. It’s a little longer at 14,000 words but worth every extra minute spent reading.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – Grandma Harken is a stone cold badass and if one day I could be even a tenth of the woman she is I’d be utterly content. She appeared in Vernon’s Jackalope Wives, another short included in The New Voices of Fantasy, which I really enjoyed.
This novelette has everything the discerning fantasy reader should need. A feisty old lady who refuses to fall asleep so hard she stabs herself with a ladle, Koschei the deathless, very ripe tomatoes on white bread with a pinch of salt and a dab of mayonnaise, and train gods and their priests. All things that I regularly look for, and finally, here they all are in one short story.
The writing is witty and evocative and playful, the story is tightly spun, and the characters are begging to be read more and more. I must say again, because once is not enough – Grandma Harken is everything I want to be in life and I aspire to be her.
Cat Pictures Please
Only 3500 words and yet the winner of THREE awards (2016 Hugo, 2016 Locus and 2015 Nebula), Cat Pictures Please is hilarious and sweet and a little creepy, about an AI who just really, really, really enjoys cat pictures. It’s warmhearted but also has some very real things to say in regards to how humans really do not help themselves sometimes.
A Human Stain
Don’t do what I did and read this alone, at night, in a dark room. I had to stay up far past my bedtime watching The Great British Bake Off in order to feel safe again.
The less said about this one, the better. It’s horror, the main character, Helen, is a boss and you will love her, and creepy children are always creepy. That’s all you need to know.
The Wedding Present
As the introductory story to Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors, The Wedding Present really opens his collection up with a bang. The Wedding Present is a disturbing, worrying story about a couple who receive a mysterious gift on their wedding day – a story about them in which terrible things happen. They pass it off as a joke in poor taste, until they begin to become unlucky in reality.
A little disturbing and creepy and bittersweet, this is a story that’s stuck with me for years.
A Kiss With Teeth
I only recently found this one in The New Voices of Fantasy collection, and I was so impressed. Dracula in modern day New York, struggling with his young son’s performance at school? Yes, please.
The Too-Clever Fox
I didn’t like Shadow and Bone. But Leigh Bardugo is constantly all over my goodreads feed and is constantly hailed as an incredible writer, so I thought: “clearly I am missing something momentous here.” I couldn’t bring myself to have another go at the Grisha trilogy, so, with great trepidation (and honestly expecting to be very disappointed) I tried The Too-Clever Fox.
It’s brilliant. I cannot fathom how this could possibly be the same Leigh Bardugo who wrote what I thought was a samey, predictable YA fantasy, but TTCF is tight and brutal and magical and reads like a perfect fairy tale fable.
Of course I have to add at least one utter classic to this list. It took me a good while to get around to it, and now I have I can see it’s influence in many post-apocalyptic, dystopian sic-fis.
Red as Blood and White as Bone
This story was absolutely beautiful, and one of my favourites on this list (which is saying something, because I have only chosen stories I truly adored to share with you all!).
A young orphan girl is raised in the house of a Baron as a servant. She’s obsessed with fairytales and keeps a book of them hidden in her room. When she finds a mysterious woman outside the house in a storm, she is instantly convinced that she is a princess in disguise.
The writing is lyrical and beautiful, the characters complex, and the story is touching and sincere.
The Pirate Captain’s Daughter
Yoon Ha Lee
This is a story that is truly, utterly magical and original. It follows a pirate captain and her daughter in a world in which ships are moved by poetry:
But pirates upon the Unwritten Sea had traditions as surely as did their prey. No one traveled the Unwritten Sea save by poetry. For the little fisher-boats that never ventured far from shore, a scrap of chant handed down from parent to child might suffice. For the dhows and junks that ventured into the sea’s storms, cobwebbing the paths of trade between continents, more sophisticated poetry was required: epics in hexameter, verses structured around jagged caesuras; elegantly poised three-line poems with the placement of alliterating syllables strictly dictated. A poem would guide a ship only so far ahead and no farther, and one had to use a fitting poem for the weather, the currents, the tides, the color of light on the foam and the smell of the wind.
Unfortunately, the pirate captain’s daughter is a terrible poet, and cannot even get a sail to shift. If she cannot move the ship soon, she will be banished to land.
I mean, just look at that writing. One of the most original and creative short stories I’ve come across, with prose that is simply dazzling.
Anyone else have any favourite shorts? Please share!