Saturday, July 28, 2012

Favorite Sci-Fi Short Stories

Every once in a while I go on a sci-fi kick. It's usually when real life gets so complicated that I need to escape into a totally alien, futuristic world. A few weeks ago, the library in Claverack had a used book sale and I bought 20 books for $2. There were mostly secondary novels by authors I like such as Susan Minot, Jonathan Lethem and Douglas Coupland plus an interesting nonfiction piece called Seven Days in the Art World, profiling different aspects of the modern art scene. I don't know why but I picked up three sci-fi collections in paperback (Science Fiction Hall of Fame, edited by Robert Silverberg; The Penguin Science Fiction Omnibus, edited by Brian Aldiss, and My Favorite Science Fiction Story, edited by Martin H. Greenberg) and have gotten through one and a half of them. I read the novels, they were pretty quick reads,  then I started the sci-f stories. My life got pretty complicated with a colonoscopy, skin cancer, and a tooth filling falling out, and other minor incidents.

So here are my favorite selections from these collections and one or two others. I find that for the stories to be memorable they must be more than just clever, twisty plots with one-dimensional characters. There has to be something at stake and the imaginary world has to be believable.

"The Machine Stops" by E.M. Forster. This 1909 novella predicted the Internet and social media before television and radio, and even telephones were in every home.Foster imagines an underground society were individuals are huddled in cells and communicate through a central computer, abhorring actual human contact. The central computer becomes a god as humanity forgets they are the ones who built it.

"Twilight" by John W. Campbell. Not to be confused with the vampire-werewolf-teenager franchise. In a 1932 Western American diner, a customer relates a tall tale of picking up a weird hitchhiker who claims to be from the 31st century. The bizarre figure in turn tells his story of being sucked into a time warp and being hurled even further into the future when mankind meets a dismal fate.

"Lot" by Ward Moore. 1950s paranoia about the atom bomb translates into domestic conflict as a husband makes a cold-blooded choice for survival after a nuclear attack on Los Angeles. Fascinating character study of pettiness and delusions.

"The First Men" by Howard Fast. Interestingly structured tale imagining man taking over from nature and experimenting with the next step in evolution.

"The Liberation of Earth" by William Tenn. Funny sketch of earth falling victim to competing alien races.

"The Days of Perky Pat" by Philip K. Dick. PKD goes a totally different route, imagining a future so horrible the inhabitants have to get drugged up and live their lives through a doll and her imaginary world. The theme recurs in his novels. I went through a phase of reading one PKD novel after the other--Dr. Bloodmoney was an obscure favorite, as was The Zap Gun about weapons designers taking the place of fashion designers as pop icons.

There were phases of Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison where I read all of their work, I'll have to do some research to remember stories of theirs I particularly liked. I'll add more stories to the list as I go on. In my comic book collection, I have a special fondness for the sci-fi DC comics like From Beyond the Unknown and Mystery in Space. I'll have to devote a blog to that topic highlighting my favorite comic stories.

No comments:

Post a Comment