At GIZMODO AUSTRALIA, Charlie Jane Anders chose 18 perfect short stories that pack more of a punch than most novels. Eight of these outstanding stories are available in Tachyon anthologies and collections.
1) “The Last Question” by Isaac Asimov
This is one of the all-time great idea-driven stories, and it’s one that manages to be both cosmic and poignant. In 2061, humans create the first truly awesome supercomputer, Multivac, and decide to ask it how the net amount of entropy in the universe could be reduced. This turns out to be kind of a tricky question, and it takes rather a long time to get a satisfactory answer. This story contains all of Asimov’s penchant for big-picture storytelling, in one brilliant dose.
Cover by Josh Beatman
4) “Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel” by Peter S. Beagle
Really, you should just read all of Beagle’s short stories — they’re available in nice editions from Tachyon Books, plus you can still get Mirror Kingdoms: The Best of Peter S. Beagle used. Beagle’s stories are sly, endearing, and moving when you least expect it. This one features the narrator reminiscing about his childhood, and the angel that visited his uncle and demanded to be painted. Even though Beagle’s tales of adults are brilliant, his short fiction about childhood is some of his most provocative, and this story is a miracle.
Cover by Ann Monn
7) “Evil Robot Monkey” by Mary Robinette Kowal
This is a pretty simple story, but it contains enough ideas and emotional heft to stick with you for a long time after reading. Sly is a monkey who’s been uplifted thanks to a cybernetic implant that gives him human-level intelligence — but that doesn’t mean he’s not still a monkey. By the end of the story, you absolutely feel for Sly, who is one of those tragic characters who can’t escape his circumstances, but he’s smart enough to understand his situation.
Cover by Alex Solis Design by Elizabeth Story
9) “Escape From Spiderhead” by George Saunders
This one story has a lot of Saunders’ most frequent concerns, but with even more creepiness and dystopian satire than usual. The main character is a test subject in a special facility, where they completely control his mind and emotions using bizarre drugs — and this leads to a lot of weirdly unsettling sex scenes. But that’s just the beginning. Fiction is full of dystopias where corporations or science gone mad are controlling people, but this story still stands out for how powerfully it examines questions of what makes us who we are. But mostly, just creepy as hell. Like a lot of the stories on this list, I chose this one because it keeps bugging me.
Cover by Goro Fujita Design by Elizabeth Story
10) “Solitude” by Ursula K. Le Guin
Le Guin’s best fiction often looks at the meetings between cultures, and the efforts of an outsider to understand a strange culture, and this story is no exception. The main character is in a unique position to discover how the people on another planet interact, because she’s a little girl and will be accepted by them in a way that her mother won’t. But this leads, over time, to a rift between the girl and her mother, who wind up having been raised in different cultures. There are so many brilliant ideas and powerful emotions in this one short story — it’s reminiscent of Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness, but more personal.
Cover by David Hardy
11) “The Girl Who Was Plugged In” by James Tiptree, Jr.
Along with E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” and some of Philip K. Dick’s weirder stories about advertising and surveillance, this novella feels weirdly prescient — it really feels like it could be an episode of Black Mirror, in fact. In the near future, instead of advertising, corporations own celebrities, who are basically “famous for being famous” and go around conspicuously buying and using the companies’ products. One of these is Delphi, a teen girl who’s beautiful but brain-dead (literally), and she’s controlled cybernetically by a normal girl, whose body has been damaged by a disease.
Cover by John Picacio
12) “Message in a Bottle” by Nalo Hopkinson
This is a somewhat hard-to-categorize story — without giving too much away, it’s another story about a weird child who’s not entirely what she appears to be. And Kamla isn’t actually a child at all: She’s a visitor from the future, who’s come back in time to collect something. The main character’s interactions with this eerie visitor are fascinating and kind of intense, and the story’s big “twist” is one of those things that makes you rethink humanity’s place in the world.
Cover by Chuma Hill. Design by Elizabeth story
18) “The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu
This story swept the Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Awards, and we were proud to republish it at io9. It’s a tear-jerking story about origami that comes to life — but it’s really about the challenges faced by children who are caught between two cultures, and how internalized racism can damage a family.
Cover by Thomas Canty
Discover the rest of Anders’ selections at GIZMODO AUSTRALIA.