I love short stories. They’re hard to write, but when done well, their effect can be far more powerful than a longer form. It takes a lot of careful wording and plotting to be able to make a short story, and since the second half of my summer’s goal has been to write a few shorts, I have been reading a few, too.
Three stories in particular have grabbed my attention for good and bad, and I thought I would take this opportunity to share them with you guys.
“After the Coup” by John Scalzi
Originally published for free on Tor.com, “After the Coup” was recently released for $0.99 in all the major eBookstores. I bought it, and used it as an opportunity to check out the iBooks app for my iPhone 4. The app is pretty good, but it’s no Kindle; however, the story is great.
I am eager to gobble up any stories set in the Old Man’s War universe, so “After the Coup” was right up my alley. There is no need to have read the novels to understand the story because it is completely self-contained…as it should be.
What I love about Scalzi’s OMW universe is that he does so well in bringing non-anthropomorphic aliens to life. He doesn’t do the brow-ridges or colored skin that a lot of SF mainstays do (thanks for that, by the way, Star Trek); he makes his aliens, well, alien. He makes the cultures just as unique, and that’s where “After the Coup” shines. Readers get treated to some very strange political posturing between humans and some amphibious armadillo-like aliens who like arena combat.
It’s fun, its quick, and it’s definitely worth reading. Plus, if you’ve never read Scalzi, you’d better start.
“The President’s Brain is Missing” by John Scalzi
Another Tor.com original by John Scalzi, I was able to read “The President’s Brain is Missing” prior to it being publically accessible because I had a Tor account. It’s now available for everyone, so I suggest going and checking it out.
One of the best things about SF is the ability to explore concepts that other genres can’t. Scalzi puts his own spin on something I consider relatively mundane in this story: a plot on the President’s life. Been there, done that, right?
The hypochondriac President is light headed, goes to the doctor, and is put on bed rest. His team, however, is informed that his brain is no longer in his head, and they have to figure out why. What follows is a fun story with some interesting ideas about technology and science, and it even offers some non-partisan political commentary.
You could definitely do worse than spend a few minutes with this story. It’s not set in any previously established universe, which is great because that makes the technology and ideas within it awe-inspiring because it’s not in a highly-advanced, space-faring society.
“The Time Traveler’s Wife” by Scott William Carter
I was just searching through free books in the iBooks app when I ran across this story (sorry, B&N was the only free direct download link I could find for you). I downloaded it and read it out of nothing but curiosity, wondering how a story with this title could be published in Analog in 2005.
In a nutshell, the story sucked. I have no doubt that it was titled to grab the attention of fans of Niffenegger’s work, and it was so poorly written I am shocked it made it into a publication like Analog to begin with. The prose is strained, the dialog is unnatural, and the plot is relatively non-existent. It stretches believability for an ending that falls flat. It seems like Carter wrote the story for a single line at the end, not caring if the rest of the work made sense at all.
I’m not being mean when I say that I don’t understand how this made it to a publication as respected as Analog. I do intend to read a few more stories by Carter because I don’t want to write any author off for one terrible story, but “The Time Traveler’s Wife” really got my goat. It’s very short, around 1000 words if I had to gauge, so it’s not going to set you back a lot to check it out. However, if you do, don’t say I didn’t warn you.