Nano's favourite sci-fi shorts

I love science fiction. I am absolutely in love with fantastic ideas - fantastic in the old sense "of fantasy." I chew through sci-fi short stories because I find science fiction writers have great ideas and style but very little stamina for fleshing out worlds and characters. Sci-fi shorts are more about exhibiting one gleaming idea and less about total immersion in a different world. That's what I love about them and that seems to be something few people understand - even sci-fi enthusiasts.

I pulled some of my precious anthologies from my bookshelf to pick out the stories that have stuck with me in the hope that someone else will appreciate the same stories that I do. It's a fairly eclectic mix because I like different stories for different reasons - writing, humour, characters or the idea, with little connection between them. I've decided to do this in several parts to cut down on length. Some of the stories I've been able to find online for free (legally!) which is very exciting. Without further ado:

Marly Youmans
Extraordinary Engines
All things stood apart and distinct in the static. Beyond the paling a bolt slammed into the winter grain, and a smell of ozone and burnt grass suffused the landscape. The immense steam-organ pipes of the public works sang out and pushed up clouds of vapor like a million white peonies shattered on a blue china tray.
This short just captured my imagination and has never let it go. It is of an alternate, neo-victorian world where the air is so dry that static is constant and lightning is a daily danger. The protagonist is a young girl under the care of her great-aunt, who seeks to have her inheritance. It's an absolutely fascinating world, made beautiful by skillful wordsmithing.

"When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth"
Cory Doctorow
Year's Best SF12
You can read it online here or, if that format is too ugly, try downloading another format here.
Felix pried himself off of IRC an hour later. Atlanta had burned. Manhattan was hot—radioactive enough to screw up the webcams looking out over Lincoln Plaza. Everyone blamed Islam until it became clear that Mecca was a smoking pit and the Saudi Royals had been hanged before their palaces.
This one actually sends chills down my spine - it's a very, very good apocalypse story. Some of the only people left alive are sysadmins in their digital bunkers, scrambling to piece together what has happened and where survivors are - globally. It's a great geek take on an oft-explored idea. Cory Doctorow is someone I admire greatly - both for his writing and for his passion about copyright issues. This story is really refreshing because all the techno-babble he uses actually means something.

"This is the Ice Age"
Claude Lalumiere
Year's Best SF12
Distorted cars litter the bridge, quantum ice fractalling outwards from their engines, from the circuits of their dashboards. The ice has burst from their chassis, creating random new configurations of ice, technology and anatomy.
Short, but fascinating. The idea of quantum ice is captivating. Good exploration of an apocalypse-type scenario - captures the confusion and dynamics of a broken society perfectly and in few words.

"Aristotle OS"
Tony Ballantyne
Year's Best SF13
Read online here, Page 27
Windows, Linux, Mac OS. They're all the same. They model the real world inside your computer. Whether you're running a spreadsheet to do your household accounts, or playing a car racing game, you're running an imperfect model of the real world.

Fascinating proposition: change the philosophy of a computer operating system and you change its behavior. This story presents a shockingly intriguing idea as well as explores some of the implications. A really interesting read.

"Third Person"
Tony Ballantyne
Year's Best SF13
You can read it online here, page 397
"They've got this drug, you see. They call it Third Person. It sort of detaches you from the scene. Once you've taken it you lose all sense of identity. It's like you're reading about someone's life, rather than taking part in it."
This is Ballantyne's second short in this anthology, proving that he is very much a man full of whimsical ideas. This short is about the use of a drug in soldiers and civilians to create a state of disassociation. It unfolds like a regular war story until you begin to realize that the third person narration is significant in that it should be first person. It has a very, very powerful ending - a great piece all around.

1 things about

Nano's favourite sci-fi shorts
  1. Glad you liked it so! And hey, there ought to be more introverts in the far North--so cold that you need to hunker by the fire and read a book.


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