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May is Short Story Month. Celebrate by immersing yourself in the genius of these truly great authors.
Short stories have been an often overlooked art; tales crammed with wonder and ideas and character. They show writers at the height of their powers – capable of creating worlds in an instant. But they’re finally getting a proper look-in, thanks to some of the best in the business whose weight of work consists largely of tight, succinct bursts of prose.
Five authors and their work are featured here. Others are better known for their novels, but refined their style through taut tales.
And even better: you can read them all online, completely free!
The Veldt By Ray Bradbury (PDF)
Ray Bradbury is a master of the short story, and it’s impossible to choose just one as his best. But The Veldt, taken from a late 1950 issue of The Saturday Evening Post before being reprinted as the opening to his acclaimed collection, The Illustrated Man, is chilling and beautiful – exactly what the writer excels at.
The Veldt takes place in an automated house where everything is done for the family living there. However, this doesn’t focus on the lazy society portrayed in WALL-E,or the like; instead, the children, Peter and Wendy, have become fascinated with The Nursery, a room which conjures anything you can possibly think of.
For a while, it’s housed in an African Veldt and in this story of childhood innocence lost, there are the roars of lions on the wind – carried with screams of terror.
(It was also read as an audio book by political satirist, Stephen Colbert – and there are plenty more short stories available through WellToldTales.)
A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings By Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The recently-deceased Colombian scribe is best-known for his much-loved novels like 1985’s Love in the Time of Cholera and One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), but he also worked extensively as a journalist and short story writer.
A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings showcases his regular motifs – solitude and magical realism – in a surprising narrative that shows the darker side of human nature and curiosity. Very simply, a man with wings is found in a village and many suspect he may be a fallen angel.
It’s light on incident, but Gabriel’s grasp of language is admirable. You can see why, only last month, following Marquez’s death, he was named by President Juan Manuel Santos as “the greatest Colombian who ever lived.”
Limited Edition By Tim Maughan
Tim’s work is heavily influenced by the Cyberpunk movement, especially J. G. Ballard. While his first collection, Paintwork, is decidedly science fiction, Limited Edition takes an unusual approach to a much-worn topic: rioting.
The recession has given society an incredible angst and it exploded across the streets of Tim’s local city, Bristol, just a few years ago. The uneasiness still ripples under the skin of anyone living in the UK. Many focus on the terrible aspects of the tempestuous times, but Limited Edition gets inside the head of a rioter.
Maughan recently said,
“It was very important to me to write something with that voice. That was the one voice that the media wasn’t really asking. They were talking to the people whose shops had been smashed up. Now, you can understand them doing that, but there was very little attempt to try and understand why they would be doing it in the first place. Or to link it into a bigger picture of British society and our economy.”
If you like your fiction gritty and street-level, it’s a must-read.
Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby By Donald Barthelme
Barthelme focused largely on writing short stories so, once again, it’s very difficult to pick just one to highlight. I had to go with Some of us had been threatening our Friend Colby because it was the first work of his I read and will always hold dear.
I was astounded how someone so witty and with such genius had gone under my radar for so long. Its tone is immediate and so much fun that it’ll cheer you up wherever you may be. And yet it centers on a hanging.
Such clever writing can easily be compared to the late great Douglas Adams, and if you feel impelled to search for further stories – might I suggest Game? – then your day will definitely be the better for it.
Silver Blaze By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Of course it’s Sherlock Holmes!
Many of the Great Detective’s greatest cases are told in short story collections, so it didn’t feel at all right to exclude him from this list. And what a selection to choose from!
Silver Blaze opens the second batch of short stories, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, narrated by his faithful companion, John Watson. Not as well-known as, for instance, The Five Orange Pips or A Scandal in Bohemia, Silver Blaze is notable for its foreshadowing of the gloomy Dartmoor environs of Doyle’s later novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902).
But it’s also expertly plotted and has proved inspiration for Mark Haddon’s critically-acclaimed book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Want to know how? You’d better read Sir Doyle’s brilliant tale of an award-winning horse, stolen before a big race!
The Long and Short Of It
This is the wonderful thing about the Internet – not only can you look up the latest Doctor Who news or scour Tumblr for pictures of cats: you can discover the very best of tales by the some of the very best writers… and be inspired.
Once you’re inspired, you could create your own masterpieces using StoryBook, compose something for OneSentence, or take to Twitter to make the shortest of short stories. The shortest horror story, for example, must surely be Frederic Brown’s The Knock: “The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door.”
Happy Short Story Month.