I Like Short Stories

I have always preferred short stories over long novels. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading novels, especially well-paced, well written novels, but I have always preferred the short story.

I think it’s because it’s fun to see what the ‘twist’ will be and how the author can develop a handful of characters (at most) in just a few hundred to a couple of thousand words. As anyone who has tried to write a short story will tell you, it’s hard. You have the pressure of fitting a whole story (beginning, middle, end) with characters and settings into a few pages of words. And what’s worse – it has to be both believable and punchy. I like stories with a twist in the tail 🙂

Lawrence Block is one of my favourite authors. As well as writing a large number of novels, featuring Bernie Rhodenbarr (The Burglar Who…. series), wonderful books full of wisecracks, believable characters and unlikely situations, Matt Scudder (alcoholic ex-cop turned private eye, very dark in places) and the truly wonderful Hitman/Keller series. The latter ties in nicely with the point of this, the first book is a series of short stories – the Hitman is a sympathetic character: one who fell into the work he does and neither likes it nor hates it. Like the rest of us, he has a job because he has to have a job. his job is to kill people, but he wants more. I have to admit, in one way I find the series of shorts to be a tiny bit cheating – you have a number of stories to develop your characters and situations. But do them well and I’ll forgive you.

Lawrence Block, in my opinion, also writes wonderful short stories. (See how I brought this back around?) His stories have wonderful twists in them which never fail to send a shiver up my spine – a physical manifestation of how good I think the tale is, if you will. Anyway, I didn’t intend this to be a post about my appreciation for this great author. Let’s leave him, with this final thought for you – if you have the opportunity, pick up one of his books, you’ll read a writer who loves writing.

At the start of this, I professed a love for reading. Now I’m not one of your fair weather readers, I don’t just read one genre or author, I read voraciously. Sci-fi, mystery, horror, thriller, historical, science-fantasy, biographies, auto-biographies, books of scripts…… you get the message? I read. A lot. I have come to the point that I now rarely select books based on author or genre, merely on whether the book itself catches my eye. Yes, dear reader, I really do judge a book by it’s cover. Of course, I also buy and borrow based on author and genre, it’s just that when I can’t find a particular book using that criteria, I grab something else.

A friend of mine introduced me to the sci-fi greats while I was still at school – Asimov, Ellison, Simak, Silverberg, Moorcock, Spinrad – I read everything I could find by them. Over and over again. Follow the links I just gave you and check out their stories. Project Gutenberg has, more than likely, a number of their works for you to try for free. And if not there, elsewhere.

Which, relatively neatly, brings me to my inspiration for this post. If you ever read my Links page, you will be aware that I not only read the Something Awful front page, but that I am also a member of the forums there. A goon posted links to publicly available short stories and I wanted to keep said links in a findable place. Here, in fact. So, a set of links for you and me to enjoy.

http://www.neilgaiman.com/exclusive/shortstories/chulthhustory – Neil Gaiman just does not write enough. American Gods, Anansi Boys, Stardust, Smoke and Mirrors (short stories, yay!) and other works show him to be a wonderfully chilling writer with an obvious love for his craft.

http://www.scifi.com/scifiction/archive.html – Harlan Ellison, Sladek, Bester, Bloch, Silverberg and many others have short stories listed here. Run there, do not walk.

http://sujith_v.tripod.com/stories/paw.txt – it’s The Monkey’s Paw! You must know about this story.

http://sujith_v.tripod.com/stories/reformation.txt – This is an O. Henry story. O. Henry is a rather well known author for good reason.

http://www.baen.com/chapters/W200501/0743498747___2.htm – hehe, not everything Robert Heinlein wrote was a classic. His tales are still fun though.

http://adin.dyndns.org/adin/TheLastQ.htm – a religious tale, of sorts, by Isaac Asimov. Despite being a famous scientist, he retained his faith and many of his stories are either allegories or directly about God or Satan. Usually with twist. C’mon, these are short stories after all.

http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/stories/green.htm – Green magic, by Jack Vance. Faust retold.

http://www.scifi.com/scifiction/classics/classics_archive/lafferty5/lafferty51.html – a parody tale.

http://365tomorrows.com/ – a daily short story! (stop salivating in the back)

http://www.online-literature.com/bierce/ – shorts by Ambrose Bierce.

http://www.lspace.org/books/toc/toc-english.html – Terry Pratchett’s Theatre of Cruelty

http://www.classicreader.com/read.php/sid.6/bookid.1317/ – The Most Dangerous Game, by Richard Connell. Predictable but enjoyable.

There are more links in the thread on the forums, I’m not just going to copy/paste them all here – it’s a forum, the thread will grow. Hopefully, the area of the forums that the thread resides on is still publicly available.

Hopefully, this will help you expand your own reading collection. If you don’t already read short stories, give them a go. Short stories are especially handy if you just want a ‘quick fix’ or have limited time. Toilet reading, I often call them. If you know what I mean, and I’m sure that you do 🙂


Posted on 6 March, 2006, in Books. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. 😮 You forgot Roald Dahl’s collection of short stories, which I thought were brilliant reads.

    I’m not sure if it was his work or another author’s, but someone wrote a short story about a woman who marries a clerk, who doesn’t earn a lot of money. She is quite a prestigious woman, so she feels ‘let down’ in a sense by her husband. One night, when the clerk gets tickets to go to an important ball, she says she doesn’t want to go because she doesn’t have any jewellery to wear. So, he suggests she visit a friend – and she does just that. She borrows an expensive-looking diamond necklace from her friend, and goes to the ball. BUT, on the way back from the ball to her house (she was a huge hit at the ball btw ;)), she loses the necklace.
    The husband takes out loans to purchase an almost identical one, and then she spends the next ten years of her life working in poverty and misery to repay the debt. Then there’s a huge twist at the end.

    I loved that story, but I can’t remember what it was called or who wrote it. Maybe you know it?

    Thanks for all those links – they’ll prove valuable time-consumers for my plane flight in two weeks’ time 😀


  2. Hmmm, that story rings a bell……

    But you’re right, I completely neglected Roald Dahl. He wrote excellent stories and as a child I loved the ITV series “Tales of the Unexpected” – some of them were quite chilling.

  3. I’ll try and find out what it was – it was enjoyable, so I’d like to read it again 😉

    I tend to read more computer books and PDFs nowadays, so I don’t get much of a chance to fit novels and short stories into the limited time I get. Although I am reading “Not a penny more, not a penny less” by Jeffrey Archer at the moment, and I try to pick it up whenever I’ve got some spare time because it’s very thrilling. Quite a hard book to put down actually.. which usually ends with some bad consequences 😀

    Roald Dahl’s children’s books were brilliant – though I haven’t read them for a few years. Short stories are great too. All the guy’s works were of pure genius 😉

  4. Heh, I have a number of story synopses running around in my head and I can’t remember the titles of them 🙂 Then I reread them and groan because halfway through I realise that I read it recently. I wish I could remember things …. erm ….. better 😉

  5. The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant is the story that was first mentioned by J_K9

  6. Thanks Howie and welcome to the site 🙂

  7. See what you think of this short observance/story. I thought irvine welsh, filth was a good book- some bits anyway.
    <a href="http://vontraplexium.blogspot.com/2009/04/26-decibels.html
    " title="26 Decibels">26 Decibels

  8. Thanks for the links. Just started reading Terry Pratchett’s Theatre of Cruelty. v.good. Put a smile on my face. xD
    My recent post At Home: A Short History Of Private Life

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