More Favorite Short Stories

Yes, I do love those short stories.  In my last post on my favorite short stories I wrote about five of the all-time greats.   They were:

1.  “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” by Harlan Ellison.

2.  “Sundance” by Robert Silverberg.

3.  “The Women Men Don’t See” by James Tiptree, Jr.

4.  “The Apostate” by Jack London.

5.  “The Aleph” by Jorge Luis Borges.

Now it’s time to forge onward and list more.  Here they are:

6.  “Alpha Ralpha Boulevard” by Cordwainer Smith.  Cordwainer Smith, which is a pseudonym of course, didn’t write much:  a few short stories, a few novellas, a novel.  But what he wrote was superlative.  Most of his stories are set in a common universe in which a governing body called The Instrumentality rules the affairs of men scattered in many worlds across the galaxy.  His writing is innovative, full of wild speculations and totally original ideas.  “Alpha Ralpha Boulevard” is set on a far future Earth.  Its citizens have just been set free to make their own decisions.  Everything had been determined for them and they had been kept healthy and productive whether they wanted it or not.  Now they rejoice in the re-introduction of plague and smallpox and other diseases, multiple
languages, and other long-lost idiosyncrasies of the human race.  Smith’s writing is original, I tell you.  A small group of people take a stroll along the Boulevard and encounter bizarre remnants of the ancient past along the way.  The story is an absolutely elegant piece of work.

7.  “The Big Flash” by Norman Spinrad.  This is one story I haven’t read in a long,
long time.  It isn’t that easy to find.  But it left such an impression on me that even now, about forty years after I first read and re-read it, certain parts remain vividly etched in my
memory.  I have been searching for a copy of an anthology with this story within, and I have just ordered a used copy of “The Best From Orbit” mainly so I can re-read this one story.  Briefly, it tells of a media advertising plot to make the atomic bomb popular.  A
really weird hard rock group sings of the glories of the A-bomb.  Nowadays it hardly even seems strange, considering what one can find in the lyrics of popular songs, but back then,
during the cold war, it was a devastating piece of work, starkly drawn and incisive and topical.  The countdown at the end is nerve-shattering.

8.  “A Rose for Ecclesiastes” by Roger Zelazny.  It’s extremely difficult to choose a favorite Zelazny story.   I was tempted to write about “The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of
His Mouth”, which is every bit as good as this one.  Why did I finally select “A Rose for
Ecclesiastes”?  It’s an earlier piece, and it’s Zelazny’s flamboyant stepping out as a writer.  It’s poetic and intriguing and intelligent.  Never mind that it’s set on a Mars that never was – just take it as fantasy and enjoy it.  The elegance of the prose has, word for word,
seldom been equaled in the science fiction genre.  I can’t help thinking as I read it that the
main character is closely modeled on Zelazny himself, but who cares?  It’s a wonderful literary ride all the way to its stunning conclusion.

9.  “The Devil and Daniel Webster” by Stephen St. Vincent Benet.  There are many deal-with-the-Devil stories in fantasy literature, but this one is by far my favorite.  It works so well because of its amazing portrait of Daniel Webster himself, fictionalized and exaggerated and blown up to mythical status.  A fellow New Hampshire man is indebted to the Devil and about to lose his soul, and Webster intercedes in one of the strangest, most unique courtroom scenes in literature.  I’ve read this story many times through the years and each time is just as good as the first.

10. “Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones” by Samuel R. Delaney.  The title is a mouthful, one of the longer titles in science fiction literary history; the story itself is just the right length.  It’s a picaresque adventure of a sophisticated thief with connections throughout the solar system.  The helix of semi-precious stones is a
network of code words used by the underworld to identify insiders.  But that’s just giving a few bare bones of an intricately fleshed-out story.  Delaney is a master of language; he always has exactly the right word in the right place.  His descriptions are so precise
they burn the scenes into your brain.

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