Life stopped being normal a while ago for all of us, and I feel like everyone has done something weird or unusual since lockdown started. Got into a new hobby, completely rearranged their apartment, bought too many houseplants, done things without a reason other than just because.
I did some of those things too, but the weirdest thing I did so far was randomly deciding to get rid of a few short stories on my TBR by reading one a day until I was rid of the ones I had open in my tabs, then I extended it to the ones saved on goodreads. Long story short (AHAHAHAHAHAAH I just noticed the pun), somehow I ended up finding more and then it became this challenge to myself that I also thought would make for a fun post to write, so that led me to want to read more so I could finish on a nice number, until I got burned out and decided to finish it on three full weeks of short stories.
While I’m never going to do anything like this again unless someone pays me a considerable amount, I’m also glad that I did it! I feel like I learned a lot about what I like and what I don’t, and how to read (SFF) short fiction, and also that it’s very, very easy to get burned out doing something like this, especially once university stars again and you have to follow lessons all day and have no brain power left for the daily short story.
What I learned
So, the first thing I learned is this: reading SFF short stories is not easy. Sure, there are some that are pretty linear and once you get into them then they flow really well and you just click with them, but there are also a lot that will fight you every step of the way, and will require you to actually focus on the minor details, and even then what shape the story takes is mostly up to how you interpret the text and subtext.
I feel like short stories more than anything else are where a writer can use their writing style at the best of their potential, and that allows you to find authors whose writing really speaks to you, as well as ones that you don’t really click with. The writing style is not as diluted as it sometimes can be with longer fiction, and as with anything that comes in higher concentrations, it can be too much even if you don’t mind its taste in smaller amounts. But in any case: reading short stories is a great way to find new (to you) writers.
SFF short fiction seems to also be a place where a lot of diversity is not a big deal and easy to find. Of course I say this coming from a place of both seeking diverse stories and getting my recommendations from people I trust to read diversely, so it might also be a case of echo chamber, but I still feel like there is some truth in it, especially since some of these short stories are relatively older and were published when diverse fiction was really just starting to gain more traction (at least when it comes to novels).
Something that shocked me on the more practical side of things, as someone who had previously only read a few short stories from Tor.com, is that not all short stories come listed on goodreads individually unless they are from Tor.com itself, and you’ll instead have to search for the name of the magazine + issue number where they were published if you want to add them to your goodreads challenge.
There’s definitely more that I learned but it would be things I learned about myself and what I like in fiction, so I’ll say this instead: sometimes you’ll find an overly specific trope used in a short story and classify it into “absolutely yes” or “absolutely not”, and you can use this knowledge to then seek out fiction with that trope or know to avoid it at all costs.
I can’t possibly talk about every single story I’ve read and this post is already too long without it, but here I’m listing all of them as well as where you can read them and my review (if I wrote one).
What I read
(favorites are marked with ✨)
An Explorer’s Cartography of Already Settled Lands by Fran Wilde | read here | review | no rating
A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers by Alyssa Wong | read here | review | ★★★★✩
As you can see I found a few stories that I would classify as favorites (7 out of 21 is a great number if you ask me!) and I’m really happy about this. Although I got kind of a bad start (I didn’t get the first one I read, I disliked the second one and found the third one okay but difficult to read) I also saw pretty early on that there were absolute gems for me to discover.
Short stories sometimes leave a lot of space for interpretation and that can need some getting used to or at the very least you need to be in the right headspace for it. I think it’s definitely nice to see how a story sparked a discussion in the comments, and even the most intricate story can make for a great buddy read with a friend, but otherwise it can be a frustrating experience.
There’s short stories you immediately get and speak to your soul, though, and those are worth trying to get into this sort of fiction even if you will hit a few bumps in the road.
In the future I look forward to read more short stories and I’ve definitely already added a bunch more to my TBR, but I don’t think I will ever challenge myself like I did here, and instead I will focus on reading the ones I really want to read in that moment.