5 short sci-fi stories
I’ve never been a fan of short stories, but like many things I’m not a fan of, I’m trying to give it a chance this year. I was thinking of different things I might review for #SciFiMonth and hit upon the idea of trying bite-sized SF. I chose 4 short stories and 1 novella, and overall my experience was great!
I hope you’ll consider adding short stories to your reading list, especially during the holiday season, when it can be difficult to sit down with a big novel. Tor.com has a section for original (and free) fiction, which is where the second, third and fourth stories in this review came from.
To be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky chambers (goodreads page)
Sub-genre: first-contact, space-exploration
Relevant words/phrases: exploration, far space travel, morality
1 minute summary: Ariadne is an astronaut on an extrasolar research vessel. Her experience is one of a unique perspective on the passage of time. Back on Earth, society changes dramatically from decade to decade, as it always does. But the moods of Earth have little bearing on their mission: to explore, to study, and to send their learnings home.
My rating: 5/5
1 sentence review: Fascinating and heart-wrenching, this novella explores the ideals that make us human by asking a question that science struggles with, even today: how important is it to reach for tomorrow when just surviving the day demands everything?
Water: A History by K.J. Kabza (goodreads page)
Relevant words/phrases: colonization, harsh environment
1 minute summary: The planet of Quányuán is arid to the point of being uninhabitable. That doesn’t stop one elderly woman from stepping outside the safety of the colony whenever she can for the brief opportunity to fully experience the outside world.
My rating: 2/5
1 sentence review: A little too ambitious for its 18 page count, Water: A History suffers from several types of abruptness that leave a meaningful story feeling a bit flat.
Thoughts: I thought this story tried to cover too much ground for its short page count. Ideas of mortality, loss and longing need more than 18 pages; the themes, relationships and ideas could have been pared down. The author’s choice of ending was so surprising that it left a bad taste in my mouth.
The Last Voyage of Skidbladnir by Karin Tidbeck (goodreads page)
Sub-genre: space exploration
Relevant words/phrases: biotech, space travel
1 minute summary: Life on the transdimensional ship Skidbladnir is a strange one. Just when the new janitor, Saga, has begun to understand the inner workings of ship, she discovers that something is wrong. It’s up to her and the Skidbladnir’s engineer to fix it.
My rating: 4/5
1 sentence review: Fascinating ideas blend with a bittersweet sense of mortality and wanderlust in this short tale examining the meaning of freedom.
Thoughts: Skidbladnir is a reference to the Skíðblaðnir, a mythical Norse ship attributed to the gods. Considered the finest ship ever built, it was known for its ability to be folded up like cloth, in order to be transported where needed. Aspects of the myth can be found in the story—a cool intersection of the Sci-Fi Month and Norsevember reading events I’m participating in this month.
Angel of the Blockade by Alex Wells (goodreads page)
Relevant words/phrases: smuggling, space action
1 minute summary: Nata spends her time zipping through the black in her ugly yet bad-ass spaceship, taking pride in being the best smuggler the Imperial regime has never caught. When she takes on an expensive mystery cargo, however, the risk reaches far beyond her pride.
My rating: 4/5
1 sentence review: A nicely contained short story full of imaginative tech, a great nuanced character and a good hit of action.
Thoughts: Despite being only 36 pages, Angel of the Blockade covers a lot of ground, and there are interesting surprises and great storytelling choices that only this type of format could pull off. It’s easy to see why this was a 2018 Locus Award Nominee.
Missing in Action (Eisenhorn #1.5) by Dan Abnett (goodreads page)
Relevant words/phrases: Warhammer 40k, urban setting
1 minute summary: A series of mysterious murders in a hive city pique the interest of Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn. There’s a commonality between them all that suggests something deeper than simply random acts of a crazed killer – but what could be behind the brutal slayings, and what will it mean for the safety of the entire city?
My rating: 4.5/5
1 sentence review: A fantastic and unexpected look into the micro effects of warhammer 40K’s grimdark universe.
Thoughts: It’s so easy to get lost in the overarching idea of Warhammer 40k’s endless grimdark world, and to see characters like Inquisitors and Space Marines as violent, monolithic automatons. This short story focuses on individuals and the effects of war. It was a surprise and added yet another interesting facet to Gregor Eisenhorn.