Too Many For A Favorite
A well-meaning teacher (who will remain nameless, but she knows who she is) recently asked me to make a copy of my favorite SFF (short) story, with a few typed paragraphs about what makes it good.
Now I'm a teacher myself, and I understand the purpose of the exercise; it would work with pretty much any good story.
But I got completely tied in knots over the task of choosing my "favorite." I've been reading SFF for over forty years, especially short stories, and I've read hundreds, if not thousands, of them. I admire and adore scores of them, all for different reasons.
There are a great many that come to mind right now. Here is a list of "great" stories I was able to think of off the top of my head, without cracking a book. (Okay, that's not entirely true, I had to crack a book or two to remember the exact titles of some of them, but I knew which stories I was looking for.)
- Baker, "Son Observe the Time"
- Bester, "5,271,009"
- Bester, "Adam and No Eve"
- Bester, "The Four-Hour Fugue"
- Bester, "Of Time and Third Avenue"
- Bester, "Star Light, Star Bright"
- Bradbury, "There Will Come Soft Rains"
- Bradbury, "Usher II"
- Crowley, "The Great Work of Time"
- Crowley, "Snow"
- Egan, "Dust"
- Egan, "The Hundred Light-Year Diary"
- Egan, "Learning To Be Me"
- Egan, "Reasons to be Cheerful"
- Egan, "The Safe Deposit Box"
- Gold, "The Old Die Rich"
- Gottlieb, "Tauf Aleph"
- Heinlein, "Gulf"
- Heinlein, "Lost Legacy"
- Jablokov, "The Breath of Suspension"
- Jablokov, "A Deeper Sea"
- Jablokov, "Living Will"
- Kress, "Inertia"
- Kress, "The Price of Oranges"
- Le Guin, "The Finder"
- Le Guin, "The Island of the Immortals"
- Le Guin, "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas"
- Le Guin, "Seasons of the Ansarac"
- MacDonald, "The Days of Solomon Gursky"
- Marusek, "The Wedding Album"
- Pohl, "Outnumbering the Dead"
- Resnick, "For I Have Touched the Sky"
- Resnick, "Seven Views of Oldavai Gorge"
- Reynolds, "Zima Blue"
- Sheckley, "Child's Play"
- Sheckley, "The Language of Love."
- Silverberg, "Enter a Soldier. Later: Enter Another"
- Simak, "Huddling Place."
- Sterling, "Dinner in Audoghast"
- Sterling, "Swarm"
- Sterling, "We See Things Differently"
- Tiptree, "A Momentary Taste of Being"
- Tiptree, "We Who Stole the Dream"
- Van Vogt, "Far Centaurus"
- Varley, "Equinoctial."
- Varley, "In the Hall of the Martian Kings"
- Varley, "Just Another Perfect Day"
- Varley, "Lollypop and the Tar Baby."
- Varley, "Tango Charlie and Foxtrot Romeo."
- Varley, "The Persistence of Vision."
- Varley, "The Phantom of Kansas"
I wouldn't dare call this list "definitive" in any way, as there are glaring omissions: nothing by such towering talents of the short form as Connie Willis, Theodore Sturgeon, David Gerrold, Philip K. Dick, Elizabeth Bear, Robert Reed, etc., etc.
But these are stories that have stuck with me, that I have come back to over and over -- although some, like "Far Centaurus," I'm sure I haven't read in over three decades.
You can tell by looking, probably, which authors have whole collections I've read. You can take this list as a recommendation to find collections of short stories by Varley, Egan, Le Guin, Sheckley, Bester.
But of course my tastes are for the sorrowful and tragic. Some of these stories, such as "Tango Charlie," "We Who Stole the Dream," "For I Have Touched the Sky", "Son, Observe the Time" and "The Great Work of Time," had me gasping aloud when I got to the end. And I've tried reading aloud "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" on several occasions (it's very short), and not once have I been able to get through the whole thing without choking up. (I've never bothered trying to read "Tango Charlie" aloud -- who wants to sob like a baby in front of an audience?)
And some are utterly mind-blowing, in the sense of expanding your imaginations in directions you never thought it could go. Pretty much anything by Egan or Varley is like that.
There's more SF than fantasy on this list, because I've read a lot more short work in SF.
When you're trying to write in this field, it's humbling to realize how crowded it already is with blindingly beautiful work, stretching through the decades.