I’m back in London. I spent most of yesterday driving, we took the opportunity to call in with some friends on the way back and we were not helped by proper Welsh rain. Now I’m quite enjoying flumping on my own sofa and not doing anything. Ergo there are no hilarious hijinks to report.
I’d better talk about something else then.
This year I’ve been very fortunate in reading many, many, excellent short stories. You know the kind of stories you read and they’re so good your breath is slightly taken away, you’re not sure whether to feel jealous or joyous, they have in short left their mark on you.
Here’s my top five (that I’ve read this year, in ascending order):
5. The Last Reef by Gareth Lyn Powell – I missed this when it was in print in Interzone but managed to catch it the second time round when it was released online earlier this year. The sf conceits in this story are not new, you won’t be blown away by a startling vision of the future, but what you will find is a brilliantly charming character driven piece, great imagery and some really tight writing.
4. Shattered Like A Glass Goblin by Harlan Ellison – I’ve like Ellison’s work since my teens but found it quite hard to pick up for some reason, I’d get scraps here and there. This year I treated myself to a massive volume: “The Essential Ellison”. There’s a plethora of good stories including “Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman but, so far, Shattered Like A Glass Goblin is my favourite. The writing is tight; the imagery achieved with a surgeon like use of language, a well crafted allegory wrapped inside a terrifying dark fantasy. And Ellison doesn’t need the likes of me fawning over him, so I’ll shut up now. Read it.
3. How Do You Think It Feels? by Neil Gaiman – There aren’t enough stories about gargoyles, not in my opinion anyway. For a long time this year this was my favourite short story. It is a beautiful, sad, dark, strange, well crafted story. An unsettling meditation on love and loss. Gaiman at his best.
2. The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke – I’d been curious to read Susanna’s break through short story for ages; it has fast become the thing of legend, a story wannabe fantasy writers tell each other late at night with a kind of jealous awe. And there’s a very good reason. It’s off-the-page good. The kind of good that has you chewing your fist, asking why? how? and shaking your head with the cold knowledge that you’ll most likely never achieve such heights. Even with all that it’s a joy. You’re missing out if you don’t read this one.
1. The Cape by Joe Hill – I nearly didn’t read this at all. An ugly confession but it’s true. I read Joe’s first novel “Heart Shaped Box” and loved it, it was the best first novel I’d read in ages. I raved about it, I lent it to friends and basked in the reflected glory as they in turn raved about it. Then I went looking for his short fiction.
Eventually I managed to get hold of a copy of Best New Horror via an anthology. And wasn’t fussed. There I said it. Yes I know it won awards. Yes I know many raved about it including Neil Gaiman. But it wasn’t for me. And so I wasn’t sure about whether to pick up Joe’s collection. For about thirty seconds.
Picked up in an airport bookstore in Washington, Joe’s first collection 20th Century Ghosts is the most consistent short story collection I have ever read. Just the nuts. From the beautifully crafted ghost story that the collection takes its title from to the wonderfully strange, wonderfully moving Pop Art to the disturbing darkness of Abraham’s Boys.
But for me the one that got me, that really got inside my defences and ripped it up was The Cape. It’s a perfect short story from a writer at the height of his powers: you want to spend time with the characters, you recognise them, the pacing is perfect, the chills are cold icy hands on the back of your neck. And I didn’t see the end coming, pretty rare for me.
And that’s my top five. What’s yours?