Princess Muse

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Musings on Short Story Collections

Funny how a novel will keep me up all night, eager to get  to the end, but I can linger over a collection of short stories for a week....

I'm reading Naked City, edited by Ellen Datlow right now.  20 urban fantasy stories by some really terrific writers that I really like to read, like Jim Butcher (though I've only read his short stories, oddly enough), Patricia Briggs (who was not writing about werewolves) and Peter S. Beagle, as well as some I haven't read at all (or very little).  The first half of novelists are definitely fantasy stories, with either fantastical creatures (trolls, pookas, the fae, even the Green Man) but the last ones are a lot darker, edging more into horror than fantasy (although there are fantastical elements).

I like short story collections.  There's something nice about reading a story and being able to put the "book" down and doing something else and then coming back to it.  With a novel, I feel such a compulsion to finish the story that I view the rest of my life as a bothersome interruption until I can get back to the book.  (Even Florida State Football cannot distract me from finishing a novel-well, unless it's the Gator Game, or the Miami Game.  I'll have the game on, but most of my attention is on the book.)  I think it's because I get that sense of "done," that, even if it's bedtime and I've just started the collection, I can put it aside and read the next story tomorrow....even if the next story is by one of my favorite authors.

I have all sorts of short story anthologies.  I have different Bedford Readers, anthologies from Southern Writers, Stories of the South, Mystery anthologies, Fairy Tales anthologies (I love collecting fairy tales from different countries), the Year's Best ______ Stories (usually SF or Fantasy), Star Trek anthologies (you have to admire a fan base that keeps putting out stories about characters that haven't been portrayed in almost 20-40 years--and they're good stories).  Oddly, I haven't really seen any Star Wars short story collections--either the epic-ness of the movies and subsequent novels make it too hard to visualize a story in anything shorter than 200 pages, or Lucas hasn't authorized any short stories (and I know that they're being written) or I haven't been in the bookstores the month they came out.

Short stories can be tricky.  By definition, the reader has to make assumptions in the story--the author can't take too long to establish setting, or characters.  Sometimes, the short story feels more like "Chapter 1" of a longer story, which leaves me vaguely dissatisfied.  Yes, the story has an ending, but not a real resolution.  Then you have to decide if you liked the characters and setting enough to see if maybe it really was a proto-chapter to a book.  Sometimes you get lucky and you get a proto-chapter as a short story, but the story is complete enough that it doesn't matter if a book was written or not. Then you get to read more.  Now that's magic.

One of my favorite short story collections are by George Alec Effinger.  He wrote a series of stories about Maureen "Muffy" Birnbaum that started out as a parody of Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars stories.  Sadly, the collection Maureen Birnbaum, Barbarian Swordperson is out of print, and isn't even an ebook (but if you go to Barnes and Nobles' website, and I'm sure, you can click to let the publisher know that you want to read this), so you'll have to hopefully stumble upon it in a used book store.

Another one I really like is Neil Gaiman's Smoke and Mirrors.  Neil Gaiman is a phenomenal writer and his stories always blow me away.  I bought this collection because he wrote a version of "Snow White" called "Snow, Glass, Apples."

I don't like Arty short stories.  I never feel like I know what's really going on, and I suspect that either: a) the author doesn't really know what's going on or b) the author secretly despises readers and doesn't want them to know what's really going on.  Too much like real life, if you ask me.

Well, I have one last story to aMuse me before I have to find another story to read.


  1. I like the O'Henry short story winners. I have one around here somewhere...

  2. I don't think I know those....hmmm....something new with which to aMuse myself....