For the short story reader. Updated every Monday.

The Short Form

Week n° 23: March 18, 2013

What’s great about reading a collection start to finish is the accretion of deeper meaning that arises when the stories in a collection start to talk to each other.

Author of story collection, The Agriculture Hall of Fame, winner of the Juniper Prize in Fiction.

Ursula K. Le Guin in the introduction to The Unreal and the Real: Volume One, talking about her choice to base a good part of her work in a made-up country, Orisinia: 

By the early Sixties, when I finally began getting stories published, I was quite certain that reality is often best represented slantwise, backwards, or as if it were an imaginary country, and also that I could write about anywhere and anything I liked, with a hope though no expectation that somebody, somewhere, would publish it.

Our recommendations this week

The Saucer Has Landed

“Relax, relax,” the alien said, “we're leaving in a little while. For a long time now we have been orbiting your planet, observing you, listening to your radio broadcasts. We have learned almost everything about you. You speak, for example, and I understand. There is only one thing we have not deciphered. And we have landed precisely for this reason. What are these antennas?” he pointed at the cross. “You have them everywhere, on top of towers and campaniles, on mountain peaks, and then you keep a vast array of them here and there, enclosed within walls, as if they were alive. Can you tell me human, what purpose they serve?”

“They're crosses!” said Father Pietro. And he noticed that these two creatures had a tuft of hair on their heads, similar to a thin brush, about twenty centimeters high. But no, it wasn't hair; it rather looked like slender vegetable stalks, which kept on vibrating, tremulous, extremely animated. Or were they instead a few small rays, or a ring of electrical emanations?

“Cross-es,” the alien repeated, emphasizing both syllables. “And what purpose do they serve?”

Father Pietro rested the butt of the shotgun on the ground; the weapon, however, stood always within reach. Then he straightened up to his full height and tried to be solemn:

“They serve our souls,” he answered. “They symbolize Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died for us on the cross.”

Suddenly the mobile tufts on the Martians' heads vibrated. Was it a sign of interest or emotion? Or was it their way of laughing?

We read it in Restless Nights.

Cash to a Killing

I'd heard that if you hit a man in the nose hard enough, you can kill him instantly, and so I tried that first off because I like Roger and didn't want him to suffer. I'll tell you now that it doesn't work or I wasn't doing it right, but as fast as he was coming and as much as my hand hurt afterward, I figure I hit him damn hard enough. He hardly flinched, though, mad as he was, and knocked me flat on my back, lunging right after me, as if to jump on top of me, maybe to gouge my eyes out or strangle me, but I rolled out of the way, figuring, too, that trying to strangle the life out of me would be his next logical move, and when he landed on his face in the dirt, I scrambled to my feet and grabbed the shovel and hit him good this time.

We read it in The Miniature Wife.

The Ice People

It wasn't long until all the appropriate questions that we could possibly think of had been exhausted. The silence spread out from around us on the sofa and consumed the remainders inside of the crystal candy bowl. The girl shot glances around the room like a searchlight and then out of nowhere she asked, “Have you ever fantasized about being someone other than yourself?” The words came out slowly, as if she didn't trust that they could survive in this cruel, friendless world. 

My heart immediately began to pound wildly, like it had to free itself from its suffocating ribcage prison. “Yes,” I wanted to say, “Yes, I'm the keyboardist in a band that practices in the garage at home! All the guys are fantastic and maybe we'll even go on tour soon!”

But I decided to let Steina and Olga go first. Perhaps Steina wanted to be some Swedish handball star? And Olga could then, for example, be some kind of working-class hero, the type that her father used to tell her about. But, instead, Olga and Steina just looked puzzled. “Nooo,” said Steina after a silence, and she squinted at our host. “So... what else do you like to do?”

“Nothing?” said the girl and drew her feet up beneath her on the easy chair. I could still detect a trace of hope in her voice. I looked over at Olga and she shook her head slowly and finally said, “No.”