Another year draws to a close, so it’s time to publish my Top Reads of the year. These are the stories that stood out for me over the past 12 months. They are listed in no particular order; just the ones I enjoyed reading the most during this crazy year of 2020. If you click on the title, it will take you to my review.
“Gray Matter” first appeared in the magazine Cavalier in October 1973. It’s taken from Stephen King’s first collection, Night Shift (1978), which contains twenty of his earliest short stories. These stories were originally published between 1970 and 1977. This collection includes Children of the Corn, Quitters Inc., The Lawnmower Man, Trucks, The Ledge, Jerusalem’s Lot, and more.
My Summary & Thoughtson “Gray Matter”
A young boy runs into a 24-hour convenience store during a heavy snowstorm. He looks terrified and asks the owner, Henry, to sell him a case of beer for his father. Henry and the two locals in the store know the boy well. He is Richie Grenadine’s son Timmy, and his father often sends him to buy his beer, making sure it’s the cheapest beer in the store. Richie used to come and buy it himself until fairly recently.
‘And a helm was on his head; a black helm, with a dragon’s head craning over the peak, and dragon’s wings flaring backward above it, and a dragon’s tail curling down the back.’
Yes, I’m very late to the tales of Elric VIII, 428th Emperor of Melniboné. His first appearance was in a novelette titled “The Dreaming City” which was published in the British magazine Science Fantasy in 1961. Since then, Moorcock’s most famous creation has featured in a wide range of stories including short stories, novels, comic books and graphic novels. The publisher Gollancz republished all of Moorcock’s Elric back catalogue over seven volumes from 2013–15. This is the first volume and serves as an introduction to the character.
The Private Life of Elder Things (2016) is a collaborative collection of new Lovecraftian fiction by Adrian Tchaikovsky, Adam Gauntlett and Keris McDonald.
“From the wastes of the sea to the shadows of our own cities, we are not alone. But what happens where the human world touches the domain of races ancient and alien? Museum curators, surveyors, police officers, archaeologists, mathematicians; from derelict buildings to country houses to the London Underground, another world is just a breath away, around the corner, watching and waiting for you to step into its power. The Private Life of Elder Things is a collection of new Lovecraftian fiction about confronting, discovering and living alongside the creatures of the Mythos.”
‘The planet Tandy was a gas giant as big as Jupiter, a beautiful object when it rose into Tandy Two’s skies, but uninhabitable and unapproachable.’
“O Moon of My Delight” is a character-driven short story with an interstellar setting. It is one of eight stories found in Brian Aldiss’ 1963 collection “The Airs of Earth“. The story opens with Murragh Harrison preparing to watch the arrival of a Faster-Than-Light starship. He is on the moon Tandy Two, a place which is used as a kind of braking device for the incoming F.T.L. ships. Harrison, a wannabe poet, is there for the spectacular display.
‘The F.T.L. ship burst into normal space on automatic control, invisible and unheard at first. Boring for the world like a metal fist swung at a defenseless heart, it was a gale of force.’
“You mean I’ll live forever?” The thought was almost too great for him to grasp. Words in his mind became fleeting pictures of a hillside covered with long, sweet grass. A hillside smiling in the sun. Day always. No night ever.
In Gene Wolfe’s 1980 collection The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories, there are three tales which play with the words of the book’s title:
The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories
The Death of Doctor Island
The Doctor of Death Island
I read the first one last year and really enjoyed it. I haven’t read the second one yet. I’ve just finished reading the third one for my Short Story Tarot Challenge.
‘Whenever you talk, Meyer, I begin to think of a certain tone of green.’
‘Holofilms’, ‘transport units’, ergot, references to Mars, Shakespeare, and Coleridge, Brian Aldiss’s THE ERGOT SHOW is a bit of a wild ride. It reads like a 1960s art-house film script if written by someone under the influence of something strong. Is this what is often labelled New Wave science fiction? It does feel experimental and artistic. I’m not familiar with the movement so please feel free to correct me in the comments below.
The story features two film directors, Pagolini and Rhodes. One is filming the other’s film being made. They attend a party and talk about the ‘holofilm’ industry. This is interspersed with descriptions of various locations and brief scenes featuring some background characters. The effects of consuming ergot fungi plays a small part in the narrative. Continue reading →
Here are my brief notes for last week’s selected short story:“The Road, And the Valley, And the Beasts” by Keffy R.M. Kehrli:
Nice descriptive writing that starts to tell a short story and then stops. It has the air of a short, introductory, creative writing exercise. It felt like an extract from a story rather than a complete story in itself.
There wasn’t enough to write a review of it so I am going to draw my next card and see what comes up.
It’s the Nine of Wands, also called ‘Strength.’ This card represents spiritual truth and realization. It suggests that we can draw on our inner strength to face whatever obstacles arise.
The short story that corresponds to this card is THE ENDLESS FALL by Jeffrey Thomas. It’s taken from his 2017 collection which has the same title as this story. Instead of waiting a week, I will read and review this story today.
‘Remember our breath turning silver in the moonlight? That’s how I see you now when I close my eyes. Silver-sketched. Embroidered on my eyelids in threads of frost.’
C.S.E. Cooney’s Bone Swans won the World Fantasy Award for best collection in 2016. It’s part of my tbr mountain, and after reading this short story I need to dig it out. The Book of May was a collaboration with Cooney’s husband, Carlos Hernandez. It was published in Mythic Delirium’s 2016 collection: Clockwork Phoenix 5.
This is the story of two friends, Harry and May. One of them is dying. They keep up an exchange via e-mail, texting, and typed letters. This exchange reveals their longstanding feelings for each other, as well as some shared moments from their past. Continue reading →
‘I opened eyes and saw him, the God-man with the special food.’
When I was researching this short story by Naomi Mitchison, I remembered where I’d heard the author’s name before. Her 1962 novel Memoirs of a Spacewoman is on a list I made of female authors to read. It was recommended to me by a fellow blogger but I wasn’t able to find a copy. (Bart over at Weighing a Pig Doesn’t Fatten It has a thoughtful review of Memoirshere if you are interested.)
Mitchison’s short story “Miss Omega Raven” was published in Nova 2 (1972), as well as the Terry Carr edited The Best Science Fiction of the Year #2 (1973). It’s a very short story clocking in at only six pages. In his brief introduction to Mitchison’s story, Harry Harrison described it thus:
‘this deeply understanding story of a completely different type of mutation.’