What’re Your Top Five Under-rated Short Stories of All Time?

While Ann and I work on this insanely huge book of weird fiction, covering a century, I thought it might be fun to ask a targeted question:

What are the top five short stories you love but that you don’t think get nearly enough respect? Why should they be reconsidered?

It doesn’t have to be fantastical fiction–anything you like. If you can only think of two or three, that’s just fine.

Comments

  1. says

    Every story is underrated these days, because no one reads or remembers them enough. So, Alice Munro’s The Albanian Virgin or Silence. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson was never underrated, but who’s read it among the <40 set, so I'll mention it here.

  2. says

    Division by Zero by Ted Chiang
    The Voices of Time by JG Ballard
    The Most Dangerous Beard in Town by James Kennedy.
    All Daniil Kharms short shorts

    The first two are more well known, they are just not the popular examples when talking about those authors. I love Chiang’s story for making math an allegory for religion and Ballard’s for it’s myriad of narrative techniques. Kennedy’s story is just amazing clever and silly; a real fun ride if you have a few minutes to kill. Daniil Kharms was a Russian absurdist from the early 1920s -30s and his short short stories are impossible to describe; they just need to be read.

  3. says

    “Every story is underrated these days,…”

    I almost feel like this is right. Th question is almost ‘What’s you favorite SS” because so many of them don’t find a wide audience.

  4. says

    How about “Answer” by Frederic Brown, one of my all time favorite stories: http://www.alteich.com/oldsite/answer.htm

    Others:
    “Angouleme” by Tom Disch
    In fact just about anything by Tom Disch. “Descending” is another good one.

    “Russian Spoken Here” by Vladimir Nabokov. His early stories are definitely underrated.

    And finally, a young entry, “The Ledge” by Austin Bunn. I think that was already in one of your anthologies, but if I can nominate it again, I so nominate.

    Is that five? Yes.

  5. says

    While I respect that idea, I don’t want to change the question. I think plenty of stories get a pretty wide audience or some sort of attention. Yeah, it’s not as much as novels, but it’s still attention. So…let’s stick to the program, shall we? I know it’s a tougher question than just flat-out “favorites,” but I think ultimately it’s more interesting because more stories will presumably be mentioned that no one or few have heard of.

    In that vein, “The Lottery” is assigned in so many classes I just can’t imagine it as “underrated.” Since Ted Chiang’s output is so small, all of his work tends to get massive amounts of attention–and rightly so, I might add. I’d be curious to know why the Ballard story is underrated. Explanations, peoples!

    There’re also different contexts for “underrated”–like, “best fantasy story most genre fans will never have heard of.” Feel free to mutate the question in ways like that. :)

    JeffV

  6. says

    All of Graham Joyce’s short stories. They deserve more attention, especially outside the UK.

    The Exit Door Leads In is one of my favourite Phillip K Dick short stories, and possibly the only one not yet made into a movie…

    I think M Rickerts short stories require some kind of special award all their own. I think she is in that category with Kelly Link and Ted Chiang, that if they do ever write a novel the world will stop to read it.

    James patrick Kelly’s Solstice is one of the stories that made me want to write short SF. My favourite cyberpunk story.

    And outside genre, Laurie Colwin’s The Achieve of, The Mastery of the Thing is the most moving story about love and dope smoking ever.

    Wow. This is reminding me how much I love short fiction.

  7. says

    It’s not fantastical fiction, but “Meredith Toop Evans and his Butty, Ernie the Egg,” by Alex Keegan, is one of my favorite short stories ever, for pretty much every reason. As for getting enough respect–sure, it ended up on The Atlantic’s website, and thus, it was noticed in a way that very few stories ever are. But I think it deserves even more than that: It should be famous.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/unbound/fiction/9905keegan.htm

  8. Teri says

    Unbelieveably, this story was awarded a Hugo before it was published, but I genuinely fear it’s been forgotten.
    “There’s a Long, Long Trail a-Winding,” by Russell Kirk

  9. says

    Oh–I should mention some of mine. In general, Bruce Holland Rogers’ stories in The Keyhole Opera, which won the World Fantasy Award, but didn’t get much attention other than that–before or after. I’ll also have to go back over Rikki Ducornet’s short fiction.

    Jeff

  10. says

    Haruki Murakami, “The Wind Up Bird and Tuesday’s Women.” His great imagination and voice distilled into a solid story.

    Gary Braunbeck, “Duty”. It won a Stoker, but how many remember this dark gem from Braunbeck’s short fiction work? It is probably one of the best short stories from the past twenty years that I’ve read.

    Steve and Melanie Tem, “The Man on the Ceiling.” Technically a novella. Despite the awards and the release of the novel version of the story, it needs more attention. Simply a spellbinding work of narrative fiction and non-fiction.

    Annie Proulx, “People in Hell Just Want a Drink of Water.” More grit and power than a thousand Hemingway pastiches.

    Robert Aickman, “Your Tiny Hand is Frozen.” The last story I read where the final scene actually scared me.

    JSR

  11. says

    My absolute favorite Borges story is one I never hear anyone else mention: “Three Versions of Judas.” It is everything I love about speculative fiction in three pages. Absolutely beautiful and mind-expanding.

  12. says

    I’m currently reading the short stories of Daphne du Maurier…”The Birds” and “Don’t Look Now.” While she has mad cred as the author of the story that inspired Hitchcock’s movie, no one knows it’s her, they only think of Rebecca. So, that would be my vote.

  13. Simon says

    Two stories I have never heard get mention are Gene Wolfe’s ‘Tracking Song’ and ‘Seven American Nights’ (Which is in fact very much a kinda ‘New Weird’ tale). In fact, Gene’s short stories rarely get mention at all! Well, they get my vote. And I agree with Damien, Graham Joyce has some amazing stories also.

  14. says

    These are a few that exist in English. I won’t mention those that don’t.

    1) Baron Corvo – The Armed Hands
    2) Jean Richepin – The Metaphysical Machine
    3) Edward Heron Allen – Another Squaw
    4) Sidney Benson Thorp – An Immortal
    5) Ernest Hello – The Search

  15. says

    As an add on, or explanation for my choices – almost no one has read any of the stories I mentioned, yet they are all very good. Jean Richepin in particular is such an igonred writer it makes sad. Not a single book of his is in english – only a few short pieces here ane there, all in ignored anthologies and mouldy old books. Ernest Hello was one of those few that Huysmans mentioned as admiring. His stuff is infused with religion, but he was good. Baron Corvo has of course recieved a good bit of attention, but still not adequate. Edward Heron Allen has got a bit of attention, which is great, but the story I mentioned is still an unknown classic.

  16. says

    The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar by Roald Dahl
    Mericans by Sandra Cisneros
    Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx
    My Flamboyant Grandson by George Saunders
    For Esme with Love and Squalor by J. D. Salinger

    Huh, only two SF stories, and no straight up SF writers. That surprises me.

  17. says

    Brian Evenson’s “The Wavering Knife”
    Julio Cortázar, “House Taken Over”
    Roberto Arlt, “The Little Hunchback”
    Dino Buzzati, “The Colomber”
    Jorge Luis Borges, “Borges and I”

  18. says

    “Mysteries of the Faceless King” by Darrell Schweitzer (from REFUGESS FROM AN IMAGINARY COUNTRY)
    “Purity” by Thomas Ligotti (from WEIRD TALES)
    “Sandmagic” by Orson Scott Card (from THE YEAR’S BEST FANTASY: 6)
    “The Sombrus Tower” by Tanith Lee (from WEIRD TALES)
    “(Now+n)(Now-n)” by Robert Silverberg (from BEYOND THE SAFE ZONE)

  19. says

    Off the top of my head:

    —Most stories by Tom Disch. They’re just so well put together! The last one I read was “Torah! Torah! Torah!’ which was sacridelicious, like most of his work.

    —Frederic Stimson’s 19th-century tale “Dr. Materialismus.” Allegorical and baroque, but dealing with issues that people still try to work out in fiction about humanity and the metaphor of the machine. Pioneering, melodramatic, but seriously tackling the idea.

    —Carrie Laben’s “Something in the Mermaid Way.” Yeah, it got reprinted in FANTASY: BEST OF THE YEAR 2008, but it is such a distinctive piece, with a unique voice and almost perfect pitch. It has musicality under its darkness, and I think it should have gotten more attention. (Full disclosure: Carrie and I were acquainted when she lived in Ithaca several years ago, and I work at the bookstore she used to work at).

  20. says

    I’d like to add Ring Lardner’s ‘Who Dealt?’ – that story sticks with me longer than any other one I’ve read. I shuld have entirely forgotten it, since I read it once (reluctantly) 30 years ago. It’s one of my yardsticks for judging short stories.

    Maybe it isn’t forgotten in the US, though. It might just be that I live in the wrong country to have seen its popularity.

  21. says

    In the weeks after I post this, I’m sure I’ll be remembering all the stories that really should be on my list, but right now I can think of these:

    “The Door” by E.B. White
    “Lost in the Funhouse” by John Barth
    “The Balloon” by Donald Barthelme
    “Benito Cereno” by Herman Melville
    “The Fifth Head of Cerberus” by Gene Wolfe

    Fine, a couple of them probably qualify as novellas. Sue me. All pretty well known, except for “The Door,” but the first four are probably under-appreciated in genre while the last is underrated by the mainstream.

    Wolfe’s story makes the list because of the way it works with its companion pieces, which I suppose isn’t really fair, but I’m a sucker for well-linked collections–Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, Lore Segal’s Shakespeare’s Kitchen, Joan Silber’s Ideas of Heaven, Geoff Fantamirror’s Metropolis of Pietists & Crackpots . . . .

  22. Samanosuke says

    “Nano Comes to Clifford Falls” by Nancy Kress. Not one of her best-known, but really struck a chord with me.
    “Chambered Fruit” by M. Rickert. Really, any of her stories, but this one is my favorite.
    Anything from Kalpa Imperial by Angelia Gorodischer
    “Travels with the Snow Queen” by Kelly Link. Normally don’t think of Link as underrated, but I’m putting this one down because not enough people have read Stranger Things Happen.
    I, too, will vote for “Purity” by Thomas Ligotti

  23. Chip Beckett says

    Well, I’ll have to think, but I have one off the top of my head. It’s by Borges, so you wouldn’t think it was underrated, but it wasn’t translated until the new Hurley translations. “Deutsches Requiem.” An incredible piece of work,

  24. says

    A few by Bruce Sterling come to mind, though I have no idea whether they genuinely qualify as ‘underrated’. Certainly they have ‘stuck in my mind’, particularly The Little Magic Shop and Destroy all Brains!

    Otherwise, I still have very fond memories of some of Rudy Rucker’s stories collected in Transreal! Particularly Instability (if that’s the one where the Beats literally crash into a car full of scientists). Also, Chaos Surfari by (I think, again) Rucker and Di Filippo.

    I realise now that most of these stories were published in Interzone.

  25. Alex Natch says

    I don’t quite know how well Blaylock’s short stories are among general SF/F/Steampunk fans, but ‘Paper Dragons’ is one of the most atmospheric and imaginative stories I’ve ever read. It’s rather slow paced and low tone, but the language is dazzling and the character development subtle, and there is a slightly Marques-ian feel to the way the incredible and surreal gradually invades a small Californian coast town.

  26. says

    Lu Xun’s “A Madman’s Diary”, which seems to come up more in historical and political discussions than literary ones. More allegorical than contemporary weird stuff, but it gave me the same kind of chills.

  27. says

    It’s so tempting to say “my stuff,” but I’ll avoid facetiousness and simply mention two favorites that I don’t hear much about from people:

    “Python” by Ursula Pflug
    “Horror by Waters” by Jeffrey Ford.

  28. John says

    I have:

    two from Eastern Europe:
    * Joseph Roth: Stationmaster Fallmerayer
    * Witold Gombrowicz: The Memoirs of Stefan Czarniecki

    two from the US sf/f sphere:
    * Theodore Sturgeon: Affair with a Green Monkey
    * Tim Powers: Itinerary

    and one from the US south:
    * William Gay: My Hand is Just Fine Where It Is

    Also, I’d love to see Charles Beaumont get some more love, particularly his story, Black Country, which is definitely of its time (US in the 1950’s) but is nonetheless dark, twisted, and chilling.

    Cheers,

    John

  29. says

    “A Madman’s Diary” is on our shortlist for the weird book. Pflug’s “Python” should be reprinted in the best of leviathan/album zutique whenever we finally get that project off the ground.

  30. Egg says

    When the Clock Strikes by Tanith Lee
    It’s a reworking of the Cinderella tale that has shades of Poe and is set in a decaying kingdom.
    No-one, it seems, is who they should be, not even the narrator.

    Windsong by Kate Wilhelm
    Orginally published in Orbit 4, the story is about a man, a machine he is helping the military to build, and a woman he once loved. Told mostly in dreams, the story might baffel first time readers.

    There are others whose titles and names I can’t recall. The books that contained the stories have long since been carried off by friends or have fallen apart from frequent moves.

  31. says

    I’m not well read enough to come up with half these names, or even a full 5. I feel that Joe Meno’s “The Architecture of the Moon” won some praise in literary circles but seems to have been very much “skipped over” by science fiction readers and critics. And another would be Terry Bisson’s “Over Flat Mountain” — “Bears Discover Fire” garnered the nominations, awards, and title of his first collection — but “Over Flat Mountain” (from the same year, 1991) is one of my favorites.

  32. says

    Walter M. Miller, Jr. – Crucifixus Etiam (1953) Most of my favorites from the Golden Age are on the usual suspects list, “Flowers for Algernon,” “The Star,” etc., but “Crucifixus Etiam” has been largely forgotten. In a way, that’s appropriate; the story is about brave pioneers whose heroic efforts will surely be forgotten by the later generations who benefit from them.

    Orson Scott Card – Holy (1980) Card is known for Ender’s Game and sequels, but much of his best work is in his early short fiction. Some of his best short stories were well received at the time, such as “Unaccompanied Sonata” and “Lost Boys,” but “Holy,” from Robert Silverberg’s New Dimensions series of anthologies, was almost entirely ignored. Card must have written it on a dare — the story is about a man trying to get to a particular rock to smear human feces on it, and by the end Card actually has you caring about whether that happens.

    Connie Willis – Chance (1986) For all the awards Connie Willis has won, “Chance” somehow slipped through the cracks, but it’s one of her very best, emotionally powerful albeit not as funny as, say, “Even the Queen.”

    Greg Egan – The Moral Virologist (1990) Originally published in Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine, this is a great thought experiment story. What if you tailored a virus to kill people who commit adultery?

    Susan Palwick – Sorrel’s Heart (2007) This is one of my favorites of this century, from Palwick’s collection The Fate of Mice. It didn’t get the attention it deserved, although Jonathan Strahan picked it up for his year’s best anthology.

  33. Edward Milewski says

    Three stories came to mind. The first was Isaac Asimov’s ” Liar “. One of his robot stories and for whatever reason it sticks with me all these years later. No. 2 was Theodore Sturgeon’s ” Bright Segment “. It is similar in some ways to Stephen King’s novel ” Misery” except a lot more compact. And no. three, if I remember the title correctly was ” Traveler’s Rest ” by David Masson. There are probably others, but those come to mind at the moment.

  34. says

    I hesitate to answer the question as asked because my personal experience is that the minute I mention an author or story as “unsung” or “under-rated” I get a barrage of vitriolic comments/emails suggesting that I’ve merely had my head stuck too far “up there” to notice how popular said author/story is. However, I’ll jump into the fray with:

    To Avenge Man ~Lester del Rey

    The Dead Lady of Clown Town ~Cordwainer Smith

    Between the Thunder and the Sun ~Chad Oliver

    The Lady of the House of Love ~Angela Carter

    13 Phantasms ~James P. Blaylock

    While it probably is not under-rated, I would say that one of my favorite short stories is Cold Equations by Tom Godwin.

  35. euphrosyne says

    William Gibson’s “The Winter Market”. The last short story he ever wrote, and by far the best.

    Yeah, it’s cyberpunk(ish), which is distinctly untrendy now, but I can’t think of another genre story which so well transcends its hardware and gets to the soft universal human core. It belongs on any fiction (not just ‘genre fiction’) reader’s short list.

  36. Steve Winer says

    A lot of great stories that once were not underrated are going that way simply because as time goes on, people forget.
    I’d like to nominate one of Theodore Sturgeon’s first masterpieces: “Bianca’s Hands”. It reads like the best story Flannery O’Connor never wrote.
    Pretty much all the great short stories of Fritz Leiber are in danger of being forgotten, but I’m very pleased to see a new collection of his short work is coming out soon.

  37. says

    I don’t know; determining what’s underrated seems tough, many great stories that are underrated by, say, the critics are rated just fine by readers. The opposite is also true. But these might qualify. Some of these are long, maybe that’s why they don’t reappear much.

    “Come Then Mortal – We Will Seek Her Soul” by Michael Shea. First story in “Nifft, the Lean.”

    “The Return of the Lloigor” by Colin Wilson (Cthulu Mythos that appeared in one of Derleth’s anthologies before later appearing as a stand-alone novella.

    “Dark Benediction” Walter M. Miller Jr. (some indie filmmaker could have a low-budget post-apocalypse hit adapting this.)

    “The Second Inquisition” by Joanna Russ. Ask me tomorrow and I might say the same author’s “Bluestocking” in the same collection “The Adventures of Alyx.”

    and “John Duffy’s Brother” by Flann O’Brien, which I’ve tried to pimp here previously. O’Brien only wrote two short stories as far as I can tell, and the other one is more of Twain-esque comic episode. Someone should tack “John Duffy’s Brother” into an edition of either “At-Swim-Two-Birds” or “The Third Policeman.” I think it’s a perfect short story. O’Brien (Brian O’Nolan) wrote many short newspaper pieces, often in a fictional-style, under his journalism pen-name, Myles na gCopaleen; Still I find it amazing that his one true short story happens to be a masterpiece.

    And everything by Charles Beaumont. I don’t know if people still know him today; in addition to his print work, he some Twilight Zones — but none of the inane ones like where the last man on Earth breaks his glasses and can’t, in the ruins of New York City where books have survived nuclear war intact, sort himself out another pair.

  38. JimO says

    Anything by Kelly Link is underrated. Calvino’s Cosmicomics stories and Cordwainer Smith are good choices.
    Bears Discover Fire by Terry Bisson is fantastic.
    Reports of Certain Events in London by China Mieville might be my favorite.

  39. moth says

    possibly not underrated –

    Joe Lansdale – Tight Little Stitches in a Dead Mans Back
    John L’Heureux – The Anatomy of Desire
    Jean Ray – I think it migth have been the Shadowy Street but I don’t remember. Copies of his work in English are way expensive. and my french sucks.
    I think it may have been mentioned somewhere with that ^^China Mieville story which I also like very much.

  40. John N says

    Underrated by whom? Not by me and since a lot of these are from best of anthologies, at least the editors didn’t think they were underrated.

    Operation Afreet – Poul Anderson – Fantasy Hall of Fame ed. Robert Silverberg
    Best military fantasy story or novel I have ever read

    Sea Oak – George Saunders – O’henry Awards 1999 – Jury: Stephen King, Sherman Alexie, Lorrie Moore
    Just a weird, weird sci-fiish story

    The Things They Carried – Tim O’brien – You’ve Got to Read This ed.John Hansen
    A great way to describe war

    Bullet in the Brain – Tobias Wolff – The Night in Question
    A reflection on one man’s life as , you guessed it, a bullet passes through his brain. This from my favorite short fiction writer of all time and a protege of Raymond Carver.

    Fat Girl – Andre Dubus – Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Fiction ed. Tobias Wolff
    Though some might dislike the subject matter, the story is so well written most will get past it.

  41. The Robinson says

    Jorge Luis Borges- “Garden of Forking Paths”
    Joe Haldeman- “Ghosts”
    William Gibson, Bruce Sterling- “Red Star, Winter Orbit”
    George Alec Effinger- “Schrödinger’s Kitten”
    Kipling – The Tomb of his Ancestors

  42. Perpetual Student says

    James Salter- “Akhnilo”

    Salter’s revered by critics for his literary short fiction but may be unknown by genre readers. “Akhnilo,” from Dusk and Other Stories, would be an outstanding choice for any Big Book of Weird.

  43. Perpetual Student says

    Just saw that Kevin Brockmeier lists “Akhnilo” as one of his top ten favorite fantasy stories of all time in his intro to Best American Fantasy 3!!! So much for “uknown by genre readers”! John mentioned Joseph Roth’s great “Stationmaster Fallmerayer” above but I would ultimately go with his “Legend of the Holy Drinker.” It’s just one of the best stories of the 20th century. And how about Kafka’s “Cares of a Family Man,” featuring the immortal Odradek?

  44. says

    From the small press golden days: Bentley Little’s “The Stairway” in the underrated After Hours
    Pam Chillemi Jaeger “The Gatherer” from Terminal Fright
    anything by Scott Thomas or his equally talented sibling, Jeffrey

  45. James Kenyon says

    Underrated, and also some favorites:

    The Braille Encyclopaedia, by Grant Morrison. Lonely, desperate and really unsettling. Hard to shake that last image (if it’s an image, who is seeing it?)

    “I want to get married”, says world’s smallest man, by John Shirley. Again, lonely, desperate, and unsettling, but really funny this time, too.

    At the conglomeroid cocktail party, by Robert Silverberg. Just a 1970’s feeling, trippy and a little hackneyed, for me it’s sci-fi nostalgia

    The Wall around the world, by Theodore Cogswell. Harry Potter without the fan clubs.

    The Annals of Eelin Ok, by Jeffrey Ford. One of the loveliest, most beautifully written stories, I admit it is not “underrated”, as it won at least one award, but it should become part of our collective unconscious, like “the Hobbit”. A perfect fantasy, A memorable character. I want to make the movie, with Hiyao Miyazaki artwork. Everyone must read this one.

    Bonus: The Hunt, by Tanith Lee. The best werewolf story I have read, are there any better ones?

  46. James Kenyon says

    I like this game, can I have another turn?

    Underrated, with a literary pedigree:

    Sredni Vashtar, by Saki (H.H. Munro) Wicked sense of humor.
    Greasy Lake, T.C. Boyle So it makes onto college reading lists, no one from greasy lake goes to college
    One chance, by Charles De Lint. I remembered another wolfman story.
    The bungalow house, By Thomas Ligotti. David Lynch should make the movie.
    Kangaroo Rex, By Janet Kagan. The ideal Asimov’s magazine series, I loved the pioneer spirit.

  47. says

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