Short Fiction That Blew Your Socks Off

Let’s frame the discussion surrounding this post in a more positive and specific way (something I would’ve done earlier if not for this massive, all-encompassing head cold I’m suffering through).

What short fiction have you read in the last year that blew your socks off, exploded the back of your head, made you weak in the knees? And why?

Let’s forget silly things like whether what you read was published this year or last or the year before–or the decade before that. Just: what’ve you encountered that you loved, and that really “got” to you, no matter whether new or old?


86 comments on “Short Fiction That Blew Your Socks Off

  1. Adam Rakunas says:

    “Magic for Beginners” by Kelly Link, “The Continuing Adventures of Rocketboy” by Daryl Gregory, and “Orange Groves Out to the Horizon” by Richard Wadholm.

    And I finally read “Jeffty is Five” by Harlan Ellison. Just killed me.

  2. Matt Staggs says:

    Probably Angela Carter’s “The Lady of the House of Love.” It was such a pretty but sad story. I liked the theme: the legacy of a cursed bloodline, whether that destiny can be averted. Like in Lovecraft’s tales, ruminations about cursed blood hold a special fascination for me.
    The image of the vulnerable monster, and a virginal protagonist blinded and protected by his innocence was also very memorable.

  3. I haven’t been reading enough short fiction this year. But, two stories that have knocked my socks off were: “Minty Bags a Squidboy.” Something about the mood an colour here really hit me in the gut.

    For SF that stretched my brain, I was blown away by “Qubit Conflicts” by Jetse De Vries.

  4. Matt Staggs says:

    Oh, and another one: Joe R. Lansdale’s story “By Bizarre Hands.”
    This story of a mother and her developmentally challenged child victimized by a murderous holy roller struck me as something Flannery O’Connor would have written in a particularly bad mood.
    A great mix of black humor and terrible violence.

  5. pauljessup says:

    I still have yet to read Angela Carter.

    Anyway, one I read just recently was Kelly Link’s Stone Animals. I just reread it, and it still disturbs me. In fact, the second reading made me feel queasy and uneasy and bothered me so much more than the first time I had read it. It really digs under my skin and I still can’t get it out of my head. The narrative/voice itself is pretty straightforward, but the way the world works- it’s not speculative in any sense of the word. Everything is falling apart, things are corroding. It’s like a haunted house story that isn’t, or rather an anti ghost story of sorts.

  6. Matt Staggs says:

    Last one:
    Kelly Link’s “The Specialist’s Hat.” Probably the weirdest but most oddly effective ghost story I’ve read in years.

  7. pauljessup says:

    Oh yeah, I loved the Specialist’s Hat. I remember reading that a few years ago (my first exposure at Kelly Link) and I was really pissed off because of it. Long story as to why.

  8. Matt Staggs says:

    I liked it because it captured some of the weird kind of magic that kids come up with on their own—crazy superstitions, monsters, childhood rituals and games, and wrapped a classic ghost story around it.

  9. Matt Staggs says:

    Oh, cool – Paul – we’re goth alumns of “The Harrow!”
    I don’t have a lot of stuff published, but I did get a piece there a while back.
    I’ve got to get some of your stuff to read.

  10. Matt Staggs says:

    I’m getting out my pencil here to write up another “to read” list…

  11. Matt Staggs says:

    Crap – Paul – I meant Both alumns of “The Harrow,” not “Goth” alumns, LOL.

  12. pauljessup says:

    Matt- No problem. The Harrow was one of the first places who published me after I *crossed over* from the experimental literary writers scene. I’ve been all over the place. Check my website out, it has links to places I’ve been online and the listing of the print places. I’ll have to find some of your stuff as well, heh.

    Yes to both. Great Stories.

  13. Right, lads, let’s get back on track…

  14. Mark Bukovec says:

    Some stuff from collections I’ve read recently:

    Joe Hill – “20th Century Ghosts”. Excellent horror, especially, “My Father’s Mask,” which is pitch-perfect in describing the tension between a boy and his stepfather.

    Lucius Shepard – “Eternity and Other Stories”. Especially, “Only Partly Here” and “Eternity and Afterward”. The way he handles the “real” elements of his stories is so visceral.

    Laird Barron – “The Imago Sequence and Other Stories”. “Lovecraftian” in the best sense of the word. I think he does the best short horror going right now.

    Roger Zelazny – “The Doors of His Face, The Lamp of His Mouth”. Especially, “The Man Who Loved the Faoli”. OK, this stuff is 40 years old, and some of the stories feel a bit hoary, but Zelazny is a great at cutting through the crap and getting to the story. The weird elements never overwhelm the story. I wish I could write stories like this.

    I’m trying to think of something from a magazine. I think Paolo Baciagalupi’s “The Tamarisk Hunter” was my favorite story from F&SF in 2007.

  15. Joe Sherry says:

    That really blew my socks off? “Deadman’s Road”, by Joe Lansdale and “Dead. Nude. Girls.”, by Lori Selke.

    The best of the year for me so far, though, include:
    Vacancy – Lucius Shepard
    Deadman’s Road – Joe R. Lansdale
    Impossible Dreams – Tim Pratt
    Inclination – William Shunn
    The Walls of the Universe – Paul Melko
    Private Detective Molly – A. B. Goelman
    Dead. Nude. Girls. – Lori Selke
    Fluff and Buttons on the Teddy Bear Range – Matthew Sanborn Smith
    29 Union Leaders Can’t Be Wrong – Genevieve Valentine
    A Letter Never Sent – Rachel Swirsky
    Dead Man’s Holiday – Nicholas Seeley
    The Way He Does It – Jeffrey Ford
    Questions for a Soldier – John Scalzi
    The Bound Man – Mary Robinette Kowal

    But, I am not very well read across SFF zines, so there is a great deal in the major markets that I just can’t read because I don’t subscribe.

  16. Anarkey says:

    Vonda McIntyre’s “Little Faces” ( got completely inside my head. I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days. I found it both disturbing and compelling.

    Chris Rowe’s “The Voluntary State” ( blows me away every time I read it. There’s always an extra layer there I hadn’t seen before. I read it again this year, but it’s been one of my favorite short stories for almost two years. It and Kelly Link’s “The Faery Handbag” (“”) are the two stories I’m most likely to tell random people they really need to read.

    The best story I read in the last week was “Hallucigenia” by Laird Barron. I’m still thinking about it, and I don’t know if months from now it will have left as deep a mark as the others I’ve mentioned here.

  17. I just re-read “Dori Bangs” by Bruce Sterling and it still had the same emotional impact as before. A great story. I also am still quite fond of “A Better Angel” by Chris Adrian from the New Yorker last year, and Kelly Link’s “Origin Story” from A Public Space, among others that appear in BAF. My favorites change every week.


  18. Ian Sales says:

    ‘The Avatar of Background Noise’ by Toiya Kristen Finlay, in Text: Ur (edited by Forrest Aguirre)

  19. pauljessup says:

    Here are some others that I’ve thought of:
    Breathmoss – beautiful, space faring strange and wonderful
    The Killers- Carol Emshwiller
    Tubs-Ray Vukcevich – Holy Shit. That’s all I can say.
    “Discrete Mathematics” by Olaf and Lemeaux; Or, the Severed Hand – David Connerley Nahm

    Some of old ones I read recently and loved (but had not read before):
    The Screwfly Solution + The Women Men Don’t See by Triptee
    The Whimper of Whipped Dogs by Harlan Ellison
    The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories by Gene Wolfe

  20. hnu says:

    Greg Egan – Oceanic (I even translated that one in a language Jeff can’t read)
    Lucius Shepard – Only Partly Here and many others
    Kim Stanley Robinson – A History of the Twentieth Century, with Illustrations
    Marian Coman – The Chocolate Book (which is in our anthology in french, soon in english too)
    and lots more.

  21. pauljessup says:

    Oh, I forgot!
    Deer Woman and Christmas Witch by M. Rickert

    Deer Woman is small, and short, but it says so much. It reminded me of a David Lynch film. Christmas Witch was longer and darker, and was unsettling in the same ways Stone Animals was.

  22. Cons says:

    House Taken Over and Axolotl by Julio Cortazar
    The Policeman’s Prophecy by Lord Dunsany
    The Supper at Elsinore by Isak Dineson
    Black Dust by Graham Joyce
    Sleeping with Bears by Theodora Goss

  23. Jeremy says:

    One of the creepiest stories that I’ve read in the last year is ‘Second Variety’, by Philip K. Dick. Holy crap. Just thinking about it gives me the willies.


  24. Linda Lindsey says:

    Nothing. I’ve been horribly disappointed by short fiction this year. I’ve tried old stuff and new stuff; nothing is grabbing me. Perhaps, I just have the wrong anthologies and magazines.

  25. Possibly. Possibly we are in a trough or malaise between swells. Whatever that means. Working on almost no sleep for two days.


  26. so we’re shooting for our personal greatest of the greatest we’ve read this year? not bad idea, should be interesting:

    Joseph Paul Haines – The man behind the curtain, published at Abyss&Apex:

    This was just a rocket powered trip, have no better way to describe it. Slow start, midly interesting (I was not in a good mood to begin with), but then somewhere along the way Haines just kicked into another gear and if there is one story I read this year carried by the power of the writer’s voice alone, this was it. I could not stop reading, was totally immersed in the characters, the events, the mystery and Haines’ writing.

    Carrie Vaughan – Swing Time, published JBU:

    a really beautiful story, elegantly written with a playful start and emotionally gripping. Familiar tropes, familiar events, but Vaughan breathed life into it and made it magical.
    probably my favourite of the year.

    Darja Malcolm-Clarke – The Beacon, published Clarkesworld:

    I’m going to add this, since I thought it was a very ambitious story in intent. Prose was at times lovely and at other times clunky and the ending was anti-climactic, running along familiar and predictable lines. But the world-building and scope and ambition of the story was really, really impressive.

    Kelly Link – The wizards of Perfil:

    Kelly Link is Kelly Link. Can I settle for “nuff said”? You read good stories, really good stories, then you read something like this by Kelly Link and you realize there is another level of good after all.
    For imagination, invention, the way she writes – she’s humbling, but always a pleasure.

    Ruth Nestvold – The leaving Sweater, published Strange Horizons:

    closest thing to a myth of our times I’ve seen all year. Abuse elements, but refreshing delivery.

    If forced to pick, those would be the standouts for me. Some “honorable mentions”, for various reasons:

    Lucius Shepard -Dead Money, published Asimovs:

    hard to explain, maybe a tad long, but I enjoyed it. Almost claustrophobic in its intensity.

    Paul Tremblay – The Teacher and No light between floors, published Clarkesworld and Chizine respectively:

    I don’t always get what he’s getting at, but I love his use of imagery and there’s a sense of ambition in his writing.

    Jeff Vandermeer – The Third Bear, published Clarkesworld:

    loved this story. Just wish you’d used “as” less, after a while it was like a Bart Simpson chorus in my head: “butt, butt, butt, butt”. bit unfortunate side effect, but solid.

    Neil Gaiman – How to talk to girls at parties:

    been a while since I’ve read a Gaiman that didn’t disappoint me, so it’s worth mentioning.

  27. Jessica Reisman says:

    Well, if you put it that way…two short stories thatr have always stayed with me, and are two of the best I’ve ever read, up to and including everything recent I’ve read:

    “Chand Veda” by Tanith Lee, in the Tasastara collection–accomplishes a piece of magic that is at once amazing, beautiful, pedestrian, earthly, and worthwhile.

    “The Bloody Chamber” by Angela Carter. Kicks your ass and stays forever after in the dark corners of your brain.

  28. Paul Jessup says:

    Oh! I forgot about Light Between Floors and The Teacher. Really damned good.

    You know, I’m starting to feel slightly more optimistic about short fiction.

    Still though, the majority of it is dreck.

    Here is a better question: Is there a magazine out there that has greats, almost every single issue, with at least one or two or so?

  29. Joe Sherry says:

    Paul: I’ve been really impressed with Subterranean Online.

  30. Paul Jessup says:

    I’ve read it too, while impressive, I don’t see a story from their’s on anyones lists, heh. It is impressive, but does it hit me with a great with every issue they put out? At least one or two?

  31. Alex D M says:

    “The Girl From Another World” by Leah Bobet (Strange Horizons, 13/Aug/2007) did things with the idea of a girl being brought from one world to another that I just did not expect. A really, really beautiful story.

    “Deadnauts” by Ted Kosmatka (Ideomancer, Sep 2007) is one of those stories where “horrible” is a compliment. Cryogenic sleep, but not the easy convenience it usually is. A beautiful story, too, in its dark way. I couldn’t stop reading.

  32. Daniel says:

    I’m glad someone else mentioned “The Avatar of Background Noise” by Toiya Kristen Finlay–it was the first that came to my mind when I read the post. Her “Love, &c.–From 506 JB” in Lone Star Stories back in August was really good too, though I didn’t find it quite as blow-my-socks-off as “Avatar” (maybe simply due to which I read first).

    Another that jumped to mind is one David de Beer mentioned: Darja Malcolm-Clarke’s “The Beacon.”

    And a story from Sybil’s Garage, “Six Questions about the Sun” by Brian Conn was sheer, Calvino-esque fun.

  33. Alex D M says:

    Ian Sales — Toiya Kristen Finlay has another story in the same setting in a recent issue of Lone Star Stories, if you haven’t already seen it. I wonder if she has more… Anyone know? I’d definitely read them.

  34. >Is there a magazine out there that has greats, almost every single issue, with at least one or two or so?

    difficult question, isn’t it?

    hmm, my favorite zines that deliver more satisfaction than not would be Chizine and Clarkesworld. Can’t believe I’m saying that about CW; a year ago I did not care for what they do at all. And they still miss a lot with me. But Sean’s picks are similar to my own tastes and I admire the ambition of Nick’s picks. When it hits, it hits big so I keep reading even when I strike a low.
    Chizine is proving to be very consistent, to my tastes.
    Strange Horizons – up and down, but again, they do deliver some pretty good reads from time to time.
    Most of the rest that I read/ have read/ glance at are pretty consistent, good quality but seldom anything that flares head and shoulders above the rest.
    Course, if I hadn’t been reading the JBU, I would have missed the Vaughan story.

    Still, CW and Chizine are the two I favor most.

  35. Alex D M says:

    Hahaha, and the chap above me just mentioned that too. But I’m commenting again to second that vote for “Six Questions about the Sun.” Really, really great piece.

    Paul — Sybil’s Garage is one place that doesn’t disappoint, I’ve found. I don’t know if they always have one or two “greats” but they certainly deliver quirky, fascinating, thoughtful content, and I come away from their issues, maybe not blown out of my chair, but feeling the better for having read them. (And I’m happy if a story isn’t a “great”, provided it does make me think or engages with me in some way.)

  36. Hmmm. It has been a long, long time since a piece of short fiction has knocked my socks off. And my socks are thin and loose. The last thing was probaby however a nasty little tale by Catulle Mendes that has never been translated into English and that, oddly enough, does not have a title. Aside from that, some of the short works of Mirbeau are quite powerful, as are the short pieces by some Russian Futurists.

    As far as stuff written in the last ten years: I have read lots of good stuff, too much competenant stuff, but nothing that made my spine quiver, tears run down my cheeks, or has made me run to the restroom sick.

  37. I’m so glad you asked! I’ve been DEVOURING short fiction lately–partly for the online fiction roundups I’ve been writing at the SF bookswap site ( ) and partly because I’ve been finding a lot of great stuff lately. My favorites:

    “Minghun: Unlikely Patron Saints, No. 5” by Amy Sisson
    The ending just kind of make you go “Oh. Of course.” Those are my favorite kinds of endings.

    “The Dead Girl’s Wedding March” by Cat Rambo

    “Snow Day” by Jennifer Pelland (SO funny!)

    “Look, There He Is” by Bruce Holland Rogers (in Electric Velocipede). A nearly perfect story.

  38. As an addendum to my above post; It just struck me that maybe the function of short fiction is not to knock the socks off but to, well . . . entertain. Which is different, isn’t it?

  39. Oh yeah–I *love* Buffo Rex, a story Ann has in her first Weird Tales issue, out in November.


  40. “Urchins, While Swimming” by Catherynne Valente (

    When I read it, my daughter (my first) was newly born. The mother’s love in the first part floored me and the rest of the story took my socks while I was down.

    “Light” by Kelly Link (

    I read a lot of Kelly Link this year. What kills me about her work is how offhand the fantasy is. To me, she doesn’t dwell on the fantastic elements, just very matter of factly notes them and continues telling the characters’ stories (and yet, I cannot imagine the stories without those elements)…

  41. Blue Tyson says:

    I liked that Qubit Conflicts quite a lot, too.

  42. Larry says:

    Since this can be from any decade it seems, mine might be all over the charts:

    Dino Buzzati has written some excellent short stories. I read “Il Colombre” earlier this summer and I’m going to be using the English translation, “The Colomber,” in an English class of mine next week. Really enjoyed that one from La boutique del mistero.

    Like many have said, Kelly Link’s “The Specialist’s Hat” is another fav of mine.

    Hemingway’s “Baby shoes for sale. Never worn.” has been very thought-provoking for me over the years.

    J.G. Ballard’s “The Atrocity Exhibition.”

    Borges’s “The South”

    Maupassant’s “The Necklace”

    Frank Stockton, “The Lady or the Tiger?”

    And damn my memory, but I cannot remember the authors who wrote “Lenigan Versus the Ants” or “The Most Dangerous Game”

    I guess I need to read more recent short stories, huh?

  43. Blue Tyson says:

    Here’s my 5 star list read this year, three of them are new :-

    Aldani, Lino – Good Night Sophie
    Blackford, Russell – The Soldier in the Machine
    Broderick, Damien – Schrodinger’s Dog
    Brown, Simon – Imagining Ajax
    Bryant, Edward – Down Deep
    Campbell, John W. – Who Goes There? [short story]
    Carrico, David – The Quiet Man
    Clarke, Arthur C. – Dance Band on the Titanic [short story]
    Clarke, Arthur C. – The Nine Billion Names of God [short story]
    Dahl, Roald – The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar [short story]
    Di Filippo, Paul – The Scab’s Progress
    Dickson, Gordon R. – Dolphin’s Way
    Doctorow, Cory – When SysAdmins Ruled the Earth
    Dowling, Terry – Privateers’ Moon
    Dowling, Terry – Scaring the Train
    Dowling, Terry – Jenny Come to Play
    Dowling, Terry – The Man Who Lost Red [short story]
    Dowling, Terry – Time of the Star
    Dowling, Terry – Flashmen
    Dowling, Terry – Coyote Struck by Lightning
    Dowling, Terry – Coming Down
    Dowling, Terry – Sewing Whole Cloth
    Dowling, Terry – Ship’s Eye
    Dowling, Terry – Rynemonn [short story]
    Dowling, Terry – Colouring the Captains
    Dowling, Terry – Breaking Through to the Heroes
    Dowling, Terry – Doing The Line
    Doyle, Arthur Conan – A Scandal in Bohemia
    Doyle, Arthur Conan – The Adventure of the Speckled Band
    Doyle, Arthur Conan – The Adventure of the Copper Beeches
    Doyle, Arthur Conan – The Greek Interpreter
    Doyle, Arthur Conan – The Final Problem
    Doyle, Arthur Conan – The Adventure of the Empty House
    Doyle, Arthur Conan – The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist
    Doyle, Arthur Conan – The Adventure of the Priory School
    Doyle, Arthur Conan – The Adventure of the Red Circle
    Doyle, Arthur Conan – The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans
    Doyle, Arthur Conan – A Scandal in Bohemia
    Doyle, Arthur Conan – The Stock-broker’s Clerk
    Egan, Greg – Wangs Carpets
    Egan, Greg – Border Guards
    Egan, Greg – Luminous [short story]
    Egan, Greg – Dark Integers [short story]
    Egan, Greg – Dust
    Ellison, Harlan – Jeffty Is Five
    Foster, Eugie – Body and Soul Art
    Frahm, Leanne – Rain Season
    Frahm, Leanne – Borderline [short story]
    Godwin, Tom – The Cold Equations [short story]
    Howard, Robert E. – Red Nails [short story]
    Howard, Robert E. – Jewels of Gwahlur [short story]
    Isle, Sue – Doing Shadow Time
    Jones, Raymond F. – The Person from Porlock
    Kress, Nancy – Computer Virus
    Kress, Nancy – Saviour
    Leiber, Fritz – Lean Times in Lankhmar [short story]
    Lethem, Jonathan – Vanilla Dunk
    Levinson, Paul – The Chronology Protection Case
    Lovecraft, H. P. – The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath [short story]
    Lovecraft, H. P. – The Colour Out of Space [short story]
    Martin, George R. R. – Shell Games
    Martin, George R. R. – Appendix
    McAllister, Bruce – Kin
    McDevitt, Jack – Good Intentions
    McDonald, Ian – Verthandi’s Ring
    Milan, Victor – Transfigurations
    Milan, Victor – With a Little Help From His Friends
    Miller, John J. – Comes a Hunter
    Miller, John J. – Half Past Dead
    Miller, John J. – Beasts of Burden
    Moorcock, Michael – The Dreaming City [short story]
    Rex, T. – Evensong
    Reynolds, Alastair – Diamond Dogs [short story]
    Shiner, Lewis – The Long Dark Night of Fortunato
    Shiner, Lewis – Pennies from Hell
    Smith, Cordwainer – Mother Hitton’s Littul Kittons
    Smith, Cordwainer – Scanners Live in Vain
    Snodgrass, Melinda M. – Relative Difficulties
    Stross, Charles – Lobsters
    Stross, Charles – Halo
    Stross, Charles – Tourist
    Stross, Charles – Antibodies
    Sussex, Lucy – Merlusine
    Sussex, Lucy – God and Her Black Sense of Humour
    Swanwick, Michael – The Dead
    Tiptree Jr., James – The Only Neat Thing to Do
    Turner, George – Flowering Mandrake
    Waldrop, Howard – Thirty Minutes Over Broadway!
    Westerfeld, Scott – Unsportsmanlike Conduct
    Williams, Walter Jon – Witness
    Wodhams, Jack – One Clay Foot
    Zelazny, Roger – Home Is the Hangman [short story]

  44. Jesus Christ. Go a little easy on the Dowling and the Doyle. You’ll hurt yourself.


  45. Blue Tyson says:

    Some decades of Sherlock Holmes hasn’t hurt me yet. :)

    15 years of Dowling has left no noticeable injuries, either, even after the recent new book. ;-)

  46. banzai cat says:

    Top of my head, short stories that have stuck with me for years:

    Lucius Shepard’s “The end of the world as we know it”
    Tim Pratt’s “Little Gods”
    Kelly Link’s “Louise’s Ghost”
    Kevin Brockmeier’s “A Brief History of the Dead”
    Jeffrey Ford’s “The Weight of Words”

  47. David Kirkpatrick says:

    Joe R. Lansdale – “Steppin’ Out, Summer, ’68” and “The Night They Missed the Horror Show” are impossible to forget, given the sense of inevitability and general wrongness that they impart.

    Ray Bradbury’s “Pillar of Fire” has stuck with me for 30 years or more, with little wisps of the plot and fragments of the writing bubbling up occasionally without warning.

    I keep coming back to Caitlin R. Kiernan’s Dancy Flammarion stories, recently collected in “Alabaster” by Subterranean Press. Hard to pick a favorite – they keep shifting around in my mind.

    Zoran Zivkovic’s writing is always fascinating. My recent favorites have been pieces from “Seven Touches of Music”, especially “The Cat”.

    One of my favorite short story writers is Ted Chiang. His stories have such a unique, wide range that each one stands apart from the others. His recent “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” was a great read.

  48. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Yeah, Weight of Words is a favorite, of course.

    I like Zoran, but after awhile I feel like I’m reading the same story over and over.

  49. Ian Sales says:

    Daniel and Alex D M – thanks for the pointers to Toiya Kristen Finley’s ‘Love, &c.–From 506 JB’ in Lone Star Stories. A good story, but it doesn’t strike me as quite as successful as ‘The Avatar of Background Noise’.

  50. pauljessup says:

    Paul — Sybil’s Garage is one place that doesn’t disappoint, I’ve found. I don’t know if they always have one or two “greats” but they certainly deliver quirky, fascinating, thoughtful content, and I come away from their issues, maybe not blown out of my chair, but feeling the better for having read them. (And I’m happy if a story isn’t a “great”, provided it does make me think or engages with me in some way.)

    Well, I’m not talking about satisfaction, or being happy, or liking quirky or fascanating. I’m talking about mind blowing. Why isn’t there one that consistantly gives fantastic fiction? Why? And why do we make execuses about the magazines who aren’t doing it?

    As an addendum to my above post; It just struck me that maybe the function of short fiction is not to knock the socks off but to, well . . . entertain. Which is different, isn’t it?

    Didn’t we just cover this ground? That sounds like a cop out. An excuse.

  51. Ian Sales says:

    Why isn’t there one that consistantly gives fantastic fiction?

    Surely the only magazine with a 100% hit ratio for you as a reader is the one… edited by yourself :-) Unless you’re lucky enough to find an editor who shares exactly your own taste in short fiction.

  52. pauljessup says:

    Naw, that’s wussing out. I mean great as in challenging as well. Certainly, we all have different tastes, but in the end there are certain stories that strike a chord and they REALLY strike a chord with a large number of people.

  53. Jeff Ford, “The Boatman’s Holiday” as I stated, it knocked me down. I read it a year ago and I still think about it.

    Joe Hill, “My Father’s Mask” man that one just put shivers up my back for a week. His books are on my Xmas wish list (“20th Century Ghosts” was last year, but nobody could find a copy)

    Kelly Link, “The Hortlak” there are others by Kelly that I like, but this one keeps with me. Whenever she releases new short stories I’ll buy them,

    Neil Gaimen, “Shadows Over Baker Street” well, it’s Neil.

    Terry Bisson, “There Are No Dead” I read some of his stories in anthologies, so I started buying his collected short stories. This one let me know I needed to read all of them.

    Those are just some of my recent discoveries.

  54. Anarkey says:

    Naw, that’s wussing out. I mean great as in challenging as well. Certainly, we all have different tastes, but in the end there are certain stories that strike a chord and they REALLY strike a chord with a large number of people.

    I’m not convinced this is true. I trolled this list gleefully yesterday (with sharpened pencil, like Matt Staggs), and read several of the stories people had recommended, hoping to have my socks knocked off and so far, no dice. I do think stories can have a certain zeitgeist and speak to a large number of people at once, but I also think our tastes predispose us to have our socks knocked off by certain types of stories and not by others and that this may or may not have anything to do with inherent greatness in the story itself. Everyone has had the experience of despising a classic work of universal acclaim.

    When someone is really excited about a work I find insipid, it always makes me a little sad, as though I’ve stripped away some of my ability to enjoy a certain part of the spectrum.

  55. pauljessup says:

    I wonder though. I mean really, there has to be some sort of common qualia that a majority of people register in fiction. Look for repeating stories that are in everyone’s list so far (Specialist’s Hat, My father’s Mask, Boatman’s Holiday).

    Could also be that with this list people are stretching and grabbing stories they liked rather then blew them away, just to have something to list.

  56. Ian Sales says:

    I’m with Anarkey. For example, I don’t get the Neil Gamain thing. I’ve read some of his short fiction – including his Hugo Award nominated ‘How to Talk to Girls at Parties’ – and my socks have not even twitched.

  57. pauljessup says:

    Oh, I’m no Niel Gaiman fan, either. Sandman was amazing, but his prose has always been mediocre. But still- Jeff mentioned New Worlds in his last post similiar to this, about their stories knocking his socks off every time. Why don’t we have something like that now?

  58. Paul, I think if there is some common quality for why some of the same names and stories get mentioned, that it only has to do with the select audience that is commenting, not anything with the stories themselves (other than they are really good). And I can only speak for my list here, all those really blew me away. There are the hurdles I’m going for as a writer.

  59. pauljessup says:

    BTW- I do agree with a poster above that Clarkesworld comes closest to knocking my socks off steadily, almost every single time. And when the stories miss, they miss in big and beautiful ways.

    I want more of that. I don’t want to be satisfied. I want danger. Gimmie Danger in my fiction

  60. Ian,

    I would not have given Gaiman an award for “How to talk to girls” either, which is why I listed him under the honorables, rather than blew me away. Used to be a big fan, but have had so many disappointments with his writing the last few years that it was a pleasant surprise to read something that I liked.
    Was it great?
    No; Gaiman kept the imagination but he never comfortably made the transition from comics to prose. His characters are still half-developed. But, it’s Neil Gaiman – who’s going to tell him to work on his characters and prose elements?
    The finest work of his I read was Books of Magic. Some day, I hope he’ll surprise me like that again.

  61. I’m finding Clarkesworld and Strange Horizons to both be very good about publishing some of the more challenging stuff, although I’m not fond of reading online. I like Polyphony, but I generally have to wade through a lot of okay stuff to get to the gems. The LCRW/Say…/Flytrap/Electric Velopede group always have some interesting stories, but lately (no offense) I’d say I’m getting a little tired of the soft slipstream whimsy of some of it. F&SF just seems, for the most part, a total gray area for me. I find it very hard to concentrate reading it, but I don’t know if maybe it’s the format that’s making it difficult for me. (Although we might just be diametrically opposed in taste–F&SF has rejected everything from my World Fantasy Award-winning “The Transformation of Martin Lake” to newer fare.) Interzone looks good and publishes some good stuff, but I don’t see it enough. Realms of Fantasy tends to publish very light, airy fiction. Asimov’s I haven’t looked at in years, so I can’t comment. Same for Analog. Although I remember Asimov’s publishing some weirder, more ambitious stuff on occasion. I’m still finding cool stuff in mags like A Public Space, Tin House (still haven’t had a chance to do more than nibble around the edges of Link’s “Light” on their site), The New Yorker (yes, the much-maligned New Yorker), One Story, etc. And, it’s totally partisan, but Ann’s let me see some of the stuff she’s taking for Weird Tales and I love a lot of it. And, in another partisan gesture, there’s a ton of stuff in the pirate antho we’re editing (out now by early 2009 at the latest) that blew me away when I first read it–what comes to mind is a collaboration by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear, Conrad Williams’ story, etc.

    But, you know, I started the Leviathan series in part because I wasn’t reading enough of what I wanted to read elsewhere.

    I think I just realized I’ve never much liked the majority of short fiction I’ve read. LOL.


  62. Jessica Reisman says:

    See, when it comes down to it, I’d always rather read a novel. Sometimes I feel kind of dishonest even writing short fiction, though it definitely hones some skills.

  63. pauljessup says:

    I’d say I’m getting a little tired of the soft slipstream whimsy of some of it. F&SF just seems, for the most part, a total gray area for me.

    I would have to agree to this. It just feels- well, not dangerous enough (if that makes any sense?). It provoked me to write a parody of it that was in Farrago’s Wainscot called Apple Magick. The sad thing is, I think Kelly Link is partially to blame for the total grey area. They take the whimsy and playfulness of her writing, but not the unease and experimentation. And I think that’s why she knocks my socks off each time- she makes me feel uncomfortable. Which is good.

    Strange Horizons, to me, has gotten too bland. Too many stories about abused children. Sigh.

  64. Well, to be honest, I have saved up my SH reading for this year until Nov. when we really gear up for BAF reading.


  65. Mark Teppo says:

    Invisible Games, an online project by Cat Valente and Dmitri (oh crap, I don’t know his last name). They’re unfolding a really lovely audio/visual/textual game of radio signals, invisible history, and things tagged with the fantastic phrase of “feral networks.” Updated Mondays and Thursdays, and it is making me hum with joy.

  66. Anarkey says:

    I would have to agree to this. It just feels- well, not dangerous enough (if that makes any sense?). It provoked me to write a parody of it that was in Farrago’s Wainscot called Apple Magick. The sad thing is, I think Kelly Link is partially to blame for the total grey area. They take the whimsy and playfulness of her writing, but not the unease and experimentation. And I think that’s why she knocks my socks off each time- she makes me feel uncomfortable. Which is good.

    Now yes, this is something I definitely agree with. Things do come in waves and trends, and something done excellently will spawn imitators. I see a Kelly Link sensibilty that is permeating a lot of short speculative fiction these days. I also think that few and far between are the people who can do what she’s doing as well as she does it and that we may well be reaching a point of diminishing returns at that quarry (Jeff’s use of the word “soft” to describe much of current slipstream works well for me).

    I also agree that fiction that knocks your socks off should have an element of discomfort in the reading. And I agree (with Ian and David) that Neil Gaiman isn’t in the discomfort business (maybe excepting “The Problem of Susan”?). I like Gaiman just fine, thanks, but I’m never at his door looking to have my socks knocked off. Same category as Bujold, and a lot of the YA I enjoy. These are stories I can fall into and relish, but which won’t hijack my brain.

    Sometimes, I want my brain hijacked.

    I was hoping for that from the multiple suggestions here. I’ll freely admit that I didn’t collate people’s replies to see the most often cited stories. I chose them primarily by whether they were available in two clicks or not. Some of them I was astonished to discover I had already read, and they’d left so little impression on me that I’d forgotten I’d already read them. And, like I said, I find it a little sad that someone else’s mind-blowing experience is my “oh…wait…this again? But I found it so meh the first time around!”

    And to get at the thrust of the original thesis, I don’t have the expectations of some in this thread, that every story published be superlative, and that it completely unscrew my head, dump out my brains, mix them with salt, and shove them back in. I do like to read good stuff better than I like to read stuff I think sucks. I do like to find a gem every once in a while. Unfortunately, my shortcut to a passel of gems (this thread) turned out not so wealthy as I’d like, and although obviously anecdotal, seems a fitting example of green pastures and fences and such.

  67. I don’t think anyone has the expectation that every story has to do that.

  68. SH was better to me this year than last. Erratic, depending on tastes, etc, but overall I liked it more.
    June, I recall, was a surprisingly lighter in tone month. ok, I thought it was lighter in tone:)

  69. pauljessup says:

    True on dat. What I’ve been trying to say is not every story HAS to do it, but why don’t more stories do it?

  70. I think it also has to do with what exactly art/writing is and how it functions. Every person that reads a story will react differently to that story. Each reader comes with their own history, their own preconceptions, their own mindspace (how they feel, where they are at in life, etc – this is why somethings are so great at certain times in your life, but then are “meh” at other times). So each experiences a story differenly, each takes something different away.

    As for the concept that every story needs to be Tony Tiger GREAT! Yeah, and you know what happens then? In five years what’s great now is normal then. Some people don’t understand how soldiers can sleep on helicopters or in strykers as they’re headed into battle. Well, to them it’s an everyday experience and they’re tired. So they sleep. The same thing is true about caffeine. If you keep using it, after a while the dosage has to keep climbing to get the same rush, till eventually people can sleep after drinking a cup of coffee.

  71. Anarkey – could you provide examples of short fiction that you viewed as being really excellent?
    Tastes do vary, and it might be better to start with what you yourself liked and suggest from there.

    Also, on the note of “blow your socks off fiction has to have an element of discomfort” – I’m not so sure about that. Sometimes, sometimes no.
    It does depend on the nature and intent of the specific story. And this is that area where what a person reads for becomes all-important.

    MAtter of fact, looking at my list of favourites of the year – not a one of them has much discomfort in them, except possibly the Haines.
    But then, it’s possible I have a high threshold of what causes me discomfort so that won’t factor much into my appreciation of reading.
    I can see often enough when a writer is trying for this and my standard response is invariably, “So? Yeah, and? I’m still waiting for the punch dude.”

  72. I drink a cup of coffee right before I go to bed…can’t sleep otherwise:)

  73. Tyler says:

    I agree with you, Jeff, that far too many of the stories in F&SF are slipstream, but one story in it that I really liked was “The Star to Every Wandering Barque” by James Stoddard. “The Euphio Question” by Kurt Vonnegut was amazing. Also, all of the stories in Jack London’s “Tales of the Klondyke” were exellent.

  74. Tyler says:

    The Silent Towns by Ray Bradbury was hilarious, too. But that’s invalid… I read it like 2 years ago. :+

  75. Tyler says:

    HA! I meant to do a normal smiley face, that one is just disturbing.

  76. Pam McNew says:

    Blew my socks off. This year. And, I think this is different than finding the best crafted story of the year or a story that I believe follows the rules of genre but adds to its history. Even if my list of mind-blowing stories carry these elements within them as well.

    “Light” by Kelly Link, Tin House Issue 33, Fantastic Women for its language, form and exploration of fractured individuals.

    “Dr. Black and the Village of Stones” by Brendan Connell, Electric Velocipede Issue No. 12 for its it unconventional setup of a story form, and, well, the story itself.

    “The Good Detective” by M. John Harrison, Interzone April 2007 for reversing a standard and making it work.

    “Stone and the Librarian” by William Browning Spencer, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, February 2007, for its use of the literature.

    “Vacancy” by Lucius Shepard, Subterreanean Issue # 7 (Guest Edited by Ellen Datlow) not for its horror, although the graphic, supernatural horror is present, but because of the horrific ideal expressed through the main character.

  77. Blue Tyson says:

    Can you explain what you mean by challenging?

    For instance, I have read all of Clarkesworld online, and read all of Fantasy and Science Fiction this year, too. I see no real difference in what they are doing, apart from the fact that in general, Clarkesworld is nowhere near as good. First thought would be they have been doing more wishy-washy stuff that isn’t about anything, sort of like what is being complained about.

    It is still the same bunch of basically Northern Hemisphere western writers writing the same sort of thing that would be in Fantasy and Science Fiction if it was better. Bear’s Orm the Beautiful is excellent. De Vries’ Qubit Conflicts likewise, could have been in Analog or Asimov’s, no problem. Your story was good. The rest of it is competent to below average.

    Certainly a good deal for the price though. :)

    I have seen one issue of Weird Tales (one recent one that is, as opposed to current people challenging Lovecraft, Smith and Howard and company), and that was better than Clarkesworld as a whole, too. Only a single example though.

    Subterranean Online is clearly better, as well. Shepard/Wolfe/Lansdale/Stross/Bear/Scalzi/Sterling? No crappy fractured fairy tales to be found in those.

  78. banzai cat says:

    hehe speaking of the slipstream seemingly prevalent nowadays, an acquaintance of mine did a comic on that, which turned out quite… telling. you can read it:

  79. Lula_Mae says:

    Goliath by Neil Gaiman

    L.deBard and Aliette: A Love Story by Lauren Groff
    Wait by Roy Kesey
    (from Best American Short Stories 2007)

    When She is Old And I Am Famous, both by Julie Orringer

    in poetry, The Graveyard Shift by Nicholas Christopher

  80. Anarkey says:

    David –

    I went back and read a couple of stories off your list: Ruth Nestvold’s “The Leaving Sweater” and Paul Tremblay’s “The Teacher”.

    “The Teacher” knocked my socks off. Amazing. Best story I’ve read so far of the ones I cherry-picked from the list. I don’t think anyone but you mentioned it, but I’m so glad you did. Thanks!

    (BTW, my list, since you asked, is way way way upthread and was very narrow and included obligatory Kelly Link).

    I’m also willing to grant the element of discomfort that I need to have my socks blown off may not be a prerequisite in the sock blowing off of others. There’s plenty of stories I like, or even love that cause me no discomfort at all and I wouldn’t include them in this list.

  81. ah, I found your list; have heard very promising things about Laird Barron.

    I remember The Faery Handbag, was a very cool story.

    And you’re welcome, re: The Teacher:)

  82. Thanks for the kind words, David and Anarkey.

    Nathan Ballingrud’s “The Monsters of Heaven,” which appears in the forthcoming Datlow anthology INFERNO is fantastic. Very likely the best short story I’ve read this year.

    I agree with the earlier praise heaped upon Laird Barron. His new Nightshade collection (THE IMAGO SEQUENCE) is a must read.

    While at Fantasy Magazine, I’ve had the pleasure of publishing stories by Afi Muffaz, Stephanie Campisi, and Leslie Claire Walker (among others). But those three writers never dissipoint nor fail to amaze me with their originality and depth. Three writer’s to watch, for sure.

  83. I can’t honestly remember the frame of a year too well, (and I’ll second “my favorites change every week” but twist it further to, “my favorites change every time I’m asked, and maybe a little more”):

    (here’s a little self-promotion of sorts, first)

    “Purple Sun with Yellow Crayon” by Michelle Garren Flye is a powerful punch of 75 beautiful words.

    “The Infinite Monkeys Protocol” by Lavie Tidhar, because it spoke to my youth and was elegantly written with zen koans, and touched on subjects much larger than the subject matter itself. It was even cooler to realize it was “based on a true story”.

    “The Eternal’s Last Request” by Joshua Babcock almost lovingly turns the “fantasy hero” on its head with the aged (and nigh-immortal) Kratos drinking himself into oblivion–and his daughter’s solution to his plight. It was a fresh look at what, for me, was an unexplored niche of an old trope.

    “Chicken” by John Mantooth is a straight forward and non-sfnal story that set its hooks in me quickly with its vivid tone and sharp characterizations. It’s a beautiful and, to an extent, frightening look at mundane people in mundane situations, and how easy and far it is to drop off the end.

    Those are all in Issue 0 of GUD Magazine, and many more besides (though a few I know I first read more than a year ago). And I could go on about all of them, because it was “my” issue; though some were selected for things other than just “knocking your socks off”. A magazine is a lot like a mix tape, and I think it’s good to try to play pieces off of each other.

    And then pulling some reviews that I’ve done, because reviewing has been the large part of my reading this last year:

    “Fraise, Menthe, et Poivre 1978” by Jared Hohl — Another piece of meta-fiction, this follows a group of people through the more traditional trope of being the last survivors in a ruined post-apocalyptic city. What makes this piece stand out is the manic bent of the narrator and the push for the show to go on–the story weaves the primary narrative with a small handful of abbreviated stageplays that emphasize much about human nature, hope, and despair, while retaining a very human humor.

    “Some Approaches to the Problem of the Shortage of Time” by Ursula K. Le Guin — This is a clever set of abstracts that are ever timely and consider a novel scenario for the end of the modern-day universe. The shortage of time is pervasive, and this story is brief to give you a maximum pleasure for what it takes.

    “Think Warm Thoughts” by Allison Whittenberg — A bite-sized slice of apocalypse that is poetically poignant; every word counts.

    “The Real, True-Life Story of Godzilla” by Curtis Smith. It tells the story of Billy Glenn–how he found himself touring Japan playing basketball, and how that fell into donning the rubber Godzilla suit and stomping miniature Tokyos. It’s a love story, a story of perseverance overcoming difficulties, without having any particular dream to follow. It’s sad, and sweet, and ultimately memorable and although, as far as I can tell no Billy Glenn was ever credited in a Godzilla movie, it was believable enough.

    [[oh, and I have to ditto The Imago Sequence]]

    And if I can stretch back so far for something I read several years ago, but I consistently recommend to people:

    “Incommunicado” by Katherine MacLean — I have to admit, what mostly blew me away was the playfulness of the very, very analog technology. But it was twisted, and wonderful.

    Words are failing me, so I’ll hop skip and disappear now…

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