Monday, December 23, 2013

Ancient & Modern

So I was asked to recommend two science-fiction stories for National Short Story Day, one classic (published before 1960) and one modern. Here are my choices:

In the 1950s James Blish wrote a short series of stories, collected in The Seedling Stars, about what he called pantropy – radically engineering humans to enable them to live on alien worlds. ‘Surface Tension’ is the best of these, a classic tale of human grit and ingenuity, and an epic journey between two puddles. Offspring of the crew of a crashed spaceship have been shrunk to the size of protists so that they can survive in the ponds and lakes of the single muddy landmass of a water planet. Blish expertly describes a fierce microscopic world and the engineering feat of constructing a wooden spaceship that enables the colonists to pierce the surface tension of the sky of their little world, and the story contains one of the finest evocations of science fiction’s sense of wonder when the tiny astronauts first glimpse the night sky: ‘Under the two moons of Hydrot, and under the eternal stars, the two-inch spaceship and its microscopic cargo toiled down the slope towards the drying rivulet.’

Kelly Link is one of the best writers in contemporary science fiction and fantasy, blending tropes from a variety of genres into fresh and vivid fantastikas. In ‘Two Houses’ (2012), first published in an anthology celebrating the work of Ray Bradbury, the twelve passengers on a starship that has lost its sister ship to a cosmic accident are awakened from suspended animation to celebrate a birthday. They tell each other ghost stories, which the ship illustrates with virtual reality projections, and as the boundary between reality and fiction breaks down a very human story of loss slowly emerges. A beautifully mysterious story within a story.
The full list can be found here. Turns out that all the writers asked to contribute were men; it would be very interesting to repeat the exercise with the choices of women writers. What are your favourites?
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