You won’t find me doing this very often, but I am actually going to give a list of my favourites of something. The reason I don’t do this very often is that tastes change and as soon as I write my favourite down I’m sure another is going to come along and replace it. I think the only favourite list I have put forth in the past was movies and, even then it’s only really a top three I can do.
[For those playing at home: 1 – Rollerball (the original, 1975); 2 – Excalibur (1981); 3 – Life Of Brian (1979). From there a top five or 10 or whatever list changes depending on my mood, including Altered States (1980), An American Werewolf In London (1981), Avengers (2012), The Bad And The Beautiful (1952), Blazing Saddles (1974), Casino (1995), Citizen Kane (1941), King Kong (1933), King Kong (2005), Theater Of Blood (1973), Vault Of Horror (1973), etc, etc,… the list is pretty extensive, but those top three are my favourite three.]
So, anyway, here’s my list of my favourite short stories.
Short stories are sort of lost in the shuffle a lot of the time. People dismiss them as lightweight (I’ve read one critic who says if it’s short, how can you tell a real story?) or as something not to be taken seriously. As a writer most of whose published work has been short stories – and, I have to say, many writers it seems start life as short story writers – I find this rather condescending and, well, angering. Getting a complete tale down in 5000 words is not easy. Really.
So, in order of author, here are 21 of my favourite short stories. This list will, of course, show that my genre preferences. And like all lists of favourites, etc, this is completely subjective. Completely. There are no rights or wrongs (though, I guess, to modern day computer trolls, that is not true, but they tend to be morons anyway, so who cares?).
‘Mr. Big’ by Woody Allen
A perfectly brilliant, funny short story parodying the Raymond Chandler noir type of story perfectly, looking for the missing person and being threatened by goons and having the femme fatale constantly involved. It is just funny from beginning to end, especially with everything the missing person was involved with. To say more would be to give it away… so I won’t.
‘Clean Sweep Ignatius’ by Jeffrey Archer
The tale of a new Nigerian minister and his encounter with Swiss bankers hiding money secreted by his country-men is just the sort of short story that Archer does brilliantly – the one with the twist in the tale. His threats with the gun give the story a whole different complexion to the ending that is just really well-written.
‘How It Happened’ by Isaac Asimov
Nowadays I reckon this would be considered flash fiction, but it doesn’t matter – in a sheer limited number of words Asimov tells exactly why the Bible story of the creation of the world is written as it is. Economics.
‘The Last Question’ by Isaac Asimov
Asimov takes the question that is most asked by people and turns it into an all-encompassing, epoch-spanning story of the truth of the beginning of the universe. No consistent characters except the computer, but it doesn’t matter because Asimov holds it together brilliantly.
‘The Skull Of The Marquis De Sade’ by Robert Bloch
A skull is the key component of this story, and it manages to terrify even as people are dying left, right and centre. An intriguing story idea well executed.
‘A Sound Of Thunder’ by Ray Bradbury
A time travel story that takes the butterfly effect and twists it to be a thought-provoking and intriguing tale of wonder. To tell much more would be to give it all away, but it is a well-written story indeed.
‘The Thing In The Crypt’ by Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp
Featuring Robert E. Howard’s most famous creation – Conan – this story features the hero pursued by wolves after escaping captivity and falling into a tomb. Unlike some later stories not written by Howard himself, this lacks the super-hero qualities that denigrated Conan, and has a genuinely creepy edge to it.
‘Gig Marks’ by Ed Ferrera
The tale of a professional wrestler whose past catches up with him is one of the best written stories of the past few years I have read. It is well-done and creepy, written by a man who knows the industry, and the final denouement is perfect.
‘The Model’ by Steven Gepp
Yes, you knew one of mine had to be here, didn’t you? But of all my published stories, this one feels most like one I didn’t write – it still gives me the creeps a little. An artist whose latest model takes over his mind so completely that he has no way out, with a nice little twist in the end that, I think, helps make it.
‘Streets Of Ashkelon’ by Harry Harrison.
In the story of John Garth and the Weskers, Harrison paints a sad story of cultural insensitivity and the dangers of religion being introduced where it is not wanted nor needed. The character of John Garth is one of the best written I have come across and his increasing sadness as he sees what happens around him until the end when the Weskers realise just what has happened to them is almost perfect. Just a wonderful tale.
‘By This Axe I Rule!’ by Robert E. Howard
This story featuring King Kull is really no more than an anecdote about Kull claiming his right to the throne. But it is well-written and the template for nearly everything that came after it in fantasy fighting stories.
‘The Hills Of The Dead’ by Robert E. Howard
A tale featuring Howard’s hero Solomon Kane, a Puritan warrior, in Africa with a witch-doctor friend (N’Longa, who features in a few Kane tales) and a bunch of zombie-vampire hybrids. My favourite of the Kane stories, because it doesn’t portray Kane as all-knowing and completely self-righteous.
‘The Thing On The Roof’ by Robert E. Howard
Howard is best known for his fantasy writing, but he was also a great horror writer. This story of the tale of a man who defiled a foreign temple and suffered for it is a strange tale but with an incredibly vivid ending. Surprisingly for his time, he did not use a lot of words to set up his tales, and this is the better for it.
‘Graveyard Shift’ by Stephen King
This story of men on the graveyard shift looking in the basement for their rat problems and finding something that can only be described as evolution gone mad is gross and creepy and downright scary. One of the first short stories to give me nightmares, it still freaks me out today.
‘Survivor Type’ by Stephen King
A shipwreck survivor story with the grossness slowly but inexorably turned up to 11. And it is all too plausible. Just gross and I couldn’t stop reading it. This one have me nightmares after I first read it. Such a simple story, but… Wow.
‘Word Processor Of The Gods’ by Stephen King
An old theme done with that modern update and then twisted to be creepy and with an ending where you weren’t sure just what the outcome was going to be – a short story done in the perfect way. A really strong tale.
‘You Know They Got A Hell Of A Band’ by Stephen King
Not that well-known, this story about the place… well, the title comes from a song, and that song gives away the whole plot of the story, but I don’t want to give anything else away because it’s one of those stories where it will give away even if I mention a little. But King’s personifications of the real people is spot-on.
‘The Rats In The Walls’ by H.P. Lovecraft
I find a bit of Lovecraft a little awkward to read as he goes for hyperbole a little too often for my tastes. But this story, with its gradual build of terror and ambiguous ending is genuinely creepy and something that you can see in many works that followed by many other authors.
‘The Facts In The Case Of M. Valdemar’ by Edgar Allan Poe
Not one of Poe’s better known stories, but, to me, one of his creepiest, and one of his best described. The dangers of hypnotism and life stasis – just creepy.
‘The Masque Of The Red Death’ by Edgar Allan Poe
A lot of the opening is exposition, but in the story of the red death sweeping across a nation and the wealthy thinking they are immune only to have an uninvited guest at their ball is just the sort of eerie story-telling that makes Poe a must-read for all upcoming and experienced horror writers. So simple, and yet it becomes so much more.
‘The Judge’s House’ by Bram Stoker
This story is considered a horror classic, and rightfully so. It is so well-written and the slow build of terror was rarely better done. And the ending was not anything I expected when I first read it. Sometimes those considered the best are the best.
This list is actually not complete. There are two stories I cannot find the titles of – one where a time traveller finds evidence of dinosaurs having evolved intelligence just before the comet wiped them out, and the other of a person who is telling the story from the point of view of being a ghost, following the person who thinks they killed him or her.
But, still, 21 stories – it’d make an awesome anthology. A lot of horror, some fantasy, some science fiction, some comedy, some ‘other’ – what more could you ask for from me?