SFF Short Story Project Update #1

So one of my reading resolutions for 2018 was to read more SFF short stories, with the goal of finding a total of three stories that I really love and want to advocate for. As of this writing, I have read nine SFF short stories, which already is way more than I have ever read in a previous year. I will assume that you are duly impressed.

Six of these (shut up) have come from the Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017, edited by Charles Yu. I have no apologies to make. I didn’t say I’d be reading all brand-new short SFF this year, I just said I’d be reading short SFF. I understand the argument that I’m short-cutting my way to some of the highest-quality work, but I decline it because everyone’s tastes are different and what Charles Yu considers to be the best isn’t necessarily the same as what I consider to be the best.

Now that I have finished dismantling an argument you didn’t make on account of I have a guilty conscience about the methods I have chosen to pursue a stakes-free goal of my own devising, let’s get onward to the first SFF short story I loved in 2017: Debbie Urbanski’s “When They Came to Us.” First published in The Sun, it tells fragments of the story of a town where a group of aliens called “blues” are resettled after their ship crashes on Earth.

I’m sorry to make a comparison to Shirley Jackson so early in the year, but I think this story merits it. The strange, small-town details like Dana Fisher and Jeff Campbell going ahead with their wedding “even though nobody thought they should get married at a time like this.” The weird, mundane details about the blues’ presence in town that contribute to a growing sense of unease and impending doom.

In a story that ends with SORRY FOR SPOILERS BUT I ALREADY SAID SHIRLEY JACKSON’S NAME SO IT’S NOT LIKE YOU DIDN’T SEE IT COMING the townspeople slaughtering the aliens, it would have been really easy for Urbanski to overplay her hand with the scene-setting details. Instead, the format of small vignettes with strange little through-lines from previous vignettes and weird, understated headlines for each section gives the whole thing a feeling of humorous detachment that plays beautifully against the creepiness that underpins the whole story.

Did y’all read this story? Did you like it? (Say yes!)

This has been the first installment of the SFF Short Story Project. I did not necessarily intend to write posts about this resolution, but I couldn’t think of another way to track my progress on this resolution, and goals assessment is what I’m all about. So. Read any good science fiction or fantasy short stories lately?

7 thoughts on “SFF Short Story Project Update #1”

  1. I did not like this story. It’s in a certain kind of SF tradition I have never liked, the one in which a story is not about aliens or spaceships, but about humans. I don’t much like allegory and prefer the kind of SF with actions we can aspire to in the future, rather than the kind that holds up a mirror.
    The second story in this volume (which I got as a Christmas gift), Teenagers from Outer Space, does a lot of the things this story does, but in a less didactic way. Maybe I like it more because when the aliens leave the interesting stuff withers and dies without them.

  2. I think it’s perfectly valid to start exploring SFF stories through the Best American Series. Why should it matter where you find them? The point is to read more of them. Congrats on doing so! This story sounds like the kind of thing I’d like because COMPARISON TO SHIRLEY JACKSON. 🙂

  3. I wish I enjoyed short stories more than I do because this sounds fan-freaking-tastic! I just can’t appreciate them as a form of storytelling. I like character development and scene setting a bit too much. Like, give me a Charles Dickens tome and I fall all over myself loving the excruciating detail.

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