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Thursday, 13 November 2014

Loose change in the treasury of fiction

In his introduction to the volume collecting all his short stories, J.G. Ballard states, ‘Short stories are the loose change in the treasury of fiction, easily ignored beside the wealth of novels available, an over-valued currency that often turns out to be counterfeit. At its best, in Borges, Ray Bradbury and Edgar Allen Poe, the short story is coined from precious metal, a glint of gold that will glow for ever in the deep purse of your imagination.’

To continue yesterday’s theme about next week’s UK National Short Story Week, I thought I’d scan my book shelves for the collections by sci-fi and horror authors (a separate set of shelves).

Here I find Brian Aldiss, J.G. Ballard, Anthony Boucher, Ray Bradbury, John W. Campbell, Angela Carter, Harlan Ellison, Jack Finney, Richard Matheson, Cordwainer Smith, Philip K. Dick, Christopher Priest, Clifford Simak, Theodore Sturgeon, James Tiptree Jr (Alice B. Sheldon), Gene Wolfe, Connie Willis and H.G. Wells.
Aldiss’ title story (see cover) plus two other linked tales were adapted for Spielberg’s film A.I.

Jack Finney’s classic novel Invasion of the Body Snatchers has been filmed more than once; yet it’s his beautiful short story ‘I love Galesburg in the Springtime’ that lingers in my memory.
Science fiction lends itself to the short story form because it’s often the fiction of ideas; though in truth that was in the early days; by the 1960s with the New Wave spearheaded by Moorcock and Ballard, light was shone on the inner space embedded within the human condition.

Some readers are quite insular in their taste, and eschew certain genre writing, which is a pity, because there is a richness of prose and idea within all genres; a good story, about people and emotion can be found in all genre writing; a good story is a good story.

‘I don’t read sci-fi’ is perhaps as common a statement as ‘I don’t read westerns’ or ‘I don’t read horror’. Perhaps these opinions stem from a bad experience with a poor writer within a particular genre. Yet you won’t hear anyone say ‘I don’t read novels’ (well, apart from those who prefer non-fiction!) because this statement is too broad. And that’s the point. Within any genre, there’s a very broad range of style, quality and imagination. Short story collections by an author can introduce you to his or her style, and I believe that any of the above mentioned authors have something like ‘precious metal’ to offer readers who are bold enough to mine these treasures.


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