7 Short Science Fiction Stories I Read This Week
I’m after the fiction more than the science
I’m fascinated by short fiction. I write it and I read it.
As well as reading longer-form fiction, I try to read at least one short story every day. I select out-of-the-way stories and authors I’ve never read and sometimes never heard of.
Sometimes I pick competition entries, often ones that didn’t win. Sometimes I find random personal websites where someone has published their own stories. Sometimes I seek out professionally published stories from hardcopy books or online magazines. Sometimes I look for really old stories that are out of copyright and available online.
This week was science fiction week for me. I asked someone what genre I should read this week and they said science fiction, so that’s what I read.
I’m not a science person but I do like me some science fiction. Full disclosure: I’m a Trekkie from way back, but I have never been able to get into Star Wars.
Because I’m not scientifically minded, I want my science fiction to be about the story and the characters, not all about the science. As soon as a story starts to get sciencey and technical, I start to lose interest, begin to skim rather than read, and eventually switch off.
I’m looking for futuristic stories. I want a sense of wonder. I want to believe that this could be our future. I want believable, relatable characters.
Give me alternative worlds, different timelines, outer space, future-Earth, dystopias, alternate universes. Include advanced technology, but don’t explain it in detail. I don’t care how my car works, just that it does.
These are the stories I read this week and what I thought.
**Please be aware that I’m not here to criticise any writer. The fact that these writers have put themselves out there and made these stories available for me to read for free is amazing and I thank you.**
Sunday: The Janitor in Space
The Janitor in Space by Amber Sparks. Published on the American Short Fiction website.
What it’s about: A unnamed janitor reminisces, thinking about her life as she goes about her lonely job aboard a spaceship.
“The janitor makes her way through the hallway with purpose, suctioning space dust and human debris from crevices of the space station.”
The concept of a janitor aboard a spaceship intrigued me. Who thinks of a janitor, let alone a janitor in space? Janitors are often an unseen part of society and anyway, in most science fiction stories, spaceships clean themselves.
This is not an action story, it’s a human story. There’s a nice slow reveal of the main character’s background and how she ended up doing this job in this place. The imagery and sensory details evoke her loneliness and her aloneness.
This thought-provoking story was full of feels and I enjoyed it. This was my pick of the week.
Smear by Brian Evenson. Published in Issue 67 of Conjunctions.
What it’s about: Space travel and the unknown.
“Aksel could see a smear, something just inside the vessel’s skin. He blinked, rubbed his eyes. It was still there.”
A man awakens prematurely aboard his spaceship and thinks he sees a smear. Is it in his helmet, or outside it? Is it even there at all? He becomes more and more obsessed with the smear.
There is an underlying sense of paranoia and questioning your sanity in this story, much like in the Brian Evenson horror story I read last week.
We know nothing about this man’s mission. We don’t know why or where he’s going. What we do know is he’s supposed to be asleep but has awoken early.
This story has an ambiguous ending, but that’s ok. I liked this story, and last week’s, enough that I’ll be seeking out some of Brian Evenson’s longer fiction.
Introdus by Duncan Shields. Published on the 365tomorrows website.
What it’s about: Time travel.
“Seven hundred thousand time travelers showed up around the world.”
Of the time travellers that survive, most are severely traumatised and injured. This story is a warning of the dangers of developing technology without fully understanding the universe.
This was a quick read that piqued my interest and kept me reading. Very interesting and I’ll be returning to this website in the future to read some more of their short fiction.
Wednesday: Every Single Brian
Every Single Brian by Yang-Yang Wang. Published in the October 2021 edition of Lightspeed.
What it’s about: Human cloning.
“This Brian has blue eyes. It’s too bad, because everything else is the same — the dark wavy hair and high cheekbones, the slight wrinkle under his right eye.”
The narrator is a scientist who has developed cloning technology for a corporation. Something’s gone wrong and the scientist is trying to pick the real Brian from the clones. The story jumps around between present and past, slowly revealing the relationship between the scientist and Brian, and explaining what’s happened.
The usual clone questions came to mind as I read this story. Should we play God? How well do we really know someone? Could I pick a real loved one out of a group of clones?
I liked that this was a story about a human relationship affected by a problem caused by science, but without the science being the focus of the story.
Thursday: The Crisis of Stasis Unit 122
The Crisis of Stasis Unit 122 by Gordon Langley. Submitted to Reedsy as an entry into a prompt competition.
What it’s about: Cryogenics.
“It should have been a special day for a man who had lived long ago, a man called Thomas Sanderson, but where is he now?”
A man is put into stasis expecting to be brought out of it fifty years in the future. What could go wrong?
Apart from a few overly long paragraphs, this was a quick, easy read. The characters were relatable and it was a mostly believable scenario.
Friday: Meat and Salt and Sparks
Meat and Salt and Sparks by Rich Larson. Published on TOR.com.
What it’s about: A futuristic murder mystery where one of the detectives is a female chimpanzee.
““Doesn’t look like a killer, does she,” Huxley remarks.
“Cu shrugs a hairy shoulder. To her, all humans look like killers.”
The underlying theme of this story is loneliness and wanting to fit in when you’re so different to everyone around you. The story follows the thoughts and actions of the chimpanzee detective and artfully sprinkles in how she got here and how she lives. She displays more humanity than the humans around her.
There was an interesting concept of someone renting themselves out to someone else so the renter could see, talk, and experience things from a distance.
As I read this story, I forgot that it was science fiction. It is a poignant, emotional, sensory story that was convincing and realistic.
This story was a bit longer than I normally like for my short fiction, but definitely worth the time it took to read it.
Saturday: The Piper
The Piper by Ron Reynolds. Published in the Spring 1940 edition of futuria fantasia.
What it’s about: Revolution, greed, patience, how music can affect emotions.
“The thin piping sounds squealed in the dusk, echoed back from the low hills, were lost in melancholy silence, fading. Then louder, higher, insanely, crying with shrill voice.”
Set on Mars, this story is mostly dialogue; a conversation between an old man and a Martian boy. The old man tells the boy about the arrogance of Earthmen and the destruction caused by their single-minded greed and lack of humanity.
It’s a very nice twist on the old Pied Piper of Hamelin tale. It shows how patience can achieve what we think is impossible and how art, music in particular, can affect emotions.
Definitely worth a read. Considering how long ago this was written, the message is still relevant today.
This week’s short sci-fi stories ranked in the order that I enjoyed them.