Saturday, June 20, 2015

Tavern of Tales Presents (Compiles?) Some of the Best in Short Sci-Fi

Last fall, literary blog Tavern of Tales put together a series of six links noting some incredible short fiction, either science-fiction (5 of 6) or as part of a greater work of science fiction (the last one). The stories are meant to "blow your mind", and they certainly do. According to the blog, each story can be read in ten minutes or less. I found that to be the case, meaning the whole post takes under an hour! If you use the Tavern's times, it totals to 36 minutes, exclusive of time spent reflecting on the concepts within.

The stories are as follows:

The Egg by Andy Weir
They Are Made of Meat by Terry Bisson
Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut
The Nine Billion Names of God by Arthur C. Clarke
The Others by Neil Gaiman
Biscuits by Douglas Adams

"The Egg" and "Harrison Bergeron" both contemplate what society can become, the former in a quirky way and the latter in a grim way. "They Are Made of Meat" and "The Nine Billion Names of God" both consider how alien races more advanced than us might perceive us. In either case, we are not very significant. The key difference is in how useful we are to them. "The Others" succeeds in typical Neil Gaiman cleverness, which I discussed a little last fall. "Biscuits" is a hilarious story about how poor the state of interpersonal communication is in the West.

A note on each: (***While I am doing my best not to spoil anything here, use your discretion in reading this next section.***)


"The Egg" invites all kinds of crazy analyses. Are we to believe our main character is, for example, giving birth to himself? This can go off the deep end in any number of ways. For a story that Tavern of Tales claims takes four minutes to read, and this is about right, I feel like readers could discuss it for hours.

"They Are Made of Meat" makes me wonder what else a brain should be. The only options that immediately come to mind are some other elemental material like silicon, or computers. Silicon-based lifeforms probably should not be so dismissive of carbon-based life forms - it would be like iron looking down on copper. Computers designing themselves is an interesting concept, but would probably lead to more creation debates than we even have now. Where did the first computer come from? and so on.

"Harrison Bergeron" is saddest perhaps because the escaped Harrison never actually hurts anyone. All he does is make a list of high-handed proclamations and then dance. Sneakier is that for a world in which everyone is supposed to be average at everything, the Handicapper General staff seem quite good at what they do (designing handicaps, enforcing handicaps, shooting guns). Equality for all except those enforcing the equality must have been very topical in 1961.

"The Nine Billion Names of God" is very imaginative, but how could an Arthur C. Clarke story not be? The idea of people contributing to our own destruction, but in a sci-fi rather than environmental disaster setting, is fun.

"The Others" is funnily cruel. Neil Gaiman does well in introducing the physical torture first and then shifting it into nastier, more personal territory. Any sort of morality horror makes me think of my own life, which I hope I have lived well enough so far. One question: what happens to the man-turned-demon when he is done torturing the next person/himself? Does he convert back to a man and do everything over again? Or is there a chain of people waiting to be tortured?

"Biscuits" makes me think of why it is great there has been such an explosion in mediation services. Four biscuits on a train is something to laugh about. Litigation, not so much. In true Matthew Gordon Books fashion, I cannot complete an entry without bringing in some seemingly unrelated discipline. More to the point of "Biscuits" itself, the playing up of British stereotypes adds to the laughter. I can imagine that exact scene unfolding on that exact train. As someone who enjoys riding the train, but who also loves crunchy snacks, I think I would have spoken up.

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