The other day on my blog (onelazyrobotblog.com) I did a round-up of my top 5 favorite books of 2015. Of those listed, only one (The Red by Linda Nagata) got its birth as an independently published work, which isn’t necessarily a good representation of all the great indie stories I read in the past year simply because I spent more of my time delving into the short stories/novellas of the indie community rather than their full-length novelized efforts.
So, when I put together my top 5 books of 2015, I intentionally left short stories/novellas off the list with the idea that I’d go ahead and lay that out for ya’ll here at The Leighgendarium. So, without further adieu, here are my Top-7 short stories of 2015 listed in no particular order.
Well, we might as well kick it off with a bang, yeah? Michael Patrick Hicks stormed onto the scene in 2015 with a number of stories each in its own way worthy of making a top-whatever list. For me, however, Revolver (originally published in Lucas Bale’s anthology No Way Home) really stands above. Not because the prose is visceral like a knife in the gut, or because the main character is a poor, painfully relatable soul at the end of her rope (or barrel, if you please), and it’s not because the world building is a vision of a dystopian future so terrifying in its potential reality that it makes me want to move to the moon.
No, these are all fine reasons to love Revolver, but for me, this story makes the list because it is a lesson in authorial bravery like nothing else I read this year. Hicks went out on a limb with this story and–despite how easy it would’ve been to slip up at any moment and devolve into spiraling mania of pedantic proselytizing—told a truly gut twisting, heart wrenching, sphincter squeezing tale of loss and abandonment that stuck with me long after the last page.
Ernie came on my radar after an interview he did with none other than Preston Leigh for The Leighgendarium. In there, Ernie was asked to share an excerpt from his current work in progress. What followed was a paragraph from The Killswitch that so utterly blew my mind that I immediately went out and grabbed a copy of the story. (Just a little lesson to you authors out there who think interviews are a waste of time, by the way).
The Killswitch features some fantastic world-building, with an engaging plot that rips you through the story, eager to get to the end just so you can know how it all turns out. I won’t ruin the story, but I will say this: One of the things I like to see in a short story is that by the end it subverts my expectations in some profound or surprising way. We can call this the twist if you’d like. Now, that’s not to say every short story needs to have a twist, Revolver is a fine example of a story that doesn’t have an M. Night Shyamalamadingdong’esque twist. But you know what? The Killswitch does. It sideswipes you out of nowhere and leaves you muttering to the lamp in the corner, “How didn’t I see that coming?”
I’m a firm believer that you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you come from. So, in that vein, I try and read as many of the grandmasters of old as I possibly can. From that list I draw heavily on the hard boiled detective noirs that paved the way for what we consider the modern thriller. From that list we get guys like Dashiel Hammett or Raymond Chandler. Guys who could write their way out of a dry paper bag locked inside a bank vault.
Lee Marvin and the Long Night is a homage to those masters, and Nick Cole’s ability to slide seamlessly into the parlance and cadence of those wordsmiths is nothing short of astonishing. But Cole isn’t just riffing for the sake of riffing. He’s taking the old and making it new by playing in a sandbox heavily influenced by technology ala Asimov. What follows is a story both nostalgic and fresh, classic and yet innovative.
Samuel Peralta is first and foremost a poet. But that guy can spin a yarn as well as anybody in the game today, no doubt. I’m not even sure how to classify Karma. It came into the world as the forward to Lucas Bale’s newest anthology Crime and Punishment, and doesn’t really fit the mold as a story per se. But you know what? Forget the mold. Peralta doesn’t need it.
In only a few pages he gushes his talent for the whole world to see. Slinging the type of jagged prose and cutting characterizations that transport you across space and time to a place of his creation so fully realized and oozing with possibility that you reach the last page gasping for air, mourning the end, and pitying the poor sap who has to follow that act.
Forwards shouldn’t be so good; it’s unfair to those who have to come after.
We’re back with Ernie Luis ’cause I just can’t get enough. Meddler was featured in Samuel Peralta’s The Time Travel Chronicles and for me, it was the distinguishing piece of the entire anthology. It had a twist (perhaps not equal to the one in The Killswitch), marvelous world-building, and the type of characterization that makes me want to punch a clown it’s so good.
But forget all that. That’s not the reason Ernie Luis managed to get two stories onto this list. It’s because his prose is just so friggin good! It’s poetic and deep without even trying. Pulling turns of phrases out of the ether that make you wonder how nobody in the known history of the universe ever thought to put those words together in that order before.
Originally published in the anthology Carbide Tipped Pens, this story about how a genius physicist (short on the interpersonal skills) learns to create a meaningful relationship with his daughter is a sucker punch to the heart strings. What follows is simultaneously one of the most terrifying concepts I read about last year mixed with a heart wrenching story of love. This story is so good that I spent a good five minutes just staring at the last page long after the story was over, thinking and feeling things that a story so short shouldn’t be able to induce. I believe witchcraft is the likely culprit.
Eamon Ambrose is the hot newcomer on the scene that didn’t just sneak into the party when nobody was looking. But rather, he kicked down the front door (causing the record currently playing Ice, Ice Baby to screech to a halt, and all the dancers getting down with their bad-selves to stop, collaborate, and listen), threw down whatever the equivalent of a reverse-smoke bomb is (something with sparkle magic, no doubt), and said, “Listen up, I got something here you’re gonna want to read.”
And guess what… he was right. I did want to read.
Why? Well, besides the world building (which was compelling), or the plot (which was intriguing), the thing that really impresses about this story is that it’s written entirely in Second Person. I can’t even tell you the last time I read a story in second person. Wait, well, yeah…actually I can. It was Zero Hour. But before that? No, not a clue.
It’s done so rarely for a reason. Namely, it’s incredibly difficult to pull off. Not to be deterred, Eamon dove right in, swam to the bottom of the storytelling pool, and came back up with a short story pearl.
Zero Hour lands on this list because Eamon has authorial bravery, or chutzpah. Whatever you want to call it, he has it.
So I think we’ll end there, wrapping up this Top-7 list with a bit of symmetry to how it began.
What were some of your favorite short stories you read in 2015?