The rich world of literary SciFi short stories
John Wyndham’s short story collection The Seeds of Time is a masterclass in how unformulaic any genre might be in the hands of someone who is a crafted, imaginative literary writer who happens to write in the Sci-Fi genre, as opposed to someone who is a Sci-Fi writer. Yes, I know my prejudices are showing, but I do believe it must be the writing, the craft itself which comes first, and the mastery (or not) of that, rather than the field in which someone chooses to write.
Here, Wyndham has laid out something of a smorgasbord of different genres of writing, with a theme which might loosely be described as SF – so, if you like, he is sewing together genres, so that we get SF Romance, SF Humour, SF philiosophy, an examination of racism through the lens or disguise of SF, etc.
The short story structure itself is something which demands precision and craft to be successful. Often, short story collections rather disappoint, because the reader may very quickly realise the writer’s particular tricks and tics, especially if the short story writer is basically writing in a very fixed groove – fairly recently I read an example of this, where had I just read one such story, perhaps, published as it was in a magazine, it would have been a superb example of the craft. Unfortunately gathering dozens and dozens of such stories, published over many years, individually, together, was just too much same old.
But that is definitely not the case here, because of Wyndham’s splendid variety.
Inevitably, there cannot but be variations in excellence, and I can only concur with a fellow reviewer, – Fiction Fan – see her review, with added jolly media enjoyment, in picking out the particularly stellar 3. It is not that the others are poor, only that these are superb
Meteor is a short and telling story which shows what might happen when the inevitable supposition of what intelligent life from another planetary system might look like, remains viewed through the lens of human size as well as shape. This was horrid, poignant and funny, all at once
Survival is a shocking and absolutely plausible story which, written in the 50s, shows the danger of underestimating women. A proto-feminist SciFi fable
Pillar To Post is an extremely clever story involving a couple of protagonists fighting through time and space for possession of the same body.
I also thought Dumb Martian, which examines racist and sexist attitudes under the guise of Sci Fi, was particularly fine, and Opposite Number, which looks at ‘alternate realities’ the intriguing idea of a kind of bifurcating universe where the choices an individual didn’t make, are playing out – and then what happens if a couple of these bifurcations collide. It’s the story of ‘What If………I had done this rather than that’
10 short stories – not one is poor