Cover of Rollerball
Short stories are notoriously difficult to write; which may well be why I have never attempted to write them. They need to grab you, suck you in, close with a twist – and be memorable; and that is no easy task to accomplish in a few pages.
How few? There are no precise rules except those laid down by the relevant publication. Keep going and you’ll end up with a novella.
I grew up with short stories. My grandmother liked to read to me before I could read, and for a little time afterwards; and then I discovered Saki (H.R. Monroe), G.K. Chesterton, Somerset Maughn, and other practitioners of the art such as Arthur Conan Doyle. Then in my teens I gravitated to magazines like Argosy which published some excellent works in their day. And I read endless Science Fiction short stories – a marvelous vein of provocative literature.
The two stories that have stayed with me through the decades are: Leiningen Versus The Ants by Carl Stephenson, and Rollerball by William Harrison. Both were made into movies.
I’m prompted to muse about this particular genre because I have just read a stunningly good prize-winning short story by Audrey Carlsen entitled Falling. It presses all the right buttons and ends with a twist – and I doubt I’ll ever be able to cross a bridge in Seattle again without thinking of it. You can Google it, but to save you the trouble, here is the link I gather Audrey plans a medical future. I wish her well in that, but the world of literature will be the poorer if she doesn’t keep writing. This is one exceptionally talented young woman.
Speaking of falling, reminds me of a rather bizarre incident which happened just outside my office window while I was out to lunch. My first floor office overlooked the stunning vista of the ramp that led to the underground garage. I was very junior management in those days. When I returned, I found a man hosing down the ramp and noticed that the edges of the wet patch were a reddish pink (a sight I was to become familiar with over the years).
Someone higher up in the building – both in rank and geography – had evidently decided corporate life was not for him. I was quite intrigued by this and went to try and find out the circumstances. In Ireland, such an incident would have proved to be a serious topic of conversation, probably good for days. But this was England, and London at that – and a very stiff upper lip environment.
No one would talk! No one would say a word. I was flabbergasted. It was then I knew that despite the peculiarities of my background, I was indeed an Irishman; and, as such, a stranger in that strange land called England.
I did eventually find out one interesting detail. When Mr. Mills, our buyer, had seen the victim in question plummet past his office window, he had immediately dialed 999, and only afterwards had opened his window and leant out to gaze upon the inevitable result.
British sang froid at its finest.