In the last few years the internet has seen an explosion in the popularity of short form works: fiction, poetry, short films, podcasts and comics are all on the rise. No longer are creators limited by the need to physically package their work. To someone reading on a mobile phone or eReader, a story of just a few pages in length is as easy to handle as a regular-sized novel, and can even be priced appropriately. There are plenty of literary and art magazines out there publishing some of this good stuff – and Neon is one of the growing number doing so on a pay-what-you-like basis. Short works are more accessible and digestible than ever before, and they’re growing in abundance too.
Sometimes, however, the sheer amount of stuff that’s out there can be overwhelming, and brilliant gems can slip by under the radar. This is especially true when it comes to the work published in literary magazines. All too often when it comes to literary works, a piece only gets one shot. Many periodicals make the baffling decision to only feature material that has never been published before, meaning that stories and poems often get only a single, brief chance to be seen and read before they’re condemned to the archives for the rest of their lives.
With that in mind, I’ll be posting a series of Literary Lists over the next few months, highlighting brilliant contemporary short-form works – hopefully at least a few of which will be by creators you’ve never previously heard of. This first List is curated by me, but further installments will have different editors. If you have an idea for a great list – or just want to talk about some art that really stuck with you and that you think deserves more attention, please get in touch.
This month the focus is short stories – brief but finely-wrought works of prose. The internet has made short fiction more accessible than ever before, and there’s been a steady rise in interest in the form. The works below can all be read or listened to online for free – an insanely-good bargain considering how much work must have gone into their creation. None of the below should take longer than half an hour of your life to get through, so there’s no reason not to take a look.
Flawlessly-crafted, and filled with haunting detail, “Noli Mi Tangere” is a story which opens with an accident. Alicia, on holiday with her parents, is dragged off in search of excitement by a local boy who works at her hotel. The beautiful descriptions alone are enough to make this one worth a read, but if that’s not enough to convince you then there’s also the fact that it was shortlisted in Storgy‘s 2014 short story competition. You can read it and the other shortlisted stories online, or purchase the whole anthology for just £1.99
An interesting post-apocalyptic story that looks at what happens when the end of the world isn’t actually the end of the world. After months (perhaps years) of isolation and chaos, civilization returns to claim a small American township. While shops reopen and a new currency is established, the narrator is left wondering when anyone will ask the crucial question: how far did it go? This is a story carried by a truly original idea, as well as a smooth execution (no pun intended). Read it online in the archive of popular sci-fi magazine Strange Horizons.
Wells Tower is probably the most well-known writer on this list – evident, perhaps, from the fact that this podcast of the titular short story from his collection Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned is available via The Guardian. He is, however, too good not to mention. In this tale we follow the fates of an aging band of viking warriors as they go pillaging and plundering one last time before retirement. For a piece that reaches such heights of blood and gore it is oddly subtle and moving.
This story begins with the narrator and her friends discovering a pristine pizza lying in the middle of the road. Despite the narrator’s misgivings, her friends take it home and eat it. A quirky incident, but one that author Melissa Kuipers manages to instill with a real sense of dread and nostalgia. The rest of the story is similarly packed with odd but memorable detail, and it’s paced beautifully. Read it online in the “Toronto” regional section of Joyland Magazine, along with a bunch of other excellent stories.
An old story, but a good one. This piece was a Notable Story in the 2005 StorySouth Million Writers Award. It’s a piece of fiction that reads like nonfiction: authentic and specific. It follows a group of scouts into the four-and-a-half-mile-long Hoosac Tunnel. Once you’ve been drawn into the dripping wet dark, author John J Clayton skilfully plays with your expectations and your sense of reality, advancing possible narratives and then whisking them away again. It’s a masterful effect, and the story is worth reading for the ending alone.
Of course, there are also many wonderful works published in Neon – take a look through the archives if you’re still in need of a short fiction fix. Our next literary list will follow in about a month, but I hope that you’ve discovered some brand new writers to read until then.