Stories  by Al Sarrantonio and Neil GaimanThe recent release of Stories, edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio has upset my balance – again.

Look, don’t get me wrong, I like short stories. I read Stephen King’s short story collection Night Shift a long time ago (probably the eighties) and there are stories in there that still give me the willies. You’ll probably recognize some of them, as several movies came out of them. What makes me smile a little is the fact that most of them were published first in ‘mens magazines’ which, as we’re talking about the ‘70s doesn’t mean Men’s Health but Cavalier and Penthouse.

But I digress. My ambivalence is about short stories themselves. I have tried my hand at short stories but I don’t think I’ve got enough for an ultra-slim paperback collection at this point — and I wouldn’t say they’re the best things I’ve ever written.

Night Shift by Stephen KingAnd it seems every year or so we hear about the “death of the short story”. I quite like Jim Murdoch’s take on the situation from a few years ago particularly:

“…the short story is something an author moves through – a step up from the angst-ridden poems of their plooky youth – on their way to churning out the next great British/American/(enter your own country here) novel.”

He also makes the point that it may be viewed by publishers today as a not-for-profit activity – or at best a sop to keep the fans happy/interested/on the hook between novels – but that doesn’t stop people writing them.

Some very famous people not already mentioned have made their careers out of short stories and it was grist for the mill in the day of the pulp magazine. People like Hemingway, HP Lovecraft, Isaac Asimov, O Henry, Arthur C Clarke, Voltaire, Poe, F Scott Fitzgerald, Ray Bradbury and many more too numerous to mention.

But does the short story still have a place in this 21st century world? My own efforts aside, I’d say that yes, it probably does. Particularly in our short-attention span world (being the length of time between commercials) it makes sense to create stories that can be consumed easily via whatever media one chooses.

I was looking at the recipients of this year’s Locus awards and was startled to see magazines that have been going since long before I was born are still going strong. I used to read Isaac Asimov’s magazine religiously and have great memories of reading my favourite authors in its pages.

While not directly related, the resurgence of serialisations via the blogsphere suggests (to me at least) an appetite for shorter formats is out there. Our hectic lives supported by little gadgety things which go everywhere with us, mobile phones, ipods or even laptops mean it’s easier and easier to read wherever you are. (And as a complete aside, I was very heartened by an interview on the BBC in the last few days – that Neil Gaiman again [ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment_and_arts/10413159.stm] – that children are actually reading more than they used to, rather than less as we so pessimistically assume as they stare into their DSs or Xboxes).

Maybe I should put ‘write new short story’ on my list of things to do – so long as it doesn’t delay my next book deadline, of course.