mastering the short form

January 11, 2004 — Leave a comment

i`m an avid reader. the power of words on the page fascinates me. actually the power of the word in any form. i`m a great fan of the oral traditional as well, although that`s an art form that`s slowly dying. i guess this could be the next form of story telling but that might just be really ambitious.

i have to say my favourite form of writing is the short story. it`s writing in it`s purest form, well in my humble opinion. some of the true masters include stephen king, philip k. dick, roald dahl, jeffery archer and isaac asmiov.

all of this preamble is to share some isaac asimov`s short fiction. i found them via metafilter. asimov enjoyed word play in his short fiction and all of these are puns.

As is well known, in this thirtieth century of ours, space travel is fearfully dull and time-consuming. In search of diversion, many crew members defy the quarantine restrictions and pick up pets from the various habitable worlds they explore.

Jim Sloane had a rockette, which he called Teddy. It just sat there, looking like a rock, but sometimes It lifted a lower edge and sucked in powdered sugar. That was all it ate. No one ever saw it move, but every once in a while, it wasn`t quite where people thought it was. There was a theory that it moved when no one was looking.

Bob Laverty had a heli-worm he called Dolly. It was green and carried on photosynthesis. Sometimes it moved to get into better light and when it did so it coiled its wormlike body and inched along very slowly like a turning helix.

One day, Jim Sloane challenged Bob Laverty to a race. ” My Teddy,” he said, “can beat your Dolly.”

“Your Teddy,” scoffed Laverty, “doesn`t move.” “Bet!” said Sloane.

The whole crew got into the act. Even the captain risked half a credit. Everyone bet on Dolly. At least she moved.

Jim Sloane covered it all. He had been saving his salary through three trips and he put every millicredit of it on Teddy.

The race started at one end of the grand salon. At the other end, a heap of sugar had been placed for Teddy and a spotlight for Dolly. Dolly formed a coil at once and began to spiral its way very slowly toward the light. The watching crew cheered it on.

Teddy just sat there without budging.

“Sugar, Teddy, Sugar,”  said Sloane, pointing. Teddy did not move. It looked more like a rock than ever, but Sloane did not seem concerned.

Finally, when Dolly had spiraled halfway across the salon, Jim Sloane said casually to his rockette, “if you don`t get out there, Teddy, I`m going to get a hammer and chip you into pebbles.”

That was when people first discovered that rockettes could read minds. That was also when people first discovered that rockettes could teleport.

Sloane had no sooner made his threat when Teddy simply disappeared from his place and reappeared on top of the sugar.

Sloane won, of course, and he counted his winnings slowly and luxuriously.

Laverty said bitterly, “You knew  the damn thing could teleport.”

“No, I didn`t,” said Sloane, “but I knew he would win. it was a sure thing.”

“How come?”

“It`s an old saying everyone knows, `Sloane`s Teddy wins the race.` ”


It was extremely unusual for a Foy to be dying on earth. They were the highest social class on their planet (which had a name that was pronounced-as nearly as earthly throats could make the sounds_Sortibackenstrete) and were virtually immortal.

Every Foy, of course, came to a voluntary death eventually, and this one had given up because of an ill-starred love affair, if you can call it a love affair where five individuals, in order to reproduce, must indulge in a yearlong mental contact. Apparently, the Foy had not fit into the contact after several months of trying, and it had broken his heart-or hearts, for he had five.

All Foys had five large hearts and there was speculation that it was this that made them virtually immortal. Maude Briscoe, earth`s most renowned surgeon, wanted those hearts. “It can`t be just their number and size, Ray,” she said to her chief assistant. “It has to be something physiological or biochemical. I must have them.”

“I don`t know if we can manage that,” said Ray Johnson. “I`ve been speaking to him earnestly, trying to overcome the Foy taboo against

dismemberment after death. I`ve had to lie to him, Maude.” “Lie?” “I told him that after death, there would be a dirge sung for him by

the world-famous choir led by Harold J. Gassenbaum. I told him that, by earthly belief, this would mean that his astral essence would be instantaneously wafted back, through hyperspace, to his home planet of Sortib-what`s-it`s-name–provided he would sign a release allowing you, Maude, to have his hearts for scientific investigation.”

“Don`t tell me he believed that.”

“Well, you know this modern attitude about accepting the myths and beliefs of intelligent aliens. It wouldn`t have been polite for him not to believe me. Besides, the Foys have a profound admiration for earthly science and I think this one is a little flattered that we should want his hearts. He promised to consider the suggestion and I hope he decides soon because he can`t live more than another, day or so, and we must have his permission by interstellar law, and the hearts must be fresh-Ah, his signal.”

Ray Johnson moved in with smooth and noiseless speed. “Yes?” he whispered, unobtrusively turning on the holographic recording device in case the Foy wished to grant permission.

The Foy`s large, gnarled, rather tree like body lay motionless on the bed. His bulging eyes palpitated-all five of them-as they rose, each on its stalk, and turned toward Ray. The Foy`s voice had a strange tone and the lipless edges of his open round mouth did not move, but the words formed perfectly. His eyes were making the Foyan gestures of assent as he said, “Give my big hearts to Maude, Ray. Dismember me for Harold`s choir. Tell all the Foys on Sortibackenstretethat I will soon be there.”



Monty Stein, in the year 3047, committed quite a heist and made off with quite a tidy sum. He was eventually caught, and the judge sentenced him to seven years imprisonment. However, the night before his impending incarceration, he calmly set his time machine for seven years and one day, and stepped through.

When he emerged in 3054, there was quite an uproar. Prosecution maintained that Monty Stein never actually served the sentence, since effectively no time passed for him. Defense stated that the effect was basically the same, since he lost seven years of living in society, or something to that effect. Both sides called each other names (as lawyers are wont to do).

Eventually, Stein was set free. Some say that the judge succumbed to peer pressure; others said that he simply couldn`t resist the temptation. For his decision, in full, was: … “A niche in time saves Stein.”



i`m also going to take this opportunity to repost what i believe to be the greatest short story ever written, the author is unknown, but has been attributed to the likes of somerset maugham and reproduced as a preface to a couple of short story collections :

death speaks

There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the market-place I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture; now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate.

I will go to Samarra and there death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse and the servant mounted it and dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the market-place and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.

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