Short-short science fiction tales – a couple of mine… and one that’s better

I just found out something that gave me a moment of envious joy, with a colleague and friend.  While we were both in Fort Worth for a speaking event, Rob Sawyer and I were relaxing over beverages, discussing unusual forms of literature… when I raised the issue of “drabbles” or short-short stories that are constrained to specific lengths.

SixWordStoryFor example, some years ago, Wired Magazine ran a contest for six word tales…. a rather impossible length, though I sent them a dozen entries and the one they chose (Vacuum collision.  Orbits diverge. Farewell, love.)  did have everything you need in a story… pathos, drama, events, emotion and three separate, sequential scenes!  (None of the other contentants did that, so there.)

BangPostponedSeveral of mine can be found on my website, including: “Dinosaurs return. Want their oil back.”

But I especially like the 250 word story. To meet that precise allotment – no more and no less – is excruciatingly difficult, but it can be done with a full dramatic arc. And so I told Rob about a contest I once entered, “Sci-Fi Scenes” that was run by the Village Voice back in 1981, just a year after my first fiction sale (Sundiver).  I entered the 250 word challenge and my tale is pretty darned good!  (See below.)  But I then told Rob about the brief-epic that won the contest, this cool story about a guy with a malfunctioning teleportation belt who is running desperately from a Tyranosaur….

“Oh, that was mine,” Rob announced, “My first fiction sale, in fact. And it was an Allosaur, not a Tyrannosaur.”

Argh!  After much yelping and internal turmoil, I expressed my joy over a serendipity of time.  And now you can read Rob Sawyer’s 250 word first publication: If I’m Here, Imagine Where They Sent My Luggage (plus sample his new, near-future book, Triggers.)

And then go on to read (below) two of my own  250 word drabbles (which are also gathered in my short story collections: Otherness and The River of Time.

Toujours Voir, from The River of Time
by David Brin

RiverofTimePurple“Folks!” the bodyguard announced. “In moments Lasselovsky will be here. You all know what that means.”

From my regular booth by the window, I saw several customers abruptly leave. The brave, or curious, remained.
“He’s the Oldtime spacer who returned, but didn’t hide, right?” Sam, our bartender, asked.
“Yeah, so don’t bother him! If anyone here strongly resembles someone from his past, and triggers a deja-vu attack, we could find this building on another planet…”

Deja vu. I suppose everyone’s felt this clue to Time’s true nature.
Epileptics once dreaded it as an “aura,” foretelling seizures. And historically, people feared epilepsy, never suspecting grand mal hinted a door to the universe.
Today only Oldspacers suffer lingering aura shock. I hear neuroconvulsive hyperdrive is perfected nowadays. Modern pilots needn’t endure terrifying seizures to attain that special mental state which propels a spaceship starward.
To modern spacers, induced deja vu is a key.
To Oldtimers, though, it’s pure terror.

“…sudden recognition could trigger a jump seizure. So don’t approach him. If he feels safe, maybe he’ll mingle…”
Talky bodyguard.

Most Oldtimers retreated to cozy surroundiings and stayed put. Ex-crewmates avoid reunions.
Stubborn Lasselovsky, though, keeps moving. He’s a free man, so the authorities send bodyguards ahead to warn people.

Time’s funny. It flows, then surges like a convulsion.
I sit and wait, feeling the years.
Through the window, I see a familiar face…
I should have left before this. Already my hands are shaking.
Still, it is nice to see, again, the stars.

Myth Number Twenty-One, from Otherness
by David Brin

NewOthernesscoverElvis roams the interstates in a big white cadillac.
It has to be him. Flywheel-bus and commuter-zep riders see plumes of dust trailing like rocket exhaust behind something too fast and glittery for the naked eye.
Squint though, and you might glimpse him behind the wheel, steering with one wrist, fiddling the radio dial, then reaching for that always frosty can of beer.  “Thank you, honey,” he tells the blonde next to him as he steps on the accelerator.

Roar of V-8 power. Freedom-smell of gasoline. Clean wind blowing back his hair… Elvis hoots and lifts one arm to wave at all true Americans who still believe in him.
Chatty bit-zines run blurry pictures of him.  “Fakes!” claim those snooty tech types, ignored by the faithful who collect grand old TwenCen automobiles and polish them, saving ration coupons for that once-a-year spin, meeting at the nearest Graceland Shrine for a day of chrome and music and speed and glory.
They stop at ghostly, abandoned filling stations, checking for signs that he’s been by. Some claim to find pumps freshly used, reading empty yet somehow reeking of high octane. Others point to black, bold tire tracks, or claim his music can be heard in the coyotes’ midnight serenade.

Elvis roams the open interstates in a big white cadillac.  How else to explain the traces some have found, sparkling like faery dust across the fading yellow lines?
A pollen of happier days… the glitter of rhinestones.


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