Short stories are my preferred medium.
Something about their brevity and clarity of message draws me to them. They are challenging to write and (often) to read. Short stories tend to allow authors to experiment far more than full length novels. An excellent short story can deliver the kind of gut-punch you just don’t get from a book, because of their focus and economy.
Every word matters.
That said, I wanted to post about my favorite short story; “Eight O’clock in The Morning” by Ray Faraday Nelson. Ray published this story in 1963. It was later re-published as a comic called “Nada” in 1986, and then provided inspiration for the 1988 John Carpenter masterpiece They Live.
I first read “Eight O’clock in The Morning” when I was in the 5th grade. It was the 1980’s, so public school libraries had “dark” sections with stuff that probably would fly by today’s standards (I’m looking at you, Scary Stories To Tell in The Dark). I stumbled across a science fiction/horror anthology whose title I cannot remember, but I vividly recall “Eight O’clock” and the illustration of a creature that looked like Morbo from Futurama.
The story changed my life.
I know that sounds hyperbolic, but it really did. As a kid, I had never read anything quite like it.
The plot surrounds George Nada, a seemingly ordinary guy who “wakes up” to discover society is being manipulated by aliens who can distort reality and use the media to pacify and control the human population.
At the time, I didn’t grasp the larger social themes of the story. I’d grow to understand them, especially after falling in love with They Live some years later. I’d also come to realize this story showed me that science fiction and horror could express complex messages and themes about society. I was completely taken with the idea that reality wasn’t what it seemed to be. I remember writing lots of (terrible) stories as a kid, trying to emulate it. I’m sure my teachers thought there was something wrong with me…
That style of satirical SciFi and horror would become a staple of my reading and movie watching. Books like Tales From The Crypt and movies like Robocop, Maximum Overdrive, and Starship Troopers. A love of the style grew from the seed of that story.
Long before I’d read Farenheit 451 or 1984, Mr. Nelson’s story had a profound effect on my writing and tastes for literature. I also credit it with my firm belief that genre fiction can be as powerful as “traditional literature” in conveying important themes. His story is just as relevant today–maybe even more so–than when he originally wrote it in the 1960’s.
I recently had my short story “Produce” picked up by a literary magazine, and it’s an homage to “Eight O’clock in The Morning”. I feel it’s a testament to the impact Ray’s story had on me that I’m still in love with it over three decades later.
Do you love short stories? If so, is there one in particular that is your favorite or had a huge effect on you?
Share it in the comments!