Most science-fiction and fantasy stories are long. Even my beloved YA fantasies run twenty or thirty thousand words longer than their contemporary counterparts, and we’ve all seen some of the brick-like books that take up the adult speculative fiction shelves. (How fat do your books need to be, Patrick Rothfuss? Come on!)
Part of this is because science-fiction and fantasy require the sort of intense worldbuilding that contemporary books simply don’t need; all those extra words are required to make us understand what the hell is going on. Even slim novellas of speculative fiction require that worldbuilding, whether it be a perfect airplane read like Binti or Every Heart A Doorway, the portal fantasy story that made me cry tears of joy.
And if you’re like me, you don’t always have the time of day to devote to sinking into those worlds. Jumping from work to a brand new world and back on a lunch break can be disorienting, but what else are you going to use your break for? Eating? Psh, you could be reading.
Luckily, short stories take less than ten minutes to read and, even better, many are online for free. Of course, if you’re anything like me, you then end up binge-reading everything on the entire website these stories were posted on, and then supporting them on Patreon so that you can have all their new stories immediately and checking into all of the other published work of the authors… so, in the long run, it’s way more than ten minutes of reading. Whoops.
Here are ten amazing speculative fiction short stories to read when you’ve only got ten minutes to cram in some fic:
“Will you love me,” I asked, “for as long as you live?”
He looked at me, with his sad and tender eyes, and said nothing.
He was not created with the ability to lie.
“Blu3rd” tells the story of a women ordered to marry a machine, who is being studied by the College, and what happens when she falls in love with him – and he loves her back, as much as a machine can.
I hadn’t realized their saliva contained anesthetic, and shit, it’s fast-acting. I’m startled enough to open my eyes. She’s staring back at me with those ancient iridescent bug-eyes of hers. They’re starting to frost over — her eyelashes are limned with white and it’s spreading. She’s grinning at me.
In “Homesick,” a woman who has left Earth behind to live with aliens seeks to know what is happening on her own planet from an alien soothsayer.
Miracle had no marvels. It was named after a thing that’d happened back in 1913. People got lost—a whole troupe of the religiously devout on a pilgrimage—and then they got found. They came up out of a lake bottom and walked on the water, briefly, before they disappeared again. A cult got started around that notion, and a hundred years later, on the anniversary of the water walk, my cult killed itself.
When a cult commits suicide and leaves the Little Widows behind, the town avoids them at all costs, and they avoid the town – at least, until they visit a carnival and learn that the cult may have been right all along.
Those three pages in a history text would never mention Neal. History texts never wrote about boys with brown skin and ordinary blood. They wrote of boys with porcelain skin and blue blood.
They would also never write about Killian, even though, in Neal’s low-status opinion, they should. Killian with his lips on Neal’s as thousands of dragons clawed their way to the surface of the world, as if the core was never molten rock but a ball of dragons warming the planet from within. The dragons roared, and Killian smiled against Neal’s mouth.
Mermaids are at war with humans. Dragons are at war with the earth. Sometime between the start of the war and peace, Neal kissed a boy and changed the fate of the universe.
We sing no song to draw them near.
They find us anyway.
In the ocean depths, where the water is blacker than squid ink, we’ve never seen nets, so we don’t know how to hide from them. We don’t know how to hide from men either.
Shocker: “All The Mermaid Wives” is about mermaid wives. But plucking a woman from the sea does not wipe the ocean away from her, no matter how hard you try to make her the perfect wife.
They’d met this way each day for months, their walks growing more languid, more intimate. He was different, kind, always offering her food before he took any, murmuring to her of his wishes and dreams. The rakshasi allowed her heart to swell just a bit.
Perhaps she would even keep this one.
In “Hungry,” a rakashashi hunts for a meal, believing herself to be the last of her kind.
As the tourists wend their way toward the exit, the parents will confess to one another that the dinosaurs were not what they expected. Not the green-scaled dragons of their youth, which they shaded in coloring books and treasured on T-shirts and on lunch boxes. Not the wise-faced apatosaurus with artful vegetation clenched in its jaws. The beasts were extraordinary, they will add, but they were not otherworldly. It is as if they have revisited a childhood home and found the rooms shrunken, the lawn fenced, the woods dispossessed of sprites.
In the resurrection of the dinosaurs, something else has gone extinct.
A dinosaur keeper, tired of her job, begins to look for a way out by learning a language in two days.
You can’t be dead. I can’t be alive. A single kim doesn’t make sense—the humans separated us somehow, but why did I survive? Did I not love you enough?
I inch myself over to the door. I struggle to stand, gather my energy, then throw all my weight into my inevitable fall, hoping that somehow, somehow, I can break past this lock.
I crash into the cage until my entire being bleeds.
(Except, without you, I am not entire at all.)
Scientists pull apart a pair of kimkim birds, using the excess energy to bring humans back to life – but what happens when you remember your bird life?
“A First of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers” by Alyssa Wong
Melanie was better at everything than I was, the stormy bit and the talking bit both. She could split the horizon in two if she wanted, opening it at the seams as deftly as a tailor, and make the lightning curl catlike at her wrist and purr for her. She could do that with people too; Mel glowed, soft, luminescent. It was hard to look away from her, and so easy to disappear into her shadow.
Most speculative fiction fans should know Nebula Award-winning Alyssa Wong already; “A First of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers,” about a girl who can tear apart the world at her will, is my personal favorite of hers.
“I will give anything to join the wedding party,” she says, holding out the blade. “My blood, I will part with. My heart, you may have. My name. My skin. My hair—”
“Little girl, do you think that is what they want?”
A girl runs into the forest to escape her fate and meets a beast.