I’m starting to love short stories, in large part due to the website of one of the premier sci-fi/fantasy book publishers, Tor. Tor.com has a wonderful library of sci-fi/fantasy stories written by top-notch authors. These stories are offered for free on the Interwebs, and they are a great way to to get introduced to the work of an author without getting involved in the kind of time commitment a novel requires.
A number of big-name authors can be found on Tor’s site. John Scalzi has a wonderful short story called After the Coup which takes place in the same universe as his massively popular Old Man’s War series. One of my favorite Charles Stross pieces is Down on the Farm, an interesting urban fantasy tale that blends magic with mathematics. Master writer Neil Gaiman has a couple of stories on Tor, with Bitter Grounds being the most notable. Steven Gould has a story called Shade, which builds on the mythology of his famed Jumper series (you may recall the movie starring Hayden Christensen and Samuel L. Jackson).
I love all these stories, but Gould’s Shade was particularly remarkable. He wrote it back in 2008, so it’s far from new, but one of the great things about great stories is that they are timeless. Shade tells the story of young Xareed, an African boy in a refugee camp. The local government is in tatters, and rebel attacks are tearing the land and its people apart. Water is a scarce, valuable resource in the oppressive heat Xareed and his family live in. Xareed is brave, kind, and smart, but his situation is dire. His life takes an incredible turn when some extraordinary people appear offering help through equally extraordinary means.
Shade is a tale that blends current events and fiction in a way that makes you wish this kind of fantasy was actually reality. It’s just one sample of the kind of thought-provoking stories you’ll find on Tor’s website, and you won’t have to pay a dime to enjoy them.