Stories of the week, hodgepodge edition

I'm trying to get back into the swing of selecting regular "stories of the week" (although I make no promise about always doing this on a weekly basis). Because it's been a while since I've picked a great story to share with readers, I'm making up for lost time by selecting a hodgepodge of recent—but great—stories.

My first selection is "Tabloid Reporter To The Stars" by Eric James Stone. This wonderfully written science fiction story deftly pulls off laugh after laugh while also illuminating critical issues surrounding science, religion, culture, and, most importantly, what exactly is that thing we call truth. The ending alone is worth the price of admission. My favorite line: "'Yes, I am a Seeker of Truth.' And I'm willing to lie in order to get it."

And about that price. The story is published in the new issue of Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. IGMS is rapidly becoming one of the top speculative fiction publications, a fact that is all the more amazing because IGMS is totally online. Readers purchase each issue for the extremely reasonable price of $2.50. In addition to top-notch fiction, IGMS features excellent columns and reviews (which can be accessed for free) and a new story in each issue by publisher Orson Scott Card (set in his award-winning Ender Saga universe).

My next two selections are from the April 2007 issue of Realms of Fantasy, which focuses this month on fantasy stories "from exotic lands." The first story is "The Rope: A New Tale of the Antique Lands" by Noreen Doyle. Set in a middle-eastern land in the 19th century, this inward-revolving tale focuses on a young girl and the rope charmer she travels with. The story shows the beauty, hope, and terror of reaching for one's dreams—and in letting one's audience influence what your dreams should be.

The other story to check out in the issue is "The Tao of Crocodiles" by Euan Harvey. Set in Thailand, this story of ghosts and violence is a creepy example of how each of us is embedded within our culture—even if we think we aren't. Not only is this a great ghost story, its also a wonderful slice of Thai life and culture. I spent two years in Thailand as a Peace Corps Volunteer and even though it's been ten years since I left the kingdom, the story washed over me as if I'd never left the country.

I should note that Realms of Fantasy is a purely print magazine. But with all the great fiction in this issue, it’s worth tracking down your own copy.

Of course, speculative fiction isn't the only game in town. The current edition of the Mississippi Review online focuses on "prose poems." Now, as storySouth readers may remember, I have said some harsh words in the past about short short or flash fiction. That said, a number of the prose poems (short shorts, flash fiction, whatever you call them) in the current Mississippi Review are top notch. My favorites are "Thinking of Hansel and Gretel" by Robert Bly and "To My Love" by Mark Budman. While I still believe that too many writers forsake plot, character development, and the other elements of traditional short stories for the easy writing thrill of short shorts, the prose poems by Bly and Budman show that in the hands of a skilled writer, the genre can reach the top levels of literature.

Finally, Blackbird: An Online Journal of Literature and the Arts has a new story by Liliana V. Blum (translated by Toshiya Kamei) called "A New Faith." As with all of Blum's stories (including "A Sip of Light," published last year in storySouth), the language of the story is extremely atmospheric and draws the reader through the lush tale.

So there you have it, the best stories I’ve read in the last month. One of the points I've tried to make over the years with both storySouth and with our Million Writers Award is that great stories exist both within and outside of the boundaries which define traditional literary genres. All of the stories named here may belong to extremely different genres and writing styles, but they share one common element: They are great stories.