Friday, October 2, 2009

Rich and Strange


Yesterday morning, I was watching elk fighting on the side of a mountain of mine tailings, and last night I was at a production of Beckett's Happy Days (with a brilliant performance by Mary Elizabeth Scallen). This is either the strangest of all rich worlds or the richest of all strange worlds.

Above: One of a gazillion snapshots I took. Really, I should've brought a sound recorder to capture the bull elks bugling. It's a sound like no other.

Oh, and an open question . . .

I'm thinking of maybe sometime next year writing an essay on flash fiction. In preparation for which I really ought to assemble a list of the masters of the form. I'm talking about people who have actual books, or at least locatable web collections.

Offhand, I'd have to include Julio Cortazar for Chronopios and Famas, Franz Kafka for Parables and Paradoxes, Carol Lay for her Story Minute compilations, and Lynda Barry for various Ernie Pook's Comeek collections.

Who am I leaving out?



Zvi said...

If you're including Carol Lay, you're opening up the field to all practitioners of comics, which depending on your critical direction may be too wide.

If you are including comics, two brilliant stories-in-one-comic practitioners (not just jokes or parodies or some kind of long-form narrative) are and -- and now that I think of it, they're somewhat genre-bending and, well, Swanwickian. Can I use your name as an adjective?

JJM said...

How are you defining flash fiction? Some of Borges's work could count. So, for that matter, could Aesop's.

Michael Swanwick said...

Oh, something like "modern fiction of five hundred words or less." Dipping into Classical (or even Medieval) times would expand the remit far too greatly -- and I really don't have the right education for it.

But given that what used to be a pretty scarce form is booming on the Web, I probably ought to say something about its frequency in oral or book-rare cultures. Hmmm.

Borges is a special problem. Far too prominent to be ignored, and yet those of his works which would be short enough for my definition aren't really different in kind from his longer work. I'm going to have to give him some serious pondering.

JJM said...

Aesop: You can always simply mention that flash fiction was around in ancient times, without going into details, and then declaring you are confining yourself to a more modern time period. Old scholar's trick to make it seem you know so much more than you actually do. ;->

Borges: perhaps his Book of Imaginary Beings. Tends to be shortish, and not entirely typical. Deserves a mention, anyway.

I assume you've checked Wikipedia for suggestions already. They do mention Aesop, but not Borges.

TN-Tanuki said...

The books Flash Fiction (ed. by Thomas, Thomas and Hazuka), Sudden Fiction (and its sequels) ( Shapard and Thomas) are good overviews of flash fiction. As for individual writers, I'd suggest Padgett Powell and his mentor Donald Barthelme--not everything was flash for either of them, of course. Not to mention the short-short anthos that the good Dr. Asimov edited with Messrs. Greenberg and Olander. Have fun with this!

Jeff Prucher said...

Lord Dunsany wrote a lot of short-shorts. His book Fifty-One Tales ( seems to consist almost entirely of them. Also, Beccon has published a few books of Drabbles, which is surely a sub-genre of flash fiction.

vera said...

If you want to go international, I warmly recommend István Örkény, who is the Hungarian master of flash fiction.
He has a whole collection entitled "One Minute Stories," available in English. His fiction frequently uses irony, satire and the grotesque, and he has a wonderfully absurd sense of humor.
I think you would enjoy it. If you can't get hold of a copy, but want to, I will gladly send you one.

Michael Swanwick said...

That's very generous of you, Vera. But I've been known to (cough) take years to return a book. So I think I'd best hit up Interlibrary Loan. Thanks for the tip!

severian said...

Late as usual, but I suggest Augusto Monterroso, author of "The Dinosaur" ("When she awoke, the dinosaur was still there."), sometimes quoted as shortest story ever (or one of them).

severian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Swanwick said...

And thanks for that tip too, Severian. I'd never even heard of István Örkény and Augusto Monterroso -- my cosmopolitanity is growing by leaps and bounds!

Estrella Azul said...

István Örkény is really a great writer.
I also recommend you check out the #fridayflash hashtag on Twitter as every Friday writers all over the world publish their flash fiction.
You can find it even more easily here, on Mad Utopia:
(read through it, we will have an anthology come out by the end of 2009, you can add that as reference to your essay as well)

I'm pretty new at writing flash fiction, but here are my stories if you're interested :)