Short Stories You Must Read: 3. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber (1939)

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What to expect: A short story first published in The New Yorker in 1939 about a non-descript and ineffectual man who, during the course of a routine visit to town with his domineering wife, has a series of five heroic daydreams triggered by everyday occurrences.

Best known for: Being one of the most widely anthologized short stories in American literature and for it’s adaptation into film, most recently in 2013, where Ben Stiller directed and starred.

Interesting Fact: ‘Walter Mitty’ and ‘Mittyesque’ have been included in the English dictionary to denote ‘An ordinary, often ineffectual person who indulges in fantastic daydreams of personal triumph.’

Best Quote: The best quote is actually the very last line, but we wouldn’t want to spoil the ending. So here’s another gem, “We only live once, Sergeant,” said Mitty, with his faint, fleeting smile. “Or do we?”

Final Words: If you’ve ever imagined yourself to be somewhere or someone else; like an astronaut when you look at the stars, a war hero when you see the news, or an explorer the minute you turn on to a country lane, then you’ll want to read this classic.

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Short Stories You Must Read: 2. Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut (1961)

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What to expect: A satirical and dystopian short story set in a 2081 world where, due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, the Handicapper General and its agents enforce equality on the population by law. The story is centred on George and Hazel Bergeron when the government imprisons their smart and athletic fourteen-year-old son, Harrison.

 

Best known for: Being set in an unsettling society where the strong, intelligent, and better-looking citizens are forced to wear ‘handicaps’ that set them on a level playing field with the rest of the population. The intelligent must wear in-ear mental handicap radio transmitters, the athletic must wear weights, and the beautiful wear ghastly masks.

 

Interesting Fact: Justice Antolin Scalia wrote a dissent that drew upon the story in the PGA Tour, Inc. v Martin (2001) case, where The Supreme Court ruled in favour of a disabled golfer who argued the PGA Tour couldn’t stop him riding a golf cart between shots.

 

Best Quote: “Some things about living still weren’t quite right, though. April for instance, still drove people crazy by not being springtime.”

 

Final Words: If you like your dystopia thought provoking, satirical, and a little tongue-in-cheek, then this one’s for you.

Short Stories You Must Read: 1. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov (1950)

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What to expect: A collection of nine science fiction short stories interwoven through the character Susan Calvin, a robopsychologist, which chronicles the development of robots from basic beginnings to complex beings with the potential to render humanity obsolete.

Expect robots that glitch, make jokes, read minds, and secretly control the world.

 

Best known for: Redefining our perception of robots by creating the fictional laws that govern them, The Three Laws of Robotics:

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

3. A robot may not injure its own kind and defend its own kind unless it is interfering with the first or second rule.

 

Interesting Fact: According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Isaac Asimov coined the word robotics, in his short story, Liar (1941).

 

Best Quote: “It is the obvious which is so difficult to see most of the time. People say ‘It’s as plain as the nose on your face.’ But how much of the nose on your face can you see, unless someone holds a mirror up to you?”

– Isaac Asimov, I, Robot

 

Final Words: If you love robots – read it. If self-aware robots freak the bejesus out of you– definitely read it.

Laid Off by Seth Augenstein

Today’s post is from Seth Augenstein whose short story, Laid Off, is published today on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

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In 2008 – as the chickens came home to roost, the seeds once sown were reaped, and just desserts were being served – I wrote the story “Laid Off,” now published by Cracked Eye.

The Great Recession continues to drag on, and friends continue to lose jobs, houses, savings accounts – and their natural hair color.

But as one character in the story says, it’s all part of a natural process of selection. Or is it?

The story’s genesis was interesting, at least to its author. It was written after a tumultuous trip back to Boston, where I’d gone to college. The excursion was distinctly different than the one portrayed in the story. In reality, the city was encased in ice – there was no snow, just a frozen slippery sheet over houses, sidewalks and streets. Walking up and down the slopes in Beacon Hill made for some Olympic-style slaloming, and some psychedelic contusions on every limb. My friend Mark – not Fred – and I lay prostrate in the back of a fishtailing pickup truck drinking beer and singing about Plastic Jesuses because, at the time, it seemed to make sense.

I forget the name of the driver of that truck. He was a bald person, and solemn – but kind, and he had good reflexes.

In the Real Trip, two vagabonds did indeed crash a party in a secret wing of a blue-blood old hotel through a decoy exit door, but there was no Aaron Burr. There was an aspiring novelist, sure – but he was a bigger jerk than was portrayed herein.

Back to history… At that point in 2008, America had made its bed and was just about to lay in it, as we’ve said. After a decade of paying for all sorts of nifty exploding gadgets abroad, and thousands of McMansions springing up across the land, all paid for on the credit card, the tab had come due. Suddenly big entities with anthropomorphic names like Freddie and Fannie were cashing in all our collective chips, and panic hummed in the air. And then there were talks – even in the mass media – about Historical Patterns and Cycles of Civilization and all sorts of other high-minded Pop concepts.

I believed them, and I still believe it now. But I’m also a student of History, and because of that, I’ve read Ecclesiastes:

“Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so people are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.”

In trying to make sense of our lean times by boiling it down into abstraction through a fictive medium, I drew inspiration from the greats, too. For one, I was a tour guide at the James Joyce Centre in Dublin one rainy autumn about a decade ago. And this story certainly owes a debt to the author of “Two Gallants.” So if you remember a mumbling American walking you through the steps of scheming Corley and lascivious Lenehan in the fall of 2003, it might have been me. Or it might have been some hopeful Yank, spry of foot and mind, who actually thought poor suckers had a shot in this world.

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Buy now on Amazon UK or Amazon US.