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Since the beginning of the modern science fiction genre, authors have built careers on writing short stories, for magazines and anthologies — and more recently — on websites. While those works don’t quite get the same attention as a novel, collections of an author’s short fiction has long been a good way to catch up on their published repertoire. Recently, there’s been more attention on shorter fiction thanks to projects such as Netflix’s Love, Death + Robots, and a new anthology series based on horror author Nathan Ballingrud’s fantastic collection, North American Lake Monsters.
What’s more, a number of anthology shows have popped up over the years on a variety of streaming services. Netflix and Channel Four produced Black Mirror; CBS recently brought back The Twilight Zone; HBO is running Room 104; Amazon adapted a variety of stories from Philip K. Dick for Electric Dreamsl and Hulu has its horror-themed Dimension 404. There are other projects on the horizon as well: AMC began developing a series based on Ted Chiang’s story “Liking What You See: A Documentary”, which was featured in his 2002 collection, Stories of Your Life and Others, and set up a writer’s room for a show based on the short stories by Ken Liu.
It’s easy to see why anthology shows based on short stories are appealing: they don’t represent a whole lot of commitment from viewers, and provide a lot of variety. A science fiction writer’s collection of short stories can provide both: self-contained, bite-sized narratives that can play out in 20-40 minutes. Don’t like one? Skip to the next. With word that Ballingrud’s debut collection is in the works, we had some ideas for other single-author collections that might make for a good anthology series in their own right.
Six Months, Three Days, Five Others by Charlie Jane Anders
io9-cofounder Charlie Jane Anders has forged a notable career for herself in recent years with a number of fantastic short stories and two excellent novels (disclaimer: I used to work for her at io9) and released a short collection called Six Months, Three Days, Five Others through Tor.com.
It’s a small collection, but each of the stories pack a punch, from “The Fermi Paradox Is Our Business Model” about an alien civilization that seeds the galaxy with life, and waits for them to burn themselves out, in order to cheaply extract resources. The title story “Six Months, Three Days” earned Anders a Hugo Award in 2012, and is an emotional story about a woman who can see all possible futures, and a man who can see one true future. This book would make for a great short-run series. At one point, “Six Months, Three Days” was in the works for a TV adaptation as well.
This short collection would make for a great series of emotional and thought-provoking episodes.
I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
Forget the 2004 “adaptation” of Isaac Asimov’s collection of robot stories. That film was a thriller that used a bunch of the bigger ideas that the author came up with over the years, but doesn’t really adapt any of the stories.
The original short story collection contains 10 of Asimov’s classic robot stories, each of which revolve around a central premise: The Three Laws of Robotics that govern the behavior of his robots. Each story deals with a loophole in that programming, from “Runaround,” about a mining robot on Mercury that gets stuck in a loop; “Liar!” about a robot that causes problems when it doesn’t want to hurt a couple of humans’ feelings; and “Evidence,” a story about a politician who is accused of secretly being a robot.
The entire collection would make for a fantastic anthology series, one that deals with the ramifications of technology and how it can break.
Pump Six and Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi
If Black Mirror is anything to go by, audiences will tune in for extremely bleak science fiction. One good example of this comes in the form of Paolo Bacigalupi’s collection, Pump Six and Other Stories.
Bacigalupi is best-known for books like The Windup Girl and The Water Knife, which have some pretty bleak portrayals of the future of our planet. That tendency carries over in this book: his story “The People of Sand and Slag” is about a trio of genetically modified humans guarding a a mining corporation in the distant future. When they discover that an “intruder” is really a dog, they try and keep it alive. It doesn’t go well. Another, “The Tamarisk Hunter” about a bounty hunter named Lolo who’s tasked with finding and killing water-thirsty tamarisk trees in a California gripped by drought.
This wouldn’t be a happy series, but it would make for a great, pointed show about the dangers of climate change.
How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin
This was one of our favorite books that came out from last year: N.K. Jemisin’s collection of short stories, which span the breadth of cyberpunk, epic fantasy, and hard science fiction, all of which provides some pointed commentary on the inequality present throughout the world.
This particular book would make for a great series, with stories like “The City, Born Great,” following the personification of New York City, and “The Ones Who Stay and Fight” about a utopian society where knowledge of inequality is forbidden.
The collection is a timely and relevant body of work, and a series based on this book would sit nicely alongside something like Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
Tomorrow Factor by Rich Larson
Rich Larson has become one of my favorite short story authors working right now (disclaimer: he provided a story for an anthology I edited, War Stories: New Military Science Fiction), and last year, he released a collection called Tomorrow Factory, which pulls together 23 of his recent short stories.
Larson’s stories are quite a bit of fun to read, and cover a lot of territory: cyberpunk adventures about an orphaned albino girl who discovers a mech in the midst of a garbage dump in “Ghost Girl,” or about a basketball scout who discovers that a prospect, Oxford Diallo, isn’t quite what he appears in “Meshed”, to space opera like “The Ghost Ship Anastasia,” about a starship repair crew that runs into all sorts of problems on one difficult mission.
These stories would make for a really fun, dynamic series about how we use technology.
The Unreal and the Real by Ursula K. Le Guin
If there’s one classic author whose work would make for a fantastic anthology series, it’s Ursula K. Le Guin. She hasn’t had a great experience with adaptations — the less said about the SCI FI Channel’s adaptation of Earthsea, the better. But her stories are really fantastic, and another attempt would probably go over a lot better now.
She’s released a number of collections in the last couple of years, but one recent one is a reissue of The Unreal and the Real, which contains nearly 40 stories, broken into stories that are set in a realistic world, while others are set in more fantastic locations, like her world of Earthsea, or in her larger expanded Hanish space opera universe.
This collection — or others that she’s published — would provide a solid basis for a brilliant series of short stories that reflect on the morality of society and cultures here on Earth or on distant worlds.
The Wandering Earth by Cixin Liu
Cixin Liu might be most famous for his novel The Three-Body Problem and its sequels, but he’s also released a number of short stories over the years, which have been collected into a book, The Wandering Earth.
If that title sounds familiar, it’s because the story that it’s based on was recently turned into China’s first big science fiction film, which you can now watch on Netflix. It’s a big, epic space disaster story, and there are other big stories like “Devourer”, about an alien ship that floats through space consuming planets, “Mountain”, about a group of aliens trapped in a bubble of rock, who try and discover what lies beyond their world, and “Sun of China,” about a boy from a rural town who grows up to become an astronaut on a solar installation in orbit.
Liu’s stories are often described as a throwback to the genre’s classic age, and this book (minus Wandering Earth) could make for a fantastic series about some epic adventures in outer space, provided you had the right budget.
View of a Remote Country by Karen Traviss
I first came across Karen Traviss through her Wess’Har War and Star Wars novels, but for a several of years, she published a number of fantastic short stories in a variety of publications which she later collected into a self-published collection, View of a Remote Country.
There are some really fascinating stories in this book: “Suitable for the Orient” follows a doctor who’s stationed on a distant planet amidst a conflict between the native lifeforms and the human colonists, while “An Open Prison” depicts a future where convicts are locked up in a mechanical suit and are forced to serve the public and the people they’ve wronged.
I’ve often found Traviss’s stories to be interesting mediations on people and technology, and the pitfalls between them.