The shortest Sci-Fi story ever written is probably Knock by Frederic Brown:
The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door...
Recently, it came to my mind after reading one of the first short stories I have read since a long time. Last year, I picked up the anthology Swords & Dark Magic edited by Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders, homage to the sword and sorcery sub-genre. With several Fantasy authors of note, I was intrigued. Lately I told myself that I could read them from time to time instead of going through the whole book in one read and write a short review. Moreover, I'm still not sure if I'll read them all. Then, I can't really review short fiction like a full-length novel.
Not being accustomed to shorts, I asked myself whether I knew what is making up a great short story. From what I remember of my student era (without enumerating all the elements), generally speaking, a short story should be the psychological evolution of a central character who's living a significant change with an unexpected ending (or denouement), a new development. That's all good but in the end, it should be a fun and surprising read. It really takes different skills for an author to bring up a good short story. Now, to the review itself, a tale of swords and dark magic by Steven Erikson:
Goats of Glory is the story of several soldiers coming up from the front who are spending the night is an almost abandoned town with an old keep and only enough citizens to fill a common room. On the recommendation of the innkeeper, they venture into the demon haunted keep, where the unexpected awaits them. Although there's a reference at some point to a piece of world building from the Malazan world, the knowledge of the author's work is not necessary.
Erikson was able to create a great atmosphere in so few pages. The town, the inn, the keep and most especially the underkeep where demons wait all feel picturesque. There's a good deal of magic involved and swords are at the rendezvous. However, the action revolves simply around the fighting of demons by the soldiers, which is still kind of 'glorious'. Their relationship is characteristic to the Malazan marines and some other characters are interesting but the climax falls flat.
I think that Goats of Glory could have been a nice chapter in one of Erikson's novel. Therefore, as a short in itself, I was not impressed, surprised or stunned by the originality of the story. This is still an interesting read, atmospheric (great setting) and engrossing enough to be worth mentioning. Ultimately, it was a faithful piece of sword and sorcery.
When I've read more of the tales, I'll be able to recommend the anthology or not.
Goats of Glory review score: 7 / 10