SciFi Month 2016 – Short Stories: PATHWAYS, by Nancy Kress

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Short stories are a difficult matter to handle: on one side, they might not give the same satisfactory “density” of a book, on the other they afford you a glimpse into a world, a setting you know you would enjoy – but end all too soon.

Every time I read about some fellow blogger reluctance about reading short stories, I understand, but at the same time I see these smaller offerings as a way to sample authors I have not read yet, without committing to a full book.

For this mont of November dedicated to science fiction, I’ve decided to look up some of the short stories offered online by many sites, and see what I could find.  It was a somewhat difficult search, because not all stories were to my taste, but what I found made it all quite worthwhile: my heartfelt thanks to all those online magazines that allowed me to sample such an incredible variety of stories.

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Pathways by Nancy Kress – from Clarkesworld Magazine

This is my second short story from Nancy Kress, the first one being included in the Dangerous Women anthology, and it reinforced my resolve about reading her longer works, since I do like her style very much.

Pathways is a story of deprivation: of means and education, of opportunities for bettering oneself and even of the drive to seek something better, something more.  Ludmilla Connors comes from a large family living at the margins of society in a depressed area, and the scant details about the outside world point to a dystopian background where the ruling government has banned most – if not all – kinds of scientific research.

Ludmilla’s family, and a few others in the neighborhood, suffer from an added burden: the great majority of the members succumb to a syndrome called “Fatal Familial Insomnia”, where lack of sleep brings behavioral changes, madness and death.  Going against the family’s whishes and public ostracism, Ludmilla signs herself in for an experimental treatment that will, if nothing else, bring some much-needed cash in the Connors’ pockets.

Shunned by her family, Ludmilla comes to live at the clinic, where the forced isolation brings her – ironically enough – in contact with the wider world, and she learns that there is much more out there than the closed confines of her reality have shown her: there is an Algernon-like quality to her journey that’s quite poignant and brings to light the extraordinary courage of this young woman, driven by desperation to make more of her life, and that of the people she cares about.

Very intense.

My Rating:  


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Posted on November 6, 2016, in Reviews and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. I actually like short stories although I’ve probably read more fantasy ones than sci fi. I’ve seen Clarkesworld around though and I really should take a look at their offerings.

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  2. Haha, I guess I’m one of those reluctant bloggers 🙂 I do agree that short stories are a great way to sample an author’s work without having to invest the time and commitment into reading a full length novel (which in the SFF genre can be a very large number of pages if we’re talking epic fantasies or space sagas!) This is a great idea, and thanks for showcasing free online short fiction from magazines – I didn’t even know that a lot of them have these on offer for sampling!

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    • And what’s more, they all offer the possibility of listening to them, so you have the choice between two mediums – which I find intriguing. This… journey through online magazines helped me discover a couple of authors I always saw mentioned but never read, so I can say with some certainty that the experiment is more than worth one’s time 🙂

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  3. Guilty of being a reluctant short story blogger! I can always see the point about them being a great way to sample a short piece of work to see if you like an author – but the conundrum for me is that I would probably be put off the author because I wouldn’t enjoy the short story as much as I would a fuller novel. I have read and enjoyed some short stories though – I do keep having a go though.
    Thanks
    Lynn 😀

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    • Not giving up is always a good idea… Or, as they say in Galaxy Quest: Never give up, never surrender! 😀
      Seriously, my theory is that a short story is like a calling card: it might not tell you everything about an author, but it can give you a good idea of who they are. And sometimes it works…

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  4. Lisa @TenaciousReader

    What a great idea to read short stories for SFF month:) glad you’ve enjoyed a couple by this author, I’ll have to keep my eye out for her

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I remember reading this story when it came out (since up until two months ago, I was a Clarkesworld magazine subscriber), I really enjoyed it, it was very unique and it moved me a lot. I think the eolution of the main character was my favorite part.
    Everyone should be reading short fiction, it’s freakin’ amazing and it really allowed me to grow as a reader. I have planned a discussion on short fiction and Sf and if I’m not too lazy it sould go up this Sunday! 🙂

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    • Then I’ll look out for it with great interest! Short stories can be both delightful and disappointing, much depends on the writer, how he/she can deal with a given subject in the span of a few pages and still convey a great deal of meaning. Yet, despite some disappointments, I intend to look for interesting short stories, because the gems are out there and we only need to find them 🙂

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  6. I completely agree with you on short stories — I know that some people struggle with them, but personally I think they’re great (and an awesome way to try new things). Fatal Familial Insomnia is basically my worst nightmare because I used to have really bad insomnia a few years ago. It’s settled down a bit now, but every time I read about characters who have trouble sleeping it gives me the creeps!

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    • It’s the same reason I was so invested in the story and characters: I can’t exactly define myself an insomniac, but I often have trouble getting asleep and I can’t remember what it means enjoying a night of uninterrupted sleep anymore. So that family’s history hit much closer to home than I would have imagined…

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