Netflix dropped a new series this month, the appropriately titled Love, Death & Robots (stylized as the slightly sexier LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS). This anthology of animated shorts, produced by Joshua Donen, Jennifer Miller, Deadpool director Tim Miller, and Academy Award-winner David Fincher, plays a bit like an updated Heavy Metal, mixing thoughtful, mind-bending SFF with very NSFW gore and sex. If you aren’t already sold, don’t be too deterred, either: None of the adult material is particularly gratuitous, each episode has its own animation style, and every one of them packs an impressive amount of story into 11-odd (sometimes quite odd) minutes.
Of particular interest to sci-fi readers: many of the episodes are adapted from short stories by writers whose names you will definitely recognize, and a good majority of them (11 of 16 adaptations can be found in books sold at Barnes & Noble) are readily available in one form or another, often as part of collections featuring other worthwhile works. If the show has whetted your appetite for some short, smart, slightly naughty SFF, here’s how to explore further.
“Sonnie’s Edge,” by Peter F. Hamilton in A Second Chance at Eden
“Sonnie’s Edge” takes place within Hamilton’s larger Confederation Universe, a future history begun in 1996’s The Reality Dysfunction. The short stories in this collection all take place in that same history. In the context of the larger fictional universe, the story of gruesome duels between beasts mentally controlled by humans makes reference to the affinity gene that allows for mental bonding. That’s all largely incidental to Sonnie’s tale, but there’s more to explore if you enjoyed this one.
“Three Robots,” based on “Three Robots Experience Objects Left Behind from the Era of Humans for the First Time,” by John Scalzi in Robots vs. Fairies
Three robots wander an abandoned city (or is it?) following the fall of mankind. The super fun Robots vs. Fairies collection from whence this very short entry came also features the likes of Catherynne M. Valente, Ken Liu, Sarah Gailey, and Max Gladstone among many other impressive names.
“When The Yogurt Took Over,” and “Alternate Histories,” based on “Missives from Possible Futures #1: Alternate History Search Results,” by John Scalzi in Miniatures: The Very Short Fiction of John Scalzi
Two of the most impressively silly stories in the series also come from space opera master Scalzi, whose Old Man’s War series is peppered with humor— if not as much as his more overtly comedic books, like the satirical Redshirts. The title of the story “When the Yogurt Took Over” (originally written as a lark on Scalzi’s blog) turns out to be delightfully literal, while “Alternate Histories” explores the death of Hitler across several different timelines, each scenario more outlandish than the last.
Though Reynolds is among the most popular and appreciated names in science fiction, these two stories represent the first of his works to ever be adapted for film. “Beyond the Aquila Rift” tells the tale of the Blue Goose and the mind-bending navigation error that sends her crew… somewhere. “Zima Blue” is the poignant story of an artist with something to prove. If you’ve yet to dive into his lengthy novels, these and the other stories in this collection give a good sense of the breadth of Reynolds’ talent.
“Good Hunting,” by Ken Liu in The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories
Ken Liu rose to prominence with his short story fiction, presaging the brilliance his first full novel, The Grace of Kings (he is also lauded for his translation work, including bringing Liu Cixin’s Hugo-winning The Three-Body Problem into English). Almost all of the stories included in his first collection, The Paper Menagerie, are award-winners, including the one on which this episode is based. In the early 20th century, a boy befriends a shape-shifting huli jing spirit, despite the fact that his father killed the spirit’s mother.
“The Dump,” by Joe R. Lansdale in Bumper Crop
Why would you want to live in a literal dump? It’s tempting to call the prolific Joe R. Lansdale (of the Hap & Leonard, series among many other works) a horror writer, but he’s penned impressive works in different genres, and that cut across genre: suspense, western, crime, splatterpunk, even superhero comics. “The Dump” is a creepy story of the things that skitter around among the trash.
“Helping Hand,” by Claudine Griggs in Lightspeed
That title’s going to make perfect sense by the end. Grigg’s short story is a bit harder SF than some of the others in the Love, Death & Robots series, and stars an incredibly resourceful astronaut whose thruster pack is damaged by a small meteorite. Alone, adrift, and running out of oxygen, she has to science her way out of a desperate situation.
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“Fish Night,” by Joe. R. Lansdale in The Time Traveler’s Almanac
Another from Lansdale, this one about two salesmen stranded in the desert and the story that one has to tell. The collection that includes the story is an impressive one, assembled by editors Jeff and Ann VanderMeer and featuring time travel stories that span a century, from names like Ursula K. Le Guin, Douglas Adams, Isaac Asimov, William Gibson, George R. R. Martin, and Connie Willis.
“Ice Age,” by Michael Swanwick in Tales of Old Earth
Making a very good case for never defrosting the refrigerator, “Ice Age” is the story of a couple who discovers an entire thriving civilization in miniature inside an old refrigerator. Michael Swanwick’s story is whimsical, but also subtly epic in scope. It’s found in Tales of the Old Earth, a collection that varies widely in tone—but each entry offers a taste of the author’s sly wit and economical storytelling skill.
What’s your favorite Love, Death & Robots short?