Maybe it's just the fact that I've been saturating myself with the stories found in the ten issues of The Twilight Zone Magazine that I purchased on e-bay a couple of weeks ago, but it seems like tone and style are two storytelling elements that run pretty cyclically in the realm of popular short fiction.
The magazines I purchased come from 1985 and 1986. There are between seven and eleven (!) short stories in each issue. They come from authors such as Goulart, King, Campbell, Barker, Leiber, Wilson, Bloch, Matheson, Grant and many, many others. TZ seemed very thorough in its inclusion of emerging voices, and the sheer number of stories far outshines most genre print magazines in the field today.
One of the observations I've made in looking at the stories published in this twenty-four month period is that they predominantly share a bizarro sensibility to them. A great majority reverently skewer emerging technologies (we were on the cusp of the cellular age back then) and poke fun at computers. Lots of them share a surreal approach to plotting. A great many include hallucinogenic vignettes and plot tangents. But to see that they are so uniform in these things is really interesting to me.
I suppose it's just the way of this business, though. When Palahniuk's Fight Club broke through in a major way, I think that dystopic, anti-corporate sensibility that made the novel work was popular for at least twenty-four months in genre fiction. Clearly, the success of the Harry Potter stories has been so thunderous that now many agents groan under the weight of all the queries stating they have touting the next boy wizard in the making.
And authors run in waves like this as well. King's short stories from the '70s had a lot more bite to them. They weren't as poetic as his later stuff, not by a long shot, but they certainly went for the groin--on the whole. Think Night Shift and Skeleton Crew and compare those with the longer and more theme-based works from N&D and Everything's Eventual.
I'm not saying anything unique here. Writers evolve. Writers devolve. Writers become fascinated by certain ideals. Writers get mired in ruts. All of it is part of the process.
Which brings me to 20th Century Ghosts, by Joe Hill. I'll get into this book more closely down the road, but I can say that in all of my reading in the past year or so, no one is doing what this guy is doing with the short story. His work here is fascinating, unnerving, lyrical and gritty all at the same time. Tremendous stuff.
Oh, and if you want to pass ten minutes on a great short story, take a look at Chuck's story "Guts." Sadly, there was a fatality last week that eerily echoes the plot of this tale...