Digging Through the Archives: 8 SFF Short Stories Told Through Notes and Documents


One of my favorite forms of stories is what some call “found fiction”—diaries, documents, transcripts, excerpts, and so on. Reading these kinds of stories feels like coming upon a curious artefact that hints at more than what’s on the page, a world that invites us to fill in the gaps. Who left these documents here? Who wrote them? Who’s reading them, in the world of the story? How important is this document, in the larger scheme of things? There are so many questions—entering into these narratives is an opportunity to interact; you’re getting to play with and explore interesting worlds, questions, and ideas as if you were sleuth or a journalist. Here’s a selection of some of my favorites…

Excerpts from a Scientist’s Notebook: Ancestral Memory in Europan Pseudocephalopods by David DeGraff

I’m always fascinated by stories of space and of memory, and David DeGraff does an excellent job of combining both of these in this flash story constructed out of a series of notes on the memory of creatures found on Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. The happy ending is a bonus. 

A Review: The Reunion of the Survivors of Sigrún 7” by Lars Ahn

Written as a review of a documentary, this story by Lars Ahn considers the methods filmmaker Manuela Riviera uses to bring together the surviving crew of a failed expedition to Mars and compel them to talk about what happened on board the spaceship. The reviewer takes a look at the lengths the filmmaker went to record the documentary, as well as the ethics of forcing people together to make them reveal details they’ve kept secret for decades. It gives you much to think about, raising questions about the lengths we’re willing to go to in the name of art, and to satisfy our curiosity about the lives of those pushed into the spotlight.

Companion Animals in Mahō Shōjo Kira Kira Sunlight” by Stewart C Baker

This in-world essay considers the roles companion animals play in a famous (fictional) animated web series whose creator(s) are unknown and which has garnered a large following online. This is a story about a story that also examines how we interact with media, especially stories we are deeply attached to, and our desire for answers. 

“Some Assembly Required” by Anne E.G. Nydam

How do you build a castle in the air, literally? Anne Nydam has got the instructions for you, along with lovely, surreal illustrations to help you put it all together. Do read the warnings carefully, though.

Search History for Elspeth Adair, Age 11” by Aimee Picchi

Search histories are one of the most intriguing aspects of life on the internet—I’ve referred to mine when trying to trace my way back to a particular website or article; it’s quite an experience to see your train of thought mapped out step-by-step. Too bad they’re so easily deleted, because as Aimee Picchi shows in this excellent little story, our search histories can tell us a lot about how our curiosity can take us to unexpected places, both online and in the real world. A delightful little story that always makes me smile.

Rising Star” by Stephen Graham Jones

The Meerschon Grant Selection Committee is considering proposals to fund research—research that will make the best use of a new technology that allows for time travel. The possibilities are endless; you could access and study documents that no longer exist, observe dinosaurs, or “watch the moon coalescing into a sphere.” But bearing witness to these moments, and even answering long-standing questions, won’t really impact our present. Our narrator has a proposal that trumps everything else, a proposal that will take a researcher far back into the distant past, on a one-way trip, with instructions to find and preserve knowledge that will survive thousands of years and help humanity in the present—unlike observing the moon back when it was young, for example. 

Reading SFF often leaves me wishing that magic was real, but after reading this story all I truly want now is the confidence to write a grant proposal with such absolute conviction. 

In the City of Failing Knives” by Tara Campbell

In the City of Failing Knives, as the name suggests, knives don’t cut—they bind, which is why, when couples get married, they seal the deal with a knife (in some unfortunate cases, quite literally). Full of interesting anecdotes and footnotes, this curious little article for Popular Sociology makes one think about and reconsider the words we use to signify love and connection, and what they can really mean if we delve beyond the surface. A fascinating exploration of possibilities. 

50 Things Every AI Working with Humans Should Know” by Ken Liu

Given the torrent of articles we’ve all been reading since ChatGPT come onto the scene and the developments that have followed, this fascinating obituary for a famous “AI AI-critic” might as well be an actual article we’ll see in a decade or two. After reading this story, I finally understood what older people mean when they talk about stuff from SFF books becoming a part of their daily lives. A piece that starts with familiar concepts and leaves you haunted. 

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