This page is under construction.  Look for the full rollout when The Experience Arcade debuts at World Fantasy in November, 2017.

Welcome to the Teacher’s Guide to The Experience Arcade and Other Stories.  I’m James Van Pelt, the author, and when I’m not writing, I teach high school English (since 1981).  During that time, I’ve become a strong advocate for using short fiction in the classroom, particularly in our current environment where the emphasis on preparing students for standardized testing has made it harder to teach complete works.  I love to teach novels too (and plays and poems and great speeches), but the time to teach as many of them as I would like has been lost to test preparation.  My initial adaptation was to start emphasizing short stories, and the more I taught short stories the more I saw other benefits, particularly for my reluctant and struggling readers.  They had trouble with the longer works anyway, and they certainly didn’t grow to love reading by a constant barrage of excerpts to longer works for the sole purpose of analyzing texts.

There’s a power to reading the entire story.

In the list below are the titles from The Experience Arcade and Other Stories. You’ll see how many words long the story is and its genre.  The “read aloud” time is based on 200 words per minute.  An average high school student will read silently around 250 words per minute.  High school students who read below 150 words per minute or so often struggle with silent reading assignments, and, not so coincidentally, are often reluctant readers.  For each story in the collection listed below you will find a synopsis and a link to download a check-quiz and teaching suggestions.

I have mixed feelings about teaching literature that mostly breaks down between “reading for fun” and “reading for meaning.”  These approaches are intertwined, of course, but it seems to me that too many curriculums and too many teachers seemed to have forgotten that most fiction writers don’t write so that their works can be analyzed; they write to give the reader an experience and to entertain.  One of the best arguments I’ve seen to counter the soulless dissection of literature can be found in Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide, which I heartily recommend.  You could also check out my take on literary analysis in my essays, “What is Happening to Reading?” and “If We Taught Long Kisses Like We Do Novels.”

Although I’ve provided quizzes and teaching suggestions for the stories, I think it’s okay to give a class a short story with the instructions, “Read this story and then we’ll talk about later.”  No quizzes.  No essays.  Just a bunch of readers talking about their reaction to something they read.

“In Memoriam”

Handouts and teaching suggestions. Word FilePDF File

3,120 words long fantasy story.  Read aloud time: 15:30.

The cemetery’s groundskeeper is the conduit to the story of Esther and Thomas Bramwell.  Thomas died years earlier.  His aged wife visits the grave regularly.  Through their story, the groundskeeper learns that love is more powerful than he ever imagined.

“The Continuing Saga of Tom Corbett: Space Cadet”

Handouts and teaching suggestions. Word FilePDF File

5,300 words long science fiction story.  Read aloud time: 26:30.

Tomiko Corbett used to like that people connected her with a kid’s book hero, Tom Corbett.  As she became older she grew tired of the name, but she never stopped wishing to go to space, and being a leader and hero.  It’s what she dreamed of, and then her dreams became eerily realistic.

“The Lawn Fairy War”

Handouts and teaching suggestions. Word F ilePDF File

3,550 words long fantasy story.  Read aloud time: 17:30.

Grace is middle-aged, single, and devoted to her collection of lawn ornaments.  Her yard hosts ceramic fairies, castles, elves and other gentle creatures.  Everything is fine until Ashley whose taste in lawn decor is quite a bit darker moves in next door.

“Experience Arcade” 

Handouts and teaching suggestions. Word FilePDF File

1,024 word long science fiction story.  Read aloud time: 5:06.

In the near future, “experience arcades” will exist, where a person can become a part of their favorite movies through advanced virtual reality.  Everything they experience will feel as real as if they were actually in the movie world.  The unnamed narrator in this story visits an arcade that specializes in horror movies.

“Death of a Starship Poet” 

Handouts and teaching suggestions. Word FilePDF File

4,920 word long science fiction story.  Read aloud time: 24:35.

A murder on a starship in a society where murder is a quaint term out of history means that an antiquated profession is suddenly needed again: a detective.  Jayla, a woman whose specialty is writing memoirs is tapped for the job.

“Ghost Ship” 

Handouts and teaching suggestions. Word FilePDF File

4,200 word long fantasy story.  Read aloud time: 21:00.

Stories about impossible ships that appear from the fog and then vanish again are legend.  What is life like for the men aboard such ships, doomed to sail for eternity and never make port?  What kind of creature haunts a ghost ship?

“Mars, Aphids and Your Cheating Heart” 

Handouts and teaching suggestions. Word FilePDF File

3,500 word long science fiction/fantasy story.  Read aloud time: 17:30.

Most people are aware of the butterfly effect: a butterfly flapping a wing in Asia might be the first action that ends up causing a hurricane on the other side of the world.  The tiniest, seemingly unrelated motion in the universe like the shifting of a single grain of sand on Mars, or the placement of a single aphid on a branch, can save a person’s life.

 “Three Paintings” 

Handouts and teaching suggestions. Word FilePDF File

4,380 words long science fiction story.  Read aloud time: 21:55.

Artists have long pursued the roots of their own creativity.  In a world where a wealthy enough artist can buy multiple copies of himself, an interesting experiment in creativity becomes possible.

“We Have Always Lived in the Hamlet” 

Handouts and teaching suggestions. Word FilePDF File

2,770 words long science fiction story.  Read aloud time: 13:50.

Tory and Janelle are very different sisters.  Tory loves her home in the hamlet while Janelle wants to go to the stars. Because of relativistic time shifts, Janelle travels for a few years, but Tory ages decades.  Time affects everything, even the relationship between family members.


Handouts and teaching suggestions.

 3,800 words long science fiction story.  Read aloud time: 19:00.

When a new drug delivers on the promise of never-ending youth, an aging man will give up everything to attain it.


Handouts and teaching suggestions.

2,270 words long science fiction story.  Read aloud time: 11:20.

A father/mother scientist team work to explore Titan, one of Saturns moons.  When a catastrophe strikes the parents, what can their son do to save them?

“The Lies” 

Handouts and teaching suggestions.

1,232 words long dystopic science fiction story.  Read aloud time: 6: 10.

Occasionally, in hard times, the truth is too hard to bear. What do you say to the person you love in such times?  A brother and sister tell each other the story they most want to hear.

“Falling Out of Downey”

Handouts and teaching suggestions.

2,760 words long fantasy story.  Read aloud time: 13: 48.

A paperboy in a rural mountain town accidentally crosses into another dimension.  He can’t stay!  There are papers to be delivered, and tonight he’s supposed to meet a girl he likes a lot, if he can just figure how to get back home.


Handouts and teaching suggestions.

4,980 words long swords and sorcery story.  Read aloud time: 24:54.

A young wizard’s apprentice is learning magic under a cruel master. The apprentice will become a full wizard one day except that his master has other plans for him.

“Titan Descansos” 

Handouts and teaching suggestions.

2,045 words long science fiction story.  Read aloud time: 10:15.

Along highways in America, an observant traveler will see crosses and informal memorials to those who have died on the road.  The impulse to mark the place where someone died may be universal. Humanity may not be the only species in the universe who mourn their lost.

“The Children’s Collection” 

Handouts and teaching suggestions.

3,810 words long horror (sort of–it’s a Lovecraft-influenced piece). Read aloud time: 19:03.

A recently graduated librarian gets his first job in Kingsport, a small town not far from Dunwich and its infamous Miskatonic University. It doesn’t take long for him to learn that this is a strange place to live with an even stranger history.  He has responsibilities, though, and one of them is getting more children into the library.

“Writing Advice”

Handouts and teaching suggestions.

1,200 words long science fiction. Read aloud time: 6:00.

One piece of writing advice is “never start with the weather.”  But what if the weather is what the story is about? Many people are afraid that humanity will cause an apocalypse.  Mother nature might have something to say about that.

“The Golden Daffodils”

Handouts and teaching suggestions.

2,860 words long fantasy. Read aloud time: 14:18.

A homeless man finds hope in a program that promises to send the needy to new colonies on the moon. Are the promises real or is the idea just providing false hope?

“The Silk Silvered Skulls of Millen Mir” 

Handouts and teaching suggestions.

4,090 words long fantasy. Read aloud time: 20:25.

Les Bullard remembers a book he read when he was young that he’s never been able to find since. In his retirement, his search has taken him deep into a mysterious library and into the competent hands of a librarian built like an Amazonian.

“Weaponized Ghosts of the 96th Infantry” 

Handouts and teaching suggestions.

1,196 words long science fiction horror. Read aloud time: 6:00.

A war against non-traditional armies, like terrorists, requires an untraditional approach.  Maybe this time the government has found the ultimate weapon to fight the enemy.

“Maybe if One Person Less” 

Handouts and teaching suggestions.

1,320 words long science fiction.  Read aloud time: 6:45.

Lengthy space voyages demand a lot from the explorers. Their psychological makeup must be nearly perfect to withstand the isolation, the claustrophobia, and the crushing knowledge that all they have is what they brought with them.  Not everyone is equipped for the challenge.


Handouts and teaching suggestions.

3,310 words long dystopic science fiction.  Read aloud time: 16:35.

“Climate change” is an abstract notion for most.  The changes are too slow, which sucks the urgency out of the idea, and what can an individual do to make a difference? No matter what happens to the climate in the future, the basic needs remain the same: food, shelter, and taking care of the children.

“No One is so Fierce” 

Handouts and teaching suggestions.

3,280 words long fantasy.  Read aloud time: 16:20.

A woman quits her job in the city to work in a lighthouse. The position is lonely, and it’s certainly not safe, but she finds wildness and elemental strengths there that her old life never provided.

“The Sword Imperial”

Handouts and teaching suggestions.

5,750 words long sword and sorcery. Read aloud time: 28:45.

A young farmer named Hndred finds a valuable sword buried in his field. Maybe this will be his chance to live the life he’s always dreamed of.  He goes to town to find out more about his unexpected treasure.