Novels get all the hype and glamour, but short story collections deserve their time in the spotlight too—especially in sci-fi and fantasy, genres built on the kind of strange ideas that often flourish in the briefer format. A collection is the perfect place for a writer to show off their range and reach, to flex their storytelling muscles, and shine a light on all the facets of their talent.
Here are 10 new and recently published short story collections that will bring light and darkness, and color and sparkle to your reading list.
Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories, by Vandana Singh
This collection was my introduction to Vandana Singh, and reading it was a bit like finding a new window in a familiar room, opening the blinds, and being astonished at the richness and beauty of the light streaming through the glass. Her stories feel like that—like something familiar, illuminated in a new way. Singh is both a physicist and a writer, and her stories combine scientific sharpness with quiet, lyrical power. She makes constant connections between history, the present, and the future; humans and nature; space and Earth. An old woman travels back in time in search of ancient poetry. A man tries to achieve immortality. A human looks for revenge against a machine by trying to find its true name. In every story, Singh brings big ideas—space and science, robots and AI—so close, it feels as if you can reach out and touch the worlds they inhabit.
Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado
Machado’s book has been shortlisted for the National Book Award, among several other awards, and it appears on a multitude of recommended reading lists. Every ounce of that hype is well-deserved—this is a fierce and powerful collection of short stories that pulls no punches. Fueling her tales with an incendiary blend of fantasy, sex, desire, love, gender politics, queerness, horror, and fairy tales (think Angela Carter, not Disney), Machado ignites it all with her sharp and gorgeous prose. The result is a collection of stories that are simultaneously moving and unsettling, strange and intimately familiar.
And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, by Gwendolyn Kiste
Fair warning: I read an advance copy of this collection before it came out, and I liked it so much I blurbed it, calling it “ravishingly beautiful and profoundly haunting.” I stand by that assessment. Kiste’s collection is a wonderfully eerie menagerie of stories, and her dark, lyrical prose is no doubt one reason it ended up on the Bram Stoker Award Ballot. These tales are evocative and beautiful, as Kiste delights in taking the everyday and twisting it into something new and unsettling.
The Overneath, by Peter S. Beagle
Beagle is revered as the author of The Last Unicorn, an iconic fantasy novel, and this collection includes an appearance by Schmendrick the Magician, one of the characters from that beloved book. Elsewhere inside it, there are plenty of mythical beasts, including a unicorn, a karkadann, and dragons in the employ of drug dealers. It’s a book full of wit, whimsy, wisdom, and glorious flights of fantasy, featuring many previously uncollected and never-before-published works. It’s a must-read for both old and new fans of the author.
So You Want to Be a Robot and Other Stories, by A. Merc Rustad
The first two stories of Rustad’s I encountered were the wonderful “What Becomes of the Third-Hearted” in Shimmer, and the equally fabulous “This Is Not a Wardrobe Door” in Fireside Fiction. (Both are included in this collection.( Since then, Rustad been published in venues like Uncanny Magazine, Nightmare, Apex, and Lightspeed, and they are without a doubt one of the most interesting writers on the speculative fiction scene. Their prose is sharp and polished enough to both cut and shine, and their stories always have a unique perspective, twist, or edge. Hey, when a writer says they like monsters, robots, and dinosaurs, you just know you’re in for a treat.
Cat Pictures Please and Other Stories, by Naomi Kritzer
Kritzer is a wonderful storyteller with a knack for telling tales that are both subversively funny and full perceptive details about people, society, and social interactions. Writer Kelly Barnhill has called her writing, “quietly subversive and devilishly sly,” and that captures this collection perfectly. Her Hugo Award winning SF story “Cat Pictures Please” is a perfect showcase for her skills, spinning a funny, touching tale about what might happen if an AI was born from our online search histories. In this collection, you’ll also find tales about a golem, dragons, cooking during a pandemic, and more.
Tender: Stories, by Sofia Samatar
Sofia Samatar is a writer who can spellbind you with a story, a sentence, a word. Her prose is sumptuous and magical, but no matter how fantastical her stories might be, they always retain an emotional truth that makes them feel vivid and real. Tender includes twenty tales, two of which have not been previously published, including the must-read novella “Fallow.” This is science fiction and fantasy with depth and a sprawling sense of wonder, and it’s a perfect introduction to the work of this brilliant writer. (If you’re looking for novel-length reads from the author, her fantasy works A Stranger in Olondria and The Winged Histories are highly recommended.)
What It Means When A Man Falls From the Sky, by Lesley Nneka Arimah
This debut collection has received widespread praise. It was a Kirkus Prize winner, NPR named it a Best Book of 2017, it has been shortlisted for several awards, and it received a wealth of glowing reviews from The New York Times, Essence, and Cosmopolitan, and it made the Locus Magazine Recommended Reading List. Arimah writes speculative fiction with a literary bent, weaving together realism and fantasy and science fiction and everyday life in stories that deal with family, loss, grief, ghosts, and unexpected pregnancies, while exploring relationships between people and culture, lovers and friends, parents and children. A compelling collection from a writer well worth following.
Telling the Map: Stories, by Christopher Rowe
Set in Kentucky and Tennessee (or, at least, in some near-future version of Kentucky and Tennessee), Rowe’s haunting and surreal short stories are deeply rooted in the real world, communicating a tactile sense of place. At the same time, he also explores a future society where, for example, bike-racing teens fight rogue AI, tomatoes are grown for blood transfusions, and Christians remake the world in the image of holy maps (as you might suspect, this doesn’t turn out so well). Locus called it, “As smooth and heady as good Kentucky bourbon” and if that’s not a great review then I don’t know what is.
Ursula K. Le Guin: The Hainish Novels and Stories, by Ursula K. Le Guin
Le Guin’s fantasy stories rightly receive a lot of attention, but her science fiction is just as remarkable. This collection was released before Le Guin’s passing (which I’m still not over, by the way), and it is divided into two volumes. Volume one includes the first five Hainish novels—Rocannon’s World, Planet of Exile, City of Illusions, The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed—and four short stories. Volume two includes the final two Hainish novels, The Word for World Is Forest, and The Telling, plus seven more short stories, including “Five Ways to Forgiveness,” published here in print for the first time. It goes without saying that this is the perfect gift for any Le Guin fan.
What’s your favorite SFF short story collection of all time?