The unofficial start of summer is right around the corner, and with it comes the season for short stories. We believe short story collections are perfect for summer—and so, as has become our annual tradition, we highlight seven upcoming and recent short story collections to get your summer off to a good start.
Entropy in Bloom, by Jeremy Robert Johnson
For a decade, Johnson has disturbed and intrigued readers with bizarre imagery and an unsettlingly humanist approach to horror, blending his surreal visions with very human logic and emotion. Entropy in Bloom collects some of his best work,stories about narcissistic body modification fetishists trying to make themselves special, a pacifist and the alien parasite using him as an incubator, and a man who survives the apocalypse in a hand-sewn suit of cockroaches. But towering above all of these is The Sleep of Judges, an incredibly disturbing novella playing on the violation and alienation of its protagonist in the aftermath of a home invasion as his life descends into surreal horror.
Standout Stories: “Swimming in the House of the Sea,” The Sleep of Judges
Dear Sweet Filthy World, by Caitlin R. Kiernan
Kiernan has a gift for finding unusual beauty in the most terrifying of places. Her recent novella Agents of Dreamland managed to bring a dreamlike cast to the story of a Lovecraftian cult via the dull roar of television static and occasional Lynchian interludes about the characters’ pasts and futures. Her most recent collection, compiling stories mostly published in her online-only zine, along with favorites like “Interstate Love Song,” only builds on that reputation with tales of mad artists, unsettling body horror, supernatural writing aids, paleozoic cyborgs, and other, stranger delights. The result is a collection that delivers deep, visceral, unsettling horror with a strange mist of poetry hanging over it, a surreal compendium of nightmare fuel that feels quite literally made up of by someone’s nightmares.
Standout Stories: “Werewolf Smile,” “The Carnival is Dead and Gone”
Anno Dracula 1889, by Kim Newman
Newman’s grand epic blends world history and horror movie legend into a synthesis of the gothic, high pulp, cultural history, and unusual fact. 1889 continues on this tradition with stories of Martian film actors, overambitious agents, Jack the Ripper, and more. Instead of the history-making events of the main novel series, however, Newman’s collection instead focuses on the people swept up in the chaos, trying to survive and live their lives in a world where monsters are all too real and present. These tales are shot through with his sharp sense of humor and extensive knowledge of pop and general culture.
Standout Stories: “Illimitable Dominion,” “Red Jacks Wild”
Tender, by Sofia Samatar
Sofia Samatar has made a name for herself as a fabulist with two critically acclaimed novels and numerous short works. Passions collects many of her shorter endeavors, from a field guide to ogres in Africa, to a story of young women experiencing an unusual event at summer camp, to one of a sapient brass automata’s father-daughter relationship with her creator. While, like all good fabulists, Samatar’s lyricism and atmosphere are pitch perfect, it is her unique grasp of character voices that puts Tender in the top tier. Her narration is incredibly versatile, able to handle characters of all ages and styles of storytelling, incorporating memorable lines like,”I forgot you. Forgetting you isn’t so wrong. It’s a Life Skill,” and “My father has slain my husband, and gone to prison. How fortunate that I cannot cry. I would ruin my paint!” to her already gorgeous work.
Standout Stories: “Ogres of East Africa,” “How to Get Back to the Forest”
The Hole in the Moon and Other Tales, by Margaret St. Clair
The exceptionally prolific Margaret St. Clair was a pulp author during the 1940s and 1950s whose life was almost as extraordinary as the works she put to the page. Her output spanned several genres, from crime fiction, to science fiction, to occultist novels, and just about everything in between. She is even responsible for one of the more realistic occult horror novels, The Shadow of Labrys. The Hole in the Moon, a new collection of her work, is a perfect way to get acquainted with St. Clair’s fascinating, and sometimes horrifying worlds, encompassing stories of aliens who keep humans as pets, the twisted relationship between a humanoid abomination and a young woman, and an unsettling egglike object in a cave. Each story deals wonderfully in dread, tension, and unsettling atmosphere, showing why St. Clair deserves rediscovery once again.
Standout Stories: “Brenda,” “Child of Void”
The Unorthodox Dr. Draper and Other Stories, by William Browning Spencer
For years, Browning has existed at an unusual point in the fantasy and horror genres. In his novels and story writing, he balances dread and humor effortlessly, writing cheerfully twisted stories of businesses run by creatures from the Cthulhu Mythos, a wedding photographer driven to unusual extremes, and a children’s book that warps reality to match the tortured psyche of its author. In his new collection, he finds ample humor and terror from situations including a faustian bargain with a blurry-faced thing that might be a man, the titular unorthodox therapist, and a figure who claims the only salvation for humanity is classic literature. The premises are absurd, but Browning’s true strength lies in making the horror seem mundane enough to knock the reader constantly off-balance, creating the perfect unsettling atmosphere.
Standout Stories: “The Penguins of the Apocalypse,” “The Love Song of A. Alhazred Azathoth”
New Voices of Fantasy, edited by Peter S. Beagle and Jacob Weisman
As anthologies can act as marvelous gateways to the garden of forking paths that is science fiction and fantasy, it’s always a big deal when an anthology of the latest luminaries of the genre comes sees the light of day, and this one is a doozy. Co-edited by Peter S. Beagle, one of the all-time greats in fantasy, New Voices reads like a list of the brightest new stars in the genre, spinning tales of sapient tornadoes, jackalope mating rituals, suburban vampires, and ducks trying to understand faith. Beagle and Jacob Weisman have assembled a fantastic list of favorites and newer writers alike (Alyssa Wong, Brooke Bolander, Amal El-Mohtar, Hannu Rajaniemi, JY Yang, and the list goes on…); New Voices serves as a good cross-section of current fantasy and who to watch out for. And who knows? You might find a new rabbit hole to fall down in the process.
Standout Stories: Nebula winner “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong, “The Duck” by Ben Loory, “Jackalope Wives” by Ursula Vernon, “A Kiss With Teeth” by Max Gladstone
What recent story collections have wowed you?