It has been a great year for sci-fi and fantasy short fiction, and not just in the magazines. Recent months have also seen an unusually strong stack of new single-author collections in your favorite genres. Here are 13 that stand out: unforgettable, brief tales to fill the remaining weeks of long summer days.
Apocalypse Nyx, by Kameron Hurley
Hurley first chronicled Nyx’s adventures in the Bel Dame trilogy (first book God’s War was a Nebula nominee); now, the ex-government assassin turned bounty hunter is back in a collection of gritty, hard-edged, and most excellent stories—and no, time hasn’t really smoothed away her rough edges. She’s still partial to drinking, swearing, using violence to solve problems, and generally being her best worst self while trying to keep her squad of apocalyptic misfits together. If you like your science fiction hard and gritty, with a generous helping of pain and violence, this collection is definitely for you. Self-destructive, selfish, foul-mouthed, and lethal, Nyx is back, and she’s a blast.
Figures Unseen: Selected Stories, by Steve Rasnic Tem
Tem is one of my favourite writers of dark and strange short fiction, and this collection features 35 of his best stories. His writing deftly weaves together fantasy, horror, science fiction, and surrealistic weirdness into tales that are both frightening and beautiful. Here, you’ll find stories of flayed rabbits, nuclear holocaust, and nightmarish trees, and in every one, there a sense of an immeasurable depth beneath the words—of things left unsaid that say as much, or more, than what is written. Tem is a winner of the World Fantasy Award, the British Fantasy Award, and the Bram Stoker Award. Consider this collection a must-read for aficionados of the surreal.
Alphaland, by Cristina Jurado
This collection, translated from Spanish by James Womack, gave me my first taste of Jurado’s work. She makes an impression right off the bat with “Vanth”, a gut-wrenching story about a politician who has a woman brought to his hotel room; from this sinister setup, Jurado slides us into truly strange territory, and I was well enough hooked that I didn’t stop until I’d read through the entire book. Alphaland includes the story “Second Death of the Father,” winner of the 2017 Ignotus Prize from the Spanish Fantasy, Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Association. Jurado’s work straddles the lines between horror, fantasy and science fiction; while there are many monsters here, most of them hide in unexpected places, often beneath the characters’ own skins. Visceral and evocative, this is a great introduction to the worlds and words of this writer.
Godfall and Other Stories, by Sandra M. Odell
Odell is a prolific, skillful writer of speculative fiction, and her work has appeared in venues like Pseudopod, GigaNotoSaurus, Cast of Wonders, and elsewhere. Her stories are fierce and original, and she has a real knack for digging into the uncomfortable, sometimes painful, truths hidden beneath the surface of her narratives. She excels at presenting characters and worlds that give you an unexpected (and often unsettling) point of view; highlights in this collection include the wrenching “Ink,” about the powers of tattoos; the brilliant and singularly devastating “Home For Broken”; and the jaw-dropping “Godfall,” in which people are literally mining the bodies of the gods for natural resources. Bonus: Odell’s author notes give fascinating insights into her writing process and the inspiration for each story.
Bones, by Andrew Cull
These four stories by writer-director Andrew Cull form a solid collection of frightening tales. Cull’s horror is often rooted in childhood traumas and vividly drawn landscapes, something that is explicated brilliantly in the first story here, the excellently creepy “Did You Forget About Me.” Cull’s chilling prose pulls you in with believable and familiar settings and characters, and then twists and turns familiarity into something off-kilter and spine-chilling.
Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories, by Kelly Barnhill
Kelly Barnhill is a fabulous writer of fantasy, writing compelling tales that incorporate wit, wonder, and darkness. The stories in this remarkable collection often refashion and reimagine familiar fairy tales in imaginative ways, and her prose is beautifully crafted, gripping, and often funny. In one story, a woman falls in love with a sasquatch. In another, a witch is haunted by the unexpected repercussions of a spell, and in Barnhill’s award-winning novella “The Unlicensed Magician,” we are introduced to the magic of an invisible girl who was once left for dead. By my reckoning, Barnhill is one of the best fantasy writers working today.
All the Fabulous Beasts, by Priya Sharma
Sharma’s debut collection is a marvelous book of mesmerizing tales, where myth, monsters, and dark fantasy come together subvert our expectations as they mix with the real world. Her prose is exquisitely lush; the heady brew of beauty and macabre horror in it recalls writers like Angela Carter and Angela Slatter. (All the Fabulous Beasts pairs wonderfully with both Carter’s classic The Bloody Chamber, and Slatter’s A Feast of Sorrows). There are stories here about crows and bees (you won’t ever look at the latter the same way after reading “The Nature of Bees”), ghosts and magic, and romance and rebirth, and Sharma makes them all glisten like finely polished gems.
Cry Your Way Home, by Damien Angelica Walters
This is a collection of haunting and disturbing stories of horror and pain, of darkness hiding beneath the familiar, and the familiar hiding in the darkness. To quote the review in Publishers Weekly: “Walters peels back the masks of innocence that cover up sins…” She is a masterful writer, skilled at turning familiar fairy tale and horror tropes inside out, and her prose is sharp enough to sink its claws into you and not let go. Haunting and deeply unsettling, this is a collection for readers of finely crafted, unusual horror.
The Voices of Martyrs, by Maurice Broaddus
Broaddus tells speculative stories featuring powerful voices that stay with you long after reading. This collection is divided into three parts—Past, Present, and Future—with Broaddus spinning tales of struggle and persistence, slavery and interstellar religious warfare, magic and technology, and a lot more besides. No matter whether the setting is the Jim Crow era or the far reaches of space, his evocative stories are unique and moving. He is truly an original voice in speculative fiction.
The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria, by Carlos Hernandez
This collection is a couple of years old by now, but worth rediscovery. Hernandez’s writing is at turns charming, poignant, funny, and quirky. He is a gifted storyteller, and spins tales with strong characters and a vivid sense of place. Some of his characters pop up in one story, then appear in another, though they might have changed somewhat on the way over. There are magic and ghosts and theoretical physics at play here, as characters deal with technology, assimilation, and American race relations, as well as other issue, both real and fantastical.
Some bonus suggestions:
You might have heard that acclaimed speculative fiction writer (and translator) Ken Liu’s short stories are being adapted into a TV-series. Which means, of course, you should be checking out everything he has written. His 2016 collection The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories is a great place to start. It includes several of his award-winning and award-nominated, stories, including the title tale, which won the Hugo, the Nebula, and World Fantasy awards.
This also seems like a good place to mention that Nalo Hopkinson’s award-winning collection Skin Folk: Stories is available in print again. This brilliant collection was first published in 2003, and won the World Fantasy Award. Reviews called it “vivid and immediate,” praising Hopkinson’s “lyrical prose and unabashed inventiveness.”
There are a lot of new collections to look forward later this year, but I particularly can’t wait for N.K. Jemisin’s debut collection How Long ‘Til Black Future Month?. It’s out in November, but is available for preorder now. Her Hugo-nominated story “The City Born Great” (the basis for her next novel) is worth the cover price on its own.
What SFF collections have you been reading?