Short stories are a particular passion of mine. The right kind can pack so much plot and character into a short space that it’s astounding. They benefit from quick, sudden twists and shocking reveals. They don’t waste a second of space, and collections of short stories can be wonderful breaks from full-length novels. Here are some favorites of mine that you might want to check out.
Skeleton Crew by Stephen King. This one is full of horrors, it’s true. It’s also full of some of King’s absolute best work. If you want to see a writer at the height of their powers, try this out for size. “The Mist” is a gimme. It’s an immensely popular novella, for good reason, but it’s not the only thing I’d recommend here. For fans of truly shocking horror, you have “Survivor Type”, the kind of story that makes people familiar with it shudder. “The Jaunt”, which delves into science fiction. And “The Raft”, which works as a delightful creature feature. If you want some deeper merit and some really spectacular writing, then I recommend “The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet” and “Nona”. There are a variety of flavors here to choose from. King is the one who started me on short stories, so I tend to think this is the best place to start.
Slippage by Harlan Ellison. Ellison is truly the master of short form fiction. No one has perfected the art quite like him. In my opinion, this is his strongest collection overall. My favorite by far is “Mefisto in Onyx.” If Ellison was the type to sell his work to a movie studio, I’d love to see a film version of this. “The Museum on Cyclops Avenue” is one for the myth fans, as he always takes those time-worn notions to a new and fresh place. Lastly, in “The Few, The Proud” he uses SF trappings to tell an anti-war story with fantastic resonance. Hopefully those tidbits are enough to tempt you to read the whole shebang.
Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link. Yes, I will keep mentioning this book until the whole world has read it. Link is incredible at creating worlds, fleshing out characters, and getting you fully invested in just a few pages. She’s also totally original and incomparable to anyone else working today. “The Wizards of Perfil” demonstrates best of all her stories how she says a novel’s worth concisely. While it’s also a very unique experience, “Magic for Beginners” shows even more fully how strange and untamed her stories can be. “The Specialist’s Hat” showcases her power to unnerve so well. This book was on my best of 2016 list, and for good reason.
The Third Bear by Jeff VanderMeer. While we’re talking about weird, we should talk about this. He’s most well-known for his Southern Reach Trilogy, but this book should be as widely read as that, I feel. Especially with his upcoming novel, Borne, being set in the same world as “The Situation”, collected here. And it’s also an excellent story, by the way. I’m going to try to refrain from saying “weird” over and over, but trust this collection personifies that word. “The Goat Variations” takes a historical tragedy and writes about it with such strange poignancy that I found it moving. “The Third Bear” from which the collection takes its title was stunningly frightening in a way I don’t dare spoil.
By Light We Knew Our Names by Anne Valente. This was a recent read, but I have to mention it again because it’s become a new favorite. The writing here was so incredibly strong. All the emotions represented were raw and felt real. “Until Our Shadows Claim Us” has left me unable to think about anything else since I’ve read it. The title story, “By Light We Knew Our Names”, left me breathless from the pain it sketched out for the reader. It’s very hard to make you cling to characters over the course of a short story, but “Terrible Angels” managed that perfectly. There are more here to be devoured and adored, to be sure.
Hopefully if you’re interested in getting deeper into short fiction, I just gave you a good starting point. Thanks for reading and happy geeking!
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