Supernatural Short Stories
I love novels, but a great short story can be so satisfying. Sometimes you want to read something quick; but fast-to-read doesn't necessarily mean that that work will be any less profound or compelling than something that takes much longer to read. This is a list of short stories—some all by one author and some by many authors grouped by theme—with fantastical elements. Some of these stories fit in the mold of traditional fantasy, some of horror and some don't fit into any easy explainable genre category, but all of them will leave you thinking for far longer than it'll take you to read them.
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
This recent National Book Award finalist is a collection of short stories that blur genre lines by including aspects of fantasy, horror and traditional literary themes. Most of the stories deal with women whose lives are somehow touched by the supernatural, whether by having a ribbon reminiscent of the one in the classic children’s horror story, or by a the ghosts of disappeared women haunting dresses, and more. Machado is at her best when she plays with the form of the short story (such as in “Help Me Follow My Sister into the Land of the Dead,” which is not found in this collection but available online) or in this collection’s “Especially Heinous: 272 Views of Law and Order: SVU”.
Get in Trouble by Kelly Link
Link’s stories incorporate aspects of the supernatural, sometimes as a main part of the story, and sometimes as background, but they’re grounded in real emotions and desires of the characters. My favorite was “The Summer People,” which was reminiscent of classic fairy tales. “Secret Identity,” a story about a teen girl who goes to meet her online boyfriend (who thinks she’s someone else) and ends up at a superhero convention, and “Light,” a story about shadows who grow into twins and pocket universes, were also standouts.
The Witch and Other Tales Re-Told by Jean Thompson
While all the stories in this book are loosely inspired by fairy tales, their grounding in the real world adds new perspective. The title story is a retelling of Hansel and Gretel, re-imagining the children as siblings sent to a creepy and unwelcoming foster home. Similarly, “The Curse” takes Sleeping Beauty into contemporary life by presenting an overbearing father whose strictness hides a dark past. Some of these stories are more or less clearly inspired by a well-known story, but they will leave you thinking about subtle horrors of the modern world.
Unnatural Creatures: Stories Selected by Neil Gaiman
This book collects some old favorites of Gaiman’s, as well as some stories original to this collection, about fantastic creatures like werewolves, griffins, and gods. Some stand outs include Peter Beagle’s “Come Lady Death”, about a ball given in honor of Death, Nalo Hopkinson’s “The Smile on the Face” which is a dryad story appropriate for the #metoo era, and Gaiman’s own “Sunbird”, about a very unusual club for gourmets. The title derives from Gaiman’s love of natural history museums as a child, along with his conviction that a museum of unnatural history would be even better. Not all the stories feature familiar unnatural creatures, but they all feature interesting ones.
Rogues edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
This is a collection of short stories, mostly in the fantasy genre but also including some more traditional thrillers featuring rogues, scoundrels and rascals. I’m usually a big fantasy reader, but I particularly enjoyed the stories by Gillian Flynn and Connie Willis, both of which were set in a more real world setting. Because many of these stories take place in the larger universe of an author’s work, this is a good way to figure out what epic series may be to your taste and worth your time. I’ve read Patrick Rothfuss and Scott Lynch’s novels before, and these stories are good examples of the stories they tend to tell.