In early 2020 (which seems a millennia ago), I wrote about the definition(s) of speculative fiction. Definitions range from being a catch-all term for genre to more specific interpretations (a genre that explores what might be possible but isn’t yet). Under either definition, speculative fiction is my favorite genre. And I especially love when it is utilized in the short form.
2021 is going to be a year of superb releases in speculative collections. Short fiction has always been a preferred length for me, especially lately. I have very small short breaks between newborn baby naps and toddler quiet time. Short stories make for the perfect read when I’m able to steal a moment.
Below is a sample of 2021 speculative short story collections. They range from speculative literary fiction to horror, sci-fi, fantasy, or all the above. It is an exciting time for the speculative short form, and I love putting some well-deserved spotlight on collections. Additionally, I love highlighting some of the smaller presses producing stunning and ferocious reads. Many of these releases are coming out in the first half of the year. And so many of these covers are absolutely stunning. So get your wallets ready and order/pre-order as fast as you can.
Reconstruction: Stories by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Small Beer Press is an iconic press for speculative short fiction collections, and Reconstruction: Stories continues the tradition. Beginning with the stunning, Nebula-award-winning vampire story “A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i,” (I’m currently rereading this story and am again astounded by its depth and perfection) the collection carries a theme of characters navigating their humanity in inhumane conditions.
Midnight Doorways: Fables from Pakistan by Usman T. Malik
Malik’s debut short story collection has been lauded by Silvia Moreno–Garcia, Kelly Link, Joe Hill, and many other greats of speculative fiction. Not only does it have haunting fables, but it also has beautiful illustrations by seven different Pakistani artists. It is a unique, artful exploration of the scope of speculative genre in Pakistan.
Never Have I Ever by Isabel Yap
For those who love urban legends, Yap’s debut collection is one for the top of the TBR pile. From stories about high schoolers to goddesses to androids, Publishers Weekly hails Yap as a powerful new voice in speculative fiction, and Tamsyn Muir (Gideon the Ninth) calls the book a masterclass collection.
The Ghost Variations: One Hundred Stories by Kevin Brockmeier (March 2021)
Those who enjoyed Brockmeier’s The Brief History of the Dead from 2006 will no doubt rejoice to read more poignant stories that explore all aspects of the afterlife. This collection of 100 stories ranges from funny to scary, checking all the boxes for those who love ghost stories in various forms and styles.
Alias Space and Other Stories by Kelly Robson (March 2021)
Another debut collection for your TBR. This is Kelly Robson’s first collection, forthcoming from Subterranean Press, which is known for producing absolutely stunning books (I mean, that cover, though). From gothic horror to historical fantasy, these 14 stories offer a wide range of entertainment for any speculative aficionado.
Burning Girls and Other Stories by Veronica Schanoes (March 2021)
This is one of my most anticipated releases of 2021, period. Schanoes compiles a collection of stories about women in the margins. Fierce stories, from historical fantasy to fairytales, that take inspiration from other fantasists, such as Karen Russell and Kelly Link. Such a collection will no doubt take its place alongside some of my favorite collections of all time, such as Link’s Get In Trouble and Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber.
First Person Singular: Stories by Haruki Murakami, Translated by Philip Gabriel (April 2021)
This collection is for all the fans who love Murakami’s signature twists. These eight stories explore thoughts on music, a love for baseball, and include stories that may or may not have Murakami himself as the narrator. While not perhaps as speculative as other books on this list, these tales are both philosophical and mysterious.
The Tangleroot Palace: Stories by Marjorie Liu (June 2021)
I am a huge fan of Liu’s Monstress, so I am thrilled about this collection about dangerous magic and dangerous women. This collection of short stories and a novella includes a princess who runs away from an arranged marriage, an apprentice witch who seeks freedom through betrayal, and a body-stealing sorceress who falls in love with a soul that only emerges once a week. It’s a spellbinding collection (and another amazing cover)!
Big Dark Hole and Other Stories by Jeffrey Ford (July 2021)
Ford’s story “Word Doll” from his collection A Brief History of Hell is one of my favorite stories of all time. Ford specializes in having the mundane meet the creepy and inevitably weird, leaving the reader often unsettled and in awe. Having heard Ford read one of the stories included in this collection at a public reading pre-pandemic, I can’t wait to gobble up the rest.
The Ghost Sequences by A.C. Wise (October 2021)
Not only is this one of my favorite cover arts ever, the collection’s content is right in my wheelhouse. Wise says on her blog that The Ghost Sequences is a collection of stories about ghosts and hauntings, which she writes frequently. I can attest to the power of these chilling stories; Wise’s story “Exhalation #10” from the anthology Final Cuts continues to haunt my dreams with its immense emotion and creepiness. I don’t believe preorders are available yet on this one, but I included the link to Wise’s blog for when preorders do go live!
My budget weeps for all the collections I want to purchase for my TBR this year. However, the sheer depth and talent of the above writers are well worth it. If you’re interested in more speculative short fiction, check out this post on 5 Great Speculative Anthologies of 2020.