Just recently, I discovered that my favorite genre is speculative fiction — also known as SFF (science fiction and fantasy). I won’t get into a whole definition because we’ve already covered it before. But know that speculative fiction is a very broad term. It basically revolves around the exploration of what might be or might’ve been. It’s kind of confusing, but think about the new Marvel animated show What If…? which is an almost literal example. But my takeaway here is that the genre explores what might be. Plus, the speculative nature of SFF works particularly well in shorter formats. Which is also true for books — or in this case, short stories.
SFF short story collections are honestly amazing. They let you dip your toes into an ocean-sized pool of what could be — and the best thing is that there truly is something for everyone with SFF short story collections. Whether you like sci-fi, something more magical, or even horror. Speculative fiction covers such a vast ground, you will most likely find something you love in it. The short story collections that I chose for this article are kind of like that — a mix of everything. Some are more on the sci-fi side, and there’s plenty of magical realism too — which is peak speculative fiction in my opinion. So without further ado, here are 8 amazing SFF short story collections that will transport you to other — stranger — worlds.
8 SFF Short Story Collections That Are Out of This World
How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? by N. K. Jemisin
Jemisin is best-known for her amazing fantasy novels — and I’m happy to say that her short stories are just as good! This is one of the longer collections in this list, with 20+ short stories about rebellion and redemption that weave modern society with magic and sci-fi elements. Although no two stories in How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? are the same. For example, “The City Born Great” envisions cities as living, breathing beings. But the fan favorite is “Valedictorian,” in which a girl refuses to underachieve even though it will have dire consequences for her.
I’m Waiting for You and Other Stories by Bo-Young Kim, Translated by Sophie Bowman and Sung Ryu
I’m Waiting for You is a sci-fi short story collection that follows two interconnected storylines. The first is about a couple who are trying to coordinate their own space missions so that they can arrive on Earth at the same time and finally get married. The other storyline follows these godlike creatures — who are responsible for life on earth — as they take a look at humanity and ponder philosophical questions about existence and free will. Kim Bo-Young is a famous SFF author from South Korea — and I’m so glad her work is being translated because I wouldn’t want to miss any of these stories!
The Dangers of Smoking in Bed: Stories by Mariana Enríquez
This is one of my favorite SFF short story collections ever. Mariana Enríquez expertly blends magical realism, horror, and socio-political commentary in her stories. Almost all of them are set in contemporary Argentina — and they range from women haunted by dead babies to curses and demons. The longest story is titled “Kids Who Come Back” and it talks about missing children who one day, inexplicably, reappear. It is the perfect example of the power Enríquez has with words and how she analyzes real-life horrors through a speculative lens.
The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu
This is Ken Liu’s second SFF short story collection, and its 15+ stories are a weird, fun, and at times depressing exploration of what it means to be human. Most of the stories are connected — plus they talk about things like climate change, artificial intelligence, and even cryptocurrency. The titular story is particularly good. “The Hidden Girl” is a fantasy story that follows an assassin who’s willing to stand up for what is right, even if it means going against those closest to her. Watch out for the stories “The Gods Will Not Be Chained” and “Real Artists” — they’re pretty good, too!
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
Carmen María Machado is a master of SFF short stories. I cannot wait for her to release another collection. Her Body and Other Parties is a perfect blend of dark humor, horror, magical realism, and even some sci-fi. All through a feminist lens as she talks about women’s bodies: their acceptance and, more often than not, the horrors they are subjected to. It’s also quite experimental; one story is literally a list of a woman’s lovers, and another reimagines the plot summaries of Law & Order. But my favorites are the much lauded “The Husband Stitch,” “Eight Bites,” and “Difficult At Parties.”
Prayer for the Living by Ben Okri
This is such a dream-like collection of SFF short stories! They are strange and surreal — some of them are even like nightmares. But they tread the line between real and unreal so well that they are very fun to read! Plus, some of them explore alternate realities, which I am here for. Can we also talk about the settings and characters? From London to Byzantium, with murderers, authors, and men stuck in mirrors. This is such a wide collection of stories that showcase Okri’s amazing range. All 20+ stories are quite good, but watch out for “Alternative Realities Are True” and “The Secret History of a Door”!
The Rock Eaters: Stories by Brenda Peynado
Similar to Mariana Enríquez, Brenda Peynado does a wonderful job of using speculative elements such as magical realism or aliens to make a socio-political critique. With more than a dozen stories, this collection talks about topics such as immigration, colonialism, xenophobia, and class disparity. Because of it, this SFF collection is more depressing and difficult to read than some of the others. But it is absolutely worth it! Some stories that stand out include “Thoughts and Prayers,” the titular “The Rock Eaters,” and “The Kite Maker.”
Never Have I Ever by Isabel Yap
Last but not least, this is another collection that mixes the magical and the horrific. It is full of urban legends, Filipino folklore, and immigrant tales that explore the lives of women and girls. Yap’s unique voice is oft-praised for a reason — her stories are unique and lyrical. Full of love and pain. They also include things like ghosts, vampires, androids, and elementals to name a few. Watch out especially for “A Spell for Foolish Hearts,” “Good Girls,” and the heartbreaking “Asphalt, River, Mother, Child,” which talks about the Philippine drug war.