I mentioned in my February wrap-up that I haven’t been reading much at all recently because I’ve been focusing on my own writing and trying to finish up a bunch of short stories I’ve started over the years, and writing short stories has put me in the mood to read more of them. I love novels and novellas and, over the past few years, I’ve discovered a real love for novelettes, but I think short stories are often overlooked, which is a shame when writing a good short story is such a skill and there are many authors who specialise in short fiction who don’t receive the same attention as novelists.
I’ve been better at reading short fiction over the past couple of years because I’ve been reading the Hugo Awards short story and novelette shortlists, and I’ve really enjoyed it. So today I’m giving short stories a shout out and sharing five of my favourite SFF short stories—all of which you can read online for free!
‘And All the Trees of the Forest Shall Clap Their Hands‘ by Sharon Hsu (Uncanny Magazine Issue Thirty-Two: January/February 2020)
We always see portal fantasies through the eyes of a protagonist who travels through the portal, but this short story is told from the pov of someone on the other side of the portal. It explores colonialism in a way I’ve never seen any other fantasy story do, in many ways it feels like a response to The Chronicles of Narnia, and I loved it.
‘A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies‘ by Alix E. Harrow (Apex Magazine Issue 108: February 2018)
Harrow has very quickly become a favourite author of mine—her second novel The Once and Future Witches is one of my all-time favourites—and I’ve enjoyed every short story by her I’ve read. This story is actually the first thing by her that I read because it was shortlisted, and later won, the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 2019, and it’s another story that looks at portal fantasies. This time the focus is on the people who wish they could escape into another world and I loved it a great deal. It feels like a love letter to stories.
‘Why I Hate Zombie Unicorns‘ by Laura Pearlman (Shimmer Magazine Number 20: July 2014)
I first heard someone talking about this story on Twitter after Shimmer announced that it was ceasing publication. You all know I’m a unicorn girl, so I couldn’t resist immediately giving this story a try and I love how uneasy the ending is. It’s such a simple story in so many ways, but it’s excellent.
‘The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society‘ by T. Kingfisher (Uncanny Magazine Issue Twenty-Five: November/December 2018)
I adore the way T. Kingfisher writes funny fantasy and this short story is no different. It’s such a simple concept but done so well, and so playfully, that I grinned my way through this story. If you’ve always wanted to try Kingfisher’s novels but you don’t know if her sense of humour is for you, this story is a great place to start!
‘Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island‘ by Nibedita Sen (Nightmare Magazine Issue 80: May 2019)
I remember finishing this short story and wishing there was a novel-length version of it somewhere, but also not being at all annoyed that this story is all there is. It’s still such a satisfying, unnerving little tale and its horror is in everything that’s left unsaid.