Short fiction recommendations
May 28, 2016 9:54 AM   Subscribe

What are your favourite collections of short stories written by a single author?

I like reading short fiction this way, because it's interesting to see what themes and ideas reoccur.

Things I like:
  • Preferred genres are fantasy/sci fi, but I will read anything if it's awesome. Not enough into horror to read a whole book of it.
  • Awesome lady protagonists are important.
Have at it!
posted by quaking fajita to Writing & Language (71 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
Magic for Beginners or Get in Trouble, both by Kelly Link.

I also very much enjoy Catherynne M. Valente's short stories, though I haven't actually read her collections - you might try The Bread we Eat in Dreams, though.

And if you're into the Kafkaesque, Autobiography of a Corpse by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky is pretty amazing.
posted by unsub at 10:08 AM on May 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

The Complete Flannery O'Connor and the Stories of Breece D'j Pancake are both stellar.
posted by saladin at 10:09 AM on May 28, 2016 [6 favorites]

I recommend any of Charles de Lint's short stories, which are urban fantasy and feature a lot of great female protagonists. Some of my favourites are Moonlight and Vines (1999), Dreams Underfoot (1993), and Waifs and Strays (2002). You can also find those first two collected along with a third as The Newford Stories (1999).
posted by northernish at 10:17 AM on May 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

I remember I liked reading Phillip K dicks short stories for similar reasons (it was interesting to see what ideas and themes reoccur). Also Flannery O Connor.
posted by LaunchBox at 10:34 AM on May 28, 2016

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang (The edition I linked to is new, but the collection is older.)
posted by 168 at 10:37 AM on May 28, 2016 [9 favorites]

Not sci fi or fantasy, but excellent writing with well developed female protagonists:

Alice Munro--The Progress of Love
Maile Meloy--Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It
Gish Jen--Who's Irish?
Lauren Groff--Delicate Edible Birds
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:44 AM on May 28, 2016

If you can veer 180 degrees from sic-fi/fantasy, there is no better living short fiction writer than Alice Munro.
posted by flourpot at 10:46 AM on May 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

I loved, loved, loved Aimee Bender's The Color Master when I read it earlier this year. Magical realism and fantasy, definitely women-centric. It's been years since I last read them, but I've also enjoyed her other collections (The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, Willful Creatures).
posted by mixedmetaphors at 10:54 AM on May 28, 2016 [5 favorites]

The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye by A.S. Byatt. Not only my favourite short story collection but the title story is my favourite piece of prose in all the world. Awesome ladies predominate.
posted by angiep at 11:01 AM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Alissa Nutting's Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls is great, it's not sci fi but the stories are all surreal/strange.
posted by jabes at 11:10 AM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nthing Flannery O'Connor and Breece DJ Pancake! (And on preview, also nthing anything by Aimee Bender).

I'll admit I'm not well versed in fantasy (and only slightly moreso in [non-hard] scifi), but I do read a good bit of magical realism, which you may find to be a pleasurable, somewhat lateral alternative.

Julio Cortazar's Blow Up and Other Stories. If you're familiar with Michelangelo Antonioni's 1966 film Blow Up, it is loosely based on the title story. (From Goodreads: A young girl spends her summer vacation in a country house where a tiger roams . . . A man reading a mystery finds out too late that he is the murderer's victim . . . In the fifteen stories collected here—including "Blow-Up," which was the basis for Michelangelo Antonioni's film of the same name—Julio Cortazar explores the boundary where the everyday meets the mysterious, perhaps even the terrible.)

Adolfo Bioy Casares' The Invention of Morel and Other Stories, which inspired another film (Alain Resnais' Last Year At Marienbad - I guess I like strange stories that inspired even stranger films). Recommended if you enjoy surrealism, Borges, etc.

Lorrie Moore's Birds of America: Stories. I found it absorbing. (From Goodreads: From the opening story, "Willing", about a second-rate movie actress in her thirties who has moved back to Chicago, where she makes a seedy motel room her home and becomes involved with a mechanic who has not the least idea of who she is as a human being, Birds of America unfolds a startlingly brilliant series of portraits of the unhinged, the lost, the unsettled of our America.)

Judy Budnitz' Flying Leap really spun me into another world, ripe with magic.
posted by nightrecordings at 11:10 AM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Elizabeth Hand's Saffron and Brimstone is really good. I think it's more horror and fantasy than science fiction, though.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:20 AM on May 28, 2016

Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman in the fantasy-sometimes-bordering-on-horror genre. Had a dark re-telling of Snow White that I very much enjoyed.
posted by permiechickie at 11:22 AM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Burning Chrome collection by William Gibson. It was published in the early 80s, I read it in the early 90s, and I feel like the stories in it helped lay my personal foundation for my expectations of every piece of sci-fi I've read ever since. It set the bar for character-driven techno sci-fi for the young 1990 version of me.

I have yet to find a literary collection that affected me so profoundly. Other things have moved me and made me think, other pieces of writing may objectively be better, but the Burning Chrome collection quite literally helped shape who I am.
posted by erst at 11:23 AM on May 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

You might enjoy reading some Shirley Jackson--there are definitely recurring themes in her stories, some can be considered fantasy, others are more macabre. The collection "Just An Ordinary Day" is a great, extensive representation of her work.
posted by bookmammal at 11:27 AM on May 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

Limiting my favorites to SF/F collections (some of linked stories) written by women:

K. J. Bishop, That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote
Susanna Clarke, The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories
Zenna Henderson, Ingathering
Kij Johnson, At the Mouth of the River of Bees: Stories
T. Kingfisher [Ursula Vernon], Toad Words and Other Stories
Janet Kagan, Mirabile
Seanan McGuire, Velveteen Vs. the Junior Super Patriots and sequels
posted by Wobbuffet at 11:29 AM on May 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

Jesus Son by Denis Johnson is one of my favorite books.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:40 AM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding Ted Chiang. I also really like Changing Planes by Ursula K. Le Guin, which is a sort of fantasy anthropological travelogue.

One of the stories is available online: "The Seasons of the Ansarac".
posted by teraflop at 12:19 PM on May 28, 2016

Strange Pilgrims, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Labyrinths, Jorge Luis Borges.
posted by zyxwvut at 12:42 PM on May 28, 2016

Burning Your Boats by Angela Carter. A best of collection from one of the greatest female fantasy authors.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 12:49 PM on May 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

Viral, Emily Miller - absurdist speculative fiction
American Housewife, Helen Ellis - social satire / weird chick lit
posted by Flannery Culp at 1:46 PM on May 28, 2016

N-thing Ted Chiang. Really amazing collection. Sci-fi but with really odd and interesting spins on all of it.
posted by bfootdav at 1:49 PM on May 28, 2016

i want to caution on ted chiang. that collection has a big reputation, yet i was disappointed with it. there's something oddly bland about his writing.

virconium by m john harrison is a collection of short stories / novellas around a common theme that you might enjoy. it's not as diverse as chang, but somehow i prefer it (even though i am not really a fantasy fan myself).

oh, edit: virconium is mainly a sausage fest, tho.
posted by andrewcooke at 1:58 PM on May 28, 2016

The Awakening and Selected Stories of Kate Chopin. The Awakening is a novella, not a short story, and usually gets all the attention, but Chopin is absolutely masterful in the amount of nuance and detail she can convey with few words, and her short stories are well worth reading.
posted by eviemath at 2:33 PM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding Angela Carter (especially The Bloody Chamber), A.S. Byatt, and Kelly Link.

Not as great on the female protagonists front, but I love love love Sherman Alexie's short stories, especially those collected in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, (which is also my favorite title for a short story collection ever).

In the SF realm: I like Connie Willis's short stories more than her novels--Fire Watch is a great collection.
posted by karayel at 2:35 PM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nthing Ted Chiang and Burning Chrome.

Also, Ursula K. Le Guin's Compass Rose. I'm not much of a rereader. I have very few paperbacks that I have read so often that they have fallen apart. This is one of them.
posted by BrashTech at 2:52 PM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I know most people either love Neil Gaiman or hate him but I would pick him over many other contemporary authors.
posted by JJ86 at 2:54 PM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nine Stories, J D. Salinger.
posted by RearWindow at 2:55 PM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All by Laird Barron.
posted by BibiRose at 3:04 PM on May 28, 2016

Nthing the incredible Kelly Link. My fav is Stranger Things Happen.
posted by missmary6 at 3:10 PM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Alice Munro!! everything she writes! (mostly all short story collections, always female protagonists, realist genre) . My favorite author.

Two excellent collections:

Hateship Friendship Courtship Loveship Marriage

Moons of Jupiter
posted by bearette at 3:25 PM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding Kelly Link and the Kij Johnson collection mentioned above. Also:

Margo Lanagan: Black Juice
Margaret Atwood: Stone Mattress
James Tiptree Jnr. (Alice Sheldon): Her smoke rose up forever
C.J. Cherryh: Visible Light
Ursula Le Guin- any of her collections
posted by Coaticass at 3:32 PM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

The collected Dorothy Parker
posted by runincircles at 3:40 PM on May 28, 2016

Nisi Shawl: Filter House
posted by Coaticass at 3:47 PM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ursula Le Guin - The Birthday of the World
posted by glitter at 4:17 PM on May 28, 2016

Seconding Nine Stories.
posted by radioamy at 4:21 PM on May 28, 2016

Back after perusing my bookshelves! They're not SFF, but I enjoyed ZZ Packer's Drinking Coffee Elsewhere and Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies.
posted by mixedmetaphors at 4:33 PM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Black Tickets by Jayne Anne Phillips. A thoughtfully constructed collection that definitely works as a cohesive whole.
posted by Lorin at 5:00 PM on May 28, 2016

The reason Ursula LeGuin keeps coming up is that Ursula LeGuin is a great answer to this question so let me add The Wind's Twelve Quarters which nobody said yet.
posted by escabeche at 5:30 PM on May 28, 2016

George Saunders is billed as a literary writer, but in fact he's at least 50/50 literary/genre stuff, and he's fantastic at SF -- he sets a character to orbit an idea and then sends both of them careening. Tenth of December is his latest and best.
posted by thesmallmachine at 5:33 PM on May 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

Steven Millhauser's The Knife Thrower has some fantastical elements, though it's not fantasy/SF.

You might enjoy the Collected Fictions of Jorge Luis Borges.

Amelia Gray's Museum of the Weird and Gutshot are pretty great, sort of fantastical, very funny and interesting conceits.

George Saunders sounds right up your alley, as does Etgar Keret.

Carmen Maria Machado has a literary sci-fi/fantasy book on the way from Graywolf that you might want to check out next year.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 5:52 PM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Amy Hempel. She is an absolute genius. Not sci-fi.

Also Daniel Jose Older's first book, Salsa Nocturna. Really great short stories.
posted by bibliogrrl at 6:01 PM on May 28, 2016

The collected short stories of Guy de Maupassant.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:32 PM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Deborah Eisenberg
posted by brujita at 8:17 PM on May 28, 2016

I'd be surprised if you haven't read it, but Callahan Chronicles by Spider Robinson is my favorite. Actually, I've enjoyed all of the Callahan books, but I love puns.
posted by MuChao at 9:21 PM on May 28, 2016

Caitlin Horrocks, This is Not Your City.

Not SF, really, but her stories often occur in a somewhat different reality. She also has stories published online that you can check out for a sample.
posted by momus_window at 9:27 PM on May 28, 2016

Grace Paley, The Little Disturbances of Man.

If you like Paley, also try Molly Antopol's The UnAmericans.

Clarice Lispector, Soulstorm.
posted by aws17576 at 10:50 PM on May 28, 2016

The Dying Earth by Jack Vance.

Fictions by Jorges Luis Borges.
posted by boilermonster at 10:57 PM on May 28, 2016

Oh, and anything by Isak Dinesen.
posted by aws17576 at 11:45 PM on May 28, 2016

Jagannath by Karin Tidbeck. Agonizing and haunting by turns.

Also Nthing Kelly Link and Aimee Bender, two of my favorite authors. I could reread their stuff forever.

My personal very tip-top favorite short story author is Roger Zelazny, and Frost and Fire is probably my favorite collection of his. He's not quite as good at having female protagonists, but his female characters are more frequently than not at least active participants in the story, and he uses words like scalpels. It'll likely be hard to find a copy, though, given how old it is. (Amazon kept pretending it had no idea what I was talking about.)
posted by Scattercat at 12:36 AM on May 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Mark Twain, esp his later writings -- stellar. At the end of his life, his beloved wife dead, his beloved daughter dead, lost tons of money in silver investments (I think silver, though it could have been buttermilk; I think Twain wasn't the sharpest money guy around) and was just all-around hurting and so when he wrote he told the truth, often unvarnished. The best writing I've come across w/r/t the stupidities of religions, and I came across it in high school, case could be made he saved my life -- here is this guy I trust totally and just howling with laughter at things that needed to be howled down with laughter. Bitterly, savagely funny.

Jack London -- dead of alcoholism at 40 but lived more in those 40 years than most others would in 16 lifetimes. And wrote about it. Wrote about it really well. He's not just some mope who wrote about dogs in Alaska in the gold rush, Jack London was huge, and still throws a huge shadow, his personality as wide and varied as any other human. Seek him out -- it's worth your time.

Guy de Maupassant -- Grab any collection of his you can get your grubby paws on. One hell of a writer. Often a twist at the end of his tales, you're ramped up from what's gone on and then back to life as it's lived -- a rare talent.

David Foster Wallace -- The Girl With The Curious Hair. It's DFW, so it's all over the map, stories ranging from way over here to way over there and all points in between. Hell of a book.
posted by dancestoblue at 1:56 AM on May 29, 2016

Seconding Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies.
posted by blueberry at 2:12 AM on May 29, 2016

Thirding Jhumpa Lahiri --- Unaccustomed Earth is every bit as good as Interpreter of Maladies.
posted by slenderloris at 8:05 AM on May 29, 2016

I thought over the question w/r/t my own bookshelves and came up with Ernest Hemingway's Winner Take Nothing but then saw the OP's "Awesome lady protagonists" requirement -- oh, well. Another failing collection, which started as short stories but is now considered a novel would be Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles aka The SIlver Locists in the UK.
posted by Rash at 10:58 AM on May 29, 2016

Fancies and Goodnights, by John Collier, is a sadly little-known classic, and it's fantastic.

(There are also about a million suggestions that have already been made that I would second.)
posted by kyrademon at 2:15 PM on May 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

And I will add Dangerous Space by Kelley Eskridge. Mostly SFF, lots of awesome lady protagonists, and all-around great.
posted by kyrademon at 2:17 PM on May 29, 2016

Raymond Carver.
Charles Bukowski.
F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Tunneling to the Center of the Earth by Kevin WIlson.
posted by shesbenevolent at 6:36 PM on May 29, 2016

My Name Is Aram, by William Saroyan
Unpossible, by Daryl Gregory
posted by RakDaddy at 7:16 PM on May 29, 2016

Anything by Jorge Luis Borges (Labyrinths, Ficciones, the Collected Stories)

Harlan Ellison might not be the most beloved person, but he wrote some amazing short fiction. The stand outs, and/or the ones that might still be in print would be
Deathbird Stories
Repent, Harlequin! Said the Tick Tock Man
Stalking the Nightmare
Angry Candy

They're all fantastic, but very much of their time.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:40 PM on May 29, 2016

Anything by Avram Davidson.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:36 AM on May 30, 2016

Lorrie Moore.
posted by DMelanogaster at 6:03 PM on May 30, 2016

Nathan Englander's first book of short stories was pretty amazing, as well.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:18 PM on May 30, 2016

Nthing Kelly Link and Kij Johnson's collections. I really love Theodora Goss's In the Forest of Forgetting. I love Angelica Gorodischer's Kalpa Imperial which isn't really a novel, but more of a strung together series of stories about an empire that never was. Any single author collection published by Small Beer Press will be good.
posted by azalea_chant at 10:19 PM on May 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh, also Nnedi Okorafor's Kabu Kabu.
posted by azalea_chant at 10:36 PM on May 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'd Nth many of the above recommendations (Bender, Bradbury, Carter, Chiang, de Lint, Gaiman, Goss, Hand, Lanagan, Le Guin, Link, Valente).

Only a few stand-outs I'd add that tick your boxes:
M. Rickert's Map of Dreams
Ekaterina Sedia's Moscow But Dreaming
Amal El-Mohtar's The Honey Month (a mix of poetry and short-short fiction but stunning all the same)
posted by xenization at 7:04 AM on May 31, 2016

So much to choose from! Thanks, all.
posted by quaking fajita at 11:38 AM on May 31, 2016

Came here to recommend Saunders' Tenth of December, but thesmallmachine beat me to it.

The best short fiction collection I've read recently is Fairytales for Lost Children by Diriye Osman. Not necessarily what you're looking for, but amazingly written. Gay fiction from the African diaspora.
posted by duffell at 7:20 PM on May 31, 2016

nthing Burning Chrome.

It's the best collection of sci-fi short stories I've ever read, and the hero of Johnny Mnemonic - one story in the book - ain't Johnny, but Molly Millions, who Trinity from the Matrix seems partially built upon.
posted by talldean at 7:29 PM on May 31, 2016

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