Let's talk about the best and newest science fiction and fantasy story collections
These days, novels are the default for most science fiction and fantasy writers. But in decades past, the short story could provide not only an income but also a great deal of exposure for authors. After all, it was a short story, "The Lottery," that catapulted Shirley Jackson to stardom, and many novels, such as Isaac Asimov's "Nightfall," started off as shorter works. So let's talk about some great new — and upcoming — story collections.
Silvia: I'm not sure if there are more story collections coming out this year than in previous ones, but it feels like it. One of the small new releases is "Midnight Doorways: Fables from Pakistan" by Usman T. Malik, whose fiction has a dreamy, subtle touch. Tales of a haunted orphanage or two lovers trapped in a flood are sketched in a way that, true to the title of the collection, makes the reader think of fables. "The Rock Eaters" by Brenda Peynado also carries that feeling of things slightly askew, of the fantastic mixing with the mundane. In Peynado's collection, angels perch on the roofs of households like birds and sorrows are distilled into stones.
Lavie: It does feel like a big year for collections. "The Best of Elizabeth Hand" is a major retrospective of this underrated writer. It includes World Fantasy Award winner "The Maiden Flight of McCauley's Bellerophon," a subtle, haunting magic realist piece of Americana that made me fall in love with Hand's work. But there is much more there. Isabel Yap publishes infrequently, so I was delighted to discover her first collection is out this year. "Never Have I Ever" overflows with life and magic, and if you are not familiar with the vibrant literary scene in the Philippines, let this serve as a worthy introduction.
The first iteration of Zen Cho's "Spirits Abroad" came out a few years ago, but this new collection is bigger and bolder, including the delightful "If at First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again," which won a Hugo Award. And I tend to think of British author Aliya Whiteley as a science fiction writer these days, forgetting her poetic skill with horrific-tinged fantasy. Her new book, "From The Neck Up and Other Stories," feels like a major collection, with the unsettling alien invasion of "Compel" or the artist who makes beautiful glass sculptures by cutting her loved ones in "Into Glass."
Silvia: If your tastes veer toward science fiction, I recommend the work of Erica L. Satifka, collected in "How to Get to Apocalypse and Other Disasters," which will be out later this year. Satifka is one of the most exciting writers around and still sadly under the radar. Her mordant stories grapple with technology and society in a way that brings to mind the cyberpunk greats. The tales in her first collection range from a grim story of dead children turned into flesh puppets for a TV show to an incredibly effective response to Ursula K. Le Guin's classic "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas."
Also in the realm of science fiction, there's "Terminal Boredom" by Izumi Suzuki. It's a curious collection because Suzuki wrote in the 1970s, but her stories were not translated until now. The result is an odd sense of displacement, with the collection feeling a bit old-fashioned. I found myself thinking of the feminist anthology "Women of Wonder," published in 1975, while reading it. In that sense, "Terminal Boredom" provides a historical capsule and an interesting mirror to the American science fiction of the same period.
Finally, Kim Bo-Young, one of South Korea's most influential science fiction writers, has not one but two collections out in English this year: "On the Origin of Species and Other Stories" and "I'm Waiting for You And Other Stories."
Lavie: Imagine an American science fiction writer from Texas, transplanted to Italy, now writing in the voice of an Italian alter ego, and you might have a sense of the gonzo delights inhabiting Bruce Sterling's "Robot Artists and Black Swans" (or is the author one "Bruno Argento"?). I am not entirely sure what Italians — or, indeed, Americans! — would make of this, but I enjoyed it thoroughly, for tales of multiple alternate Italies, or a world where the only form of digital privacy is offered by the Catholic Church's theologically approved AI. Francesco Verso's first collection in English, "Futurespotting," has much of Sterling's DNA woven into its stories, but it is much less concerned with depictions of Italy and more with the original mandate of the Cyberpunks. He depicts the future with the passionate concern of a global citizen, as in "The Green Ship," the solarpunk vehicle built to house refugees in the Mediterranean. But he is most fun when he goes further, as in the far-future Earth of genetically modified humans in "Two Worlds."
If the titles above prove anything, it is not only that the short story is flourishing still, but that it is also, perhaps for the first time in the field, genuinely international.