Beyond Bestsellers: Strange Speculations

by Emily Z.

Once upon a time, I couldn’t stand short stories.

Eventually I learned I was just reading the wrong ones.

In celebration of this month’s Beyond Bestseller’s theme, I’m sharing some of my newly discovered besties. The collections I’ve collected here are all certainly something else, something quite other and strange. Their tales range in absurdity from magical realism to fever dreams and even within one book you’ll never quite be certain what is coming. To me, that’s the point of short fiction, to blow your mind free of cobwebs while wasting little time. These are the kinds of books that might warrant a break between chapters, just so you can come to grips with what just happened. Familiar fairytales get remixed, science fiction and the supernatural and the apocalypse are stitched together, and sometimes the immutable rules of the universe are brought tumbling down because of some strange, magical loophole and usually only in the span of less than 50 pages.

These stories want to take us somewhere completely new or force us to rethink somewhere we’ve been before (literarily speaking). They reach for new heights of outlandishness and creativity, burning more intensely than their novel-length cousins ever could.

So, are you up for some of that?


 Has the World Ended Yet? by Peter Darbyshire

The heroes of Darbyshire’s contentious worlds don’t always wear capes. The monsters aren’t always the bad guys. Miracles come in strange forms and from unexpected places, like Craigslist. People fall from the sky, Cthulhu works as a temp, and sometimes a sentient fog wants to consume all of reality. That’s not all that these stories are about, of course, but the colorful cast certainly get your attention. The ghosts, angels, and animate dolls pull you right in, don’t they? It’s the messy, sometimes profound, and relatable humanness that will get you to stay.


Wicked Wonders by Ellen Klages 

With a focus on memories, friendships, growing up, growing apart, and hard decisions, there’s a wistful feel to this diverse collection. With her fertile imagination and wicked sense of humor, Klages makes virtually any setting vivid and each situation compelling. Two friends catching up over a shared dessert slice a brownie down to its last molecule with extraordinary results. A woman living on a supernaturally concealed street in the already cartographically convoluted, foggy 1940s San Francisco must chart an impossible map to reshape the world (and the War). Little girls go on impossible journeys into new worlds, discover dangerous new powers, and sometimes make it home again.


 They Do the Same Things Different There by Robert Shearman

This is a collection I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. I mean, that cover. Look at it, practically vibrating with macabre weirdness. Yet once inside, Shearman has a way of making the absurd feel almost natural. The utter madness of each story is at times endearing (other times, captivatingly repulsive). Is it any wonder he’s done some writing for the Dr. Who franchise? The improbable is presented so matter-of-factly, you might find yourself wondering if a man can find his calling working as a tree or if a historian can be so consumed by their work that they forget the details of their own life. Despite all this high strangeness, there’s still moments of tenderness that surface throughout. There is room for affection: between man and wife, lonely co-workers, parent and child, or a boy and his cartoon dog.



There’s more strange times here:

Any weird collections you’d like me and the rest of the class to know about?
Better yet, have you found your own favorite flavor of short fiction yet, even if it’s not so surreal?

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6 responses to “Beyond Bestsellers: Strange Speculations”

  1. Andie says:

    Lovin’ this list! Thanks, Emily!

  2. Cindy L says:

    Great list- I can’t wait to try some. I just read Children of the New World by Alexander Weinstein. This book of short stories, set in the “near” future, also had some weird and wonderful moments. I often read short stories between hefty novels…and always offer a book of short stories on the nightstand in our guest room. No matter how short your visit, you could discover something good to read!

  3. Lindsey A. says:

    The Sea Beast Takes a Lover is another one of those covers that immediately caught my eye this year. I’ve had my eye on that one, The Merry Spinster, and Dreadful Young Ladies especially. This is one of my favorite genres of short story collections. I love the weird stuff!

  4. ann gibson says:

    I tried looking up Robert Shearman’s, “They do the same things different there”, because you made it sound interesting, and the Sno-Isle site shows it as “Not owned”! Also I would be interested in the MP3 version. Oh, well, just thought you’d want to know.
    But thanks for the lists, it’s fun to go through them and add to my wish list!

    • Emily Z says:

      Hi Ann,
      I’m so glad you liked the list!
      We still have copies of Shearman’s book, it just looks like they’re all checked out. There might have been a temporary glitch? If the catalog still isn’t letting you place a hold, I’d call into your favorite library building and see if they can get you in the queue.

      I am also a huge fan of MP3 books. Sometimes when the book is from a smaller publisher or a lesser-known author, they don’t get around to recording the audio edition. Sadly, I have not come across an audiobook of this one, even from retailers.

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