Top 10 Genre Short Story Collections of the Decade

This past week the good folk over the The A.V. Club posted a list of their ten best short-story collections of the 00’s. After presumably much deliberation, they chose: George Saunders Pastoralia, Charles Stross’s Toast, John Crowley’s Novelties & Souvenirs, Alice Munro’s Runaway, Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners, Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things, Deborah Eisenberg’s Twilight Of The Superheroes, Lore Segal’s Shakespeare’s Kitchen, Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts, and John Updike’s My Father’s Tears And Other Stories.

That got me to thinking. If The A.V. Club named five genre collections amongst their top 20, what would I come up with if attempted to assemble a list of the top ten genre collections of the decade? I got to thinking, then I began looking through lists and making notes. In the end I think I considered three hundred or so collections (as my starting point I used Locus’s annual recommended reading list as an aide de memoire), and then began whittling it down.

My criteria for the list were simple. The collections had to be outstanding on every level. They had to be science fiction, fantasy, or horror. They had to be original collections. I deliberately excluded major career overviews like The Complete Stories of J G Ballard, which are wonderful, but which strike me as different things. And I had to love them. That left me with the list below…

  1. Beluthahatchie and Other Stories, Andy Duncan (2000)
  2. Stories of Your Life and Others, Ted Chiang (2002)
  3. Black Juice, Margo Lanagan (2005)
  4. 20th Century Ghosts, Joe Hill (2005)
  5. Magic for Beginners, Kelly Link (2005)
  6. The Empire of Ice Cream, Jeffrey Ford (2006)
  7. Map of Dreams, M. Rickert (2006)
  8. Pump Six and Other Stories, Paolo Bacigalupi (2008)
  9. Oceanic, Greg Egan (2009)
  10. Cyberabad Days, Ian McDonald (2009)

Although I could argue over details, and did consider annotations and explanations, I thought I’d leave the list as is.  I’m curious, too, to hear what you think I missed?

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36 Comments

  1. Five genre collections, but also Saunders’s PASTORALIA, which I believe includes a few SF and Fantasy stories.

    I don’t have much argument with your list. Certainly, to my mind, the Link and Chiang books are transcendent — there can be no question of their inclusion. I would have also included (from the AV list) Crowley’s Novelties and Souvenirs, which is stunning, but I would be tempted to make it ineligible, as it’s really a mashup of Crowley’s two earlier collections.

  2. Oh, and other worthwhile collections:

    Susannah Clarke’s THE LADIES OF GRACE ADIEU.

    Ursula Le Guin’s THE BIRTHDAY OF THE WORLD (though she still has not matched THE WIND’S TWELVE QUARTERS, which to my mind might be the single best single-author SF collection ever, unless that would be Gene Wolfe’s THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR DEATH AND OTHER STORIES AND OTHER STORIES.)

    And three from 2000: Michael Swanwick’s TALES FROM OLD EARTH, M. John Harrison’s TRAVEL ARRANGEMENTS, and Robert Charles Wilson’s THE PERSEIDS.

  3. Well I have read at least half of that! And have several others in my queue. You think the first half of the decade was a bit light on?

  4. I very much enjoyed Nano Comes to Clifford Galls and Other Stories by Nancy Kress. I have not read a lot of her work yet but her short fiction impressed me.

  5. If I may insert a minor grumble, Ted Chiang’s collection shouldn’t qualify by Jonathan’s self-imposed rules, because it is certainly a major career overview. It includes everything he’d written up to that stage.

  6. Peter: I disagree. Ted’s collection was his first book of any kind. Many first collections contain everything the author had written up to that stage. By major career overview I would suggest a book that omits something, which covers many years etc etc.

  7. I think I could have some additions here certainly:

    I see one Jeff Ford collection, so I understand you would not want to do more, but I thought last year’s The Drowned Life was certainly among the 10 best genre collections published this decade.

    I would suggest Ken Scholes’ “Long Walks, Last Flights”.

    I would strongly suggest either of Peter Beagle’s collections, The Line Between ( 2006) or “We never talk about my brother ( 2009).

    I would certainly include George Martin’s “Dreamsongs” collection in this list. Yes it is very big, and you mighht exclude it since you could see it as a career overview, but I would not exclude it for that reason. It’s one of the best short work collections this decade and belongs on your list.

    I’d like to suggest Glen Hirsherg, he had two collections in The Two Sams & American Morons which are fantastical.

    Steven Millhauser is great but his best collections are from the 90’s so they can’t come in here.

    I’d second the Hill, the Bacigalupi, the Chiang. Your list is better than the AV clubs. but your omission of Beagle, Scholes & Ford slightly surprises me when I see how you love to have them in the anthologies ( understandable).

  8. Hmmm … Ok, that’s a reasonable distinction. Funny thing is, all the collections I’ve read recently tend to be the “best of” sort – which is not what the list is about.

  9. To follow-up on Jonathan’s response to Peter Nal’s comment, many of the collections on this list were the author’s first book: Paolo Bacigalupi, Andy Duncan, Joe Hill, and M. Rickert.

    And I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong.

    Marty Halpern

  10. Rich: You’re correct, of course, about PASTORALIA. I love the Crowley book too, but since if I recall correctly, it reprints stories from his other collections, I exempted it. As to the others, the Clarke is a fine collection, as are the Le Guin, Swanwick, Harrison, and Wilson books, but they’d all fall outside my Top 10.

  11. Alisa: I don’t necessarily think that the first half of the decade was light on, but I think there were a few more books that I thought really outstanding in the second half of the decade.

  12. Calibandar: I liked The Drowned Life, but think The Empire of Ice Cream was a stronger book. We could quibble about the others. The Scholes wasn’t, for me, as uniformly impressive, though it contained some terrific work. I’m not a fan of the Martin book, though I love his short fiction, which is exempted because it is a career overview anyhow. Both of the Hirshberg books are strong, and one at least would belong in my Top 20 or 25 of the Decade. I’ve not read Milhauser. I did think long and hard about Peter Beagle. He’s developed into one of the finest short story writers we have, and he’d easily make a Top 10 short story writers of the decade for me, but I think both The Line Between and We Never Talk About My Brother feature work I might have omitted. Somewhere between the two, in my opinion, lies a book that would easily have made my Top 5.

  13. Sean: Hmm. I’d not really articulated this in compiling my unofficial list, but I guess it’s this. A single author collection which contains stories that either completely or mostly have not been collected in a book by that author before. Therefore a book like, say, Stories of Your Life, is an original collection. None of the stories appear in a previous Chiang collection, and the book is not presented as a “best of” or a “career overview”. It’s simply his next collection. A book like M. John Harrison’s Things That Never Happen overwhelmingly includes stories from other Harrison collections (I’d have to check, but I think it even includes an entire collection). It is a career overview for the purposes of this list. Is that clear enough?

  14. Marty: I think five of them are first books, which I’d not considered. It’s impressive, but the field has a long history of classic ‘first collections’.

  15. I think this could easily spawn further lists! Like Calibandar, I have the Martin book, though I’ve read only a small corner of it. I’ve also recently read the Silverberg and Wolfe overviews of recent years, and I’m thinking of the Shepard and Jonathan’s own Vance book.

  16. Straub’s Magic Terror looms large as an oversight. Stephen King’s Just After Sunset as well. Both were probably more significant in sum than most of the collections that’ve appeared this decade.

  17. At least one of Lucius Shepard’s collections (I prefer Trujillo)would be a must for any best of list. I can’t think of anyone, except for bestsellers such as King and Straub, who are more influential and formative in regard to our niche.

  18. I guess I’m not that much of a horror reader, though I did like the Straub collection. As to Lucius – I actually think, oddly, that while I’d rate him as one of the Top10 Short Story Writers of the Decade, none of the collections individually quite fall into that category for me.

  19. Well, yes your taste will prevail on a personal list — although the list of a tastemaker will be held to closer scrutiny than Joe Blow’s. If we’re to look at it objectively, it’s ludicrus to omit King, Straub and Lucius when their impact is demonstrably profound, personal preferences of genre notwithstanding.

  20. I agree with Rich about The Ladies of Grace Adieu – I loved that collection deeply, the stories working together as a suite thematically and stylistically – and it doesn’t hurt that the book was so beautifully packaged.

  21. The Imago Sequence – Laird Barron
    Overclocked – Cory Doctorow
    Galactic North – Alastair Reynolds
    Nano Comes to Clifford Falls and Other Stories – Nancy Kress
    The Gabble and Other Stories – Neal Asher

    Laird, King’s latest collection isn’t as good as his others, to me.

    As far as Lucius goes – can’t tell for the last couple, as not really obtainable by us normal mortals. Dagger Key might be. I’d agree with Jonathan that the others are more 4.5 than 5 so to speak.

  22. Laird: I guess we’re talking the Top 10. More particularly, the Top 10 books, so it comes down to the specific stories in the specific book, rather than the overall impact of the author in question (or even, how good they were over the decade). When you take that into acccount, I’m not sure where the King, Straub, or Shepard books would sit in, say, a Top 20. I stand by my original list. I did look at the King collections for the decade – Everything’s Eventual, The Man in the Black Suit, and Just After Sunset – and my feeling is that none of them, individually, belong on the Top 10 list, though any of them could appear slightly lower on the list. As to Lucius, he published Two Trains Running, Trujillo & Other Stories, Eternity and Other Stories, Dagger Key and Other Stories, Skull City and Other Lost Tales, and is going to sneak Viator and Other Stories out before year’s end. I think Trujillo is the best of those, and would just miss out on my Top 10 because several of the stories are overlong. As to the Straub, I need to read it. Not having read it, I couldn’t comment on whether it belongs on the list or not.

  23. Ahh, Blue, you’ve caught me. All of those collections are strong, but I’d rate most of them as 4.5s, rather than 5s. One comment I’d make overall about my list is that there were literally hundreds of short story collections published, and dozens of them were very fine. This is just the Top 10.

  24. Fair enough, but I’d go with Laird that King and Shepard are way ahead of Hill and Lanagan etc. Only read parts of some others, but same would go.

    For influence if he’s talking about that, it is King first, 2nd, third, fourth, fifth, etc… :)

  25. Jonathan,

    Realize I’m a little late on this one but wanted to submit a few other collections I don’t see listed here as possible Top 10s of the decade. Based on your selection process I’m sure you’ve considered these, but figure it can’t hurt to try and suggest them anyway :-)

    One of the following two by James Patrick Kelly:

    “Think Like a Dinosaur: And Other Stories”

    OR

    “Strange But Not a Stranger”

    The decade also saw some really fine short work by Terry Bisson, much of it gathered in the knock-out “Greetings: & Other Stories.”

    And more recently “Are You There and Other Stories” by Jack Skillingstead contains impeccably crafted pieces, each one significant.

    If not in your Top 10, might these feature in your Top 20?

  26. Are the numbers meant to indicate rankings? If so, I can’t imagine why Ted Chiang’s book would not be #1. He changed the whole SF field with that book. I guess Kelly Link would be his primary competition for that spot.

    Otherwise, I mostly really like this list – at least the elements of it I’ve read. I think of Greg Egan’s novels as being more significant than his short SF – since much of his best short work finds its way into novels, anyway – so I might replace “Oceanic” with Millhauser’s “Dangerous Laughter.”

  27. Tristan: The numbers are pretty much irrelevant. The books are listed in year-of-publication order. And other collections are cool, though Millhauser isn’t my cup of tea.

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