Here’s something to help with your existential ennui: a bunch of free science fiction short stories, many of which were nominated for (or won) Hugos and Nebulas over the past few years. If a story was collected in a book, I’ve listed those for you as well. And while you’re here, check out a similar round-up I published last year for free horror stories.
“The City Born Great” by N.K. Jemisin
Jemisin’s best known for her novels, including the trilogy she just concluded with The Stone Sky. But guess what? Her next trilogy will be based on this short story about New York City being reborn as a “metaphysical entity” and battling a nightmarish creature of Lovecraftian proportions.
“The Red Thread” by Sofia Samatar
(Collected in Tender)
In a post-apocalyptic future without geopolitical borders, a young girl wanders the Dakotas with her mother, trying to get in contact with a boy from her past. It’s my favorite story from her latest collection from Small Beer Press (which we reviewed earlier this year).
“The Janitor in Space” by Amber Sparks
American Short Fiction
(Collected in The Unfinished World)
One of the first books we ever reviewed at the Chicago Review of Books was this collection of speculative fiction from Amber Sparks. The opening story is about, well…a janitor in space, and it’s beautiful.
“Day of the Builders” by Kristine Ong Muslim
Weird Fiction Review
(Collected in Age of Blight)
This is my favorite story from Kristine’s collection with Unnamed Press, about a rural village on the brink of a slow ecological apocalypse, colonized by technologically advanced scientists.
“Smear” by Brian Evenson
I read every single Brian Evenson story the moment it becomes available, and so should you. This one, from the “Other Aliens” edition of Conjunctions, will be included in this year’s Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy anthology from John Joseph Adams. It feels like a bit of a spiritual successor to last year’s novella, The Warren.
“Dark Air” by Lincoln Michel
(Collected in Upright Beasts)
A young couple heads out into the wilderness, looking for one of the “Top 10 Secluded Spots for Selfies.” Instead, they find a creature fallen from the stars. Brooklyn-based Michel, former editor-in-chief of Electric Literature and frequent Vice contributor, is perfect for fans of Brian Evenson, Kelly Link, Matt Bell, and Nathan Ballingrud.
“Planet Lion” by Catherynne M. Valente
Okay, so this story is literally about PSYCHIC SPACE LIONS and that’s all you need to know. Well, that and it was nominated for a Hugo.
“Rocket Ship to Hell” by Jeffrey Ford
(Collected in A Natural History of Hell)
Jeffrey Ford is the reason I love short stories. Literally. I wasn’t familiar with the form until grad school, when I stumbled upon a copy of The Drowned Life and fell in love. “Rocket Ship to Hell” is a nice introduction to Ford’s playful use of metafiction.
“Spider the Artist” by Nnedi Okorafor
Why hasn’t anyone published a collection of Okorafor’s short stories yet? I’m sure someone will soon, what with her novels and novellas and comic books and soon-to-be TV series making headlines every month. When they do, this story will be among the best of the bunch, about a future version of Nigeria where oil pipelines are guarded by AI spiders. Correction: She DOES have a short story collection, it DOES include “Spider the Artist,” and you can learn more about it here.
“The Game of Smash and Recovery” by Kelly Link
(Collected in Get In Trouble)
My favorite Kelly Link stories are the ones that literally give me goosebumps. Her latest collection, Get in Trouble, is chock-full of creepy-ass fiction, but this standalone story published as last year’s fund-drive bonus in Strange Horizons holds a special place in my dark heart. On an alien planet, a brother and sister play a special brand of hide-and-seek while they wait for their parents to return.Help the Chicago Review of Books and Arcturus make the literary world more inclusive by becoming a member, patron, or sponsor. Each option comes with its own perks and exclusive content. Click here to learn more.
Adam Morgan is the founding editor of the Chicago Review of Books and the Southern Review of Books. His essays and criticism have appeared in The Paris Review, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago magazine, and elsewhere.