Recommended Reading: 5 Short Story Anthologies

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1. Legends I edited by Robert Silverberg

I love anthologies, and this is one of the defining reasons why. This is a great book, with a series of well-developed novellas by well-known authors in Fantasy and Sci-Fi, including (but not limited to) beloved authors such as George R.R. Martin, Robert Jordan, Anne McCaffery, Tad Williams, Terry Pratchett, and Ursula K. Le Guin.

The best thing about Legends, to my mind, was that each of the authors chosen has at least one (in most cases several) successful books or series out already. For this short story anthology, each author wrote a story based in a world the author had already written about. The stories are standalone -- I had never heard of Tad Williamn's Otherland series before this book, but I was able to dive into his short story and enjoy his character's story arc without the background of his series -- but at the same time, they add a new aspect and delve into character background that the author didn't have the time, space, or necessity to do in the original series.

For instance, George R.R. Martin's contribution is a short story set during the Targaryen Empire; an empire that has fallen in the world of Song of Ice and Fire.It's a great way of introducing the reader not only to previously un-read authors and series, but also giving the reader more background and depth on already beloved series. In other words, this short story anthology is ideal for all fans of fantasy and sci-fi -- whether you're just looking to learn more about established and beloved series, or whether you're looking to find something new to read. I fully recommend this book to any fan of fantasy or sci-fi. There is also a Legends II, which is just as good (if not better).

Where to buy:

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2. Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman

Want to know how good this book is? Well, I bought it because it's a book of short stories. My husband and I were going on a trip to Hawaii, and I figured I'd read it on the plane.

Which I did. I then kept reading it -- in our hotel, in the car, on the way to the beach, at the beach. My husband was getting so irritated at me because I was spending our vacation on the island of Oahu reading a book. That is how great this book is. I picked it over snorkeling.

Neil Gaiman, as always, delivers with this compilation of short stories. He explores mythology, belief, relationships, love, and death in a series of often dark and always fantastical stories. If you haven't read Gaiman yet, this series is not only a great introduction to his signature writing style, it's a beautiful showcasing of the variety of topics and ages he can write about and to. If you have read Gaiman, this is simply one more of his books that should be part of any fan's collection.

Where to buy:

  • Barnes and Noble (Nook-ready)
  • Amazon.com (Kindle-ready)
  • Google Play (Android Books)

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3. Bangs & Whimpers: Stories about the End of the World edited by James Frenkel

I think I've mentioned before that I love short story anthologies, especially by well-established authors in the field. They're great because I don't end up spending an entire day reading instead of doing chores and homework and other necessary stuff. Short stories = quickly wrapped up slices of interest that send me back on my way.

Of course, I still love long books, I just often don't have the time. The difficulty with short story anthologies is finding absolutely brilliant, thought-provoking ones that showcase both up-and-coming and established authors. It can be a bit of a gamble.

Bangs and Whimpers delivers on all fronts. Every time I've started to tell someone about this book, intending to tell them about just one short story in particular I think they would find of interest, I find myself saying something like, "Oh, yeah, and there was this other one that explored an end-of-the-world scenario where we planted the seeds to a new creation by . . . "

This book is amazing. Each short story approached the Ending of All Things from a different vantage point and perception. Where one author chose to think that the annihilation of life on earth meant the end of life forever, another author saw a thin thread of hope in the distant future. Where one author wrote with detached omniscience, another wrote in intimate first-person. Each story has a unique style and vision, but they all have one thing in common -- they are brilliantly, captivatingly written. This book should not be missed.

The only drawback is that for some reason, this book is not available in e-book format. Since it's expensive (I think it's out of print) in physical edition, I recommend checking out your local library. That's where I got it.

Where to buy:

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4. Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor

First off: Illustrations. Beautiful. Marvelous. Incredible. They're two-tone, and they are just lovely. There's about 5 or 6 pages of illustrations prefacing each of the three short stories, and the illustrations all tell a sort of short story in themselves.

For instance, the first short story is based on the poem "The Goblin Market," by Christina Rossetti. While Taylor references this background in the story proper and even outlines it a little, she just outlines it as needed for the backstory. What's beautiful is that the prefacing illustrations tell the story of the poem in and of themselves, without words but with all the emotion. It's beautiful.

Each story is similarly two-layered, a feast both visually and literally. It's a great book and I fully recommend it to anyone.

Where to buy:

*As of 4/3/2012, this book appears to be sold in hardcover, paperback, and epub formats, but not through the Kindle formats.

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5. Orbital Hearts edited by Thaddeus Rice

I didn't know quite what to expect when I opened this. A friend sent me the ARC and asked that I read it, review it, and let him know my thoughts. I was mostly excited because it's the first ARC I've ever gotten. It was described to me as an "anti-Valentines day anthology," but that didn't tell me much. I wasn't sure whether I was about to read a series of stories about how much Valentines Day sucks or what.

Anyway, it has nothing to do with Valentines Day, other than apparently being released in February and being about love. Of course, it's about love in the same vein that Bangs and Whimpers: Stories About the End of the World is about the apocalyptic scenarios. In other words, it's unexpected, marvelous, and brilliant. None of the stories go the direction you expect.

The stories all feature a love that cannot, for whatever reason, be. Some of them feature characters or couples from classic mythology, some of them look to parallel universes, magic, or sci-fi futuristic differences to explain the divide between the doomed lovers. But every story is thought-provoking, beautiful, and realistic in a larger-truth sort of way.

The writing style varied from author to author. All of the authors were extremely talented, able to highlight the unique settings and characters in the brief word counts allotted to anthologies. There were definitely some authors I enjoyed more than others, and I will say that I was somewhat disappointed in the style of the short featuring the Norns/ Fates -- it was such a great concept, but the writing style itself was somewhat off-putting.

That's the only complaint I have, though -- out of 10 stories, I disliked only the writing style of 1, although I thought the concept and characterization was brilliant. Overall, this is a treasure of an anthology, featuring extremely talented authors who portray love and relationships with a sort of graceful dark humor and a subversively melancholic beauty. I found the collection disturbing, entertaining, impressive, and ultimately thought-provoking, and I highly recommend it.

Where to buy: (this book is only available digitally)

Note on the Links

The books are all available at the stores listed, but I could not always link through to the Amazon page, because it was overly promotional. Since the hub is cannot be tagged as overly promotional for B&N I just left those ones up, but took down a few of the Amazon links. I did have Google Play linked through, but I just learned that is also a hub violation.

I have no doubt these books are also each available through the Apple i-tunes store, as well, but I run a Linux OS and just don't want to deal with the incompatibility of Apple on my computer, so I can't 100% verify that one.

I just genuinely enjoyed these books. I don't know the authors and I haven't been asked to promote them -- they're just really great books, in my opinion.

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