I have a confession to make. I used to hate horror.
Or, at least, I thought I did. Then three things changed my perspective.
First, I realized I was unfairly judging a broad and varied literary tradition by a specific type of movie I hate, the splatter film.*
Second, I noticed that some of the best writers in a critique group I belonged to wrote horror. So I paid closer attention to what they were doing and why they were doing it.
Lastly, I discovered weird fiction, which blends elements of horror with fantasy, science fiction, literary fiction and the absurd.
Poof! It was if I’d spent my whole life thinking I disliked candy, only to learn I simply despised black licorice.
Weird fiction by its nature is difficult to define. It’s a flavor of speculative fiction that focuses more on the uncanny, the unreal and unknowable, versus some cliched white dude who wants to kill you with an ax.** It illuminates the strangeness of the ordinary, the horror of living in a world where good and evil are not so easily parsed. And it gifts me a little breathing room. Fear and dread share equal space with awe, wonder, irony, doubt and even humor.
I’m most attracted to weird fiction that focuses on the natural world or our bodies. And, as a lover of science fiction and fantasy, I also vibe with works that keep a tentacle in at least two of the three speculative subgenres.
If you feel the same (or would like to see if you could), here’s a list of some of my favorite short story collections that include weird fiction, followed by a long list of speculative fiction magazines and podcasts that regularly publish weird tales, much of which can be read or listened to for free.
I’m highlighting short stories instead of novels because it’s a great way to get to know weird fiction quickly and because short fiction can take chances in ways novels can’t.
*Ironic, because a) my favorite short story as a teen was Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, which I didn’t recognize as horror because it didn’t fit my preconception of what horror was; b) I hate when people do this to fantasy and science fiction; c) horror is an important part of speculative fiction.
** Important caveat: I love what horror writers of color do with this white dude, weaving race and social commentary into their work. I just finished reading Alyssa Cole’s When No One is Watching and am looking forward to Justin C. Key’s The World Wasn’t Ready for You and Out There Screaming, edited by Jordan Peele.
Short Story Collections
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
This is a startling collection that blends horror, erotica, literary and speculative fiction in completely original ways as it examines misogyny, desire, violence and women’s bodies.
A Natural History of Transition by Callum Angus
Growth and survival through change is the common theme weaving together the powerful stories of this collection, including one about a trans man who gives birth to a cocoon and a character named Jenny who goes back and forth between male and female identities before becoming a mountain and then the moon.
Fruiting Bodies by Kathryn Harlan
The title story of this book starts with a woman snipping off the mushrooms that grow from her lover’s body. A meal, a murder and a mesmerizing collection of tales follow.
White Cat, Black Dog by Kelly Link
A ghostly romance (“The Lady and the Fox”) and a story about housesitting for Death (“Skinder’s Veil”) are the stand-outs of this much-anticipated collection.
The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, Edited by Ann VanderMeer and Jeff VanderMeer
This thoughtful anthology traces the history of weird fiction from 1908 onward. It’s best read backwards, starting with more recent and accessible works first.
Weird Fiction Magazines/Podcasts
Many speculative magazines and podcasts feature weird stories, but I’m limiting my list to those that explicitly use terms like “weird,” “odd” or “strange” in the description of their fiction.