A list of short stories that spun my expectations, some that I revisit to tighten my writing eye and some that bring me right back to a certain shade of mood. Some of these stories (such as the Octavia E. Butler one) formed an early part of my reading life and research back when I was doing my MA in literature and posthumanism. Others I’ve discovered through questing for stories that reinvigorate architectural plains, from Jayant Kaikini’s explorations of spatial idenitities in Mumbai to YZ Chin’s KFC vistas. Seeing all of them together has given me some excitement, similar to gathering up personalities with a broom.

‘Opera House’ by Jayant Kaikini, translated by Tejaswini Niranjana

The way that Kaikini writes is beautiful to me because he always shows the ways that other lives touch the tips of others, like a leaf at the brow. In ‘Opera House’ we get to see how after midnight, there is no such thing as age. It is a story I return to. 

Collected in No Presents Please, Tilted Axis Press, 2020

‘At the Heart of Things’ by Vanessa Onwuemezi

One of Vanessa’s strengths are in the meticulous ways that she writes about the varying pressures upon us. There’s this great line, “The city demands a certain kind of contact only. It demands suspicions.” There are so many layers in her writing and she isn’t afraid to take risks. Her debut short story collection Dark Neighbourhood is about to be published in October 2021.

First published in The White Review and collected in Dark Neighbourhood, Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2021

‘Kong’s Garden’ by Hwang Jungeun, translated by Jeon Seung-He

From the author of one of my favourite novels, One Hundred Shadows (2010), Hwang takes us into a socially bleak alternate Korea where education no longer holds utmost value and the markers that society are measured by begin to take a U-Turn. There is something matter-of-fact and gripping about the way we read about bored clerks, girls getting refused cigarettes and men going missing.

Part of a collection of pamphlets called YEOYU, Strangers Press, 2019

‘I’d Love You To Want Me’ by Viet Thanh Nguyen

This is a moving story. We meet a character who struggles with their memories ‘gradually stealing away’. Mr and Mrs. Khahn know a lot about each other, but there are huge gaps between them too.  

First published – as ‘The Other Woman’ – in Gulf Coast 20.1, Winter/Spring 2008, and collected in The Refugees, Little Brown, 2017

‘Bloodchild’ by Octavia E. Butler

I was always intrigued by Octavia E. Butler’s exploration of the posthuman. Something that makes ‘Bloodchild’ really great is the way that it doesn’t shy away from anatomical language and the intricacies of new species being made. I think Octavia’s writing is a master class in writing about the complications and potential of motherhood too. 

First published in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction, June 1984. Collected in Bloodchild and Other Stories, Seven Stories Press 1995, and numerous anthologies

‘The Running Man’ by Jorje Consiglio, translated by Cherilyn Elston

I think that there is an abrasive quality to the narrator in ‘The Running Man’ that makes me think twice. An intentional discomfort. There’s a fascinating line in the story about a man who dedicates his life to communication. Small details like that remain with me. A great way to start on your journey into ‘the Consiglian logic of story-telling’ – part of a collection of near imperceptibly linked stories.

Collected in Southerly, Charco Press, 2016

‘A Bet Is Placed’ by YZ Chin

I love the vantage point of this story. It opens with an old man looking at young people ordering munch in KFC. There’s such a cinematic quality to YZ Chin’s writing. This story lingers on the idea of growing into modernity. 

First published on LitHub in April 2018 and available to read here, and collected in Though I Get Home, Feminist Press, 2018

‘Supermarket Blues’ by Hazel Campbell

The late Hazel Campbell shares socio-political histories with us in a way that returns to the heart of the matters seamlessly. ‘Supermarket Blues’ looks towards another level of scarcity, to searching shelves for food – problems beyond the money stretch. 

First published in Woman’s Tongue, 1985. Collected in Jamaica On My Mind, Peepal Tree Press, 2019

‘Dog in a Fisherman’s Net’ by Samuel R. Delaney

There is something incredibly atmospheric about this story. You can feel sea salt on you while you read. You can often tell in Samuel R. Delaney’s SF writing that he is a well-travelled man but I’d say this collection brings us closest to some of his memories of places he has felt fond for. Especially when comparing the language in this to his journals. 

Collected in Aye and GomorrahAnd other short stories, Vintage, 2003

‘No Place for Good People’ by Ottessa Moshfegh

I feel like I’ve rolled into a point in my life where Moshfegh’s writing really really does it for me. I love the detail of her writing. In ‘No Place for Good People’ we are introduced to the care home Offerings and its habitants, those passing through and those living there. She manages the logistics of the environment while making us care for a large swathe of characters. Mostly, I enjoy her unlikeable narrators.

First published in The Paris Review 209, Summer 2014, and available to subscribers to read here, with a free to view extract, and collected in Homesick for Another World, Vintage, 2017