10 Genre-Blending Short Story Collections That Defy Limitations

Lyndsie Manusos’s fiction has appeared in PANK, SmokeLong Quarterly, and other publications. She holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has worked in web production and content management. When she’s not nesting among her books and rough drafts, she’s chasing the baby while the dog watches in confused amusement. She lives with her family in a suburb of Indianapolis.

Flatiron Books, publisher of The Familiar by Leigh Bardugo9781250884251.jpg OPT

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One of my favorite experiences in reading is when I am vibing with a work, be it short or long form, and I can’t quite pin down what genre I’m reading. While that may unmoor some readers, I find it exhilarating, invigorating, and inspiring. When done well, work that is genre-blending and genre-defying calls into question everything I thought I knew about how to tell a story.

This is a good thing. Genre-blending and genre-defying stories are supposed to rewire our assumptions of craft, and we’re all the better for it.

So What Do You Mean by Genre-Blended Collections?

In this particular post, I am focusing on genre-blending and genre-defying writing in the short form, namely short fiction collections. These collections play with genre(s) in such masterful ways, simultaneously melting and exploding expectations. These works might lean literary but are full of genre elements, and often mix and match them. Then there are those that do the exact opposite, settling in the genre space but still remixing and reinventing them.

These collections might utilize different forms, structures, and tropes to explore and unsettle our worldviews. You might read these and ponder where they might fit on a bookshelf in a bookstore—contemporary fiction? Fantasy? Science fiction? All the above?

Again, I find this to be a good thing. I’ve come to fervently believe that the most inspired writers are often those who are the most flexible and creative in their art, the most ambitious in jumping from genre to genre, structure to non-structure. Therefore, they are the most successful in their ability to make readers believe in the journeys they construct. You’re willing to suspend disbelief, confident that whatever ride you’re on will be a good one.

Oh, I could go on about the glories of genre-blending work, but let’s get to some recommendations.

10 Genre-Blending Short Story Collections

Book cover of Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung

Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung, Translated by Anton Hur

From dystopian gynecology offices to being haunted by your own human waste, this is the perfect genre-defying collection to start off this list. A finalist for the 2023 National Book Award for Translated Literature, Chung writes stories that truly defy categorization. These stories are singular, haunting, sometimes stomach-churning, and no two stories are alike. If you enjoy having your mind melted by this collection, Chung’s newest collection, Your Utopia, released in January 2024.

Cover image of Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century by Kim Fu, a Genre Blend collection

Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century by Kim Fu

Almost two years ago (what is time?), I shouted my delight for this collection in my post “10 Speculative Short Story Collections to Enjoy in 2022,” and to this day, it remains one of my favorite collections of all time. Fu artfully explores the breadth and depth of genre in each of these 12 stories, including tales about a girl sprouting wings from her legs, to a vendor selling toy boxes that play with time. Horror, fantasy, and science fiction are all at play here, mirrored against worlds that are—or will be—very much like our own.

cover image of What We Feed to the Manticore by Talia Lakshmi Kolluri

What We Feed to the Manticore by Talia Lakshmi Kolluri

This is just a shooting star of a debut story collection. Kolluri crafts nine exquisite tales of deep emotion, exploring the most necessary aspects of our planet: conservationism, environmentalism, and more. That, and every story is from the point of view of an animal. These modern fables, though told by animal narrators, will startle and gut-punch you with the humanity therein.

cover image of Genre Blend book Get in Trouble by Kelly Link

Get in Trouble by Kelly Link

I think I find a way to show my love for Kelly Link’s genre-defying work in the majority of my Book Riot oeuvre. Link has been foundational for me as a reader and writer. Reading Magic for Beginners in college opened up so many possibilities for me on what stories can do, and she’s reinvented the craft for me time and time again with each new book. Get in Trouble is my favorite, and I’ve read the opening story “The Summer People” countless times, studying how Link manages to pay homage to Shirley Jackson, fantasy, and fairy tales, all at once.

cover of No One Will Come Back For Us by Premee Mohamed; illustration of an astronaut floating in the sky next to a giant tentacle

No One Will Come Back For Us by Premee Mohamed

I’ve happy-shrieked about Mohamed’s work many times, and this collection was one of my favorite books of 2023. Honestly, every book Mohamed writes is a genre-bending tour de force, from her Nebula and World Fantasy Award-winning novella And What Can We Offer You Tonight to her recent The Butcher of the Forest. With this particular collection, each story takes a genre that you think you know and turns it on its head. From cosmic horror to dark fairy tales, you will finish each story shaken to your core, but oh, the ideas abound.

Cover image of ...And Other Disasters by Malka Older

…And Other Disasters by Malka Older

Malka Older does it all, both in academia and literature, and this book is just one of many facets of her brilliance. This is a quintessential genre-blending collection because it includes both short fiction and poetry. Stories within stories and stories in poems. These are stories for our future as well as a reflection of our present: from an AI built for empathy to an anthropologist who returns to Earth to study the dying civilizations. These stories will defy your expectations as well as inspire you to think deeply about the world around you.

cover image of What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi

What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi

I still think about this collection and the way Helen Oyeyemi just went for it. Another one of my favorite writers, Oyeyemi, crafts a series of tales that are simultaneously linked, while also unraveling each other. There is a reoccurring theme of locks and keys, and characters that slip in and out of each story. What I love most about Oyeyemi and sometimes she will unsettle you with uncanny details simply because she can. Hold on to your bookmarks, dear readers, because this collection redefines what a collection is and can do.

The Rock Eaters: Stories by Brenda Peynado cover image, a genre blend book

The Rock Eaters by Brenda Peynado

Published in 2021, this collection remains relevant and necessary for the times. Peynado artfully uses genre elements—from magical realism, to fabulism, to science fiction and fantasy—to explore class differences, xenophobia, and immigration. People in an unnamed dictatorship begin to have parts of themselves disappear, and therefore lose the rights they had when they had those limbs. Suburban homeowners hope their “thoughts and prayers” to the angels on their roofs might protect them from danger. These stories are knives stuck in a bullseye. Let them alter you.

cover image of Jagannath by Karin Tidbeck

Jagannath by Karin Tidbeck

Originally published in 2012, Jagannath arguably redefined speculative short story collection as we know it now, and reintroduced new possibilities to showcase the spectrum of imagination. Karin Tidbeck’s genre-defying novel The Memory Theater probably rearranged the synapses in my brain, and after reading that, I dove into their collection. If you have any doubts, know that Ursula K. Le Guin called these stories “unclassifiable,” and she meant it in a good way. Like Chung’s collection, no two stories are alike, from quirky, darkly fantastical, astounding, strange, to vivid yet restrained.

Cover image of Small Burning Things by Cathy Ulrich

Small, Burning Things by Cathy Ulrich

If you haven’t read a flash story by the great Cathy Ulrich, I demand you start now. There is the short story, and then there is the even shorter story, the flash story. Flash in itself is a genre-bending form, often interweaving poetry and narrative. Ulrich does it all and then some. She’s known for her brilliant Murdered Ladies series of stories, as well as Astronaut Love Stories. “Being the Murdered Mama” in Puerto Del Sol particularly ruined me (again, in a good way). Ulrich’s second collection, Small, Burning Things, continues this exploration of motherhood, desire, and marriage in Ulrich’s signature lyric yet cutthroat prose.

Read More Short Story Collections

I’ve found short stories to be my center of gravity for how to blend genres, and I hope this list will be a great starting point for your reading adventures. It’s also important to note that, though collections might seem few and far between from larger publishers, many small presses are doing great work publishing these genre-blending works. Check out my profile on Neon Hemlock Press as a place to start, as well as Mason Jar Press, Okay Donkey Press, Small Beer Press, and more. They’re out there!

Genre Blend Day will no doubt take you on all kinds of adventures, and I highly recommend reading all the posts to really get a sense, and be in awe of, the many writers who dare to take genre to a whole new level. Groundbreaking, indeed.

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