What’re Your Top Five Under-rated Short Stories of All Time?

While Ann and I work on this insanely huge book of weird fiction, covering a century, I thought it might be fun to ask a targeted question:

What are the top five short stories you love but that you don’t think get nearly enough respect? Why should they be reconsidered?

It doesn’t have to be fantastical fiction–anything you like. If you can only think of two or three, that’s just fine.


  1. Steve Winer says

    A lot of great stories that once were not underrated are going that way simply because as time goes on, people forget.
    I’d like to nominate one of Theodore Sturgeon’s first masterpieces: “Bianca’s Hands”. It reads like the best story Flannery O’Connor never wrote.
    Pretty much all the great short stories of Fritz Leiber are in danger of being forgotten, but I’m very pleased to see a new collection of his short work is coming out soon.

  2. says

    I don’t know; determining what’s underrated seems tough, many great stories that are underrated by, say, the critics are rated just fine by readers. The opposite is also true. But these might qualify. Some of these are long, maybe that’s why they don’t reappear much.

    “Come Then Mortal – We Will Seek Her Soul” by Michael Shea. First story in “Nifft, the Lean.”

    “The Return of the Lloigor” by Colin Wilson (Cthulu Mythos that appeared in one of Derleth’s anthologies before later appearing as a stand-alone novella.

    “Dark Benediction” Walter M. Miller Jr. (some indie filmmaker could have a low-budget post-apocalypse hit adapting this.)

    “The Second Inquisition” by Joanna Russ. Ask me tomorrow and I might say the same author’s “Bluestocking” in the same collection “The Adventures of Alyx.”

    and “John Duffy’s Brother” by Flann O’Brien, which I’ve tried to pimp here previously. O’Brien only wrote two short stories as far as I can tell, and the other one is more of Twain-esque comic episode. Someone should tack “John Duffy’s Brother” into an edition of either “At-Swim-Two-Birds” or “The Third Policeman.” I think it’s a perfect short story. O’Brien (Brian O’Nolan) wrote many short newspaper pieces, often in a fictional-style, under his journalism pen-name, Myles na gCopaleen; Still I find it amazing that his one true short story happens to be a masterpiece.

    And everything by Charles Beaumont. I don’t know if people still know him today; in addition to his print work, he some Twilight Zones — but none of the inane ones like where the last man on Earth breaks his glasses and can’t, in the ruins of New York City where books have survived nuclear war intact, sort himself out another pair.

  3. JimO says

    Anything by Kelly Link is underrated. Calvino’s Cosmicomics stories and Cordwainer Smith are good choices.
    Bears Discover Fire by Terry Bisson is fantastic.
    Reports of Certain Events in London by China Mieville might be my favorite.

  4. moth says

    possibly not underrated –

    Joe Lansdale – Tight Little Stitches in a Dead Mans Back
    John L’Heureux – The Anatomy of Desire
    Jean Ray – I think it migth have been the Shadowy Street but I don’t remember. Copies of his work in English are way expensive. and my french sucks.
    I think it may have been mentioned somewhere with that ^^China Mieville story which I also like very much.

  5. John N says

    Underrated by whom? Not by me and since a lot of these are from best of anthologies, at least the editors didn’t think they were underrated.

    Operation Afreet – Poul Anderson – Fantasy Hall of Fame ed. Robert Silverberg
    Best military fantasy story or novel I have ever read

    Sea Oak – George Saunders – O’henry Awards 1999 – Jury: Stephen King, Sherman Alexie, Lorrie Moore
    Just a weird, weird sci-fiish story

    The Things They Carried – Tim O’brien – You’ve Got to Read This ed.John Hansen
    A great way to describe war

    Bullet in the Brain – Tobias Wolff – The Night in Question
    A reflection on one man’s life as , you guessed it, a bullet passes through his brain. This from my favorite short fiction writer of all time and a protege of Raymond Carver.

    Fat Girl – Andre Dubus – Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Fiction ed. Tobias Wolff
    Though some might dislike the subject matter, the story is so well written most will get past it.

  6. The Robinson says

    Jorge Luis Borges- “Garden of Forking Paths”
    Joe Haldeman- “Ghosts”
    William Gibson, Bruce Sterling- “Red Star, Winter Orbit”
    George Alec Effinger- “Schrödinger’s Kitten”
    Kipling – The Tomb of his Ancestors

  7. Perpetual Student says

    James Salter- “Akhnilo”

    Salter’s revered by critics for his literary short fiction but may be unknown by genre readers. “Akhnilo,” from Dusk and Other Stories, would be an outstanding choice for any Big Book of Weird.

  8. Perpetual Student says

    Just saw that Kevin Brockmeier lists “Akhnilo” as one of his top ten favorite fantasy stories of all time in his intro to Best American Fantasy 3!!! So much for “uknown by genre readers”! John mentioned Joseph Roth’s great “Stationmaster Fallmerayer” above but I would ultimately go with his “Legend of the Holy Drinker.” It’s just one of the best stories of the 20th century. And how about Kafka’s “Cares of a Family Man,” featuring the immortal Odradek?

  9. says

    From the small press golden days: Bentley Little’s “The Stairway” in the underrated After Hours
    Pam Chillemi Jaeger “The Gatherer” from Terminal Fright
    anything by Scott Thomas or his equally talented sibling, Jeffrey

  10. James Kenyon says

    Underrated, and also some favorites:

    The Braille Encyclopaedia, by Grant Morrison. Lonely, desperate and really unsettling. Hard to shake that last image (if it’s an image, who is seeing it?)

    “I want to get married”, says world’s smallest man, by John Shirley. Again, lonely, desperate, and unsettling, but really funny this time, too.

    At the conglomeroid cocktail party, by Robert Silverberg. Just a 1970’s feeling, trippy and a little hackneyed, for me it’s sci-fi nostalgia

    The Wall around the world, by Theodore Cogswell. Harry Potter without the fan clubs.

    The Annals of Eelin Ok, by Jeffrey Ford. One of the loveliest, most beautifully written stories, I admit it is not “underrated”, as it won at least one award, but it should become part of our collective unconscious, like “the Hobbit”. A perfect fantasy, A memorable character. I want to make the movie, with Hiyao Miyazaki artwork. Everyone must read this one.

    Bonus: The Hunt, by Tanith Lee. The best werewolf story I have read, are there any better ones?

  11. James Kenyon says

    I like this game, can I have another turn?

    Underrated, with a literary pedigree:

    Sredni Vashtar, by Saki (H.H. Munro) Wicked sense of humor.
    Greasy Lake, T.C. Boyle So it makes onto college reading lists, no one from greasy lake goes to college
    One chance, by Charles De Lint. I remembered another wolfman story.
    The bungalow house, By Thomas Ligotti. David Lynch should make the movie.
    Kangaroo Rex, By Janet Kagan. The ideal Asimov’s magazine series, I loved the pioneer spirit.

  12. says

    Roubini has made some timely calls over the last couple years. I have to say that I find his general tone to be too positive. Surprising how he has turned economics into something exciting. I have assembled a collection of interviews from Roubini, Meredith Whitney, Jim Rogres and Barry Ritholtz at financialanalystwatch.com


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