I love short stories. I know they’re something a lot of people — even voracious readers — don’t tend to read much of, but I think that has more to do with the way we’re exposed to them than anything else. In school, they’re presented as something to be intensely analyzed. There’s nothing wrong with that, but literary analysis is not what most readers are looking to do after our school days are behind us. Add to that the fact that finding short stories is a different skillset than tracking down novels. My local library isn’t full to the brim with lit mags, after all.
That’s not to say there aren’t options — story collections like How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? (more recs like that here) and anthologies like A Thousand Beginnings and Endings are easy enough to find, and they’re a great way to dip your toes into the literary world of short fiction. But there are also so many great short stories out there for free on the internet. Many literary magazines exist entirely — or in part — online and feature some or all of their fiction on their sites. Sorting through all the publications and stories might seem a bit daunting, but that’s where lists like this one come in.
These short stories are all by well-known authors you probably already know and love, and they’re a great way to get into short fiction. So keep reading for 12 not-to-be-missed free short stories by your favorite authors.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Author of Mexican Gothic and Velvet was the Night
Like many of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s stories, “On the Lonely Shore” is a historical story with a speculative twist. A young woman accompanies a sick man to a house by the seashore for him to convalesce, but what ails him is no natural disease. Uncanny Magazine publishes incredible science fiction and fantasy stories. It’s among my favorite places to find great short fiction like this.
John Scalzi, Author of Redshirt and Old Man’s War
This fun story about a robot dog is everything you would expect from Scalzi. An engineer is tasked with creating a robotic dog for the company’s eccentric CEO, but things don’t go exactly as planned. “A Model Dog” is told entirely in quoted exchanges from two employees discussing this project. It takes a moment to get used the format, but it truly is the perfect way to tell this story.
Malinda Lo, Author of Ash and Last Night at the Telegraph Club
Anna-Marie McLemore, Author of Wild Beauty and Blanca & Roja
Rivers Solomon, Author of The Deep and Sorrowland
In a world full of trash-eating fungus, a young scholar and a hound-mutant who eats metal and plastic spend one last day together. Tonight, one will leave for the wilderness beyond the enclaves while the other stays in the safety and security of their home. But is it really safe? “St. Juju” is everything I love in a Rivers Solomon story wrapped up in a tight little package.
Sarah Gailey, Author of American Hippo and The Echo Wife
Jeff VanderMeer, Author of Anihilation and Dead Astronauts
Tor is one of my favorite SFF outlets for short fiction, and this is the sort of story that proves why. You might know Jeff VanderMeer for his new weird novels, and his short story “This World is Full of Monsters” definitely follows that form. An alien invasion comes to one man’s door in this bizarre short story, and what follows is both the end of the world and the beginning of it.
P. Djèlí Clark, Author of The Haunting of Tram Car 015 and Ring Shout
This brilliant short story about the enslaved people whose teeth were used in George Washington’s dentures is not only exceptional, it’s also a perfect example of why I love P. Djèlí Clark’s writing so much. “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” is an absolute must-read. There’s a reason it won the Nebula and Locust awards for best short story.
Annalee Newitz, Author of Autonomous and The Future of Another Timeline
This inventive fictional article about the history of the history of ant rights could almost be mistaken for fact. You’d have to miss the disclaimer at the top and suspended a bit of disbelief, of course. But it’s that good. “Birth of the Ants Rights Movement” depicts humanity’s reaction to discovering another species with a system of written word. When an eco-friendly graffiti cleaner reveals a pheromonal glyph left behind by a group of Argentine ants, humans realize they aren’t the only intelligent species on the planet. The rest is ants rights history.
Yoon Ha Lee, Author of Phoenix Extravagant and Ninefox Gambit
A former Academician and AI researcher is called in by the military in “Beyond the Dragon’s Gate” to help them prevent the destruction of their AI-powered fleet. Her expertise is their only hope of preventing its entire annihilations. There’s only one problem: it is exactly that expertise that cost her everything so many years ago.
Ken Liu, Author of The Grace of Kings and the Paper Menagerie
“The Bookmaking Habit of Select Species” explores bookkeeping habits and recording methods of various species throughout the galaxy. From the spoken-word writing of the Allatians to the Quatzoli, a mechanical race for whom thinking and writing is the same, you will definitely be left thinking about the written word differently after finishing this short story.
Kristen Arnett, Author of Mostly Dead Things and With Teeth
“Gator Butchering for Beginners” is exactly the sort of story you’d expect from Kristen Arnett, whose debut novel featured a taxidermist. The story explores a broken relationship cleverly wrapped up in a how-to guide to butchering alligators. It’s witty and personal and brutal, just like Arnett’s best work.
These aren’t the only free short stories by your favorite authors you can find online, though. Check out these list for even more stories by authors you love: