The best debut horror short story collections

Who am I?

Mike Thorn is the author of Shelter for the Damned, Darkest Hours, and Peel Back and See. His fiction has appeared in numerous magazines, anthologies, and podcasts, including Vastarien, Dark Moon Digest, and The NoSleep Podcast. His books have earned praise from Jamie Blanks (director of Urban Legend and Valentine), Jeffrey Reddick (creator of Final Destination), and Daniel Goldhaber (director of Cam). His essays and articles have been published in American Twilight: The Cinema of Tobe Hooper (University of Texas Press), The Film Stage, and elsewhere. 


I wrote...

Darkest Hours

By Mike Thorn,

Book cover of Darkest Hours

What is my book about?

Between the covers of Mike Thorn’s debut collection, Darkest Hours, you will find academics in distress; humans abusing monsters; demons terrorizing people; ghostly reminiscences; resurrected trauma; and occult filmmaking. Ranging from satirical to dreadful, these sixteen stories share a distinct voice: urgent, sardonic, and brutal.

The books I picked & why

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Books of Blood, Volume 1

By Clive Barker,

Book cover of Books of Blood, Volume 1

Why this book?

Clive Barker transcends the subgenre label of “splatterpunk,” infecting an array of lofty speculative traditions with mutilation and viscera. The author’s prose style is elegant, often gorgeous, and his depictions of violence connect to a provocative, career-long interest in the cosmic, glimpsed often by means of extreme physical experience. For my money, "The Midnight Meat Train" is one of the great horror stories of the late twentieth century.


Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe

By Thomas Ligotti,

Book cover of Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe

Why this book?

Thomas Ligotti is one of the few writers whose work genuinely, profoundly scares me. His vision is underscored by an all-too-convincing commitment to pessimistic philosophy (which is accessibly detailed in his 2010 book The Conspiracy Against the Human Race). Songs of a Dead Dreamer is haunted by the philosophical outlooks of E. M. Cioran, Arthur Schopenhauer, H. P. Lovecraft, and Edgar Allan Poe, but Ligotti’s fixation on marionettes, dolls, and the illusory nature of human agency is singular and distinctive. This is a masterpiece of existentially disturbing dark literature.   


Extremities

By Kathe Koja,

Book cover of Extremities

Why this book?

Kathe Koja changed everything with the release of The Cipher in 1991, emerging as the most exhilarating new voice in American dark fiction since the arrival of Stephen King nearly two decades prior. Her work is characterized by hyper-sensory immersion into complex subjectivities, achieved by an inimitable, modernism-tinged voice. Koja is a master novelist, and it’s a rush to read her style within the more condensed form of short fiction; once you’re finished with Extremities, be sure to pick up her genre-expanding 2020 collection, Velo/Cities.


And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe

By Gwendolyn Kiste,

Book cover of And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe

Why this book?

This book's heightened literary consciousness suggests a lifetime of practice, but it is, in fact, Gwendolyn Kiste's debut (she has quickly become one of contemporary dark fiction’s most celebrated, leading figures). Throughout Untether, the author examines both societal and individual forms of suffering (e.g. depression, dissociation, and the dangers of socially imposed normativities). My favorite piece is “Skin Like Honey and Lace,” which depicts a group of women who achieve social induction by taking skin from strangers and applying it to their own bodies. A staggeringly accomplished collection. 


Bleedthrough and Other Small Horrors

By Scarlett R. Algee,

Book cover of Bleedthrough and Other Small Horrors

Why this book?

Scarlett R. Algee’s debut collection is an exemplar of concision, comprised of stories that have been sanded down to their unsettling essences for maximally chilling impact. Bleedthrough deftly navigates the space where beauty and horror intermingle, often boldly upending genre conventions in the process. These pieces are vivid and absorbing, drawing fully realized worlds before exposing the terrible things that lurk on the peripheries.   


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