Science Fiction Short Stories State of the Union

Before the Internet if you wanted to read new science fiction and fantasy (SF&F) short stories your main venue was the newsstand. As sales of pulp magazines declined new sources of stories appeared in paperback and hard cover with original anthologies and book series like the classic Orbit edited by Damon Knight. For those of you who can’t keep up with the monthly magazines and webzines there are many SF&F annual best-of anthologies to let you sample the high points of the year. For more than two decades Gardner Dozois has been producing the giant The Year’s Best Science Fiction tome and he has a number of competitors. His most recent volume, the twenty-fourth annual collection, came out last July. Along with his exhaustive Summation report and vast collection of stories, it’s the absolute best single volume to stay in touch with the SF short story market.

Now in the far future year of 2008, we can still find SF&F stories in magazines and books, but also online, as podcasts, audio books and even ebooks. It’s pretty damn science fictional to read SF&F on a Kindle or listen to it whispered into your ears via an iPod. I used to be a regular subscriber to all the major monthly magazines but I’ve gotten out of touch in recent years. My fellow Clarion West 2002 classmates who have gone on to publishing stories keep finding amazing new markets and I’ve been meaning to try them out. (I still dream of writing science fiction and sadly, I am among the laggards of my class who haven’t published anything so far.)

To get a picture of what’s out there and hopefully inspire me to write fiction again, I thought I’d take a quick look at all the SF&F markets. I do miss regularly reading SF short stories because it’s the short fiction that really defines the science fiction genre in my mind. I don’t have time to keep up with SF novels, and to be honest, they seldom offer the punch as they did when I was a teenager. The short story is different, it still has sense of wonder value and presents far out visions from writers who are working with the rule that the sky is no limit.

My favorite method of “reading” science fiction short stories is with audio editions. Escape Pod is a good free introduction to the concept. Escape Pod offers a great selection of stories so it’s an obvious place to start. The readings vary in quality, but aren’t up to the best work of professional narrators. To understand what I mean requires going to Audible.com and buying a general collection or old issues of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction or the single best-of collections of Analog or Asimov’s. Or going to Amazon.com and buying Science Fiction: The Best of the Year 2006 audio edition, edited by Rich Horton. It’s a ten CD collection of SF audio short stories. I’d pay a lot for the annual Dozois collection if it was done as unabridged audio.

I can’t emphasize how much I love audio SF&F short stories. I even got on Amazon/ABEbooks.com and ran various searches to track down and ordered used copies of all the old cassette editions of SF&F short stories I could find. There’s not that many but I found a lot of gems.

This past year James Patrick Kelly has been selling his short stories on Audible.com in batches of 13 that are released one a week. They are called StoryPod 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0. I wish more SF&F authors would do this. Overall I was very impressed with his writing and ideas. His stories are a good introduction to audio SF.

What I really wish is for a regular audio collection, like a Reader’s Digest, but of genre and literary short stories to be sold by Audible.com. Good audio readings absolutely showcase short stories. I’m currently listening to Stories of the South 2004 and each story is like a potent distilled novel, very intense.

Audio productions magnify story telling skills – so bad stories are glaringly bad, but good ones are just damn vivid. If you want to be a writer listen to audio short stories, it’s a way to study how stories work and succeed.

Fictionwise.com now offers F&SF, Asimov’s, Analog and Interzone magazines as ebooks, as well as Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery magazines. Each magazine is available in a variety of computer formats including for the new Kindle reader. If you register your Kindle with Fictionwise, all your purchased books will have an “Email to Kindle” button beside the title. Just press it and go to your Kindle and start reading. Anything they offer in MultiFormat works with the Kindle and Sony readers, as well as a long list of older readers.

Amazon also sells many of the back volumes of the Dozois and Hartwell annual best-of collections in Kindle format, as well as many theme short story collections, and strangely enough, reprints of ancient pulp era science fiction. You could stuff your Kindle with thousands of short stories.

Audio / Podcasts

Magazines

Webzines

Short Fiction Reviews

Annual Anthologies

JWH

Update 12/28/07:  I just discovered that The New Yorker offers a monthly podcast, available through iTunes or at the New Yorker website, that hosts a visiting author who reads a short story he or she admires.  I know this isn’t science fiction related, but if you are used to podcasts, its a fantastic way to bring audio short stories into your life.  I wished the New Yorker would hire professional readers and offered their weekly fiction this way.  Their short stories are the best literary fiction in the world which is validated yearly in the annual Best American Short Fiction anthologies.

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