Discovering New Science Fiction

by James Wallace Harris, Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume 12 edited by Jonathan StrahanTomorrow is July 1st and my online science fiction club begins discussing The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year: Volume 12 edited by Jonathan Strahan. This is the first time we’ve selected an annual best-of-the-year anthology. We mostly stick to novels and favor the classics. This anthology collects the best short SF/F from 2017, so we’re getting very close to the event horizon of new science fiction. To be honest, our members are mostly older readers, so reading these new stories should make us feel younger.

2018 is the year of the science fiction short story for me. I’ve listened to three volumes of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, started reading The Great SF Stories 1939-1964 edited by Asimov and Greenberg and I’m up to 1943. I going through Science Fiction of the 50’s edited by Martin Greenberg and Joseph Olander, and I listened to all of The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year: Volume 11 and I’m getting close to finishing listening to volume 12.

Growing up in the 1960s I got hooked on current science fiction by subscribing to F&SF, Analog, Galaxy, Amazing, Fantastic, and If. To me, the heart and soul of science fiction have always been the SF magazines. For the most part, I stopped reading those in the late 1970s. During my work years, I’d find time to read 10-12 science novels a year. I’d sometimes subscribe to F&SF or Asimov’s. In 2002 I joined Audible.com and began rereading all my favorite science fiction novels by listening to them. But in the last few years since retiring, I’ve mostly caught up. Now I’m reading and listening to old science fiction short stories. And it’s tremendous fun. A reading renaissance.

I dabble in new science fiction, but it’s hard for me. I think that’s true for many of the book club members. Every year thousands of new SF/F novels come out, and mostly by unknown authors. Listening to these two best-of-the-year anthologies edited by Jonathan Strahan is reconnecting me with current science fiction and a new generation of writers. I like the feeling of being near the edge of contemporary science fiction. Last year I even resubscribed to F&SF, Asimov’s and Analog. That’s why I nominated volume 12 of Strahan’s anthology for the book club. I was surprised when the group voted it in.

Maybe I’m not the only old SF fan that wants to check out what’s new. I’ve decided I just can’t keep up with current novels. I might read one new novelist a year. But reading and listening to new short stories allows me to discover dozens of new writers and the whole spectrum of new science fictional ideas. Just reading this one annual best-of-the-year anthology exposes readers to the modern diversity of 29 writers. And many of them are new to me.

Now, here’s the thing about my group. Some members don’t like voting for books they have to buy. Most have giant collections of unread SF/F books, and they’ve stopped buying new books. For a book to win a monthly spot in our book club it has to be easily available, either from libraries, used bookstores, cheap ebook editions, or already owned.

To help out those members who don’t own or won’t buy volume 12, I created a list of the stories in the collection and linked any that were on the web. This had two surprising results. First, over half the stories were free to read online. Second, and more importantly, looking at these stories revealed the modern state of written science fiction. Just following these links will show you what the latest science fiction magazines are like. They’re digital. Many have beautiful layouts and great art. And it’s not uncommon to have audio versions to play. Sadly, print magazines are dying. But all magazines need supporters. Subscribe to their digital editions, and if you don’t want print magazines to go extinct, subscribe to them too.

I don’t want this list to discourage people from buying the Strahan anthology. It’s available in paper, ebook, and audiobook, and very reasonably priced. It’s a great introduction to new SF/F tales for readers stuck in the past of classic stories. My only personal complaint is it contains fantasy. It irks me no end to buy anthologies that have both science fiction and fantasy because I’m strictly a science fiction guy. However, my book club does have many fantasy fans. I bought the ebook version of volume 12 because it was cheap, and the audiobook version because I love hearing short stories on audio. (But it still annoys me to wade through the fantasy, although I do have to admit they were all well-told stories even if they were about magic and dragons.)

Here’s the list I created for my book club. To save your place here, right-click on each link and select “Open link in new window” to try out the story. Then poke around its online magazine. These digital venues for short science fiction are the cutting edge of the genre. Read the columns and comments. Many sites have ebook editions to buy to finance all the free reading.

Some of these stories have already won awards. “The Hermit of Houston” and “The Martian Obelisk” won Locus awards. “The Secret Life of Bots” and “The Martian Obelisk” are up for the Hugo in August.

The Jonathan Strahan annual anthology is just one of eleven this year that focuses on the best science fiction stories of 2017. See my overview of them at Book Riot. Also, read my “Reading (and Writing for) Science Fiction Magazines” for links to many of the current science fiction magazines. To get an even a bigger picture, look at the lists of defunct and current SF magazines at Wikipedia.

I used to think the science fiction short story was dying off. Evidently, I’m completely wrong. Today short written science fiction is thriving. Most science fiction fans are movie and television fans, but real science fiction comes from magazines. It always has.

JWH

 

 

10 thoughts on “Discovering New Science Fiction”

  1. Hi James….thanks for this blog, really enjoyed it. There is a great Scottish sci fi mag called Shoreline of Infinity that I subscribe to and enjoy. It features short stories from new writers and is (IMO) worth a look if you have a desire to discover new writers. (This is not a plug by the way….I don’t contibute to or have any connection with Shoreline)… https://www.shorelineofinfinity.com

    1. Thanks, Adam, I’ll check it out.

      There are so many sites that publish science fiction now. I wonder if there’s a portal site that tries to track them all?

      Someone else sent me to The Coode Street Podcast – https://jonathanstrahan.podbean.com/ – where Jonathan Strahan and Gary Wolfe talk about science fiction.

      SFFaudio Podcast – http://www.sffaudio.com/ – also promotes old and new works and sites.

      It’s just amazing how much science fiction is out there to read and listen to.

  2. Everything that looks like fantasy,isn’t always just so though.It can be very deceptive.Some books published as SF,can appear exactly like fantasy,but contain modern SF themes that firmly place them within it.Even if they can’t be defined as such,I don’t mind calling them speculative fiction.

    The modern SF genre was born in the magazines,so it’s not surprising the real stuff comes from there.Other SF that has real pedigree,was also being published outside of the old pulps too.

    1. I agree completely. Replay by Ken Grimwood is fantasy, but I like to think of it as science fiction. Star Wars which everyone thinks of as science fiction, I consider fantasy. Categorizing stories is almost impossible. And I don’t always hate dragons and magic. I thoroughly enjoyed The Game of Thrones on HBO or reading the Harry Potter books. I tire of most fantasy because it’s so very difficult to do anything original. Dragons and magic spells have become meaningless. Ditto for vampires. Writers twist them into whatever they need for their plot so they lack limits. Fantasy without limits is no fun for me.

      I’m more forgiving of science fiction, but I have to admit many SF stories are retreads of old ideas with new plots and characters. The challenge of science fiction is meeting the limits of science. That appeals to me.

      The reason why I don’t like most fantasy stories is without limits there’s no challenge to the imagination.

      1. I haven’t read Ken Grimwood,but the authors I was thinking of,were Robert Holdstock and Gene Wolfe,who both write elegantly about places that appear on the surface like traditional fantasy,but are really nothing like it.

        The best authors have taken the old SF ideas and remoulded them skilfully.The trouble is,it seems most of them can’t do it!

  3. I’ve had THE BEST SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY OF THE YEAR: VOLUME TWELVE on my Read Real Soon stack for over a month. After reading your post, I want to move it directly to the top! I agree with you on science fiction magazines. They were my gateway drug to SF along with ACE Doubles. I stopped subscribing to them in the 1980s but would buy an occasional issue if a favorite writer was featured. Now, I buy original SF collections mostly. Like many oldsters, I prefer a book to a magazine especially a digital one.

  4. You might find this interesting: http://authorearnings.com/sfwa2018/
    It breaks down the numbers and the types of science fiction and fantasy that is being written and sold today, in the general market and by the sub-genre of both SF and fantasy. I knew that fantasy outsold science fiction by a good margin, and now I know why. In a word: vampires.

    1. Thanks a million for that Chuck, it was fascinating. I particularly found slide #35 the most interesting, because it revealed what kind of SF stories people are buying (via ebooks). Sadly, short stories are dead last. I assume they mean single-author short story collections. Anthologies of short stories do somewhat better, but not by much. Classic SF is way down the list. What’s funny is my least favorite kind of SF, military SF, is first by a wide margin.

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