Free Science Fiction

It’s a great time to be poor, tight or miserly because there’s lots of free science fiction offerings on the Internet.  Heinlein was wrong about that free lunch deal.  Just subscribing to two web sites, SF Site and SFF Audio via RSS feeds will keep you informed of more good free SF&F reading and listening than you can handle, even if you’re out-of-work or out-of-school.  All you’ve got to do is read the regular posts and these sites will spot the goodies for you. 

Hell, a couple months ago Tor let people sign up to get 12 free ebooks novels from them, in PDF, HTML and unprotected Mobi formats, which is good for the new Amazon Kindle.  I socked them away for a rainy day when I want to try out some new authors, but I especially appreciated getting a copy of Old Man’s War by John Scalzi because I already bought and listened to it on audio.  Audio books are the best way to fully experience a book, in my humble opinion, but audio books are not so good for reference and study.  eBooks are great for snagging a quote.  I wished all paper editions came with ebook editions for reviewing purposes – but I digress from my main topic.

I don’t know why there is so much free reading and listening on the Internet.  I do know there’s a theory that a certain amount of free promotion helps with sales, but currently there’s enough free promotion to exist completely without buying.

Some writers like Cory Doctorow even offer their latest novels for free, such as his new book Little Brother.  Read the intro in the HTML edition to see just how far his generosity extends.  I’m waiting for the audio edition to show up on to buy.  I’ve read Cory’s stories in anthologies I’ve bought, but his name has stuck with me because of his free work on the Internet.  Finding his brilliant “Anda’s Game” made me remember his name as a standout writer.  The same thing happened with Charlie Stross, because of free stories on the net, or stories in anthologies, I’ve gone on to buy his books.

A good way to dip your toe in the free story waters is to read where Rusty reviews standout SF short stories, many of which are on the net to read for free and Rusty provides the links.  He even offers a guide to finding free stories, “Nine Secrets For Finding Your Favorite Science Fiction Short Stories Online,” as well as “The 10 Best Web Sites for Free Online Science Fiction Short Stories.”  When I was a kid I had to haunt musty used bookshops all over Miami to find classic SF stories to read.  Now story hunting is as easy as a mouse-click away.

And these stories aren’t submissions from would-be writers, or trunk stories from published writers, but award winning stories, stories that have appeared in best-of-the-year anthologies, and stories that have appeared on lists like The Top 100 Sci-Fi Short Stories.

For the last decade I’ve been doing far more listening to fiction than reading.  At first audio science fiction was rare, but in the last year there has been a boom in SF&F for your ears, including free productions.  At first free audio featured amateur readers no better than the best student you’d hear when we had to take turns reading aloud in class.  The best professional readers today act out audio books in performances I often find better than those I see in Oscar winning movies.  Free audio productions have a long way to go to compete with professional productions, but surprisingly, they are evolving fast!

The granddaddy of SF audio is probably Escape Pod, currently broadcasting it’s 159th episode.  You no longer have to mess with podcast software to listen to the shows, so go sample its stories with the on-page sound controls.  The production quality is now equal or better to many of the commercial stories I buy at  Escape Pod offers a lot of quality for free.  Again, these aren’t just third-tier stories, but stories that have appeared in professional story magazines like F&SF, Asimov’s, Interzone, Realms of Fantasy, Strange Horizons, Jim Baen’s Universe, and other magazines that SF writers love to sell to.

Also, the above linked magazine sites often offer free stories to read from their for-sale magazines, especially during award times when they want to promote their nominated authors.  Just following the links on this page will keep you up-to-date with what’s going in with the genre of science fiction.  You’ll learn who the famous authors are as well as the new and upcoming writers.

Free audio book novels are showing up but most of them are read by amateur readers, something not to my taste, but if you like free and are patient and forgiving, you might find a lot in these offerings.  I expect this category to grow in the future as amateur actors discover audio books are a way to audition their talents and get their names known.  Digital recording equipment is relatively cheap, but producing a ten-twenty hour novel is quite a commitment, but they are appearing.  Keep an eye on SFF Audio.

And if you want to know about classic science fiction, visit Feedbooks, where you can get ebook novels for free.  Their Science Fiction page offer books from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to George Orwell’s 1984 to Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, the new book mentioned above.  And all the books are nicely formatted for a wide range of electronic reading devices.  Teachers and professors could offer a class on science fiction and their students could get all their textbooks for free on this site.

I don’t understand how all this generosity works.  It’s a hippie dream – a commie’s philosophy come true.  Feedbooks doesn’t even have ads on their page.  It’s a mystery, like WordPress, how do they make their money?  There are even radio magazine shows like, that appear to be the work of energetic individuals unmotivated by capitalism.  It’s like the old days of fanzines, creating a new generation of online fandom, fashioning an audio genzine.

Like I said, it doesn’t take much to join this community, just add the RSS feeds from SF Signal and SFF Audio.  Having online access allows web surfers to join a never ending science fiction convention, again for free, without having to buy a membership or pay for hotels, cabs and airline tickets.  If you follow SFF Audio, links to panels and con speeches often show up too.  And again, it’s all for free.

This makes me wonder about the financial health of the little audio book publishers and small press publishers.  Is all this free competition hurting them?  SF Signal and SFF Audio also link to these commercial sites, so if you want to see them succeed, patronize their online stores too.  The commercial SF&F magazines have been losing paid readership for years – is the Internet partially at fault – either through free offerings, or just a diversion from old fashion pastimes?  It’s all too hard to know, but we do know there were a lot more short story magazines on sale at newsstands before the advent of television, again a system that offered content for free, usually paid for by ads.

The science fiction short story may go the way of poetry – moving out of the realm of commercial sales to exist and be supported by love of the art form and its fans.  I hate to see that, but I sure do love the fact that the art form of the science fiction short story seems to be growing on the Internet.

Learning to adapt to this free medium takes a bit of training and equipment.  Listening to audio via on-page controls is the easiest way to join in.  Just play a story and kick back.  They are nice company for doing the dishes, or pursuing hobbies like modeling or knitting.  Next up is learning to subscribe to podcasts in iTunes and take the stories with you when you run or walk.  If you like to read on your phone, PDA, notebook computer or ebook reader, find you favorite reading software and learn where the best places that offer that format for free.  I’ve barely touched on the free sites available. 

Like I said, I mostly listening to books because I’ve found so many ways to integrate audio books into my routine.  It’s quite wonderful to be walking down the street while classic novels are whispered into my ear.


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