The OF Blog: The relevance of short fiction SF/F

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The relevance of short fiction SF/F

There's been an interesting discussion brewing on the Westeros forums the past few days about short fiction. Sparked by Mary Robinette Kowal's "surprise" win (well, surprise mostly to those at places such as Westeros, I suppose), the pros and cons regarding the continued relevance and importance of genre short fiction have been argued at length, although perhaps such arguments tend to reflect the readership's own biases more than anything else.

So I thought I'd blog briefly about it, since short fiction is something that interests me from time to time, especially after the two years where I taught Freshman, Sophomore, and Senior Lit classes. For myself, there seems to be quite a bit of pretty good to outstanding short fiction being produced today, although I mostly am exposed to it when I read various anthologies and short story collections. I know in the past, several authors began honing their craft as short fiction writers before moving on, in many cases, to writing full-length novels.

However, it seems for many in certain segments of the spec fic-reading populace, short fiction's time has passed and for some of those people, having more awards for the "minor" categories (novella, novelette, short story, collection, anthology) than for the "major" one (novel) seems to be pointless. While the Westeros discussion touches upon that and other matters related to this, I am curious to know what the readers here think about the issue. So, do you regularly read short fiction? What are your thoughts about the state of spec fic short fiction today? Any favorite authors or publication venues? What could stand to be improved, if anything?


Joe said...

I responded in that thread, briefly, listing the online short fiction markets I like and read (plus two pay online markets I don't read because I'm cheap), but to copy them here without the links:

Strange Horizons
Fantasy Magazine
Apex Digest
Lone Star Stories

I also like Weird Tales.

I don't read enough short fiction, I don't think. I want to read more, but I don't always.

In terms of quality, I think short SFF is doing quite well. There are venues which publish all sorts of stuff and you have a range of different styles and contents and if 99% of everything is crap, there is still a great 1% out there.

In terms of market penetration...I think short fiction is becoming increasinly niche. There's plenty out there that is great and lots of folks are reading, but I believe (without numbers) that fewer people are reading the short stories.


Obviously there will be specific markets which are exceptions (, let's say).

I'll come back to my favorite short fiction writers so as not to make this response too long.

Lsrry said...

Good sites you list there, Joe; I've visited each of them in the past, especially Strange Horizons and Clarkesworld. I still need to free up the time to write about my thoughts of the three issues of Weird Tales that Ann VanderMeer sent me, as those were quite excellent (when I get paid in early September, I shall pay for a year's subscription).

Do agree about the niche nature of the short fiction market now, but it seems that it's morphing into more of a "scene" or "club" setting recently. In some ways, I wouldn't be surprised to discover parallels with the 18th century French salons in how the writers might be writing more for each other than for the average nameless reader.

Joe said...

Since I just received the final issue of my Weird Tales subscription, I think I'll renew (and catch up with those issues sitting at home unread).

Elizabeth Bear pointed out the club nature not too long ago, that it is writers writing for writers, that many of the subscribers of the newer short fiction magazines (not necessarily the Big Three) are writers themselves.

No argument there from me, though because the online discussions are likely occurring between writers it could also be a case of we don't know who else is reading simply because they're not talking about it in public.

Liviu said...

I love sff short fiction - I bought 6-8 original anthologies and the New Weird one which is mostly reprints this year and plan to buy several more. I also buy quite a few magazines mostly e-versions like Aeon, GUD, Escape Velocity, Grantville Gazette, rarely some Interzone and Asimov's, while I have both FSF and Analog available e through my library database subscription - though I rarely read FSF and almost never Analog. Sadly Baen's Universe of which I had high hopes turned into an e-Analog with fantasy and after being a member for the first year, I have not bought it since. I also have been buying the Writers of the Future anthology for the past 6-7 years, almost any novella length original anthology put by SFBC, and almost anything original that Lou Anders or Jonathan Strahan edit

I also check out author's collections from the library mostly, though sometimes I buy them too

The only problem recently has been time since this year there have been so many interesting novels I got/discovered - and Larry here has his share of credit :), some quite big, that even though I've probably doing more reading in 08 since at any time in the past 6 years since my son has been born - I think I am at about 154 books fully read for 08 while I just spent a week reading Anathem 3 times since that has been a once in a decade novel for me - I sort of fell behind with short fiction and I have several anthologies staring sadly at me from my bookshelves..

Joe said...

I'll second the editorial work of Lou Anders and Jonathan Strahan. Either name will interest me in the anthology.

Can't believe I didn't mention Electric Velocipede. I don't subscribe, but I tend to purchase single issues of it.

Anonymous said...

Science fiction and fantasy short fiction is not only still very relevant, it's often damn good and interesting. The people reacting to the Campbell going to Mary Robinette Kowal with "who the hell is she and how could someone I've never heard of win this?" simply don't know enough about the science fiction and fantasy field to have anything interesting to say about the prize. If you don't know enough sf/f short fiction to have heard of Kowal (which is another thing entirely from having an idea about who she is, but never having read any of her work, or having read a story or two and deciding that this wasn't your cup pf tea), you're so limited in your reading that I don't even see a reason to take your opinion on the matter seriously.

I really do like Strange Horizons.


tim said...

It's only been over the last two years that I have stepped into the world of short sff. Over all, I am finding it at least as good as, and usually better than, novel length outings. I visit most of the online sites listed by others, and have suscribed to Tin House, but most of the short fiction I have been reading comes from single author collections (Pump Six is the best recent argument I can think of for the form) and edited collects, specifically anything edited by the Vandermeers (I think the Leviathan series was just mindblowing and I wish there were more). Its pretty limited, but it feels like a good start to me.

Daniel Ausema said...

I'm a faithful reader of Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, and Fantasy Magazine. I don't subscribe to anything at the moment, though I have in the past--when I was doing more short fiction reviews for first Tangent and then The Fix, I allowed subscriptions to lapse. Another that no one's mentioned that I've often enjoyed has been Farrago's Wainscot--a beat off-beat and surreal in a way that often appeals to me.

Short fiction's place in the field...well, I enjoy it first of all. Admittedly it wasn't until I started trying my hand at writing that I started reading a lot of it. For all the doom and gloom you hear comparing today to a supposed golden era, though, I find that today's tremendous variety is very exciting.

I can see that if my tastes in reading hadn't changed since high school, I probably wouldn't find short fiction that compelling, but once you immerse yourself in it, it's a niche that's highly rewarding.

Joe said...

Short Story Authors I Like (no particular order except how they come to mind) :

Mary Robinette Kowal
George R. R. Martin
Cory Doctorow
Octavia Butler
Joe Lansdale
Lucius Shepard
Stephen King
Rachel Swirsky
Mike Resnick
Ted Chiang
Jay Lake
William Shunn
Robert Reed
Jhumpa Lahiri
Alan DeNiro
Jeffrey Ford
M. Rickert
Jennifer Pelland
Connie Willis
Kij Johnson (based on one awesome story)
Tim Pratt
Paul Melko
Everyone at Shadow Unit

I'm quite sure I've missed a couple dozen others.

Lsrry said...

Sorry for my lack of participation in this interesting discussion. Long school day, blah-blah-blah. I am reading the comments and suggestions however and I will second a few of the authors Joe has mentioned, since I've read and enjoyed about a dozen of them. Pleasantly surprised to see Jhumpa Lahiri on there, as I enjoyed her Interpreter of Maladies a few years ago.

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