Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Speculative Fiction Online: Short Stories

Fantasy_and_SciFiLovers of speculative fiction — elf watchers, sorcery buffs, space nerds, zombie huggers, apocalypse prophets — fantasists and science fiction lovers of all stripes — can find plenty of fiction online to sate an appetite for shorter works at a low price, or no price at all. Short fiction is one of the best ways for new authors to be published and recognized. You can feel the thrill of discovering talented authors before they’re well known. Online publishing has lowered the cost for a writer to reach a reader, and while there is a great range of quality in the fiction available online, I think you’ll find that the sources linked below have a lot to offer the discerning reader.

The idea for this post had its genesis in my happy discovery of Torque Control’s Short Story Club, mentioned by Yet There Are Statues, Matt Hilliard’s intelligent, articulate blog of reviews of science fiction and fantasy books. Torque Control is the blog of the editorial staff of Vector, the journal of the British Science Fiction Association, and it has a lively, thoughtful, active following of writers and sci-fi enthusiasts who engage in respectfully pointed discussions. It’s a pity that the site design is barely adequate; I discern a limited WordPress theme that is not being used to full advantage. On the other side of the pond we have the glitzier Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Association, but unfortunately, for the purposes of this article, there I did not find links to free and inexpensive online writing, although I did find an interesting link to online fantasy and science fiction writing workshops at Odyssey.
The Torque Control Short Story Club selections link to a glorious plethora of online sci-fi and fantasy journals, and for the benefit of our readers here, I’d like to share these discoveries and more. Please add links in the comments to recommend additional resources, or comment on these selections.



Tor Stories


Tor_storiesTor, as you may know, is a preeminent publisher of fantasy fiction with mass-market appeal. Online they offer carefully chosen short stories and excerpts by popular authors. Tor is smart: there are many ways you can read these stories, including online, printing, PDF, or downloading for your mobile or e-reader device. Click on the [?] for more details under the left-side Download link. Not every story is available in an audio format, however. Discussions are generally lightweight, of the “I like it!” variety. It’s not clear to me that stories are offered on a scheduled basis, but no worries, you can stay current by subscribing to the RSS feed for stories.

Clarkesworld Magazine

ClarkesworldFounded by author and publisher Neil Clarke (unrelated to Arthur C. Clarke as far as I know, but surely benefiting by the association), Clarkesworld Magazine has been published monthly since 2006, through Wyrm Publishing. It publishes science fiction and fantasy, and received a 2010 Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine. (Semiprozine? Is that an anti-depressant?) Quoting from their About page: “Each issue contains at least two pieces of original fiction from new and established authors.” They offer free audio podcasts and e-reader issues at $2.99, via the Wyrm Publishing bookstore. You can read some stories online.


Lightspeed


LightspeedLightspeed publishes science fiction in a monthly issue that is available in various e-reader formats for $2.99. Some stories are also available online and in audio format. Lightspeed’s goal is to present work from both new and well known authors. Lightspeed is edited by John Joseph Adams, editor of anthologies, and of Fantasy Magazine (see below.)


Subterranean Press

Subterranean
Subterranean Press specializes in publishing horror, suspense, and dark mystery, according to their About page. They have an online bookstore that sells limited edition signed books. Over at their online magazine you can browse their quarterly issues to read fiction, reviews, and articles about the writer’s craft. Unfortunately, the website is about five years old, and provides no podcasts, no RSS feed specific to the magazine, and no downloadable alternate formats such as e-reader formats. The link for “featured authors” doesn’t work. Never fear, that’s why there’s Instapaper.com, about which I’ll say more at the end of this article. There is no for-print stylesheet, so unless you’re into shenanigans such as copy/pasting into MS Word, you’ll have to suffer with whatever nonsense your browser generates for your printer. There, carry that over to your comfy armchair where you like to sit and read.


Strange Horizons

Strange_Horizons
Strange Horizons, founded in 2000, is a non-profit weekly web-based magazine focused on speculative fiction. The staff is all-volunteer and they are glad to receive donations, as are all the purely online magazines mentioned in this article. Their work is a testament to their devotion to fiction, and to providing a venue to authors who deserve to be read. Strange Horizons has an RSS feed, but the website lacks any provision for alternate modes of reading. There is a print media stylesheet, so at least the stories print well. Once again, instapaper comes to the rescue for your e-reader. This is a rather ugly albeit functional website. The flexible width design should accomodate small-format smart-phone browsers.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies

bcs
This is a fascinating recent entry to the world of speculative fiction webzines. The focus of this appealing biweekly is “literary adventure fantasy.” The website is well written, attractively designed, easily navigable, and currently styled. I am happy to see that they offer popular downloadable formats for e-readers, and charge $0.99 for complete issues in Amazon’s Kindle store. There are many downloadable mp3 recordings of stories. Hey, Subterranean and Strange Horizons, watch closely while BCS shows you how you do it. BCS is a non-profit, and welcomes donations.


Futurismic

FuturismicFuturismic serves a broad interest in exploring the effects of science and technology on the present and future, and publishes relevant speculative fiction once a month. Disappointingly, there are no alternate download formats, and not even a print media stylesheet, so you’re entirely dependent on your own devices should you wish to separate yourself from the blue glowing screen.

Bonus: A huge, wondrous blogroll of links to online fiction in the right column.

Fantasy Magazine

Fantasy Magazine“From modern mythcraft to magic surrealism”. The publisher and editors are connected with Lightspeed and Clarkesworld magazines. It’s a small world. Fiction is published weekly online, with no alternate formats available. There is no print stylesheet, so once again, you’re on your own if you like to take your reading with you. Instapaper to the rescue? Besides fiction there are essays, reviews of fantasy-oriented books and film, and interviews with authors. There are also downloadable mp3 podcast fiction recordings but the most recent file dates from May 10, 2010. I found this website a bit rough to navigate, and the absence of an articulated introduction seemed an illiterate oversight to me. Please… no unicorns. Can we just not have pictures of unicorns on a fantasy website?

Aphelion

Aphelion is an unpaid “fanzine” for publishing science fiction, fantasy, horror, poetry, and essays. It is an amateur (or shall we say “aspiring”) venue, with a monthly publication schedule, and active user forums for discussion of the works. Due to inadequate and antiquated web design, I was confused for a while about the undated stories, but then came to understand that the entire website presents the current month’s issue. I couldn’t find previous months’ issues; the archives are simply an author index. The best orientation to this website is found on the Submissions page. Alternate download formats are not available. This website is a labor of love, a love dating back many years, and the resources have dried up.

SF Signal

As Aphelion above, SF Signal also defies orientation, a by-product of its technological antiquity, but I discern that it is a science fiction reviews site. Ordinarily I wouldn’t include it here, since it does not publish fiction, but as part of its blog stream SF Signal publishes Table of Contents for web and print publications that may provide links to free speculative fiction on the web. Alas, there seems to be no way to navigate to such posts; they are dumbly classified as “Books” (remind me please, why do we have categories?) but you can ferret out these posts by looking at the ones whose subject line starts with “TOC:…”

TOC: ‘The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Five’

TOC: ‘The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy, 2011 Edition’


Asimov’s

AsimovsAsimov’s is one of the most venerable and well recognized science fiction magazine that is still in existence, publishing the best known authors. Looking at recent covers, it seems that they aren’t interested in breaking new ground in sci-fi illustration. The website, too, is a yawn, which is a peculiar choice for science fiction; neither is it well designed, as some pages force the user to use the browser “back” button to return to the navigation schema. Smartly, they do provide download and subscription options, including the standard $2.99 per issue subscription in various e-reader format. Individual issues cost $3.49. The print subscription costs slightly more. Asimov’s is published ten times a year. Unfortunately, there are only story teasers online; you’ll have to pay to read to the end.

Analog

Part of the same Dell Magazines publishing group as Asimov’s above, the subscription model is the same: pay to read, and there is limited online content. There are no story teasers. Frankly, I don’t know why I included this one, except that it seemed unconscionable not to mention Analog. Perhaps it serves to instruct by its decision not to offer online fiction.

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction

Fantasy_and_SciFiThere are no free online short stories from the venerable F&SF, but there are many options for alternate format downloads from e-reader bookstores at $7 for each bi-monthly issue. There is a link to Audible, but I could only find some old “Best of F&SF” yearbook anthologies, and no recent issues.

Final plug for Instapaper

As you browse the web, have you had the experience of coming across an interesting longer article or story that you didn’t have time to read just then? If you have a mobile e-reader compatible device, or if you simply want to collect such content for later reading, you might want to look at instapaper.com. Instapaper is a free web service that collects articles you select by clicking a “Read Later” button, installed by dragging to your browser’s toolbar. It’s a super way to collect and convert HTML web content for your reading convenience. You can have content delivered wirelessly to your device at intervals, if appropriate, or you can print content, or simply refer to your bookmarked links. If you like the service, the developers would welcome a small donation.

In Conclusion

Surviving online through the grace of donations is difficult. To increase their web presence, some of these magazines could take advantage of the prevalence of portable digital devices by publishing for e-readers, and by offering podcasts on services like ITunes. I think that reasonably priced monthly issues at $2.99, or smaller issues at $0.99, is a good plan for online magazines. I’ve bought some for my Kindle 3. One hurdle for online publishing is the technical debt incurred by investing time and money in website design. Sure enough, a year or two goes by, and if the site owner hasn’t planned for sufficient maintenance and development, the site falls behind in its technical ability to deliver content in the way that users need it.

I’d like to hear your feedback on these sites. Are there other speculative fiction online websites that should be on this list?

[This article was originally published on Dreams & Speculation]

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