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"2014,", I said in 2013 (pretty arrogantly, in hindsight) "is going to be the year where I stay on top of short fiction!"

Friends, this was a complete fabrication. I'm a rotten, dirty liar.

Like every year before this, the sheer scope of the short fiction landscape first bemused me and then overwhelmed me. I did the same thing I've done the last four years. I gave it a shot early in the year, determined and hopeful, with a few short stories and a few different anthologies. I tried to read the stories that people mentioned on Twitter or their blogs. I failed out of multiple pieces because I felt ignorant and/or I couldn't figure out what the piece was saying. Eventually I gave up, figuring I'd use award seasons to find short fiction to read — people are always tossing around recommendations during that time.

Same old, same old.

Short fiction has exploded. So many magazines and blogs offer free SF fiction. Off the top of my head I can list Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Book Smugglers Publishing, Pornokitsch, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and GigaNotoSaurus. That's leaving another gazillion sources out. I asked for recommendations for 2014 anthologies on Twitter the other day and got 15 suggestions of full anthologies and magazines, not counting the three I included in my initial query (Sword & Laser, Upgraded, Long Hidden). I have no clue how many of those included reprints, but even if only 75% of the stories were new across all the anthologies I was recommended, that's a lot of short fiction.

The short fiction field is huge and it's flooded with so much work that no one reader could begin to keep up (did anyone ever keep up? Was it possible, long ago before the Internet, SF fan historians?) I know there are people out there that care about short fiction, its future, and want to ensure that new people come in and care about it just as much as they do. Unfortunately, right now it feels impenetrable. I hear a lot of commentary saying that the really daring work isn't done in novels, but instead is happening in short fiction. I hear that investing in short fiction will give you a leg up on what's going to be happening in novel length work later on. If that's true, at this rate it's simply easier and less stressful for me to sit down and wait for the big ideas to hit the novels, remixed and transformed from the short fiction writers or by short fiction writers turned novelists.

I want to care about short fiction, but I have no clue how or where to start because there's just so much stuff and there's little to no filtering unless I slog through it myself or wait until December - March for Hugo season. I don't even slog through book catalogs that much by myself because I am lazy. I trust the people around me who read books: tastemakers I trust. I have over thirty people who read and/or review whose opinions will make me consider a book.

I don't have that many for short fiction. There's [personal profile] forestofglory, who I share short fiction tastes with and is great about making distinct posts about recent reading. Amal El-Mohtar was reviewing short fiction on her website, and she's leveled up her short fiction column, Rich and Strange, to Tor.com. nerds of a feather recently started a new feature aimed at talking about select short fiction, but I'm not sure the reviewer's tastes align with mine just yet. Cecily from Manic Pixie Dream Worlds reads widely and will be posting about short fiction on Skiffy and Fanty, and we align pretty often. That's a radical difference in tastemaker numbers in books versus short fiction. Where else is short fiction being discussed and reviewed? Where are these conversations happening? Who's involved? Is there a secret club? Do we have a handshake? Can I get an invite?

With books, it's easy to tune in to book bloggers, Goodreads, Amazon, upcoming lists, mid-year best of lists, and the end of year best lists. There's ARCs for people to brag about and read and start the early buzz machine, plus Netgalley and Edelweiss. You can find and follow like-minded people. There's a certain amount of organization to book culture that short fiction doesn't have, or else I am the most oblivious person on the planet and don't know where it is.

Until it's more robust, I continue to have no clue what to do with short fiction until award lists start coming out unless I'm throwing metaphorical darts at the wall and hoping I won't come away from my own short fiction adventures completely confused (as I inevitably do when I try to tackle it on my lonesome). But then the inevitable conversations about quality start, because popular votes are inherently flawed in some ways as a measure of what "best" means. If someone like me only reads the best short fiction as selected by Nebula and Hugo voters (and nominators who talk about their choices), what does that mean for the health of the short fiction community and market?

This is all very complicated, and I'm missing a lot of historical context. Has the short fiction field ever been this inundated with material or has this happened before in the past with other magazines and venues? Does it ebb and flow and we're in Hella Flow Mode? Has the short fiction community always had trouble with marketing itself outside of genre spaces, and to people who don't consider themselves very good at reading short fiction, much less discussing it (hi, nice to meet you)? Were there ever more robust critical conversations around short fiction, perhaps in printed fanzines or on mailing lists, before more of the community started drifting to forums and blogs?

Well, I have no answers to these questions, but I'm seriously overwhelmed at the available reading options. I have no real clue how to narrow things down beyond drawing specifically along genre lines and authors I'm familiar with due to long fiction work or who have been recced to me, diving in, and hoping I land somewhere relevant and mostly entertaining. Or asking people around me what they're reading and enjoying (sorry for all the harassing tweets about adding short fiction to my Hugo sheet, friends). But without a robust critical culture surrounding short fiction I'm really unsure how to find my footing, find my people, and therefore I have no clue how to start my own conversations about short fiction. Alone, I'm pretty hopeless. I need community.

purple cloud stirring a can of beans over a fire surrounded by trash


I'll keep hoping for more people to start reading and reviewing short fiction so I can follow along behind them and pickpocket their interpretations, or even for there to one day be a centralized hub for reviewing short fiction (although there are monetary barriers there). Fingers crossed that some enterprising folks discovery a bag of money and take on the challenge before the Best Short Story Hugo finalist list is made up of two stories and the tears of short fiction fans.

These were the anthologies I started with, with suggestions of collections and special issues of magazines, plus additions I found later. Disclaimer: I don't know how quality the gender parity is in some of the anthologies, so they aren't endorsements, just a reference.


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