renay: artist rendition of the center of a nebula (Default)
Renay ([personal profile] renay) wrote in [community profile] ladybusiness2014-11-06 01:33 am

Hey, Short Fiction! Why So Complicated?

"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 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.

Supplemental Material
goodbyebird: Community: Abed wearing his orange space suit, looking up into the sky. (Community Greendale we have a problem)

[personal profile] goodbyebird 2014-11-06 08:27 am (UTC)(link)
Short fiction is almost aways a miss with me. I'm just sitting there when I've finished, going, "I don't get it." So unless it's sci-fi or horror, I don't think I'm all that interested? (The most notable exception for me was Joe Hill's short stories book, where a lot of them worked for me.)

If I see an awesome community just hiding out somewhere, I'll let you know?
caramarie: Icon of Amanda from Lost in Austen, all curled up with P&P, and love hearts. (book love)

[personal profile] caramarie 2014-11-06 09:11 am (UTC)(link)
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.

This has always worked well for me, and I read a lot of short stories. Only SFF&H short stories, because literary short stories mostly bore me :D I guess I'm lucky in that several of my favourite novelists also write excellent short fiction. Or I'll find I vastly prefer a novelist's short stories to their longer work (I'm thinking specifically of Ursula Le Guin here, whose novels I have never especially clicked with, but I started reading her short stories I think based off [personal profile] coffeeandink's recs and WOW.)

It does seem odd to my that you say there's little to no filtering with short stories – the magazine of publication *is* a filter; as is an anthology being put together by a particular editor or on a particular theme. (The first short story anthology I owned, I got because it was edited by an author I liked and because the stories were all about unicorns. I was not very old then :D)

I have a bunch of SFF magazines subscribed on my Kindle, some of which I will read all the way through because I know they tend to match my tastes (Apex is the most reliable one for me), and some of which I will pick and choose from based on whether there are stories by authors I like, or based on what the editorial makes sound interesting. (I always read the editorial, whether I get round to reading all the stories or not, because the editorial is where the blurbs are.)

The proliferance of online magazines is great for me, because I live in NZ, and there are like two SFF magazines that speciality magazine stores get in here (not ones that match my tastes either). Before that I would just read anthologies and collections by particular authors. You do have to just dive in, maybe, but I don't know that that's much different from figuring out which reviewer's tastes match yours? There's a learning curve either way.
coalescent: (Default)

[personal profile] coalescent 2014-11-06 09:58 am (UTC)(link)
It does seem odd to my that you say there's little to no filtering with short stories – the magazine of publication *is* a filter; as is an anthology being put together by a particular editor or on a particular theme.

I agree, in theory this is part of how it should work -- editors/magazines themselves become trusted sources. If you read a dozen Clarkesworld stories and enjoy them, you're likely to enjoy more stuff that Clarkesworld publishes. Or for a place that has a whole panoply of editors like, you can seek out the stories picked by Ann VanderMeer, or Ellen Datlow, etc.

(Of course I do this with publishers as well -- I will at least check out pretty much anything Aqueduct publishes, for instance. But I think it's much easier in short fiction. The editors are more visible and the volume of work published per editor is higher, so it's easier to get a sense of whose taste matches up with yours.)
coalescent: (Default)

[personal profile] coalescent 2014-11-06 09:59 am (UTC)(link)
And [threads merge] not to add to Renay's pile of anthologies, but Kelly Link and Gavin Grant are usually pretty reliable editors.
coalescent: (Default)

[personal profile] coalescent 2014-11-07 11:24 am (UTC)(link)
short fiction is really hard for me

I think short fiction is harder work than a novel, quite often, because every time you start one you have to do the mental work of building the world of the story. As it happens I usually enjoy that work more than I enjoy (say) reading book six of an ongoing series -- but it is work, definitely.
coalescent: (Default)

[personal profile] coalescent 2014-11-06 09:54 am (UTC)(link)
On the reviewing/discussion front, there's this goodreads group, which includes a thread tracking reviewers and review venues.
coalescent: (Default)

[personal profile] coalescent 2014-11-07 11:27 am (UTC)(link)
No, not at all, it's a problem with the field! I used to review short fiction quite regularly, and I miss doing so, but for obvious reasons I don't feel able to do that at the moment.
forestofglory: E. H. Shepard drawing of Christopher Robin reading a book to Pooh (Default)

[personal profile] forestofglory 2014-11-06 03:09 pm (UTC)(link)
Thanks for the shout out. I'm flattered that you like my taste.

I was just feeling overwhelmed by all the short fic out there, and I've read nearly 50 stories online so far this year. But that is nowhere near all the short fiction out there. I mostly just read stuff by author's who's names I recognize, and sometimes stories with names that catch my eye.

P.S. if you are considering collections as well as anthologies you might want to check out Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho
coalescent: (Default)

[personal profile] coalescent 2014-11-07 11:28 am (UTC)(link)
Seconding the Zen Cho rec (though I haven't read all of the collection yet).
bookgazing: (Default)

[personal profile] bookgazing 2014-11-06 03:38 pm (UTC)(link)
Like you I find it hard to know where to find short fic I will enjoy. I'm a little weird about the big SFF magazine publications in that I don't like magazines & I don't really feel like those publications are 'for me' (that whole thing SFF culture does where it convinces you that you're an imposter). I also think. like you, I generally follow authors more than publishers/collective authorities. If I like a book by X published by Y I'm way more likely to follow X around the internet (unless we're talking about Orbit) and the same goes for short fiction. Finally, I also find the amount of choice in the short fic section overwhelming & obscure. This is especially weird for me because generally I love gigantic amounts of choice. 'Oh wow I can only choose one of these icecream flavours from hundreds? Having choice is so cool!'

I kind of feel the same way about short fic as I sometimes do about comics. It's hard to know what to read because there's so much to read & I don't know anything about this section of fic at all so I have no guiding principles to help me select and deselect based on short synopses of stories. And I don't have any investment in collective authorities the same way I don't when it comes to comics. However, comics culture is becoming easier to get into as I find friends who are really into comics. And I think short fic works the same way for me - I see people excited about a story, I read it & then I get excited about discovering more short fic. When friends get involved I feel excited about all the choice rather than like clawing at my face in despair.
coalescent: (Default)

[personal profile] coalescent 2014-11-07 11:23 am (UTC)(link)
For me (and I'm not saying you're wrong), the problem with comics is continuity -- that is, it matters where you start, because it's all connected, so more often than not I just don't start. But with short fiction, unless an author is writing a connected series (which does happen), I don't feel that same inhibition, I can just read a story from here and a story from there.

Cecily here -- thoughts

(Anonymous) 2014-11-06 10:11 pm (UTC)(link)
I've been thinking about this a lot. In fact I'm probably going to use this as a jumping off point for a blog post and wider conversation about how we can make this filtering happen. Because as one of the folks you name, I confess, my method: complete entropy, though I do have a decent idea of which zines are more likely to match my taste by now.

I would also like to see a site dedicated to reviewing short fiction, ideally with several different reviewers so folks could find at least one reviewer whose taste matched. One of the problems I'm having right now is that in my race to keep up with as much as possible, I'm spotlighting some things that are critically *good*, but aren't necessarily *my thing*. Which isn't ideal from an audience perspective. Also, I am of the perhaps unpopular opinion that most short fiction reviews are tl;dr.

One thing you wrote stuck out to me: "authors I'm familiar with due to long fiction work." I think this is one of the biggest barriers for folks looking to get into short fiction and hitting a brick wall. I have a list of favorite novelists, and a list of favorite short fiction writers. There is, so far, zero overlap on this list. Different forms, different skill sets, etc. I am more likely to like the novels of a short fiction writer whose work I love than I am to like the short stories of a novelist whose work I love -- which I suspect is because all writers frequently read novels, while not all frequently read short fiction? Amongst other possible reasons. And also MMV.

Been talking to several folks about some of the points you make here over the last few weeks. It'd be great to see a larger conversation on it.

calissa: (Default)

[personal profile] calissa 2014-11-07 10:16 pm (UTC)(link)
Hi there! I'm a new reader here and just wanted to say how much I enjoyed this post.

I'm a book blogger and not a big reader of short fiction. When I do read short fiction, it tends to be in anthologies and occasionally magazines, as I'm not fond of reading online. Your post has made me realise that I review this material mixed in with the rest of the (long-form) books I blog about and it probably gets lost to readers of short fiction. Not quite sure what the solution is there (though I will probably start a new tag for those reviews, now that I've realised this).

I could offer a few more short story sources you've overlooked in your list, but that doesn't really help with the overwhelm :)
calissa: (Default)

[personal profile] calissa 2014-11-13 09:47 am (UTC)(link)
I've noticed the same regarding the tagging practice in the non-LJ/DW universe. It makes me doubly glad I cut my teeth here before starting my professional blog (though I could evidently still use some work--I've now set up tags for anthologies and short stories).

Sources! In terms of magazines, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine and Aurealis spring to mind.

For anthologies, I notice you have listed Kaleidoscope. It was published by Twelfth Planet Press who do a bit of short form stuff--sometimes a pair of novellas packaged together, sometimes chapbooks, sometimes anthologies or collections. Ticonderoga Press and FableCroft Publishing also do likewise. I just reviewed Phantazein, which is an anthology of fairytale-inspired fantasy stories published by FableCroft and has an all-female ToC.

That's all I can think of off the top of my head, but I'll be sure to keep an eye open.
calissa: (Default)

[personal profile] calissa 2014-11-26 08:51 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you. I've only got the tags working on my professional blog so far. I still need to fix them where they're mirroring to DW.

Hope you find something among the recommendations that you enjoy :)