Category Archives: Abyss and Apex

Seven Days of Online Fiction, Day 8: Recap

So a week ago today, I acted on this crazy idea I had to look at a different venue for online fiction every day for a week, with as much a focus as possible on fantasy.  I called the project Seven Days of Online Fiction.  It started when I read Karen Burnham’s list of work that had received multiple award nominations this year; most of the short fiction was available online.  (Karen updated the list on Wednesday.) 

I’ve had the opinion for a long time now that what has been appearing online is just as good as what the print magazines have been publishing.  I intentionally left anthologies out of the mix because even the few anthology series that appear regularly have at least a year between volumes and are often trumpeted as Events.  I wanted to look at what was appearing on a consistent basis.

So I managed to read and post for seven days in a row, although the last couple of days were a bit of a strain from a time commitment perspective.  Links to each day are in the sidebar on the right.  The next time I do something like this, I’ll have at least half the posts done before any go live.  Anyway, I thought I would take today, Day 8, if you’ll allow, to look back and see what I’ve learned from this experience.

First, let me review the parameters.  I love science fiction, but I tried to restrict myself to fantasy since that’s the focus of this blog.  There are a number of great sites that specialize in science fiction; needless to say, they weren’t considered.  There are also some sites that publish both science fiction and fantasy.  I had hoped to feature Clarkesworld and Strange Horizons, but the stories in those were science fiction.  At least they appeared to be; I skimmed the first few paragraphs but didn’t have time to read them all the way through if I was to stay on schedule.  I’ll go back and read them at my leisure now that this project is complete.  Because I was looking at the current issues, any stories in the archives were out of bounds. 

Also, I didn’t look at or Subterranean.  These are two of the major hitters.  While accepts unsolicited manuscripts, in their guidelines they discourage submissions from writers who aren’t established pros.  Subterranean, at least last I heard, is by invitation only.  I wanted to see what was showing up by newer writers.

Finally, I restricted myself to venues which had fiction posted for free, which eliminated sites such as Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show.  There were a couple of reasons for this.  First, cash flow is incredibly tight at the moment because my wife is recovering from surgery and we’re paying bills on my salary until she goes back to work in a couple of weeks.  Until then, reading material that costs money is a luxury I’m having to do without.  Also,  I wanted anyone who was interested in reading one of the stories I looked at to be able to do so without an outlay of cash.  That’s not to say I think fiction online should be free.  I don’t.  I believe in paying for quality product so the producers of said product can continue to produce.  For the purposes of this project, I wanted it to be as inclusive and convenient as possible to my readers.  If you enjoy the fiction on a site, you should consider contributing or subscribing.

I read a total of10 stories and ranked them on the basis of quality using a binary classification.  Either the quality was high or low.  I classified 8 of them high, although a few were marginal.  I suspect those of you who read the stories took issue with me on some.

The sites I visited were the following (in order):  Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Electric Spec, Ideomancer Speculative Fiction, Fantasy Magazine, Abyss & Apex, and Quantum Muse.  Obviously, I read more than one story from a couple of the venues.  Those were Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Ideomancer, and Electric Spec. For each magazine, I asked one simple question:  If I had never read this magazine before (and in some cases I hadn’t), did I enjoy this story enough to make me want to read more from this particular venue?  The only one where I said “No” was Ideomancer.  Not that the pieces weren’t well written, but there wasn’t much action in them.  One was a Bradbury-esque mood piece.  The other read like something out of an MFA class.  Neither had much in the way of plot, and I found the character development minimal in both.  Probably because characters grow through experiences, especially challenging experiences. 

The others, though, are all sources I’ll go back to.  I’m not sure all of them will become things I’ll read regularly, but they’re worth checking out.  For what it’s worth, I’ll check back in with Ideomancer.  Hopefully you looked at some of these and found a new source of fiction. 

So what’s the significance of Seven Days of Online Fiction?  Not much in the big scheme of things. There was nothing scientific in my methods.  One of the flaws with my approach is that I’m taking a random sample, and it’s quite possible that what I found in any of these magazines was better than average or worse than average.  For the ones I was familiar with, I know that’s not the case, but that’s only three of them.  Second, this was entirely subjective.  What I like, you might not.  A story I think stinks could sweep all the awards it’s eligible for next year.  Then there’s the physical aspect.  Fatigue can make a difference in how a person views a story, as well as what type of day they had at work, etc.

So to summarize, I decided to randomly look at seven different online publications, some familiar, some new, and see what type of quality I could find.  What I found was some good, solid fantasy.  Some better than others.  I also discovered some new writers, writers I’ll keep an eye out for in the future.  And I had a number of enjoyable evenings reading.  And that may be one of the most important things I got from this little exercise.

Seven Days of Online Fiction, Day 6: Abyss & Apex

Today’s online magazine is a quarterly called Abyss & Apex which shouldn’t be confused with the similarly named Apex MagazineThe former is a quarterly, while the latter is a monthly.  Also, Abyss & Apex bills itself as a speculative fiction magazine.  Apex Magazine, which made the transition from print to electronic formats a while back, tends towards dark science fiction and horror.

Based on a perusal of the contents (I don’t have time to read all the stories if I’m going to stay on schedule with the Seven Days), the current issue of Abyss & Apex seems to have a good mix of core science fiction and fantasy.  That’s a good thing, a very good thing.  An additional good thing is the story I’ve chosen to take a closer look at is sword and sorcery.

This one is titled “Demonfire Ash” by Helen E. Davis.  It’s something of a mystery, so I’ll only give you the setup.  Much of the satisfaction comes from the unfolding of what happened over the  previous years.

The protagonist, Geoff Bowman, is a journeyman sorcerer, and not a very good one.  In fact, he’s at the bottom of his class.  As the story opens, he wakes up in a bed not his own with a strange woman going through a trunk.  He recognizes the chamber as that of the Hall Master.  The woman makes a cryptic remark about Geoff being alive and her not undressing him, takes the Hall Master’s demon killing knife from the trunk, tells him he can rot, and leaves the room. 

Geoff  is puzzled, but when he looks in a mirror, he sees he’s now an old man.  Things get worse from there.
I’m not giving much away when I say that things have gone very wrong and Geoff, even though he has no memory, has been very much at the center of them.  An astute reader will pick that up pretty quickly.

There’s some action in this story, but it’s more a meditation on bearing guilt that isn’t necessarily your own, when others will gladly heap blame upon you.  It’s about doing the right thing when the right thing may not be clear at first, nor is it obvious when all is revealed.  Or easy for that matter.  It’s about making atonement when you don’t know what you’re making atonement for and when you learn, about trying anyway when there’s no way to atone.

There’s a lot to like about this story.  It moves well, and the characters are well drawn, especially Geoff and the boy, Gavin, who aids him.  Gavin’s motivations are deeper and more noble, more loyal than those of anyone else.

The name Helen E. Davis was not familiar to me when I read this story.  Her bio states that’s she’s had stories published in Sword and Sorceress 24 and 25 as well as in Adventures in Sword and Sorcery.  While I generally prefer more sword in my sword and sorcery than I found in this story, I enjoyed it enough to be interested in reading more of this author’s work.  Her pacing is solid and the mystery unfolds nicely.

In the previous installments (Announcement, Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5) I rated the stories on the basis of whether I enjoyed them enough to read more of the magazine if that were the first story I had read from it.  While I’ve been aware of Abyss & Apex, I can’t recall if I’ve read anything here or not.  I know I’ve visited the site before but doubt if I did more than skim the ToC.   I intend to read more on both the basis of this story and the rest of the current ToC.  Abyss & Apex appears to be a solid publication with a good variety of science fiction and fantasy.  The archives are no longer free.  But for a measly $5 per year, you can get a subscription which will allow you access to the archives in addition to some other benefits.  Not a bad buy.

Total quality count (high, low) Day 6: 7-2