Category Archives: Electric Spec

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 3: Electric Spec

For the first two days of this project, I looked at two sources of online fiction with which I was already familiar and read regularly, Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Heroic Fantasy Quarterly.  For Day 3, I turned my attention to a site I haven’t read before, Electric SpecThis is a quarterly publication which publishes “schockingly good short works of science fiction, fantasy, and the macabre.”  That’s a pretty big statement.  So just how well does the magazine live up to its own billing, at least as far as the fantasy is concerned?

We’ll look at two stories and see.

The first story in question is “A Touch of Poison” by Jaelithe Ingold.  It’s fairly short, but powerful.  In fact, while the author could have made it longer, I think that would have only weakened the story.

 This is the story of Arys,  who nine years previously was betrayed and imprisoned because she has a special ability.  After the man she loved, an ambitious creep named Callum, had her take the test to see if she had the ability, all those who did were killed or imprisoned by the Queen.  Callum went on to marry the Queen.  Arys found herself locked in a cell.

Callum and Arys grew up together in the same village.  He is the one who convinced her to come with him to the Queen’s court.  He is the one who convinced Arys to take the test.  Arys thinks the Queen was the one who outlawed the Catevari, the women who share Arys’s gift.  I suspect Callum may have been behind it.  Up until this point Arys had acted from love of Callum.  And while she still has feelings for him, she knows now not to trust him.

Now Callum needs her ability and comes to her promising she’ll be given her freedom if she’ll just do one little favor for him.  And the Queen.

Spoiler Alert – Skip this paragraph if you don’t want to know part of the ending.  The ability the Catevari have is to take the sickness from one person and give it to another.  The Queen, who is pregnant with Callum’s child, is near death.  Arys’s task is to take the sickness and transfer it to a criminal volunteer whose family will have all their needs taken care of.  The criminal, of course, will die.  Arys reluctanlty does as she is asked.  But she does a little more than she’s asked and transfers her ability to the unborn child.  What we are never told is whether Callum honors his promise to Arys or not.  I may be reading more into the story than was there, but I don’t think he will.  None of his actions are honorable up until this point.  To me this lack of resolution made the story more powerful by ending on a note of uncertainty, leaving the reader with a sense of dread that Arys will simply be killed now that her usefulness appears to be over.  Whether Callum honors his word or not, Arys will have the last laugh.  That, and the fact that Callum is totally oblivious to what is to come, I found very satisfying.

The second fantasy story was “Birth of a New Day” by Fredrick Obermeyer.  There’s also three science fiction stories, but since I’m focusing on fantasy, I’ll not be discussing them here.  This was an odd little story about a world in which men give birth to day and women to night through slits in their sides.  The background is sketchy, but the story was well told about a man, an outcast in his village, who is having some trouble birthing the new day.  There was more action in this one than I expected, and while I had mixed feelings about the premise, the author did a good enough job in the telling that I would read more of his work.

Electric Spec has a page with information about and links to the blogs and websites of its editors and contributors.  There’s no information given for Jaelithe Ingold.  That’s unfortunate because I would be interested in reading more of her work.  (I’m assuming Jaelithe is a feminine name; it’s not one I’ve encountered before.)  An email address was provided for Fredrick Obermeyer along with a brief bio, although I’m not sure of the correct spelling.  His name was also spelled “Frederick.”  Most of the contributors I didn’t recognize, but one stood out.  Nina Kiriki Hoffman.

At this point in previous posts, I’ve said whether or not I would read more of the particular online venue I was reviewing if I were not already familiar with it.  In this case there’s no “if”; I hadn’t read Electric Spec before.  But I will again.  And soon, since it’s a quarterly publication, and the next issue is due in a couple of weeks.  The two fantasies I read were well written, and I while I enjoyed one more than the other, both were worth reading.  Electric Spec lives up to its own billing.  I’d say these two stories were shockingly good, especially since the authors seem to be pretty early in their careers.  

Total quality count (high, low), Day 3:  4-1.