Category Archives: Ideomancer

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 4: Ideomancer Speculative Fiction

Today, in the fourth installment of this project,we turn our attention to Ideomancer.  Or more correctly Ideomancer Speculative Fiction.  This one has received a bit of critical acclaim if my memory is serving me correctly.  I don’t recall where all I’ve seen the acclaim, so I might be getting two different sites confused.

Anyway, there were three stories in this issue, along with some poetry and features such as reviews.  One of the stories was science fiction and the other two were fantasy.  Since science fiction and poetry isn’t really the focus of Seven Days of Online Fiction, I’ll look at the two of the stories which are fantasy.  Both of them are short.

One of the nice things about this site is a box (I’m not sure what you call it) at the top of the ToC which rotates the first few lines of each item in the ToC.  This allowed me to quickly realize that one of the stories was science fiction, and so I didn’t need to read it for the purpose of this series.  It also showed enough profanity in just a few lines that I knew I wouldn’t be reading it period.  But I digress.  I think is a cool idea.  It allowed me to sample the first paragraph (or the first few lines in the case of the poetry) and get an idea of whether or not I would want to read the rest of the story.

The first story I read was “Just Be” by Sandra M. Odell.  It was a short and melancholy piece, almost a vignette, without a great deal of plot.  Most of the conflict and tension revolved around the two characters discussing the fact that the second of them had to take the other’s place on the job while the first took his turn on vacation.  The fact that the two people involved, the first initially a man and the second initially a boy, are taking turns being Satan was what made this a fantasy. 

The story takes place in the rural South. It was written in a down-home, Southern voice that bordered on stereotype.  Since my family comes from the South originally, I could have chosen to be offended.  What kept me from being offended was that I know that there is a basis in fact for many of the stereotypes of life in the South.  Not all of them but many of them.  (I am NOT talking about racial stereotypes here, but stereotypes of diction, diet, etc..)  The stereotype of Southern dialect does have some basis in fact.  I’ve known people who’ve talked that way.  This story reminded me of them.

The story had a bittersweet almost nostalgic tone somewhat reminiscent of Ray Bradbury, which to me was a point in its favor.  Still, not a lot happened in the story.  If the author had made the conversation between the boy and the man longer and more confrontational, I think it would have made the story stronger.

The second story was “Ascension” by Su-Yee Lin and is more magic realism than straight fantasy.  It concerns a parent and daughter who continue to make trips to the park after things have begun to fall into the sky.  At first it was the birds.  When the story opens, it’s the leaves.  They’re all falling up.  By the end of the story, it’s the little girl.  Not the parent.  As a parent myself, I know I wouldn’t be so calm about such an event and neither would my wife.  Or any of the other parents we know.

I guess I assumed the parent narrating the story, whose gender is  never stated, was the girl’s mother because the two of them spend their days in the park, and even with many mothers working full time these days, they are still the majority of stay-at-home parents.

The author bio at the end of the story says Ms. Lin is a student in fiction in an MFA program.  This story reads like something that might come out of an MFA program.  It’s all mood and imagery.  There’s not a lot of plot, and frankly I didn’t find the character of the parent very well done.  Just not believable enough.  I know a lot of people like this kind of thing, but it’s not what I read fiction for.  At least not fantasy.

From the perspective of the Seven Days, one of the annoying things about this issue of Idoemancer was that there was a link to a very long story published last year which appears, at least at a glance, to be a much more traditional fantasy than either of the stories I’ve looked at from the current issue.  Unfortunately one of the rules of this project is to only consider stories first published in the current issue of an online magazine, not reprints.  Also, length could possibly be a factor if I’m going to stay on schedule.  It’s one I’ll probably come back to.

I’ve always been a little leery about the term “speculative fiction.”  It seems to be used a lot by people who act as those they are ashamed to be reading fantasy or science fiction and seem to think that by calling genre fiction “speculative fiction” they are giving it some sort of literary respectability.  I’ll not get into that here.  It’s off topic and would make this post too long.  “Ascension” certainly had fantastic elements, but I wouldn’t call it core fantasy.  The fantastic elements merely served to provide a mood.

So, in terms of quality:  These stories were well written, but neither of them had much in the way of story, at least as far as characters and plot are concerned, although “Just Be” wasn’t far off.  While some people prefer this kind of thing, I suspect most of the regular readers of this blog do not.  This is the second venue I’ve looked at that I haven’t read before.  Using the same criteria as previously, would I read more of Ideomancer based on what I’ve read here?  Sadly, no.  While I liked “Just Be”,  “Ascension” more than offset its appeal.  However, I will probably come back and take another look, to read the reprint story if for no other reason.  Every publication, whether print or electronic, can have an off issue, so I’ll might check some of the other stories as well.

For the purposes of this project, total quality count (high, low), Day 4:  5-2