Category Archives: Quantum Muse

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 7: Quantum Muse

For the almost final installment in the Seven Days of Online Fiction series (I’ll do a summary post tomorrow or the next day; here are installments one, two, three, four, five, and six for those who missed them.), we’ll look at another site that was new to me.  This one is called Quantum Muse. It’s a monthly with a featured artist, an editorial, and weekly flash fiction updated on Mondays.  The editorial process here is a little different from most.  Stories are submitted to a peer review group, which contributors have to join.  In order to have their stories critiqued, authors must review the work of others.  Once a story has received five critiques, it’s moved off the list for consideration by the editors.  This is an interesting way to do things, which frankly makes me a little leery.  Peer review of fiction can weaken a story, making it more bland, just as often as it can strengthen one.

The story for consideration is called The Quack by Ross Kitson.  I couldn’t find much about Dr. Kitson from the internet, so all I know of him is what’s in his author bio.  I’m assuming that “The Quack” is his first published story since his bio doesn’t list any other publication credits. 

The story concerns a young man, probably not much more than a boy, named Anase who ends up working for what would be called a snake oil salesman named Deradin.  Only this is a pseudo-medieval world, so the term snake oil salesman probably wouldn’t have been in use.  I’m not sure when the term “quack” entered the English language, but I suspect it was later than medieval times.  But that really doesn’t matter much since this is a fantasy, and unlike some titles, this one tells you something about the story.

Anase is a troubled lad, whose mother died in a tragic fire.  He’s terrified of fire now.  Of course this is going to be significant before the story is over.

Anase intervenes when two ruffians try to take their pound of flesh (literally) from Deradin.  He takes Deradin to his house, where his sister lies dying.  In order to work off the debt for the tonic his father purchases from Deradin, Anase goes with him. 

Things take a turn when, reacting to fire, Anase runs out into the road and is hit by a carriage.  He suffers a compound fracture.  A woman heals him with a potion from a vial she carries into which she adds some of her blood.  Anase’s leg is as good as new.

Of course Deradin has to have the potion.  In obtaining it, he and Anase discover that everything has a price and sometimes the price is high.

I’ll not spoil the ending for you.  Instead allow me, if you will, to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of the story.

First, the quality of the writing is a little rough, especially at the beginning of the story.  Initially Anase seems to be older than he is.  He is in a theater, giving advice to a drunken actor when events are set in motion.  I got the impression from the first couple of paragraphs that he had bought the theater.  It’s only during his meeting with Deradin that it was obvious he was a boy or young man without the means to purchase much of anything.  I’m not entirely certain this part of the story is necessary.

His naivete was a little hard to buy in a couple of spots.  The hints about the fire that killed his mother and the continuing consequences took me a little while to piece together.  While I acknowledge the possibility that I was more tired than I realized when I read the story, I felt these tidbits of information could have been made a little more prominent.

Now, as to the strengths of the story.  This is in many ways a coming of age tale or more accurately a rite of passage, since Deradin is changed by events as well as Anase.  The themes of loyalty, integrity, sacrifice, and friendship are central.  The story was most effective when Anase and Deradin have a falling out and part ways.  From that point, I was hooked; up until then I was rather ambivalent about the story.  Deradin proves to have more courage and loyalty than he appears to have initially.  The confrontations near the end deepen his character.  The concluding scene shows how much Anase and Deradin have matured by what they give up.

I debated how to classify this tale in the quality count I’ve been keeping.  On the one hand, the writing was bit rough and there were places, especially in the beginning, where I felt the writing could go more smoothly.  Although I’m not sure I’m astute enough to say just how.  The story is told in first person, and perhaps it took Dr. Kitson a few pages to find the correct voice.

Despite its initial roughness, I felt the story did improve as it went.  The writing became more polished as the prose fell into a rhythm.  The narrative and descriptive passages mixed well with the dialogue, with no type of writing dominating to the detriment of the others.  The characters grew, although I would have liked to have seen more of Anase’s family.  And the woman who healed Anase, when he tries to steal her potion, clearly had paid a price to use the stuff.  That was an effective scene, but it made me I wonder why Deradin didn’t try to get the formula from her or make a deal with her instead of merely resorting to theft.  When you read the scene, pay attention to what she says and see if you don’t wonder the same thing.  In some ways she was the most fascinating character in the whole tale.

With the criteria I’ve used all along in this series, I now have to ask the question:  Assuming I’d never read this particular online publication before (and I haven’t), was this story good enough to make me want to try some of the other stories on this site?  The answer is yes.  “The Quack” probably won’t make the short list for any awards, but it provided me with an entertaining read.  I think the author has potential and will continue to improve.  The other stories in the May edition sound interesting.  There’s another fantasy, a science fiction, and an alternative which the blurb makes to sound like science fiction.

Total quality count (high, low), Day 7: 8-2