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 Tor.com or Subterranean. These are two of the major hitters. While Tor.com 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.