The short story is my favorite form of fiction to read. Period. It has been since I was a kid.
Yes, I enjoy novels. Yes, I'm writing one. But there is something so absolutely perfect about a well-shaped, imaginative story that one can read in less than an hour, sometimes less than half an hour, sometimes a handful of minutes. One brief, potent experience that takes little time but leaves a strong mental and emotional impression. Resonating in your head. Short fiction can be poetic or stylistically daring without wearing on one, the way a strongly stylistic novel can grow tiresome.
A short story can sustain one perfect note--one tone, one theme, one voice--and leave an echo for weeks.
And a collection or anthology has the wonderful benefit that a smorgasbord does. If you don't like one, just go to the next. Unlike a novel, where if you end up hating the voice or the character, you put it down and it's gone. Nothing else on the menu. Nothing to do but go on to another novel.
There are multitudes of beauties in the short story. (Read Doris Betts and see if you don't feel more alive and human and somehow expanded in your inner regions after reading something by her. Or Katherine Mansfield. Or Gene Wolfe.)
A small investment of time. A huge possibility for pleasure and, maybe, change.
I think short story writers have it tougher than novelists, too.
In a novel, you can pad it, have scenes that are kinda dull, but the overall effect can be enjoyable and excellent. In a short story, every word and sentence really counts. A novelist can build a great story from one germ of a good idea/premise, and said idea/premise can keep them busy for a year or more. A short story writer must come up with new characters and premises all the time, some dozens of them a year. It's a demanding form. Flaws are more easily seen because of the brevity.
And a writer is hard-pressed to make a good living from just short stories (although, granted, there are exceptions). Many must go to novel form to attempt to make a pro living at it.
Still, short fiction is the form that introduced me to some of the best of SF, and where some SF greats have shone their brightest: Harlan Ellison. Theodore Sturgeon. Connie Willis. James Tiptree, Jr. Robert Sheckley. Ray Bradbury. R.A. Lafferty. Cordwainer Smith. Kelly Link. Jorge Luis Borges.
Short fiction has also been a great springboard for many terrific novelists. Orson Scott Card's classic novel was first a short story called "Ender's Game." MORE THAN HUMAN started as a shorter work of fiction. So did A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ. So did BLOOD MUSIC.
And most of the novelists I went on to read in SF, I first encountered in short story form in some anthology or in one of the SF magazines I could pick up at the bookstore or newsstand. It's a medium that nurtures talent, discovers it even, and makes the readers say, "Hey, I like this. Wonder if they have any books?"
Well, the short story in SF is in trouble, say many, including the SlushMaster of REALMS OF FANTASY who blogs over at Monstrous Musings. Here is a lengthy excerpt from the blog entry calling for a SUBSCRIPTION DRIVE:
I got to thinking just how depressing the numbers for the short story market have become. It's been on a steady decline for some years, and it's only growing worse. Going by these numbers Realms of Fantasy took a nasty hit, and we're in better shape than most. I'm hopeful our upgraded website will draw more subscriptions when summary for 2006 comes out. That remains to be seen.
Either way, the short story market is dying. We always talk about it, but very few people seem to do anything about it. So it got me to thinking about what I could do. I'm a novel boy at heart, but since coming to Realms of Fantasy I've grown to love the short fiction market. I want to see it go on. But if we keep going as we are, if people keep treating this market like America treats oil, it will dry up. Permanently. Yes, there are online venues and I'm all for them. Anything that promotes the genre is great. But at the moment these venues are fighting to create viable business models. Their ultimate success remains to be seen.
So again. What could I do? Well, it occurred to me how in recent years there have been subscription drives for Talebones and also The Apex Science Fiction & Horror Digest. I think there was also a drive of sorts to save Ralan.com. All three of these drives were successful. Mostly word spread the blogosphere. And people did something.
So I thought to myself, "Hey, what if we did a general subscription drive, to boost the magazines for general purposes? Every subscriber counts." The difference here is that I'm not talking about any specific magazine in danger of dying. There is no immediate urgency. Nothing right now. But like with oil, one day we'll wake up and the magazines could very well be gone. We need to do something now, before that happens.
So I'm asking people to do two things. First, spread this post throughout the blogosphere. Get the message out. Second, if you haven't subscribed to a magazine recently, unless you don't have the $$$ pick one and subscribe! At least one. Saying you don't have the time to read the magazine is a lame excuse. How many of us have books we bought years ago that we haven't read? I do. Add a few magazines to the pile. What's the harm? And if you just read novels, try short stories. Why have you only been reading novels, especially if you want to be a writer? Do you honestly think there is nothing to be learned from reading shorter works? And don't tell me you've tried all the magazines. New ones are always starting. And when a new editor takes over the helm, in many ways that magazine becomes new. (You can't very well tell me you've tried the new Weird Tales. Ann Vandermeer has been the editor a couple of months, sure, but the magazine has an inventory to get through. Her selections haven't been published yet, but they soon will be). Or you can ask for suggestions. I'll answer them. So will other people reading this post, here or elsewhere. The speculative community is cool like that.
Excuses are nothing but that. So pick a magazine. Again, it doesn't have to be Realms of Fantasy (although it can be). Make it Fantasy Magazine, or The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, or Weird Tales. Get your fantasy someplace else. I don't care. Just get it. Or get some science fiction from Asimov's or Analog. Or if you think online mags are the next wave, then go to Baen's Universe or Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. Or maybe there is smaller magazine you're been kind of curious about. Subscribe. Help them take the next step in their publishing timetable, or help keep them alive. And if you're not sure which magazine to subscribe to, another option is to go to Ralan.com and see which one looks interesting.
Don't be that schmuck who litters because you figure someone else will clean up your mess. Everyone who reads this genre and isn't subscribing is making that mess, causing this market to wither and die. And don't tell me why this won't help. Just spread the word and subscribe. Now. If you don't, that's why this won't help. Because every subscription does help. Negativity and the word "but" are not welcome here.
I subscribed this past January to FANTASY. I also subscribe to MYTHIC DELERIUM. Some of my subs have lapsed (AOIFE'S KISS, DREAMS & NIGHTMARES). I prefer to buy my REALMS OF FANTASY because large magazines tend to get all deformed in my wee mailbox--torn and crunched up and just plain mangled, sometimes. I don't have this problem with JIM BAEN'S UNIVERSE, because the magazine is all online. (I renewed for a second year). Orson Scott Card's INTERGALACTIC MEDICINE SHOW is also an online read.
I edit at three online mags: two SF (mostly Christian SF) and one horror. I've scaled back how much I do lately due to busyness, but I still believe it's important to support artists of short fiction and poetry. I know what it's like to have a shrinking budget, cutbacks in what we offer. And we're a FTLOI publisher (ie, DEP). The majority of the monies to publish DKA, TSR, Fear and Trembling, etc, come from the staff. Like I said, for the LOVE of it.
Many FTLOI mags have closed the door. Darker Matter did so recently.
But pro magazines are the places where writers get a chance to qualify for membership in the SFWA. Pro magazines tend to be where the nominees for Hugos and WFAs and Nebulas come from. Pro magazines are able to offer some decent sort of pay for the creative labors of the best in the field(s).
You care about SF?
Then support the laborers.
So, I'm joining the SlushMaster in calling for a subscription drive.
Go now and sub to an SF mag. And I'd add this: Donate to one of the online mags who let you read their stuff for free, too. I'm sure that Strange Horizons, Ideomancer, Abyss & Apex, and MindFlights would love to have your spare change.
(Note: Strange Horizons is in in a fundraising drive, and donations are tax-deductible. Also, depending how much your give, you might qualify for some goodies, such as their artsy membership card. See pic right.)
And when you support some of these mags, you also support the artists whose work goes on the cover and sometimes in the interior of the publications. That's good, too!
And if you don't like SF, then go support a magazine that gives you the short fiction in the genre(s) you do like. Basically, just don't let the short story form fade away and die. Keep it breathing and dreaming!
So, you in on the drive? What are YOU going to subscribe to?
(Please REPORT your subscription here, so that they can see if the subscription drive is making headway in the blogosphere.