Short Fiction is where novels have their beginnings. Or endings. Depending on how you look at it. Some authors make short stories of what might have been a novel that never got off the ground. Others thrust forth from single ideas given room to play. They come in all shapes (and ironically) sizes, but they are, at their heart, authors’ playgrounds. Novels are where the public acclaim lies, but short stories are where true progress in the genre is made.
Of course, nowadays one can’t even call them products of magazines. Some are, certainly, but there are podcasts and anthologies and e-zines—modernity has really diversified its portfolio on the fiction telling front. Some are paid. Some aren’t. Some are cobbled together by the resources of universities, others independently operated, and still others funded through advertisements, donations or Kickstarter.
Regardless of their roots, here follows a list of 10 personal favorites as a reader. Please note, they are in no particular order, nor does their presence here reduce, in any way, the standing of any other magazines.
- The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
If I didn’t have the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction on here, you couldn’t take me seriously. An absolute beast of a magazine, this market’s story has been running since 1949, with hundreds of pages between its covers. Nowadays F&SF is perhaps best known for giving us Stephen King’s Gunslinger tales and the classic for schools everywhere, Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes. This magazine (digest, really) is the unshaken epitome of a fiction short story publisher, with stories that range drastically in length and topic, genre and style.
I have been reading F&SF since high school and I have never regretted the decision.
- Daily Science Fiction
These fellows have a simple but effective model: give them your e-mail, they’ll send you a story every weekday, generally in the wee hours of the morning. Nothing longer than 1,500 words and, despite the name, they have a pretty diverse collection of both sci-fi and fantasy works. It makes for a great way to start your morning, getting you settled in outer space before the 9-5 grinds you back into that desk.
Sorry. I’m a little bitter. That desk is contained within a cubicle.
- Strange Horizons
Strange Horizons is a weekly magazine, and more than short stories, it comes to the table full of fiction, poetry, essays and reviews. They offer a comprehensive collection of goodies that covers pretty effectively the state of modern sci-fi and fantasy. If I want industry news or a breakdown of perspective relevant to issues facing genre writers and readers alike, this is my go-to.
- Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Literary adventure fantasy. What does that mean? Secondary worlds, with the story focus on the journey, the struggle, and the beautiful, enticing prose. Tolkien’s works would soar here, if they weren’t so bloody long in the first place. Despite the fairly specific focus, too, the magazine’s authors manage to find a rather eclectic approach to the voyage. Fellowships optional.
Like the Magazine for Fantasy and Science Fiction, Clarkesworld is on pretty much every list. That’s because it delivers consistently. Also like the aforementioned, it takes in stories from across the speculative board (although the bulk of its material do tend toward harder sci-fi roots), and at greatly varying lengths. Small novels are not uncommon in its pages (novellas) and the website also hosts a delightful amount of podcasts for those who have things to do and places to be.
Lightspeed holds a special place in my heart. I remember when it first came out. It was just a few months before I graduated from college. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve been trying to get published there ever since, but given the talent crammed between its pages, it’s certainly an uphill battle. Begun as the sci-fi counterpart to the simply named Fantasy Magazine, it eventually absorbed its sister and today ranges across the speculative plains (though horror is still relegated to Editor John Joseph Adams’ other magazine: Nightmare). Selected stories are made into free podcasts.
Also notable for its recent production of “Destroy Science Fiction” anthologies, which have highlighted the plights of gender, sexual orientation, minorities and, more generally, DIVERSITY issues in the realms of fantasy and sci-fi. I couldn’t begin to list the number of awards this magazine has won.
Normally, I’m not a big fan of contemporary fantasy. Apex seriously makes me reconsider that notion. While open to sci-fi and fantasy alike, they do seem to have more than their fair share of contemporary, and the one thing linking it all together is the superb writing. A monthly magazine, Apex kindly puts up more than half of each issue for free on their website.
It also has the distinction of hosting one of my straight up favorite short stories: The Bread We Eat in Dreams, by Catherynne M. Valente. Dark fantasy, it combines demons, American history, time-lapse and nature to enchanting effect. It builds. Oh does it build.
- Uncanny Magazine
Behold the dreams Kickstarter can give life! The newest market on this list, Uncanny Magazine is only on its second birthday, but thanks to its space unicorns (backers) it was funded enough to become an SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) approved market right off the bat, with a strong debut. Guided by the husband and wife duo Michael and Lynne Thomas, it features podcasts, poetry, essays and all the fantasy and sci-fi a growing reader could eat. Like its improbable birth, this magazine exists in the uncanny valley, with just the right amount of quirk to keep things engaging.
You can also read about Uncanny Magazine’s journey through Kickstarter here.
- Grimdark Magazine
Bless the Australians, because they’ve taken one of the most popular twists on the old school genres right now and given it room to grow. The offspring of dark and low fantasy, it’s exemplified by people like Joe Abercrombie and R. Scott Bakker…the former of which has had pieces within Grimdark’s pages. Moral ambiguity, savage heroes and gritty situations abound. If you want to feel the borders between the real world and your fantasy disappearing, this is the light to head toward.
Drabblecast is one of those podcasts I spoke of, a broad collection of fantasy, sci-fi, horror and downright silly that set the standard for narrative. If you’re elbows deep in another project, or otherwise engaged, but need some good background sound or something to carry you away for a bit, let the voices of the Drabblecast readers give your eyes a chance to recover. They even have Drabbles and Twabbles, which are 100 word and 100 character stories, respectively…if you really want to just machine gun through some story ideas.
What are some of your favorite magazines? There are plenty of others I could name, but I had to draw the line in the sand somewhere. Hopefully this will give you plenty of literary food for thought for a drizzly Thursday morning, though.
(And while I’m plugging stuff, let me point out that if you haven’t yet, you should definitely check out my friend Bryce David Salazar’s debut novel, She Sees Metaphors. It’s short, it’s contemporary fiction (fantasy?), and its images will devour you. You need this book badly. Go now.