So recently there has been a lot of discussion of how difficult it is to filter the current huge amount of new SFF short fiction. So much is being published, more than one person can read and there aren’t nearly as many reviewing outlets for short fiction as there are for novels. Many people find this state of affairs frustrating and confusing. This got me thinking about older short fiction and how accessible it is these days. One of the things that the current short fiction sense lacks is sense of continuity with the past.
I recently asked myself how many short fiction pieces written before 2000 I could name. It wasn’t very many. Then I asked myself how many 2014 short pieces I could name. I came up with a lot more. Granted this is just me and I had recently been working on my list of favorite short fiction in 2014
. But I’m much more familiar with recent short fiction than with things written pre-2000, and I suspect that this is pretty common even among people like me who are well read in recent short fiction.
I’ve been reading SFF my whole life, but I only started keeping up with short fiction in last few years when I realized how much is online for free. It is not that I haven’t read any older short fiction. I would read the occasional anthology and during my SF classics phase I read my way through the nearly complete set of Hugo Winners anthologies at my local public library. Also during this phase I read four or five volumes of Larry Niven’s Know Space stories. I also read several collections of favorite novelists. However I never read magazines. Before the internet short fiction didn’t seem very accessible to me. And short fiction published before the takeoff of online short fiction is still inaccessible.
One of the reasons for lack of a sense of continuity is that it is harder to find older short fiction. It is much less likely to be online. Online zines do reprints, but those reprints are mostly form the last years or so.
Also older short fiction not discussed very much. Of course we all like to talk about the shiny new things, of which there are many. Even when I find discussions of older SFF the titles that come up are novels rather than short pieces.
But say you have heard about an older SF story you want check out. It would be pain to get a hold of. It’s probably not online. It was mostly like first published in a print magazine. If you are lucky it was re-printed in an anthology. Maybe your library has a copy. Otherwise you might be able to buy as used copy of anthology. A typical used book in the US costs about $5 with shipping, which is a lot to pay if you only want one story.
Over all this lack of accessibility and discussions of older short fiction means that newer short fiction lacks context. It is harder to see connections and inspiration between short fiction pieces because we don’t see them historically. And this makes it harder to develop reading protocols for short fiction. It also makes it harder to review short fiction because we don’t always know what we should be talking about.