My short fiction addiction

I’ve been on a short fiction kick lately and I am loving it1.

Perhaps it is because I have spent the last several month immersed in epic fantasy novels. Short science fiction stories make for a rather dramatic change of pace. But I think there are other reasons. Short fiction has always been my first love. When I wanted to become a science fiction writer, I never really thought about writing novels, it was always short stories that I imagined2 Recently, I’ve been thinking I’d love to achieve the prolificacy of Robert Reed with the charming style of Allen Steele, but I have a very long way to go. In any case, this last week and a half has been all about short fiction for me and I’m having a blast. I can’t seem to get enough.

One thing I love about short fiction is that it is short. In an artistically compact form, you can learn a lot about a character, and event, a place. You can watch a lifetime take its course. It’s a powerful and amazing form of story-telling. And there is a ton of it out there! I subscribe to Analog, Asimov’s, F&SF, Apex Magazine, InterGalactic Medicine Show, and Lightspeed. Add to that the fact that I am reading an issue of Astounding every two weeks for my Vacation in the Golden Age. By my math, I estimate that is about 250 new stories each year, and an additional 130 from my old Astoundings. I could, quite easily, read one short story a day and keep up with much of the new stuff and a lot of the old stuff.

This was a kind of revelation to me. I’ve often felt overwhelmed by how much good short science fiction is out there and how it seemed such a daunting task to keep up with it all. But when you look at it from this perspective,  you’re talking one story a day. It’s a tempting thought. Could I keep up with all of this great fiction–could I feed my short fiction addiction–as easily as by reading one story each night before bed?

Of course, some stories are longer than others, but so what. Novellas are often spoken of as the ideal form for science fiction because they are long enough to build a world and short enough to read in an afternoon. If I was really concerned about it, I could read short stories on weeknights and novellas on the weekend. And by reading only one story a day, I’m not overwhelming myself. I’m not gorging, so to speak. It leaves plenty of time for other reading. And if I come across a story I don’t like, skip it and move onto the next one. Much easier to do that with a short story than a novel, where I sometimes find myself wandering back and forth among my bookshelves (or browsing my Kindle library) trying to figure out what to read next.

One of the great things about living in what I think is a kind of second golden age for short science fiction is that with the exception of my old Astounding’s, every one of the subscriptions I get I can read on my iPad. There are not stacks of magazines piling up around me, cluttering my desk and causing my wife to frown. And I can highlight and annotate the stories right there on the iPad! I wouldn’t dream of doing this in a print magazine.

Will one story a day keep the addiction at bay? I suspect that on occasion two or three might creep in. But I think it is a good start. It is one of those things to look forward to before bed, like a nice tall glass of chocolate milk3. We’ll see how it goes. I’ve started keeping a list and will post the stories I’ve read on the last day of each month, beginning with this month.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go an write a short story. I’m starting to feel that itch again…

  1. I know that I said my next science fiction novel would be The Mote In God’s Eye, and it will be, but I’m talking short fiction here.
  2. Yes, I know that you can’t make a living writing short stories, but I don’t write to make a living; that’s what my day job is for.
  3. Speaking of addictions!


  1. It’s a good point Jamie… short fiction is remarkable for the unique way you get to know the characters. I think in short fiction you’re thrust in with more urgency into the plot line, and so you get to know the characters in a different manner. Also without a lot of side plots, I think the reader is forced into more intimacy with the main character than in a novel. Guess I never thought about it before though. Interesting.


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