Year in review – 2011: Short fiction reading

I have said that we are in a golden age for short science fiction and fantasy. There is so much good short fiction out there it is difficult to keep up with it all. I had no specific goals for short fiction reading at the beginning of 2011. Reading short science fiction is probably my favorite type of reading. And yet I never seem to be able to find the time to read enough of it to keep up with all of the good stuff out there.

This year was a little different. Because of my Vacation in the Golden Age, I ended up reading a lot of short fiction. In fact, to date, I’ve read 192 stories in the years spanning 1939-1941 in Astounding. This has proven valuable in more ways than I could have imagined:

  1. It has allowed me to fill in vast gaps in my reading from a period of time that I enjoy. I get the good and the bad, but it is all valuable.
  2. It has taught me how to read short stories with a more critical eye. In my Vacation posts, I try to remark in some detail on each story and that means thinking about the story as I read it, how it relates to other stories and the genre as a whole.
  3. It has helped me as writer in numerous ways: from teaching me what works well in a story, to what doesn’t work, as well as what tropes have been overused from the dawn of modern science fiction (and therefore, what to avoid, or approach in a new light.)

But I’ve still had difficulty keeping up with all of the great short fiction being published today. So back in September, I decided to try to read one short story a day, every day, as a means of making it easier to keep up with short fiction. That’s 365 stories a year, but believe me, there is more than enough to fill that quota. Of course, the 1 story/day is an average. It might take two nights to read a novella, for instance. Some nights I might read three short stories and other nights I might skip. At the end of each month, I’ve started posting a list of the stories I read that month, highlighting the stories I thought particularly worthy of note.

Therefore, my record-keeping for short fiction begins in September 2011 and will proceed from there. I don’t have good numbers prior to that, other than the fact that I’ve read 192 stories in Astounding this year. That said, I’m pleased to say that as of this moment, I’ve read a total of 107 stories since September 1. There are still several days left in the year and since I am on vacation, it is very likely that I will read another half dozen or more before the year is out. (I’ll post the list of stories I read in December at the end of the month, as always.)

Where do the stories come from and what type of stories are they? Thanks to the lists I’ve been keeping, I was able to produce the following chart. The numbers include short fiction I read from September 1, 2011 thru today. Asterisks represent markets to which I have an active subscription.

Market Comic Short story Novelette Novella Serial Totals
Analog*  5 2 7
Asimov’s* 7 2 3 13
Astounding 27 9 4 40
Clarkesworld* 6  6
Daily SF* 11 11
DC Comics 6
F&SF* 5 1 6
Lightspeed* 4 4 3 3
Anthology 7 3 3 13
Totals 6 74  16  7 4 107

In reading a lot of Golden Age science fiction, there isn’t much of an opportunity to read SF by women. Now, I generally don’t pick out a story to read because it is by a man or a woman. I select it because: (a) it looks interesting, (b) it is by an author that I like, (c) I’ve heard good things about the story and/or the author; (d) it is by someone I know. That said, since September, I’ve kept track of the gender of the author (to the best of my knowledge) and here is how that breaks down for the 101 stories above (I didn’t include the comics in this one):

Market Female Male Totals
Analog 1 6 7
Asimov’s 4 7 11
Astounding 0 40 40
Clarkesworld 1 5 6
Daily SF 7 4 11
F&SF 0 6 6
Lightspeed 1 3 4 0 3 3
Anthology 2 11 13
Totals 16 85 101

So roughly 16% of the stories I read are by women, but I will say that number is skewed by the fact that the Astounding stories are included in the list. If you take out the Astounding stories, the percentage changes to 26% women, 74% men. I don’t know if this is representative of the gender spread through published science fiction stories or not, but those are my numbers for the last quarter of 2011.

One thing I will say is that as a writer of short fiction, reading short fiction helps me enormously. Set aside the fact that is my favorite reading to do. It has another very important value. I often makes comparisons between writing and baseball, so bear with me here. The act of writing is critical to being a writer. You need to write as much as you can, as often as you can. It is what amounts to holding practice in baseball. There are drills, there are scrimmages, and then there are the games, the polishing of those final drafts and getting them shipped off to magazines or anthologies.

But an important part of baseball is understand the game, and seeing how it is played by others. Professional ball players spend hours (hours!) watching tape of their games. They analyze their at-bats, they watch the opposing pitchers so that they are familiar with them. Reading short fiction is similar to watching game tape. You are not only being entertained, but you are seeing what works, what magazines are publishing and you can learn from all of it.

Okay, so, having gone through the stats and the value of reading short fiction, you might be wondering: what was the best stuff you read this year?

Since my lists only go back to September, I will be working mainly (but not exclusively) off those lists. Below, I’ll produce two list: the first list is stories that were published in 2011. (These are stories that would be eligible for awards for stories published in 2011–meaning that their issue date or anthology came out this year.) The second list will contain what I think are the best stories I read this year that were not published in 2011. In both cases, the stories are listed alphabetically by author.

My favorite short fiction published in 2011

  • Her Husband’s Hands by Adam-Troy Castro (ss) (Lightspeed, October 2011)
  • Twelves by Leah Cypess (ss) (Asimov’s, July 2011)
  • Like Origami in Water by Damien Walters Grintalis (ss) (Daily Science Fiction, 10/25/2011)
  • The Man Who Bridged the Mist by Kij Johnson (na) (Asimov’s, November 2011)
  • The Sighted Watchmaker by Vylar Kaftan (ss) (Lightspeed, December 2011)
  • The Countable by Ken Liu (ss) (Asimov’s, December 2011)
  • Apologue by James Morrow (ss) (, 10/24/2011)
  • At Cross Purposes by Juliette Wade (nt) (Analog Jan/Feb 2011)
  • All About Emily by Connie Willis (na) (Asimov’s, December 2011)

My favorite short fiction read, but not published, in 2011

  • Nightfall by Isaac Asimov (nt) (Astounding, September 1941)
  • Adam and No Eve by Alfred Bester (nt) (Astounding, September 1941)
  • Methuselah’s Children by Robert Heinlein (se) (Astounding, July-September 1941)
  • Going Home by Bruce McAllister and Barry Malzberg (ss) (Asimov’s, February 2012)
  • How We Lost the Moon, a True Story by Frank W. Allen by Paul J. McAuley (ss) (Anthology)
  • Murder Born by Robert Reed (na) (Asimov’s, February 2012)
  • Beyond the Aquila Rift by Alastair Reynolds (Anthology)
  • Recovering Apollo 8 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (na) (Anthology)
  • Two Percent Inspiration by Theodore Sturgeon (ss) (Astounding, October 1941)
  • Triceratops Summer by Michael Swanwick (ss) (Anthology)

Okay, okay, but if you had to pick the top 3 stories of all of the stories you read in 2011, whether or not they were published in 2011, what would they be? Well, if I must, here they are, in the following order:

  1. Murder Born by Robert Reed (na) (Asimov’s, February 2012)
  2. Recovering Apollo 8 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (na) (Anthology)
  3. Like Origami in Water by Damien Walters Grintalis (ss) (Daily Science Fiction, 10/25/2011)

It is worth noting that an honorable mention would go to Michael Swanwick’s “Triceratops Summer.”

There are still a few days left in the year. Did I miss any must-reads, especially stories that were published in 2011? I’m open to recommendations.

Tomorrow: I’ll talk about the novels I read in 2011.

9 thoughts on “Year in review – 2011: Short fiction reading

  1. “Like Origami In Water”… sounds like a great great story. After all this Golden Age Reading…. you’ll practically be able to write a book comparing Modern Age and Golden Age. Do you think all this Golden Age reading will influence your writing style at all?

  2. Enjoyable post, Jamie. I’ve read a few of these, and on your recommendation I think I’ll read a few more! My question is, what made the Top 3 . . . the Top 3? What set these stories apart from all of the others? Was it some of those writerly elements you talk about more generally, or something else?

    As far as recommendations go, my own list (more detailed than what I discussed in the Mind Meld) will be up on SF Signal next week. But you’ll be interested to learn that, so far, we only have one story in common.

  3. John, regarding the top 3:

    1. Murder Born. I came late to the party as far as Robert Reed goes but I’ve been trying to catch up and now, his stories are often the first I’ll read when they appear in a magazine. In this case, I think it was a combination of a fascinating premise (executing murders with a special machine makes the victims return to life the instant before they died), and a moving story. I really felt for the narrator, a father who lost his daughter. And in novella form, Reed can adequately cover all of the implications of such an invention.

    2. Recovering Apollo 8. The Apollo era is just something that geeks me out. I’ve read every book I could ever find about that time (I was born 9 months before Apollo 17 made its flight so I missed most of it.) It is an incredible adventure. Then, to take that and twist it into a fascinating alternate history, and do it in a way that makes you wonder what’s going to happen next, despite knowing what’s going to happen is just a fantastic job of story-telling.

    3. Like Origami For Water. This was just a hauntingly beautiful story and here it was the writing that did it for me. The premise reminded me vaguely of Harlan Ellison’s “Lonleyache” and the writing gives Ellison a run for his money. And it is all done as a short story, not a novelette or novella. It is craft and storytelling at its finest.

    I’m looking forward to your post next week.

Comments are closed.