There’s been much discussion lately of the lack of filtering mechanisms for short fiction in SF/F. Dozens of short fiction publications publish hundreds of stories each month, which is overwhelming for people who aren’t immersed or well-versed in short fiction already. The only way I can think of to filter short fiction is to find a regular reviewer or editor that shares your taste — the inherent problem being that you don’t know whether you share their taste until you’re actually reading short fiction regularly.
We’ve got a signal-to-noise ratio problem, folks.
I’ve been chewing on this problem for weeks, of what new tools can be created to help newbies (as well as veterans!) navigate short fiction waters. Two have emerged. The first is mine, a twitter account for micro-reviews of diverse short stories. The second belongs to everyone who wants it to, and is an open-source short fiction discussion “group.” I put group in quotation marks because participation needs no invitations and has no borders. Commitment is open as well. Anyone interested is free to participate as much or as little as they’d like.
How it’s going to work:
We’re going to be choosing two stories per month with similarities structurally or thematically with an eye towards short fiction that does things that longer form fiction cannot, or cannot well. We’ll be hosting discussion, rotating amongst book blogs and creating another blog specifically for this purpose. #ShortSFF is the hashtag we’ll be using on Twitter for short discussion.
The stories for January are Ruthanna Emrys’ “Seven Commentaries on an Imperfect Land” from Tor.com and “Because I Prayed This Word” by Alex Dally MacFarlane from Strange Horizons. These were my favorite fantasy shorts of 2014 and have a lot in common — lesbian relationships, few to no dudes in them (these both ace the Bechdel test), and an unusual narrative structure. They are also both stories that respond to other stories. What makes them super special, at least to me, is the use of very distant third point of view to create a main character that is basically a world itself — and both of these worlds are those in which it is safer for people who have characteristics that in the real world have been historically unsafe ones to have. (Those would be Jewish folks and women who love women, respectively.)
And what imaginative worlds they are. Tikanu envisions a Jewish Narnia in a world in which there are also Christian and Islamic versions, and that’s okay, and in which folks from all can visit each others’ nations and form relationships. And it has magical mint plants and dolphin alliances and golem librarians and is basically the sweetest world-building I’ve ever seen. MacFarlane’s story is a bit more high-concept with portals to a city made of words and a city made of sound. Literacy being a key to women’s freedom is a theme she’s written about in other stories, and this one does magical things with it.