Short Fiction Meets Ebook: a marriage of form and function that’s exploding with potential (at least in my mind).
When I embarked on a reading blitz of short fiction this summer, I didn’t expect to become completely addicted to the form. In the span of a few weeks, I’ve read classic SF from my youth (Bicentennial Man), a literary tale from the POV of a goat (Midnight’s Tale), modern literary fantasy (The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland), and fantastic modern SF (Wool), as well as a few romances, many more SF, several somber literary shorts, a dash of classic mystery, and even a couple of erotic eshorts (I’ve already told my mom, so don’t bother). I also mixed in some non-fiction (Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury, Creating Short Fiction by Damon Knight, Building Plausible Futures by Jerry Pournelle).
In short, the diversity of my reading just went through the roof!
My hunt for short fiction took me to my personal bookshelf, my virtual shelf (Kindle), the bestseller lists on Amazon, my library shelves (including a short story collection section), and even my mom’s bookshelf (where I snatched the “Best SF of 2000” that she had never read). Not even half of the short stories I read were on ebook, which is a crying shame, given that the ebook medium is an incredibly easy/cheap/simple way to distribute short fiction (compared to all the other ways used in all previous time: collections, magazines, etc). And which also made me realize there is a VAST undiscovered wealth of stories currently unavailable on ebook.
But this will change.
As I explained to my father, over his new Kindle which I foisted upon him for his birthday, ebooks are new and still evolving. The way I see it, nearly every book from 2012 forward will be produced in ebook (and some will also be produced in print). Even Jonathan Franzen, renown hater of ebooks, has his latest (Freedom) available in ebook (we’ll let the hypocrisy of that pass; the boy’s gotta eat).
But what about books produced prior to 2012? As I explained to my dad, there’s Google Books, where you can find a lot of out-of-copyright, public domain works. Which means a bunch of stuff that’s really old (which doesn’t mean not awesome, just no one owns the print rights anymore). Things like Pride and Prejudice or The Importance of Being Earnest (Oscar Wilde) – you know, stuff written by dead people. 🙂
But what about books and short stories written within the last 100 years, but prior to the rise of ebooks?
Crazy out of luck there, my friend, unless the author/publisher is forward thinking and has started uploading their backlist (you go, David Marusek for uploading your award-winning short fiction, The Wedding Album, originally published in 2000).
Fortunately, this is happening more and more, and I honestly cannot wait until short stories start to swell the ebook ranks. I mean, why for the love of all that’s Isaac Asimov, isn’t The Bicentennial Man available as an eshort already? I can’t think of a richer irony than not having that forward-thinking story available in ebook. Not as a DVD, not as a plumped up 211 page paperback (the original is 37 pages), not as a high priced bundled collection, just as an eshort. Why not allow a story to be its natural length (as Amazon says of it’s Kindle Singles)? Answer: because we’re driven by paper to format something 211 pages long so that it “feels” like it’s worth the $6 we pay for it. *headdesk* I would have paid money for the eshort, and not having it available (and thus not read as frequently) seems like a tragedy.
The day is coming though, my friends, where all books ever written will be available on ebook. And all short fiction as well. Plus the zillions more that will be written in the vast outpouring of creativity that the self-publishing movement will foster. If you think this is a bad thing, trust me, it is not. Change your thinking to abundance (not scarcity), and you will see that the virtual shelf is infinite (and all books are “facing out”), the good stuff will always rise to the top, and having Bicentennial Man as a separate eshort will boost sales of the collection, the overpriced paperback, and the DVD, not bleed them out (as I think some fear).
Have you read a short story lately? Leave your recommendations (eshort or paper variety) in the comments!
Critique Wednesday or Short Fiction, Part II: Critiquing It
Short Fiction, Part III: Writing It