The Year in Short Fiction: 2012
Short fiction may be making a welcome comeback, in both print and e-media. Let’s discuss last year’s most notable stories. What new authors and markets are emerging? What promising trends are developing? What are we already getting tired of? What can we look forward to for 2013?
David G. Hartwell (M), Jack M. Haringa, Don D’Ammassa, Toni L. P. Kelne
Hartwell opens with the statement that is “an extraordinary time” for short fiction, and that we seem to be in the early stages of a revival that we haven’t seen the likes of since the 30s and 50s. He recommends reading “Old Paint”, which appeared in Analog last year. He remarks that he liked it despite that fact that it is “sentimental, which is hard to take in science fiction.”
(Note: Compare this to comments made in the Mythology panel, in which an audience member also commented about the expectation that science fiction be cerebral. My opinion is that if science fiction really does want to expand into new markets, its going to have to actively fight the image of being solely for cerebral-minded men who like spaceships. There is SO MUCH of current and past science fiction that does NOT fit this stereotype, and plenty of room to expand it outward as well. I’m not criticizing Hartwell… he is a giant of editing and no doubt knows the field better than I could hope to. Its just that the offhanded remark kind of struck me as a common theme that I’ve been seeing in a lot of the panels and other discussion around SF.)
Hartwell highlights the contributions of Robert Reed and Ken Liu to the body of short fiction produced in 2012, remarking that one of the hardest things about the year was deciding which Ken Liu story to include in just about everything.
Hartwell goes on to praise Liu’s recent work with translation, saying that he hopes this will become part of a larger trend towards more translated works. He says there is a huge untapped universe of non-US science fiction work out there since the 1950s that we simply don’t have adequate access to. Specifically, he would like to see true comparative criticism of science fiction across nations and languages, that compare movements, ideas, and reactions between cultures.
Haringa says that 2012 was a great year for collections and anthologies and thinks the trend will continue. He points out that the rise of POD and small presses does mean that there is more crap out there, but also that there are more avenues to get out there for formats (like novellas) that are hard for the big presses to touch.
(There is a back and forth here for several minutes between Hartwell and Haringa about the role, quantity, quality, and trends of small presses, particularly with respect to print periodicals. I was not able to follow the conversation, but my interpretation was that their disagreement came down to semantics on what constituted a periodical.)
I asked the question about what specifically they were getting tired of and what we could expect for 2013.
Hartwell: There is a proliferation of new markets and a fanning out of where the field is at any one time. The downside of this is that its impossible for any one person to really stay on top of what’s happening in the field, but the upside is that there are a lot of opportunities for new young writers. He sees trends in examining artificial intelligence particularly in light of the biotech revolution, and what the new bioengineering era will bring in terms of visionary futures. He is tired of zombies and vampires.
Kelner: anthologies seem to be rising and hope to see more of them. Tired of stories that are all mood and no plot. 2013 trends will probably include more crossed genre work, blending of fantasy, science fiction, horror, urban fiction, etc.
Haringa: Noticed a lot more submissions for the Jackson awards from university presses. This seems like a good sign that we have infiltrated academia as a genre. Used to be they wouldn’t touch us as a serious genre. Tired of the dystopian boom, but thinks we’re probably dropping off of that anyway since it was likely jut a reaction to the sudden instability of the times. Hoping to see more short story collections and great themed anthologies in 2013.
(Note: I wonder if the reason anthologies and collections are selling well is the coherence of theme. A magazine issue is a collection of short stories as well, they generally aren’t related. Whereas an anthology can be marketed and sold as a diverse set of variations on a particular theme that may be of interest to the reader.)