Escape Pod and the Rebirth of Short Fiction

The last few weeks, I've been listening to Escape Pod, a weekly podcast of short-form science fiction. I'm a latecomer to podcasts, both because of a strong preference toward text and transcripts, and because of my horrible continuous partial attention habits. It's hard to follow a story via audio while doing any other brain-engaging activity. But I've been conducting an experiment with podcasts while folding laundry, rocking the baby to sleep, and one near-catastrophic journey through Staples. The result: Escape Pod has completely won me over.

I can't speak for the entirety of the podcast's archives, but the episodes I've listened to have all featured spectacularly high-quality stories. The delivery is entertaining. The notes and feedback are thoughtful. This podcast is a jewel in the navel of the internets, and I'll be very glum the day I've fully excavated the depths of its archives. For these reasons alone, you should all go subscribe now.

But there's more. Escape Pod has single-handedly awakened my long-slumbering enchantment with short-form fiction. Sure, I've read a few shorts here and there. I've dabbled in the archives of Strange Horizons. I've devoured Shadow Unit (which is arguably not short fiction, but that's another whole post).

But it's been years -- decades -- since the last time I picked up anything like the once-coveted World's Best SF anthologies. If there was a Sailing to Byzantium since the late 1980s, or a Mimsy Were the Borogoves, then I've probably missed it. And that's a damn shame.

And more than that, Roger Zelazny, one of my absolute writing heroes, had a wicked, powerful way with the short story. While his Chronicles of Amber are certainly very powerful, it wasn't what inspired me. No, that mantle belongs to Unicorn Variations, a book of short stories. Those stories were often experimental, always fascinating, and particularly in the case of works like Recital, they stripped bare the actual process of creation for me. I could see what he was doing, and why, and it was Zelazny that first made me think, "I want to do THAT." Why would I abandon my roots, so to speak? Why distance myself from the kinds of writing that always spoke to me the most?

As with many things, it comes down to the bottom line. In recent years I've bought into the idea that the market for short fiction is on its deathbed. So it seemed more economically prudent to skip the writing of shorts in favor of novels. And anthologies simply slipped out of the scope of my attention, pushed out by novels, especially novels in series, and the cruel mistress that is my RSS reader.

But now there's Escape Pod, and I find myself plunged back into my love for short fiction as though it never left me. If there were an episode every day, I'd listen to it. I'm looking for more-like-that-please. I'm wondering if I should buy twenty years' worth of missed anthologies and scour the used book stores for copies of the last few decades of Hugo and Nebula winners.

And this fact brings me hope for the market for short fiction as a whole, too; surely I can't be alone, here. Maybe a new age of short SF/F is upon us. A Golden Age! A Renaissance! It might not be the most lucrative market, but it may well be one of the most rewarding. And if you're writing SF/F for the money, I hate to break it to you, but you're in the wrong business. At the end of the day, rewarding is the only thing that you can count on; and maybe it's the only thing that matters.

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