Short Stories

As at least some of my readers know, I began my career in science fiction by writing short stories, initially primarily for ANALOG when Ben Bova was the editor. I still have a love of short stories, but, since they don’t come anywhere close to paying the bills, for me, and I suspect for most writers, short stories are either a labor of love or to get experience, if not both, along with a little income.

One of my very personal problems with a great deal of the short fiction that I’ve read in the last decade is that, in my very prejudiced and personal opinion, too many of the stories being published are either techno-gadget stories or excessively dark. I have nothing against either a good techno-gadget story or a dark story. I’ve certainly written my share of techno-gadget stories, particularly early in my career, and I’ve written a few dark stories – not insanely dark and vicious ones, but quietly dark tales. I do have a dislike of dark and gimmick stories in great numbers, but that’s a personal preference of mine, clearly not shared by many editors and readers.

From what I’ve seen, the predominance of “dark” stories isn’t limited to F&SF, either. In fact, “dark” seems to be the predominant flavor all too much of the “mainstream.” Now… I know there’s a great deal of funny and witty chick lit being written, but as a male, for me a little of that goes a long way.

I still do write short stories, although the last one I had published appeared in print over two years ago, but to achieve what I want in a short story seems to require intense bursts of work, followed by weeks or months of unconscious contemplation, followed by revision, more contemplation, and more revision, all in the spaces between novels, or at least chapters of novels. Then, add to that the fact that most of the stories I write seem to appeal more to anthologists and book editors than to U.S. magazine editors. Beyond that… yes, there are more short stories coming, but not for a while.

9 thoughts on “Short Stories”

  1. Sam says:

    Without any specifice examples I’m not really sure what constitutes your idea of dark.

    Even though fiction writing – particularly scicence fiction/fantasy – entails making stuff up generally authors strive for some authenticity/plausibility in their works. Which means that how they perceive the reality of the world creeps into their works.

    For me especially being agnostic with strong atheistic tendencies I see the universe/world as an inherently amoral place. What happens to us and what we do to each other doesn’t matter except to us.

    I look at the world around me and even if I just focus on the narrow prism of human suffering I see wars, poverty, disease, murders, rapes, torture, slavery etc. The fact that some people such as myself live the good life almost makes the extreme suffering of others worse – for them – because it is so inequitable.

    My worldview is that life(all life not just human) is a pyramid of suffering in which the closer you are to the top the less you suffer. As a species humans for now are at the top of that pyramid yet some people’s pets have a better life than some humans.

    So to my way of seeing things the world is a pretty dark place. Good things happen and bad things happen but there is no rhyme or reason to it. Is it so out there that this darkness creeps into works of fiction?

  2. CC says:

    @Sam: I won’t say I disagree with your worldview, as I tend to agree with it. That said, when I read fantasy stories it’s generally with a goal of escaping from the world around me, so I tend to look for stories that either lack the dark edge, or use it to have the antagonist receive his/her comeuppance.

    @Mr. Modesitt: I agree with Sam that if you have time to mention a story which you feel is particularly dark, it would help put some context to your comments.

    1. How about the last three or four on

  3. Cam L says:

    It does seem to be the flavour of the month for writing right now is DARK. And some of the newer writers, not all, but some of the new ones curse a ton in thier books. And that doesn’t sit well with me either. I am not a big fan of the really dark and twisted tales. Toss in cursing and I don’t finish the book.

    I had a series that I followed really strongly and then it went darker, especially towards women. 200 pages left in the last book of 10. 5,000+ pages of reading material already done in the series. I put the book down and walked away. I should have done it sooner. The part that really had me angry was the fact the author had such a cool female character and in the last 2 novels she became weak. I just don’t get it.

    Sorry, that was a bit of a tangent.

    No, I do not like Dark books. Too twisted for my reading enjoyment. Give me a fantastic world and amazing characters and let them build the story. Oh hey, then I would be reading one of your books!

  4. Grey says:

    Do you see any link between ‘dark’ books and the uptic in economic hardship from the recession? Does the emotional tenor of the times reflect in fiction?

    Anyway, forget the trend towards dark fiction – there is a worse scourge among us now. In that regard, I am trying to think of some wager, where a loss will require LEM to write a piece in the blossoming field of “paranormal teen romance”…

    1. Anything but that! Well… almost anything.

  5. Corwin says:

    Its not just books where ‘dark’ is the flavour of the month. RPG’s most of which are based in fantasy realms now have to be ‘Dark and Gritty’ as well. People tend to deride those games which are ‘light’ as being inferior somehow. I too read Fantasy and play RPG’s as an ‘escape’ from the real world which IS of itself a dark place in many instances. Perhaps that is why I read and re-read Mr Modesitt’s books so much.

  6. R. Hamilton says:

    Neither gadgetry nor darkness are much help as an end unto themselves, although they might make the journey more interesting.

    There are sometimes stories though where the characters are a bit stereotypical, but the ideas are huge. They’d be better with better characters too of course. Are the ideas in such a story like gadgets, insofar as the characters seem rather replaceable? (thinking of Hogan’s Giants novels, in particular the original trilogy)

  7. Wine Guy says:

    Dystopias being all the rage these days, I still have a hard time thinking that Hunger Games, et al. are an improvement over Brave New World, Lord of the Flies, and Animal Farm.

    Then again, all my hair is gray. And yes, I’ve read most of the books I’m disparaging.

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