Who Reads Short Stories?

Reading & Writing

I and most of my friends do, but we increasingly feel cut off from the general public, who would rather sit in front of ‘The Nation’s Fattest Teenager’ than pick up a book of short fiction. For the last few years – actually, longer than I care to remember – I’ve been writing columns for a magazine that was once called ‘The Third Alternative’ and is now called ‘Black Static’.

If you want to find out where the quality short stories and reviews all went to in the printed form, look no further than the slickly elegant ‘Black Static’ magazine. Editor Andy Cox has exacting criteria which make for a regular bevy of well-chosen tales. The magazine isn’t sold in WHSmith – they’re too busy stocking their shelves with ‘Caravan Monthly’ and porn. Instead you need to do it the old-fashioned way, with a subscription. Six months’ worth of these highly collectable magazines is the same price as a round of beers, and can be bought online here.

The danger is that you’ll want the back-issues once you start collecting them. Apart from the stories, you get steered toward the weird and wonderful coming up in all media – the magazine is a great guide to upcoming dark films, DVD and books.

11 comments on “Who Reads Short Stories?”

  1. Dan Terrell says:

    I do.

  2. Sam Tomaino says:

    I regularly review ‘Black Static’ short fiction for http://www.sfrevu.com. It’s consistently great and not just for the short stories. The reviews and other features are very enjoyable.

    And for science fiction, read its sister magazine ‘Interzone.’

  3. Jez Winship says:

    I’m glad to see that the Third Alternative is still going in some form. It seemed to be the inheritor of the spirit of the early days of Interzone, which was itself initially in the lineage of New Worlds.
    I would have thought short stories were the ideal form for our age, what with everyone’s time being so compressed and compartmentalised, and attention spans apparently dwindling at an alarming rate. If you don’t read short stories, you miss out on great writers like Harlan Ellison and Katherine Mansfield, who write/wrote little else.

  4. snowy says:

    I have, Frederick Brown, Arthur Conan-Doyle, Joseph Conrad, Phillip K Dick, Franz Kafka, Saki. Even somebody styling themself as Christopher Fowler.

    But has the short story format ever been a legitimate entity in its own right? Most of the above only produced short stories for publication in magazines. They were only collected into book form, as their fame increased or to wring out a few more pennies in published collections tied to the magazine.

    With the rise of mass literacy came the demand for reading material, and before the rise of the pulp novel, this was satisfied by the magazine. Dickens and Conan-Doyle achieved their initial fame by publishing short stories (or the closely related serial format).

    With the passing of time, and seeking an advantage magazines started to pull in extra content, celeb news, recipies, knitting patterns, Paris fashions and the new fangled crossword. In fact anything that’s cheaper than paying writers.

    Then came the advent of the moving picture, and the specialist magazines that followed in its wake where the pictures were more important than the words. The start of the current trashy celeb magazines begins there.

    Outside of specialist literary publications, the last mass market magazine of the classic type was the Readers Digest. But with the coming of first Radio and then Television the short story form slowly transferred to the new medium, as its desire for more content increased. Once short stories flow into the home “on tap” and at no apparent cost, then those that would sell magazines begin to lose their audience. Once Radio and TV become ubiquitous, Multi channel and 24 hour there is little reason to resort to magazines.

    Then comes the Internet, which is in one aspect no more than an indexed meta-magazine. Provided you can afford to access it, real magazines lose their reason to exist.

    Is the short story extinct, no it’s falling in limbo, like the pop single did, it’s host is dying, and for some time it wll linger on in the margins. The single has come back as a download, because someone can turn a profit, (no problem with this, all artists deserve to be paid for their work).

    Faced with millions of hours of free entertaiment provided by the internet, will the short story ever regain its place in normal life? Maybe, there will always be people that will pay for a quality product. But there is a lot of good quality free material available.

    In this age of the E-reader perhaps the role of the short story is as a loss leader, to tempt people into buying the long form novel. In the way a single sold an album.

    This has got much too long, stop me before I write anymore.

  5. Cid says:


  6. james says:

    Only Cemetery Dance currently rivals Black Static for sheer quality, although newcomers Shock Totem look set to become serious contenders. It’s good to see that BS has gone digital, the only problem is that they’re charging over $4 for it, which is not only the same price as the print version but more than the average price of most eBooks. A quick scan of digital BS on Amazon shows there have been no reviews, which doesn’t mean there haven’t been any digital sales, but it’s not a good sign. I think they’d be better off lowering the e-price to $1.99 or better still $0.99, as most people probably feel that a digital magazine should not cost as much as an eBook.

    This approach seems to be working for Shock Totem, who have seen a big increase in digital sales since dropping the kindle price to $0.99, while still charging around $6 for the print version. This is more expensive than BS and yet people don’t seem to mind paying an extra dollar or two for print.

  7. J. Folgard says:

    Funny thing is, I often prefer the short story format when reading crime fiction. I still read a decent number of crime novels, but some of them make me feel like I’m watching a TV movie sometimes, while short stories often have more punch to them.

  8. Sam Tomaino says:

    I think horror is a dish best served short. For years, the best short stories were short, or at least, short novels like “The Haunting of Hill House.” Even Stephen King started out fairly short. Then he got big and his books and everyone else’s got bigger.

  9. Helen Martin says:

    Horror is best short, I agree. There’s enough space for a good terror to build up and not enough for the mechanics to show. Crime I prefer long, because I want to wander through the reasoning and evidence with a small chance of working it out. I generally prefer novels to short stories because I want to get to know characters. I know, short stories can be character driven, but I like the longer arc. Have just finished Stephen Saylor’s The Seven Wonders of the World, which is a sequence of short stories made into a novel and that works because you’re following a pair of characters on an extended trip, but each of the episodes stands well on its own.

  10. Bob Low says:

    James-good to hear that Cemetery Dance is still in existence. I haven’t seen a copy in a few years, and had just assumed it had gone under. I’ll have to look into subscribing. The only place I ever saw it for sale in the UK was in Borders, sadly no longer around. Black Static is wonderful, as good as its previous incarnation, The Third Alternative. Fortunately, you can buy it in Edinburgh from a specialist book-shop called ‘Transreal’. You used to be able to buy magazines like this from The Forbidden Planet, before it became a toy shop. I firmly believe that the ability to write a good short story is the mark of a great writer.

  11. Helen Martin says:

    Writing a good short story is to a writer like writing a good sonnet is to a poet – it’s craft.

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