short fiction in the age of the ebook

To my surprise, I'm reading more short fiction since I got the Sony Reader than I have in years, mainly because of two factors; short pieces make for a nice occasional break from a full-length work, and I've found quite a lot of sf anthologies for sale online at quite a bit less than they'd cost me if I bought physical copies of them from a bookshop. The same goes for some novels as well. This is a bit ironic, since I recently commented on a Tor.com article that I didn't read short fiction any more because I couldn't find anything to read.

I recently bought Year's Best SF 13 for just under £3.50 from a US store - it was either BooksonBoard.com or Fictionwise.com. The current exchange rate between the US and the UK, obviously, helps a lot. But you get a lot of fiction for your buck. Next in line will likely be a new collection called Seeds of Change, available for about the same price. That's not to say they're all bargains - I bought the ebook of Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity is Near, ostensibly for research, and that cost me well over a tenner, which hurt. But I've got it now, and the site I bought it from had a rebate that allowed me to pick up a copy of Asimov's (short fiction again) virtually for free. Interzone and Black Static can similarly be had as virtual editions.

A new collection of short fiction by Chris Beckett, whose The Holy Machine I rated very highly here some time ago, is also out, in both paperback and virtual edition, from Elastic Press. I'll be getting the virtual edition sometime in the next couple of weeks, and I note with pleasure that the ebook of The Holy Machine can be had for the equivalent of about three and a half quid again. Considerably cheaper than the edition I bought at a convention, which cost me about a tenner. If you own an ebook reader and you're looking for something to read, you could do an awful lot worse. It would be nice, of course, if some of the other books I'd really like to buy - Jay Lake's Mainspring, for example - were available in electronic format. But hopefully it and others will be someday.

There's a potentially very positive aspect to ebooks in relation to short fiction I hadn't previously considered. Publishers rarely produce collections of short fiction in meaningful numbers any more because they long ago ceased to be cost-effective; much of my early reading was done through the medium of collections by well-known sf authors that would be deemed financially unworthy in the modern age.

Yet without the requirement for printing, binding and shipping, it would be nice to think that short fiction collections could achieve some kind of rebirth in the age of the ebook. Although there are certainly authors such as Beckett and quite a few others with collections out, these tend to come from smaller, specialist presses and thereby both cost more, have smaller print-runs and are harder to find. Ebook publication, I think, places such collections in a better position to be found by the right audience. It certainly means an extra potential revenue source for any author who's had, say, a dozen or so stories professionally published and would like to be able to bundle them in an e-format.

In the meantime, the corrections for the new book, which is still swinging between a variety of possible titles - Nova Light, Nova Fire, Night's End, Stealing Fire, and, er, 'Nova War', the latter being the publisher's suggestion - have arrived, so I have that to work through. While I was waiting for that to turn up, I got started on book three, with about five thousand words on that so far.

I've got a paragraph or two turning up on SFSignal's 'Mind Meld' column sometime soon, and I'll post a link when that appears.
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