I Appear to Have Gone Off Reading Short Stories

Does anybody else feel the same away? A few years ago when I bought my first Kindle, I downloaded a number of cheap and free volumes. If you read a lot of sci-fi, you’ll probably have heard of the Mammoth books. The Mammoth Book of Apocalyptic Sci-Fi, The Mammoth Book of Steampunk, The Mammoth Book of Nebula Award Winners and so on.

I’ve put off reading some of these volumes for a while and when I do read them, I’ve come to understand why – I no longer find short stories satisfying to read. To write, yes. I’ve really enjoyed creating the serials in my Snippet Sunday feature but when it comes to reading the work of others, I tend to give up reading them rather easily. With the volumes mentioned above, I have been known to give up on a story within two pages or so – approximately 500-600 words.

A short story needs to grab within the opening paragraphs and many do not. Perhaps my tastes have changed, perhaps readers tastes have changed, but when reading I need something to get myself into and mull over. Often, short stories have finished long before I’ve had the chance to really digest it.

Yet short story competitions are alive and well so they must be selling somehow and people must still enjoy reading them!

What do my readers think? Have tastes changed or is it just that short story volumes don’t really work?

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6 thoughts on “I Appear to Have Gone Off Reading Short Stories

  1. Um… I have also for a little while now found it difficult to get into a short story. I’ve put it down to seeing the same old themes, plots etc even though they are packaged up in new words.

    My twopenny’s worth… In part I want science fiction, not fantasy, and a lot of magazines have swung towards fantasy. Even those that say they are publishing science fiction have swung that way. I can understand why to some extent… fantasy having sold well is perceived as being able to continue to sell well. In part I think it is also a failure of the publicity and critiquing. I don’t seem to be able to spot anyone I can rely on to give me a view that I can say yes that’s what I want to read or no that’s not for me. But this is only my opinion and reaction to what I’m seeing out there.

    1. I tend not to read magazines these days as I simply don’t have the time. I used to subscribe to Interzone around 10 years ago and found a lot of their content was heading that way then.

      There’s definitely a blurring of the lines between sci fi and fantasy these days. I don’t mind reading fantasy, though I am quite picky with it, I just wish this weird hybrid wasn’t quite so dominant.

  2. I don’t think it’s necessarily the short-story that is at fault, I’ll try and marshal my thoughts on this…

    Short-stories (in my opinion) rely on a single idea, whether it’s an interesting science concept, an interesting new fantasy/alien race, or doing something to twist (or subvert/lampshade) a trope.
    They have to be punchy and can’t waste too many words on world-building or characterisation, all of which makes them really hard to write well (I know I have real trouble trying to come up with a solid attention grabbing idea for a good short).
    Long-form fiction can blow thousands of words on these kind of things, creating journeys for characters, story arcs and sub-plots, which makes them more engaging, but they require stamina and perseverance to write.
    A lot of writers these days don’t have the time to throw at a long book, so they throw their ideas into short fiction, when – perhaps – the idea they had wasn’t interesting enough to carry the story on its own…
    Add to that the fact that readers have less time than they used to (splitting their time between so many media) which makes them buy shorter fiction (I split the Paradox War into 3 books because of this, and am thinking about doing the same with Ironmaster & Other Tales because readers really like to see that %read shoot up… Sense of accomplishment=endorphins after all).

    I think there’s also a limit on good sci-fi created by the pace and direction of science itself. It’s hard for writers to understand and keep abreast of the actual science (to the point that many writers claim it isn’t even possible and therefore is utterly unnecessary) so they are riffing on stale 60s and 80s vibes to do with spaceships/aliens and Cyberpunk and are actually creating fantasy based on Sci-fi tropes anyway. Because of this I think there is a general move toward fantasy, especially the hybrids like Steampunk where you can make up your own concepts and avoid real science whilst still having cool gadgets and concepts (I’m guilty of this with Ironmaster myself – wanting to mix sci-fi and fantasy).

    Ah what a surprise I rambled and ended up writing something longer than I intended 😀

    1. Thanks CJ, as ever!

      I think you hit the nail on the head for why writers enjoy (and prefer) writing them and for why few people seem to want to read them. Keeping it punchy can be difficult to create and maintain, even harder to do it consistently.

  3. I was never a big short story reader but I’ve gotten into them recently because they aren’t a huge time commitment. Perfect to read one before bed. But they’re hard to do WELL.

    1. I know what you mean about being a quick read before bed, I just find they lack teeth. At the same time, when they are done well I get frustrated that we didn’t get more of it.

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