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Sci Fiction at SCIFI.COM

Sci Fiction at SCIFI.COM
Sci Fiction at SCIFI.COM
Sci Fiction at SCIFI.COM is looking for literate, strongly plotted science fiction and fantasy stories between 2,000 and 17,500 words -- on a variety of subjects and themes. They want to intrigue readers with mind-broadening, thought-provoking stories. Characterization is crucial. And since many of their readers are not familiar with technical jargon, the stories must be written in clear, understandable prose. Payment is 20 cents a word. Originals only; no reprints. Please do not send more than one story at a time; wait for a response on one before submitting another. They do not publish sword-and-sorcery or space opera. And they do not accept unsolicited poetry or simultaneous submissions but will consider a self-contained story that is part of a novel, or may later be developed into one. Further details are available by e-mailing the editor at

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

I suppose that SF fans should welcome this sort of thing with open arms. After all, a future in which paper books are replaced by sleek disposable video displays was imagined way back in the Golden Age of the 30s and 40s, along with personal jet packs and interplanetary travel. Here in the once mythical 21st century, I haven't had much opportunity to either blast off to the grocery store or vacation on Mars, but it's not news to anyone that the dawning of "screen-based" reading is upon us. Hell, you're doing it right now.

I've been using computers and the Internet since the Stone Age (15 years ago) of dual floppy disks, 300-baud modems, and DOS command lines; I had an e-mail address before there was an or a World Wide Web. I point all this out because I'm hardly a Luddite. Of course I'm writing this little missive on a PC, but in a room overflowing with books and magazines, which includes the first SF paperback I ever bought (13 Great Stories of Science-Fiction published by Gold Medal Books for 40 cents, the then approximate cost of four ice cream sandwiches). I like this room. A lot. I hate the thought of a world without books. I don't think I'll live to see it, but I think my daughter might. I've seen the future of publishing and, like it or not, there's an "e" in front of it.

Of course, when I say a "world without books," I'm talking about their physical incarnation, not the bookless Bradburian nightmare of Fahrenheit 451. (Interestingly, Ray has said he considers the Internet a waste of time, equivalent to the mindless entertainments he warned against in his seminal allegory of book burning.) If anything, "e-books," "e-zines" and electronic publishing on-demand will unleash a lot more than we can ever attempt to read (and a considerable amount we wouldn't want to).

All of which brings me to's on-line collection of short stories, "Sci Fiction", something you do want to check out, despite the unfortunate masthead. Generally speaking, "Sci-Fi" is a somewhat disparaged term, usually meant to signify media-related, and therefore by that association, inferior and/or juvenile science fiction, although the term seems entirely appropriate for a site primarily focused on content related to television, movies, and electronic gaming. The "Sci Fiction" department, however, is the real deal. And, unlike downloadable stories available for a cost from such sites as, it is free for easy viewing on your browser (though the graphics that occasionally crop up on the otherwise successful attempt to replicate a paper page on a screen seem to me largely irrelevant).

Indeed, it's the sort of quality you'd expect from an editor of Ellen Datlow's stature, featuring "name" authors such Joan D. Vinge, James P. Blaylock, and Steven Utley, to cite just a few. In fact, "Sci Fiction" is the latest incarnation of an on-line fiction experiment Datlow first pioneered for Omni, the defunct science magazine noted for featuring SF, and then again in her own Event Horizon venture that suspended operations in 1999 due to lack of financing, but which remains archived at

Every Wednesday, Sci Fiction publishes either -- sometimes both -- what it calls an "Originals" and/or a "Classics" short story. In addition, stories in both categories are archived; there is also a message board for people who want to discuss the stories, though I didn't find much there worthy of attention.

Two noteworthy stories for the week of September 20th were Robert Reed's original "Birdy Girl" and a "reprint" of Thomas M. Disch's "Descending." The latter first appeared in the July 1964 issue of Fantastic Stories of the Imagination -- how fantastic it would have seemed back then that this story would appear almost four decades later in this format!

At first glance, "Descending" might seem to be a slight effort, particularly if you've seen a few old Twilight Zone episodes. But what makes this a "classic" is the artistry -- and foresight -- that goes into making this much more than a weird thing happens to a guy who gets on a store escalator that lacks a return route. The main character is jobless and penniless, but his solution to his situation is to embark upon a spending spree financed by a credit card, a concept in the early 60s that hadn't begun to approach the plastic ubiquity of our Modern Times. It is no accident that the character reads a just purchased copy of Vanity Fair -- the novel, not the magazine -- as he rides the escalator down without paying much attention to where it will lead him. One reason why Disch is identified with the literary aspirations of that era's New Wave is the expectation that the reader will understand the reference to William Thackeray's social satire about misfortune and poverty.

Even if Robert Reed hadn't read Sun Microsystems co-founder and Chief Scientist Bill Joy's semi-controversial article in last April's Wired magazine, "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us," which postulates that rapid advances in artificial intelligence and robotics may render humans obsolete within our lifetime, "Birdy Girl" is a suitable response. The narrator lives in a near future in which the pervasiveness of AI not only eliminates the need for people to work, leaving them with expanses of leisure time that are difficult to fill with meaningful activity, but also fosters super-intelligent children whose software enhanced brain power expands with every generation. The "Birdy Girl" is a robot that acts as a child substitute for those who'd rather not have kids who at three are already considerably smarter than their parents. The narrator finds some hope in the general vapidity that pervades human society (and which is not all that far removed from today's cultural malaise) that, even as it is seemingly grasping at straws, reinforces what we'd all like to believe about the innate doggedness of human nature.

For a similar theme of how human hope can be revitalized (even when the hope is based in something externally non-verifiable), look up Graham Joyce's "Partial Eclipse" in the archives for a story that ponders the origins of imagination and how the paucity of imagination would affect the species.

A bird of a different feather is "The Ugly Chickens" by Howard Waldrop, winner of the 1980 World Fantasy Award originally published in Universe 10, edited by Terry Carr. I suppose this story, unlike a lot of Waldrop's more sheerly fanciful oeuvre, might actually be considered science fictional, given the presumably accurate details concerning the origins and extinction of the dodo bird. The narrator's quixotic quest in search of what seems to be a survivor of that species reaffirms that the real dodos aren't the birds.

So I guess it matters more that I've read and appreciated these stories than the fact that I "own" them and have them shelved somewhere in my own library. And any time I want to refresh my memory, the stories are easily accessible, for at least as long as stays in business and wishes to leave them up. That this may become the standard way of reading is, I think, unavoidable. For evidence, take a look at "Freeing the Angels" by Pat Cadigan and Chris Fowler. There was a time, not so long ago when I was still trying to puzzle out the peculiarities of DOS syntax, when such a cyberpunk adventure would seem more fantasy than science fictional. It is perhaps a testament to where we're going that a mere couple of decades later such a landscape -- fictional or otherwise -- seems so familiar.

Copyright © 2000 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.

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