At the SCI FICTION section of scifi.com you post original fiction as
well as classic stories every week or so. Why did you choose this approach
rather than all original fiction?
We post a new story weekly and classic stories every other week. We
thought the mix of "classic" with new would give a new generation of
readers a taste of science fiction's past. Many of the stories -- and
authors -- although well-known by my and earlier generations' standards,
are completely unknown to readers who are only aware of SF through the
media, and just aren't familiar with the wealth of material published over
I suppose this unfamiliarity is due, in part, to the dwindling
readership of the digests along with the number of magazines available on
newsstands. Do you think that SCI FICTION can be a force to re-establish a
short fiction audience/market?
I hope so. Certainly our existence should help the short story market. Any time you get new markets paying
professional rates this encourages established writers and newer writers to produce more short fiction. I saw
this happen when I worked at OMNI. Robert Silverberg had "retired" from writing short fiction
until OMNI started offering markedly higher rates for fiction.
I'd like to think that we're encouraging websurfers to take a chance and read fiction on the web.
I think the unfamiliarity is a result of the decline of the backlist. Very few single author collections remain
in print for any length of time any more. Most of the pb collections I have of writers such as Richard Matheson,
Gerald Kersh, Richard McKenna, etc. were bought by me second hand in bookstores or at conventions.
I've always thought it a shame that many short fiction collections by
single authors like that series Ballantine Del Rey did a number of years
ago don't remain in print. I suppose the publishers don't feel there is a
sufficient market for them. Do you think that there will be a market for
such reprint collections with the recent proliferation of print-on-demand
publishers and the e-book retailers?
I know a few book websites that are indeed buying up single author
collections for good money. Generally, the only way a writer can sell a
collection is if her agent makes the next book contract contingent on the
publisher also buying a collection. But obviously, the publisher has to
really want the next novel or two to invest in that collection. The small
press has already taken up the slack of traditional, larger book
publishers. Golden Gryphon, Cemetery Dance, Babbage Press, Dreamhaven,
Gauntlet Press, Subterranean -- they're all doing a major service for the
fields of SF, fantasy, and horror by publishing collections.
Anthologies, particularly ones with themes, still manage to be
considered viable. What aspect do you think they have that author
First of all, I think publishers believe that theme anthologies have more of a "hook" to draw readers in than
non-theme anthologies. There is little promotion money available for anthologies (unless the publisher is forced to
pay BIG money, something that can only be done with the guaranteed appearance of magic "names" -- moreso in horror
than in SF/fantasy, although there are a few names in fantasy that might guarantee sales.
Then, just the fact that an anthology is made up of many contributors is perceived as giving the reader more of a
choice -- again, especially if some of those contributors are so-called "big names." This, of course, is mere speculation
on my part. Since I don't regularly work in book publishing I'm not kept abreast of sales figures for collections
or anthologies (except for my own) so can't compare them.
With the wealth of classic short fiction available, is there a
particular element you look for in each story you chose?
First, I started with stories that I've loved and stuck in my mind from
when I first began reading SF. I look for those stories that transcend the
time in which they were written, and those that haven't been overexposed in
the past few years. Or just stories that I think readers would enjoy and
may not have read. I can't always acquire the rights to every story I want
to reprint and I feel that's a shame because we're bringing some wonderful
stories to the attention of a whole new audience.
I'd have to agree with you. But rereading some, I've found that they
seem different from the story I remember. Do you reprint those stories as
they were published or do you approach them as if they were new? I'm
asking if you start editing with what was written by the author or with
what was published.
Oh no, I wouldn't edit a "classic" work. The stories I choose either hold up for me or I wouldn't want to use
them. Of course, many of the classics I'm publishing are by authors no longer alive. But in some cases during
copy editing or proofreading we've found obvious typos in the version of the story we're reprinting from. If the
author is alive, I'll inform her so that she can fix it for the next time the story is reprinted.
Many of the authors whose material appears in the SCI FICTION section of
scifi.com are established authors, well-known by most folks who read in the
genre. Have you had any submissions by first-sale authors that will appear
in the months to come?
Hey, we've only been publishing for six months (as of mid-October); give
us a chance! I don't have a very full inventory at this point so am looking
for great new work by established and new writers. I'm working with a newer
writer on a story right now. I don't yet know whether I'll buy it but if
the rest of his work is as good as this one story then I'll probably
eventually buy something by him. If not the particular story we're going
back and forth on, then another.
I've published science fiction stories by writers known more for their
horror than their SF, such as Graham Joyce, A.R. Morlan, and Tim Lebbon.
Lebbon, in fact, is not very well-known in this country although he soon
will be. His SF/horror novella "White" was published as a chapbook in the
UK and I picked it up for The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Thirteenth
Annual Collection. It recently won the British Fantasy Award. Although
Lebbon has had novels published in the UK, they haven't yet been published
in the US.
And I published another talented new writer, Dave Hutchinson, who I'd never
heard of before receiving his story. Reading his bibliography I see that
he's published a few stories in the UK and in Poland but he wasn't known to
me and I doubt he's known to American readers.
It seems apparent that the bulk of the folks who cruise the Internet
expect to find most of what they're searching for available free of
charge. Music via Napster is the most obvious example. Do you think there
is a viable equivalence with respect to short fiction?
Fiction markets have already found a viable place on the Internet. I don't
think it's even a question. I've been publishing short fiction on the web
since around 1996. The two World Fantasy Award-winning stories I published
in OMNI INTERNET and EVENT HORIZON, were the first online stories to win any
major award. I've always paid my authors decent money -- although I haven't
always earned a living from editing online ("Event Horizon" was not
profitable). But if an author gets paid and readers read the fiction then a
site is viable.
That leads me to ask you about how material can be protected. Do you
think the traditional concepts of copyright and royalty are going to have
to change before short fiction markets will find a viable place on the
I think copyright law must be adapted to the web in order to protect
intellectual property and authors -- soon. But I also think it's a really
exciting time for publishing on the web. A number of other webzines
specializing in science fiction and paying well in addition to SCI FICTION
are springing up. This can only be good news for the field as the more
decent paying markets there are in short fiction, the more writers write
short fiction. And I still think that short fiction is the lifeblood of the
How do you see copyright law adapting?
I don't know. I think that's up to copyright lawyers and publishers to figure out. But I do feel strongly
that if there is intentional copyright infringement, the piracy must be rigorously prosecuted and the work
removed from the offending website. I think the ISPs must assume some responsibility in this. If it's pointed
out that their system is being used in this manner, they've got to take the site down or withdraw services
from the perpetrator.
Earlier you said that "short fiction is the lifeblood of the
field." But how does a reader go about distinguishing "the chaff from the
wheat" on websites? Certainly your considerable reputation brings
significant cachet to the work you publish. But there are so many others
out there striving to publish quality work, often hidden among
others that are questionable at best.
How is that different from print publishing? Because I've been reading for
The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror for so long, I'm aware of the
existence of many many small press magazines. Only a relatively small percentage of them publish what I'd call
professional quality fiction. If I know an editor's work then I'll trust that editor to provide the kinds of
fiction I like. Is it that different on the web? There are a few websites I check out regularly for their
fiction. And just like in print magazines, if someone recommends a new website, I'll check it out periodically.
Copyright © 2000 by Rodger Turner
Rodger has read a lot of science fiction and fantasy in forty years. He can only shake his head
and say, "So many books, so little time."