Free good science fiction
September 19, 2005 9:34 PM   Subscribe

Free, good science fiction for download, some you might have seen, some new, all are worth the time. If you have only a few minutes, Michael Swanick's Science Fiction Table of the Elements features 108 short short stories. If you have a little more time, Kelly Link, called by Neil Gaiman "the best short story writer currently out there" has released her much-praised collection Stranger Things Happen. For longer reads, Charlie Stross has made available his cyberpunk novel Accelerando and his Lovecraftish Colder War. The creepier Peter Watts has posted the New York Times Notable Book Starfish, and its sequels as well [previously]. If you haven't had enough, you should check out the Baen Free Library, with books by everyone from Andre Norton to Larry Niven, as well as a large amount of right-of-center combat-oriented stuff by David Weber and friends. Also, the Science Fiction Channel has made available many well-known classic short stories as well as a lot of contemporary Hugo and World Fantasy Award winners [previously]. Finally, you probably already know that Cory Doctorow has four novels available under creative commons. Happy reading!
posted by blahblahblah (59 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
The Free Speculative Fiction Online website is an another excellent, regularly-updated catalogue of SF available online..
posted by straight at 9:42 PM on September 19, 2005 [1 favorite]

Funnily enough I've just finished Accelerando, Colder War and Starfish... All three are really good. But Accelerando is definitely my favourite free SF ebook so far.

I wonder though, what is the business strategy behind releasing these books for free.
posted by schwa at 9:49 PM on September 19, 2005

Ahoy, a pirate's bounty of good reading! Thanks mate! You may also want to drop anchor at Strange Horizons, which seems a right good web Sf magazine. Arrr, though they call it "speculative fiction" which makes me want to keelhaul them and feed them to the cybersharks.
posted by freebird at 9:52 PM on September 19, 2005 [1 favorite]

cstross has made more than just Accelerando and A Colder War available. His bibliography has links to most of the stuff that's available online (as well as lots of purely offline stuff that you should read anyway).

As to the business strategy, Charlie talked about that several times.
posted by nmiell at 9:57 PM on September 19, 2005

I wonder though, what is the business strategy behind releasing these books for free.

So that when you see the authors that you're familiar with at the bookstore, you'll drop a few $20s? I caught Doctorow through anthologogies, I read a a few of his short stories of his for "free" and went and bought Eastern Standard Tribe and "Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town."

I found out about Pratchet by d/ling OCFsdfhd and I liked them so much, I'vestarted a collection (dead-tree books) of them. Similar thing with music, too. With DWoctorow, I got hooked with his "Craphhound" in an anthology and that's how I ended up reading boingboing )
posted by PurplePorpoise at 9:59 PM on September 19, 2005

Thank you blahblahblah, excellent post.
posted by anthill at 10:00 PM on September 19, 2005

Not to derail, but it seems like the absolute perfect opportunity to ask a question that goes hand-in-hand with this topic. In short: Where does one go to find the new quality SciFi/Fantasy short stories these days? The traditional outlet -- the pulpish magazines -- seem to have all but dried up. Outside of printed anthologies I have no idea where to look. Links like the one provided above are GREATLY appreciated, but the question still remains since I want to see them when they first come out ... before they win the Hugo.
posted by RavinDave at 10:14 PM on September 19, 2005

Geeze, I just sampled Accelerando. The writing is terrible. He tosses out four meaningless buzzwords every paragraph, apparently to sound cool. And calling his sentence structure 'distressed' would be charitable.

Is it worth struggling through? Any real content there? I'm NOT impressed so far.
posted by Malor at 10:18 PM on September 19, 2005

I've been enjoying 365 tomorrows, where they post 1 short Sci-Fi story a day for a year. The emphasis is on short, they're all around a page long. Great post!
posted by hupp at 10:18 PM on September 19, 2005

Arrrr, these reads will serve me well on those long nights at sea!

The excellence of this post made me look at your posting history, blahblahblah, and I have to say, you are a fucking credit to our community!
posted by LarryC at 10:20 PM on September 19, 2005

RavinDave, have you looked at Asimov's Science Fiction? I haven't had a subscription in years, but at one time, they were THE source for new SF.
posted by Malor at 10:21 PM on September 19, 2005

Excellent post, thank you.
posted by interrobang at 10:21 PM on September 19, 2005

Malor ... urp! ... I woulda bet gramma's wooden leg that ASF was one of those that fell to the way-side back when a whole host of lesser mags bellied-up and went defunct. Your telling me it survived? I never see it anywhere, so I just assumed the worse. If it's still available, I'll be subscribing post haste and anon. Thanx!!!

Seems like I have even more reason to thank blahblahblah for his post.
posted by RavinDave at 10:31 PM on September 19, 2005

what is the business strategy behind releasing these books for free

To most people, reading on a crt or lcd sucks, so when they find that they like the book they'll go buy it.

Where does one go to find the new quality SciFi/Fantasy short stories these days?

Annually in the Dozois and Hartwell best-of collections?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:35 PM on September 19, 2005

malor, if you don't like the first 20 pages, odds are you won't like the book, same as with most books. Also, your favorite band sucks, whoever they are.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:37 PM on September 19, 2005

Also, I think I read somewhere that Interzone is running again.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:38 PM on September 19, 2005

A Colder War is a must read if you've ever enjoyed Lovecraft or anything related to the Cthulhu Mythos. And really, who doesn't except worthless Hastur worshipping playwrights?
posted by clockworkjoe at 10:41 PM on September 19, 2005

Wow! Great stuff. Shame about the site organization. I didn't see much, but just on a whim I googled Slow Tuesday Night, one of my favorite stories of all time, and there it was! So cool!
posted by foozleface at 10:47 PM on September 19, 2005

I highly, HIGHLY recommend Kelly Link's Stranger Things Happen. "Shoe And Marriage" from that collection is one of the best short stories I've read in many years. I wouldn't call her work science fiction, though... it veers between surrealism and sort of dream-like horror, to me.
posted by BoringPostcards at 10:55 PM on September 19, 2005

I read Starfish and Behemoth, thanks to the post about them a couple months ago, and I highly recommend them both, Mr. Watts wrote some good stuff. Special bonus: set in the Pacific Northwest!
posted by Meatbomb at 10:58 PM on September 19, 2005

ROU, well, I don't necessarily want to give up on SF because the writing is bad. I stopped doing that after Neuromancer, which was stilted, awkward, and just darn difficult to read... but which did have some very good ideas and a reasonably strong story. Horrid writing, but a good book anyway.

There was another book I read a number of years ago (late 80s? early 90s?) with absolutely atrocious writing, but a fascinating premise; literal robotic evolution on a world that had been abandoned. (not such a new idea now, but at the time, it was pretty unusual.). I did a medium-length search just now, and I can't turn up the name of the book or the author, so I can't be nearly as precise as I would like.

Tale-telling, imagination, and writing appear to be three entirely separate skills. You can be good at the first two and only passable at the third, and create a worthwhile SF novel anyway. Obviously, it's better to have all three, but two will do in a pinch. :)

For me, the first ten pages or so of Accelerando are almost painful. However, on the off chance that it's another Neuromancer, I'm asking if it's worth struggling through.
posted by Malor at 11:03 PM on September 19, 2005

I've found that, for me at least, those buzzwords add humor. There's an absurdity in seeing how far the current (for when it was written) trends could go. You also have to take into account the fact that the first story in the book was written around 5 years ago, and barely changed since then: the only change I noticed was from the word "webpage" to "weblog".

The first few pages of the first story are something of a product of the DotCom boom, and as such they can seem rather dated (it's scary how quickly that could have happened). The rest of the stories gradually change in form to be less a product of their times, less buzzword-soaked.

In this novel, even the first pages aren't representative of the rest.
posted by JohnnyB at 11:03 PM on September 19, 2005

I'd just like to point out that one of my all time favorite SF short stories, Bob Shaw's 'Light of other days', is available on scifiction.
posted by dhruva at 11:33 PM on September 19, 2005

dhruva, thanks for pointing at this author.
posted by snark9 at 11:39 PM on September 19, 2005

William Gibson's Pattern Recognition is about trendwatching, amongst other things. (and maybe only tangentially)
posted by mek at 12:00 AM on September 20, 2005

and i've successfully posted in the wrong thread, go ahead and delete the above.
posted by mek at 12:02 AM on September 20, 2005

Obligatory Cory Doctorow Post

Regarding Cory Doctorow, am I the only person who thinks Cory Doctorow can't really write that well (when speaking of Cory Doctorow's novels, such as Cory Doctorow's latest, Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, by Cory Doctorow?

posted to boingboing by Cory Doctorow

posted by Mikey-San at 12:07 AM on September 20, 2005


posted by Mikey-San at 12:08 AM on September 20, 2005

May as well post something serious now, in apology for that little splurt.

I'm not sure if it's "free" in any sense, but "Harrison Bergeron", a short story by Kurt Vonnegut, may as well be required reading for the coming century.
posted by Mikey-San at 12:13 AM on September 20, 2005

Cool. Thanks.
posted by dazed_one at 12:20 AM on September 20, 2005

I wholeheartedly recommend the blog-based novel still in production, Simon of Space which I have been reading for some time now. It takes almost no time at all to get used to reading a novel as a series of blog entries, and the story is very much worth it.
posted by nightchrome at 1:32 AM on September 20, 2005

Holy Fuck. Thank you very very much.
posted by shmegegge at 1:55 AM on September 20, 2005

Thanks for the info...

Meanwhile, anyone know where to get the old Omni magazine? I have done some searching and have found nothing. I would love to get this in electronic form. Photocopies from the library is drudgery...
posted by fluffycreature at 4:08 AM on September 20, 2005

The other day I came across a Web edition of Larry Niven's classic short story "Passerby" from 1969.
posted by alumshubby at 5:03 AM on September 20, 2005

This post makes my year.
posted by sciurus at 5:49 AM on September 20, 2005

Malor: Criticizing "Accelerando" for having a ton of meaningless buzzwords in the first couple of chapters is like criticizing "Cryptonomicon" because Stephenson starts talking about Captain Crunch or D&D for no apparent reason. Or like criticizing Picasso because people don't really look like that. Or "Huckleberry Finn" because it uses racist language. In other words, it's missing the point. There may well be legitimate criticisms to be made, but that really isn't one of them.

Everyone: If you download a free SF novel and like it, I strongly urge you to buy a copy. That's the only way the model works.

Also, avoid Baen. I'm boycotting them until they stop publishing anything by (name elided in the interests of harmony, but it rhymes, appropriately enough, with rat-man.)
posted by Justinian at 6:06 AM on September 20, 2005

Justinian, I'm confused? We should boycot Baen because you dislike the work of one of their stable of authors? What has this person done that's so terrible?
posted by Karmakaze at 6:14 AM on September 20, 2005

We're asked to boycott a site because you don't like one of the authors?
posted by alumshubby at 6:15 AM on September 20, 2005

Remind me to come back to this when the semester's over.
posted by Eideteker at 6:24 AM on September 20, 2005

I'm boycotting them until they stop publishing anything by (name elided in the interests of harmony, but it rhymes, appropriately enough, with rat-man.)

Batman wrote a book!?
posted by sonofsamiam at 6:26 AM on September 20, 2005

What, am I threatening you if you buy Baen books? Am I coercing you somehow? I stated a preference. If you don't agree, be my guest and buy away.

The whole point of the market is that we financially encourage or discourage companies based on our purchasing decisions. Why is it so shocking that I might decide to buy books from other publishers until Baen stops putting such trashy covers on their books and stops enabling homophobic hatemongers?
posted by Justinian at 6:36 AM on September 20, 2005

Y'all should quit playing Warcrack and get some fresh air occasionally. Asimov's SF (pulp type mag) is still being printed every month or two. I usually get mine at Borders or B&N. You just gotta get there before me. :)

Or you could just subscribe. Easier. And they even have an electronic version.

Analog, current issue. Same publishing house. It's definitely a bimonthly mag.
posted by keptwench at 6:59 AM on September 20, 2005

I was surprised when I got a hardcover of Weber's latest fantasy (the hradani thing, fun stuff) from the library, and it included a CD filled with novels. The blurb on the back on why they did this (they are so evil, they are giving out free samples to hook the kiddies, basically) and encouraging people to copy and give it away, was pretty amusing.

I think Baen is on to something.
posted by QIbHom at 8:17 AM on September 20, 2005

Just to insert some context into Justinian's comments, I am pretty sure his is objecting to Tom Kratman, a Baen author whose books have a fairly strong right-wing position.

On the other side of the political spectrum, I know that Charlie Stross is an occasional MeFi contributor. It would be interesting to get any observations he might have, if he is around.
posted by blahblahblah at 8:27 AM on September 20, 2005

blahblahblah: "Fairly strong"? I assume that's understatement for effect. He has, for example, flat out stated that he hates leftists and liberals viscerally and on a personal level. Oh, and he uses insinuations of homosexuality to mock people.

Anyway, I can neither confirm nor deny that's who I'm talking about. You did, however, forget to mention that the protagonists of his next book are the Waffen-SS. The Waffen-SS is portrayed as an organization having both good and bad members who have both good and bad qualities. On the other hand, every single person in the book who is remotely left of center is portrayed negatively. You do the math.
posted by Justinian at 9:26 AM on September 20, 2005

We're asked to boycott a site because you don't like one of the authors?

Boycotting a publisher because they publish evil-minded trash seems to me a reasonable enough position.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:30 AM on September 20, 2005

Disclaimer: I am a science fiction writer and editor. In an attempt to be comprehensive, I am going to list publications that have been mentioned already, but leave out the anthology markets, although there's good stuff there too.

There are still quite a few print short fiction magazines out there. I'm not going to make any judgements of quality, but I'll try to list all of the major magazines.

There's Asimov's and Analog, mentioned previously, both published by Dell Magazine. Asimov's is edited by Sheila Moore and Analog is edited by Dr. Stanley Schmidt. Last I checked, they both publish at least ten issues a year. So not quite monthly, but not quite bimonthly either.

TTA Press magazines, Black Static (formerly The Third Alternative) and Interzone are UK publications, but are available in the US. These are quarterly and bimonthly magazines. Disclaimer: I've published twice in Interzone. They're both edited by Andy Cox, although Interzone has an advisory board. Dave Pringle is still involved with Interzone, but is no longer the editor.

Realms of Fantasy is a fantasy magazine-- and don't let the covers trick you-- they are primarily a fiction magazine, publishing a lot of well-known fantasy authors. They come out of Sovereign Media. Realms is edited by Shawna McCarthy. She's also an agent. Realms is bimonthly.

The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy is published and edited by Gordon Van Gelder. They publish at least 10 issues a year, if not 11. Like Asimov's and Analog, they do at least one double issue per year. No less content, just fewer actual issues.

The DNA Publications, such as Weird Tales and Absolute Magnitude are somewhat irregular. I think they're mostly edited by Warren Lapine.

Then there are the electronic and small press publications.

SCIFICTION is one of the best known electronic magazines, published by The former editor of Omni, Ellen Datlow, is the current editor. (As an aside, Kelly Link is her slush reader). SCIFICTION publishes a new short story every week on Wednesdays, and I believe a classic story every other week.

Strange Horizons also publishes a story a week. It has an editorial board that includes Susan Marie Groppi, Jed Hartman, and others.

publishes quarterly, and is another online magazine with an editorial board. Disclaimer: I have published in Ideomancer.

Abyss & Apex is a quarterly e-zine. Carol Burrell is Editor-in-Chief.

FUTURISMIC publishes one story per month. Christopher East is the editor.

Lenox Avenue is bimonthly. They're edited by Adrienne Allmann and M. Thomas.

The Fortean Bureau is a quarterly e-zine. I and my wife are editors-in-chief.

That's not nearly all the publications, but this list should get you started on places to look for good short fiction, both online and on paper. If you're a writer looking for markets and guidelines, Ralan's is a good place to start.

If you're looking for short fiction reviews, you can find them on Tangent Online, and the Internet Review of Science Fiction is also a good source of reviews (free registration required).

Sorry for the long post. I hope someone finds something good to read!
posted by JeremyT at 10:53 AM on September 20, 2005 [1 favorite]

Uh, and clearly, my wife is the one with good grammar. Please excuse the mess.
posted by JeremyT at 10:54 AM on September 20, 2005

On Baen:

There is balane everywhere. Baen also publishes Eric Flint. Who is according to the blurb about him:

A Trotskyist, he has remained true to his faith by working as a steel worker, machinist and meatpacker.

I find many of his books quite entertaining.
posted by mmkhd at 11:00 AM on September 20, 2005

Asimov's is edited by Sheila Moore
Dang it, make that Sheila Williams.
posted by JeremyT at 11:06 AM on September 20, 2005

Well, the Baen site did publish that Pournelle/Niven novel, so to split the difference with you more militant types, maybe I'll read that and just ignore Kratman. (Unless you're going to tell me that Baen advocates these positions too...)
posted by alumshubby at 12:53 PM on September 20, 2005

I'm here. I just try to avoid commenting on threads where my own work is under discussion.

To clarify: if anyone wants to query me on a point of fact (for example, to ask something like an ISBN or what I've got coming out next) then I'll try to respond; but I'm not going to be drawn into debate on the qualities (or lack thereof) of my work. That way lies madness.
posted by cstross at 12:55 PM on September 20, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'm still disappointed that accelerando was released under the no derivative works licence. I was hoping that Bruce Sterling would then release Schismatrix under the same terms and I could finally do my Abelard Lindsay / Manfred Macx crossover:

A blank white sphere, 20 metres across floats in Jupiter orbit, just outside the killing radiation fields, just inside the slowly accreting ring of computronium being built by the posts.
Inside, Abelard Lindsay looks with disgust at the angular figure floating opposite him.
"Macx, one would have to postulate a fifth or even sixth level of Prigigonic complexity in order to account for your stupidity and lack of intellectual taste."
Manfred winces slightly while uploading a hastily snatched image of the harshly lit Lindsay to slashdot. The caption underneath reads, "Abelard Lindsay, Microsoft apologist, Chief Evangelist for SCO, records data on wires."
Sometimes one has to mix lies with truth to motivate the stormtroopers of the singularity...
Lindsays eyes go briefly blank as the entire online segment of his persona is hit by a massive, uncoordinated DOS attack.
He rallies, sending urgent messages to members of his clade and his various hetairiai.
As Macx tries to deal with a strange and precipitous decline in his perceived value in the persona trading markets, Lindsay arranges for the manufacture of a heavily customised star-whisp von-neumann machine. While the tiny device will take centuries to reach it's destination (an icy satellite of one of the gas giants in orbit around Barnards Star), once there it will mutiply and begin to reformat the moon suface. A few decades later a huge and obscene cartoon of Manfred Macx will be there to greet any future visitors. Lindsay thinks long term. It's the only thing he has in common with Macx.
[and so so...]
posted by thatwhichfalls at 1:32 PM on September 20, 2005

This is my favorite thread ever.
posted by hank at 2:58 PM on September 20, 2005

Accelandro's language and constant references pushed Geek buttons I didn't even remember I had. I got the feeling Stross had tapped into and consolidated the last 15 years worth of me faffing about intellectually.

It's worthwhile perservering with the book if only for an new take on the singularity meme, but if that kind of subject isn't your cup of tea, it ain't gonna get any better. I had read his 'Singularity Sky' earlier and was frustrated that that book ended just when I thought things were getting interesting, so I was pleased when he covered further ground here.

For the record, I downloaded Accelandro and read it at work, because I'm deeply slack, and Word doesn't look like a web browser, making it ideal for shirkage. Thus I fully approve of the concept of free, downloadable SF on teh intarweb.
posted by Sparx at 5:20 PM on September 20, 2005

JeremyT, I didn't realise David Pringle still had any connection with Interzone. Can you elaborate?

(PS liked your story in Interzone #199)
posted by ninebelow at 2:45 AM on September 21, 2005


Thanks! He's still writing that news section, isn't he? I think it's called Ansible?

But I should have been more clear- he's not involved in an editorial capacity, certainly.
posted by JeremyT at 12:06 PM on September 21, 2005

"Ansible" is written by David Langford, not Pringle.
posted by kindall at 12:44 PM on September 21, 2005

Whoops, thanks for correcting me on that.
posted by JeremyT at 1:10 PM on September 21, 2005

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