I have been editing best of the year annuals since 1996, with a break between 1998 and 2002, and consistently since then. For one brief period I even edited or co-edited three different annual series at the same time. I was the butt of good-natured jokes on Locus Online, I did it so often. My 20th annual is about to hit bookstores, in fact.
I preface with this because the quick thought I want to express needs to be considered against this background. I clearly love short fiction and over the past eighteen or so years I have read a lot of it. It’s entirely possible that my thoughts are product of this and nothing more. But still…
Way back in 1996 when I started editing annuals Locus estimated there were 2,000 or so short stories published in professional markets that year. It’s a goodly number, and in truth was probably something of an underestimation. It also palls beside the likely numbers published during the heady days of the Pulps in the 1940s, but things have gone crazy lately. I don’t think Locus published an estimate on the number of stories in professional markets this year, but I’d bet there was many more published than that. In fact, given changes to how we regard ‘professional’ and other markets, I’d suggest that there were far, far more than that: tens of thousands of new stories published every where from Twitter to Facebook, website to online store, print zine to web zine, anthology to collection, and far more than that.
This outpouring of fiction is not a bad thing – don’t think that. It is wonderful to see the increasing diversity in the range of writers being published from all over the world. We are immeasurably enriched by their involvement. And it really doesn’t matter any more if the stories are self-published or not. They are published, and so they are part of our potential reading experience.
That fact is simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting. I have been wondering if, in fact, SF itself is finding the flood of new fiction more exhausting than anything else. There is no way to keep up with the torrent, no ready way to find and know about so much. On one hand this makes me happy: my best of the year books have never been more useful. On the other, though, I can’t help wonder if SF itself could do with a little bit of surcease….