Looking for good speculative fiction? Whatever it is you like in a story, you'll most likely be able to find it in one of the many magazines residing on the Web. Some are upscale, graphics-loaded Web sites offering a variety of content, while others are tiny zines which publish only those submissions obtained free from contributors; the Net has it all. From Aphelion to Zalandra, the list of online speculative fiction magazines is almost endless. There is tremendous variation among these zines when comparing style, content, and even frequency and quality of publication.
Pegasus Online, for instance, sits towards the amateur end of the spectrum, though you wouldn't know it from the quality of the ideas in the pieces they publish, all of which are freely donated. Still, they currently can only manage to produce issues on a quarterly basis, and even with this much time to edit, style errors (typos, grammar slips, etc.) slip through fairly often. Furthermore, the site is supported by banner ads, which may annoy some readers. The content generally leans towards fantasy, leavened with a good bit of science fiction. The current issue, which happens to have more SF than fantasy, offers a nice variety of short stories. "Folly's Challenge," written by Thomas Allen Cummins, a self-proclaimed newcomer to the field, is a strange bit of sword-and-sorcery fantasy. "First Snow" is a clever present-day SF story that appears at first glance to be about an eccentric survivalist. Patrick Whittaker's "Murder, Maim, Destroy" explores the hazardous future of interactive entertainment, while "The Galileo Probe," by Larry Smith, is a fairly hard-SF style first contact story. In their newest addition to the zine, Pegasus Online now publishes serials -- one segment of the manuscript is revealed each quarter. This issue features the first part of "In the Company of Thieves," by JM Hauser, featuring a crotchety mage, a weatherbeaten dwarf and other such high fantasy staples, all mucking about in a decidedly low-fantasy environment.
If you want something a bit cleaner, try visiting Nuketown, and expect to be there a while. Nuketown seeks to "publish and promote heroic speculative fiction -- with a pro-individual, pro-reason emphasis and on a professional basis -- on the World Wide Web." This is a semiprozine -- the fiction is paid at a flat rate, rather than the per-word rates required by most professional organizations (such as the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) to be considered pro. The zine has monthly issues, with smaller weekly updates, all managed by the folks at Green Tentacles, a Web design and marketing company devoted exclusively to serving the speculative fiction community. (Their site is worth a look, if only for the chuckle you'll get from their slogan.) They have included a number of unusual features, such as a hoax-debunking section to inform readers whether the latest scare-story circulating the Internet has any merit, and an entire department devoted to role-playing games. The zine has come a long way since it first came online in 1996, when visitors averaged around 100 per month. Now, Nuketown sees hits in the area of 10,000 per month -- which is easy to understand after you've taken a look at their archives. As with amateur zines, Nuketown's fiction varies somewhat. The August 2001 issue includes "Pigalle," an interesting, if overly tidy, exploration of telepathy and anti-scientific postmodern philosophy; and "The Ring," a somewhat over-dramatic ghost story about racism. Nonetheless, their nonfiction sections are reliably interesting, and often entertaining.
For even more nonfiction pieces, you can turn to Science Fiction Weekly, which is hosted on SciFi.com, which is associated, in turn, with the popular Sci Fi Channel. SFW publishes an impressive collection of reviews, interviews, and news items, all anchored firmly in the SF genre. In one recent issue, you'll find an interview with writer Steven Brust; news blurbs on subjects ranging from the death of Poul Anderson to next season's TV lineup; and reviews of books and TV shows ranging from the popular to the obscure. For anyone wanting to keep up with science fiction events, a visit to Science Fiction Weekly is definitely a must. Of course, if you actually want to read science fiction, rather than reading about it, you can click over to SFW's neighbor, Sci Fiction. This is probably the best-funded online fiction venue around, and it shows. The presentation is slick, the quality is consistent, and the site boasts quite a few veteran authors, including Ursula K. Le Guin, Bruce Sterling, and more than one appearance of Howard Waldrop. Also, they periodically reprint classic short stories or novellas -- they're currently showcasing "Consider Her Ways," by John Wyndham, a brilliant story about social behavior among . . . well, read it and find out. Of course, being operated by the Sci Fi Channel, Sci Fiction tends to focus solely on science fiction, and usually relatively "mainstream" varieties of it at that.
Conversely, the not-so-well-known Planet Magazine covers both sci-fi and fantasy, with a few variations on both genres thrown in for variety's sake. Though Planet is another amateur zine, offering no pay to contributors, it has had impressive longevity -- it was first published in 1994. Planet bills itself as "the free, award-winning, and groundbreaking electronic quarterly of short science fiction and fantasy by emerging writers and illustrators." They are on a mission "to encourage authors and artists and to just have fun," or so states the opening paragraph on their extensive Web site. The most recent issue (as of this writing -- a new one will be published around the same time as this review) includes quite a variety of short stories and poetry. "Arcade," by Peter Bergman, Jr., should provide some entertainment to gamers everywhere. Jeana Jorgensen's "Challenges Three" gives us a thorough rethinking of the traditional challenges of myths and fairy tales. "Martian Underground," by David Edward Gault, mixes SF with both political intrigue and political commentary. The issue is rounded out with three more stories, and several poems, including "Volus Nocturnus," by James Livingston, which takes the vitally important, but rather dry, concept of biodiversity and, through clever imagery, turns it into a touching and beautiful piece of wordsmithery. Each issue of Planet Magazine also features some astonishingly good cover art; in this issue it happens to be "Accelerator," by Carl Goodman, which threatens to burst forth from your monitor, scattering charged particles hither and yon.
Though more popularly known as a print magazine, Asimov's Science Fiction hosts a Web site offering an agreeable selection of reading material, including several novellas and novelettes -- much longer pieces than the short stories available at most sites. If you're interested in a nice long read, check out their site and surf through Lucius Shepard's "Radiant Green Star," a story about the importance of history, or Greg Egan's "Oracle," a fascinating theological meditation based on the lives of several historical figures. Also free to browse are the links for their monthly columns, featured stories, online chats, and various excerpts and informational links. If you want Asimov's in its entirety, though, you'll have to buy the print magazine.
Although a few zines have not been able to survive the financial beating the last year has doled out to them, and we've said goodbye to some good publications -- Jackhammer E-zine being a notable example -- there is still hope for quality works of speculative fiction on the Web. Sometimes you just have to look for it. Even if you can't find something you like, you can always write it yourself. As always, there are still many Strange Horizons to explore!
Janean Nusz is a freelance writer residing in the Midwest. Her nonfiction work has been seen in numerous publications, both online and in print. Look for her new fiction books online, coming soon to DiskUs Publishing, Pixel Press, and Writer's Exchange E-publishing. Or just stop by her Author's Art site to read an excerpt or two.
R Michael Harman is New Media Reviews Editor for Strange Horizons.