17 Nov

There’s a new, high-paying short SF market in town from Motherboard. Some thoughts on Terraform’s launch

A new weekly short story and daily SF blog launched recently. Terraform, from Motherboard, the people from Vice.

Critics may argue about science fiction’s literary origins—Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein! No, Gulliver’s Travels!—but the genre metastasized in the 1950s and 60s, through the vehicle of pulp magazine publishing, as fantastic short stories and serialized adventures. Short stories are the DNA of the genre; bite-sized futures and parallel realities designed to jar their readers into radical disconnection with the present-day.

Surely we have room for short stories again in our networked world. They don’t take too much of our precious time. The medium is nimble and versatile. We could slip short stories into our pockets (and send them to our Pockets), daisy-chaining fiction to the op-eds and news pieces we read and share ad nauseam every day.

(Via Why We Terraformed a New Home for Future Fiction | Motherboard.)

As many new markets do, they started off with a manifesto. Even though the pulps of the 50s and 60s are well behind us, the science fiction short story market still exists today, and is healthier than many other short story markets. Careers are made here. I built mine there, and have almost 60 short stories published to show for it.

Terraform’s manifesto included the insinuation that short SF had died off. And they were, rightfully, called to task in their comments section for that. Because, in short, it ain’t true.

But let’s be fair, it’s an easy place to miss. While my whole early career revolved around short stories, the first time I signed an anthology in a mall I learning that hardly anyone realizes short stories exist, let alone short SF stories. The whole distribution mechanism and grocery store presence faded away, which for many meant the form had disappeared. I once spent a day quizzing SF readers in a store about short stories. It was illuminating how many of them didn’t even realize they were a thing.

We know better, but Vice is a big, fucking media machine with some big hit counts. Yes, they should have googled, but in many ways our assumption that Terraform is *all about us* somewhat misses the point.

Terraform is competing with science and SF blogs like IO9, and they’ve done a cool thing by experimenting with short form fiction. I mean, imagine if IO9 did that, right? Even my own readers sometimes don’t realize I have new book until IO9 mentions it, and they email me the link to say ‘hey!’ The most widely read short story I’ve ever had was run on IO9, and I had distant friends reaching to say it was the first thing of mine they’d read.

So I can understand their not focusing. Would it be nice. Hell yes. Am I glad they amended the manifesto to point out some great online zines (including my favorite, Clarkesworld)? Yes.

But mainly, before I saw their slip up in the manifesto, I’m excited to see a new market trying to something new and with a potential for a large audience and paying very well. This will be great for new writers, great for short stories. More markets is better. More *readers* is better, and having Vice send traffic around is potentially awesome (Motherboard has 48,000 readers on twitter, quarter of a million tied to it on Facebook, 402,000 followers on YouTube. This makes them, in one swoop, one of the larger audiences for SF).

I have no idea how this will shake out, but my reaction is ‘cool. More places for writers to sell to and more fiction that I get to read.’

They will make mistakes, but part of someone becoming part of a field is being welcomed in, not just them making all the right obeisance. I’m ready to correct a mistake or call something out. But I’m also excited to see the launch of a new venue.

So, Terraform, welcome. I like that you guys are paying 20c/w as a ‘base’ rate and I hope that a rising tide lifts all boats.

For writers, here are the guidelines for Terraform.