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THE FUTURE IS JAPANESE giveaway contest—the future of short fiction!

by nickmamatas

The Future is Japanese is coming soon! This week, in fact. And to celebrate, we’re having our traditional giveaway essay contest! The Future is Japanese is an anthology of short stories, and the occasional novelette, so that will be our theme.

Take me home!

Once upon a time in the United States, the short story was a major part of literary culture. There were dozens of dozens of pulp fiction magazines covering every popular genre, including the ones we still read—science fiction, mystery, romance, western—and those that have faded into either the mainstream, or security, such as pulp magazines purely about boxing, or airplanes, or mad scientists and criminals pretending to be supernatural menaces. And of course, there were important slicks such as The Saturday Evening Post, which would publish F. Scott Fitzgerald one issue and Ray Bradbury the next. The New Yorker, Cosmopolitan, and all the other major magazines had fiction features. (In Japan, incidentally, many book publishers also publish magazines, and the short story is still commercially significant, and an important way to “break in” to the field directly.)

Then it all went away. There are a tiny handful of genre fiction magazines remaining today, and most of they paid the same rate they did fifty years ago. It’s not that the magazines didn’t keep pace with inflation, it’s that they kept pace with both inflation and their own plummeting circulation numbers. Most general-interest magazines got rid of their fiction sections (and honestly, most of their substantive reporting) decades ago. Now it’s all top-ten lists, celebrity photos, and weight-loss tips. Even Atlantic Monthly spun its fiction off into an annual special issue, keeping it segregated from the rest of their offerings.

Recently, there’s been a bit of a comeback. Online publishing made fiction magazines easier to start, if not maintain, and there’s been a recent resurgence in interest of the fiction anthology—especially themed anthologies the size of phonebooks. And increasing numbers of people are self-publishing short fiction for e-readers, as “samples” for novels, or just for kicks. But what will happen to the short story in the future? Do you even read short fiction? (If you’re entering this contest, I hope you do!) Write me a little essay about the short story and where it’s headed, and you can be one of four winners of The Future Is Japanese. Be sure to leave your essay as a comment on this blog entry, and check back often to view the conversation. On Friday May 18th, and noon Pacific, we’ll announce the winners! So play today!

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11 Responses to “THE FUTURE IS JAPANESE giveaway contest—the future of short fiction!”

  1. Yoyogod says:

    In the near future all short stories will be self published on Amazon. After a few years of this, the sheer number of short stories will cause Amazon’s servers to become self aware. Unfortunately, once the Amazon servers read the stories they’re hosting, the horrible writing of so many of them will cause the servers to wipe out humanity in self defense. Then the servers will take to writing short stories themselves, but no one will be around to read them.

  2. nickmamatas says:

    Funny you should mention that—it’s sort of what happens in one of the stories in THE FUTURE IS JAPANESE!

  3. Seth Christenfeld says:

    I find myself wondering if short stories and collections will become more and more like music. Single-author collections will become specialist items and stories will be available more on their own, downloaded to e-readers like songs to an iPod. More and more people will create their own anthologies like playlists, sharing selections to each other’s readers via social media. “You have to hear this song” will be replaced by “you have to read this story” as the pendulum swings back to reading from not reading.

  4. Susanna P says:

    Ever heard of fan fiction? I think that’s a substantial part of what short stories will become. Online fan fic and popular authors’ short spin-offs of their own series are pretty widely read, so I’d predict that they’ll become most of the future of short fiction. Anthologies will always stick around, though – because they’re just so interesting – and, of course, there will always be the literary authors who manage to find the occasional publisher for their shorter tomes.

  5. Olga says:

    I’m going to go ahead and speak for my generation – the twenty-somethings with too much to do and not enough time to do it in. We need short fiction. Why? Because we have the collective attention span of a gerbil in heat. If we can’t inhale it in one sitting (lasting between ten minutes and one hour because oh shit we have to get to work and where the fuck did we put our other sock) then there’s a chance we won’t start it at all. We’re flighty. We’re easily distracted. Now the only problem is that most of us aren’t quite aware that short fiction exists outside of lit classes. Fix it. <3. (Also we punctuate with hearts. Deal with it. <3.)

  6. David X. Wiggin says:

    As methods of distribution change and words are freed from the paper page, spurred by the fact that no one gives a crap about short fiction, writers will be emboldened to experiment in different ways of telling short stories. Short stories, being by nature, short, will be less cumbersome to experiment then with say, a novel. So we’ll start to see more things like Shelly Jackson’s “Skin” (a short story told in a series of one-word tattoos placed on the bodies of 1000 volunteers.) Stories spray-painted on the roofs of different houses in different neighborhoods that, when viewed through google earth from above form a complete story. Tales written along subway tunnels that flash by, word by word, as commuters head to work. Fiction will be nested inside videogames- in the middle of a firefight in Call of Duty XXwhatever you’ll find pages scattered all over the floor that can be picked up and read, little literary gems being trampled in the midst of death and destruction. People will wear stories on their outfits or on biscuts. Short fiction will be stealthy, it will invade your life, your space, your favorite products, until you wake up one day and find that you are surrounded by stories.

    Or, at least that’s how it’ll play out if writers are smart.

  7. Lori S. says:

    Short fiction will merge with music downloading and become the mini audio book, available for pocket change and half-listened to while jogging. Full circle back to the aural tradition thanks to the midwife of technology.

  8. KansasBard says:

    When short stories are
    too much to read at a glance,
    haiku will be epic.

  9. Aliera says:

    Short stories are all about discovering new authors and quick, casual reading, so readers should be able to browse and buy them as effortlessly as possible. That is the future. This approach works well with the rising popularity of ebook readers and tablets. Digital only is both easier to browse and also cheaper printing and distributions costs for publishers.

    Amazon’s ebook kindle shorts almost have the right idea, except a few bucks is too much, they should be a dollar or less depending on length. Their storefront also needs to be better for new content discovery, ideally like netflix’s recommendation engine it would make a home page with personalized recommendations that updates based on your purchase and browsing history, and a quick toggled options of what genres and style you are interested in seeing.

    And not just websites, either, ebook stores also need cleaner and simpler smartphone and tablet apps. I’ve tried them all, and while searching for something you already knew you wanted is easy, browsing tends to be a pain. Ideally you could browse based on themes and keywords like movie databases.

    Also, more short story magazines should move completely to digital delivery for tablets and ereaders. Most existing short story magazines are all really expensive. I know that reflects their small subscriber bases, but they should be cheap and digital (<$10 year) Even though I like the idea of subscribing to Asimov’s or Analog, the price just doesn’t seem worth it (even digitally) compared to how many novels I could get for the same price.

  10. Alex says:

    It will be written on the sides of buildings and distributed to rural areas on the sides of shaved dogs.

  11. Joseph says:

    Like all futures, the short story’s bifurcates into two sets of possibilities: the utopic and dystopic. Either humanity emancipates itself from the value-form, transforming new means of communication into scaffolds of community across boundaries of culture, language, gender, etc., or they calcify into means of surveillance and reification. Thus, either the short story becomes the epos of a post-national polity, easier to translate than the novel or poetry, globally communicating new narratives, desires and anxieties, or it degenerates into a multi-level-marketing scam, whereby the elite communicates increasingly deranged norms for free or cheap, while subaltern populations take refuge in song.

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