Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Geeking Out: 100 Short Stories

So I've been reading a lot of short fiction lately, for my new column in Salon Futura. (I've already turned in my second column, and I'm quite proud of it.) Now, it's hard to keep track of everything you need, unless you're one of those people with picture-perfect memories. I'm not. So I have a multi-tiered, way over-complicated system for keeping track that involves a Moleskein notebook and some Google doc spreadsheets.

Why spreadsheets? Because I'm a stone-cold geek at heart, and it helps me keep myself amused by the whole project. I have just finished my 100th short story since I started keeping track (which milestone would've passed me by without the Master Spreadsheet), and I've got some nice crunchy numbers to share.

[Caveat Emptor: this is the most biased possible set of numbers. It only tracks stories that I've read, and specifically stories that I've finished. I skip a story if it doesn't grab me. So these numbers inevitably reflect my own taste. But there is an underlying field out there, and my own proclivities can only distort it so much. Elements here consist of a huge number of subjective classifications, based on nothing more substantive than my own whim. Also, I've been limiting my reading to venues that I can read in a convenient electronic form.]

Here are the genres that I've seen:
SF 48
Fantasy 42
SF w/ some F 3
Horror 2
Alt hist 3
Mainstream 2
Unsurprisingly I prefer SF, but only by a slight margin. I'm trying to cast my net as widely as possible, but I'm afraid I'll never be a horror fan. By the way, I assign every story to one-and-only-one genre, because that's how I keep the master count of stories read.

I am not keeping track of author gender. There are plenty of people keeping track of stats like that, and it's not a discussion that I'm really interested in getting into. Plus, I often don't know the gender of the author I'm reading, especially if they use initials. However, I am keeping track of protagonists:

Male 41
Female 40
These two have been running close to even through the entire project, way more even than you'd expect by random coin-tossing. Those numbers don't add to 100, because we've also got:

Cyborg 3
Animated Object 3
Transgender 2
Gender Undefined 4
...&c. In another gender-related note, I've been keeping track of stories that pass the Bechdel test: 20.

I've also found 16 protagonists that are human and identified by non-white ethnic markers, ranging from Indian to Mexican, Chinese, Philippino, etc. Other protagonists include Aliens (3), Djinn (1), Fairies (1), and Demons (2).

I'm also keeping track of POVs, but there's nothing terribly shocking here:
1st 46
2nd 2
3rd lim 27
3rd omni 21
3rd mult 2
More interesting are settings. Of those stories set on Earth:
Earth's past 12
Earth Present 20
Near future 24
Mid future 8
future 3
Obviously the Mid future/Far future line is quite fuzzy, but either way it's hugely outnumbered by stories set in the Earth's present and near future. And long-range futures are almost balanced by stories set in Earth's past--a slightly disturbing trend for the genre if it holds up.

How about physical settings? Again, we're sticking pretty close to home:
Earth 30
America 39
Generic Fantasy Earth 15
Other places on Earth include: India (2), Africa (3), England (2). And with one appearance each: Philippines, Burma, Antarctica, Japan, Thailand, Russia, Mexico, China, and Morocco. For more exotic settings all we've got are: Space (4), Extrasolar planets (5), Spaceships (1), Elsewhere in our solar system (3), VR (1) and the Ocean (1). And the Afterlife (1).

Finally, I've been keeping track of some tropes. Here are some of the most common:
Violence 27
Happy Ending? 20
Aliens 15
Gods/Goddesses 13
Shape-shifting 13
Sad Ending? 11
Mythical beings 9
damage 8
Magic artefact 8
Apocalypse 7
Biotech 7
Academics 6
Brain uploading 6
None of the others have more than 5 showings, and I don't want to bore you with the whole list (93 items and counting).

What does all this add up to? Not much, I just think it's interesting. You might as well. And of course it's all skewed; I've read 4 steampunk stories so far, but if I picked up a steampunk specialty issue of a magazine or a theme anthology that would jump way up. By the way, here are the venues that I've peeked into so far (although I haven't read every recent story in every venue, not by a long shot). If you see something missing, let me know! I'm definitely trying to widen my horizons when it comes to short fiction venues.

Strange Horizons [They're doing their fund drive now, please donate!]
Fantasy Magazine
Abyss & Apex
Expanded Horizons
Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Port Iris
Crossed Genres
Basement Stories
Subterranean Online
Daily SF
Weird Tales
Brain Harvest
Midnight East


Metafrantic said...

Glad to see Crossed Genres on the list! You might also want to consider GUD magazine.

Bart Leib
Editor, Crossed Genres

Oz said...

What? You're not reading Analog any longer?


Karen Burnham said...

Bart - Thanks for the heads up on GUD! I hadn't seen that before, and now I've downloaded Issue 6.

Oz - I'm still reading Analog! But I didn't get around to the summer issues. I'm hoping to pick them up again in Oct/Nov. (And I suspect that at that point, my 'alien' trope count will go up!)