I know how it goes. You have hundreds of books on your shelves, but not a thing to read. You’re itching to browse some shelves, to find some new speculative fiction to read. Alas, it’s one in the morning and the libraries and even mega-stores like Borders are closed. What are you going to do? Go online.
While the age of the electronic book is not yet upon, there’s a plethora of great reading material available on-line. And just so you can stay on Harlan Ellison’s good side, this is a list of legal fiction resources. There’s no need to be a pirate when the seas are this plentiful.
First stop: Project Gutenberg, the grand dame of electronic book collections. Recently, Project Gutenberg has set up “bookshelves.” The Bookshelf link, located on the left side of the screen takes you to a category directory that includes Science Fiction and Precursors of Science Fiction. Most of the documents found through Project Gutenberg are public domain, which means their copyrights have lapsed. Therefore, the collection includes many older works, including Jules Vern, H.G. Wells, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Project Gutenberg offers the ability to read straight from your browser or to download in HTML, plain text, Plucker and mp3 formats.
Project Gutenberg itself links to our second stop: Baen Free Library. Baen, a large publisher of science fiction, offers electronic versions of books by some of their top-name writers. Included are David Drake, Mercedes Lackey, Larry Niven, Fred Saberhagen, and Holly Lisle. The books are available in various forms through WebScription.net.
Doctor Who has a world-wide following and due to its success, the BBC is offering eight Doctor Who novels for reading via your internet browser. All feature new art and include notes by the original authors. The interface is a bit inelegant, but the reads are fun and fast-paced.
Interested in reading more pulp science fiction? The Incwell iPulp Library contains several serials written by contemporary written, but with a pulp feel. Like the Doctor Who novels, the stories are only available through your browser, which means clicking through to the next page a great deal. Many of the serials available are also suitable for younger readers in both form and content.
If you’re in the mood for shorter fiction, the internet is home of some of the best anthology magazines around. Strange Horizons offers up new fiction on a weekly basis. Their archive contains many stories that have been republished in The Year’s Best Science Fiction as well as being on the shortlists of some of the industry’s top awards. Just check out their Awards link to get started.
Another source of short stories and novellas comes from SciFi.com, home of the SciFi Channel. From May 2000 to December 2005, Ellen Datlow edited Sci Fiction. Although the site is no longer updating, the archives are still intact and include some great classic stories as well as award-winning contemporaries. During its run, Sci Fiction won multiple Hugo and Nebula award. Even if you’ve checked it out in the past, there are many reasons to re-read.
SciFi.com also sponsors Seeing Ear Theater, some of the finest audio theater online. Among links to reading materials, it deserves note for its excellent production qualities and the notable authors that have taken part, including Neil Gaiman, J. Michael Straczynski, and Octavia Butler. The sound files are available in Real Player format and through Audible.com.
Some other notable on-line, non-subscription magazines include Abyss & Apex and Jim Baen’s Universe.
If you can’t find what you want to read from these sources, try searching for your favorite authors online. Many authors offer some or all of their works online for free to readers. Cory Doctorow, for example, has been very out-spoken about the importance of science fiction authors letting their works be read instead of only sold. He offers many of his books for download through his blog CrapHound.com. Likewise, Peter Watts offers his backlist of novels and short stories in PDF format under a Creative Commons license. If anything, it’s worth googling your favorite authors for publishing news and excerpts of new works.
Hopefully, this list should keep the average science fiction reader busy…for a good two or three days. Happy Reading!