Every two or four weeks, I do a little review spot on the Sci-Guys podcast. These are four guys who sit around for an hour and BS about horror and science fiction movies and TV shows, with some LEGO, manga, and whatever else thrown in that 40-something guys who miss being 14-year-old boys BS about. I went to high school with one of them (John). That was my "in." When I asked about the possibility of doing an occasional short fiction review on the show, focusing mostly on little-known self-publishers like myself, they were all for it. At least a couple of them seemed to think that I might add some credibility to the show. As if!
Every so often, I'll post the review script I read for the show on my blog. As this is my first Sci-Guys "Short Shorts" review since getting this site off the ground, I figured a preamble was in order. So without further ado...here's my script for Sci-Guys episode 116, which should be going live tonight.
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IF YOU'VE HEARD me talk before about how I toss out three out of every four free ebooks I download, I can assure you that the ratio of decent free fiction posted on the Web has been much worse. Now, before I sound like too much of a critical jerk, let me say that I’m an aspiring writer, too, and I’ve posted my own stuff online for free. I get that everybody has different tastes, one man’s garbage is another’s literary masterpiece, etc., etc. But in my officially unqualified opinion, most self-published Web fiction isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on, unless it’s vampire romance fan fiction, in which case it’s worth even less. That’s right, I said it.
Note that I don’t lump Web-based magazines in this category. Webzines with incredible content abound, such as Daily Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, Electric Spec, and plenty of awesome podcasts (Lightspeed, Pseudopod, Nightmare, and others). The difference, of course, is that these publications have editors to weed out the 99 out of every hundred submissions that suck.
Do these editors ever get it wrong? All…the…time! Sometimes duds get published, and a lot more often seriously great stories get rejected by editor after editor. As somebody with plenty of rejections of his own, I really like this theory. But I have other proof, too!
I recently stumbled across a self-published Web story called “The Egg” by Andy Weir on the author’s site at galactanet.com. At just shy of 1,000 words, it’s officially flash fiction. It starts off like it’s written in the second person, which is a notorious no-no, but then reveals that the narrator is none other than God. It does just about everything that you’re not supposed to do in a marketable piece of short fiction, but the end result was actually really, really good. This might explain why volunteers have translated it into over 30 languages.
“The Egg” was so good that I felt compelled to dig further. It turns out that Weir has published several full-length stories on his site, some of which are still in progress. All of them are free. One of these is a novel called The Martian. You can download The Martian in pieces from Weir’s site or, if you’re a lazy Kindle user like me, pay 99 cents for it on Amazon. (The audio version is $12.) The Martian tells the story of a shipwreck. Astronaut Mark Watney, a botanist by background, is part of a ground crew on Mars that must abandon their mission on day six in advance of a freakishly large storm. Watney gets injured during the evac and left for dead. Only miraculously, he survives. The supplies left behind should stretch for up to a year if nothing goes wrong. The problem is that he sees no way for another mission to arrive for another four years. Thus starts a surprisingly riveting tale filled with tons fascinating hard science.
Who is Mark Weir? Until I found his Reddit AMA, I thought he must either work for NASA or be the world’s biggest astronomy nerd. Turns out he’s a 40-ish mobile app programmer who also worked for Blizzard on Warcraft II. Science aside, The Martian’s narrator is funny as hell. Sometimes I feel like I’m reading extended tweets by Sarcastic Rover. If you don’t know what Sarcastic Rover is, Google that, too, and then follow it.
No matter what, The Martian has got to be the best free novel I’ve ever found. I don’t know if Weir ever tried to publish conventionally and just got rejected until he gave up and said, “Screw you people, I don’t need you.” If so, he was right. You don’t need a book publisher or magazine to see how great this guy’s work is. Download it – now – and see for yourself.
Until next time, this is William Van Winkle, and thanks again for checking out my short shorts.
William has been working in the tech field since 1991, when he began his long journey through working for a manufacturer's rep, being a distributor, moving into retail and corporate sales, shifting into journalism, and gradually transitioning into content marketing. In 1997, he sold his first articles to local computer magazines. By 1998, he was a full-time tech freelancer and now produces content for several of the industry's top companies.