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Ebooks for Handheld Devices Usher in a New Golden Age of Short Stories?
Legions of Palm/Win CE Owners Discover eBooks

In 1950, "Grand Master of Science Fiction" Damon Knight published the short story "To Serve Man," creating a classic that was later the basis of a beloved episode of the "The Twilight Zone." The chilling last line of the story is hard for anyone to forget.

But this timeless tale had been lost to new generations of short story and science fiction fans—the collection that contained it was out of print for many years.  A search on Amazon.com does return some of Knight’s latest books, but also a frustrating list of out-of-print short story collections. A direct search for "To Serve Man" on Barnes and Nobles' online book store brings up a cookbook! Yes, that's amusing, but you still can't read the story!

But the Palm Pilot/Win CE Devices, and their millions of loyal users, may have just changed that, and in the process revived an entire genre of literature—the short story.  The reason? The emergence of "eBooks," and particularly short fiction eBooks, for handheld devices.

"Ebooks are exploding in popularity," said Stephen Pendergrast, co-publisher of the online short fiction eBook seller, Fictionwise.com. "Many people won’t read a full length novel on the Palm, but do enjoy reading stories that they can finish in a single sitting. The result is an enormous increase in demand for quality short stories."

Many short story authors lament the fate of their work.  Typically a professional-quality short story is picked up for publication in one of several monthly or quarterly fiction magazines.  Then, after its run there, most will disappear forever. Some will be reprinted in anthologies—collections of several authors’ work—and some authors manage to print a collection containing about a dozen of their best stories. But even anthologies and collections are soon out of print—in most cases in just a few years. Not only are great works lost, but short story authors have limited ways to earn a living from their efforts.

“Most authors must either have a ‘day job’ or are forced to write novels to make ends meet, even if that is not their strong suit,” remarked Stephen Pendergrast. “Many authors have talents that naturally favor short or mid-length works. Short stories are an art in themselves, and require different strategies and techniques than novel-length works.”

To make matters worse, two major science fiction and fantasy magazines closed their doors just this year. Science Fiction Age published its last issue this May, and The Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine just announced its demise this month. In addition, the whole industry has been under pressure, with fiction magazine subscription rates falling and publishers reducing page counts to make ends meet.

Damon Knight commented, “I must say I'm delighted by the eBook reception of my story ‘To Serve Man,’ which has been unavailable for many years.  I know that many writers will agree with me when I say that money is important, because it keeps writers alive, but being read is more important, because it keeps the stories alive.”

"To Serve Man" is one of the best selling stories and currently the highest rated story at Fictionwise.com (http://www.fictionwise.com). Other classic short stories from Damon Knight are already available, and some of his most acclaimed short works such as “Masks,” “The Great Pat Boom,” and “Semper Fi” will be listed on Fictionwise by the end of June.

Fictionwise.com is completely dedicated to bringing new and old short fiction stories to Palm users in eBook format.  The website has short stories from an impressive list of authors, including:  Robert Silverberg, James Patrick Kelly, John Kessel, Nancy Kress, Mary Soon Lee, Barry Malzberg, Tom Purdom, Mike Resnick, Michael Swanwick, and Damon Knight.  Many of these authors' best works, including numerous award-winning stories, are available at Fictionwise.  Currently over 100 short stories are listed on the site, with new stories and additional authors being added by the week. Fictionwise projects they will have over 500 stories available within the next six months.

"Although we offer all of these stories in Adobe Acrobat and Rocket eBook formats, our Palm/Win CE versions are by far the most popular," commented Scott Pendergrast, co-publisher of Fictionwise.com. "We're finding that a lot of handheld device users were science fiction fans in their youth, but as they built families and careers time became a problem. Now, they are re-discovering their passion for great stories, and they are reading them on the Palm whenever they have a few minutes free.  Ten minutes left over during their lunch break, riding the train in to work, or even standing in a checkout line gives them the opportunity to enjoy a great short story."

Fictionwise.com, which launched on June 1st, began by focusing on science fiction short stories and is now growing its collection in other genres, including fantasy, dark fantasy, mystery, horror, and humor.

Website: Fictionwise.com at http://www.fictionwise.com

Scott Pendergrast

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