For over a century, the best science fiction authors were published in pulp magazines. Some of these magazines are still in business, such as “Fantasy and Science Fiction,” but for those trying to read on the cheap, you can turn to the internet! Born from the pulp tradition, these pro and semipro online publications rely on ad support and donations to publish original science fiction short stories. That means you can read them for free. Of course, if you do have some money to spare and enjoy the work, consider throwing some money their way. Direct contributions are the best method to ensure these sites will be able to continue publishing.
There are too many publications for me to talk about in one post. Seriously, there are a LOT of good stories out there. The best advice I can give you is to search around the internet and look to see what publications have published your favorite authors. Many novelists also write short fiction that’s published on these platforms. Here are just a few of the websites I go to consistently for good short stories.
Daily Science Fiction
As their name suggests, Daily Science Fiction publishes new flash fiction every weekday. Unlike what their name suggests, Daily Science Fiction also publishes fantasy. As they put it, they “publish very short science fiction as broadly defined: SF, fantasy, slipstream, etc.” They do mean very short. You can read most stories they publish in less than 5 minutes. You can also sign up for their email list to receive every new story in your inbox. No ads, no spam, no requirement to go to their website, just a free story in your email.
Their full catalog is available free on their website if you are in the mood to binge some flash fiction. As you can imagine, their back catalog is quite extensive. To help you navigate it, they have categorized each story into quite specific genres such as biotech, space travel, future societies, and alternate history. You can also browse by the month the story was published as well as only view highly rated stories, as rated by readers. I wouldn’t be too concerned with the story’s rating, though. I’ve yet to read a story from DSF that I didn’t enjoy.
Clarkesworld is a monthly online magazine that publishes science fiction, fantasy, essays, and interviews. Every article and story is available free to read on their website. Their fiction ranges in length from a short story readable in 20 minutes to novellas that will take a couple of hours to read. This is comparable to the length of fiction in traditional pulp magazines. Along with new stories, they will reprint classic stories as well as original translations.
Their fiction is also available in a free podcast. They are read by a person but don’t expect much embellishment. They don’t have extensive sound effects or soundtracks. Just a person reading to you plain and simple. This isn’t a bad thing, but it is good to know with the vast amounts of audio dramas available that this isn’t one of them.
If you like your science fiction with a touch of horror, then you should definitely check out Apex. While they don’t publish horror stories exclusively, you are a lot more likely to find it here than other online publications. As they put it, they publish short stories that are “twisted, strange, and beautiful.” Some of the most unique and genre-bending short stories I have read have been published by Apex Magazine.
Usually, Apex Magazine publishes a new issue every other month. Unfortunately, they are currently on hiatus due to medical problems suffered by their editor in chief. The good news is that he has recovered and is planning on publishing the next new issue in Spring 2021. They currently have a Kickstarter project that has been 200% funded. The chances are pretty good that there will be new issues next year as the stretch goals have been met to fund the magazine for the entire year.
Fireside Magazine is a multigenre short story magazine. They have no genre guidelines. They have no guidelines other than their own high standards. A short one- or two-line description is provided for each story they publish. If you are selective about what kind of stories you like to read, this will help you narrow down your focus. They also provide content warnings for stories, including potentially triggering subject matter.
I don’t go to Fireside Magazine to read every story they publish. I don’t have the time in the day to even read all the stories I’m interested in. I read Fireside Magazine because they publish some of the best general fiction available.
All of these magazines publish stories free for you to read at your leisure, but they have their bills to pay. The largest bill for any of them is paying their authors. Daily Science Fiction estimates that paying their authors accounts for 95% of their expenses, and Fireside Fiction has one of the highest author rates around. If you enjoy their publications and have some money to spare, please consider supporting them monetarily. Most offer some kind of subscription option or print anthology. If you can’t support them monetarily, share your love for them by telling your friends.