In this day and age, it's no surprise that the Internet has many outlets for finding your next great read. The trick is in finding the good ones. If you like speculative fiction – that is, science fiction, fantasy, and horror – I've got good news. I've rounded up some of the best destinations for finding your next great read online. The best part: all of them offer stories that are absolutely free.
However, rather than adopt a "read and run" strategy, might I recommend an approach that will reward you as a reader again and again? Keep coming back to these venues. Consider them ongoing sources for terrific fiction, not just for their archives, but also for the new stuff they continue to publish. You get the benefit of being introduced to new authors and expanding your reading horizons…which leads to many more existing stories for you to enjoy. And hey, most of these outlets are magazines which also offer eBook subscriptions, so do consider supporting them so that they can keep delivering the goods.
Apex is a monthly 'zine that describes itself as "an online prose and poetry magazine of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and mash-ups of all three". Each month, readers can expect a wide variety of fantastic fiction that spans the entire speculative fiction spectrum, as well as insightful articles and interviews. They also offer a podcast version of one of their stories every month. Apex features are made available online throughout every month.
Beneath Ceaseless Skies is a bi-weekly short fiction magazine that has received multiple Hugo Award nominations for Best Semiprozine. Each issue comes with a handful of stories, both written and published as audio fiction.
Clarkesworld has been providing top-notch fiction and non-fiction for over 10 years. Each month, Editor Neil Clarke delivers a professional bucket-o'-fun for sff readers. Besides the half dozen or so new stories, they also offer an always-excellent reprint story (like Aliette de Bodard's terrific "The Shipmaker"), interesting non-fiction articles, and an audio version of one of their stories. Also worth noting are their spectacular choices for each issue's cover art.
Do you have a short attention span? Let me introduce you to Daily Science Fiction. The idea behind the site is simple. One new short science fiction story every weekday of the year. Most of the stories are short-short fiction, about the size of something you can consume over your coffee break. Don't want to miss a story? Subscribe to their mailing list for a daily dose of sf in your inbox every weekday.
If you like much darker fiction (who doesn't?), then The Dark is where you want to go for your short fiction fix. The Dark specializes in horror and dark fantasy fiction, which means that the stories are often as unsettling and creepy as you'd expect them to be. The Dark also offers audio fiction stories as well as written fiction.
Escape Pod is known for being an audio fiction venue, so if you're looking for something to keep you company on your ride into work, they got you covered. Look for new audio stories weekly. They also offer written versions of their fiction, too.
Fireside Magazine, which began as an ambitious Kickstarter project five years ago, is a short story magazine offering a wide range of wonderful fiction. The most recent addition to their mission is to publish stories about resisting the global rise of fascism.
Galaxy's Edge, edited by multi-award-winner Mike Resnick, is a monthly magazine that, in addition to offering many fun and mind-expanding fiction stories, also offers interesting interviews (like this one with Robert Silverberg) and articles (including regular columns by science fiction legends Barry N. Malzberg and Gregory Benford). Only some of the content is available online, but the small price of admission to the entire magazine is well worth it.
Kaleidotrope is a seasonal magazine that publishes fiction and poetry. From the magazine's initial launch over 10 years ago, they've set themselves apart from the rest of the fiction mags by providing something "a little different." This is a place where you will find the future stars of sff.
Under the editorial leadership of John Joseph Adams, Lightspeed quickly established itself as one of the premiere short fiction venues in modern publishing. Each month's issue is stuffed with superb science fiction and fantasy stories by some of the biggest names in genre. Once those run out, you still get worthwhile non-fiction articles, interviews, and reviews. And, oh, that cover art! Every month knocks my socks off.
Nightmare, also edited by John Joseph Adams, is the sister magazine to Lightspeed. What Lightspeed does for science fiction and fantasy, Nightmare does for horror. You get the same high quality of stories, articles and art so if you're looking for something darker, this should definitely be on your monthly click list.
Podcastle is a weekly fantasy fiction podcast that features all sub-genres of fantasy fiction. Some stories are original, some are reprint, but all are worth listening to. Good news if you prefer the written word: Podcastle also provides the full text of most of their stories.
The goal of Shimmer Magazine is to publish excellent speculative across all lines of race, income, nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, geography, and culture by writers who are equally diverse. That may mean you are reading outside your comfort zone, but the rewards are endless in terms of expanding your reading horizons and gaining a more encompassing worldview.
“StarShipSofa” is a weekly audio science fiction magazine that offers listeners lots to chew on. In addition to an audio science fiction story every episode, there are fun discussions and interviews. Once you've exhausted their archives (Good luck – there are more than 465 episodes already released), seek out their sister sites Tales to Terrify (for horror) and Far Fetched Fables (for weird fiction).
Strange Horizons is a weekly award-winning magazine that offers fiction (written and audio), non-fiction, poetry, reviews, essays, interviews, roundtable discussions, and art. Their fiction archives are a treasure trove of mind-bending stories that will keep you busy for a long, long time. When you come up for air, check out their amazing articles.
One of the few major speculative publishers to offer free fiction online is Tor.com. They offer some of the best online fiction around, including many works that go on to become award-winning or award-nominated. Recent fiction from Tor.com has included "The Old Dispensation" by Lavie Tidhar, a space opera adventure about an enforcer who learns a thing or two from an android and which is set in a universe controlled and run by Jewish religious authorities; the horror story "A Human Stain" by Kelly Robson, which depicts a British expatriate at loose ends who is hired to care for a young orphan in a remote castle-like structure in Germany; Carrie Vaughn's "The Thing About Growing up in Jokertown", a story set in the Wild Cards shared universe, full of superheroes, supervillains and lots of exciting action; and "Caligo Lane" by Ellen Klages, about a cartographer who creates maps that, when folded in the right way, can fold space.
The Hugo Award-winning Uncanny Magazine delivers top-notch science fiction fantasy fiction in the form of short fiction and poetry from a wide spectrum of authors. Their mission is to push the boundaries of the field, so expect to find stories here that break the mold. Their insightful non-fiction content is also worth checking out.