I have had several people ask me how I consistently find great science fiction short stories online. Usually I just point them towards one of the many sites that list free online stories. However, there are times when I have a certain story in mind and I want to see if it is available on the web somewhere. Here are the steps I follow when I want to find a specific science fiction short story online:
1. Search for the story title and author
First I do a simple search on Google.com. I type in the name of the short story followed by the author’s name. An important key here is to enclose the story title in quotes, that way Google will search for that exact phrase and not for sites that include all of those words. For example, typing: ‘ “Lambing Season” Molly Gloss’ will bring up a page of results of which the very first item in the list will take me to a free online version of her award winning science fiction short story. Voila – very easy!
2. Search websites that specialize in listing online stories
A while ago I posted my list of The 10 Best Web Sites for Free Online Science Fiction Short Stories. Going to any of these sites and using their built in search boxes you can type in the name of the story you’re looking for. Often the owners of these sites have done all the hard work so you just need to look around a bit. For example, if you go to Free SF Reader and type “The Veldt” in the Google search box (leaving freesf.blogspot.com checked) then you will get an entry for that story in which Blue Tyson (the owner of Free SF Reader) points you to a free audio version of this classic story.
Don’t forget to check non-free sites too, like FictionWise.com. They often have individual stories for sale at very reasonable prices.
3. Search the author’s web site
Quite often I find that authors of science fiction stories will list on their web site all the places you can read their stories for free. This is very handy! For example, you can do a Google search for “David D. Levine” and quickly find his home page at www.spiritone.com/~dlevine/sf/. Going there you will find a list of seven of his short stories that are freely available online. You can click and read to your heart’s content!
4. Search Wikipedia
Aah, Wikipedia – it is good for so many things, and having lots of eyeballs scour the web for a great science fiction short story certainly helps out. Enterprising and clever Wikipedians will often find obscure links to stories that would take you years to come across. For example, searching Wikipedia for the article “A Study in Emerald” by Neil Gaiman provides an external link to a nice PDF version of that story. Again – it is nice when other people do all the hard work for you.
5. Search for a sentence from the story
This tip sounds easy enough, but how do you search for a sentence from the story if you have never read it? Fortunately you can once again rely on the hard work of others to help you out here. A great place to start is by doing a simple web search for the story (as in step #1 above). Several of the resulting web sites will contain quotes or snippets from the story. Just copy a sentence that is long enough to be unique and paste it into the Google search box (don’t forget the quotes) and click on Search again.
This method is how I found a free online version of the short story “A Walk In The Sun” by Geoffrey A. Landis. But there are some things to take notice of here: First, I typed the name of the story and author in a simple search box as stated in step #1 above. One of the items in the resulting list was a preview of The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Ninth Annual Collection at the site books.google.com. I clicked that link and was able to see some of the story – including the first line. I then enclosed that first line in quotes and typed it into the Google search box and searched again. This unfortunately brought up only one result, the books.google.com link I already mentioned. Now here is the important thing: At the bottom of this one-result page you can click on the link entitled “repeat the search with the omitted results included.” Doing so will bring up another link to this story, this time at webscription.net. Following it will yield the entire story – free and legal. Mother lode baby!
The web site books.google.com has since become an important element in my searches for online science fiction stories. Not only does it give me great search fodder, but I can usually read the first few pages of a story and decide if I want to pursue it or not. It is worth checking out.
6. Search the publisher’s web site
I have occasionally found that the publishers of a short story will provide a nice free copy of it just to give you a taste of the kinds of things they publish. Webscription is famous for this, as is Asimov’s, Analog and Fantasy & Science Fiction. Other book publishers will sometimes do the same.
This is how I found Justin Stanchfield’s story “Beyond the Wall.” When I learned that it was going to be in Gardner Dozois’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction anthology I visited the site of the original publisher, Hadley Rille Books. I found that they were nice enough to provide a great PDF copy of his story.
If you know who the publisher is for a certain story, but you are having a hard time finding an online version of it, you can use an advanced Google trick to search just that one specific site. Go to Google.com and click on the Advanced Search link. Type the name of the story or author in the box entitled “this exact wording or phrase:” and the website’s top level url in the box entitled “Search within a site or domain:” For example, searching for “Impossible Dreams” within the site “Asimovs.com” will point you directly to the online version of his Hugo award winning short story.
If you are not sure who published a story then there are two very good resources on the web. The first is Locus magazine’s Index to Science Fiction Awards: if the story you’re looking for won a science fiction award, then this site will tell you where it was first published. The second resource is AuthorWars.com: typing in the name of a science fiction author there will give you a list of all his or her published pieces. Further clicking will reveal the publication history for a short story. Often you will be told the publisher, but if not you can then look up the book on Amazon.com and easily find that information.
7. Ask other science fiction fans
If you still can’t find the story and you are on a do-or-die mission, then you can ask in an online forum if anybody knows of a free link. Big web sites, like Asimovs.com, have a nice forum community with loads of knowledgeable people who may be able to point you in the right direction.
Also try generalized science fiction sites like SF Signal. I have often seen people get their short story questions answered quickly there.
8. Send desperate emails
Are you still trying to find that story? Wow – the only other piece of advice that I can offer is to start sending emails to the author, publisher, agent or web site owner. Who knows – you may get lucky!
9. Buy it in print
You would do well to realize that not every short story will be available online – no matter how much you wish it were so. At this point don’t forget that there are other ways to get your favorite story – such as the library, eBay or new and used bookstores.
One last thing I would like to point out is that if you use any of these steps you are bound to come across unauthorized or illegal copies of science fiction stories. I would encourage you not to support these sites, but choose another route that will fairly compensate the author – because we all want good scifi authors to make a living and keep on writing great science fiction short stories!
Do you have any other tips for finding stories online? If so then please leave a comment telling us about them.