We’re really in a second golden age of science fiction short stories, with multiple excellent outlets that not only publish these stories, but put them online for free. Here’s a list of a few good stories to get you started—which, trust me, is just scraping the surface of all that was excellent in 2017—and more importantly where you can look for more! So rather than as a long list of just stories, we’ll link you to a publication and give you a couple examples of their offerings. Please note that this list, presented in no particular order, is non-exhaustive and I’ve focused mostly on places that pay their writers pro rates.
Lightspeed is an online magazine that publishes both science fiction and fantasy short stories. They’re also the originators of Women Destroy Science Fiction, a immensely successful project that was a reaction to jerks on the internet whinging that women were ruining science fiction with their lady something-or-others. (Which launched into other great Kickstarted special issues, Queers Destroy Science Fiction and People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction.)
- The Greatest One-Star Restaurant in the Whole Quadrant by Rachael K Jones
- Later, Let’s Tear Up the Inner Sanctum by A. Merc Rustad
Uncanny is the official magazine of Space Unicorns everywhere. They publish a mix of science fiction and fantasy that’s weird and meaty and always beautifully written. They’ve also taken up the Destroy mantel from Lightspeed, with their upcoming Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction successfully kickstarted in July (and about to enter its reading period for stories).
Daily Science Fiction
Daily Science Fiction not only publishes all their stories online, but if you sign up for their mailing list they’ll send them directly to your email, one per weekday. Because of the frequency of publication, they mostly publish flash fiction. And it should be noted that even though “science fiction” is in their name, it’s actually a mix of scifi, fantasy, and borderline horror.
- Two lists discovered folded in the wallet of space explorer Jorge Finnegan after the Reliant wreckage was recovered from Tau Ceti e by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley
- Saudade by Cassandra Khaw
Apex Magazine tends toward the darker end of the science fiction and fantasy spectrum, sometimes going into borderline horror. But the darkness can be so lovely, and when they step into the light they’re delightfully strange and bitingly beautiful.
Escape Pod is a little different because their emphasis is on publishing audio science fiction in a free-to-download podcast. The text of each story is also available on their website, however.
Shimmer publishes fantasy, science fiction, and some almost-unclassifiable-but-still-definitely-genre stuff, with the emphasis on it having an indefinable but still definite “shimmery” quantity.
Strange Horizons is venerable as online magazines go and tends to look for the different, daring, and unusual. They publish a mix of science fiction, fantasy, and the occasional bit of horror that catches their ear, ranging from the deep to the sublimely ridiculous.
- Krace is Not a Highway by Scott Vanyur
- Airswimming by Aisha Phoenix
- These Constellations Will Be Yours by Elaine Cuyegkeng
Clarkesworld is another long-running magazine that has a particular stylistic twist of weirdness to its stories, both science fiction and fantasy. Back issues are easily available on the website under the appropriately named tab.
GigaNotoSaurus is a bit of an oddity because it’s not really short fiction as such…it tends to publish novellettes and novellas, really focusing on great fiction that tends to be a bit too long for most of the other venus. Because of the mighty length of most of the stories, they only tend to publish one per month. They publish both fantasy and science fiction.
Tor.com has already made its name publishing SFF novellas with its imprint, but it also has a lot of great essays on its site—and regular installments of science fiction short stories and fantasy as well. They’ve got the freedom to do a lot of lengths, so you’ll find both very short and nearly novella-length on the site. Original fiction index can be found here, labeled for ease of finding the flavor you like.
- The Future of Hunger in an Age of Programmable Matter by Sam J Miller
- Waiting on a Bright Moon by JY Yang
- Sanctuary by Allen Steele
Fireside Fiction is a very fierce outlet with a strong point of view (check out their statement of values, which is A+) that does absolutely ferocious science fiction and fantasy. They do quite a bit of flash fiction to go along with their short stories. Also worthy of noting that since 2015 they have been commissioning yearly reports on the representation of Black authors in speculative fiction to track the very real underrepresentation problem.
- Caesura by Hayley Stone
- Regarding Your Future With The Futures Planning Consortium by Raq Winchester & Fran Wilde
- We Who Stay Behind by Karl Dandenell
Terraform is a project of Motherboard that focuses on science fiction short stories, particularly near-future work. What they publish has a broad tonal range even if it’s one of the most focused in terms of its genre.
- Dark was the night, and cold the ground by Miguel Fernández-Flores
- The Wretched and the Beautiful by E. Lily Yu
If you’re looking for a place to check out science fiction short story reviews (also fantasy and horror) to get recommendations or ideas on other places to look, I heartily recommend Charles Payseur’s Quick Sip Reviews. Natalie Luhrs has a short fiction review series at her blog. Locus Online also does short fiction issue reviews.
Also worth noting: Book Riot has a great list of science fiction short story collections by authors of color that you might want to check out!