In terms of format, fiction is shorter. Flash fiction is becoming more and more popular. I think this is technology-driven as we read on our phones, etc. Some authors are even able to write a story within the confines of twitter! Impressive! Closely related to this, fiction starts in media res, in the middle of things, even more than ever. Fiction has shorter sentences and paragraphs, as well--all related to technology changes. Consequently, as editors, we do look for stories that start quickly.
Another huge format issue is audio. Audio is gaining more and more of the fiction market. (We don't have any plans at Electric Spec to get into audio.)
Something that hasn't happened much yet but has been promised is: multi-media and/or interactive fiction. I do believe in the future, we will absorb our fiction differently. :)
In terms of content, there have been four main trends I've noticed in recent years:
- Genre mashups. I believe this is driven by the success of indie publishing. No longer are authors constrained by the rules of big publishers. So, readers have gotten more and more used to mashups, until they're requesting them. At Electric Spec we love genre mashups!
- Dystopia/grimdark fiction. Of course, dystopian fiction has been around a long time, but starting about two years ago we really started seeing more of it. (I'll leave the cause(s) of this pessimism to your imagination.) This type of fiction is very pessimistic.
- Solar punk/hope punk fiction. Solar punk is basically fiction that's climate-friendly with green technology. Often it has African and/or Asian aesthetics, as well. The African/Asian influences are a result of Black Panther's massive success, in my opinion. Yay! Usually solar punk is also positive and optimistic. Some people now refer to optimistic fiction as hope punk. I believe it is a direct reaction to all the negatives of dystopia/grimdark fiction. Of course, back in the 'golden age' of science fiction was almost always optimistic. We love solar punk and hope punk!
- Kick-ass women protagonists. I think this is a direct reaction to the Me-Too movement. Writers and readers want to write/read stories of female empowerment rather than victimization. This will only increase with Captain Marvel's success. Electric Spec loves kick-ass women stories!