Jim Baen's Universe has been for its nearly four years of existence one of the bright hopes of online SF publishing, in that it had a prominent name, published some excellent stuff, paid well, and tried to make money. Alas, the last aspect never really panned out -- the site roughly broke even, and that with some considerable volunteer contributions, especially from editors Eric Flint and Mike Resnick. So, once the fourth year of publication is complete (with the April 2010 issue), the webzine will be no more. Sigh.
They published a total of 34 new stories in 2009, for over 325,000 words of short fiction. There were also two reprints, both of them "Primrose" stories by Bud Sparhawk (they also published a new novella in the same universe), so something over 350,000 words of regular short fiction. (They also published stories marked as "classics" each issue.) There were 4 novellas, 13 novelettes, and 17 short stories. They also publish the occasional serial. The total number of new stories was quite a bit lower than last year, and the word count was also a lot lower. Each issue was still quite well-filled with content especially including the serials and nonfiction and reprints), certainly worth the price of a subscription. It remained a good source of online SF and Fantasy -- consistently enjoyable. However, I felt it didn't really grow: the quality was fairly steady (perhaps not quite up to the 'zine's very impressive first year), but not often spectacular. (Though they did publish one truly spectacular story this year.)
None of the novellas were really standouts, though each was in its way enjoyable. David Gerrold's nearly novel length "Ganny Knits a Spaceship" (April) was perhaps the best, pretty typical, but engaging, Heinleinesque YA about a girl out in a space habitat facing the need to move further out along with her family -- and maybe with a "dirtsider" boy.
I said Baen's Universe published one spectacular story in 2009, and it came in December. John Barnes's "Things Undone" is a very long novelette (over 17,000) words, and a stunning one. about an aristocrat (of sorts) and his partner who have a job trying to minimize the effects on history of time travelers. In the end it’s very moving, very involving -- I was reminded of one of my favorite time travel stories of all time, John Brunner’s "The Fullness of Time". Clearly one of the best stories of the year, a definite Hugo contender, and probably the best story Baen's Universe has ever published.
There were other good novelettes. A couple were in the "Introducing: Stories by New Authors" section -- JBU has always been very good about encouraging newer writers, and has published some very fine stories by them. For example, Gary Kloster's "Adam, Unwilling" (June), a "generation ship in trouble" story: a murderer loose in the VR they use to get through the long journey. Also, Garrett W. Vance's "Riders of the Three-Toed Horse", nice work about a mysterious hidden valley in the Northwest, complete with long-extinct animals.
I also liked John Lambshead's "Storming Hell", fun with a romantic tinge, about the spaceships (or "aetherships") resembling the Royal Navy and controlled by dead spirit guides. And Graham Edwards's "Riding the Drop", a weird story with almost a fantasy feel, about travelling between worlds in quite unusual "spaceships". Both those stories appeared in April. There were also a couple of good novelettes from Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and a good one from Stephen Eley.
I thought the best short story this year was "The Good Son", by Naomi Kritzer (February), about a faery who comes to our world for the love of a woman, and in so doing creates himself a past and a family -- and learns what it is to be part of a family. I also enjoyed stories by Paula R. Stiles, Chet Gottfried, Mike Resnick, and Nancy Fulda.
Gender: of the 34 new stories, 14 were by women (41%), a bit more than in previous years.
SF/Fantasy: Jim Baen's Universe has a modest bias towards SF: 20 of the 34 new stories were SF, about 59%. (I use their categorizations: they list stories as "Science Fiction Stories", "Fantasy Stories", and "Introducing Stories by New Authors". In the last case, I assigned the stories to genre myself.) These numbers are quite similar to previous years.