Hard(-ish) SF short story markets

16 04 2014

Another edition of Jupiter dropped through my letterbox today. Whoppee! But the thought occurred to me as to what are the current markets for hard science fiction short stories at the moment.

Of course, there’s Jupiter – see here for submissions details.

Ian Sales is currently putting together an anthology concerning the planet, Venus, – Aphrodite Terra – see here for what he wants.

Then there’s Ticketyboo Press with an anthology concerning the line: ‘Houston, we have a problem.’ See here for submission details.

ARC magazine, if and when it gets going again, is definitely hard SF.

These are all the ones specifically targeted at hard SF in the UK that I know of.

In the wider world there is Analog, though I’m not sure I would call that hard any more – but this is personal perspective. As I can’t think of any other publication places, it makes me wonder whether hard science fiction has become a British English speciality. This brings to mind interesting thoughts, like will England once again take the engineering lead in the world in the medium term future (based on the pull through from the imagination in SF stories to real science and engineering)?

Science Fiction waiting game for writers…

12 04 2014

I don’t whether it’s me, but there seems to be an unusually high amount of ‘missing the deadlines’ being done by science fiction publishers at the moment.

The worst example I can think of is from the Harper Voyager open call of 2012. They promised to have made decisions by mid-January 2013 – well we’re 15 months past their initial self-imposed deadline and still there are some writers waiting. Now I can accept they had an unexpectedly high amount of submissions, but they’ve since missed several self-imposed deadlines when they knew the amount of work that still had to be done. There are still quite a few writers waiting to hear one way or another – stuck in a kind of limbo land, not knowing whether to submit their precious novel elsewhere or not. As this is a professional organisation, all I can say is that I feel their behaviour has been unprofessional.

I have greater sympathy for one-man bands, who can suffer from unforeseen circumstances that delay getting publications out. My experience of these one-man bands is that if they are going to overly late in keeping their promises, they tell you about it and why, and by heck it’s a darned good reason. But here’s the important point – they rarely miss the deadlines!

Then there are the publishers who are working their way into the pro market. They want your work by a given deadline and you work furiously to get it by the said time, because you want to look like someone the publisher can do business with. Then there are some publishers that extend the deadline… and extends it… and extends it… ad nauseum. Cheesed off is but a polite term for what I feel about these situations.

The professionals and wannabe professionals who act like this are giving the industry a bad name. It’s putting people off writing and submitting their work for consideration.

But I think there is another factor at play here. The professional industry in general is what in systems engineering terms called a lean development industry, which means it reacts to customer need or wants. They have streamlined themselves so much in order to stay in profit (or at least break even) that one little thing that goes wrong can throw the business out of kilter. Why? Well the customer / reader wants a novel about subject X. They finally persuade the publisher that this is what they want and that it would be a good investment to publish the novel. The publisher starts looking for subject X novels, only there aren’t any. So they tell their favourite writers what they want. Of course, by the time the writer has written it, the customer wants sometime else.

If the professional industry had the leeway to have a variety of subjects they could publish, then the customer would look along the shelves or in the catalogues and find what they want. The publisher would then make sufficient profit on the one big seller to cover the cost of publishing ten different novels. This was how the publishing industry used to work what feels a long, long time ago. There is no way back to this without increasing the price of the books, something the customer will not tolerate.

This has other consequences. The publisher doesn’t want to risk publishing a novel of unknown subject because they are unsure of getting their profit back. So they tend to stick to tried and tested subjects, which is why I now consider science fiction put out by the professional publishing industry to be, in general, in a rut of its own making.

This of course is why there has been such a strong push by independent authors. A few have indeed been successful. But how out the millions of novels they publish can you pick out a good one?

Well, this is where Amazon and Writers of the Future have got the right answer to a certain extent. They have competitions to identify up and coming writers. Are they working? I’m not sure of the answer to this, but it does depend on the judges. But a good competition takes something like 4 to 6 months to get through the judging process. So we’re back to waiting game in science fiction – only this is very much shorter than many people are experiencing in the traditional professional publishing route.




Bristol Fringe Podcast by yours truly…

10 04 2014

The podcasts for the reading I did for Bristol Fringe on March 17th have been put up on Cheryl’s website here.

There are three pieces…

1) My short story Getting There, which is near future and down to Earth in Bristol (seemed a rather appropriate story to read considering the circumstances). The story was originally e-published by Kraxon Books in February this year.

2) In a sense building on the theme of the short story (though the short story was written afterwards) is an excerpt from my novel. Sorry, but it is not published, so no link to the written words. This is up off-Earth on one of the moons of Uranus – Miranda to be precise.

3) Then of course, a very short excerpt from the new story about C.A.T. (the cheeky thing has already sneaked around the internet. found it and blogged with a characteristic smug self-satisfied MeWow!). One way or another this will get published in due course and you can find out all about what was puzzling C.A.T. in the story then.

Then there was an question and answer session – hope I didn’t make a fool of myself!

My thanks go to Cheryl for compering and editing out the (ahem) stutters from my reading. Thanks to those who organise Bristol Fringe readings and put together the podcasts.

Science Fiction Story Readiness Levels?

6 04 2014

In tech- land we have something called Technology Readiness Levels or TRLs that give us an indication of how far along the development path we are for a particular technology. They are summarised below (thanks to UK’s parliamentary website).

TRL 1 Basic principles observed and reported.
TRL 2 Technology concept and/or application formulated.
TRL 3 Analytical and experimental critical function and/or characteristic proof-of-concept.
TRL 4 Technology basic validation in a laboratory environment.
TRL 5 Technology basic validation in a relevant environment.
TRL 6 Technology model or prototype demonstration in a relevant environment.
TRL 7 Technology prototype demonstration in an operational environment.
TRL 8 Actual Technology completed and qualified through test and demonstration.
TRL 9 Actual Technology qualified through successful mission operations.

Can we have similar for science fiction stories? After all, if nothing else, the technology use in the stories must belong to one of these TRLs. But we can go further… we can look at the whole story-writing process. Let’s call the equivalent levels Science Fiction Story Readiness Levels, or SFSRLs.

SFSRL 1 is easy – it’s the founding idea behind the story – note the founding idea does not have to be the main premise of the story but the idea that kickstarts the writer into action.

SFSRL 2 is the story line is formulated. We’re looking here at the basic outline, not the detail and inter-weaviness of multiple fractalating subplots. But it has to be outline that works!

SFSRL 3 O.K. so you’ve got your outline, but you know that one or two things that are critical-to-get-right to the story need hammering out. So you go to work on them, and if necessary rework them, until you are satisfied that the story won’t fall to pieces on you. At the end of this stage you are confident that none of the intrinsic parts will let you down at a later stage.

SFSRL 4 This is the first very rough and ready draft of your story. Yes I do mean rough and ready, but you’ve got from the start to the end of the story in one piece of writing, not sample scenes or beautifully honed sentences that are looking for a home.

SFSRL 5 This is the first serious write up of the story. It’s the version you can show to your friends or  as work in early progress and they’ll not say it’s Double Dutch.

SFSRL 6 This is where the serious editing of fairly easily spottable inconsistencies are sorted out. It means another reader can go through the whole story without being jarred out of it with something seriously wrong or a heck of too many little editorial mistakes.

SFSRL 7 This is where the story goes out to your beta readers for serious critiquing and you do the amendments.

SFSRL 8 The story has been edited and polished and honed and is now ready to go out to publishers in a state where they will take a serious interest in it.

SFSRL 9 The story has been accepted for publication by a ‘respectable’ publisher, not one of these vanity presses or self-published

SFSRL 1 Founding idea of story identified.
SFSRL 2 Story outline formulated.
SFSRL 3 Critical issues to the story sorted out.
SFSRL 4 First rough and ready draft of the story.
SFSRL 5 First serious write up of the story.
SFSRL 6 First easily readable version of the story.
SFSRL 7 Story has been through beta readers and amended in the light of their comments.
SFSRL 8 Story has been edited and polished, and is ready to be submitted to publishers.
SFSRL 9 Story has been accepted for publication by a ‘respectable’ publisher.

When you compare the TRL table with the SFSRL table, there isn’t that much difference between them in terms of functionality. The major difference is on what the readiness levels are applied – technology versus science fiction stories.

But one thing does strike me – the technology people understand only too well the work that goes into the early stages. Yet within the science fiction writing community, there is distinctly less appreciation of the effort that goes into the corresponding early stages. Maybe having such a table for science stories, as above or modified after consultation with the great and the good in science fiction, should be used as a standard to help writers understand where they are in the writing process.

I would suggest that a revered body such as the science fiction foundation take up the above idea, hone it and publish it to assist the science fiction writing community as a whole. How about it?


Conservatism in Science Fiction?

4 04 2014

O.K., so I’ve been a little too quiet, but I’ve been editing (though at times it felt like a complete re-write – yuck!) There’s only one very tiny snag with editing… another part of my brain decides it time to think deep (unfathomably deep) thoughts about science fiction. So I’ll deal with the backlog of subjects post by post…

And first up is idea generation mechanisms. You may remember I gave a presentation to the Academy of Management over a year ago and the paper was well received. I’ve not got round to publishing it and you would think I had something ready-made to do the rounds. Well yes, I have, but… I’ve moved on in my thoughts.

It’s now getting to the stage where it could turn into a booklet, rather than just being a mere paper! And who would want read such an obscure subject for that length of time?

So what?

The so what comes when such thoughts are applied to the science fiction genre. It’s made me realise I’ve been nibbling away from different directions towards a fundamental issue.

Whoa! Did I just say ‘fundamental’?

Yep, I did.

So much so that it’s given me a totally different view of history! It’s made me realise that a lot of the history that we read about is very conservative outlook. And whilst science has been applied in many small ways to enlighten us about the facts, it has in reality only ‘nibbled away’ at bits and pieces. Nothing wrong with this in principle. It’s called making progress. But the mislead is that we think we know more than we actually do.

For instance, why did the Roman Empire fall? It had within its grasp the ability to make engineering progress that would have kept it going for centuries, yet never made use of it. I’m reminded of an old tale that I was once told.

Spartacus, he of the slave uprising fame, was supposed to have been executed by crucification when the rebellion was suppressed. But his owner continued to win battles after the said execution, even though said owner was known to be not very good at warfighting. There was also a further snippet that he kept a slave who gave him advice, until yes the said slave was executed. Nobody knew the slave’s name or what he looked like. But after the real execution the owner lost battles. It’s like progress was being suppressed at the hands of the conservatives.

But progress can only continue if it goes at a certain pace. Too slow and nothing really happens. Too fast and we get into a frenzy of ‘not coping’ and dump it, like the Luddites tried to do. In between is the ‘Goldilocks’ zone of erratic progress. [Progress has to be erratic for various reasons - this is another essay's worth in its own right.]

So what progress has science fiction made in the last ten years or so?

On the space building and exploration front, we had Larry Niven’s Ringworld and Integral Trees in the 1980s (or there abouts). Since then, there’s been Alastair Reynolds’ light huggers with their hefty ice shields, Ben Bova’s diamond space clippers and um… err… precisely. Science fiction progress has been too slow with respect to space travel. Why do I say this? Well, I’m no expert in space travel, but I do know the basics. Bottom line is that I have a story subbed at the moment with a new space travel mechanism – well at least totally new to me – and given how I developed the science for it, it probably really is new.  [And yes I wish the editor concerned would get a move on to make a decision on it... but then when it comes to certain things I can't help but be impatient.]

Now if this was the only idea I had about space travel I could call it a fluke. But no, I had a what I consider a lesser idea. Yes, I wrote the story and it did the rounds. And yes, it (up to now) got the thumbs down. Where I did get comments back, the reader had completely missed the innovation of the space travel and concentrated on other aspects of the story. Clearly there (up to now) hasn’t been an appetite for innovation in the space travel side of science fiction.

Progress is likewise slow or non-existant in other subject areas of science fiction.

Which kind of reminds me about the demise of the Roman Empire.

Only there is a significant but… I can’t see the science fiction readership settling for the near status quo for much longer, do you?






Under the Red Moon in Nebula Rift

23 03 2014

Hm… what a lovely cover… even better that the magazine contains my short story, Under the the Red Moon. It’s the most gruesome of my science fiction stories (but nowhere near the horror genre I hasten to add). Bizarrely it happens to be the thirteenth published story. Now that is what I call coincidence. [I'm just one of those people whose life is full of such crazy coincidences!]


As for how this story came about, that’s an even more unbelievable story in itself. So the less said the better…

Successes from Bath Spa MA Creative Writing

20 03 2014

I promised some time ago I would keep you good people informed about the publishing successes of some of my fellow students on the MA Creative Writing course I took at Bath Spa University. Well the first one is out… Clare Donoghue had hers Never Look Back published by Pan 13th March. Yes, it’s a detective story, and not science fiction, but we had all sorts of genres on the course. Congratulations, Clare.


The second will have its book launch on May 1st - Spindrift by Peter Reason – see below for the flyer… Congratulations Peter.


For those of you who remembered… I’ll let you know where you can find the podcasts of my reading on Monday evening as and when they are published. Yes, it includes an excerpt of the science fiction novel I wrote on this course…


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