Meet Compelling Science Fiction’s Editor Joe Stech

By Carl Slaughter: Compelling Science Fiction is a hard SF magazine. Armed with a team of editorial advisers, all of them scientists and engineers, Joe Stech sorts through growing pile of slush to select the best hard science stories.

Compelling SF pays pro rates. Its fifth issue came out in January.

CARL SLAUGHTER: What’s your definition of hard science?

JOE STECH: I’d say that hard science itself is any science that relies on rigorously quantifiable data and high levels of objectivity. If you’re asking about hard science fiction, I’d define that as fiction that is self-consistent, scientifically plausible, and technically detailed when necessary. Basically, any fiction that I can read and say “this seems like something that could actually happen, based on our current understanding of the universe.”

CS: What type of stories are you especially looking for?

JS: The stories I get the most excited about are stories that have novel premises and also satisfy the “this could actually happen” criteria. The best examples of these types of stories that I’ve seen have generally been either about the near-future, physics, AI/robotics, or space exploration. We definitely don’t receive enough truly novel submissions to fill out our issues, even though we now receive 300-400 submissions a month when submissions are open.

Joe Stech

CS: What type of stories are you definitely not looking for?

JS: I’m definitely not looking for any stories that violate the laws of physics, or that are exceedingly implausible in any other way. I’m also not looking for banal stories — if your story is plausible but lacks novelty, Compelling Science Fiction is not the right venue for you. I really don’t want stories about going to get groceries in space, or watering your plants in space, or doing any normal activity in an exotic setting.

CS: You’re currently not taking submissions. How do you find stories?

JS: When submissions are open we receive 300-400 submissions/month (this number continually increases). We usually are able to find a couple issues worth of stories during the submissions windows, so we aren’t open continuously. We will be open for submissions again in mid-March, and I’d encourage writers to sign up for the mailing list on the bottom of our main page (http://compellingsciencefiction.com) to get notified when submissions reopen.

CS: Any plans to include columns, convention news, forums, advertising? Any other type of expansion?

JS: I’d definitely like to add written interviews with authors, and if I can find someone who is knowledgeable about conventions I’d definitely be open to getting that information up on the Compelling Science Fiction blog. However, since I have a full-time day job I have to be judicious on what I commit to. I’ve done some audio interviews with the intention of releasing a podcast, but I haven’t had the time to correctly follow-though with that yet. I’m looking forward to engaging more in this way, however.

As for advertising, I currently sell small text sponsorships for individual stories — basically just a 1-2 sentence blurb at the top of the web versions of stories. I don’t have any plans for other forms of advertising.

CS: The magazine is currently free, yet you pay SFWA rates. What’s the business model?

JS: When I started the magazine back at the beginning of 2016 I paid for everything out-of-pocket. However, since then I’ve received enough financial support to break even. I have a Patreon page where readers voluntarily contribute financially (https://www.patreon.com/compelling), and I also sell issues through the Kindle store for those who want that convenience. Finally, I sell sponsorships so that companies/individuals can support the magazine and get the word out about their products/services. I’m pretty selective about what companies can advertise, however.

CS: You’ve got a fistful of advisers. What exactly does advising consist of?

JS: My advisers mostly help me make purchasing decisions. I generally pass the top 10% of stories on to my advisers, who then read and give me feedback. They’re all technical people (scientists and engineers), so they generally have great feedback on plausibility of plots.

CS: Who does your artwork?

JS: I don’t yet have the funds to commission art, so all my current art is pre-drawn stock that I license. However, I really enjoy the art of Tithi Luadthong, so all the issues so far have licensed his art.

CS: What’s that design above the title? It looks like a circuit board.

JS: You’re right, it was intended to look like a circuit board. I worked with a British designer named Weaponface to create a cityscape full of circuits, and that logo was the final result. I’m very happy with it!

13 thoughts on “Meet Compelling Science Fiction’s Editor Joe Stech

  1. A nice interview.

    I recently read a couple of good stories from issue four (Larson, Wharton), and I see issue five reprints a good story from Asimovs last year (Hillstrom), so that bodes well for the quality of the magazine.

  2. Great interview, Carl. Compelling Science Fiction looks like an interesting addition to the SF magazine range and I’ve enjoyed the stories of them I’ve read so far.

    Tithi Luadthong’s art is very evocative, clearly speculative without resorting to “CGI spaceship in space” cliches. I’ve used their work for some of my covers as well.

  3. I was working on my fantasy novel when a knock came at the door. It turned out to be a process server with a court order compelling science fiction.

  4. @rea

    I was working on my fantasy novel when a knock came at the door. It turned out to be a process server with a court order compelling science fiction.

    But it turned out they were looking for your brother, Mens.

  5. James Davis Nicoll: Not sure about the gender of two of the authors but on the whole it looks like the magazine’s contributors are overwhelmingly male. No surprise although given that it is 2017, I wish it was.

    And one of the stories in Issue 5 is about a pregnant man! But it was written by a woman. You really should avail yourself of Compelling SF’s author bio page.

    ETA: Ninja’d by Mark!

  6. @James

    23% is double Schmidt-era Analog’s percentage.

    I assume that you are damming with faint praise there.

  7. Analog seemed like the logical choice of metric for hard SF magazine.

    I’ve been doing f/t counts for some time and my impression is that venues billing themselves as hard SF tend to overlook authors like Nagata and Moriarty. While the overall stats got dragged down by the two issues with no women at all, those two issues where CSF hit 40% are actually comparable to Analog’s Special Women’s Issue.

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