What Science-Fiction Magazines Look For

For books, music, movies, TV shows, etc.
Post Reply
User avatar
lpetrich
Posts: 14453
Joined: Mon Feb 23, 2009 6:53 pm
Location: Lebanon, OR, USA

What Science-Fiction Magazines Look For

Post by lpetrich » Mon Sep 11, 2017 12:14 am

Top 10 Science Fiction Magazines - Every Writer to find out what are the big names, at least among English speakers, and I selected the top three. These are the only remaining print ones, as far as I can tell.

Home of the World's Leading Science Fiction Magazine | Analog Science Fiction -- Writer's Guidelines - Contact Us | Analog Science Fiction
We have no hard-and-fast editorial guidelines, because science fiction is such a broad field that I don't want to inhibit a new writer's thinking by imposing Thou Shalt Nots. Besides, a great story can make an editor swallow his preconceived taboos.

We publish science fiction stories in which some aspect of future science or technology is so integral to the plot that, if that aspect were removed, the story would collapse. Try to picture Mary Shelley's Frankenstein without the science and you'll see what I mean. No story!

The science can be physical, sociological, psychological. The technology can be anything from electronic engineering to biogenetic engineering. But the stories must be strong and realistic, with believable people (who needn't be human) doing believable things–no matter how fantastic the background might be.
What the people do with the science and technology, and what it does to them, and not just the science and technology itself. Not just self-driving cars, but what happens to manual driving?

But they also want good stories and good characters.

Home of the World's Leading Science Fiction Magazine | Asimov's Science Fiction -- Writer's Guidelines - Contact Us | Asimov's Science Fiction
In general, we’re looking for “character oriented” stories, those in which the characters, rather than the science, provide the main focus for the reader’s interest. Serious, thoughtful, yet accessible fiction will constitute the majority of our purchases, but there’s always room for the humorous as well. SF dominates the fiction published in the magazine, but we also publish borderline fantasy, slipstream, and surreal fiction. No sword & Sorcery, please. Neither are we interested in explicit sex or violence. A good overview would be to consider that all fiction is written to examine or illuminate some aspect of human existence, but that in science fiction the backdrop you work against is the size of the Universe.
Not as explicit about what is SF.

Fantasy and Science Fiction -- Fantasy and Science Fiction - Writers' Guidelines
We have no formula for fiction. We are looking for stories that will appeal to science fiction and fantasy readers. The SF element may be slight, but it should be present. We prefer character-oriented stories. We receive a lot of fantasy fiction, but never enough science fiction or humor.
Analog seems to prefer relatively hard science fiction, something with at least halfway plausible extrapolated science and technology. IASFM and F&SF seem to also accept stories that fade off into fantasy.

User avatar
Tubby
Posts: 3744
Joined: Wed Dec 18, 2013 3:32 pm
Location: USA

Post by Tubby » Mon Sep 11, 2017 4:02 am

[quote=""lpetrich""]No sword & Sorcery, please. [/quote]

I think one of the reasons I never get more than 100 pages into Dune is that it mixes interplanetary rocket technology with Three Musketeers technology. That has always been a turn-off for me in fiction. The author may have tried to justify the use of swords in his future society on some technical grounds, but if so I guess I didn't find it plausible.

User avatar
lpetrich
Posts: 14453
Joined: Mon Feb 23, 2009 6:53 pm
Location: Lebanon, OR, USA

Post by lpetrich » Mon Sep 11, 2017 3:23 pm

Also, the world of Dune has no computers or robots. That's because of a rebellion against them, the Butlerian Jihad. I find that rather implausible. I find it more plausible to have them, but to try to keep in control of them, like with Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics.

As to interstellar spaceflight and swords, I agree that that is implausible. Unless interstellar spaceflight is courtesy of (say) some poorly understood technology that someone discovered in some alien ruins somewhere.

But if it's the Dune-universe people themselves doing it, then it's a problem. If it's done with (say) psychic powers, then why not also use psychic powers as weapons? Like in sword-and-sorcery-themed video games with lots of battle magic, like battle mages shooting fireballs.

User avatar
lpetrich
Posts: 14453
Joined: Mon Feb 23, 2009 6:53 pm
Location: Lebanon, OR, USA

Post by lpetrich » Mon Sep 11, 2017 4:09 pm

Now the question of what is science fiction.

Isaac Asimov once distinguished between true-background and false-background fiction. In true-background fiction, only the foreground is fictional, like main characters, main locations, etc. In false-background fiction, some of the background is fictional, like advanced technology or supernatural elements.

From this description, false-background fiction has a name: speculative fiction. Its opposite may be called mundane fiction. But the boundary between mundane fiction and speculative fiction is not very sharp. Consider these cases:
  • Advanced present-day technology (technothriller) -- mundane fiction
  • Possible technology 10 or 20 years in the future (near-future science fiction) -- speculative fiction
Lee Correy's story "Shuttle Down", about a Space Shuttle that lands on Easter Island, falls on the mundane side, since it's all true-background. But since it's about advanced technology, it's barely on the mundane side. It was first published in Analog magazine, and I must say that I found it odd that a present-day-technology story was published in it. But as I look back on it, it seems like a hard-SF story told with present-day technology instead of with some hypothetical technology.

Speculative fiction has numerous subgenres, like science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, utopian and dystopian literature, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic literature, etc. with a lot of overlap.

(Wikipedia)Definitions of science fiction lists numerous ones, and I think that a reasonable one is speculative fiction that is built around plausible advanced science and technology. Grading Science Fiction for Realism has this spectrum:
  • Present-Day Tech -- some developments and speculation, but nothing major that has not been attained today (so no AI). Basic space exploration, very near future.
  • Ultra Hard (Diamond Hard) -- Plausible developments of contemporary technologies - AI, Constrained Nanotech, DNI, Interplanetary colonisation, Genetically engineered lifeforms. Nothing that conflicts with the laws of physics, chemistry, biology etc as currently understood.
  • Very Hard -- Plausible developments of provocative contemporary ideas, bot nothing that conflicts with the known laws of physics, information theory, etc - Assembler Nanotech, Nano-Goo, Uploads, Interstellar colonisation, Relativistic ships, vacuum-adapted life.
  • Plausibly Hard -- The above but with the addition of some very speculative themes, some of which may well turn out to be impossible, others may be possible. ... - Wormholes, Reactionless Drive, Sub-nanotech (Femto-, Plank, etc), Domain Walls, exotic matter, FTL drive with time travel, etc
  • Firm -- As realistic as the above categories were it not for unrealistic/impossible plot devices (e.g. FTL without time travel paradoxes), although these are kept to a minimum as much as possible.
  • Medium -- Similar to the above but with a larger number of unrealistic plot devices; e.g. FTL without real explanation (ore with pseudo-explanation), alien biota in some instances very similar to terragen life, psionics, a great many alien civilizations. However still preserves plot and worldbuilding consistency, and the science is good and consistent.
  • Soft -- A number of unscientific themes - e.g. aliens as anthropomorphic "furries", handwavium disintegrator guns, Alien Cultures and psychology all extremely uniform, and so on. However, still retains story consistency.
  • Very Soft -- As above but either even more unscientific elements (humanoid of the week, lifeless planets with breathable atmosphere, etc), and story with less consistency.
  • Mushy Soft -- As above but even more unscientific (alien races never before encountered speak perfect English without a translator, animals too large to stand in Earth gravity (Godzilla), weapons that make energy beams without putting energy in, interstellar travel without FTL or centuries long voyage, mutants with super energy powers, etc).
So it's a spectrum from present-day technology to fantasy. In fact, the boundary between science fiction and fantasy is not very sharp, and stories in between are sometimes called "science fantasy".

User avatar
lpetrich
Posts: 14453
Joined: Mon Feb 23, 2009 6:53 pm
Location: Lebanon, OR, USA

Post by lpetrich » Mon Sep 11, 2017 4:59 pm

It must be noted that "hard" and "soft" apply to another spectrum: nuts-and-bolts SF vs. sociological SF. Nuts-and-bolts refers to spaceships and robots and the like. Sociological SF would cover a lot of dystopian literature, like 1984, Brave New World, and The Handmaid's Tale.

In 1984, one finds two-way TV's and novel-writing machines, but the novel-writing machines barely figure in it, and two-way TV's a little bit more.

In Brave New World, there is more technology, and it's more involved with the story: producing people with different levels of mental capability, and a drug that produces great "highs".

In The Handmaid's Tale, there is no new technology, as far I can tell. It's all sociological.

-

There are plenty of other fiction genres, like romance and horror, and those two cross the mundane-speculative boundary.

For horror, we can consider the Friday the 13th movies, where some people stalk and kill some other people.
  • Mundane: the stalker puts on a hockey-goalie mask and uses an ax
  • Science fiction: the stalker commands a robot
  • Fantasy: the stalker commands a golem (something magically animated)
Likewise for romance. Romances can be set in any sort of background.

User avatar
Politesse
Posts: 19647
Joined: Wed Jan 27, 2010 5:28 am
Location: Chochenyo territory

Post by Politesse » Tue Sep 12, 2017 2:46 am

[quote=""lpetrich""]Also, the world of Dune has no computers or robots. That's because of a rebellion against them, the Butlerian Jihad. I find that rather implausible. I find it more plausible to have them, but to try to keep in control of them, like with Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics.

As to interstellar spaceflight and swords, I agree that that is implausible. Unless interstellar spaceflight is courtesy of (say) some poorly understood technology that someone discovered in some alien ruins somewhere.

But if it's the Dune-universe people themselves doing it, then it's a problem. If it's done with (say) psychic powers, then why not also use psychic powers as weapons? Like in sword-and-sorcery-themed video games with lots of battle magic, like battle mages shooting fireballs.[/quote]

I don't find the sword thing so strange; firearms and swords coexisted for a very long time, and only got supplanted because trench and tunnel warfare made shorter knives more practical for most soldiers. We still need and routinely use bladed weapons in combat (and other battlefield utility situations), any soldier who comes back alive from a modern battlefield can testify to that.
Image

Any technology that made ranged weapons ineffective somehow but not blades could conceivably lead to a re-popularization of longer blades. Likely why machetes have remained popular in regions where gun advantages are limited by the reduced visibility of thicketed swidden jungles. I don't think future-swords would look like ancient ones, but then, neither do Dune's. The explanation in Dune was that swords were needed to get past personal energy shields, which lasguns would explode and knives aren't lengthy enough to get through, which makes sense enough to me. Dune's warriors still used guns for ranged combat, and smaller lithic blades or poisoned needles for unshielded close combat, so the swords were one-function deals, handy for dueling the elites but not much else.
"The truth about stories is that's all we are" ~Thomas King

Post Reply