Interview: Joe Stech – Compelling Science Fiction

Friday , 8, April 2016 3 Comments

seattleJoeLast week, I came across something interesting in my WordPress Reader feed – Someone was starting a brand new pro-level science fiction magazine, Compelling Science Fiction, and was looking for submissions for their first issue.  As someone who was just tipping his toe into the SFF magazine market, I was more than a little intrigued, not to mention impressed, that someone was saying “I want to support a particular type of Science Fiction and I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is to do so.”

The introduction of any new paying market is bound to make a stir in the writing community, but a new pro-level market is a huge deal.  I wanted to find out more!

So joining us today is Joe Stech, founder and editor-in-chief of Compelling Science Fiction, to talk to us about his project.

First, tell us a little bit about yourself.  Who is Joe Stech, and why is he launching his own science fiction magazine?

I began reading science fiction at a very young age and immediately fell in love with the genre. I especially liked what is known as ‘hard’ science fiction since it never failed to stoke my curiosity and prime my imagination. The sense of wonder it instilled helped attract me to the hard sciences, and during college I studied physics, biochemistry, and computer science. After graduating I worked as a firmware engineer for many years before getting in to the data science field, which is where I am today.

I attribute a lot of the motivation that’s driven me throughout my life to the metric tons of inspiration that I’ve received from SF. I recently realized that I have the means to support the creation of the type of ‘hard’ SF that I believe inspires progress, so I decided to start an online science fiction magazine. The primary goals of the magazine are to support authors who write great science fiction and to help get more people reading science fiction. I really believe that reading science fiction (especially the ‘hard’ variety) can inspire people to achieve great things!

Ha!  We sound like two sides of the same coin; I’m a “soft” sci-fi guy, with a love of the old Sword & Planet and Raygun Romances, but definitely feel the same about the genre in general.  So, on your site you specify that you’re looking “‘hard’ science fiction”; are there any writers in particular who you’d point to and say “I want stories like the ones that guy writes!”?

I have definitely been known to indulge in some of the old sword & planet stuff—I’m not sure exactly what a ‘raygun romance’ looks like, but if you have recommendations I’d be happy to hear them!

As for your question, I think that Issac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke have written great examples of the kinds of stories I’m looking for. I’m a huge fan of Asimov, and it’s hard to imagine anyone surpassing the combination of quantity and quality that he output throughout his life, both in fiction and non-fiction. More recently, Vernor Vinge and Kim Stanley Robinson have published some amazing hard SF, with Vinge in particular doing a great job of fusing engaging storytelling with in-depth realistic technical detail. Those are the kinds of stories I’m looking for.

I don’t know if it will catch on, but Raygun Romance is what I’m using as a kind of catchall for SF stuff that’s sort of in the realm of Space Opera and Planetary Romance but also includes sci-fi noir & detective thrillers.  Plus, I think it rolls off the tongue better than Planetary Romance.  Leigh Brackett was absolutely the queen of that sort of thing, but I’ve recently discovered Otis Adelbert Kline, who was writing about lightsaber-wielding space princesses as early as the 20s.  

I’m glad you mention Robinson; I’m a huge fan of Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, and it made me immediately go out and find Robinson’s truly epic Mars Trilogy.

Are there any magazines out there that have particularly inspired you?  You strike me as an Astounding/Analog kind of guy.

Raygun romance sounds like a good, descriptive term. Hopefully I can read some raygun romance stories soon.

I have a friend who loves Alpha Centauri, but I never got around to playing it! I’m sure it would be right up my alley though — I’m a sucker for science fiction plus turn based strategy. Endless Space/Endless Legend are a couple good SF themed turn-based strategy games I was very impressed with a few months back.

I’m sorry to say that I have never read an issue of Astounding Science Fiction, but I’ve read some reprints of stories that were first published in Astounding. I am a big fan. Analog is a great one, as well as Asimov’s Science Fiction. Another more recently founded online magazine that impressed me is Clarkesworld—it doesn’t necessarily contain the types of stories I would buy for Compelling SF, but I definitely like the presentation, the artwork, and the fact that they record podcasts of their stories as well.

You’re offering pro-level rates right out of the gate—that’s quite a shot across the bow of a publishing field where, outside of a few big players, token rates are the norm.

Well, one of my primary goals is to support authors, so I’m putting my money where my mouth is. To be perfectly frank, I’d like to eventually pay more if the magazine ever becomes self-sustaining. I believe good science fiction can have a colossal impact on the people who read it, so I’d like to see more of it read by more people.

That’s a biggie, I know.  I’m right with you there.  A lot of writers these days are thrilled to find even semi-pro markets, so what you’re doing is a big deal.  How are you looking at funding your project, distribution, etc.?  Are you considering crowdfunding, pre-orders?  Paper or digital? Where, when and how will we be able to buy?

This is a tricky question to answer categorically, because our revenue model isn’t set in stone. For the first issue we’ll allow the stories to be read for free on our website, and charge a subscription for the Kindle version. We will also set up a Patreon account to allow people to contribute that way. If that model doesn’t provide enough income to pay authors, we may have to move to a locked-down subscription-based system. We have to get data before we make that determination. Fortunately all our staff are volunteers, so all we need to sustain the magazine is enough money to pay authors and pay for infrastructure (hosting and other business costs). I have no problem paying for all this out of my own pocket for the first few issues.

We will not be printing any physical copies, distribution will be 100% electronic.

As for the ‘when’ part of your question—the answer to that is ‘probably sometime in the next 2 weeks’. I have not set a firm release deadline, but I will certainly be very noisy about it when we release 🙂

Well, you can be sure that we’ll be making some noise about it as well!  How many stories are you looking at for your first issue?  Have you already gotten anything jaw-droppingly awesome that you can’t wait to tell folks about?

The first issue will have approximately 5-6 stories. We’ve got the first 3 chosen already, and the final 2-3 are still under evaluation. We’ve received some awesome stories that are based on some great ideas, and I’m definitely very excited for readers to experience them!

That’s great to hear, and we’ll all be looking forward to it!  Where can readers and writers find out more about Compelling Science Fiction, and how should they get in touch with you?

Readers can sign up for our email list at http://compellingsciencefiction.com — this is the best way to keep up to date with Compelling Science Fiction news. I will be sending out an email to that list as soon as the first issue is scheduled for release.

Writers can view our submission guidelines at http://compellingsciencefiction.com/submit.html. These guidelines are adjusted from time to time, so writers are encouraged to check the page for changes every once in a while.

Both readers and writers are welcome to email me directly at ‘joe@compellingsciencefiction.com‘, or they can send questions to ‘questions@compellingsciencefiction.com‘.

All right!  Well thank you again for taking the time to talk with me and our readers!

3 Comments
  • Eric Ashley says:

    And because of this interview, I wrote a story about balloons, solar sails, baby creches, Saturn’s airs, Von Neuman factories, and clones, and how to take over a solar system and the future.

    Now I just need to send it off.

  • First Sci Phi Journal, then Cirsova, and now this! Looks like all the short fiction bases will be covered.

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