Compelling Science Fiction is back!


We're back in business and will be open to submissions once again on Monday! After I announced in September that Compelling Science Fiction would be shutting down for good, Nick Wells of Flame Tree reached out to me and suggested we work together to keep the magazine publishing our unique brand of science fiction stories. Over the last month we came to an agreement that will allow Compelling Science Fiction to continue publishing — you may recall that my issue was one of time, and Flame Tree will take over many of the most time-consuming aspects of the magazine. My role will transition to that of editor-in-chief, and Nick will take over the publishing role. I'm very excited to work with Nick and Flame Tree, and continue to support this genre of fiction that I love. We'll be transitioning to a quarterly schedule, and will also be accepting submissions much more often. Authors, we need your wonderful stories, so please send them our way! And readers, thanks for entrusting us with your time. I will always treat it with respect, and do my best to provide the types of stories you come here for.

Joe Stech

Halting Publication of Compelling Science Fiction


We released the first issue of Compelling Science Fiction in April 2016, nearly 3.5 years ago. In that time we've published 69 high-quality short stories by 62 brilliant authors. I'm very proud of helping bring these stories to readers, but this particular project has run its course. The next issue, which is coming out Dec 1 (issue 14, winter 2019) will be the last issue of Compelling Science Fiction magazine. I will continue to be involved in supporting the creation of science fiction, just not in the capacity of magazine publisher.

The reason for halting publication is one of time. With my actual (paid) work, a baby to take care of, and some writing projects of my own, I can't prioritize reading through the 500+ stories/month I receive when submissions are open (we have volunteers to help, but I'm still responsible for over 90% of submissions). I also haven't been able to find the additional readership required to make the magazine financially viable without me.

It's been a fun three and a half years. Here are some of my favorite moments:

  • Getting a thousand physical books dropped off at my curb and ferrying them into my garage 40 at a time with David Baur.
  • Meeting some of our short story authors at Worldcon — Meg Elison, Rich Larson, R R Angel, Benjamin C. Kinney, J.D. Moyer, Nathan Hillstrom, C. Stuart Hardwick, and Tom Jolly were all a pleasure to talk to.
  • Getting lambasted online by another magazine editor early in the magazine's life (I believe the word 'dilettante' was used) :)
  • Being invited to Capclave in Washington DC because Pip Coen's story Floaters Can't Float was a finalist for the WSFA Small Press Award!
  • Hearing about the successes of authors we've published (C.L. Kagmi's Writer's of the Future win, the publication of J.D. Moyer's excellent novel The Sky Woman)
  • Working with great authors to publish multiple short stories (thanks Pip Coen, Mike Adamson, Deborah L. Davitt, Robert Dawson, C.L. Kagmi, and Rich Larson for your skillful consistency!)
  • Heading down to MileHiCon in Denver with a bunch of friends every year and chatting with fantastic local authors (I'm going to keep doing this).

As my last act as magazine publisher, I'll be making issues 13 and 14 freely readable online, joining the first 12 issues up on the website. These stories will remain online throughout my lifetime at least, unless individual authors request that I take them down.

Finally, we still have copies of our magnificent print anthology available! I'm dropping the price to $15 with free shipping in the continental US until we run out.

To those of you who supported the magazine, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I have an insane conviction that these types of projects are good for the world.

Keep supporting science fiction, and come back December 1st to read our final issue!

Joe Stech

Stretching to the Scale of the Universe


Humans talk about the universe a lot, and sometimes it's strangely satisfying to start with our everyday intuitions and then see how far we can stretch them on the scale of the universe.

A bullet shot from a modern rifle travels at about 1200 m/s. Most people would agree that in the scope of things that humans interact with every day, this is pretty fast.

The international space station is traveling over six times the speed of our modern rifle bullet — about 7660 m/s. This is faster than anything humans have direct experience with on the earth. To put this into perspective, if the ISS flew past you at sea level it would take a little over a second for it to get from horizon to horizon. You wouldn't have much time to register that it was coming toward you (aside from the atmospheric havoc it would wreak, but we don't have to deal with that sort of thing in our pleasant thought experiment).

On September 5th, 1977, the Voyager 1 spacecraft was launched. It has been traveling for over 40 years, and is now beyond what most people consider to be the boundary of our solar system, well into the interstellar medium. As of this writing, it is about three times the distance from the sun as Pluto (Voyager Mission Status). Voyager 1 is currently traveling at about 17000 m/s relative to the sun, well over twice the orbital speed of the ISS. This is faster than most of our intuitions can grasp, but we're still on Earth's doorstep on a galactic scale.

The closest star to our solar system is Proxima Centauri, about 4.2 light years away. At the current stupendous speed of Voyager 1, it would take about 74,000 years to reach Proxima Centauri (if that's the way Voyager was headed, which it is not). 74,000 years encompasses just about all of the history of Homo Sapiens after we expanded out of Africa — a long time.

So now we've established that Proxima Centauri is really far away. The distance is 4.2 light years. The Milky Way galaxy, our own corner of the universe, is about 100,000 light years across. For Voyager to make that journey at its current speed would take about 1,763,500,000 years. That's a significant percentage of the age of the earth itself. We're now at distances that I cannot intuit at all.

The Milky Way is a part of a cluster of galaxies called the Local Group. We know that there are at least 54 galaxies in the Local Group, but the Milky Way partially occludes our view. Each of these galaxies contains millions to hundreds of billions of stars. Andromeda, about 2.5 million light years from Earth and one of the biggest galaxies in the local group, is estimated to contain a trillion stars. The entire Local Group of galaxies is about 10 million light-years across.

The Local Group is gravitationally bound to an even bigger structure, the Virgo Supercluster. Within the Virgo Supercluster are least 100 groups and clusters of galaxies, many of which are larger than the Local Group. The Virgo Supercluster is about 110 million light years across.

This ludicrous distance is dwarfed, however, by the size of the observable universe, which is estimated to be about 93 billion light years in diameter. It's estimated to contain about 10 million superclusters. This is absurdly, incomprehensibly large.

Thanks for stretching with me!

Compelling Science Fiction is going to a paid subscription model


I'm proud that over the last three years we've released 63 phenomenal stories and paid professional rates to 57 wonderful authors. However, over the last three years I've also spent a significant amount of money keeping the magazine afloat. Year one I spent a lot, and years two and three leveled out to almost break-even (but revenue stopped growing). Based on these numbers, I've decided that I need to go to a paid subscription model to keep the magazine strong and growing.

Two things motivated this decision:

  1. Without a budget for marketing, I've reached the limit of my ability to grow the readership of the magazine in my discretionary time. It's always been a goal of Compelling Science Fiction to expand readership of great, plausible science fiction, but I am not a great marketer.
  2. I've always wanted the magazine to continue publishing even if something happens to me. That could be as gruesome as a car crash or as pedestrian as a rearrangement of priorities. Either way, no business should have to rely on the availability, resources, and goodwill of just one person (or even a handful of people). If Compelling Science Fiction is going to outlast me, it's going to need a solid foundation of support from the people who enjoy it the most.

Thus, the next issue of Compelling Science Fiction will not be posted for free on the website -- you can go here to purchase a subscription. If you've been supporting the magazine on Patreon or buying individual issues through Amazon already, nothing will change for you (other than the stories not being posted on the open internet). All the stories that are already readable for free on the site will continue to be readable for free on the site.

This was a tough decision, but I think that stabilizing the business will result in better outcomes for both readers and authors.

Take care,


10 issues of Compelling Science Fiction: a retrospective


We're getting close to the release of our 10th issue! I’m taking a break from putting together issue 10 to reflect on the time I’ve spent building this magazine. It feels a little strange that I’ve been doing this for close to two years already. It’s fantastic that with your help we’ve been able to publish stories by 43 skilled authors, and build up a dedicated readership of thousands of science fiction fans.

I get asked every couple months why I spend so much time on this magazine. Most of the time I give a brief canned answer, something along the lines of “everyone needs a hobby, this is one of mine.” While that’s true, it’s a bit of a non-answer. Let me try and give a real answer here, in a few parts:

  1. Science fiction is fascinating. Like many art forms, good science fiction requires a base layer of technical skill. That's the starting line. However, there's a secondary layer of subject matter expertise, and a third layer that involves actually saying something meaningful about the universe we live in.
  2. Evaluating that third layer is deeply subjective, which means that no two readers will necessarily see eye to eye when reading a story. This also means that every publisher has its own set of biases when selecting stories to publish, which means that many stories that I’d enjoy never get out into the world. I want to help change that.
  3. There are extremely talented people out there producing wonderful content who never get paid for their work — I want to help support them, which is why I’ve always paid professional rates, even at the beginning when nobody was supporting the magazine. I’ve always been a proponent of putting my money where my mouth is, and I’m extremely grateful to have found magazine supporters who feel the same way.

I could ramble on at length about how important I think science fiction is, but since this is supposed to be a retrospective let’s look at what we’ve actually accomplished since the magazine started:

  1. We’ve published many talented new authors, like C. L. Kagmi, who went on to win the Writers of the Future Contest (and to credit Compelling Science Fiction with her first publication), and Pip Coen, who will have a record 3 total stories published by Compelling SF when issue 10 is released.
  2. We’ve paid professional rates to 43 authors from around the world (not including the authors in issue 10, which comes out Dec 1).
  3. We’ve reached over 57,000 unique readers since the magazine was started (according to Google Analytics).

I asked a few of the authors that we’ve published for their thoughts on Compelling Science Fiction, so that readers can better understand what they’re supporting. Below are some quotes from our authors — feel free to click their names to read the stories they’ve written!

“At a point when I was wondering whether I was cut out for this writing lark, Compelling Science Fiction appeared and gave me an enormous boost. They were new, which gave me the confidence to submit a story that I wasn’t really sure about. The editor, Joe Stech, not only liked it, he pointed out a small flaw and told me how to put it right. I got a story in a ‘hard SF’ publication, which has encouraged me to push further in that direction. Not only that, appearing in Compelling led to the story being published in translation in Vietnam, which was fun, and not something I ever expected!”

"As a new author—and longtime reader—of science fiction, Compelling SF has been a wonderful market for me. Since publishing my debut story, Joe's passion for developing readership and his encouraging comments on my stories have compelled (sorry) me to explore and develop many more worlds and characters. The magazine's self-styled niche of "plausible science fiction" really gels with the fiction I love to write and read. I hope this year marks the first of many for Compelling SF!"

Compelling has been quite a breath of fresh air with its emphasis on plausibility, separating science fiction and fantasy once again, so to speak. This requires the writer to emphasise practicality in approach, both technically and – following quite naturally – in terms of story dynamics. Compelling gave me my first professional-rates break, which was a great stride, so besides the magazine encouraging precision in the craft of writing, I can also thank it for contributing significantly to my standing in the field. Compelling is a success story among modern science fiction journals.”

“I think Compelling is great, and I've enjoyed many stories in it. As for impact on my writing career - my publication in your first issue ("The Art of Failure") was picked up by a best-of reprint anthology (Afsharirad's Year's Best Military and Adventure SF 3 (Baen)), a first for me. Pretty exciting!”

As a writer who leans towards the science side of speculative fiction and prefers logic in magical systems when writing fantasy, I appreciate Compelling Science Fiction as a professional market for sciencey, science fiction stories. Recently, I got a very nice review on Amazon for my SciFi novel "Wobbling Star" in which the reader indicated that Compelling Science Fiction was their first encounter with one of my stories and that was why they tried my novel.  That was excellent encouragement.”

“Compelling Science Fiction is a unique magazine in so many ways. Its mission, to promote plausible science fiction is one I very much believe in. For science fiction to be entertaining and predictive, it has to be based on real science with a twist, as opposed to the fantasy masquerading as SF which is seen so often. When you read a story in CSF, you know that it has been well thought out and that the scientific principles are based on reality. I know this because of the many back-and-forth emails I had with Joe, to make sure every single scientific speculation in my story had a solid footing (and there were many). On top of that, the editor Joe Stech is one of the most responsive and forthcoming editors I’ve ever worked with for any of my sold stories. This is a magazine well worth supporting!”

Thank you so much for your support of Compelling Science Fiction. Without your support the magazine wouldn’t exist. I’m looking forward to getting out issue 10 on Dec 1!

Take care,


Scientific research spurred by science fiction writing


Many of us watched “The Martian,” the hit movie starring Matt Damon as an astronaut stranded on Mars for months adapted from a 2011 novel by Andrew Weir. A year after the movie came out, astrobiologists set their sights on finding a strain of potatoes that would thrive in the harsh conditions on Mars and verify that important detail in Weir’s plot. Four of 65 varieties planted in replicated conditions sprouted ('Super potato' grown in Mars-like conditions may benefit Earth's arid areas).

Most of us watched “Jurassic Park,” the hit movie based on Michael Crichton’s 1990 novel, in which a busy fly trapped in amber contains the intact DNA of the resurrected dinosaurs in the park. In reality, DNA starts to break apart after the host’s death, even when its corpse is frozen to prevent tissue decay. The fragments are usually so small, putting them together is like completing a 100,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. It helps if you have an accurate image as a guide, and with the sequenced DNA from cousins, scientists are starting to believe they can bring some species back from extinction (The Jurassic Park Science to Bring Back Dinosaurs Is Almost Here).

Plausible Science Fiction


I was at convention yesterday and heard a panel discussion about the old “hard vs. soft” science fiction debate. I realized while listening that there is a huge amount of baggage that people associate with the term “hard science fiction,” and that by using it when I describe the focus of Compelling Science Fiction I may be conveying something different than intended. Because of this, I’m going to start using a different term when talking about what sub-genre Compelling Science Fiction focuses on: “plausible science fiction.” The word “plausible” is still ambiguous, but I believe it doesn’t have all the semantic cruft that has built up over the decades around “hard.” We will no longer reference “hard science fiction” when describing our magazine, even though what we look for in stories is not changing.

“Plausible science fiction,” in this context, means “science fiction that tries not to disrupt suspension of disbelief for people that have knowledge of science and engineering.” This can mean not blatantly contradicting our current knowledge of the universe, and it can also mean not blatantly ignoring how humans generally behave. It also means internal self-consistency.

I also want to be clear that I have no problem with other kinds of science fiction. There are many science fiction sub-genres that amplify or distort human behaviors to make points about human nature, or that use physics-breaking plot devices in order to observe how people react in extreme conditions. Those can be great literary devices, they’re just not what Compelling Science Fiction is focused on.

You may well ask, “So why did you choose plausibility as your thing, Joe?” Well, it has to do with the fact that I think science fiction can educate as well as have artistic merit and entertainment value.

And you might say, “why even bring fiction into this? If you’re looking to educate, why not just stick to reading peer-reviewed science journals?”

Because people are not automatons. They get bored, they need inspiration. They want to imagine how the projects they work on fit into the broader scope of progress, and ultimately the rich tapestry of human existence. They want to get excited about the future, and about how they can help bring that future about. They also want to think about the consequences of technology, and about how to safeguard against negative outcomes by considering all the side effects of seemingly innocuous systems. Certain types of science fiction can fill all those needs, and we really, really like those kinds of stories at Compelling Science Fiction.

All that being said, there are no hard and fast rules here. I’m just trying to convey a worldview. We’ll continue to try and balance entertainment with plausibility, and we’ll continue to make compromises on plausibility for the sake of plot and vice versa. If you’re looking for a magazine that never, ever contains FTL travel, or that only does near-future extrapolations, this isn’t the magazine for you. At the end of the day, though, we’ll always print a plausible story over an implausible one, all other things being equal.


We are now a SFWA Qualifying Market


Just a quick note to report that Compelling Science Fiction is now one of the few magazines worldwide that is considered a professional "Qualifying Market" by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America:

Short fiction Qualifying Markets

SFWA is a wonderful organization that supports authors in a huge number of ways (our own publishing contract is adapted from SFWA's model magazine contract). SFWA also hosts the annual Nebula Awards. While we have always paid professional rates, this recognition means that our published authors will find it much easier to use their publication in our magazine to meet SFWA membership requirements, because we have already been vetted.


Why Should I Care About Climate Change?


Hi friends, with climate change all over the news lately I've seen a lot of misconceptions (both intentional and unintentional) about global warming. I want to address just one of the grossly disingenuous things I've seen printed in the last few days, and briefly explain why I'm concerned about climate change.

The most frustrating idea that I've encountered is the straw man argument that "the planet is always undergoing warming and cooling periods, and life has always been fine in the past." I want to make one thing perfectly clear: real scientists are not worried that climate change will destroy all life on earth, or that global temperatures don't fluctuate greatly on geologic time scales. The concern is that the rate of warming is drastically higher than anything ever recorded or inferred in the proxy data (NOAA factsheet). The rate is high enough that huge numbers of people could end up dying as result of droughts, heat waves, floods, severe storms, and ecosystem disruptions. It's completely true that we don't know and can't prove how bad things could get for agriculture, industry, and housing, but we've already seen evidence linking extreme weather to climate change (Extreme weather events linked to climate change impact on the jet stream). The US Department of Defense (and many other organizations) has spent a great deal of time and money aggregating conclusions from research on this issue, and acknowledges that it is "clear that climate change is an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources such as food and water" (Congressional Report on National Implications of Climate Change).

What I'm ultimately trying to convey is that even though the planet doesn't care about climate change, human institutions should. The stance that "we don't know how big the problem will be, so we shouldn't take action," is a fantastically dangerous one in this case, and I oppose it.


C.L. Kagmi on her Writers of the Future win


Hi all, I'm very pleased to say that C.L. Kagmi's The Drake Equation is available in Writers of the Future Volume 33! I've read it, and recommend it. I thought it would be interesting for readers to hear about her experience, so I suggested she write about it and she kindly obliged. Enjoy! –Joe

Hello Compelling readers,

C. L. Kagmi here. If my name looks familiar, that's because I've appeared in Issues 2 and 5 of Compelling Science Fiction.

I'm also one of the Writers of the Future contest winners included the newly released book, Writers of the Future Volume 33.

I discovered the Writers of the Future books years ago, courtesy of the science fiction section of my local used bookshop. The first volume I bought home was quite remarkable: it contained tales ranging from new takes on old science fiction concepts to unique fantasy tales, all of which were sharp and vivid enough to engross me.

As time went on, I learned how these books were created: through a contest designed specifically for new writers of sci-fi and fantasy.

By targeting writers who had not already been widely published, the contest was finding new voices in the field. By soliciting submissions from all over the world and having some of the top names in speculative fiction choose the winning stories, they were finding, in short, really good stuff.

I'm honored to have been chosen as one of this year's voices for my new story, “The Drake Equation” - in which one woman learns the answer to the question of why humanity hasn't been contacted by any alien societies.

I will confess that when I entered the contest, I did not quite realize how much of a Big Deal it was. I knew that I would love to appear in an anthology alongside stories like those I'd loved from years past; I knew that the contest paid winners better for their work than any other short fiction markets I knew of.

I did not know that the contest treated winners to a week's bootcamp exploring topics from inspiration to self-promotion at the feet of some of today's most renowned speculative fiction writers.

When I received the call from Joni Labaqui notifying me that I was a finalist, I was stunned. I was further stunned when she asked me if I could be in Los Angeles in late March. My answer, of course, was “yes!”

The workshop week began with lessons from two-time World Fantasy Award winner Tim Powers – a contest judge – and anthology editor David Farland, also known as the author of the Runelords series, not to mention “the guy who decided to promote the Harry Potter books” and “the guy who tutored Stephenie Meier in how to write a bestselling young adult novel.”

Powers and Farland turned out to be an excellent “power couple” (as my fellow winner Ville Merlianen described them at the awards), espousing different attitudes toward writing which, clearly, have both yielded good results.

They were also absolutely delightful people to be with – indeed, everyone we met throughout the workshop week seemed thrilled to be there, and excited to support the newest members of the Writers of the Future family.

And quite a family it was. The week's roster read like a parade of A-list authors – after our first few days under Farland and Powers' tutelage, Kevin J. Anderson, Doug Beason, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Nancy Kress, Larry Niven, Jody Lynn Nye, Nnedi Okorafor, Jerry Pournelle, Mike Resnick, and Robert J. Sawyer dropped by to share with us their wisdom.

Also present were a number of past winners-cum-success stories – discounting David Farland and Nnedi Okorafor, who are both past winners and current judges, Martin L. Shoemaker, Kary English, Laurie Tom, Steve Pantazis, and Brennan Harvey.

It was fascinating to see how this community of writers had all managed to excel, and all agreed on a few things – that successful writers are those who write regularly and don't give up easily, for example – but there was clearly no one formula for success.

Some were devoted “plotters,” working off of outlines; others were “pantsers,” who never knew what was going to happen next. Some churned out multiple books in a year; others took multiple years to perfect a single book.

The weeks after the awards ceremony are another invaluable – though somewhat less enjoyable – lesson for new writers.

Writers can't just write, these days. They also have to be promoters and publicists.

This is unfortunately true in all fields. Publishers have been cutting back on the amount they're willing to invest in publicity – and expecting writers to do more and more of it themselves – for years.

Galaxy Press spends more on promoting the Writers of the Future anthologies than most publishers would for your average first-time author, but that doesn't mean that winners are off the hook in terms of promoting ourselves.

There are book signings. There are Reddit AMAs. There are urges to expand social media presence as much as possible – a necessary evil that few writers I know enjoy, but which almost all publishers now require.

Indeed, attendees of 2016's Writers Digest Conference were told that something like 91% of 2015's first-time novelists already had “significant social media followings” before the release of their first book. Much to the frustration of old-timers and newcomers alike, that's just the way it's done now.

The contest provides invaluable experience in this regard; a team of 12+ winners works together and pools their expertise to accomplish self-promotion, with the guidance of Galaxy Press' experienced team of publicity experts. This is another opportunity that simply can't be bought.

The necessity to self-promote is one that most writers I know view as a necessary evil – we would much rather be spending all our time writing, and I've heard good writing characterized as “propulsive egoism, followed by crippling self-doubt.” That is to say, for writers who are perfectionists, promoting any of our work as being worth reading can be a real trial.

But perhaps by making it known that self-promotion is now a fact of life for all creators, we can make this task a little easier for each other.

C. L. Kagmi

Compelling Science Fiction mentioned around the web


This is just a quick update to let you all know about a few interviews I've done recently, if you're interested in the behind the scenes details of Compelling Science Fiction:

  • Indie Hackers released an in-depth interview article today where I discuss starting, operating, and growing Compelling Science Fiction.
  • I talked with the folks over at the Beyond the Trope podcast about starting the magazine.
  • Finally, back in December I had a long and wide-ranging conversation with Justin and Jason of the Techzing podcast. This was our first recorded conversation, although I met them a few years back at the Techzing summit. They're great guys, I always enjoy our conversations.
  • LAST MINUTE EDIT: The Hugo award-winning "File 770" just published a print interview with me about running Compelling Science Fiction and about what we look for in stories.

I hope you're having a great week!

Joe Stech

My Favorite Science Fiction (and Non-Fiction) Books


Below is a list of my favorite books – the science fiction and non-fiction that has helped shape my thinking. I'm not claiming that these SF books are the best science fiction novels ever written, or that the non-fiction books are a compendium of must-understand knowledge. These are just a selection of the books that I have found the most deeply interesting over the course of the last couple decades. Most of them will be familiar to SF fans (it turns out good stuff gets attention). Most of the SF has been considered 'hard' science fiction at one time or another, but I'm not going to guarantee that you'll think they're all hard SF. Most of these books are available for delivery before Christmas (or instantly, if you get the Kindle versions), and if you order them through the links below, you'll be supporting Compelling Science Fiction. Thanks, and happy holidays! Have fun with the people you care about.


  1. A Deepness in the Sky, by Vernor Vinge. This novel is brilliant. The book is an epic tale of the interactions between three vastly different cultures — a sub-lightspeed human trading culture, a human culture that technologically enslaves minds, and a developing non-human species that is the focus of attention for both human factions. The novel is worth reading just for the way Vinge talks about software development hundreds of years in the future — about how millions of person-years of development must necessarily mean that development takes place at higher layers of abstraction. The plot is excellent, the writing is great, and the concepts are top-notch, making this my top recommendation. A Fire Upon the Deep is also set in this universe, and I would recommmend it as well (although not as strongly).
  2. The Foundation Series, by Isaac Asimov. Probably the best-known science fiction series on every possible axis, the books describe thousands of years of galactic civilization. The main premise is that a mathematician (Hari Seldon) predicts the fall of the galactic empire, and does everything he can to mitigate the damage to human civilization. The books are chock-full of grand fascinating concepts. There are aspects of the books that are certainly dated (Foundation was published in 1951), but they hold up better than anything else I've ever read. There are seven books in total in the series. The middle three books were written first (Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation), with two prequels (Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation) and two sequels (Foundation's Edge and Foundation and Earth) being written later. The trilogy and sequels are better than the prequels, but every book in the series is good. Reading these books broadened my worldview significantly.
  3. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke. This book is a masterpiece of technical detail that is still entertaining to read. The premise is that an enormous spinning cylindrical spaceship shows up in the solar system, and a team of scientists are dispatched to learn more about it. If you ever wondered about fluid dynamics inside a closed-environment spinning cylinder, this book is for you. It's a book about pure exploration. Please note that I CANNOT recommend the sequels — I would read this book and then stop. The sequels focus more on dramatic interpersonal relationships than science, and are inferior books (in my opinion).
  4. Ringworld, by Larry Niven. This is another book full of interesting technical detail. It's also a fun adventure. Four explorers travel to a newly-discovered artificial ring enclosing a star — the ring contains millions of times the surface area of earth. The sequels to this one are also good.
  5. The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson. These books are hard hard science fiction. If you ever wanted to read enormous detail on terraforming a planet, this is your trilogy. The books even contain fictional conferences complete with fictional peer-reviewed journal articles. The books in this trilogy are probably the most realistic large-scale SF I've ever read.


  1. Cosmos, by Carl Sagan. This classic of non-fiction spawned two television series (over 30 years apart) of the same name. The book is a wide-spanning look at many aspects of science, from life on earth to the evolution of galaxies. If you like the book I'd recommend reading Sagan's other work — I think every single book he wrote was excellent.
  2. "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!", by Richard P. Feynman. This book is light on science, considering who it's about, but I had to include it in this list anyway because it is so fantastic. Richard Feynman was an incredible character, and this set of stories (spanning a good portion of his life) paint a hilarious, heart-warming picture of the eccentric genius. I would have loved to meet the man.
  3. The World of Carbon, by Isaac Asimov. This may seem like a strange inclusion, especially considering that this book is apparently out of print. However, it is the most entertaining book on organic chemistry that I have ever read, and the information is still good, despite being published in 1962. The book contains some really fun tidbits of information about science history, as well. Did you know that formic acid was originally discovered in ants, which is how it got it's name (from the latin for ant, formica)? I didn't, until I read this book.
  4. A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking. The explanations and analogies in this book are wonderfully clear. No real math derivations in this one, but as far as popular physics books go, it's top-shelf.
  5. The Algorithm Design Manual, by Steven Skiena. You may be thinking, "What!? Joe, this is a textbook, and it's not even about science!" and you would be right. However, this is my list, and I'll put what I want on here. Don't be fooled by it's textbook-like appearance — this is an incredible collection of the algorithms that have shaped our modern world, and I wouldn't be who I am today without it. Try opening the book to a random page and reading whatever algorithm you find. It's a rewarding experience.

I have many other favorites that didn't make it on to this list, by authors such as Lois McMaster Bujold, Greg Egan, Iain M. Banks, Robert Heinlein, John Scalzi, and more. If you like the books I've listed, then we probably have similar tastes, and I'd appreciate hearing about your favorite SF! Feel free to ping me at I read every email, but can't guarantee that I'll reply.

Enjoy the holidays,

Joe Stech

Going Serverless: AWS and Compelling Science Fiction


This is a companion blog post to a talk I gave to the Boulder Python Meetup group about the infrastructure that runs Compelling Science Fiction. Slides from that talk can be found here. Hopefully you can use some of these tools to create something new as well!

Compelling Science Fiction is run entirely on extremely inexpensive Amazon Web Services (AWS). There are currently three primary use cases that I have:

  1. Serving web pages that contain the site. This is easily achieved by using the Amazon S3 feature that allows you to serve static web pages from an S3 bucket.
  2. Accepting and managing submissions from authors.
  3. Reading through the queue ("slush") of stories that authors submit.

It's the last two items on that list that I'll be talking about today, because they both use the same basic infrastructure. That infrastructure is diagrammed below: As you can see, I use four different Amazon Web Services: the Simple Email Service (SES), Simple Storage Service (S3), Lambda, and DynamoDB. I'll touch on all of the ways we use these services, but AWS Lambda is the most important, because it allows us to glue together all the services with Python without provisioning any servers.

Process Flow

The process flow for a story is as follows: an author sends an email to "" (please read our guidelines before submitting your story), and the email is routed to an S3 bucket by SES. The S3 bucket then triggers the submission processing lambda, which I'll give a bare-bones version of below. The lambda parses the raw MIME email, separating it out into constituent parts, which it then sends to an S3 bucket for storage. The Lambda also creates a DynamoDB entry (DynamoDB is a non-relational database that AWS provides). The DB entry contains story metadata, including author email, state (initially "unread"), time received, S3 location, and a reference ID. Finally, the Lambda emails the author a confirmation notice, and also emails a notification to me (the editor).

At this point the story is in S3 and has metadata stored in Dynamo. To evaluate the story queue, I get on my local computer and run some simple python scripts that access the queue by looking at timestamps in the database and pulling the oldest story from S3. I evaluate the story, and then use another python script to update the database with the new state of the manuscript. The process then starts all over again.

Lambda: the System Core

AWS Lambda:

  • lets you run code without provisioning or managing servers
  • only charges you for the compute time you consume (100 ms increments)
  • runs code in discrete chunks, which is a versatile way to create many types of applications and backend services
  • takes care of everything required to run and scale your code with high availability
  • allows you to set up your code to automatically trigger from other AWS services or call it directly from any web or mobile app

All of the features above make Lambda a great option for services that are idle most of the time, but can have huge spikes in users. For more high-level info about Lambda, you can read this FAQ.

At it's core, an AWS lambda function is just an encapsulated chunk of code that you upload to Amazon. Therefore, the code must have well-defined inputs and outputs. On the input side, each lambda must define a handler. This is the entry point into your code. The handler must take two parameters: an “event” and a “context”. The “event” parameter is used to pass in event data to the handler. This parameter is usually a dict. It can also be a list, str, int, float, or NoneType. The “context” parameter is used to provide runtime information to your handler (timing callbacks, CloudWatch data, invocation info, etc.). This parameter is of the LambdaContext type. The context is not always used (and in fact I don't use it at all in my system). There are two types of lambda invocation: “Event” and “RequestResponse”. The former is asynchronous, while the latter is synchronous. The asynchronous type is the most used -- other entities generally don't wait around for Lambdas to respond.

Below is the code used in the Compelling Science Fiction submission system. It's not fully-functional, because I've stripped out the pieces that are not necessary for the understanding of how the AWS services fit together. This is the code that provides the functionality described in the 'Process Flow' section above. I've also added comments to the code below for ease of understanding.

import relevant_modules
def lambda_handler(event, context):
    # Get the bucket name from the event
    bucket = event['Records'][0]['s3']['bucket']['name']
    key = urllib.unquote_plus(event['Records'][0]['s3']['object']['key']).decode('utf8')
    response = s3.get_object(Bucket=bucket, Key=key)
    # Get a message object structure tree from an open file object
    msg = email.message_from_file(response["Body"])
    # parse the MIME message and send to s3:
    for part in msg.walk():
        # Do a bunch of parsing of each email part, storing the relevant ones to s3
    # Get the dynamoDB table for submissions info
    table = boto3.resource("dynamodb").Table("compelling_submissions")
    # send record of this email to dynamoDB:
    dynamo_item = {'id':ukey,'email':emailaddr,
                   's3_postfixes': s3_postfixes}
    # finally, send a reply email to manuscript sender and a notification for the editor:
    emailclient = boto3.client("ses")

I hope this was interesting, and please let me know if you use any of these concepts in an application of your own! I'm always interested in hearing about new creations.

Joe Stech

Star Trek Fans Make More Money (In This Specific Situation)


Every year, StackOverflow Research releases the raw (anonymized) data from their annual developer survey. The StackOverflow developer survey consists of several dozen questions, from simple demographic questions to things like "Do you drink alcohol while coding?" This year I probed the data a little bit, and I thought you might be interested in my first result.

The question that I thought would be of greatest interest to Compelling Science Fiction readers was a simple one: "Star Wars or Star Trek?" Tens of thousands of developers responded, expressing their preference for either Star Wars or Star Trek. At this point you're probably thinking to yourself, "Joe, I can see where this is going, especially because you spoiled the whole punchline with the title of the article!" Well, you're right. The first thing I decided to do was see how the salaries of the two fandoms stacked up. Here are the results:

All developers Developers who prefer Star Trek Developers who prefer Star Wars
Average salary$53952$66172$50822
Standard error$227$593$321

And for those of you who love plots (the chart kind, not the story kind), here's the same data, complete with error bars:
As you can see, developers who are Star Trek fans make significantly more money than both Star Wars fans and developers in general. At this point you might be thinking "but Joe, there are too many significant digits in your table and you didn't control for any confounding factors. This result can't be extrapolated from at all!" And you would be right again. I'm not surprised, because you read Compelling Science Fiction, and you're a smart cookie.

There are many conclusions that it would be irresponsible to draw from this result. For instance, it would be irresponsible to speculate that Star Trek fans command higher salaries because they are are deeper thinkers than Star Wars fans. It would also be irresponsible to conclude that Star Wars fans might love superficial action at the expense of well-planned activity. Moreover, the survey results indicate that there are far greater numbers of Star Wars fans out there than Star Trek fans (Star Wars fans outnumber Star Trek fans by 2.7 to 1). As a result it would not only be irresponsible of me to make these outrageous extrapolations, but potentially self-detrimental. I'm glad I'm refraining from speculation.

Joe Stech
Editor and lover of both Star Trek and Star Wars



Hi all, I have three news items that I'd like to cover today:

  1. I'm excited to report that Brad Feld has become our first "Why Do We Even Have This Level" patron, backing Compelling Science Fiction at the $360/issue level. Brad is an early stage investor and entrepreneur who has done an incredible amount of good for the Boulder/Denver tech community in Colorado, and we're honored to have his support. Read his post about Compelling Science Fiction here.
  2. I'll be speaking at the Boulder Python meetup on Nov 10. The title of my talk is "Going serverless: how I select science fiction stories using AWS Lambda Python functions." If you're around come say hi!
  3. Finally, several advisors and I will be attending Mile High Con in Denver next weekend. There will be many outstanding science fiction authors in attendance. I've never attended before, but I'm looking forward to it. Let me know through email ( or Twitter (@CompellingSF) if you'll be attending -- I'll have some Compelling Science Fiction t-shirts to give to the first few people who find me.

That's it for now. I hope you all have a great week!

Joe Stech

Issue 4 Submissions Open!


Hi friends! I'm excited to say that we've reached our funding goal for issue 4, and submissions are now open. Submissions will remain open until Dec 1, 2016. Huge thanks to Compelling Science Fiction Advisor David Baur for pledging to fund the last story, he's paying for a significant percentage of this issue. Many thanks to our incredible Patreon subscribers as well, they provide the sustaining support that keeps the magazine alive. I've started a new progress bar for issue 5, which is already 46% complete thanks to our awesome patrons on Patreon!

A couple extra pieces of news related to submissions:

  1. While the majority of the issue will still be new stories, we will be looking for 1-2 reprints this issue. The pay rate for these will be 1 cent/word. If you are an author who has a previously published story that would be a good fit for our magazine, please feel free to submit. Our submission guidelines still apply. However, please denote reprints clearly in the body of your submission email.
  2. We will no longer send back unevaluated stories when we reach our issue quota. We will read and evaluate every story submitted within the submission window, and if we find more amazing stories than we can print this issue, we will purchase them for a future issue.

Thanks for supporting our mission to bring wonder and inspiration to an ever-increasing number of people!

Joe Stech

Issue 3 and Beyond


Hi all! Today I want to discuss some significant changes to how Compelling Science Fiction will operate going forward. These changes will have an effect on both readers and authors, so this post should be of interest to everyone.

Before I get into the details, I want to mention that I’ll be releasing the third issue this upcoming weekend (look for it on Sunday the 14th). I’m very excited for the release, as always -- we’ll have four great stories written by four excellent authors.

What this post is really about, though, is what’s happening after the third issue. As many of you know, I guaranteed that I would “fund the magazine for at least 3 issues no matter what” in a previous blog post. I also said that I will have to see where we stand with respect to support when the third issue rolled around. Well, that time is now. As of this writing, Compelling Science Fiction is being supported by 128 amazing individuals on Patreon, for a total of $503 per issue. That being said, each issue costs me between $1500-$2000 to produce, with nearly all of the cost going to pay authors professional rates. Ultimately this has resulted in me spending over $5000 out-of-pocket to pay authors for their work over the last six months. In my opinion this was money well-spent, but unfortunately I can’t sustain that rate of expenditure (no matter how worthy the cause). It was an interesting experiment, but now I have to try something different.

The two goals that I had when I started this magazine have remained the same: to broaden the availability of hard science fiction, and to support the authors who create such fiction. Everyone affiliated with Compelling Science Fiction volunteers their time because they believe that science fiction is important -- it expands the mind and drives progress through inspiration. I don’t want to compromise on either of the magazine’s stated goals, which leaves me with a limited number of options.

Ultimately, I decided to go with an unorthodox approach. As soon as issue 3 is released, I will be adding a progress bar to the home page of Compelling Science Fiction. This progress bar will track reader contributions, and once the bar reaches $2000 $1200 I’ll open author submissions once again and we’ll compile and release issue 4. This will allow me to keep the stories free to read, and to continue paying authors for their work. You, as readers and authors, can help move the bar right away by contributing to our Patreon ( and spreading the word.

No matter what happens, I will continue to host the existing issues of the magazine at for many years to come.

I also want to publicly apologize to those authors who received an automated email after we filled our quota for the third issue -- I sent the email to release your queued submissions as soon as possible so that you could submit to other venues, but I did not consider how abrupt and jarring that email must have been. When we reopen submissions I will be removing the ‘no simultaneous submissions’ rule in our guidelines, so that you need never be concerned about your stories being held in our queue. I know that selling publication rights is hard enough even without the normal restrictions publishers generally place on submissions. Our acceptance rate for stories is about 1% (before we stopped accepting submissions we received about 250 submissions a month); I imagine that acceptance rate is much, much lower for large publishers.

To conclude, I think that the first three issues have been a success, despite having to change our model. Thus far we’ve reached 19,600 unique readers, and supported 14 outstanding authors. As always, you can email me at if you have questions or concerns. And I'll be at Worldcon in a week and a half -- email me if you'd like to say hi! I always enjoy meeting readers and authors. Thanks for your support,

Joe Stech



Hi all! I have three brief pieces of news today:

  1. We’re closing submissions for the time being. We have a very large queue waiting for evaluation, which will take us through the third issue. If you’d like to find other publications that pay professional rates for science fiction, has a wonderfully curated list of magazines with detailed information about their policies. Also, stay tuned for news about the 4th issue -- we’re doing something different.
  2. Tangent Online came out with a review of our second issue! You can check it out here: Compelling Science Fiction Review
  3. I did my first stint as a podcast guest on Nicole Fende’s show, which can be found here: TPD Podcast with Joe Stech. We go over why I started the magazine and how stories are evaluated, among other things.

Thanks for being the best readers out there!




Hi all, just a quick note to mention that I’m registered to attend Worldcon this year in Kansas City! For those of you unfamiliar with the event, it’s a very large science fiction convention where attendees vote to select the winners of the Hugo awards. I’ve never attended Worldcon before, but I’ve heard that it’s a wonderful place to meet new people and get exposed to new ideas. The convention takes place August 17-21, 2016.

I’d be happy to hang out with readers while I’m there -- just send me an email at and we’ll arrange a time to meet up! If you enjoy Compelling Science Fiction I’d really like to meet you.

Have a great week!

Joe Stech

Overview of Future Plans


Hi Everyone! Before I get into the details of what this blog is going to be about, I want to thank you so much for providing such an amazing and supportive reception of the first issue of Compelling Science Fiction. Up to this point we’ve had about 13,000 unique readers, which was a wonderful surprise. In addition to the numbers, I’ve also been astounded by the quality of the readership -- I suspected that our readers would be fantastic people that I would get along with, and yet every reader that I’ve interacted with has exceeded my expectations. Without your support there would be no magazine, so please accept my heartfelt appreciation for your interest. I would also like to give a shout-out to the readers of Hacker News who helped make the release a success. I’m proud to be a member of such a constructive community. Finally, I’d like to thank all my great advisors and authors, who are the lifeblood of the magazine (you can read more about them on the ‘about’ and ‘authors’ pages, respectively).

OK, now for the nuts and bolts. I’m starting this blog for two reasons:

  1. To keep you all informed about my plans for the magazine, and
  2. to hopefully provide some interesting ‘behind the scenes’ stories.

This first post is going to be entirely focused on ‘future plans.’

As you may or may not be aware, I’m currently funding this magazine out-of-pocket, and each issue costs about $2000 to produce (if you’d like to learn more and support us financially, please go to the ‘subscribe’ page). In short, most (about 90 percent) of that budget goes to paying authors professional rates for their stories. Many of you awesome readers have stepped up to the plate to offset the cost of the magazine on Patreon, and I thank each and every one of you for your support. That being said, I can’t pay for the majority of the magazine forever, so I wanted to let you know what my plans look like over the next 3-6 months.

First, I plan on funding the magazine for at least 3 issues no matter what (barring any extreme situations). One issue has already been released, so this means that 2 more issues are guaranteed (one in early June, and another in early August).

After the first three issues, I will have to see where we stand with respect to support. If we have enough monthly subscribers and/or ad revenue to pay for the magazine, then we’ll continue chugging happily along. This is the ideal situation, and if we get there I think the magazine can continue paying authors and releasing issues indefinitely. If not, then I’ll have to reevaluate our strategy. Potential contingency plans include cutting the number of stories per issue and/or paying less for stories, neither of which is appealing)

Second, I wanted to let you all know that we plan on releasing audio versions of our stories in the form of a podcast. I can’t say exactly when the first podcast will be released, but we have an amazing volunteer voice actor working on it right now. Recording stories is a lot of work, and we’re still looking for more volunteers; if you’re a professional or amateur voice actor, please let me know if you’d like to record a story. If the magazine ever becomes self-sufficient we’d like to pay for your talents, but for now we’re looking for volunteers only. If you want to voice your support for this podcast idea, please email me at ‘’.

Lastly, I’d like to ask you all for a favor. I currently have an incredibly small budget for advertising, so please tell your friends about Compelling Science Fiction if you enjoyed any of the stories!

If you have any comments or questions, you can always email me at ‘’. I always read, and I nearly always respond.

In upcoming posts I’ll be discussing how I’m continuing to get the word out to new readers, along with some detailed metrics. I'll also be discussing details about our story evaluation and acceptance process. If you want to be informed about when the next blog post (or magazine issue) is released, please sign up for our mailing list using the form on our main page. You can also follow us on Twitter @CompellingSF. Take care!

Joe Stech

If you enjoyed these posts, please consider subscribing to Compelling Science Fiction. Your support helps us pay authors who bring great content into the world.

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