According to the submission guidelines posted on the Whippleshield Books eshop site, I’m looking for “looking for stories of between 15,000 and 30,000 words total of high literary quality but dealing with hard science fiction or space fiction topics”, but I thought it might be worthwhile explaining what I mean by this.
The “hard science fiction or space fiction” is easy. I want stories that involve space in some shape or form – space travel, space exploration, living and/or working in space. And by “in space”, I mean off-Earth – on the Moon, or Mars, a moon of Jupiter, or an exoplanet… But I also mean science fiction that accurately represents the hazards of such environments. no magical spaceships, with their magical faster-than-light drives. No galactic federations. I’m looking for stories based on our current understanding of the universe, not stories which treat the universe like the Wild West or the Atlantic Ocean or some distant part of the British Empire. I want fiction that revels in the details and difficulties of travelling, and performing tasks, in space or in non-Earth-like environments.
The term “high literary quality” is perhaps more difficult to define. Science fiction is known for poor characterisation and bland prose. I don’t want that. I don’t want stories that privilege idea at the expense of all other literary elements. I don’t want plot-driven puzzle stories, or rah-rah “man” overcoming hardship stories. I don’t want pulp fiction set in space. I want insight, rigour, beautiful turns of phrase and depth – both in characters and themes.
Yes, just like science fiction itself, it’s easier to define the sort of fiction I’m looking for by, well, by pointing at it. In other words, I’ll know when I see it. Of course, my own Apollo Quartet is a good example – but then I’m not looking for something exactly like Adrift on the Sea of Rains, either. But there are some published novels which do embody the sort of thing I’m looking for, such as…
- Barton, William & Michael Capobianco: Iris (1990), Fellow Traveler (1991), Alpha Centauri (1997)
- Baxter, Stephen: Voyage (1996), Titan (1997)
- Kerr, Philip: The Second Angel (1998)
- Landis, Geoffrey A: Mars Crossing (2000)
- McAuley, Paul: The Quiet War (2008), Gardens of the Sun (2009), In The Mouth of the Whale (2012)
- Mercurio, Jed: Ascent (2007)
- Robinson, Kim Stanley: Icehenge (1986), Red Mars (1992), Green Mars (1993), Blue Mars (1996), The Martians (1999)
- Zubrin, Robert: First Landing (2001)
Obviously, the above examples are all novels, rather than the novellas I’m looking for (well, Icehenge is actually a collection of three linked novellas). No doubt there is shorter fiction which fits the guidelines, though I can’t think of any off the top of my head. Also, except for the Kerr and Mercurio, all of the above novels were published as category science fiction. And I’m looking for submissions which transcend genre. (If that means experimental structure or presentation, then I’m flexible.)
It’s going to take a while before Whippleshield Books’ character emerges. I may never, for example, find those stories I have in my head which perfectly represent the Whippleshield Books mission statement. Except for the ones I write myself, of course. Some flexibility is inevitable – at some point, I hope to receive submissions which are so good I want to publish them, even though they’re not precisely what I was looking for. I accept that.
However, I do insist that people follow the procedure as laid down in the submission guidelines. Send only a synopsis; and send it only if the full manuscript is available if requested. Failure to follow the guidelines will harm your chances of being published. And that’s true for every magazine or publisher there is. Only fools ignore submission guidelines.