Friday, March 14, 2014

Six Questions for Colin Sullivan, Editor, Nature Futures

Futures is the science-fiction column in Nature, the international weekly journal of science. We are typically looking for near-future, hard science-fiction (though this is interpreted liberally) stories of between 850 and 950 words. Anyone is welcome to submit, although they are advised to read some sample stories (at to get a flavour of what we do — and to avoid repetition. Read the complete guidelines here.

SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a submission and why?

Colin Sullivan: Originality, a well-told story and a clear voice. Science fiction abounds with clichés, so dodging them (or at the very least reworking them into something new) is key. Similarly, with science fiction it is very easy to load your piece with the technical aspects of your world and forget the action — we probably don’t need to know every single nuance of the computer program, cell-signalling pathway or quantum mechanical equations that underpin your idea. And the voice turns the mundane into the interesting and brings the whole together.

SQF: What most often turns you off to a submission?

CS: Exposition — you’ve only got 950 words, don’t waste them giving me acres of backstory. If all that information is so essential for me to follow your plot then you’re writing the wrong tale. The other major thing that turns me off is scenarios masquerading as stories. Establishing that the world is alien/post-apocalyptic/in a parallel universe is not, of itself, a story: it is the (important) setting for one, so something needs to happen, preferably something that the reader will care about.

SQF: Will you publish a submission an author posted on a personal blog? 

CS: Not knowingly. Anything submitted to Futures should be unpublished elsewhere.

SQF: How does Futures describe ‘hard’ science fiction?

CS: Stories that contain a credible scientific aspect, even if it has been extrapolated to the nth degree, as opposed to out and out fantasy. I have been sent some very entertaining stories involving swords and magicians — nice but wrong publication. Similarly, there is some degree of confusion about whether horror = SF, usually it doesn’t. But as our guidelines say, we do have a liberal interpretation of hard SF — what are rules if they can’t be broken (sometimes)?

SQF: What is the best part of being an editor?

CS: The people behind the words. I have come into contact with so many interesting, exciting and engaging people simply by virtue of them sending me stories. And the worst part, in case you’re wondering, is having to say “no” to so many of them.

SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?

CS: Does publishing history matter? And the answer is “no”. Every story is judged purely on its merits. At Nature Futures, we are as keen to attract writers who are just starting out as we are to publish better-known authors. Indeed, working with those writers who have had little published previously is extremely rewarding. And in some rare instances, I have been known to work with writers on rejected pieces that had promise (though I stress that time constraints mean that I can do this only very, very occasionally).

Thank you, Colin. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.

NEXT POST: 3/18--Six Questions for Iulian Ionescu, Editor, Fantasy Scroll Magazine

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