The server on which I host my e-mail went down a bit over two days ago while I was on vacation.
The good news is that mail sent in those two days got queued up and delivered once I set up a new mail server, and I've been through it and not seen anything on fire. The bad news is that I'm still missing mail from the six previous days, plus my entire e-mail archive. It's unlikely that I've lost everything, but it's going to take me a while to get everything back together. (Now is, of course, when I discover that the backups I thought I was running, weren't. The drives are still hopefully intact, but I do still need to get physical access to them.)
If there's anything you need from me right now, please let me know ASAP. For less time-sensitive things, if you don't hear back from me within a week, please resend your message then. I'm sorry for the delay.
I know things have been quiet around here lately -- life has been eating me, you know how it goes. Here are a few of the things I've been working on:
I have a new gig as a freelance tech blogger for PCWorld's GeekTech blog! This has been a ton of fun so far. I get to write stories like "Self-Stirring Pot Makes Instant Ramen Even Easier" and "Moss-Covered Table Powers Clock, Might One Day Power Your Laptop"! And they pay me! How is this my life? (Also I accidentally a professional writer? Yeah, I wasn't expecting that either.)
I'm still writing code, albeit less intensively. I soft-launched 750books.com, the site I teased in my previous post, a couple months ago. It exists to take the export files from the 750 Words daily writing site that I've been using for a bit and turn them into a beautiful PDF suitable for printing at a place like Lulu or Amazon CreateSpace. (The backend script that does this is up on Github; the service that wraps it isn't yet. I'm still learning how we deploy webapps in the 21st century.)
I wrote some LARPs! If this weirds you out, think disaster preparedness simulations. If this makes you think of people running around in the woods with foam swords, that's not wrong, but everything I was writing and most of what I play is more people in classrooms and hotel function space and less combat-focused. I also ran a seminar for people who want to write LARPs with a friend (running again at MIT the weekend of July 13! you should come!) and am organizing Pre-Convention, a day and a half of panels, talks, and workshops, for Intercon next year (you should come! you should bid something! it'll be great!). (My hobby: project management.)
As was perhaps inevitable, a couple weeks ago I decided to combine all of the above and launched Northeast LARP News, a blog to aggregate LARP event announcements in the Northeast US. (Okay, the code angle is a little weak, because I got smart and hosted on Blogspot. Shush, you.) So if you have things you want me to post, please send them over (instructions are on the site); if there are places I should advertise, please let me know, here or there; and please add it to your RSS readers/e-mail/LJ/Twitter/whatever. Questions, comments, concerns, etc. welcomed.
And that's a big piece of what I'm up to lately. Things are pretty good!
As many coders do, I work on personal projects on the side, especially lately as I've been doing contracting work and job-hunting. Building software is apparently one of the things I on some level can't not do -- I get antsy after a while and need to write some code. Lucky for me, then, that people are happy to pay me well to do something I enjoy. :-)
Right now I'm working on a site (in Python and Django) which will allow you to take things you have written and turn them first, as a MVP, into a PDF of a book, and eventually directly into a physical book, via one of the print-on-demand services.
Because I want the site to be friendly and easy to use, I have been lately working on the styling of it. Going into this I knew very little CSS -- anyone who has looked at the source to this web site (please don't, it hurts) can attest that much of it is left over from the bad old days of tables that characterized the web when I started it. This is where I am right now, after a couple evenings' hacking (click for the HTML version):
Let me know if it breaks in your browser. (Why yes, this is partly a backdoor attempt to get some browser compatability testing, how could you tell? ;-)
If you can see this, it means that DNS has updated and the site has successfully transitioned to a new server. Updates will happen in a staggered fashion as DNS caches time out and requery, the worst-case latency being four hours, so you may see this update on the site well before you see it in your RSS reader, for example.
The motivation for the switch was that the old server which was hosting this site had become kind of a Christmas-tree box (services hanging off it like ornaments, without much regard for their similarity), and the site is important enough to me as a marketing tool that I didn't want any downtime (hi, potential employers!), so I've moved it to dedicated hosting while I rebuild the old box.
Known issues: As a consequence of the move, many older blog posts will appear to have been updated very recently. Older versions of ikiwiki, the software I use to run the site, pulled page creation and modification time off disk rather than from the version control system, and new server means new disk means new creation and update times. I wrote some code to fix the creation times, but that means that everything I touched looks as though it was updated last Sunday, because it was. Rest assured that nothing material has changed. (And if you don't believe me, the Internet Archive will probably provide older versions of the pages.)
I believe everything else to be working properly, but if you see anything that's broken, please let me know, either by e-mail or in the comments.
If you've visited the site recently, you may have noticed some cosmetic and usability changes. If you haven't, they're not earth-shaking, so you needn't drop everything you're doing and check it out! (Though, I mean, you can if you want to. Don't let me stop you.) I do hope they will make the site better-looking and easier to use.
Notably, the tag cloud, which was hanging out, unstyled, at the top of this main content box, has moved to the sidebar to the left and gotten some styling so it looks like an actual tag cloud. Also, the site now has an actual archive, also quicklinked in the sidebar to the left, and I've gone back and mostly fixed the organization of the early posts, so everything should be easier to find now. (Though not too easy; some of that stuff is embarrassing. We were freshmen once, and young -- in high school, even! ;-)
Please let me know if you encounter any problems.
I went to Worldcon a few weeks ago now, which was fun and I've already bought my membership for next year. (Also Arisia and Intercon. 2012 is filling up.) While at Worldcon I sat in on a panel with the topic
"Fandom on the Internet: Threat or Menace?""Fandom Online: Is the Argument Over? What Was (Is?) the Argument About?", listed panelists Chris Garcia, Claire Brialey, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, and John Scalzi, Mr. Garcia moderating. (I think Ms. Brialey couldn't make it for some reason, or was otherwise deeply quiet, because I don't remember anything she said.) In topic it looked to be a bit of a damn kids panel, but I knew at least Teresa Nielsen Hayden and John Scalzi were heavily involved in fannish things on the Internet and usually entertaining, so I showed up to hear them talk. I forget the particulars of the panel, which was unsurprisingly on the whole positive towards fannish activity on the Internet. What I remember is being apparently the only person in the room under thirty, and spending the last half of the panel with my hand raised to contribute and not being called on.
Now, even at the time I assumed that it wasn't out of malice that I was being ignored. I don't believe that the moderator or the panelists didn't want to hear from people under thirty, or me in particular. And in fact I talked to Mr. Garcia after the panel and asked him point-blank about it, and he said he hadn't seen my hand raised, and was in fact generally a mensch about it. So there, mystery solved. But being ignored exactly characterizes my experience to date of SF fan conventions (two Boskones, a Westercon, and a Worldcon), and that's something I want to talk about.
Because being ignored really has been my overpowering impression of SF fan conventions. I show up, and I've got the con badge and a geeky T-shirt and I look the part, I have all the outward signs that say "one of us." I also know all the shibboleths, quotes and references both popular and obscure, literary and fannish. This convention is, theoretically, where all the people from my home planet ended up. All the people who look like me and speak like me and have the same cultural history as me are theoretically here. And I show up and discover that they all have lives of their own, and families and friends of their own, jobs and hobbies of their own, and they have no need or desire to meet me. I am entirely peripheral to their world. (I imagine this is often the experience of real expats returning to the countries of their birth.) Mostly they don't even notice me, nor are they likely to talk to me, and when I talk to them the interactions are short, usually awkward, barely more than "Can you hold the elevator?" "Sure." I do not have conversations. I can attend the whole convention and not say five words to anyone. I can stand in the middle of a major throughfare looking lost and disoriented and the waves of people part quietly around me, as though I were nothing more than an inconvenient rock below the tideline. Nobody notices me. Nobody appears to care that I am there.
In the years since my first fan convention I have gotten much better at initiating conversation, so at least at Worldcon I did talk to people. Most of the conversations I had I initiated -- not all, but the majority. Most of the people I conversed with were coming to their first Worldcon, or had been to only a couple. Like me, they were unattached, they were peripheral, they were looking to meet people. The unattached people were uniformly younger, had few to no other people they knew at the convention, and had often heard about it from the paper or the Internet rather than friends. We weren't really part of fandom as such. We were all outsiders.
I wasn't expecting to feel so isolated. People talk about fandom a lot as "the place all the people from my home planet ended up." While I don't know that I've heard anyone talk of being immediately and completely welcomed, as though a long-lost cousin or the Fabled Child of Prophecy, I also haven't heard anyone talk of being nearly as put off by their first encounters with fandom as I have been. I read Jo Walton's novel Among Others, which draws heavily on her growing-up experience of fandom, and while her character Mori's experience of her book group is a lot like my experience of MITSFS, it's entirely unlike my experience of fandom and conventions. Mori talks about being taken seriously by the other members of the book group at age fifteen. At age twenty-five, that's my experience of interacting with older fen about half the time. The other half of the time the conversation starts with "I'm a member of (some regional SF club), and at age 45 I'm the youngest person there," as though that were something to be proud of, and goes downhill from there. Small wonder there's no one in the club younger than he is. Sadly Jo Walton's book ends before we hear Mori's first-hand experience of her first science fiction convention. Even the relayed experience of her boyfriend Wim ("five days talking about nothing but books!") is strikingly different from mine: if I didn't work at it, I'd hardly talk at all.
Now, you can say that I was foolish to expect to fall right in, and that of course any large group of strangers is going to be a lot of work to break into. You may well be right. I have had the experience I was hoping for, of being welcomed, once before in my life, when I came to MIT as a freshman. I'm right now watching a new crop of freshmen have that experience all over again, of finding out that there are people like them and they can meet them and hang out with them and talk about the things they care about with them. So I know it's not a completely impossible thing to hope for, though it may be very rare. The key difference that I see is that, at MIT (and in Mori's book group), the people there are looking to meet other people and draw them into the activities they care about. MIT student groups know that it's absolutely vital to get new membership; that yearly influx of even one or two new people is the thing keeping the club relevant, and if that influx stops for too long the club will die. So the clubs go out of their way to recruit new members, they put a lot of time and energy into it, and they get results. Recruitment pays back to the organization both by adding new members, who bring excitement and manpower and replace older members who've fallen away, and by reconnecting older members, because running recruitment events for an organization you really care about and identify with is fun. And it's more than just individual recruitment events, it's a whole culture of openness towards and recruitment of new members. Just one person bringing you to an event isn't enough, the people at the event need to be willing to welcome you. Ideally everyone in the organization is clear on the value of new members and will go out of their way to welcome them, which is pretty close to where we are in the MIT organizations I'm a part of. The MIT organizations are always looking to make new friends. And I don't see that in fandom.
I watched a guy at Worldcon (not me), probably in his forties, who was obviously not part of fandom but interested, come up to an open filk circle which had just sung a fairly martial song (based on Harry Turtledove's WORLDWAR books) asking if they could sing something more peace-loving -- asking to be included -- and instead of saying, "here, sit down, have a NESFA hymnal, find something and we'll sing something you want to sing," they rebuffed him. They missed an opportunity. And they missed it for me too and anybody else watching, because seeing that I would hardly have felt welcome to go up to the group and try to participate myself. I would say that missed opportunities like that were the rule rather than the exception in my observation at Worldcon. And even though I had brought him to the event and was trying to welcome him (into a group of which I still do not feel a part!), I couldn't cover for other people who weren't so welcoming, at what was ostensibly an open event.
Much has of course already been made of the problem of "the graying of fandom", and this will no doubt be read in that tradition by those that know it. I want to cast that phrase on a purely personal level, though, make it concrete for you: when you say "the graying of fandom" what you mean is "all my friends are getting old and grey". I submit that if you show up to a big event like a Worldcon where new people reasonably abound and you aren't looking to make new friends -- if you don't in fact make new friends younger than you with some frequency -- then you have only yourself to blame that all of your friends are getting old! I can't be your friend if you don't want me.
I said at the beginning that I had bought my membership to next year's Worldcon. Before Worldcon I was very near to dropping organized SF fandom. I'd heard about the Worldcon this year, of course Scalzi mentioned it, I was even a supporting member of last year's and a Hugo nominator. I was going to be in Nevada two weekends prior for DEF CON, and Tricky Pixie, who I've wanted to see for ages live, was playing, but it was still too much hassle and expense, and I'd been turned off conventions by my previous experience of them. Dropping into a giant convention where I didn't know anybody and nobody would talk to me sounded like a dismal time. I wasn't going to go until a friend said they were going and basically recruited me. And I did have a pretty good time. It was useful to have at least one friend there. It was a hell of a lot of work to talk to people on my part, and it wasn't a slam-dunk, but I did meet some cool new people, and had some good conversations, and it was worth enough for me to come back for another year. I'm part of fandom more out of bloody-mindedness than anything else.
I do want to thank the people who have reached out to me: Teresa Nielsen Hayden, at Boskone a couple years ago, for inviting me to the TOR party after I awkwardly introduced myself, I'm sorry I couldn't go; Greg and Astrid Bear, again at Boskone, for saying hi and asking if I was having a good time; Ariel, at Westercon 60, for among other things introducing me to the music of Alexander James Adams; everybody I met at Worldcon (hi! sorry to meet again under such circumstances); and probably other people I'm forgetting. The bad news is that there aren't many. This essay exists to say "more like them, please!"
I also want to be clear that I'm not fishing for affirmation by writing this. I'm already here, see above about bloody-mindedness. I want to hear other people's first experiences of fandom, young and old, good and bad. Was it really better back in the day? Or am I misreading people's remarks? What are other young people's experiences today?
Because this isn't really about me, personally. Not everybody is so bloody-minded, nor should they need to be. By my read of it, fandom doesn't intend to be an exclusive club ("No Girls Allowed", "Keep Out This Means You"). It's always prided itself on being a place for the quiet shy bookish types, who are exactly the opposite of bloody-minded. It's easy to lose people. All you have to do is ignore them. If that's what you want, then keep doing as you're doing; it's very effective. Just don't then complain at me about how all your friends are getting old and grey.
If you don't want that, then let's talk. Because the conversation is what fandom is all about, right?
:^ For conversations, the bar was good the first night as a place for us drifters to wash up and find each other, and terrible after as more people arrived at the convention and it got too hosed to be a place where one person could sit with a beer for a bit and wait for people to show up. The parties were also good, the later the better once the crush of people ebbed so you could talk without shouting. The panel tracks and during the day were pretty bad for conversations; people were pretty preoccupied.)
A couple years ago, a friend and I did a hiking trip of the John Muir Trail in eastern California; the trail is 210 miles, from Yosemite in the north to Mt. Whitney, tallest point in the lower 48, in the south. We originally specced it as a full month, August of 2008, right after I (was supposed to have) graduated and right before she started grad school at the University of Washington, though I ended up punting about halfway through and hitching down to Fresno because of problems with my ankle. Anyhow because commercial backpacking fare is uninspiring as food goes, and often doesn't provide enough calories for the level of activity you're doing, my friend put together a nice variety of meals and dried them, and we ate them happily for the trip. (After our first three days, I bought a salt shaker in Tuolomne Meadows, because we were sweating enough that we needed it. Later on we started adding Crisco to them to bulk up the fat and calories, and I still felt a bit hungry for most of the trip, but they were better by far, and packed lighter and tighter, than anything commercial.) After the trip, I got the recipes from her, and then life happened, and it was only in the past few months that I've started to work them into my home cooking.
The first one such (and only so far) is what my hiking partner called Convict Lake Chickpeas (link for recipe), a simple stewed combination of chickpeas and tomatoes. It is, among other things, vegan, and gluten-free if you make it with quinoa as I do.
The original recipe was, in its entirety,
2 servings: ----------- 2/3 can chickpeas 2/3 can tomatoes 2 tbsp dried onions spices 1.5 cups couscous (combine all but couscous, cook couscous separately)
So you can see that I have expanded and elaborated on it slightly. It's simple, fast, and tasty and gives lots of room for experimentation if you want it. I tend to find a whole can each chickpeas and tomatoes makes two days' food for a mostly sedentary coder who tends to eat only one non-breakfast meal a day. It is also excellent cold and/or used as a topping for crackers, which is good since it's summer here in Boston, we have no AC, and cold food is significantly more palatable during the heat of the day.
God's War is another book I first encountered when John Scalzi ran a Big Idea piece by its author on his blog Whatever. (If you don't follow the Big Idea pieces, you're missing out on one of the better tools that isn't "friends' recommendations" for discovering good new SF I've found. Less so lately, for some reason -- an overabundance of urban fantasy? -- but for a while I was adding every other book to my Amazon wishlist and buying every third. The comments to the entries are filled with people complaining in jest about the pain induced by the post series in their wallets.)
Anyhow, I read the post, thought "that sounds kind of cool," and promptly got distracted by being depressed about work and job-hunting. A couple months later, I was in MITSFS, bored and with nothing to do, and found it on the new book shelf and and got sucked into it. It's a very gritty SFnal world -- none of the main characters are people who I'd want to meet in a dark alley. Everything, including 'bakkies' (real-life South African slang for pickup trucks, as Wikipedia informs me), is powered by bioengineered insects, which are controllable by certain people called magicians, like the character Rhys, through some (perhaps pheromonal?) process. Several characters have strange genetics which allows them to shift into animal form -- Khos, another member of the team, has a dog form. And our main character, Nyx, is an ex-bel dame, a former member of an elite squad of assassins who hunt down deserters and other threats to the country, and who are a political force in their own right. The story has as its backdrop an interminable war between the two major powers of the planet, Nasheen and Chenja, in which Nyx fought for Nasheen and from which Rhys is a Chenjan draft-dodger. Now Nyx's team is assigned to bring in an off-worlder and potential gene pirate who's playing both sides, but who also might have the information to tip the balance of power once and for all. But the bel dames and a rival bounty hunter are also on the pirate's trail, and they have their own purposes.
It's a pretty brutal story, as befits its resource-poor desert setting (what TV Tropes would call a Crapsack World) and its bounty-hunter subject matter -- lots of heads, fingers, ears being chopped off. The tech is advanced enough that most injuries up to death and having your head cut off can be repaired, for a price. The characters are all seriously flawed, concerned mostly with their own tenuous survival, but also capable of nobility. There's a lot of fictional politics and religion in the story, as you might imagine from the title -- there are several countries' futures at stake in the book, and they all have different dominant religions (all apparently based on Islam) and social and cultural mores which have affected the characters' lives for better or worse. Nasheen, where much of the story takes place, sends its men and many of its women off to war, so many so that women run the country; Chenja is much more what we might imagine of a conservative Mustlim country; Ras Tieg is home to a large number of shifters which it is busily oppressing. The tensions between the countries are reflected in the tensions between the characters, and those relationships provided a lot of the interest of the book to me. For all that, the book never felt preachy to me -- all of these societies were broken, in one way or another. (I don't know the author's background, but nothing I read in the book suggested that a Christian or atheist society written by her would be any less flawed; I would have thrown it across the room if it had. It is not a book to rag on Muslims.)
I wasn't bowled over by the bug-tech, though I found it competently executed, and there were a couple world-building details that didn't ring quite true to me. (The most notable is a couple references to using "sand-cats" -- which I have no reason to believe are not large, carnivorous felids -- being used as beasts of burden. While I convinced myself after a while that using meat-eaters as beasts of burden isn't a completely impossible idea, cf. wolves/dogs (though they're both omnivores and pack animals, not solitary obligate carnivores), I don't think they'd be my first choice of beast of burden in a desert environment, even if I had the story's ridiculously advanced bioengineering technology. I considered letting it throw me out of the story for a while and then decided that I was being ridiculous.)
So I liked the book. I'm not sure I'll pick up the second volume of a planned trilogy (due out in October), mostly due to a current lack of interest in the kind of brutality in evidence, but that's mostly me hunting other pleasures in my fiction and not the book's fault, and thankfully the first book stands well on its own. I've already leant my copy to a friend, and would definitely recommend it to people who enjoy the works of authors like Joe Abercrombie and Richard K. Morgan.
(I'm struck, as I format this to fit your screen, how excellent a cover that is for the book and how much it tells you about those characters. Consider who's wearing the burnous. If you thought that the female character was dressed in fewer clothes on the cover merely to attract readers, you'd be wrong, and this is a plot point.)
This being a review of the April/May 2011 double issue of Asimov's Science Fiction. (If you're wondering where March went, never fear -- I am indeed posting these out of order, my March issue having disappeared, hopefully into the bookbag of a housemate to read on the T, but I have read it, and I'll review it when it has returned to me.)
- "The Day the Wires Came Down", by Alexander Jablokov (novelette) -- This story centers around a transport system using wires strung between high points in London, or rather as you might guess from the title the death of same. Jablokov attributes it to a dream he had, but I'd swear I've read somehwere, probably the excellent webcomic 2D Goggles, about Charles Babbage's plans to build something similar for mail-carrying. (I can't find the reference right now, but somebody else on the Internet also remembers this, so I'm not crazy, or at least no crazier than a random person on the Internet.) It's an interesting idea, and the quality of the writing is good. Unfortunately that setting detail alone is kind of ho-hum, and the characters don't do much to enliven it, so I got bored and punted partway through the story. The setting of course has a bit of a steampunk vibe, and this shows up the problem I have with a lot of steampunk stories -- their setting is a lot of Rule of Cool, but there's nothing underneath that, no problem to animate it -- it is, to abuse the metaphor a bit, an automaton, flawless on the outside but only clockwork underneath.
- "An Empty House With Many Doors", by Michael Swanwick (short story) -- A depressed widower meets a version of his wife from another universe. Well-executed and blessedly short.
- "The Homecoming", by Mike Resnick (short story) -- The story begins, "I don't know what bothers me more, my lumbago or my arthritis." That told me everything I needed to know about it, and I bounced off. It may be a fine story, but I judge it to be more about the aches and pains of late middle age than anything I, with the narcissism of youth, find interesting.
- "North Shore Friday", by Nick Mamatas (short story) -- Some Greek illegal aliens, some INS agents, and a federal telepathy machine. Well-characterized, and especially interesting for the way it uses typography to achieve a non-linear narrative.
- "Clockworks" (novelette), by William Preston -- A prequel story to his "Helping Them Take the Old Man Down" from the March 2010 Asimov's. I like it as I liked the other, though I enjoyed the other's careful treading of the boundary between science and the supernatural, and I am a bit disappointed to see here that the story makes it pretty evident that the supernatural exists in this world. (And I am getting bored of Cthulhu.)
- "The Fnoor Hen", by Rudy Rucker (short story) -- I always find stories about future pop or startup culture to ring a little false (though this may be because the truth really is stranger than fiction). I was suspending disbelief in this story until the line "'You're always talking about morphons these days,' said Vicky [the main female character], feeling cozy with the vague old word, which had something to do with chaos or math," at which point I said to myself "why am I reading this garbage again" and punted it.
- "Smoke City", by Christopher Barzak (short story) -- This story begins strong, so strong that rereading the first paragraph still causes my heart to catch in my throat, but after that it descends into a heavy-handed not-even-allegory about how terrible the early Industrial Age was and loses all of its phantom depth.
- "A Response from EST17", by Tom Purdom (novelette) -- Oh look, another story about how risk-takers are necessary in any society. How trite. It does contain an interesting idea -- what if we don't see aliens in the sky because every new civilization that achieves contact is given a payload of information, like immortality and sustainability and all the rest, and it finds the ensuing thousand-year struggle to cope with this so traumatic that it hunkers down on its planet and doesn't talk to anybody. Mostly this just makes me want to read more Culture books, however.
- "The One that Got Away", by Esther M. Friesner (short story) -- The main character is a fish-woman prostitute, however her voice annoyed me, and I punted.
- "The Flow and Dream", by Jack Skillingstead (short story) -- The last survivor on a dying generation ship is forced by the AI inhabiting that ship to start settlement of the planet. Yeah. Uh, meh?
- "Becalmed", by Kristine Katheryn Rusch (novelette) -- Genocide survivor... or is it instigator... is repressing her memories and needs to draw them out. If she instigated the genocide, she'll be executed. This was actually fairly good -- the first Rusch piece I've liked. I think partly because it's set in a great traveling Fleet -- Starfleet if Starfleet never went home and traveled in a pack -- which is an interesting setting, and I kept mapping the ship into the Galaxion universe and that made it even better. The story's not novel, but it was well enough done that I didn't notice too hard.
- Another Norman Spinrad book review column, notable for its thankful avoidance of his previous topic but for one blessedly short paragraph, its inclusion of some items of actual interest, and its long rant about why Spinrad hates the New Weird, whatever that is ("it's not scientific enough!"). Six of one...
I think I'm getting bored of Asimov's -- I'm less and less inclined to read it, and with my new job I spend less time on the T so I have less need of it. At the farthest end of winter when I'm sick of the cold and the gloom and the bland white food, what I crave above all else is bitter greens, and so now the characters, settings, plots provided by Asimov's really aren't providing whatever it is I'm craving in my literature. Would people be sad if I stopped running these reviews?
One of the many interesting parts of being involved with MITSFS is the questions we get asked. (Well, after "where's the bathroom?")
In answer to such a question, I recently put together a list of obscure or up-and-coming authors of hard SF. Having done so and sent it to the gentleman, enough of the people who were in the Cc list seemed to appreciate it for its own merits that (with the original requestor's permission) I thought I'd post it here, in slightly edited form. I think many of these names you've seen before if you've been reading my reviews here, but this gets them all together in one place.
Here's the list I have, with notes and samples, in approximate order of decreasing obscurity.
Rachel Swirsky -- A very newly-arrived author, mostly of short stories, had one story ("A Memory of Wind", not what I'd call "hard SF") nominated for a Nebula this past year and another ("Eros, Philia, Agape", which I would call hard SF) nominated for a Hugo. "Eros" is one of the best, most affecting short stories I've read in a long while.
- "Eros, Philia, Agape": http://www.tor.com/stories/2009/03/eros-philia-agape Explores a romantic relationship between a human and an android.
- "The Monster's Million Faces": http://www.tor.com/stories/2010/09/the-monsters-million-faces Considers the effects of using virtual reality technology to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Other stories at her web site: http://www.rachelswirsky.com/ficread.html
Sara Genge -- Another newly-arrived author. Unfortunately none of the stories of hers I've read seem available for free online. If you come by MITSFS some time we'd be happy to set you up with the physical issues of the magazines they're in, or, in this day and age of ebooks, you can likely find the relevant back-issues of ASIMOV'S online for not much money. Her stories manage a dystopian/post-apocalyptic/post-global warming/nanotech mein without being depressing or as misogynistic as is typical, which is still sadly a rare thing, and her stories generally have lots of interesting character insight. Stories of particular note, in my opinion:
- "Sins of the Father", in the December 2010 ASIMOV'S, is a story of post-global warming Spain.
- "As Women Fight", in the December 2009 ASIMOV'S, explores a society structured around ubiquitous, nanotechnologically-mediated gender change.
"Shoes-to-Run", in the July 2009 ASIMOV'S, is a coming-of-age story set in the post-nuclear(?) holocaust wasteland outside Paris.
She's got a list of her published stories complete up to "As Women Fight" on her web site, http://www.saragenge.com/, which includes a couple stories available online, but I haven't read any of them so I can't comment.
Geoffrey Landis -- He was a visiting researcher at MIT for a year or two; otherwise he's a NASA researcher. I haven't read a lot of his stuff, and most of what of his I have read has been in ASIMOV'S.
- "Marya and the Pirate", in the January 2010 ASIMOV'S, is a neat little story of hijacking in space, including a fairly detailed (and presumably scientifically accurate) description of how to sneak up on somebody in space. (It's harder than you think!)
- "The Sultan of the Clouds", the cover story of the September 2010 ASIMOV'S, is set in the (again, presumably scientifically accurate) floating cities of Venus.
- "A Walk in the Sun", originally published in the October 1991 ASIMOV'S and collected, well, everywhere (list at http://bestsciencefictionstories.com/2008/02/21/a-walk-in-the-sun-by-geoffrey-a-landis/)) was one of the stories Joe Haldeman had us read for 21W.759, his science fiction writing class. A woman is stranded on the moon and has to circumnaviate it, walking in advance of the terminator, in order to stay alive until she can be rescued.
His web site: http://www.geoffreylandis.com/
Elizabeth Bear -- One of my favorite authors working today, and certainly the
author of some of the consistently best science fiction I'm reading.
Relatively new, her first novel published in 2002. Her JACOB'S LADDER books (DUST, CHILL, and the forthcoming GRAIL) are the best reimagining of the hoary SF trope of the generation ship I've read, and her standalone novel UNDERTOW is one of the best imaginings of the future I've read period. (Her Jenny Casey books -- HAMMERED, SCARDOWN, and WORLDWIRED -- are also hard SF, as is her standalone novel CARNIVAL.) She also writes short stories, and I would draw your attention to:
- "Dolly", in the January 2011 ASIMOV'S, in which a sub-sentient android is used as a murder weapon.
- "Shoggoths in Bloom", first published in the March 2008 ASIMOV'S, and winner of the 2009 Hugo Award for Best Novelette, in which a black college professor goes to investigate some very curious sea creatures off the coast of Maine. (Available at http://www.elizabethbear.com/shoggoths.html))
- "Two Dreams on Trains", first published in STRANGE HORIZONS and collected in at least one Year's Best. Artists in a cyberpunk future, pretty indescribable. http://www.strangehorizons.com/2005/20050103/dreams-f.shtml
- "This Tragic Glass", first published in the April 2004 SCIFICTION. Christopher Marlowe is saved from his "great reckoning in a small room" by time-traveling college professors who are trying to validate a prediction made by a computer algorithm which can determine the gender of an author from samples of their works. (No, really. And the story works, too!) http://www.elizabethbear.com/tragicglass.html
Lots more at http://www.elizabethbear.com/bib.html (She's had at least one story in NATURE, apparently. Yes, that NATURE.)
Ted Chiang -- One of the great short story writers of the last decade, his collection STORIES OF YOUR LIFE AND OTHERS stands with the best collections going back to Asimov and is one of my favorites. (We have STORIES OF YOUR LIFE at MITSFS.) His stories all explore Big Ideas like the limits of human intelligence or how humans will relate to artificial intelligences without leaving the characters as only cardboard cut-outs.
His Wikipedia page can gush as well as I can, and has links to most of his published work available online: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ted_Chiang
(Chiang's "Understand" was another one of the stories we read for 21W.759.)
Paolo Bacigalupi -- A very new author, his first novel, THE WINDUP GIRL, just won the Nebula award and tied for the Hugo. His short stories all explore the consequences of global warming and genetic engineering and the things humans are doing to the world.
His web site has links to a number of his stories available online: http://windupstories.com/stories/
Peter Watts -- Watts is trained as a marine biologist, so, y'know, science, and is possibly the most depressing science fiction writer working today (though Paolo Bacigalupi might have to fight him for that title), but he explores Big Ideas like the utility of consciousness (in his novel BLINDSIGHT) in a way few others do. Pretty much all of his work, including his novels, is available to read on his web site:
His story "Tideline" won the Hugo for best novelette this year.
Thus ends the list. Now for notes and other directions to pursue.
Other names of people you've probably not heard of, who write good hard SF:
Aliette de Bodard, Mary Robinette Kowal, Charlie Jane Anders, Felicity Shoulders, Ian Tregillis (I haven't actually read him but I hear good things)
Of course there's always Joe Haldeman, assistant professor of writing, who teaches 21W.759 (Science Fiction Writing). He's hardly unknown -- he was inducted as a Grandmaster of science fiction a year or so ago -- but he is good.
Other, better-known names who write good hard SF: Richard K. Morgan, Charlie Stross, Iain M. Banks, Cory Doctorow
I debated about whether to list Catherynne M. Valente or not. She writes science fiction and fantasy (which often has a science fictional soul) but not really hard SF per se. Then again, she's an awesome writer, and if there's any author I read who should try her hand at hard SF, it would be her. (Here's her describing her latest novel, THE HABITATION OF THE BLESSED, which apparently begins by asking, "So what if Ptolemaeic science had really worked? How would we get from there to where we are now?" http://whatever.scalzi.com/2010/11/02/the-big-idea-catherynne-m-valente/ )
Compare her "The Radiant Car Thy Sparrows Drew" http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/valente_08_09/ and her amusing "How to Become a Mars Overlord" http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/how-to-become-a-mars-overlord/
If you feel like trolling the firehose yourself (to mix a metaphor), MITSFS has back-issues of all the Big Three print magazines (ASIMOV'S, ANALOG, and F&SF, though ASIMOV'S is the only one I give the time of day to, pretty much), plus a few smaller magazines. For online or other magazines, you could look through, in no particular order and by no means an exhaustive list
- IDEOMANCER: http://ideomancer.com/
- CLARKESWORLD: http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/
- STRANGE HORIZONS: http://strangehorizons.com/
- JIM BAEN'S UNIVERSE: http://baens-universe.com/ (sadly defunct)
- APEX MAGAZINE: http://www.apexbookcompany.com/apex-online/
- ABYSS & APEX: http://www.abyssandapex.com/ (not the same as the above)
- INTERZONE: http://ttapress.com/interzone/
- SUBTERRANEAN MAGAZINE: http://www.subterraneanpress.com/magazine
- ONSPEC MAGAZINE: http://www.onspec.ca/
- WEIRD TALES: http://www.weirdtales.net/ (apparently it's still going again?!)
- Tor.com: http://www.tor.com/stories
You should also feel free to use my SF short fiction reviews, which I have posted at http://free-dissociation.com/blog/tags/asimovs/