up-and-coming hard sf authors

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.

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:

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

You should also feel free to use my SF short fiction reviews, which I have posted at http://free-dissociation.com/blog/tags/asimovs/

– Kevin

2 thoughts on “up-and-coming hard sf authors”

Comments are closed.