What is the purpose of Rocket Stack Rank?

We want to make it easier for people to find good short works of speculative fiction (short stories, novelettes, and novellas) to nominate for awards like the Hugos or just to read for their own pleasure.

We saw that there were two big obstacles to doing this: the first is that there is such breadth of new material that most people can only read a subset. The second is that even if someone recommended a story, most people have no way to get hold of it unless it was offered online for free.

We read original stories in eleven magazinesAnalog Science Fiction and Fact, Apex, Asimov's Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies (BCS), Clarkesworld, Interzone, Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (F&SF), Tor.comand Uncanny, and we rate them on a scale of one to five, with the intention that most stories will get a score of three, and that few will get either one or five. Someone with very little time could simply read our five-star stories and choose from those. Someone with more time could read the fours and fives.

Beyond that, we compute an overall score for each story based on the ratings of other reviewers, we note which stories are chosen for the annual best-of anthologies, and we track which stories are nominated for prestigious awards. Using that score, busy readers can find outstanding stories from the current year or from previous years.

Finally, we have documented different ways to get the back issues of magazines so people can read stories from earlier in the year.

What makes up Rocket Stack Rank?

Rocket Stack Rank, like many SF/F fanzines, has reviews and articles. Unique to RSR, however, is the combination of an index, library, and dynamic tables.

1. Reviews

We are a prolific short fiction reviewer, rating and writing reviews for 700+ stories a year from 11 magazines and a few original anthologies. Every month, on the 15th, reviews are collected in a monthly ratings post, grouped by publication and RSR rating.

We also write a few articles a year that tend to be numbers-based and data-driven.

2. Index

We index recommendations for each of the stories we review, and update the monthly ratings with links to the recommendations on the 1st of the next month. Our 15 SF/F sources include broad-based awards (Nebula, Hugo, Locus, Sturgeon, Eugie), "year's best" anthologies (GDozois, RHorton, JStrahan, NClarke, BASFF), and prolific reviewers who do 500+ stories a year (GDozois, RHorton, SFRevu, JMcGregor, and ourselves).

We also provide a search link with every story to help the reader find reviews from other sources on the web.

3. Library

We assemble a library of highly recommended stories, month-by-month, and use our index of recommendations to score all 700+ stories to produce an annual Best SF/F list that highlights the top 25% or so, grouped by category (novella, novelette, short story lengths) and score. Our library currently consists of the Best SF/F from 2015, 2016 and 2017, with 2018 underway, all accessible from the News & Highlights post on our home page.

From the library, we put together annual "Outstanding" selections of a dozen or stories on themes such as Outstanding LGBT SF/F stories, Outstanding SF/F by People of Color, and Hard Science Fiction stories.

4. Dynamic Tables

We programmed our tables of stories to be dynamic, to allow readers to see stories grouped in various ways. That supports our readers who subscribe to magazines (group by Publication & Rating), readers who want to see the most recommended stories across 11 magazines (group by Category & Score), and readers who want to find new writers (group by New Writer & Author). The floating gray table footer has a Jump To... control to navigate big lists and three controls to highlight stories that are free online, by new writers, translations, by publication, and by recommender.

Dynamic tables also support flagging and rating stories, which makes it easier for readers to make their way through the monthly and yearly lists of stories and track what they want to read and what they've read and liked. There's also a per-year My Ratings page that lists stories flagged and/or rated by the reader to help them remember what they liked at nomination time for the Hugo, Campbell, Locus, Nebula, and various magazine-specific awards.

How do I get copies of the magazines for stories?

Each of our reviews includes a link to access/borrow/purchase the issue that the story appeared in, Our Reference page describes all the different ways to get any of the magazines we're reading. In broad terms, there are four strategies, although you can mix and match:
  1. The Kindle strategy. If you have a Kindle device, go to Amazon.com and subscribe to Analog, Apex, Asimov's, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, F&SF, and Uncanny. Subscribe to BCS and Interzone with Weightless Books, and opt to have your subscription delivered to your Kindle. Then simply read the stories as they come to your device. Use the Desktop strategy (below) for Strange Horizons and Tor.com and for back issues.

    This is the most comfortable and convenient approach, and it gives the most financial support to the magazines. (And they desperately need it.)
  2. The Desktop strategy. If you have a Windows, Macintosh, or Linux desktop or laptop with a browser (e.g. Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Chrome), read new and old issues of Apex, BCS, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Tor.com, and Uncanny on the desktop for free. Read old issues of Analog and F&SF for free via your public library's website. Buy copies of Asimov's for Magzter and read it with Magzter's web reader in the browser. This is the cheapest approach. Note: At present, we know of no way to read Interzone on the desktop.
  3. The Tablet strategy. If you have an Android or iPad tablet, install the free Kindle, Kobo, and Google Newsstand apps. Subscribe to the magazines via Kindle, but purchase back issues from Google Newsstand or Kobo, depending on which format works best for your device. 
  4. The Print strategy. Subscribe to Analog, Asimov's, Interzone, and F&SF in print form. Order back issues from their web sites or buy them on eBay. Check your public library's website to see if it subscribes to these magazines. Use the Desktop strategy for the online magazines.
 Again, this is just a broad summary. Look at our Reference page for details.

How is Rocket Stack Rank different from other reviewers?

We're trying to build a recommendation system that people can use to select stories to read, get access to those stories, and come back and share their thoughts after reading. It is very difficult to write a review for a short story that doesn't spoil it. For that purpose, we divide our reviews into three parts: the rating, the "blurb", and the "mini-review." The rating tells you whether we think the story is worth reading or not. The blurb is a very short general description that doesn't spoil the story. The mini-review is displayed upside down until you click on it, and you shouldn't look until after reading the story. It explains how we arrived at the rating we did and serves as a jumping-off point for further discussion.

As far as we can tell, no other reviewers are doing anything like this. They write reviews that contain spoilers, and they are seldom very critical of any story. They're interesting to read after you've already read a story, of course, but they're not much help if you only want to find the top 10% best stories to read.

Another distinction is that our reviews are focused on the plot sophistication and character development of the stories and, to a lesser extent, the world-building. We care how well they're written and (for the very best stories) how emotionally engaging they are. We're not concerned about issues like novelty or inclusiveness. Plenty of other reviewers already do that, and we include their recommendations so readers can mix and match if they want to.

Why should we take your ratings seriously?

You don't need to! You can look at other people's reviews or recommendations and then use our site to help find the magazines so you can read them. Add your comments to tell us why you think we're wrong about one story or another.

That said, we're trying to apply consistent standards to all the stories we read, and we do compare our reviews with those of other reviewers. See Recommended By below.

What do the Different Ratings Mean?

We use a five-star rating system, like many others, but we want five-star scores to be very rare; most stories should get three stars. Most of the rest should get two or four. One and five-star stories should be rare.

Not Rated is for stories that are not self-contained (a serial) or may be well-written but are barely science fiction or fantasy. E.g. David Gerrold's "The Martian Child" and Rachel Swirsky's "If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love." Those are both excellent, moving stories, but, in our view, neither has enough speculative content to qualify for the genre.

One star (needs improvement) identifies stories that have "Writer 101" problems. Things that shouldn't have left the slush pile. POV errors, editorializing, info dumps, as-you-know-bob, Mary-Sue protagonists, nonstop purple prose--that sort of thing. You'd think nothing in a professional publication would ever have those problems, but it does happen.

Two stars (not recommended) are for stories that for whatever reason keep kicking you out of the narrative. E.g. the story is in Pennsylvania, but the capital is Boise. Or the spaceship is in a spiral orbit (which is impossible). Or a robot's subroutines bounce when it falls. Likewise stories that don't seem to have an ending, and those that appear to have no plot at all. (With exceptions as described below.)

One and two-star stories tend to be painful to read. They leave you feeling exhausted, and not in a good way.

Three stars (average). Most stories should fall into this bucket. Nothing wrong with it--nothing great about it. You should be able to read through it without losing suspension of disbelief, but it's possible that on later reflection you'll think "wait, that wouldn't have worked!" Simple, linear stories also go into this bucket, as do stories with too many "loose ends." E.g. a story where the reader keeps asking "why is he/she telling me this?" or one that ends with the reader asking "what about X? what about Y?" likely has a lot of loose ends.

A flawed story that is nevertheless gripping will (as of mid 2016) get three stars instead of two. The underlying rule is that no matter what problems a story has, it will never get fewer than three stars if it was actually pleasant to read. Vignettes (stories that show off a world but in which nothing happens) will generally get three stars on these grounds. (Previously a plotless story could never get more than two stars.)

This is by far the broadest category, so we subdivide it into three: Average stories are just what it says, and they comprise a majority of the stories we review. Honorable Mentions are stories that were well-written but had nothing outstanding about them. Mixed stories are ones that have something outstanding enough that we can't recommend against them, but such serious flaws that we can't recommend them either. 

Four stars (recommended). Starting in 2016, there are two ways a story can get four stars: plot sophistication or memorability. The hallmark of a four-star story is that it gets better the more you think about it. Reading it twice is usually rewarding either because you see how numerous details of the story worked together to support the conclusion or because it's moving emotionally. A four-star story makes you think and it sticks with you. (Before 2016 a moving, memorable story with a simple plot would have only earned three stars.)

Five stars (award-worthy). In broad terms, these are well-crafted stories that both have sophisticated plots and are memorable/moving. These are the stories that suck you in. You feel the characters' pain, you share their joy. A five-star story often moves you to tears. You don't just feel you witnessed something special--you were there. It's typically difficult to read another story immediately after reading a five-story story; you have to finish processing it. And it can linger with you for days.

Each level operates as a filter. A story can be emotionally powerful yet still only get one or two stars because of defects in the writing. That said, we don't apply the rules pedantically. One or two blemishes won't disqualify a story from a high rating. We always give the story the benefit of the doubt.

Having rules makes it easier to talk about why we gave a story the rating we did. We almost always know how we'll rate a story as soon as we've finished reading it, but the rules help us organize our thoughts when it comes time to explain the ranking. In a few cases, we explain why a story is great despite the fact that it breaks some rules, and we've revised the rules a couple of times based on great stories that didn't fit the old rules.

I Saw That You Changed a Review Score. Why Did You Do That?

This is a "Stack Rank," which means that the scores are determined by combining results from several sources. At certain points during the year, we'll reexamine the stories in the highest and lowest buckets and reconsider their rankings. A one-star story that got recommendations from other reviewers certainly merits further thought. Likewise, if we seem to have too many 5-star stories, it's worth looking back over the ones that no one but us liked to see if we were overenthusiastic about a story for one reason or another. A couple of times, readers have commented that we missed the point of a story, causing us to reread and rerank the story. Stories with an "honorable mention" are the most likely to get upgraded to 4 or 5 stars.

That said, we don't actually have a quota for the number of 5-star stories, so we won't drop good stories just to meet an arbitrary number. Once the Hugo nominations open, we try not to make any further changes in the scores for that year.

How is Recommended by determined?

We survey a few long-time, prolific, short fiction reviewersπŸ‘ who read more than 500 stories a year to contrast their recommendations with our own. Currently, each of the 11 magazines we review is covered by at least five of the twelve reviewers below. We also reference major SF/F "year's best" anthologiesπŸ“™ and SF/F awardsπŸ†.

The +4 +3 +2 +1 suffix shows how much the recommendation contributes to a story's score.

SF/F Reviewers +1/+2

  1. πŸ‘ABrown: A story gets a +1 when Alex Brown includes it in her monthly Tor.com Short Fiction Roundup post. It gets a +2 if she identifies it as award-worthy or a year's best.
  2. πŸ‘ACWise: A story gets a +2 if A.C. Wise includes it in her annual favorite short fiction post. She's a former short fiction reviewer for Apex magazine.
  3. πŸ‘GDozois.r: A story gets a +1 if Gardner Dozois gives a story a favorable mention in his Locus magazine Gardnerspace column. (Update: Gardner Dozois died May 27, 2018.)
  4. πŸ‘GTognetti: A story gets a +2 if Gary Tognetti lists it as a "Must Read" in his monthly The Best SFF post. It gets a +1 if he calls it "Highly Regarded" or "Also Recommended".
  5. πŸ‘JMcGregor: A story gets a +2 if Jason McGregor rates it as Recommended in his Featured Futures blog monthly summary post. It gets a +1 if he rates it as Honorable Mention. (Update: He ended his monthly summary posts in March, 2019, then removed them in September.)
  6. πŸ‘JStrahan.rA story gets +2 if it is included in Jonathan Strahan's year's best SF/F post.
  7. πŸ‘KBurnham: A story gets a +1 if Karen Burnham includes it in her Locus magazine column's Recommended List; It gets a +2 if she recommends it in her "year's best" article.
  8. πŸ‘KTBradford: A story gets a +1 when K.T. Bradford picks it for her weekly io9 Newsstand post. It gets a +2 if she identifies it as award-worthy or a year's best. (Update: Her column ended 12/4/15 after 2 years 8 months of publication.)
  9. πŸ‘LTilton: A story gets a +1 when Lois Tilton marks it as RECOMMENDED on her Locus Online short fiction review. It gets a +2 if she identifies it as award-worthy or a year's best. (Update: Her column ended 12/31/15 after 5 years 10 months of publication.)
  10. πŸ‘MHaskins: A story gets a +1 when Maria Haskins includes it in her monthly Sci-Fi & Fantasy Short Fiction Roundup post. It gets a +2 if she identifies it as award-worthy or a year's best. (Update: Her column ended 10/31/19 after 1 year 10 months of publication.)
  11. πŸ‘PGuran.r: A story gets a +1 if Paula Guran gives a story a favorable mention in her Paula Guran Reviews Short Fiction column in Locus Magazine.
  12. πŸ‘RHorton.r: A story gets a +1 if Rich Horton includes it in his Locus magazine column's Recommended List. It gets a +2 if he includes it in his Hugo ballot.
  13. πŸ‘RSR: Stories with an RSR rating of 5★ get a +2 and 4★ get a +1.
  14. πŸ‘SDowie: A story gets a +1 if Sean Dowie includes it in his Locus magazine column's Recommended List.
  15. πŸ‘STomaino: A story gets a +2 when Sam Tomaino states it is Hugo-worthy on his SFRevu magazine review. It gets a +1 if he calls the story great or excellent or makes clear it stands out from the pack.
  16. πŸ‘R.Goodreads πŸ“˜: A novella recommended by 70+% of readers (5★+4★ ≥ 70%, ratings ≥ 200) on Goodreads.com gets a +1. It gets a +2 if 80+% of readers recommend it.
  17. πŸ‘R.Kirkus πŸ“˜: A novella recommended in Kirkus Reviews gets a +1. A ★starred review gets a +2. About 10% of 7,000 books reviewed each year at Kirkus earn a starred review (Washington Post).
  18. πŸ‘R.LibraryJournal πŸ“˜: A novella with a ★starred review in Library Journal gets a +1. A novella gets a +2 if it makes the annual Library Journal's Best SF/Fantasy of the year.
  19. πŸ‘R.PW πŸ“˜: A novella with a ★starred review in Publishers' Weekly gets a +1. About 500 out of 10,000 books reviewed each year at PW earn a starred review. A novella gets a +2 if it makes the annual PW "Best Books" or "Summer Reads" SF/Fantasy/Horror list.

SF/F Year's Best +2/+1

Stories included in "year's best" anthologies get +2, while honorable mentions get +1. For completeness, "year's best" stories not reviewed by RSR will be included in our "Best SF/F" lists and "Outstanding" selections without an RSR blurb or review.
  1. πŸ“™₁BASFF: Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy series edited by John Joseph Adams with a different guest editor each year.
  2. πŸ“™₁GDozoisThe Year's Best Science Fiction edited by Gardner Dozois. (Update: Gardner Dozois died May 27, 2018.)
  3. πŸ“™₁JStrahan: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year edited by Jonathan Strahan.
  4. πŸ“™₁NClarke: The Best Science Fiction of the Year edited by Neil Clarke.
  5. πŸ“™₁RHortonThe Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy edited by Rich Horton.

Subgenre Year's Best +1

Stories included in these genre-specific "year's best" anthologies get +1, and stories not reviewed by RSR are not included in our "Best SF/F" list.
  1. πŸ“™₂AKasterYear's Best Hard Science Fiction (πŸš€) edited by Allan Kaster
  2. πŸ“™₂BTakacs: Transcendent (🌈⚧️Trans) edited by Bogi Takacs
  3. πŸ“™₂DAfshariradThe Year's Best Military & Adventure SF (πŸ”«) edited by David Afsharirad
  4. πŸ“™₂EDatlow: The Best Horror of the Year (😱) edited by Ellen Datlow
  5. πŸ“™₂KMSzpara: Transcendent (🌈⚧️Trans) edited by K.M. Szpara
  6. πŸ“™₂MKellyYear's Best Weird Fiction (πŸ‘½) edited by Michael Kelly
  7. πŸ“™₂PGuran: The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror (✨😱) edited by Paula Guran
  8. πŸ“™₂SBerman.G: Wilde Stories (🌈♂️Gay) edited by Steve Berman
  9. πŸ“™₂SBerman.L: Heiresses of Russ (🌈️️️️♀️Lesbian) series edited by Steve Berman with a different guest editor each year
  10. πŸ“™₂SJonesBest New Horror (😱) edited by Stephen Jones

SF/F Awards +3/+4

Finalists for these general SF/F awards get +3; Winners get +4 (an extra point). All 600+ stories reviewed by RSR each year qualify for these awards. For completeness, finalists for these awards not reviewed by RSR will be included in our "Best SF/F" lists and "Outstanding" selections without an RSR blurb or review.
  1. πŸ†₁Eugie: Eugie Foster Memorial Award for Short Fiction
  2. πŸ†₁Hugo: Hugo Awards: Novella, Novelette, Short Story
  3. πŸ†₁Locus: Locus Awards: Novella, Novelette, Short Story
  4. πŸ†₁Nebula: Nebula Awards: Novella, Novelette, Short Story
  5. πŸ†₁Sturgeon: Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award

Subgenre Awards +2/+3

Finalists for these genre-specific awards get +2; Winners get +3 (an extra point). About half or less of the 600+ stories reviewed by RSR each year qualify for these awards, so the base score is less than that of the general SF/F awards to reflect the reduced competition.
  1. πŸ†₂BFantasy: British Fantasy Award (✨) Novella, Short Story
  2. πŸ†₂BSFA: British Science Fiction Association (πŸš€) Shorter Fiction
  3. πŸ†₂Lambda: Lambda Literary Award (🌈LGBT)
  4. πŸ†₂SJackson: Shirley Jackon Awards (😱Horror) Novella, Novelette, Short Fiction
  5. πŸ†₂Stoker: Bram Stoker Awards (😱Horror) Long Fiction, Short Fiction
  6. πŸ†₂Tiptree: James Tiptree, Jr. Award (🌈♀️Gender)
  7. πŸ†₂WFantasy: World Fantasy Awards (✨) Long Fiction, Short Fiction
We don't track awards that are limited to the author's nationality (Australia: Aurealis, Ditmar; Canada: Aurora, Sunburst) because we want to focus on the stories themselves. (The British Fantasy Awards and British Science Fiction Association Awards for short fiction are open to stories from anywhere.)

Readers Awards +1/+2

Finalists for these magazine-specific awards get +1; Winners get +2 (an extra point). About a tenth of the 600+ stories reviewed by RSR each year qualify for these awards, so the low base score reflects the minimal competition compared to genre-specific and general SF/F awards. Awards for standalone πŸ“˜novellas are in this section (and are worth the same points) because they fill a gap left by magazine-specific awards.
  1. πŸ†₃Readers: A story gets this recommendation if it is a finalist in a readers' poll run by the magazine. Examples include AnalogAsimov's, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Uncanny, etc.
  2. πŸ†A.₃Booklist πŸ“˜: A novella in the Booklist Editors' Choice Adult Books list gets a +2.
  3. πŸ†A.₃Choice πŸ“˜: A novella finalist in the Goodreads Choice Awards Science FictionFantasy, or Horror categories gets a +1. A winner gets a +2.
  4. πŸ†A.₃ReadingList πŸ“˜: A novella finalist in The Reading List: Best Adult Genre Fiction gets a +1. A winner gets a +2. The Reading List is put together by librarians in the Reading List Council established by the CODES section of RUSA in the American Library Association.

 Former References

  1. πŸ‘CPayseur: A story gets a +2 if it is included in Charles Payseur's annual recommended reading list. (Update: We've removed CPayseur's recommendations per his request.)
  2. πŸ‘SFEP: A story gets +2 when it is recommended by an anthology editor on @SFEditorsPicks. Editors include Ellen DatlowGardner DozoisPaula GuranRich Horton, and Jonathan Strahan, who have put together most of the "Year's Best" SF/F anthologies over the past two decades. (Update: We've removed SFEP recommendations because the account is no longer active.)
We include this information to give readers more choices in selecting which stories to read--we don't consider ourselves the final authority by any means.

How do you define the different categories?

Rocket Stack Rank targets readers who want nominate short fiction for the Hugo Awards. Accordingly, we use the same definitions they do:
  • Novel: At least 40,000 words
  • Novella: At least 17,500 but fewer than 40,000 words
  • Novelette: At least 7,500 but fewer than 17,500 words
  • Short Story: Fewer than 7,500 words
When our word count differs from what a magazine reports, we use the category from the magazine, unless it is grossly wrong, but we still report the word count.

If a work is marketed as a novella, we'll still consider reviewing it here provided it has fewer than 50,000 words.

What are "Outstanding Stories?"

No, it's not the name of a new SFF magazine. Outstanding stories are simply stories that stand out due to a) recommendations by prolific reviewers b) inclusion in major "Year's Best" anthologies c) being finalists for prestigious awards. (See "How is Recommended By determined?") All of the recommendation sources we use normally come out during the first six months of the year, so our list of outstanding stories for any particular year will be complete by July of the following. year.

We opted to switch to the term "outstanding stories" instead of saying "the best stories" because we thought it was more accurate. Despite the names of the annual anthologies, it's really hard to argue that any particular set of stories were "the best," but it's hard to dispute the fact that stories that have attracted a lot of positive attention really are outstanding.

Outstanding Selections

Once the set of outstanding stories for a year is complete, we can start publishing articles about subsets of those stories based on particular themes. For example, our annual selection of outstanding hard SF stories has been very popular. We've also done an LGBT selection and a People-of-Color selection, and we have a number of others planned.

How is this different from a Slate?

In our view, a slate is a single set of five or fewer stories per category which people are urged to vote for without reading them. Our goal is simply to help people read more stories so more people can make nominations. Slates are about not reading; we're about more reading.

Second, we aren't producing an absolute ranked list of stories. (We won't say "this story was #1, and this one was #2.) We're creating a partial ranking. That really means all we're doing is giving each story from 1 to 5 stars and then we're sorting by number of stars. When we list the 5-star stories, they'll be sorted alphabetically, and likewise for the other groupings.

Finally, we produce more than one list. We have our own rankings, we give lists based on other reviewers, we do lists by magazine, and we even have a composite list that combines everything together.

How is the Time Estimate calculated?

According to this Forbes article (and Wikipedia), the average adult reads prose at 300 words per minute (wpm), so we take the story's word count and divide it by that rate to get the time estimate. The article also points out other averages such as college students at 450 wpm, "high level execs" at 575 wpm, and college professors at 675 wpm. If your reading speed is at a higher rate, you should adjust the time estimate down by a third, a half, or more. We provide the time estimate as an upper bound for our readers, who we think are above average. :-)

What are the "mini-reviews?"

A mini-review is a short explanation of why we gave a story the rating we did. It usually has one paragraph about what we liked about the story (that is, why we gave it this high a rating) and another paragraph about what we didn't like (why we didn't give it a higher rating). Think of it as the jumping-off point for a real discussion. Feel free to use the comment section to express your own thoughts. (Note: comments can and do contain spoilers.)

Are you a fanzine? Could you be nominated for an award?

The Hugo Award FAQ does say that blogs count, and the official definition requires just one "issue" per year, whereas we publish a new "issue" on the 15th of every month when we publish the monthly ratings table, so, yes, we do seem to qualify technically. We would accept an award, if we thought we were fairly nominated for it, but we don't plan to campaign for one. In 2016, we received 66 nominations, which placed us ninth. We made the finalist list in 2017 and in 2018.
Our cute little rocket is public-domain clip art which we found on the WPClipart site with these terms: "These images are public domain (PD), and that means they can be used and edited for whatever purpose you wish, personal or commercial. No attribution or linking is required." But we wanted to credit them anyway.

How Do I Submit Magazines/Stories for You to Review?

We're currently reading eleven magazines, about ten anthologies per year, all of Tor.com's stand-alone novellas, and selected stories from other sources that other reviewers have recommended. This doesn't leave us a lot of time to look at stories or publications from sources unknown to us. However, we'll at least consider anything people send to us.

We want to be reviewing the stories that are most likely to be considered as nominees for the major Science Fiction and Fantasy Awards, particularly the Hugo Award, but since we have limited time and energy, we have to select a subset of all the thousands of stories that appear annually. Toward that end we use the following guidelines:
  • We only review original fiction. We won't review reprints from previous years under any circumstances, nor will we review nonfiction. (A translation isn't the same thing as a reprint; first appearance in English is what counts.) This is because we're focused on works that are still eligible for awards. Sometimes a story is reprinted in the same year it was originally published. (E.g. originally printed in January and then reprinted in September of the same year.) That kind of reprint is fine.
  • We mainly review Science Fiction and Fantasy--not Horror. We'll review a horror story that appears in one of the magazines we regularly review, but we won't review a magazine or anthology that's primarily or exclusively horror. We definitely won't review a stand-alone horror story, and we won't review anything that has no speculative element in it.
  • We only review works that are available in electronic form: either as eBooks or as web pages. We won't review anything that is only offered to the public as print on paper.
  • We only review short fiction, so we won't review anything over 50,000 words under any circumstances.
  • We try not to review anything under 2,000 words. Again, we'll review original flash fiction that appears in one of the magazines we regularly review, but we won't consider a magazine or anthology that's primarily flash, nor will we consider stand-alone flash stories. The reason for this is that our rating system places a lot of weight on plot sophistication and character development, and most flash fiction just isn't long enough to do well by either criterion.
  • We mainly review stories that appear in SFWA-Qualifying Markets. We made an exception for Interzone simply because so many high-quality stories were turning up there that we were buying 1/3 of the issues anyway. Failing that, we'd favor semiprozines with regular publication histories and which pay something close to the SFWA-qualifying rate (currently 6¢/word). We're very unlikely to review a story from a fanzine or a blog unless it comes highly recommended by someone we trust.
  • We closely follow what other reviewers are recommending, and we'll consider stories, anthologies, and publications that they rate highly. We treat major recommendation lists like the Locus Reading List and the major year's-best anthologies as special kinds of reviewers. When possible, we try to review entire anthologies or publication issues rather than single stories, even when it was the recommendation of a single story that led us to it.
  • We pay for almost everything we review; we do not normally solicit free copies. We don't turn them down, though.
If you want us to look at something, your best bet is to suggest single stories and tell us the genre, the length, the per-word rate, and where it's available to the public. If we see enough good stories from a specific magazine, we'll add it to our list. To contact us, send e-mail to greghull@rocketstackrank.com. 

Why do you give negative reviews?

Authors really hate negative reviews. Some authors have even argued that the only legitimate role for reviewers is to promote stories for authors and that negative reviews amounts to unethical "textual violence." (Not everyone agrees with that, of course.) That only makes sense if you think reviews are for authors, though.

We believe reviews are for readers, and most authors seem to agree with this. Our experience has been that readers like negative reviews, if only as something to argue against. Accordingly, we do give negative reviews and will continue to do so.

Even if we just said nothing instead of giving 1 and 2-star reviews, it would still be obvious what we thought about those stories. Also, we do want people to use Rocket Stack Rank as a place to discuss stories; that means we have to list them--and the best discussions are likely to be around stories that some people loved and other people hated. Finally, one can argue that ratings below 3 stars are a criticism of the magazine, not the author. That info can be useful when it comes time to make nominations for best editor/best semi-prozine.

That said, we do have concerns about hurting people's feelings--even though we've been assured that authors have a very high tolerance for criticism and rejection. We try never to criticize an author personally nor a magazine; our critiques are entirely directed at the content of the stories.

We have suggestions for authors who want to engage with us about reviews of their stories

What is your comment policy?

Rocket Stack Rank encourages people to leave comments discussing stories, articles, or reviews. We appreciate getting corrections for errors, and we occasionally even change the rating of a story based on feedback. Obviously-bad comments, such as spam, personal attacks, off-topic rants, etc. or comments which use abusive or disrespectful language are subject to deletion without notice.

How do you make money from this?

We don't. This is our retirement project, and we're doing it strictly for fun. It is our gift to fandom. The site is not monetized in any way whatsoever: there are no fees, no ads, no affiliate links, and no appeals for donations, nor do we think there ever will be.

(Updated March 31, 2019)

18 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. Is there a way to send you short fiction (such as anthologies and novellas) for review? Thanks.

    1. You can send suggestions to rocketstackrank.com if you like. The username is greghull. There's no guarantee we'll actually read any given submission, of course, but we're definitely interested in sources beyond the 11 magazines we follow.

  2. Greg,

    My name is EXO Books--my pen name at least. It's also the name of the publishing company my wife and I created to put out my science fiction.

    You have made it very difficult to contact you guys! I am hoping to send you our debut novella, The Last Day of Captain Lincoln. How can I do that? Happy to offer one of our beautifully illustrated little hardcovers.

    Best wishes,
    EXO Books

    1. If you look up at the answer I gave Scott, it actually does tell you how to contact us via e-mail.

      We only review things that can be read online--preferably as e-books (MOBI format), so if the book only exists in print, then you'll have to wait until there's an e-book version.

      We don't usually read self-published material either, unless it already has some buzz around it or is by a famous author. There's just too much of it.

    2. Greg,

      I've been poking around this site for a while now and still can't make sense of your reply to Scott (which you refer to in your answer to me). Maybe I'm just daft. You say "[y]ou can send suggestions to rocketstackrank.com if you like," but that's not a valid email address. You provide a user name but I can't seem to find a place to use it on this site!

      I would love to send you my debut novella but I can't seem to wrap my head around what you're trying to explain. Please help!

      EXO Books

  3. Regarding "All Your Cites I Will Burn".
    Pros: It's funny (see below). If you live in the south, I expect you'll find parts of it hilarious. The pokes at Research Triangle Park, the degradation of I-85, the gated communities of mini-mansions are only too real. In the end, it is an acknowledgement of mass extinction events, and the occurrence of evolution. Evolution is not always pretty. And it's not always to safe to discuss it. The Meteor Gods are illustrative of fear of change, but very much congruent with a southern country (don't hate me, I'm southern), that lives on KFC, Krispy Cream and Cook Out Milkshakes - and hefts around the landscape gobbling up whatever is edible. I think it is about someone realizing that life is to be lived regardless of Meteor Gods. One never knows where we're headed in the long run.

    Cons: The Meteor Gods are just enough beyond the pale to decrease my ability to suspend disbelief. A bit post-apocalyptic and therefore depressing for my tastes, but I get the theme.

    1. Thanks for posting! I grew up in the South myself (Chattanooga), so I know what you're talking about.

      Did you mean to post this with the original review for All Your Cities I Will Burn? You've somehow posted your comment on the Q&A page.

  4. Oh dear, just had the misfortune to read "When I was a Highwayman" (to proofread a translation): weak plot, unsatisfactory and (entirely guessable) ending, pure fantasy escapism, no intelligent lesson to take away from this. Frankly, it's bizarre.

    1. Thanks for the comment, but this is the Q&A page. Blogger doesn't let use move your comment, unfortunately, but if you don't mind posting it again on the "When I Was a Highwayman" page, then I can delete this one and no one will be the wiser. :-)

  5. Hi guys - love your site! But I can't seem to filter by star ratings. Or at least when I try, for example to look for 5 star stories only, zero stories come out. Do you have more specific guidance, and sorry if I am being thick here..

    1. Whoops - just saw the tabs on the right that offer this - will use that instead of the search engine - thanks!

    2. Glad you found the links on the right (desktop version of this site). They'll turn up stories we've reviewed and rated from 2015-2020. For newer stories, you can find them by score (aggregated recommendations from reviewers, awards, and annual anthologies) in each year's Best SF/F page (links in the News & Highlights post).

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Hi there,

    first of all, thank you Greg and Eric for your awesome work.
    I visit the site regulary and the sorting system is absolutely great.
    I have several magazine subscriptions and Rocketstack is really helpful to choose which stories to read as I don't have the time to read them all.

    I have a question and/or suggestion:

    You do include the recommendations ("notable stories") of the BASFF anthology in your ratings.

    Why don't you include the recommendations from Neil Clarke's and Jonathan Strahan's anthologies (or Gardner Dozois' for 2015 - 2018)?
    Is it because they are not posted online ?
    If this is the case, I would happily provide the recommandations as I have most of them from 2015-2022.

    Best wishes and thanks again

  8. edit: Neil's recommendations are included for 2015-2018.

    1. Hello, we're glad you find RSR useful! The stories from NClarke, JStrahan, RHorton, and GDozois's year's best anthologies are tagged in RSR's Best SF/F pages for 2015-2018. For example, this link to the 2018 Best SF/F page highlights stories from JStrahan's anthology. To highlight stories from NClarke, RHorton, or GDozois, click the yellow dropdown at the top of the table and choose one of these editors. You might have to scroll up and down the big table of stories to find highlighted ones.

  9. Thanks for the quick reply :)
    I know how the sorting works and love it.

    I wasn't talking about the stories published in the anthologies (which are rated +2)
    I was talking about the "recommended reading list" stories (John Joseph Adams titles them "Other Notable Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories"), which you almost always find at the end of an anthology book (rated +1).
    At least in the books from Neil Clarke, Jonathan Strahan, Gardner Dozois and John Joseph Adams.

    Some do post the list online
    (for example: http://neil-clarke.com/2018-recommended-reading-list-bsfoty4/ or https://www.johnjosephadams.com/projects/basff2021/2021-notable-stories/), which you include in your rating (+1), other editors don't publish them online, which is probably the reason why there aren't included.
    You would have to ask the editor or buy the books to get the lists, so it was a pointless question.

    It would be just nice if the stories would be included, because it would make the lists more balanced and equal, but I get why there are not.

    Thank you for your work, for the nth time.
    You are part of the reason I subscribed to several magazines.

    1. Oops, sorry I misread your question. (I did briefly wonder why you could find the BASFF stories but not the others!)

      You're right that I include the BASFF recommended list because it's easy to get. And I considered and rejected GDozois' recommended list early on because it seems to have 300+ stories each year. But I should include NClarke's recommended list since it's available on his website and is relatively short. I checked JStrahan's 2018 anthology (Volume 12) and didn't see a recommended list. (The two library systems I have access to have all the year's best anthologies as eBooks so I looked in a few. Potentially I can take browser screenshots of the pages and run them through an online OCR service to get the lists as text.) I have most of RHorton's recommended list from his Locus column (click πŸ‘RHorton.r in the yellow dropdown).

      I'll post an update if I decide to add NClarke's recommended lists. Thanks for the question/suggestion. :-)