Category Archives: Abaddon Books

Four Publishers You Should be Reading in 2012

Yep, that’s right.  I said “publishers”, not “authors”.  The reason for this wording is these are the publishers I think are publishing the most innovative, original, and/or best written stuff in the fantasy and science fiction fields, with a dash of horror thrown in for spice.

I’m limiting my list to four (plus a runner-up) because these are the publishers whose books I’ve most enjoyed this year.  If you’ve read my post from yesterday, you can probably guess which ones won’t be on there.  I’m deliberately not including small presses that publish pricey limited editions, even if they also publish trade editions.  I’m limiting the list to imprints you can find in a local bookstore.  Also, there’s at least one publisher not on the list because I simply didn’t get around to reading any of their books this year, and that’s Orbit. I’ve enjoyed things they’ve published in the past, and have several books in the TBR stack from them.  What I’ve read of Orbit’s line I’ve generally enjoyed, and I expect that to be the case with what I have on hand.

One thing to note about all the publishers on the list.  Roughly a decade, to use round figures, is about as long as any of these publishers have been around, although one or two have existed slightly longer than that.  Some are much younger.  All of them are lean, efficient, and not afraid to take chances with what they publish.  And their books don’t look like all their other books.

Here’s the way I’m structuring this list.  I’ll list the publishers in reverse order, starting with the runner-up (along with an explanation of why that publisher isn’t number 5), with a few recommendations from their line along with a list of some of what I’ll be reading from them in the coming months.  I’ll confine myself to three, at most four, recommendations and TBRs, even though in most cases the actual number is greater.  Links will be to the books’ webpages, not any reviews I’ve posted; there’ll be a comprehensive list of reviews at the end of the post.  For series, I’ll only list the first volume.  A book’s being included in the TBR listing is not a guarantee I’ll review it here or at Futures Past and Present.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Runner-up:  Prime Books.  The reason I’m calling Prime the runner-up is somewhat awkward.  You see, I haven’t actually finished any of their books, at least none that I’ve bought in the last few years.  Not that I’ve disliked any of the books, but that they’ve all been anthologies, and I have a really bad habit of dipping into an anthology  between novels, reading a selection of stories, then putting the anthology down for an extended period of time before coming back to it.  So I’ve got a number of anthologies sitting around unfinished.  (I really need to break that habit.)   Prime does publish novels, and I have some in the TBR list (which I promise I will finish).  Their ebooks are reasonably priced, with most in the $4.95 range, and unlike many higher priced ebooks from larger publishers, the TOCs are interactive.  Highlights of what I have read portions of include Rich Horton’s annual Best Science Fiction and Fantasy series, which I’m waay behind on, and Paula Guran’s annual Best Dark Fantasy and Horror series, which I’m not as far behind on.  Many of the their recent anthologies have been themed reprint anthologies.
Recommendations:  It’s hard to recommend something you haven’t finished, but you could hardly go wrong with any of the Year’s Best, either the science fiction and fantasy or the dark fantasy and horror
TBR:  When the Great Days Come by Gardner Dozois, Heart of Iron by Ekaterina Sedia, Mechanique by Genevieve Valentine

Number 4:  Abaddon/Solaris These are two imprints of the same company, with the former having a dark focus and the latter a less grim tone.  Either way, you can’t go wrong.  There’s enough solid science fiction, fantasy, and horror in a wide variety of subgenres here to keep anyone busy.  The company is British, so many of the author’s names might not be familiar to American readers.  Don’t let that stop you; British authors have a slightly different perspective on things, which I find quite refreshing at times.  Check their website, and I’m sure you’ll find several things appealing. 
Recommendations:  Hawkwood’s Voyage (in the omnibus Hawkwood and the Kings) by Paul Kearney, Engineering Infinity edited by Johnathan Strahan, and Viking Dead by Toby Venables
TBR:  Engineman by Eric Brown, The Ten Thousand by Paul Kearney, The Recollection by Gareth L. Powell, Solaris Rising edited by Ian Whates

Number 3:   Angry Robot  This is another British publisher, and the youngest imprint on the list.  Yet in the short time they’ve been around, Angry Robot has embarked on an aggressive program of publishing some of the most ambitious genre-bending books on the market.  Their authors come from all over the English speaking world, and some of their most acclaimed titles are by authors from places other than the US or Great Britain.  They’re beginning to get nominations for the some of the major awards in the field, including the Hugo and the Ditmar, and winning the Arthur C. Clarke and World Fantasy.  This is an imprint to watch.  They’re having an ebook sale  for the month of January, so now’s your chance to check them out and see what all the commotion is about. 
Recommendations:  Winter Song by Colin Harvey, Roil by Trent Jamieson, The Crown of the Blood by Gav Thorpe
TBR:  The World House by Guy Adams, Book of Secrets by Chris Roberson, Walking the Tree by Kaaron Warren

Number Two:  Night Shade  This is the publisher on my list that’s been around the longest, but in my opinion they’re only getting better.  I didn’t read a great many of their books this year, and the science fiction I read wasn’t exactly to my taste although I understand the appeal of those particular titles.  But the fantasy was some of the best I’ve read in years.  The characters were all well-drawn, complex individuals, most of whom you could cheer for, including some of the villains, or perhaps I should say antagonists since most weren’t entirely evil.  The plots were involved and often twisty, with plenty of action and suspense.  Nightshade seems to be focusing on developing new authors at the moment, although one of my favorite authors, who hadn’t been able to get a publishing contract the last few years has signed with them and they’re continuing to reprint much of Glen Cook’s backlist, for which they are to be lauded.  All but one of their titles that I read were the first volumes in new series, which is a good thing.  I’m excited about what they’ve got coming up this year and will be reading more of their books than I did this past year.
Recommendations:  The Winds of Khalakovo by Bradley P. Beaulieu, The Whitefire Crossing by Courtney Schafer, The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells
TBR:  Miserere by Teresa Frohock, Southern Gods by John Horner Jacobs, The Serpent Sea by Martha Wells (which I’m reading right now, look for the review in a couple of days)

Number One:  Pyr  If you read books from only one publisher in 2012, this is the one you should read.  This is by far the most impressive and innovative line in all SFF publishing, although the others on this list are giving them increasing competition. If you’ve read many of their books, you understand why editor Lou Anders won the Hugo for Best Editor – Long Form last year.  I’ve not read a single book published by Pyr that I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed, something I can’t say about any other publisher.  That’s not to say everything they publish is compatible with my taste.  They have a few items in their lineup that I can tell are not my thing.  And that’s okay; in fact, that’s how it should be.  A good publisher will a wide enough selection of product that most readers can find something they like, not cater to a narrow audience.  While they tend to focus on series (only makes economic sense), Pyr also publishes stand alone novels and a few anthologies.  Their focus has shifted since their inception from science fiction to fantasy, and they’re publishing some of the most exciting fantasy around, especially if you like the heroic variety, which I do.
Recommendations:  The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie, Twelve by Jasper Kent, Wolfsangel by M. D. Lachlan, Shadow’s Son by Jon Sprunk
TBR:  Blackdog by K. V. Johansen, Ghosts of Manhattan by George Mann, City of Ruins by Kristine Kathryn Rusch,  Shadow’s Lure by Jon Sprunk

These are the publishers I think are the best in the field right now, and the ones I’ll be reading the most in 2012.  That’s not to say I won’t be reading other publishers.  I will, just like I listed the indie published authors I’ll be reading in the coming months in a previous post.  As I said there, please be patient.  That’s a lot of books to read and will require time to complete, and I have other books in the TBR listing from some of these publishers that I didn’t list.  I’m sure some of you have your own ideas of which publishers are the ones to be reading, and I’m sure they aren’t the same as mine.  That’s okay.  Feel free to post a comment letting me know which ones they are.  As much good stuff is out there, I’m bound to have overlooked something.

For those who have too much time on their hands might be interested, here are links to the reviews I’ve posted of books by these publishers, arranged by publisher.

Abaddon/Solaris:  Hawkwood’s Voyage and The Heretic Kings by Paul Kearney, Engineering Infinity by Jonathan Strahan, Viking Dead by Toby Venables

Angry Robot:  Debris by Jo Anderton, Empire State by Adam Christopher, Darkness Falling by Peter Crowther, Winter Song by Colin Harvey, Roil by Trent Jamieson, The Crown of the Blood and The Crown of the Conqueror by Gav Thorpe

Nightshade:  The Winds of Khalakovo by Bradley P. Beaulieu, The Whitefire Crossing by Courtney Schafer, The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells

Pyr:  “Traveler’s Rest” by James Enge,Twelve, Thirteen Years Later, and The Third Section by Jasper Kent, Wolfsangel and Fenrir by M. D. Lachlan, Shadow’s Son by Jon Sprunk

How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse, Viking Style

viking deadViking Dead
Toby Venables
Abaddon Books, 351 p. $9.99

We’re rather fond of vikings here at Adventures Fantastic, so when I saw this in the store, I knew I had to at least consider giving it a try.  After reading a sample in the middle, I took it home (after paying for it, of course) and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

While I’ve not gone in much for the current zombie craze, that might start changing, especially if I can find more stuff that’s this well written.  For a first novel, Toby Venables sets himself a hard act to follow.

The story concerns a grew of down on their luck vikings, led by a man named Bjolf.  The book opens with a raid on a small village.  The only problem is a rival crew of vikings got there first.  Bjolf and his crew end up fleeing for their lives, but not before acquiring a stowaway, a thirteen year old boy from the village named Atli, who just wants to escape his overbearing father.

Pursued into a fog, Bjolf and and his men lose their bearings and are only able to find land after a raven lands on their ship and they follow it to shore and into a fjord.  They’re not sure where they are, but it’s no place they want to be.  This is something they quickly discover when one of the crew is attacked by a draugr, an animated dead body.  Seems the woods are crawling with them.

Still pursued by their rivals, they managed to escape both the draugr and the other vikings.  Fleeing into a tributary of the fjord, they end up at a stockaded settlement, where they are welcomed as heroes come to rescue the people.  That’s not quite what they had planned to do.

Bjolf and his first mate, Gunnar, have two continuing conversations throughout the book.  The first is what would be the best country (i.e., one without a price on their heads) in which to settle down on a farm with a large farmhouse and a large woman in the door.  (I’m not being sexist; Gunnar, a large man, actually says that at one point.)  The other conversation concerns whether a man controls his own destiny or is at the mercy of fate.

The people are led by Halldis, daughter of the former chieftain, who was killed by his slave Skalla shortly after the draugr began to plague the people.  Skalla now demands tribute each month from the remaining villagers.  He’s working for some masters on an island further up the fjord.  These masters are viewed as sorcerers and as the source of the draugr infestation.  Of course, Bjolf and his men eventually do stay to help.

This is a book with many stories contained within the larger story arc.  For Atli, it’s a coming of age story.  For Bjolf and Halldis, it’s something of a love story, although given the situation, that never develops into a major plotline.  But mostly it’s a story about friendship, loyalty, and sacrifice.  And fate.  And heroism.  Oh, and did I mention sacrifice?

Venables does an outstanding job of balancing a large cast of characters.  The crew is more than just window dressing and red shirts, to be killed off when convenient to the plot.  About a dozen of the crew are given personalities and histories.  And while many of the ones we get to know don’t make it to the end, at least not alive, their deaths aren’t just for cheap shock.  The men feel each loss, and the reader does too.

On the other hand, juggling so many characters is a difficult trick.  Venables doesn’t always pull it off.  His viewpoint character shifts not only from chapter to chapter, but often several times within a chapter.  The chapters are short, and this can be a little disorienting at times.

This being a zombie novel, and a viking one to boot, there’s a pretty high gore factor.  If you’re squeamish you’ll want to keep some Pepto handy, because this book is worth reading.  It’s not one long zombie fight, although there should be enough to keep most zombie fans happy.  Instead the focus is on the characters and how they change throughout the course of the novel.  Venables keeps things from sliding into silly most of the time, although I did find the flesh-eating ants to be a bit over the top.

One thing you should be aware of, though.  Your understanding of the situation will change completely within the last fifteen pages.  Some readers might feel cheated a little by the twist at the end, when the identity of the masters is revealed.  Be prepared to have your chain yanked.  I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone, so that’s all I’m going to say.

Viking Dead was a fun read.  Toby Venables will have a bright future ahead of him if he continues to write like this, especially if he improves throughout the course of his career.  If you like a bit of zombie mayhem with some depth; if you like vikings; or if you like both, then you’ll definitely want to give this one a try.  It’s part of a series called Tomes of the Dead.  They’ve got a novel by Paul Finch in the lineup, so I’m going to at least have to try that one.  I have yet to read anything bad by him.  There are several others in the lineup that should appeal to fans of heroic fantasy.  Abaddon Books is a British publisher, and from what I can tell a subsidiary of Solaris Books.  Seems like our friends on the other side of the pond are publishing some good stuff.