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