Category Archives: Subterranean Press

Rogues, Scoundrels, Grifters, and Unreliable Narrators

Academic_Exercises_by_K_J_Parker_200_287Academic Exercises
K. J. Parker
Subterranean Press
signed limited hardcover (sold out)
ebook $6.99 Kindle Nook Kobo

Academic Exercises is K. J. Parker’s first collection of short fiction, and I absolutely loved it.  Many of the stories involve a school of magic, although its practitioners call it philosophy, called the Studium.  This where the title of the book comes from.  Parker understands academic infighting and all that goes with, although I found that aspect of the book a little tame it.

One institution I was at for a couple of years (many years ago, not where I am now) had an instructor who was running for Congress get arrested in the parking lot of IHOP while waving a machete and screaming about the right to bear arms; one department head murdered in his home by his same sex lover; and one adjunct prof pick up a woman hitchhiker, take her back to his place to do a few lines of coke and instead lock her in his closet for a couple of weeks as his love slave.  (She managed to escape; he jumped bail and was caught about a year later after a shoot-out in Oklahoma.)  And that was just in a two year period.  Like I said, Parker’s academia is tame compared to that. Continue reading


Some publishers, small presses in this context, will occasionally run grab bags. The best of these that I’ve found are the ones published by Subterranean Press. I’ve never done worse than break even, meaning that the titles I like have cover prices which total up to the cost of all the books put together. The books I’m not interested in I set aside for that day I eventually put things up on ebay.

So that’s how I figured it would be this time. I was hoping for half the books to be things I would be interested in. Instead, well, here’s what I got.  (Click to enlarge.)

20140915_231143That’s $430 worth of books for (IIRC) $150 plus shipping.  The Crowther, Nix, Lansdale, de Lint, Denton, and one Lumley are signed.  Every single one of them is something I would be interested in reading, although I wouldn’t be willing to pay cover price for some of them.  (Don’t ask me when I’m going to find time to read them.  I’m behind enough as it is.)

You can be sure that unless finances are really strapped, I’ll be ordering the next time Subterranean runs a grab bag.

When the Shadows Bleed

Bleeding_Shadows_by_Joe_R_Lansdale_Trade_Edition_Dust_Jacket_200_296Bleeding Shadows
Joe R. Lansdale
limited edition $100, trade edition sold out
ebook $6.99  Kindle Nook Kobo

Joe R. Lansdale has long been a major writer in the fields of horror, dark suspense, noir, and the just plain weird. Versatile at all lengths, you never know what type of story he’s going to write next.

Bleeding Shadows is a massive collection of some of his more recent work. This is one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read by him. Containing 20 stories plus 10 poems, there’s quite a smorgasbord of entertainment, most of it dark. Continue reading

RIP Neal Barrett, Jr.

Neal-Barrett-JrBlack Gate is reporting that Neal Barrett, Jr. has passed away.  Barrett was born on November 3, 1929 and died Sunday, January 12, 2014 at the age of 84.

Neal had a unique voice and was one of the most under appreciated writers in the field.  While I never knew him well, I had the privilege of meeting him at a number of Texas conventions, such as Armadillocon and AggieCon.  I can still remember his GoH speech from Armadillocon 14 (1992).  Neal’s sense of humor was on full display.

While not prolific, Neal Barrett never stopped writing.  He was always willing to share a kind word and a signature whenever I asked for one.  Subterranean Press recently published the massive retrospective Other Seasons.  It’s still available and contains Barrett’s most acclaimed short fiction.  I’ll be spending some time in that volume tonight to honor his memory.  I also want to track down the rest of his Aldair series.  I’ve got the first and last volumes, but I haven’t read them because they’re signed.  I’m going to look for the complete set online.Other_Seasons_by_Neal_Barrett_Jr_200_296

Another series that I thought was great was the Finn the Lizard Master series, consisting of The Prophecy Machine and The Treachery of Kings.  Great fantasy that’s not really like anything else.

It’s unfortunate that we’ve lost another unique voice in the field.  Jack Vance passed last year.  It seems everything on the shelves these days looks pretty much like everything else.  I’m grateful to small presses such as Subterranean and Haffner, which have kept these authors in print.  Hopefully Barrett will be discovered by new readers through their efforts.

I know first hand that Neal was loved and respected in the Texas sff community.  Several of his friends spoke of him often and always fondly.  He will be missed.  Scott, Willie, Chuck, Bill, James, Joe, I’m sorry for your loss.

2012 in Retrospect: Publishing

Rather than doing a single post about what I thought of the past year, I’m going to break things up into some smaller posts.  There will be on short fiction and one on titles I especially enjoyed.  But I thought I would start with publishers.

Last year, I wrote about the publishers I thought you should be reading this year.  That list hasn’t changed much.  The day before I posted that list, I gave reasons why I wasn’t going to be reading much from the main imprints.  Those reasons haven’t changed much, either.  If anything, they’re more valid than ever.

What I’m going to attempt to do here, in this present post, is to assess some of the things I said in those two posts.

First, I said I wouldn’t be buying many titles from the major publishers.  What constitutes a major publisher is probably going to vary among individuals.  That’s fine; it will give us something to talk about.  So many publishers are trying to grab as many rights as they can from authors and paying them so little once you take a close look at the numbers, that I have trouble with supporting such a system, just as a matter of conscience.  Add to that the fact that most of the major publishers are pricing their ebooks way too high, and in some cases as much or more than the paper editions, and I really don’t see the point.

Second, I said I would be reading more indie published authors.  I have.  The mistake I made was listing the authors whose work I intended to read.  The reason that was a mistake is that I haven’t gotten to everyone on the list yet.  Since I’m going to be focusing on small and indie presses in my column over at Amazing Stories (TM), those authors will be moving to near the top of the list.

Here’s the thing that might suprise some people.  I haven’t really missed reading books published by the majors.  I’ve still read a few here and there, and have a couple in my TBR stack.  But for the most part, I’ve enjoyed the small press and indie published works I’ve read.  I’m very selective about what I pick up these days simply due to time considerations.  Most of these works have been as good as what the Big 6 5 However-many-are-left-after-the-mergers are publishing.

So I think my decision to read indie published works has been a good one, and I’ll keep doing it.

Now, as for publishers.  I’m not going to numerically rank them.  I’m going to stick to the same list, but I’ll add a couple of publishers to it.  These are what I would call midsized publishers, in that they get national or international distribution and have major authors in their stables, but they haven’t been around for decades like some publishers have.

First, I included Prime Books as a runner-up because at the time I hadn’t finished any of their titles.  While I still dip into their anthologies without reading them all the way through, I maintain that Prime is one of the best publishers around.  I’ve got collections by Elizabeth Bear and Richard Parks to read, as well as many anthologies.

Orbit Books didn’t make the list last year because I hadn’t read any of their titles.  That hasn’t changed much, but there are some titles I very much want to read, starting with the latest Joe Abercrombie.  That alone puts Orbit on the list.  The fact that they also publish John R. Fultz and Michael J. Sullivan, two other writers I’m looking forward to reading doesn’t hurt, either.

Next is Solaris and its companion imprint, Abaddon.  This is Eric Brown’s publisher, and Brown is one of the best science fiction authors working today.  He writes good space opera, and I love space opera.

Nightshade published some interesting books this year, most of which I still haven’t gotten around to reading yet, including titles Misere, Southern Gods, The Scourge of the Betrayer, and The Pillars of Hercules, plust the more recent Siren Depths and The Tainted City.  Part of the reason I haven’t read these yet is time, but also because Nightshade no longer seems to be responding to requests for review copies.  I try (and occasionally succeed) to post a review around the time the book comes out, and since I ended up buying these titles, the books had in some cases been out a while.  The most significant thing Nightshade did this year, though, was to start the online publication, Eclipse Online, a continuation of their successful anthology series.  I’ll talk about that more in the forthcoming short fiction post. 

I probably read more books by Angry Robot this year than any other publisher, in part because of how their Robot Army program worked and in part because I really like their line.  This is one publisher I’ll keep reading and reviewing, although I probably won’t read quite as many title from them this year simply due to time considerations.  I had three titles I was planning to review when we ended up moving.  In all the commotion, I never read them.  I’m going to try to work them into the queue soon.

Pyr was top of my list last year, and this was another good year for them.  Pyr seems to be shifting its focus a bit, publishing more science fiction and YA titles than fantasy in recent months, but that’s not a bad thing necessarily.  I certainly don’t hold it against them.  They are in business to make money, after all, and markets do change.  I’ve got more titles from Pyr than any other publisher in the queue at the moment, mostly science fiction from Brenda J. Cooper, Mike Resnick, Allen Steele, and Mark Hodder.

These are all publishers who publish mass market and trade, and thus within the budgets of most readers.  Among the more expensive collectible and limited edition publishers, Haffner Press stands out as my favorite, primarily because Haffner publishes some of my favorite authors.  Cemetery Dance and Subterranean are the other two publishers I’ve bought a lot from this year.

These are the publishers I’ve read this year because these guys, from what I can tell, are not only publishing some of the best fantasy, science fiction, and horror, but they also have some of the best business practices around.  With limited time and monetary resources, I want to get the best value I can and support the players (publishers and authors) I respect.  These publishers and many of the indie authors I’ve read have more than provided that. 

So as far as publishers go, these are the one I will stick with in 2013.

Brambling On

A couple of weeks ago, I reviewed a pair of novellas from Subterranean Press.  Written by Tobias S. Buckell and Paolo Bacigalupi, these tales revolve around a world in which the use of magic results in the growth of a plant called bramble.  Bramble, for those of you who haven’t read my review or the novellas, is something like evil kudzu.  I’m sorry; that was redundant.  Anyone who’s ever had to deal with kudzu knows it’s evil.  Bramble is like kudzu on steroids.  With thorns.  It takes over everything (just like kudzu), and the thorns can send a person into a permanent sleep.

When I wrote the review I expressed a desire to see more of this world.  My wish has been granted.  If I can figure out how I caused that to happen….well, never mind.

Now, Buckell has written a sequel which went up on the spring 2011 issue of Subterranean Magazine a day or so before I started my traveling.  I tried to read it before I left, but I didn’t quite get to it.  Last night, I finally managed to read it.  It was worth the wait.

This particular installment concerns one young man by the name of Mynza, who happens to be a thief.  The story opens with him climbing the wall of the keep of the Mayor of Alacan.  He brushes against a spot of bramble growing in a crack in the wall and just manages to make it to a balcony before losing consciousness.  Turns out this is the balcony of the Mayor’s daughter, who in a twist on classic fairy tales motifs, awakens him with a kiss.  While there, Mynza takes several things, some freely given (the girl’s virtue) and some not so freely given (jewels and a signet ring).  Because his burglary wasn’t sanctioned by the head of the family that adopted him as a young orphan, they end up parting ways. 

At least for a few days.  Bramble has encroached to the point that the town has to be abandoned.  Instead of aiding the citizens in their escape, the Mayor and the merchants charge a toll to be taken out.  Most of the population can’t pay the price, and bramble has spread to the point that even the only road out, controlled by the Mayor, is closing.  Mynza has spent most of his coin from the jewels he fenced.  It’s at this point that responsibility finds him, and although he’s fully grown physically, he finds himself forced to grow up.

I’ll not say more about the details of the plot or the other characters.  This in many ways was the best of the three stories, although all of them are essentially stories of hope, despite their dark settings and events.  My reasons for saying that have to do with the changes Mynza undergoes, as well as those of one of the other characters.  To say more would be to spoil the story for you. 

I’m beginning to see a theme in the tales of this world.  A theme of how we, as people, as individuals, need each other.  Of how strong love is, propelling us to greatness and bringing forgiveness and hope where none appears to be.  I find these themes refreshing.  If this series takes off, and I hope it will, I’m sure either Buckell or Bacigalupi or both (either separately or collaboratively – that’s a hint guys) will end up writing novels set in this world.  While I will certainly rejoice over them and read them, I hope the authors never leave the novella form behind when writing in this world.  It’s the personal stories of the ordinary people, people trying to make a difference, however small, in a world that’s getting darker that gives these tales their power.  In this day of fat fantasy and never ending series, it’s nice to step back from the epic and focus on the personal.

There’s been a lot of blogging in the last month or so about whether fantasy is too dark.  If you feel that way, then you need to read these works.  They’re a breath of fresh air.

The Alchemist and the Executioness: A Joint Review

The Alchemist
Paolo Bacigalupi
Subterranean Press
Trade $20; Limited – sold out
96 pages

The Executioness
Tobias S. Buckell
Subterranean Press
Trade $20, Limited $45
104 pages

Here’s a pair of novellas that will definitely be worth your while.  The backstory behind them is that Tobias Buckell had an idea for a fantasy world and invited his friend Paolo Bacigalupi to join him in it.  Together they developed the settings, history, and characters.  What resulted from this collaboration was the pair of books you see above.  Hopefully, this is the first of many because they’ve created a fascinating world with an interesting magic system.

In this world, magic, as the publisher’s promotional copy says, has a price.  If magic is used, bramble grows.  Bramble is like kudzu, only with thorns.  It takes over everything.  Little magic, big magic, it doesn’t matter.  If you use magic, bramble will grow somewhere nearby.  It’s caused the downfall of an entire empire in the recent past and is well on its way to taking over the entire world.  (I told you it was like kudzu.)  To bet stuck by bramble is to risk falling into a deep sleep, one from which you won’t likely wake up.  It’s never stated when bramble first started, but The Alchemist implies that it wasn’t always around.  It can be burned out, but there are enough people who use magic (in small amounts, of course, not enough to really hurt anything you understand) that this is a losing battle.

I’ll start with The Alchemist only on the basis of the alphabet.  Paolo Bacigalupi is one of the hottest new writers working today, and after reading this book, it’s easy to see why.  Of course, if you’ve read any of his short stories or his novel The Windup Girl, you already know this about him.  The Aclchemist concerns, well, an alchemist.  One who has spent a literal fortune trying to find a way to successfully battle bramble.  He’s not doing this purely from altruistic reasons but because his daughter has a wasting lung disease. The only cure for it is through magic.  He is able to keep the disease at bay, but to do more will cost him is life.  The Mayor of the city of Khaim has declared that practicing magic is a death penalty offense.  The alshemist succeeds in his quest.  And that proves to be his undoing…

The ink on the book was barely dry when Bacigalupi picked up a Nebula Award nomination for it.  (Congratulations, Paolo, and good luck!)  It’s understandable when you read it.  The prose is moving and at times poetic.  While I found some of the villainy a little over the top, the story’s ending wasn’t as dark or nibilistic as I was expecting from the set up.  I definitely want to see more of this character.

The Executioness is the story of a middle aged woman, the mother of two boys, who takes up the axe in order to keep her family from starving when her father, an executioner himself, dies. This is not your typical fantasy heroine.  That’s a good thing.  Buckell does a fine job of developing her character, and anyone, male or female, who’s ever had children will relate to her motivation.  After her alcoholic husband is killed and her sons stolen by raiders, she takes off in pursuit of her boys.  The raiders are practicing what they call Culling, reducing the magic using population by kidnapping children and taking them away across the sea to be indoctrinated in the raiders’ religion.  She quickly catches up with them, only to be defeated and tossed in bramble.  Somehow she awakens, her wounds healed (this is never explained, something I hope is addressed in a later book), in a caravan, where she becomes one of the guards.  The caravan is heading to the city where her sons have been taken, so she has no problem riding along and earning her keep with her axe.  In the course of the story, she becomes something of a legend, as the number of raiders she fought grows with each retelling as well as the outcome of the fight changing.  In the end, she leads an army of some of the fiercest fighters you never want to tangle with:  an army of mothers who have had their children kidnapped. Whether they’re successful, well, that would be telling…

Buckell is the author of several well received novels and one short story collection, which can be ordered here.  I picked up a signed copy of Crystal Rain when it was up for a Nebula a few years ago and the awards ceremony was held in Austin.  I confess I haven’t read it simply because it is signed, and those books aren’t the ones I take with me to read when I travel and so tend to sit on the shelf longer than unsigned books.  It’s in the TBR stack, and after reading The Executioness, it will be moving up closer to the top.  Much closer.

These books might seem a bit pricey to some of you, especially in the current economy.  But if you can afford them, you should check them out.  The illustrations by J. K. Drummond are great.  I’m hoping these two glimpses into this shared world will be the first of many.