Exactly What I Wanted: Gems From the Small Press

MindscapeAs I was sitting down to recommend that you spend your holiday gift cards on small press books, I learned that a book I read a couple of years ago had just won the Carl Brandon Society’s Parallax Award: Mindscape, by Andrea Hairston, published by Seattle’s Aqueduct Press. Mindscape is a stunningly original, highly imaginative work of science fiction that manages to incorporate technology both alien and human and new perspectives on race and gender while taking us on a wild ride.

And because Aqueduct is a small press, Mindscape is still in print even though it was published in 2006: Smaller publishers can keep books in print. I hope the Parallax Award means that it will get a lot more readers.

Powell’s has a used copy of Mindscape for $12.95, but if you can afford to support your local writer and small press, buy it directly from Aqueduct even though it costs $19.50. Neither the author nor the press makes any money off used books, though of course they are a boon for readers with small budgets.

Aqueduct’s motto is “bringing challenging feminist science fiction to the demanding reader,” and that translates into books that both take  readers on a wild ride and make them think. Some other fine books published by Aqueduct include Gwyneth Jones’s Life, Kelley Eskridge’s Dangerous Space, and Nisi Shawl’s Filter House. The press also publishes some excellent nonfiction, including two books by Book View Cafe members: Ursula K. Le Guin’s Cheek by Jowl and Sylvia Kelso’s Three Observations and a Dialogue.

The observant reader will notice that I’m published by Aqueduct myself, but I have also read almost every book they’ve published since they opened up shop in 2003. The only problem with reading Aqueduct books is that they spoil the pleasure of reading a lot of mass market SF/F. Once you get used to reading highly complex and imaginative stories, it’s hard to settle for books that just seem to be recycling old ideas.

Here’s a book that is similar to Mindscape only in that it is equally imaginative: Robert Freeman Wexler’s The Painting and the City, from The Painting and the CityPS Publishing. It’s urban fantasy, centered around an artist, and using a fantastical history of New York City (interspersed with actual history) to weave a magical tale. I heard Robert read from a story that is at the heart of this novel about five years ago, and was hooked from that point on. (That story, “The Journal of Philip Schuyler,” appeared in Polyphony 4 from Wheatland Press, another fine small publisher.)

But you may not be able to use your gift card for The Painting and the City: the easiest way to get PS Publishing books is directly from them, though I’m sure some are available in bookstores in the UK. And if you’re not in England, you’re going to pay a fair amount for shipping. However, PS is doing some specials this month that will save you a few pennies: You can buy The Painting and the City as part of the Black Static Review four-book set at a saving of 27 pounds. PS is also offering a three-for-two deal through January.

Still, these books are a lot more expensive than even your average trade paperback, not counting the shipping. There’s a reason for this: They’re beautifully done. For those who are collectors as well as readers, I recommend the pricier jacketed hardcover editions. All PS books are limited editions, so many of them will be worth money down the road, especially the ones by authors who are either well known (such as Ray Bradbury) or have a strong cult following (Zoran Živkovic).

(And yes, PS has also published a book by me, which thrilled the hell out of me. I love being in such august company.)

BooklifeOne last book, for all you writers out there: Jeff VanderMeer’s Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st Century Writer, from Tachyon Publications. In this book, Jeff provides some real guidance on how to be a successful writer in the modern world. The advice ranges from how to make yourself get your work done to how to effectively promote your work in old and new media to how to keep in shape and generally have a life. Jeff, as many readers here probably know, has built a successful career while primarily writing edgy fantasy. I suspect his ideas are particularly good for those of us who produce work that doesn’t fit easily into established categories.

The Way of the Warrior will return next week.

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Nancy Jane’s collection Conscientious Inconsistencies is available from PS Publishing and her novella Changeling can be ordered from Aqueduct Press. All fifty of the short-short stories she posted as part of her year-long Flash Fiction Project are available here.

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