by Don Sakers
Science fiction, as a field, has been shaped by its publishers. Now, this is self-evidently true for all fields of literature. In SF, where there’s always been an unusual degree of overlap between fans and professionals, the role of publishers is particularly visible. Let’s talk about that.
To begin with, what is a publisher, anyway? Essentially, a publisher performs the same role in literature that a producer does in film: coordinating all the people and resources necessary to put books or magazines in the hands of readers. Among these people might be writers, editors, artists, agents, designers, publicists, bookstore owners, librarians, and truck drivers. Resources can include such things as paper and other supplies, printing services, computers and servers, internet resources, catalogs, distribution networks, contracts, publicity and marketing, financial accounting, editing and copyediting, communication, etc.
Another way to think about it is to see publishers as the folks who pay the bills. A publisher puts up money for each book or magazine, paying for all the people and resources mentioned above. The publisher receives money from selling books and magazines (and sometimes, advertisements appearing in those books and magazines). If the publisher is lucky and good at their job, incoming funds will exceed expenditures, and there will be a profit. Nothing’s guaranteed; historically, publishing has been a low-profit enterprise. Indeed, the traditional joke goes like this: Q: How do you make a small fortune in publishing? A: Start with a large fortune.
Publishers come in a large variety of sizes and shapes. Some are divisions of bigger companies, owned by giant multinational corporations, which own and operate their own printing presses and even distribution networks. For example, Analog is published by Dell, a division of Penguin Random House, which is itself owned by Bertelsmann (one of the world’s largest mass media companies, based in Germany) and Pearson PLC (a London-based publishing and education company). Others are small businesses or individual entrepreneurs who contract out jobs (or do things themselves). We generally speak of three levels: big publishers, which are the huge companies putting out dozens of titles a year; small presses, usually run by an individual or team and releasing up to several titles a month; and micro-publishers, generally one person with a handful of titles a year.
The publishers who’ve impacted our field the most are those with one person at the helm. These can be big, small, or micro—the important factor is the individual vision and drive of the person in charge.
The first individual publisher to influence the field was arguably the person responsible for creating science fiction as a distinct commercial genre: Hugo Gernsback. Among the fifty-odd magazines Gernsback published was Amazing Stories, the first science fiction magazine, in 1926.
Arkham House, founded in 1939 by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, was a small press primarily formed to publish the works of H. P. Lovecraft; they also published early work by the likes of Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, William Hope Hodgson, Robert E. Howard, and Frank Belknap Long. Today, the company still publishes highly-prized limited editions.
After the war, a number of small presses began reprinting SF classics from the magazines. Among these were Lloyd Arthur Eshbach’s Fantasy Press (1946–1958); Thomas P. Hadley’s Hadley Publishing Co. (1947–1948); Prime Press (1947–1953) run by Oswald Train, James Williams, Alfred C. Prime, and Armand E. Waldo; and Gnome Press (1948–1962) founded by Martin Greenberg and David A. Kyle.
The postwar small presses, which were largely labors of love, suffered from enormous cash flow and distribution challenges. None of them lasted long. Still, between them, these guys published books by most of the big names of SF, and they demonstrated to larger publishers that there was money to be made in science fiction. Without them, big players like Doubleday, Houghton Mifflin, Random House, and Simon & Schuster might never have given the field wide exposure.
In the early 1950s, as science fiction moved into the paperback market, Ian and Betty Ballantine launched Ballantine Books (1952–present) and jumped into the SF field, publishing simultaneous hardcover and paperback editions of writers like Arthur C. Clarke, Henry Kuttner, Frederik Pohl, Fletcher Pratt, Theodore Sturgeon, and dozens more.
Beginning in the 1960s, a number of publishers emerged as deluxe presses mostly aimed at the SF/fantasy collectors market. These included Jack L. Chalker’s Mirage Press (1961–1991), Chuck Miller and Tim Underwood’s Underwood-Miller (1976–1994, succeeded by Underworld Books), and Borgo Press (late 1970s–1998), founded by Robert Reginald and Mary Wickizer.
In 1972, Donald A. Wollheim, who had already revolutionized the field as SF editor at Ace, founded his own company, DAW Books (the name came from Wollheim’s initials). DAW had at least as much an impact on SF/fantasy as Ballantine; who among us does not treasure the memory of DAW’s distinctive yellow spines (retired in June 1964)? Under Wollheim’s daughter Betsy, DAW continues to be the largest and most influential independently-owned publisher in our field.
For any number of reasons, many independent publishers, even seemingly successful ones, have fairly short lives. James R. Frenkel’s Bluejay Books (1983–1986), Stephen Pagel’s Meisha Merlin Publishing (1996–2007), and Vera Nazarian’s Norilana Books (2006–2010) are among the largest.
By the 1990s, a wave of mergers changed the nature of big corporate publishers; most became parts of international media empires, which wanted higher profits than those publishers were making. Big publishers cut back on marginal, traditionally low-profit books: short story collections, most anthologies, new and underperforming authors, reprints, and chancy, groundbreaking books with unproven potential. These categories all moved to independent, small presses.
Today, many small publishers thrive on the boundaries of the field, publishing the stuff that the big houses can’t. Among the best known of these are Angry Robot, founded in 2008 by Marc Gascoigne; Fantastic Books (2008, Ian Randal Strock); Night Shade Books (1997, Jason Williams); Small Beer Press (2000, Gavin Grant and Kelly Link); Subterranean Press (1995, William Schafer and Tim Holt); and Tachyon Publications (1995, Jacob Weisman). Increasingly, these small presses and their many cousins are the locus of freshness and innovation in science fiction.
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Candlemark & Gleam, 346 pages, $20.95 (trade paperback)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $5.99 (e-book)
Genre: Alien Beings, Psychological/Sociological SF
The most recent independent publisher to rock our world is Candlemark & Gleam, founding in 2010 by Kate Sullivan and purchased in 2015 by Athena Andreadis. Andreadis edited two highly-acclaimed anthologies of SF stories by women, The Other Half of the Sky (reviewed here in the June 2014 issue) and To Shape the Dark (reviewed in April 2016).
Candlemark & Gleam’s latest book is by Kristin Landon, author of the Hidden Worlds trilogy: The Hidden Worlds (2007), The Cold Minds (2008), and The Dark Reaches (2009). Her novelette “From the Depths” appeared in To Shape the Dark. The new book, Windhome, is part first-contact novel, part survival story, and part mythic tale.
In this future, an unknown force has already wiped out the civilizations of several planets—and it appears that Earth may be next in line. Needing information, Earth dispatches a fleet of slower-than-light ships bearing investigative expeditions. Each ship’s team, in cold sleep for decades, is composed of experts in search of the answers Earth needs.
When Vika awakens on the Assurance, forty years later, she learns that she’s one of three survivors of the original crew of sixteen. Vika was never particularly close to the other two, Anke and Pierre. About a year ago, apparently, some alien force entered the ship and stole the pods containing the other hibernating crewmembers. What’s more, these aliens damaged the ship’s life-support system, meaning that the survivors have only two days to remain aboard.
Vika and the others were awakened when the ship reached its target, the sparsely-inhabited world Windhome. Probes hint that Windhome was a previous target of the civilization-destroying force, about six hundred years ago. With the ship disabled, they have no choice but to set down on Windhome; among the ruins and the remaining inhabitants, they hope to find some clues that will help Earth against the force that threatens it.
Windhome is a cold, merciless world populated by furred humanoid aliens with a low-tech agrarian society. Their folklore tells the tale of the Destroyers, who came from the sky to wipe out the high-tech cities; the natives survived by establishing harsh social rules and limits on technology, which they fear will bring the Destroyers back. The Earthfolk are taken captive by these aliens, and eventually ally with a resistance faction that helps them escape.
Faced with the challenge of surviving in the wilderness during the approaching hellish winter, Vika and her friends must somehow also complete their mission . . . for they’ve uncovered information vital to Earth’s survival.
The world of Windhome and the society of its natives are fully fleshed out and well presented; if you like good worldbuilding, you’ll love this book. Vika and the other humans, and their struggle to find a place for themselves in Windhome culture, are compelling and fascinating.
Whenever a woman writes a SF story with humanoid aliens and set on a cold world, comparisons to the late Ursula K. LeGuin are sure to come up. Windhome isn’t The Left Hand of Darkness, although both titles share an anthropological feel. Landon’s book has a space opera vibe that LeGuin’s work lacks; it’s clear that Windhome is part of a larger universe with its own narrative. We get delicious glimpses of this future Earth, and of the place of humans in wider galactic history. While the immediate story of Windhome comes to a satisfactory ending, unanswered questions remain regarding the nature of the Destroyers and the future fate of Earth. I’d be surprised (and disappointed) if Landon doesn’t follow up with more books in this universe.
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The Clingerman Files
Size 5-1/2 B, 288 pages, $20.00 (trade paperback)
Genre: Short Fiction, Tribute Anthology
You may never have been exposed to the stories of Mildred Clingerman. If that’s the case, prepare to be delighted.
Mildred Clingerman was an Arizona-based science fiction and fantasy writer who lived from 1918–1997. Between 1952 and 1962, seventeen of her stories appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (two additional tales appeared in 1975). Sixteen of those early stories were compiled in her 1961 collection A Cupful of Space. Clingerman’s stories were very popular and immediately began appearing in anthologies, a process that continued well into this century. Her tales are frequently published in literary collections aimed at the education market.
Clingerman’s grandson, Marc Bradley, has put together this comprehensive collection of her stories. The Clingerman Files contains not just the sixteen stories that appeared in A Cupful of Space and the three that didn’t, but also an unsuspected treasure trove of no fewer than 23 previously unpublished stories Clingerman left behind.
Among long-time readers, Clingerman is often referred to in the same breath as her contemporary, Zenna Henderson . . . but in my opinion, she’s better off in such company as Rod Serling, Charles Beaumont, George Clayton Johnson, and Richard Matheson, The typical Clingerman story takes place in the familiar, contemporary world of the 1950s, then takes that oblique, skewed step into the place Serling talked about. If she’d been writing in the early 1940s, her work would have been a natural fit for our late, lamented sister magazine Unknown.
In “Stair Trick,” that place is an impossible set of stairs in a bar with no basement. In “A Window for Mr. Stevens” (title misprinted here as “A Widow . . .”), it’s the view from a hospital window. “First Lesson” deals with a wife who finds that magic can save her husband’s life . . . but only if she doesn’t believe in it.
You need to read this book. Your friends and neighbors need to read this book. All your relatives need to read this book. It’s well worth the price—but by the time you see this, an e-book edition should be available. Get it and help let the legacy of this remarkable writer live on.
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If We Had Known
Edited by Mike McPhail
eSpec Books, 183 pages, $14.95 (TPB)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $3.99 (e-book)
Genre: Original Anthologies
Here’s the first of two new titles from eSpec Books. Founded in 2014, eSpec is becoming a leading source for military and wargame-inspired science fiction. Co-founder Mike McPhail is a former member of the Air National Guard, aeronautical engineer, and game designer; he’s made a name for himself as both editor and writer. His wife Danielle Ackley-McPhail, the other co-founder, writes science fiction, fantasy, and horror, and specializes in marketing and promotion.
If We Had Known is a collection of thirteen stories by as many authors, all inspired by the title phrase. By the end of each story, readers are left with a single unanswered question: If the characters had known how things were going to turn out, would they have made the decisions they did?
It’s a fascinating premise, one that plays teasing meta-games with the whole notion of fiction and story. In one way, it’s a question you can ask about any story—although with most cases, the answer is more obvious than in these tales. In another sense, however, isn’t the whole question somewhat pointless? In the final analysis, characters in a story don’t make decisions or choose different paths—they act as they do because that’s the way the author writes the story. Even if authors claim that some characters run away from them and do as they want, we know that’s only true in a psychological sense.
Nevertheless, the stories in this volume are mostly fun tales with a sort of twist. The big names are Jody Lynn Nye and Ian Randal Strock; the other authors range from well established to newcomers. The stories range from Nye’s “The Last Man on Earth,” which puts a new spin on a very old concept, to “Lucky Strike” by Christopher M. Hiles, where a mission to destroy an Earth-endangering asteroid ends in a totally unexpected failure, to Judi Fleming’s “Youth,” in which a biologist goes on the internet to publicly discredit his greatest discovery. There’s certainly something here for everyone.
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The Die is Cast
Edited by Greg Schauer
eSpec Books, 171 pages, $14.95 (TPB)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $3.99 (e-book)
Series: Series Number
Genre: Military SF. Reprint Anthologies
Here’s the second book from eSpec. I mentioned above that eSpec co-founder Mike McPhail had an earlier career as a game designer. One of his games was The Alliance Archives, a “manual-based, hardcore military science fiction adventure.” Over the years, McPhail and others produced stories set in the Alliance Archives universe, most published in various anthologies. The Die is Cast brings together ten of these stories by McPhail and his wife, Danielle Ackley-McPhail.
Readers don’t need to be familiar with the game in order to appreciate the stories. All of them are character-driven, often compassionate tales that get inside the heads of the soldiers and others that move in, out, and around of various conflicts. Fear, pride, esprit de corps, courage, shame . . . these stories tackle the emotional minefields that await military personnel in the reaches of space.
If you like David Drake, Joe Haldeman, or Jack Campbell, you’re bound to like this anthology.
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Though Hell Should Bar the Way
Baen, 416 pages, $25.00 (hardcover)
Series: RCN 13
Genre: Military SF
While we’re looking at military SF, here’s a new book by the father of the genre, David Drake. Drake’s RCN series—about the Republic of Cinnabar Navy, exemplary officer Daniel Leary, and librarian/cyber-spy Adele Mundy—is filled with adventure, espionage, and political machinations in addition to good ol’ military action.
This latest book focuses on poor little rich brat Roy Olfetrie. When his mercantile father is arrested for crimes both financial and political, Roy’s family falls into disgrace and poverty. Roy had planned a career as a lazy Navy officer, but now he’s left with no choice but to take any assignment he’s given.
Luck comes his way in the person of Captain Leary, who gives Roy the chance to join his crew. Before long, Roy is up to his neck in pirates and spies. From the harems of pirate chiefs to luxurious houses, from dodging assassins to repairing wrecked ships in the depths of interstellar space, Roy is on an odyssey that will test his courage, loyalty, and honor. But this former rich brat is determined to make it through and complete his mission, to prove that Captain Leary’s faith in him was not misplaced.
David Drake’s RCN novels usually draw their inspiration from classical history, and Drake says the germ of this one came from events leading up to the Second Punic War . . . but he also acknowledges a huge influence by the Barbara Pirates of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
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Into the Fire
Del Rey, 480 pages, $28.00 (hardcover)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $14.99 (e-book)
Series: Vatta’s Peace 2
Genre: Military SF
We last saw Elizabeth Moon’s Hornblower-esque heroine Kylara Vatta in Cold Welcome (reviewed in the July/August 2017 issue). Ky, summoned home to the planet Slotter Key, survived a crash landing on a remote polar island and led her fellow survivors to safety while uncovering a conspiracy against the planetary government and her own family’s shipping empire.
Into the Fire picks up where Cold Welcome left off. Ky’s discovery of the conspirators’ plot causes them to move immediately—and with desperation. Ky’s first hint of trouble comes when her official report on the crash and its aftermath goes missing. The report is followed in short order by the men and women Ky rescued. The conspiracy goes deeper than she imagined, with tendrils far into the legitimate government . . . and her enemies have more power than she imagined.
As the only remaining witness, Ky becomes the target of anonymous assassins. No one in her family, including her fiancée, is safe. She has to defend them, at the same time working to find out the identity of those trying to kill her. And to complicate matters, Ky doesn’t know whom she can trust . . . if anyone.
Readers who enjoy the byzantine politics of David Weber’s Honor Harrington books or Catherine Asaro’s Skolian Empire will find much to enjoy here.
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Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
Baen, 435 pages, $25.00 (hardcover)
iBooks, Kindle: $7.99, Nook: $9.99 (e-book)
Series: Liaden Universe 21, Theo Waitley 6
Genre: Artificial Intelligence, Space Opera
Here are Sharon Lee and Steve Miller again.
By now I hope you know the drill. Lee & Miller’s Liaden Universe books are space opera with romantic overtones, written in language that sparkles and filled with adventure, interesting societies, and compelling characters. While there’s a consistent history and some continuing stories, you can feel free to pick up any Liaden Universe book without having read the others.
Neogenesis is all about the place of artificial intelligences in the Liaden Universe. Human-equivalent AIs have been around for quite a while: Pilot Theo Waitley is captain and partner of the intelligent starship Bechimo, her brother’s household employs an AI butler. Rivals at the Lyre Institute use AIs as slave labor. But what about those more-than-human, supergenius AIs with abilities that border on the supernatural?
Turns out that centuries ago, there was a great war in which huge AI-directed navies clashed and nearly destroyed themselves and the human planets involved. After that, a series of regulations known as the Complex Intelligence Laws were put in place to ensure that nothing similar would ever happen. The supergenius AIs were all believed to have perished in the war.
Of course, some survived, hiding out and establishing secret AI networks to keep tabs on humans and other AIs. To conserve power and evade detection, these Self-Aware Logics slept away the centuries, waiting for their chance to take power again.
Now one of those Logics has reawakened, and both Waitley’s Clan Korval and their opponents the Lyre Institute are in the path of its return. It’ll take all of Waitley’s ingenuity and her Clan’s political power to survive this challenge.
Science fiction, like the mundane world, has recently been in deep conversation about the nature and possible menace of artificial intelligence. In addition to being a cracking good story, Neogenesis is a fine addition to the conversation.
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Guardian Angels & Other Monsters
Daniel H. Wilson
Vintage, 279 pages, $16.00 (trade paperback)
iBooks, Kindle: $11.99 (e-book)
Genre: Artificial Intelligence, Short Fiction Collections
While we’re on the subject of artificial intelligence. . . .
Daniel H. Wilson is the author of Robopocalypse (reviewed in the November 2011 issue) and Robogenesis (2014), as well as Amped (reviewed October 2012) and The Clockwork Dynasty (2017). With a PhD in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University, he knows a thing or two about AI and has been speculating on the topic for years.
Guardian Anges & Other Monsters is a collection of fourteen of Wilson’s stories, originally published in various anthologies and webzines. Many are on the theme of artificial intelligence, while others involve other technological innovations. Most of these tales would be quite at home in the pages of Analog.
Here we have stories of robots both menacing and benevolent. In “Miss Gloria,” a robot trying to save a little girl dies and comes back to life in different forms, while in “All Kinds of Proof” a mail-delivery robot becomes the best friend of a has-been drunk who is hired to train it. The story “Blood Memory” is a bit darker; it tells of the first human child born through teleportation, and her mother’s struggle to help her find a place in the world.
Science fiction has been examining the impact of technology on people and societies for very nearly a century now, and just because the mundane world is catching up with some of our concerns, that’s no reason we should stop. Guardian Angels & Other Monsters continues that fine tradition.
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Trope-ing the Light Fantastic: The Science Behind the Fiction
Edward M. Lerner
Phoenix Pick, 364 pages, $34.99 (hardcover)
iBooks, Kindle, Nook: $9.99 (e-book)
Does Edward M. Lerner need an introduction here? His most recent appearance in these pages (unless Trevor’s acquired something else from him in the interim) was the story “The Pilgrimage” in the November/December 2017 issue. Lerner is as well known for his science fact articles as he is for his SF stories and novels.
Between 2011 and 2016, Lerner published here a series of such articles addressing the real-life science behind common SF tropes like FTL travel, aliens, time travel, paranormal abilities, and the like. Phoenix Pick has collected all those articles, along with an introduction by Lerner and a foreword by our own Trevor Quachri.
Yes, if you’ve been reading Analog that long, you can just gather up your back issues to read all these articles. (By the way, have you noticed how many Analog readers keep their back issues? In recent years, I’ve run into a number of people who started reading the magazine with their fathers, and who have since inherited Dad’s collection that, in some cases, goes back to old Astoundings. You have to admit, we’re a faithful lot.)
But why bother digging for those old issues? Just get this volume, and you’ll have everything in one place. And if you know any other science-oriented SF readers, this would make a swell present.
Don Sakers is the author of Meat and Machine, Elevenses, the Rule of Five serial at http://donsakers.com/ruleof5/, and A Cosmos of Many Mansions, a collection based on previous columns. For more information, visit www.scatteredworlds.com.
Copyright © 2018 Don Sakers