Friday, July 15, 2005


A number of interesting collections of science fiction and fantasy have appeared in recent months. Here is a list:

Greetings and Other Stories by Terry Bisson (Tachyon Publications)
I Live With You by Carol Emshwiller (Tachyon Publications)
Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link (Small Beer Press)
Mothers and Other Monsters by Maureen F. McHugh (Small Beer Press)
Thirteen Ways to Water and Other Stories by Bruce Holland Rogers (Wheatland Press)
Heart of Whitenesse by Howard Waldrop (Subterranean Press)

Notice something peculiar here?

(There are also collections by David Gerrold and Harry Turtledove, also from small presses.)

I have deliberately excluded from the list titles whose authors typically publish in small presses, such as The Emperor of Gondwanaland and Other Stories by Paul Di Filippo, and large omnibuses produced by small-press publishers who specialize in this, such as The Masque of Mañana by Robert Sheckley or the recent tenth volume of Theodore Sturgeon's complete works. The books listed above are all by writers who regularly publish with trade hardcover houses such as Tor, St. Martin's Press, Viking. All (or just about all) of them have published novels, and almost never with small presses. (Carol Emshwiller is publishing a novel just this summer, from Penguin/Viking.) Even Howard Waldrop, supposedly hard-core small press material, published his last collection with St. Martin's Press. None of them are new writers; all of them have won prizes, if you are impressed by that sort of thing.

No more. I looked for examples of collections published by trade SF publishers this year, and can see three examples: by Garth Nix, China Miéville, and Gene Wolfe. All are prolific and extremely successful novelists whose collections are being brought out by the houses that are busily bringing out their novels. Critically acclaimed novelists whose sales are more middling (there are some on the above list) are expected to take their collections elsewhere.

One could argue about counter-examples, which don't refute my thesis but complicate it, such as writers like Lucius Shepard who, despite critical acclaim, publish both novels and collections with small presses; or Golden Gryphon, which publishes lots of collections and is midway between a small and a trade publisher. (Its founder, James Turner, was very annoyed when I referred to it in print as a small publisher.) The trend, however, seems clear. A short fiction collection, unless it is by a distinctly successful novelist who is currently publishing novels, is unwelcome at all trade publishers. (And even one by a requisitely pop author, such as Gerrold or Turtledove, will not be touched if their audience looks to be one that doesn't read short fiction.)

Anthologies, both original and reprint, continue to be published by both hardcover (St. Martin's Press) and mass market (DAW) houses. With their variety of authors, they seem to be a more commercial proposition.

David G. Hartwell, an editor at Tor Books, writes (in his introduction to the Sheckley volume) that the present disparagement of writers of short SF is "a growing disaster and a betrayal of the history of SF achievement in the 20th century." He continues:

"Despite the efforts of NESFA Press and others, almost everybody is looking at novels as the measure of a writer's true quality. If this goes on without challenge, everone from Damon Knight to Harlan Ellison, from Lucius Shepard to Ted Chiang will end up as second rank, and not worthy of Grand Master awards no matter how fine their stories. And to put it bluntly, there are a disproportionate number of excellent short story writers in the SF tradition, but not a lot of first class novelists."

True enough -- and I have heard other Tor editors make the same lament -- but it's hard not to notice that Hartwell, who was Terry Bisson's editor for his entire career up until now, seems to have abandoned collections by "excellent short story writers," as have his colleagues.

It has always been the case that trade publishers wince at publishing collections, and often would publish one only if the author delivered a novel. But I do not believe that collections of literary merit have ever been so entirely abjured by trade publishers as now.

Seen on a Dust Jacket

"Link's exquisite stories mix the aggravations and epiphanies of everyday life with the stuff that myths, dreams and nightmares are made of."

-- Laura Miller, Salon

"Sly and charming, tart and wise."

-- Michael Berry, San Francisco Chronicle

"Stranger Things Happen is a tremendously appealing book, and lovers of short fiction should fall over themselves getting out the door to find a copy."

-- Gregory Feeley, Washington Post Book World

"A joy. I've not been so moved and affected -- and dammit, yes, inspired -- by a book for a long time.

-- China Miéville, Iron Council

China Miéville is still reviewing for Iron Council?