Jul 12, 2012

Spotlight on Small Beer Press

This post is part of the Small Press Fortnight currently being hosted at Book Gazing. You can follow the links for a master schedule or to add your own contribution.

Small Beer Press

Small Beer Press was founded in 2000 by authors and editors Kelly Link and Gavin Grant. They captured my attention by publishing the kind of thoughtful, strange, boundary-pushing speculative fiction towards which I tend to gravitate. Small Beer Press are a publisher with a very distinct sensibility, which is something I really appreciate. They publish a wide range of novels and short fiction, but all their books have in common the fact that they’re strange and difficult to categorise, in the best possible sense. This profile at The Valley Advocate (which you should definitely read in its entirety if you want to learn more about them) put it perfectly:
The press’ aesthetic may be hard to define, but it’s precisely that difficulty that makes it worthwhile. The novels and story collections in the lineup are not always similar—mysteries bump up against unusual sort-of science fiction, and works of highflown language-play nestle next to plainspoken prose full of mind-bending ideas—but they possess a similarity in spirit. It’s a spirit of playfulness, of invention and adventure. Small Beer does not seem to dawdle for long in the world of so-called “mimetic fiction”, probably the least offensive of the monikers used to refer to the literature of the everyday world.
Small Beer Press are a perfect illustration of the value of careful curation – when I think of them, I think of a reliable source of interesting bookish recommendations. Persephone are the only other press I’ve discovered to date that inspires a similar sort of trust in me.

Let me give you two more reasons to love them: first of all, their e-books are all DRM free. I believe that DRM is bad news for readers, for literary culture and for books themselves, for all the reasons Cory Doctorow explains so well. Small Beer Press seem to agree: through their sister site, Weightless Books, they sell DRM-free editions of their own books and of books from other small presses.

Secondly, they license some of their releases through Creative Commons and make them available for free download. How cool is that? I love their explanation as to why:
We love books. We want to keep on publishing good books. Weird books. Interesting books. We are curious about the future. If everyone downloads books straight to the Kindlenub in their head, we might be in trouble. But if there are still people who like to read books on paper, maybe some of them will read some of these downloads and then decide they would like the actual books. Therefore we’re releasing some of our books as a free download in various completely open formats with no Digital Rights Management (DRM).
I thought I’d help spread the Small Beer Press love by highlighting a few of their titles I’ve blogged about in the past:

Small Beer Press book covers
  • First, there’s Karen Lord’s Redemption in Indigo, which I reviewed only a few weeks ago. As I said then, “Redemption in Indigo is a fantasy novel partially based on a Senegalese folktale, and it successfully combines elements such as tricksters, time travel, humour, a sensible heroine, and a gripping and metafictional narrative voice.”

  • Secondly, there’s Carol Emshwiller’s classic feminist fable Carmen Dog. Back when I read it I said:
    Carol Emshwiller is very funny – funny in a straight-faced, ironic way that reminded me a little of Margaret Atwood. And being funny, of course, doesn’t mean that this isn’t a serious book with very frightening implications. The fact that it’s a humorous fantasy might make it possible for us to distance ourselves from what’s happening in a way that a more realistic story about cruelty, discrimination, powerlessness and subjugation wouldn’t allow. But then again, it also allows Carol Emshwiller to take it to places where a realistic story wouldn’t go—and this is why I love fantasy. The harshness is there all the same, and there are things to be learned from this distance. If you look beyond the surface, it's really as disturbing as The Handmaid's Tale.
  • And finally, there’s Kelly Link’s very own brilliant short story collection Magic for Beginners:
    I could easily go on about each of the other stories in Magic for Beginners, but I’ll stop here. As you might have guessed by now, I love them all. They’re all strange, yes, and they leave questions unanswered, but that only makes them more memorable. They’re dark, but occasionally funny too, and a complete joy to read. The tone and mood are always spot on, as is the characterization, which is something I imagine is not easy to do this well in short stories.
I can’t actually believe I’ve only reviewed three of their titles over all these years of blogging. Writing this post was an excellent way to remind myself of just how much I need to amend that. And there’s no shortage of places to start – here are a few Small Beer Press titles I’ve been seriously coveting:

More Small Beer Press book covers

Yet more Small Beer Press book covers

  • Meeks by Julia Holmes: A Tiptree Honor List title. From the publisher’s description: Julia Holmes’s debut novel evokes the strange charm of a Haruki Murakami novel in a dystopic setting reminiscent of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Meeks portrays a world at once hilarious and disquieting, in which frustrated revolutionaries and hopeful youths suffer alongside the lost and the condemned, just for a chance at the permanent bliss of marriage and a slice of sugar-frosted Independence Day cake.

  • The Ant King and Other Stories by Benjamim Rosenbaum: This short story collection comes highly recommended by people like Michael Chabon and Christopher Barzak. Stalking favourite authors for their reading choices is a strategy that has worked out well for me in the past, so I’m really looking forward to reading it. Better yet, this is one of the titles Small Beer Press have made available for free download. No excuse not to read it soon, really!

  • Trash Sex Magic by Jennifer Stevenson: My quest to read All The Books my favourite authors love continues - Margo Lanagan called it “weird in the best possible way” and full of “swampy magic”. Again, say no more!

  • Finally, there’s this gorgeous edition of The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner, a book I can’t believe I still haven’t read: it has both Memory’s and Neil Gaiman’s seal of approval. Seriously, self? What is wrong with you?
I could easily be here all day telling you about exciting Small Beer Press titles, but I’ll leave it at that. One last reason to love them, though: isn’t their cover art the best?

Do you have a favourite small publisher of your own, one whose releases you know you’re always likely to be interested in? If so, remember it’s still not too late to join the Small Press Fortnight celebrations.

19 comments:

  1. Thanks for being part of the tour and for spotlighting such a great looking small pubisher. Reminds me I have Under the Poppy sitting patiently on my shelves.

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  2. You'll probably get to it long before I do then - curious to hear what you think! And thank you for hosting :)

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  3. Whew...this post has taken me forever to get through! :P You know me and my lack of understanding of all things technological--so yeah, I had to try to figure out what the heck DMR-free even meant and then had to read Cory Doctorow's article, and well, you know how it sometimes. :P I do think I have a tiny inkling of what that all means now, but well, not much more than an inkling.

    Anyway, I'm so happy you wrote this post--you introduced me to Small Beer Press a few years back, and I bought a handful of books...and then I promptly forgot about their site (as my silly brain is apt to do). I needed this reminder! :)

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  4. Debi, the trouble with acronyms and abbreviations is exactly that not everyone will know what they mean, and I should have remembered that. It's not your fault at all that you didn't instantly. know what I was talking about. Basically, when you buy an e-book with DRM (digital rights management) protection, you can't lend it to a friend, transfer it from one device to another, switch it from, say, a Kindle to a Sony e-reader, etc. You don't own the e-book itself, but only a license to read it on a particular device (sometimes for a limited period of time, after which it expires). The assumption behind all this is that readers are inherently dishonest and will pirate the hell out of books unless forcefully restrained from doing so, which is insulting and preposterous. It's not like in the past people weren't free to pass on physical copies of books however they pleased, and this didn't kill literary culture and book sales but fostered them. I know that the ability to easily make copies of digital files changes things somewhat, but I really wish more publishers approached the problem without just assuming we're all thieves they need to keep a close eye on. When I see a publisher not go down the DRM route, it makes me want to support them all the more. Here's another great piece about it.

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  5. I can actually remember you reviewing Magic For Beginners and trying to get hold of it. Such an unusualy array of books. I was surprised to see Joan Aiken on the list too.

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  6. This is such an informative, interesting and inspiring post. Thanks a lot.
    I'm still discovering small presses and this one sounds like it has not only a great catalogue to offer.

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  7. I read Steph's review of Under the Poppy and bought it right away, so I will get a chance to sample something from this publisher soon. They seem to have some really creative reads in their array, and I am excited about checking out a few of them. Thanks for this spotlight!

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  8. Ana, you are soooooo awesome!!! I just learned more from your response than I did from all my all searching around looking for a simple definition of DMR-free! I mean, I think I got the gist from what I'd found on the web, but you made me understand it so much more clearly...and made me confident that I wasn't misinterpreting. :D Thank you!

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  9. Thanks for bringing my attention to this press! I've wanted to try Magic for Beginners for some time, and these others look delicious as well!

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  10. A million hearts for Small Beer Press! I can't claim to have reads anything like all of their books, but I've adored every last one that's crossed my path.

    I highly recommend their magazine, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, too. They publish some wonderful short fiction. An excellent Best Of collection came out a few years ago, though I believe it was published by Del Rey, not Small Beer Press.

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  11. I love Small Beer Press. I had the pleasure of hearing Kelly Link and Gavin Grant talk about the press (Link also talked about her writing) at a local book festival a number of years ago. They are such nice people too and spent time mingling with the crowd and just hanging out.

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  12. Small Beer is my favorite small press. I'm so glad that you featured them - I've been surprised that over two years of book blogging, I haven't come across any other bloggers reviewing their books. (That said, I haven't either, apart from some short story posts...I can't buy their books because of where I've been living, and have been holding out for the paperbacks because I love Small Beer's covers.) And you've reminded me that when I move back to the States in a few weeks, I need to catch up on all their publications of the last few years.

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  13. I think I have one or two of their books, mostly because they are hard to find up here in Canada. I didn't know they had a catalogue or link online,so thank you for that, Nymeth. I don't know why I never think of going online to look for publishers, I'm so used to them not being available to the general public from my years of working in bookstores. The short stories and books I have read from them are weird and wonderful and slightly scary in a Twilight Zone feel sometimes, which was a show I loved (the old Rod Serling version from the 60's). Not the same, but similar to that. Great post, Nymeth. And thanks so much for sharing about the DRM, because now I understand it too :-)

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  14. Oh I LOVE this post, I'm so glad that you wrote it! I've wanted to read both The Freedom Maze and Redemption in Indigo for some time now, I had not made the connection in publisher, but so many of these titles look absolutely wonderful. The fact that they are DRM free and have released some of their titles through CC is fantastic!

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  15. Wow, they going to publish one by Angelica Gorodischer soon :)

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  16. They really have put out an incredible collection! I am SO excited about the new Kij Johnson collection!!!!! I have it preordered :D She's another one of those amazing authors that I never would've discovered had it not been for you :)

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  17. Vivienne: I know what you mean, but the more I think about it the more I realise she's actually a perfect match for their sensibility!

    Caroline: You're most welcome! I'm glad you found it useful.

    Zibilee: Yes, they really do. I so want to get my hands on Under the Poppy!

    Debi: I'm very happy to have helped!

    Andi: Kelly Link is just amazingly good.

    Memory: I'm far from an expert myself, but all the books of theirs I read I loved, and the ones I haven't really sound like my kind of stuff. And ooh, adding that best off collection to my wishlist!

    Stefanie: How great that you got to hear them talk!

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  18. These all sound so good! I got Magic for Beginners for free when I first got my nook, because I read one of her short stories in an anthology and loved it. I need to actually read it! And I have Redemption in Indigo out from library right now thanks to you. :D

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  19. Thanks for giving me information about this independent publishing house. Also, I must have had my head in the sand as I was completely ignorant about the whole DRM issue.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.