An Escape from an Editorial Hell

As the editorial director of the Pyr science fiction and fantasy imprint, I’m responsible for selecting and shepherding to market twenty-nine books a year, which means that I have to read and acquire two to three books a month. As it takes me a week to read your average manuscript, and up to two weeks to read your average 600-page fantasy tome—and this when I’m not beset by administrative busywork—the casualty is my ability to read outside my own submission pile. So books like Scott Lynch’s Red Sails Under Red Skies and Tobias Buckell’s Ragamuffin call out at me from their places of honor on the bookshelf, begging me to revisit worlds I enjoyed so much in their previous works, but may be years away from actually being opened.

Which is why I’m thrilled when outfits like Monkeybrain Books put out short works like Hal Duncan’s Escape from Hell. Because as brilliant as I’ve heard Hal is, and as much as I’d love to read Vellum and Ink, the month it would take me is a month I’d be taking my employer’s money not to do my job. So a nice 128 page book like Escape from Hell can let me appreciate the genius of Hal Duncan in a day—maybe even on one of my very frequent plane flights—and can even be filed under “keeping up with the Joneses” as far as work is concerned—without taking too much time away from my towering submission pile.

Even more exciting to me is the podcast.

Outfits like the superb Adventures in SciFi Publishing (where, disclaimer, I am frequently and was recently interviewed) allow me to stay up on the field by listening to wonderful folks like Elizabeth Bear and Toby Buckell talk about their recent work, whose books I’d be reading if I had time and who I always enjoy listening to (and a really good writer is as interesting speaking about SF&F as writing it, I find). Then there is Rick Kleffel’s Agony Column Podcast. Rick is an NPR correspondent, an uber-pro who maintains an incredible one-show-a-day pace. His work has enough of a speculative fiction bias that I can file it under “keeping up with the Joneses,” but isn’t limited to SF&F at all. He interviews everyone from cookbook authors to political pundits, from travel writers to scientists. The breath of focus helps me avoid the myopia that spending almost 25/7 in invented worlds can induce.  Favorites I’ve particularly enjoyed are his interviews with NBC’s Tom Brokaw, Fight Club and Choke author Chuck Palahniuk, brew-master Charles Bamforth, and poet laureate Billy Collins. Rick also records the wonderful SF in SF, the monthly reading hosted by Terry Bisson at The Variety Preview Room (582 Market St, 1st floor of The Hobart Bldg, proceeds go to the Variety Children’s Charity, attend if you are nearby). I miss the hell out of living in San Francisco for its book-centric culture and wish this had been going on when I was there, so thanks to Rick I can at least get a taste. And anyone with an interest in SF—its promise and problem, its past and future—really owes it to themselves to listen to episode 519, where Kim Stanley Robinson, Cecilia Holland, and Barry N. Malzberg take on John Updike’s contention that science fiction can never be literature.  I find I agree with most of what Stan says, some of what Cecilia says, and almost none of what Barry says, but find them all equally stimulating and interesting. What’s more, Rick has allowed me to feel like I’m part of what these wonderful authors are doing, even if I won’t necessarily have time to read their longer works any time soon. 

You non-editors out there, of course, have no excuse!


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