Jurassic London has just announced that a very special limited edition of Daniel Polansky’s The Builders is now available:
We are proud to publish this exclusive limited edition, which pairs Polansky’s glorious prose with the artwork of Howard Hardiman. This hardcover edition is limited to 75 copies, signed by both author and artist. It comes complete with coloured endpapers, ribbon bookmark and 14 original black and white illustrations.
The Builders is available for £20, including free UK shipping & handling. It is at the printers now, with an eye on shipping the books in early April. You can order your copy here.
For further insight into one of our favorite Tor.com novellas of the last year and to celebrate this new deluxe edition, please enjoy this original essay from Daniel Polansky on the story behind The Builders, a tale of harrowing revenge and adorable woodland critters that Publishers Weekly said describes “as though Brian Jacques and Quentin Tarantino went drinking one night.”
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One day, about six years ago, while waiting to see if Low Town would be published, I had this image pop into my head—a one-eyed mouse in a duster, the long shadow he cast, the savage band of woodland animals that he led. A mash-up of Redwall and The Wild Bunch, with a bit of Cormac McCarthy and Frederick Forsyth for good measure. The text would be fast-paced, brutal, and unsparing. No world-building to bog down the pace, no extraneous subplots or back stories, just forward momentum and economy of storytelling. Also, gunfights.
I wrote twenty or twenty-five thousand words in the next couple of weeks, and then moved on to other projects. If you are a writer than you know how it goes—the beginning is easy, following wherever the muse takes you, and then the low-hanging fruit gets picked, the fun scenes are written, and you’re left describing how character A gets to point B, or fixing plot holes that have cropped up, and you gradually lose interest. Anyway, by that point it had become clear to me that what I was writing would be, at most, thirty-five thousand words, which meant that what it was no more likely to be published than an out of date phone book, and perhaps a good deal less.
Because, of course, no one buys novellas.
Why doesn’t anyone buy novellas? There are practical reasons—it costs nearly as much to print and sell a novella as it does for a longer book, but the reader is getting less text, which they understandably find annoying. The trend in genre publishing these days is towards epics which are expansive if you like them and bloated if you don’t, but which regardless have the potential to keep a reader hooked for several books, while novellas are more often one-and-done. The broad demise of pulp magazines and digests, once some of the genre’s strongest and most popular outlets, has resulted in the elimination of one of the major forums for shorter fiction. Occasionally a novella is released as part of a broader universe, and the most popular writers in the space—King, Gaiman, etc.—can get away with doing whatever they want. But for all the rest of us, if you write something shorter than about a hundred thousand words, you might as well use the manuscript for kindling, or very uncomfortable toilet paper.
So I put The Builders aside and moved on to projects for which I had some chance of being paid. But it nagged at me in the passing years. I found myself thinking about that mouse again, and when I went back and read what I had written it didn’t seem half horrid. This is a rare thing, for me—as a rule once I’ve finished something I can’t stand to look at it anymore, like being told a joke you’ve already heard. But for some reason this one still tickled my interest, enough that I took time off from whatever I was under contract for and wrote the last few thousand words, cut a chapter that wasn’t working, sealed the prose sinew to the narrative bone.
And then I looked at it, and laughed, and buried it somewhere on my hard drive and stopped thinking about it. It was probably the only thing that I’ve ever finished for sheer pleasure—this is, as a sidenote, the highest recommendation an author can give his own book.
Eventually I happened to mention it to Jared of Pornokitsch fame (infamy?), but off-handedly, more just as a ‘hey isn’t this a funny idea, like Wind in the Willows but all the animals are evil! Hahaha, no I don’t have a girlfriend anymore, why do you ask?’ and after providing an exhaustive litany of reasons he mentioned that the good folk at Tor.com were starting up an imprint focusing on the potential of the eBooks to restore the novella market, and lo-and-behold, half-giant/renowned genre critic Justin Landon was one of the editors.
This is a great thing, and not only for me because I get to see my book in print. It’s great for you as a reader, it’s great for the genre generally, it’s just all around stellar. Because the novella is an ideal format for fantasy and sci-fi of all sorts, offering enough space to examine a particular concept or idea while shearing it of the extraneous bloat and self-indulgence that is all too often the bane of genre writing. A razor sharp thirty-five thousand words, without any excess flesh, without anything that doesn’t have to be there, just one good gut punch after another.
The Builders is, maybe more than anything else I’ve ever published, exactly what I want it to be. Weird, mean, and silly, with prose as sharp as I could make it. I hope you like it—though if you don’t, you may at least console yourself with the fact that at least it didn’t waste very much of your time.
Daniel Polansky is the author of five novels, including the Low Town series which began with The Straight Razor Cure, and Those Above, the first book in the Empty Throne series, as well as the new Tor.com novella The Builders. He was living in Brooklyn when he wrote this, but by the time you read it he might be somewhere else.