Final Staff

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Dave Noonan

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  • Bluejack
  • Amy Goldschlager
  • Emily Lupton
  • R. K. MacPherson
  • Scott James Magner
  • Robin Shantz

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Editors-at-Large

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Publicity

  • Geb Brown

Publisher: Bluejack

March, 2004 : Feature:

2003: The UK Small Press in Review

In his history of the British small press, editor David Sutton noted that "if the 80s represented, by and large, stagnation in small press horror, the 90s represented its opposite. A revolution began .... a new breed of small press publisher was already eyeballing the professional marketplace—and saying 'yes, I can do that too' " (Sutton, p34).

While it would be wrong to say the small press scene in the UK has exploded into prominence since the 90s, it is nevertheless true that it is at a very vibrant stage indeed—if still very much an uncertain one. In compiling this review, I have chosen to consider first book publishers, then chapbooks, and finally the state of magazine publishing in the UK. I must also note that my involvement with several of these publications has been in a capacity of both a reviewer and an occasional contributor, so while I must attempt impartiality I am aware of the fact it is not always possible. It should also be noted that, while I attempted to be as broad in my coverage as possible, some titles inevitably escape notice: this, then, is partially a personal selection, based upon the wide range of small press publications I have had occasion to come across, but not a complete one. Warnings aside, 2003 has been a good year for the small press, as I hope to show.

Publishers

One publisher in particular has single-handedly redefined British small press: Peter Crowther's PS Publishing, established in 1999 and now the UK's most commercially and critically successful small press. PS issues handsome, collectors editions of original fiction (mostly in the novella length), and 2003 was an exceptional year for them: they have won five out of six British Fantasy Awards, including one for Best Small Press for the third year in a row. Of the books published during the year it is worth mentioning Adam Roberts' Jupiter Magnified, a novella-length story told from the point of view of a poet experiencing the unexplained appearance of the planet Jupiter, magnified, in the skies of Earth. The book is complemented by a small collection of poems, Poems About Light, written from the point of view of the heroine—a brave, literary experiment that works very well indeed. There was also Robert Freeman Wexler's fascinating In Springdale Town, another hard-to-define, literary excursion into dream, nightmare and loneliness, its author's first book publication—and, for those preferring more strictly genre works, Light Stealer by the successful epic fantasy author James Barclay (his novels are soon to be published in the US) taking place in the world of the Raven novels. The year has been noted for PS's branching out into more full-length works, in extremely handsome hardbacks: these include a Paul di Filippo novel, Fuzzy Dice, a Ramsey Campbell collection, Told by the Dead, a collection of four novellas by Elizabeth Hand, Bibliomancy, and the anthologies Infinity Plus Two edited by Keith Brooke and Nick Gevers, and By Moonlight Only edited by Stephen Jones. Other titles included Lucius Shepard's New York voodoo novella Floater, Terry Bisson's far future time travel novella Dear Abbey, and Righteous Blood by Cliff Burns.

PS has set a standard, and other people heeded the call. David Howe, the British Fantasy Society's (BFS) former publications editor, started Telos Publishing in 2001, winning a lucrative license to produce a range of original Dr. Who novellas (the license expires this year) but also releasing a number of original and classic fictions. 2003 saw publication of the disturbing Aspects of a Psychopath by Alistair Langston; King of all the Dead by UK small press regulars Steve Lockley and Paul Lewis; Guardian Angel by Stephanie Bedwell-Grime; and also one classic reprint: Spectre by Stephen Laws. The bulk of Telos' publication consisted of handsome collectors editions of Dr. Who novellas, including new stories from such well-known writers as Mark Chadbourn and Paul McAuley (this latter, a novella entitled Eye of the Tyger, includes an introduction by Neil Gaimon). Editions are available both signed and unsigned. Telos also specializes in "unauthorized" guides to television series such as 24, Blake's 7, and, of course, Dr. Who. In 2004 the company looks set to release more original fiction as well as a new list of classic crime reprints.

Then there is Sarob Press, founded in 1998 and dedicated to producing handsome collectors editions of fiction both new and old. In 2003, it released several books including L.H. Maynard & M.P.N. Sims' supernatural novella The Seminar; Basil Copper's House of the Wolf with a new introduction by the author (it was first published by Arkham House in 1983); legendary pulp writer E.C. Tubb's collection of supernatural fiction, Mirror of the Night, edited by Philip Harbottle; John Glasby's The Substance of a Shade (a ghost story collection); Alison Davies' Small Deaths, a collection of supernatural short-stories with an introduction by Graham Joyce; Rhys Hughes' collection Journeys Beyond Advice; and G.M Robins' The Relations and What they Related & Other Weird Tales, previously published in 1902. Many of the books are available in paperback.

But the big news of 2003 was undoubtedly Elastic Press, founded in November 2002 by Andrew Hook. Elastic set itself the worthy goal of releasing handsome paperback collections of short stories from authors in the small press. In the current market climate the presiding wisdom is that short story collections simply do not sell. Hook decided they do—and continues to prove so with a list of excellent collections that would not have otherwise existed. Among the highlights are Sleepwalkers by Marion Arnott (a crime collection containing the Gold Dagger Award winning story "Prussian Snowdrops"), and Milo & I by Antony Mann. Other collections included Andrew Humphrey's Open the Box, which was nominated for a BFS Award, and from Gary Couzens' Second Contact. The press looks set only to grow in 2004, with the release of the anthology The Alsiso Project (with stories by writers such as K.J. Bishop, Conrad Williams and Tamar Yellin) and many more single-author collections.

2003 also saw a promising publisher fold—Big Engine, edited by Ben Jeapes, which released a number of interesting titles in 2002. It was supposed to publish books by Liz Williams and Charles Stross, in 2003. The closure also meant that the new magazine 3SF, edited by Liz Holliday, was suspended after only three issues, reducing the number of professionally-paying magazines in the UK to two.

Still publishing is Rainfall Books, a decidedly small press venture from John B. Ford of website Terror Tales. In 2003, Rainfall Books released Black Altars by Mark Samuels, Strange Tales by Mark West, Terror Tales #1, a nice anthology with stories from Neal Asher and Simon Clark, The Derelict of Death and Other Stories, an anthology of small press horror writers, a collection of lyrics titled Nightmares from Infinity by Steve Lines, Spare Parts by Stuart Young and short story collection Ghost Far From Subtle by Joe Rattigan. These are all interesting, exhibiting a part of the horror small press not often seen.

Finally, Roger Robinson's long-running Beccon Publications (no website), a small press of mainly SF fandom-related material, has released Scores: Reviews 1993-2003 a collection from critic John Clute—and a handsome publication in paperback and limited hardback formats.

Chapbooks

The escalating ease with which one can create low-budget publications has brought one interesting addition to the British small press in 2003: D-Press, a print offshoot of the website Whispers of Wickedness, edited by the enigmatic "D". D-Press has been releasing a series of chapbooks which sell at cost—a mere 1.00 per copy—in addition to a printed 'zine, Whispers of Wickedness, published roughly three times a year. This is small press publishing stripped to its most basic—and it works, offering an intriguing list of collections that, while not without blemishes, represent true small press pioneering. Chapbooks include a poetry collection by Rhys Hughes: In Praise of Ridicule; a rather good horror collection by long-time reviewer Peter Tennant: The Cold Blue Collection; another collection, Tear Drops, by James Cain, editor of the Australian Dark Animus magazine; a poetry collection by Adrian Fry: Brandy for Breakfast; and Wakemares, a collection by Tim Johnson. It remains to be seen who—if any—of these authors will emerge from the small press into the bigger world outside, but it is an interesting list.

The aforementioned Peter Tennant (who reviews, among others, for The Third Alternative and The Fix, discussed below) also released his own chapbook, A Halloween Story, just as another author, Gary McMahon, released his own chapbook collection, Tiny Torments, by newly-formed ZedHed Press (which, one suspects, will not continue beyond the author's own publication).

Magazines

The UK does not enjoy a proliferation of professional genre magazines. The longest-running, Interzone, has suffered financial difficulties and editor David Pringle recently announced it will be changing from monthly to a bimonthly format. Nevertheless, it has maintained its high quality of both fiction and non-fiction, as has the UK's other professional magazine, The Third Alternative, edited by Andy Cox. Cox also publishes The Fix, a magazine dedicated exclusively to short fiction reviews; it contains many of the UK's small-press writers on its list of reviewers. Finally, he also publishes the remarkable Crimewave, possibly the UK's only crime magazine, though its publication schedule is erratic: the publisher has repeatedly said he is willing to wait as long as necessary to buy the right stories.

2003 also saw the debut of Jupiter SF, edited by Ian Redman. The magazine is the only in the UK dedicated entirely to science fiction stories, and has so far come out on time each quarter (beginning with a Summer 2003 issue). It has the standard low-budget 'zine look but is simply and effectively laid out: the first issue has an excellent story by John B. Rosenman. It also publishes SF poetry.

Another magazine debut was Gary Fry's Fusing Horizons, dedicated to dark fantasy and horror, with its first issue arriving in Winter 2003. Fry has assembled an impressive line-up of authors including even Ramsey Campbell (with a reprint), as well as small-press regulars Joel Lane, Andrew Hook and CWA Award winner Joolz Denby. Unfortunately, while the content is good, the first issue looks decidedly amateurish and leaves plenty of room for improvement.

Nemonymous, edited by D.F. Lewis, is one of the most intriguing new publications—in this case an annual, perfect-bound anthology of anonymous stories. Nemo (as it is affectionately known) number 3 has come out in the beginning of the year, with one story selected for reprint in Ellen Datlow's YBF&H anthology, and many others receiving honourable mentions. Originally planned as a magazine, this has now turned into an annual anthology.

Another new magazine is Here & Now, began in 2002. Edited by Jenny and Helen Barber, 2003 saw the release of the second and third issues, with fiction from many small-press writers in the UK and abroad, including Tony Richards and Joel Lane.

Scheherazade magazine, based in Brighton and specializing in "fantasy, science fiction and gothic romance," also released a couple of issues, moving to a colour cover and featuring many small-press authors and artists.

Meanwhile, long-running horror magazine Roadworks ended with issue sixteen, as did its sister publication Legend, with issue seven. Editor Trevor Denyer went on to start a new magazine, Midnight Street, in 2004.

Thriller UK, a nicely-designed, colour-covered 'zine usually concerned with crime and pulp fiction, as well as critical essays released a special Halloween issue in October with much genre interest, including a feature on H.P. Lovecraft.

On the academic front, there were the regular issues from the long-running Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction, but 2003 also saw the launch of a new critical magazine, Wormwood (subtitled Writings About Fantasy, Supernatural and Decadent Literature) which seems to have been well received, and is expected to be released twice a year.

Perhaps the most optimistic news, however, was the announcement that in 2004 Peter Crowther's PS Publishing will publish a professional short story magazine called Postscripts, with the biggest names in the industry already attached and a simultaneous release of a trade edition and a special collectors edition of the magazine. While most British magazines pay either in copies or in token amounts, Crowther is proving that there is still enough faith in the short story to launch a new professional magazine, and certainly the combined output of all the small-presses active during the year proves there is still plenty of good stuff coming out of the UK, some of it of very high quality indeed. 2003 was a good year—and there is plenty of ground to suspect 2004 will supersede it.

Works Referenced

Sutton, David. On the Fringe for Thirty Years: A History of Horror in the British Small Press. Birmingham: Shadow Publishing, 2000.


Copyright © 2004, Lavie Tidhar. All Rights Reserved.

About Lavie Tidhar

Lavie Tidhar grew up on a kibbutz in Israel, lived in Israel and South Africa, travelled widely in Africa and Asia, and currently lives in London. He is the winner of the 2003 Clarke-Bradbury Prize (awarded by the European Space Agency), was the editor of Michael Marshall Smith: The Annotated Bibliography (PS Publishing 2004) and the anthology A Dick & Jane Primer for Adults (The British Fantasy Society, forthcoming 2006), and is the author of the recently-released novella An Occupation of Angels (Pendragon Press, Dec. 2005), a supernatural cold war thriller which Adam Roberts called a "powerfully phantasmagoric fantasy... Sharp, witty, violent and liable to haunt your dreams." His stories appear in Sci Fiction, Chizine, Postscripts, Nemonymous, Infinity Plus, Aeon, The Book of Dark Wisdom, Fortean Bureau and many others, and in translation in seven languages. His non-fiction appeared in Locus, Foundation, Interzone and IROSF.

Lavie's web site is at http://www.lavietidhar.co.uk

COMMENTS!

Mar 21, 16:15 by John Frost
What do you think? Did Lavie miss anything important? What else should be said about what's happening in Jolly Olde?
Mar 22, 11:53 by Sean Wallace
Lavie,

I would have to disagree with your statement that the small press is in a vibrant stage. It's more in a standby mode than anything else. With few exceptions like Sarob, Telos, PS Publishing, the British small press market hasn't changed much in recent years, or decades, for that matter. Publishers come and go or go relatively stagnant, as evidenced by Big Engine (folded, for a number of reasons) and Razorblade (which did release one title last year, I think) and the output has pretty much remained the same. The only thing that has changed is the relative shift to more and more collector's editions to make these operations work, I suspect. This also leads into the paragraph below . . .

I don't quite see the truth in this statement: "Crowther is proving that there is still enough faith in the short story to launch a new professional magazine" The fact that he's putting out a collector's edition, more than often not designed to subsidise the printing of the regular edition, usually means that without it, it wouldn't last long. Or else struggle. It's a technique being used by a number of launching magazines, including Argosy and HP Lovecraft's Magazine of Horror and Adventure Tales.

I contend that markets are actually shrinking, not expanding. Refute that :-)

Sean
Mar 22, 13:13 by Lavie Tidhar
Sean,

I would have to disagree with your statement that the small press is in a vibrant stage. It's more in a standby mode than anything else.

I don't quite disagree with you, and don't quite agree with you either. I have an ambivelance about the UK small press, but I do take heart from the fact that several new projects have come up, including Elastic Press, and several new magazines such as Jupiter, Fusing Horizons, Horror Express
(2004), and I admire the concept (if not all the content) of the low-cost chapbooks from D-Press. How many of these will last I do not know. But surely the fact they appear in the first place signals a growth, not a stagnation?

With few exceptions like Sarob, Telos, PS Publishing, the British small press market hasn't changed much in recent years, or decades, for that matter

With all due respect, these aren't the exceptions, they are the UK small press market...

The fact that he's putting out a collector's edition, more than often not designed to subsidise the printing of the regular edition, usually means that without it, it wouldn't last long

I'm not sure I understand your argument. So what if they are collector's editions? I am a collector myself, which was what drew me to purchase PS Publishing books in the first place. Some collectors do actually read... I think POD is much more critically viewed than limited editions, not least because the business model prohibits paying advances, but both are valid ways to produce books (Elastic Press are POD; PS does collectors editions. I like both, and recognise that they publish different material for which different modes are appropriate).

Lavie.
Mar 25, 04:26 by Sean Wallace
Lavie,

Surely the fact they appear in the first place signals a growth, not a stagnation?

In what way is this different than any other period? Small press magazines (and publishers) come and go every day.

I'm not sure I understand your argument. So what if they are collector's editions? I am a collector myself, which was what drew me to purchase PS Publishing books in the first place.

I'm not quite following you. We're talking about magazines and the utilisation of collector's magazine editions to finance the regular edition. From what I recall Postscripts will be released in a limited edition with the regular newstand edition. This could mean anything.

Sean

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