In honor of both #smallpressweek and Shopping Madness Weekend, I thought today I’d round up five books from smaller presses that should either be on your wish list, or on your shopping list as gifts for your fellow book-obsessed friends. Whether you camped out this morning at a big box store or are doing most of your shopping in your pjs on Amazon, if you love books, make sure to send a little love to those who are devoted to spreading that love — your local amazing bookstore who is preserving the magic of discovery, the tiny independent presses who are promoting new and exciting voices on tiny budgets.
If you follow me on twitter or instagram, you are not at all surprised to see this book at the top of this list. In fact, An Unkindness of Ghosts (Akashic Books) is pretty much why I put together this list today, instead of spending the day watching movies and reading books with my kids. This book was like Octavia Butler does Battlestar Galactica (at least, the mission to find a new home part, not so much the space battles part), plus heavy doses of gender and neuro diversity. Add this book’s reverence for books and stories, Aster’s gifts in science — medicine, biology, and chemistry in particular, and the sprawling ship that mimics and critiques hierarchies of power, and my love for this book was a foregone conclusion. This book is criminally under-hyped, I mostly heard about it on tumblr, and it’s not on nearly enough Best Of lists this year. Do yourself and your friends a favor and pick up a couple of copies of this book.
Despite my afore-mentioned distrust of short story collections, The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria (Rosarium Publishing) is one of my favorite books that I read this year. I almost put it down when I saw that it was a story collection, but as a quantum mechanics geek, that title snagged me. As it turns out, I was enchanted from the very first page. I liked all the stories, but especially “The Aphotic Ghost” (think selkie story meets deep ocean marine biology plus some mountaineering) and “The International Studbook of the Giant Panda” (think extreme endangered species intervention meets robotics meets virtual reality plus panda sex-ed). A refreshing mix of science, magical realism, and Cuban immigrant culture. I hope to see a lot more from Hernandez in the future.
I have been waiting for this novel since Tea hinted that she wanted to try her hand at science fiction when I interviewed her for Bookslut one hundred years ago. Not that Black Wave (Feminist Press) is genre sci-fi, it’s more literary dystopia. Actually, it’s more working class apocalypse fairy tale. Mostly it delights in blowing up your expectations of what makes a story, meditating on what makes a relatable narrator, how to write your truth when the people in your life don’t want to be represented, the ways that people numb themselves to the world falling apart around them. And it’s Tea, so of course expect a lot of picking at issues of class, addiction, and sexuality. I found this book absolutely mesmerizing. Buy for that friend who is more into feminism than sci-fi.
Okay, I was going to plug The Fatal Eggs by Mikhail Bulgakov, published by Hesperus Press here, but it turns out it has tragically FALLEN OUT OF PRINT, which FINE, that way I get to push something published by my main crush, Melville House, ANYWAY. Luminous Chaos is a fever dream Tesla Pop (Valtat prefers this term over steam-punk) time travel novel to an ice-encrusted Paris of 1895, where everyone is drinking absinthe, having secret blood rites, and controlling people’s minds with magnets. Luminous Chaos is the second book in The Mysteries of New Venice series, but you can absolutely read it without reading the first. This book will always hold a special place in my heart, or, to be more accurate, my arm, because it was what first inspired me to get my first tattoo. Melville House is also having an insane sale right now, so go check out the rest of their books while you’re at it.
Okay, I know that I am undermining my credibility by insisting that I don’t like short stories and then reccing not only a short story collection, but also a literary magazine of short stories, but it’s worth it. Besides, it’s less that I don’t like short stories than I’m extremely suspicious of and picky about short stories. So when I find a collection that meets my expectations, I get very excited about it. And FIYAH surpassed my expectations. As an editor of a small press, I’ve forced myself to buy a lot of anthologies and magazines, and generally skimmed a couple of stories and then couldn’t force myself to pick them up again. But FIYAH I have loved. I can’t possibly call out all the stories that stood out to me, but I have to mention the body-modding solar punk “Long Time Lurker, First Time Bomber,” by Malon Edwards, the human phoenix fairy tale “Chesirah,” by L.D. Lewis, the medical magic “Talking to Cancer” by Khaalidala Muhammad-Ali, and the multi-verse dystopia “Cracks” by Xen. For a brand new magazine, they landed an impressive number of stories on the recommended reading lists for the Nebula. Check them out now before all of your friends have heard of them.