A year ago I would given this award to Night Shade Books without hesitation. They were publishing consistently good novels, most of which were debuts, that felt polished. 2012 not so much. Their debut line-up slipped noticeably, although there were several standouts, and even their more seasoned authors felt untouched by the editorial process.
Who then wears the crown for 2012? With Pyr, Angry Robot, and Jo Fletcher off the table thanks to the backing of a larger publisher (Prometheus, Osprey, and Quercus respectively), the remaining presses are small even compared to Night Shade.
For me, it comes down to two: Small Beer Press and their outstanding commitment to fabulist (and other) fiction and ChiZine Publications’ weird/dark list. There are other very good small presses –Pandemonium, Prime, Tachyon, and Subterranean, to name a few — but none that maintain the standard of interesting points of view as my two finalists.
In 2012, ChiZine published seventeen books (to Small Beer’s thirteen), composed mostly of novels, but with a not insignificant amount of short fiction. As readers of this blog will know, I find myself substantially more attracted to the long form work, particularly in how little of the short fiction published in collections and anthologies is original to the book.
While Small Beer published a strong novels (4 total), highlighted by Ayize Jama-Everett’s The Liminal People, the vast majority of their list was short fiction, much of which came from writers, talented though they are, who’ve been through the proverbial wringer with gads of credits next to their names. Luminaries like Peter Dickinson, Ursula K. LeGuin, Joan Aiken, and Nancy Kress, point out that while Small Beer has fantastic taste, it remains to be seen how much of taste-maker they are.
In contrast, the ChiZine list has few, if any, recognizable names outside of the Canadian SFF scene. Nick Mamatas is probably their most well known author, but even he has little penetration outside the cliques that circulate through literary conventions around the country. His Bullettime was a standout novel for ChiZine, if for no other reason than it’s marginally certifiable. Incredibly well written with a deeply thematic impact that seems more relevant everyday, Mamatas’ novel is a perfect example of what ChiZine is all about. Many of their writers are equally unusual, deploying different perspectives and styles to the genre lens. More importantly, nearly all of them are new and writing books that don’t fit anywhere else.
Am I punishing Small Beer for not taking chances? Perhaps, although it’s not as simple as that. ChiZine is supported to an unknown degree by grants from the Canadian government, which surely frees them to roll the dice on occasion. Even so, Small Beer has an obvious editorial direction and rarely deviates from it. While what Small Beer publishes is as good, and occasionally better, I have to give ChiZine credit for their proliferation of quality and dedication to exposing new writers.
For those reasons, I present the 2012 Juice Box for Best Small Press to:
Congratulations! May you sip the juice box until it crumples.
- You can read more about my thoughts on ChiZine over at SF Signal.