This is a post that does exactly what it says on the tin. But it also serves as my official announcement post that Parsecs & Parchment is reorienting! That’s right bookwyrms, going forward I’ve decided I want to be championing and talking about and celebrating the diverse array of small press books out there. The big five are putting out a lot of great books, but I sometimes find that the blogosphere, Booktube and the general bookish internet community of dweebs I’m so lovingly part of, we tend to talk a lot about a broadly similar roster of Big Five books. They have bigger marketing budgets, dedicated social media teams and swarms of reviewers looking to secure an ARC of the next big release. But there’s a whole world of lesser known hidden gems out there and I’m starting this new adventure by highlighting ten small press books on my radar right now. Let’s get to it!
THE VOYAGES OF CINRAK THE DAPPER by A. J. Fitzwater (QUEEN OF SWORDS PRESS)
Queen of Swords was one of the first small presses I became interested in when I first started getting this idea. I watched an online panel during lockdown where the owner, Catherine Lundoff, was talking about The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper, a series of tales about a very well-dressed lesbian capybara pirate. What else do you need to know?
LOST GODS by Micah Yongo (ANGRY ROBOT)
A dark fantasy from one of the more well-known small presses, the excellent Angry Robot. This was recommended to me by Peat (from the always excellent Peat Long’s Blog) as grimdark-adjacent and it’s about an assassin who finds himself hunted by the very people he’s trained alongside since birth. One of my fave things about Angry Robot is their ‘File Under’ section, and they file this under: Fantasy [ Brothers at Arms – The Faceless Ones – Kings and Keepers – Creed of Assassins ] and all those things raise a lot of questions I want answers to.
THE GREEN MAN’S HEIR by Juliet E. McKenna (WIZARD’S TOWER PRESS)
I only heard about this one recently, when it was reviewed by the esteemed imyril, who runs the excellent blog There’s Always Room for One More. I’m a sucker for a dark take on the fae (for another small press dark as fuck fae story, check out my review of Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng) and The Green Man’s Heir combines dark fae with a murder mystery set in the modern world that draws on the ancient myths and folklore of the British Isles. Gimme.
LARS BREAXFACE: WEREWOLF IN SPACE by Brandon Getz (SPACEBOY BOOKS)
Moving on from fantasy to science fiction! Much like pirate capybara, I was sold on the main character alone for this one. Werewolf? In space? You son of a bitch. I’m in. Exiled from his home planet after exposure to a lycanthropic virus, orbit-salvager Lars Breaxface roams the cosmos as muscle for hire, the ultimate lone wolf. But when he meets a mysterious stranger in the far reaches of space, the wolfman finds himself in the middle of an alien plot he doesn’t understand. With the galaxy hanging in the balance, can Lars tame the beast? Or is he only capable of super apocalyptic werewolf mass destruction? I can’t wait to find out.
STAY CRAZY by Erica L. Satifka (APEX BOOK COMPANY)
If you’ve followed the blog for a while, you might have seen my review of Erica’s most recent release, Busted Synapses, a rural cyberpunk novella that I enjoyed a lot. So much so that I want to read her previous books too. In Stay Crazy, main character Emmeline Kalberg is struggling to get her life back on track after a breakdown landed her in a mental hospital. Now she’s back in her hometown and everyone knows she’s crazy, but the twelve pills she takes every day keep her anxiety and paranoia in check. So when a voice that calls itself Escodex begins talking to Em from a box of frozen chicken nuggets, she’s pretty sure that it’s real and not another hallucination. But then an evil entity starts taking over the employees of Savertown USA, sucking out their energy so it can break into Escodex’s dimension. When her coworkers start dying, Em realizes that she may be the only one who can stop things from getting worse. She must convince her therapist she’s not having a relapse and keep her boss from firing her. All while getting her coworker Roger to help enact the plans that Escodex conveys to her though the RFID chips in the Savertown USA products. What I love about Erica’s writing is she centre’s normal, working class people in her bonkers and dystopian capitalist worlds. She’s great and this sound great.
AFRO PUFFS ARE THE ANTENNAE OF THE UNIVERSE by Zig Zag Claybourne (OBSIDIAN SKY BOOKS)
This is actually book two in a series, though I’m not sure exactly how related the two stories are. In any case, I saw this one first when it was pitched as “four women accidentally create an AI goddess, then destroy capitalism with the help of a telepathic octopus”. And that’s all I needed to know. The first book is called The Brothers Jetstream: Leviathan if you want to check that one out too.
THINGS HAVE GOTTEN WORSE SINCE WE LAST SPOKE by Eric LaRocca (WEIRDPUNK BOOKS)
Horror! My most under-read genre that I’m making a conscious effort to get more into. And I really jumped into the deep end with this one, cos I actually read it the other day and Jesus H Christ it’s nightmarish. Two young women meet in a chatroom in the early days of the internet and their relationship takes a really dark, sinister fucking turn. And I mean sinister. There were times I curled up into my cushion screaming “what the fuck is happening?!!?” More than one time actually.
TO ANOTHER ABYSS! by Zach Bartlett (SPACEBOY BOOKS)
This was included in a list of Rick Claypool’s recommendations of left wing and anti-capitalist small press SFFH books that was an absolute gem of a find. I believe Lars Breaxface was on there too. And given Erica Satifka and Zig Zag Claybourne’s presence in this post I’m beginning to spot a pattern in the kinds of small press books I’m drawn to lol. Anyway, To Another Abyss! is the story of Greg Withers, an idle rich twentysomething, who’s decided to lend a philanthropic hand to the Pioneer Valley arts scene, and his punk friend Decca is more than happy to help him redistribute his wealth. Unfortunately, the indie filmmaker they’re working with accidentally summons an Ancient Unspeakable Eldritch Horror on the first day of filming. And the creature seems to have artistic ambitions of its own! As their art gallery begins to fill with monstrous fish-people who certainly aren’t going to buy anything, Greg and Decca need to figure out how to stop an Elder God with poor taste before it costs them their lives. Or (arguably) even worse, their reputations. This sounds so freakin’ good! Plus there’s illustrations, maybe of Eldritch Horrors? One can hope.
GRIND YOUR BONES TO DUST by Nicholas Day (EXCESSION PRESS)
This was recommended to me by the omniscient Alex Pyles, who I swear knows everything there is to know about small press horror and is a lovely human being to boot. He described this book to me as a mix of Thomas Ligotti and Cormac McCarthy in its bleak weirdness. It tells of a surveyor who finds himself pursued by flesh-eating donkeys in the furthest reaches of Oregon’s desert; a mass-murderer who leaves the sanctity of his mountain home to pursue a long-lost love, his guide an otherworldly raven possessed by a 19th century American humourist; while in nearby Klamath Falls, two estranged childhood friends set off to find a missing father with the help of two aging cowboys; and finally, a prisoner in her own home sees a vision of death and knows there is no escape. I’m intrigued, and already a bit scared.
GHOSTCITYGIRL by Simon Paul Wilson (NOT A PIPE PUBLISHING)
Serial killers, starvation cults, and spicy noodles – just another day in Nihon City. This one gets it’s own special section, cos it’s a science fiction and horror. It’s been a hundred years since Tokyo was ravaged by a ghost quake and talking about the supernatural was forbidden. To escape her unhappy family life and mundane job, Kichi Honda spends her days off visiting Mister Tanaka, an old man who tells her illegal tales of haunted Japan. But when Kichi gets stranded on Level One, she meets an impossible girl who claims to have come from Tokyo. Kichi learns the truth about what really happened all those years ago…and discovers history is about to repeat itself. It kinda sounds like the story I wished Akira was, so I’m very excited to read this.
So there you have it folks, ten small press books on my radar right now. If you’ve read any of them let me know what you thought! If you’ve found something new that’s piqued your fancy go purchase them and let’s support the small and independent presses that too often fly under the radar.