(Two very different titles, two related but autonomous approaches to excellence in book design.)
Today, I’d like to talk about, and show off, two books: one by Australian writer Angela Slatter and one that features her fiction.
Sourdough and Other Stories
“In the cathedral-city of Lodellan and its uneasy hinterland, babies are fashioned from bread, dolls are given souls and wishes granted may be soon regretted. There are ghosts who dream, men whose wings have been clipped and trolls who long for something other. Love, loss and life are elegantly dissected in Slatter’s earthy yet poetic prose.”
The first is Slatter’s first collection Sourdough and Other Stories, which is now out in a sumptuous hardcover edition from Tartarus Press. It features sixteen stellar stories that use folklore as their basis, but are very much three-dimensional portraits of characters, usually women, contending with a fantasy world. I found them brilliant, muscular, and original, as I say in my afterword. (Robert Shearman contributes an introduction, btw.)
As ever, Tartarus has done a bang-up job with the book, and it’s once again one of those collector’s items that will only go up in value. More importantly, this collection is really worth your time if you like adult fantasy, and it carries a cumulative effect with it.
Honestly, in this age of impending electronic book domination, it’s important to support the craftsmanship that goes into hardcovers like this one. It’s also a chance to encounter a very, very talented writer in what I’d call an intimate setting. There’s no greater pleasure in reading than to experience great writing in the perfect setting.
The second title, our anthology Steampunk Reloaded, isn’t out until November, but the ARC came in today, and the book feels related to Slatter’s collection in part because she’s an important contributor to the “Secret History of Steampunk” section. Also, like Tartarus, we, along with Tachyon, are devoted to creating good-looking books (note the Eric Orchard frontispiece here). In this case, it’s in the context of a trade paperback intended for chain distribution. This means some of the extras Tartarus brings to the table—like amazing paper quality, hardcover boards with elaborate illustrations on them—aren’t possible. BUT, many other things are, and I’d argue that they’re not just possible, they’re essential if print books are going to continue to be a viable alternative to e-books. The tactile experience has to be enhanced.
John Coulthart is one of the world’s best book designers, and he’s done amazing work in the past for Savoy’s hardcovers. Here’s he continues to build on approaches used in Booklife and others to make even a table of contents an extra-pleasing visual experience.
Coulthart’s design ability is equalled by his collage and artistic ability, resulting in title pages that are sumptuous but not overwrought.
The inclusion of collage art by Ramona Szczerba as transitions between sections, including related micro fiction, gives addition texture and layering to the anthology.
The heavily illustrative nature of the book also allowed us to include comics, which fit more intrinsically as a result.
Although Steampunk Reloaded is primarily a reprint anthology, we have two original stories in the main fiction section (including one by Jeffrey Ford) and a Danish steampunk story from 1869 never before published in English. That’s in addition to the 17,000-word “A Secret History of Steampunk,” which features contributions from Angela Slatter and L.L. Hannett, both individually and collaborating in a riff off of Ford’s story in the main fiction section. Other contributors to this story include Fabio Fernandes, Matthew Cheney, and Felix Gilman. (I must admit that the eight-thousand words of main text in the secret history attributed to the Mecha-Ostrich is by me.)
A separate section allowed Coulthart to create a separate style that fits the book but creates an autonomous region within the anthology. several amazing pieces of art are recontextualized from their original purpose in the secret history, including Serbian artist Ivica Stevanovic’s piece here. (Ivica and I are also collaborating on a graphic novel version of Finch.)
Our tour ends with the title page for the appendix to the secret history, so as to entice without giving away the farm. The book is out in November. You can see the full contributor list here.