Hi, we’re Navah Wolfe and Joe Monti, the editors of Simon & Schuster’s SF/F imprint Saga Press. 2016 has not been the best year for many reasons, but it has been a great publishing year at Saga Press. It’s only our second full year, but it was filled with fantastic book releases, starred reviews, and even award nominations. We couldn’t be more pleased.
As you probably know, Saga Press has been the sponsor of Uncanny Magazine Issue 13. As part of our sponsorship, the Uncanny editors asked us if we would like to write a blog post highlighting some of our favorite Saga works from 2016. This was an extremely hard post to write since we loved everything we released this year (THEY’RE ALL OUR BABIES) So, we each limited ourselves to four 2016 titles that we edited and love– and think Uncanny readers would love, too.
A Quartet from Navah
Borderline by Mishell Baker
If you haven’t yet encountered Borderline, here’s the elevator pitch: Men in Black, but with fairies. And here’s the slightly longer pitch: Millie gets recruited for a top-secret organization that brokers deals and visas between Hollywood and Fairyland. And here’s the longer pitch: Millie is double amputee with Borderline Personality Disorder, and one of the best voices you’ll read this year.
I fell for Millie and Borderline—and fell hard—from the opening line: “It was a mid-morning on a Monday when magic walked into my life wearing a beige Ann Taylor suit and sensible flats.” This is one of the books I’m proudest of publishing—a kickass, awesomely enjoyable urban fantasy that never lets up—starring a disabled, mentally ill bisexual protagonist. A book with an incredibly diverse cast that’s not an issues book, but lets its characters engage with the world and be people in it, instead of examples—and lets them have fun with it. In fact, Seanan McGuire said, “This book is so damn much fun, it hurts.”
Mishell is an incredibly talented writer who, with Borderline, has given us what Publishers Weekly called in a starred review, “One of the most purely respectful portrayals of people with disabilities that I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading…an excellent launch to a very promising urban fantasy series.” And I can’t wait for you all to read the sequel, Phantom Pains, coming in March 2017!
A Green and Ancient Light by Frederic S. Durbin
As planes darken the sky and cities burn in the ravages of war, a boy is sent away to the safety of an idyllic fishing village far from the front to stay with the grandmother he does not know. But their tranquility is shattered by the crash of a bullet-riddled enemy plane that brings the war—and someone else—to their doorstep. Grandmother’s mysterious friend, Mr. Girandole, who is far more than he seems, has appeared out of the night to ask Grandmother for help in doing the unthinkable. Hidden within the forest near Grandmother’s cottage lies a long-abandoned magical garden of fantastic statues and a riddle that has lain unsolved for centuries—a riddle that contains the only solution to their impossible problem. To solve it will require courage, sacrifice, and friendship with the most unlikely allies.
The first time I read Frederic S. Durbin’s gorgeous novel A Green and Ancient Light, I immediately knew that this was a special book. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d read something that so deeply transported me to another time and place, and even in the dead of winter brought me instantly into the endless idyll of summer childhood. A gorgeous, bittersweet fantasy in the spirit of Peter S. Beagle, classic Miyazaki films, and Pan’s Labyrinth, this book is both achingly familiar and wondrously strange. It feels classic and timeless in the way of a dreamy summertime afternoon, and yet fresh and lovely. It’s a quiet, beautiful book that will linger in your heart and mind long after you finish it, like a haunting melody. But you don’t have to take my word for it! Chicago Review of Books called it “Not unlike reading your first beloved book as a child…Durbin’s tale of childhood, family, truth, and bravery certainly captured a piece of [my heart].”
Simply put, A Green and Ancient Light is made of the same kind of magic as the books that live inside my heart and made me fall in love with fantasy.
The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales edited by Dominik Parisien & Navah Wolfe
This had to be on my list, of course. I’ve been a novel editor for years, but The Starlit Wood was my first foray into editing short fiction—and it’s been pretty much a dream come true. This book was my love letter to fairy tales, and an homage to the fairy tale retelling anthologies edited by Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow that I grew up reading and loving, the books that inspired me to become an editor. We worked with some of the most exciting voices in genre today: Naomi Novik, Seanan McGuire, Garth Nix, Daryl Gregory, Amal El-Mohtar, Genevieve Valentine, Aliette de Bodard, and more. And I’ve been lucky enough to co-edit this book with Dominik Parisien. I couldn’t ask for a better editorial partner and friend.
We challenged our writers to explore their stories in unusual settings, and to come at their retellings from unexpected angles, and they delivered. The result is a seriously diverse anthology with everything from science fiction, western, and post-apocalyptic stories, to traditional fantasy and contemporary horror. We also encouraged the retelling of lesser-known and non-Western fairy tales alongside the traditional Western ones, making for a really unique experience where the familiar and the unfamiliar co-exist.
We are thrilled by the response so far. Not only have the reviews been marvelous, three of the stories were chosen for the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Eleven (edited by Jonathan Strahan): the novelette “Spinning Silver” by Naomi Novik and the short stories “Even the Crumbs Were Delicious” by Daryl Gregory and “Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar. Naomi’s and Amal’s stories are also in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2017 (edited by Paula Guran)!
And in addition to all the wonderful stories, the book itself is a thing of beauty. Published in a gorgeous paper over board format with incredible illustrations by Stella Björg, it’s the beautiful book I always dreamed it would be. Start to finish, I couldn’t be prouder of The Starlit Wood.
The Mountain of Kept Memory by Rachel Neumeier
Oressa Madalin, princess of Carastind, has carefully cultivated the skill of being unnoticed—and getting into places she isn’t allowed. She’s the princess that everyone overlooks—but she’s always watching, gathering information. And she’s going to need it, because Carastind is on the brink of war, and it will be up to Oressa to stand between her country and a dire menace that threatens not just everything she holds dear—but the fate of the world.
Sometimes you read a book and instantly know that you’d love to work with the writer. I read Rachel Neumeier’s The City in the Lake years ago, and fell in love with Rachel’s gorgeous prose, cutting, heartbreaking characters, and deep, complex worldbuilding. She writes books that remind me of beloved formative writers like Robin McKinley, Patricia McKillip, and Guy Gavriel Kay. So, when we started Saga Press, I reached out to her agent, hoping against hope that Rachel might have a book for me.
The Mountain of Kept Memory is that book, and it’s everything I dreamed of. The worldbuilding is fascinating and intricate, the characters have firmly lodged themselves in my heart and will not be budged, and the romance—oh, the romance! I didn’t know until I read it how much I had been longing for a slow burn romance built on mutual respect and competence.
If you’re a longtime Rachel Neumeier fan, you already know the delights that await you in The Mountain of Kept Memory, and if you’re not—you will be once you read this book.
A Quartet from Joe
My first pick will be, in publication order of 2016, The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu.
There are few examples to point alongside of the accomplishment of Ken Liu’s early career as a short story writer and the acclaim he has achieved. You have to go back to right after World War Two to find writers who had his output — over 100 stories! – and award recognition. Ken’s titular story “The Paper Menagerie” is the only short story trifecta winner of The Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards. In my biased but sincere opinion, these fifteen stories collected here stand up with the greatest story collections in all of American literature.
Roses and Rot by Kat Howard
Iconic editor Terri Windling and the Endicott Studio stable of virtual salon patrons support what they term mythic fiction, works that incorporate fairy tales, myths, legends, and the numinous. Navah and I both love this kind of fiction — witness her co-edited (with Dominik Parsien) anthology The Starlit Wood. — so, it is a great joy to work with a writer like Kat Howard as she weaves a mythic debut novel in that tradition. Kat created a Tam Lin reimagining that is both completely refreshing and modern. It ranks up there with The Wizard of Pigeons by Robin Hobb and Stardust by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess.
What The #@&% Is That?: The Saga Anthology of the Monstrous and Macabre edited by Douglas Cohen and John Joseph Adams
What started as an internet meme has become one of the great anthologies of supernatural suspense you will ever find. But I do have a few favorite here from Douglas & John’s selections beginning with Isabel Yap’s story “Only Unclench Your Hand.” This should be on a few award lists next year. “Whose Drowned Face Sleeps” by An Owomoyela and Rachel Swirsky has a distinct style and defines haunting, while Scott Sigler’s “Those Gaddam Cookies” made me laugh one way, while Maria Dahvana Headley’s “Little Widow” about three young ex-cult members growing into their vengeance made me laugh in another. (Don’t judge, it’s all good.) And the cleverly constructed “#connollyhouse #weshouldntbehere” by Seanan McGuire is the creepiest story in the book for me. It’s written as a live set of tweets as amateur ghost hunters get in over their heads, and the immediacy of it really strikes a chord.
Gloriana: or The Unfulfill’d Queen by Michael Moorcock
I grew up reading Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion books, especially the Elric and Corum novels, which were perfect for my male adolescent angst. But it was Moorcock’s Guest of Honor appearance at a Readercon in 2000 that convinced me read him as an adult. I then saw his range displayed in the Byzantium novels, his short stories that knock down sacred cows and challenge my perceptions in ways that the best of world literature does, and in his novel masterpiece, Mother London. Then there’s what was to be Moorcock’s last fantasy novel, Gloriana, published in 1978. It was hailed, won the World Fantasy Award for best novel, but was also justly criticized for its near-final chapter.
I’ve had the great pleasure to reissue the author’s revised and preferred text which fixes that problem chapter, based upon the Gollancz Masterwork edition. This is Moorcock’s English epic fantasy built on the foundation of Mervyn Peake vs Tolkien, and Moorcock’s New Wave DNA is evident.
Navah Wolfe is an editor at Saga Press, Simon & Schuster’s science fiction and fantasy imprint, where she has edited critically–acclaimed novels such as Borderline by Mishell Baker, Persona by Genevieve Valentine, The Mountain of Kept Memory by Rachel Neumeier, and A Green and Ancient Light by Frederic S. Durbin. She is also the co–editor, along with Dominik Parisien, of The Starlit Wood, an anthology of cross–genre fairy tale retellings, released in October 2016 from Saga Press. She was previously an editor at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, where she worked on many bestselling books, including some that have won awards such as the Printz Honor, the Pura Belpré Award, the Pen/Faulkner Award, the Stonewall Award, the Lambda Literary Award, and the Schneider Family Award. She has previously worked as a bookseller, a rock climbing wall manager, and a veterinary intern at a zoo. She lives in Connecticut with her husband, two tiny humans, and one editorial cat. She can be found online at sagapress.com and on Twitter as @navahw.
Joe Monti has worn many hats in the book biz from bookseller, buyer, sales, agent, and editor. He is the editorial director of Saga Press. His authors have won the National Book Award, the Hugo award, the Nebula award, the World fantasy award, a Michael L. Printz award, and have been New York Times bestsellers. You can find him on Twitter @joemts.