Fire. reviewed in Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazineby Charles de Lint
Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine
This is only the third book published by PM Press that I've read, the previous ones also being a mix of fiction and non-fiction. One was by Cory Doctorow, the other by Ursula K. Le Guin, both riveting. As is Fire.
In the case of each of these titles, I've only happened upon them, somehow remaining oblivious to the rest of the publisher's large backlist and ongoing publishing plans. Given the other titles listed in the publisher's catalog at the end of this Elizabeth Hand collection, and the quality of the three titles I've read, that's something I need to remedy. Because they're excellent books, of course, but also because of the publisher's mission statement, which appeals to the old hippie/anarchist in me:
"We seek to create radical and stimulating fiction and nonfiction books, pamphlets, T-shirts, visual and audio materials to entertain, educate, and inspire you. We aim to distribute these through every available channel with every available technology, whether that means you are seeing anarchist classics at our bookfair stalls; reading our latest vegan cookbook at the café; downloading geeky fiction e-books; or digging new music and timely videos from our website."
Now, while I appreciate a publisher having an ideological slant, just as I appreciate a writer with something to say, that alone isn't a reason to support them. The best intentions can sometimes result in a heavy-handed discourse. Excellent art can be undermined by a shoddy or unprofessional presentation and/or design. There needs to be substance.
Happily, all three of the titles I've read thus far from PM Press provide exactly that. Substance and edge. And they look great. Smartly designed and easy to read in both paper and electronic editions. And a quick glance at the back catalog I mentioned earlier shows that they work with some of the best and most provocative writers in our field. Writers such as Rudy Rucker, Terry Bisson, John Shirley, Joe R. Lansdale, Karen Joy Fowler, Norman Spinrad, and Nalo Hopkinson, to name a few. And that's not even taking into account the non-genre writers, as well as the broad choice of writers from other fields, so they're certainly doing something right.
It reminds me a little of the latter part of the last century, when publishers had a strong sense of identity and readers would collect work from particular houses—DAW, Ace, Bantam Spectra, Del Rey—because they knew these imprints would deliver the kinds of stories they liked best.
That's the sense I get with PM Press except, instead of a certain style of book—such as how Del Rey was known for great epic fantasy, DAW delivered top notch heroic fantasy and space opera series, etc.—PM Press appears to be creating a community with the singular aim of making the world a better place.
One of the best ways to do that is to understand where the world stands, where it comes from, and where it might be going, and Elizabeth Hand hits every one of those points with Fire.
The fiction (or at least two of the stories) looks ahead to natural disasters, focusing on the small and personal, which makes the greater problems beyond the confines of the characters' lives all that more chilling. The third story, "Kronia," takes us into the confused mind of a time traveler—or perhaps, if we don't take what we're told at face value, the narrator is on the spectrum.
For the nonfiction, Hand profiles Alice Sheldon (James Tiptree, Jr.) and Thomas Disch. A good writer, when writing about the arts, makes you want to experience the work of their subjects, and Hand is very good at what she does, because the whole time I was reading, I wanted to go down to my library and reread books by her subjects while taking in her observations on them.
The lives of both these authors were filled with an unfair amount of tragedy, which makes their artistic accomplishments even more astonishing and poignant.
Rounding out the book is an interview with Hand by Terry Bisson, a bibliography, and a very heartfelt and revealing autobiographical essay in which Hand shows us the events in her life that led her to become the author she is today.
I loved everything about this book, just as I did with the Doctorow and Le Guin titles, and can't wait to explore some more of the PM Press catalog in the months to come. You can have a look for yourself at their website where you'll find not only some great sf but lots of fascinating titles covering everything from music, politics, and Latin America to gender studies and books on the African American and Native American experience.