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A Little Exposure for the Little Guys
A Survey of Some Recent Small Press & Self-Published Titles

by Neil Walsh

We receive quite a number of books at the SF Site, and several of those are small press publications. It's not possible for us to review everything we receive, but I wanted to have a look at a few of the ones which may have fallen between the cracks. The small press and self-published books are generally lacking a monster marketing machine to back them up, so I thought I'd focus on them.

These are not reviews. I haven't read these books all the way through. So please don't take this survey article as anything more than it is. All I want to do here is take a quick look at some of these lesser known works, and pass on my first impressions.

Without further ado, and in no particular order...

Xlibris
This is what Xlibris has to say about itself:
"Xlibris is an on-demand publishing services company which enables authors to become their own publishers. When you publish with Xlibris, you are essentially self-publishing..."

Some SF Site reviews of Xlibris titles include:

  • The Bondmate Chronicles and Haze of Joran by D.J. Sutherlin (a review by Georges T. Dodds)
  • The Revenant by Phoebe Reeves (a review by Lisa DuMond)
  • The King of Vinland's Saga by Stuart W. Mirsky (a review by Georges T. Dodds)
  • Battle-Chasers Battle-Chasers
    by T.S. Robinson, illustrated by Charles Urbach
    Xlibris, trade paperback, 255 pages

    This reads like a re-telling of a hack-and-slash FRPG, if perhaps a better than average account. It starts in medias res, with obvious history behind the characters. The opening chapter is a grisly depiction of a bloody battlefield and a dwarven warrior trapped under the body of a dragon he has just slain. The only escape for the dwarf is to use his enchanted axe to cleave a tunnel through the monstrous corpse. So right off the top, I find my suspension of disbelief is stretched mighty thin; this might make a good story to tell over the gaming table, but in a novel it only seems highly implausible. But let that pass. On to chapter 2.

    The next character we meet is a sadistic psychotic assassin who has several different voices arguing inside his head. Although he's an interesting villain, he's certainly not the kind of guy you want to spend a whole lot of time with.

    Glancing through the rest of the book, I see no shortage of orcs, elves, dwarves and dragons, in both the text and the illustrations. By the way, the B&W drawings throughout have an exaggerated stylization about them (the cover is a typical example) that makes them as unlikely as this larger-than-life story. They remind me of some of the interior artwork in the first edition AD&D rulebooks from TSR. Battle-Chasers definitely looks like it's targeted to the FRP enthusiasts. Every game master is a storyteller, although not every storyteller is a writer. Nevertheless, this book may have some merit to it. It's the kind of book I might be inclined to read all the way through if I found myself on a long train ride with nothing better to do.

    McClellan Falk Press

    I wasn't able to find much info on McClellan Falk Press. The plan for The Saga of the Red Boots is for the novellas to alternate between Earth Series and Space Series. Trevor is The Saga of the Red Boots: Earth Series, Part 1. Upcoming works are:

  • Outlanders: Space Series, Part 1
  • Minstrel: Earth Series, Part 2
  • The Fashion Sins of the Father: Space Series, Part 2
  • The Adventures of Con: Earth Series, Part 3
  • Trevor: The Saga of the Red Boots Trevor: The Saga of the Red Boots
    by McClellan Falk, illustrated by Gerry Segismundo
    McClellan Falk Press, trade paperback, 60 pages

    This is one book I actually did read all the way through. I got sucked into it and, as it is only novella length, it was over before I knew it.

    Some of the accompanying publicity material suggested that this novella has been shunned due to its controversial material. It deals with such topics as abuse, rape, incest, murder. So maybe I'm jaded, but it didn't seem that objectionable to me. It's not as if the author were advocating these activities. (Or maybe it's because I just finished reading Frank Miller's graphic novel, Sin City, and incest or plain ol' murder seem pretty tame after that.)

    Falk's style is very direct. These (moderately) disturbing scenes are presented in cold, lucid prose. The effect is that no great passion is raised in the reader, who can look at the situation without making emotionally clouded moral judgments.

    My one complaint about it is that the frame story -- the only SF element -- is not explained in the fiction, but only in the accompanying promotional text (which is in the book, so you'll be able to read it; don't worry). In any case, the frame story is the setup for the rest of the series. The next, Outlanders: The Saga of the Red Boots is promised "soon" and I am very much looking forward to finding out what the heck the Red Boots are all about.

    The Maze Publishing Company

    The Maze website didn't have much information, except that Lin Cawthra's next novel will be Nouveau America: Space Voyages #2.

    Primus Three Primus Three: Space Voyagers #1
    by Lin Y. Cawthra
    The Maze Publishing Company, trade paperback, 288 pages

    Pulp space opera has never been my cup of tea, so right away I'm biased. But I don't think I'm out of line to suggest that this book is in dire need of a good editor -- one who is prepared to do a complete overhaul, tightening the overall story, reducing the redundant meandering, etc. (And a proofreader who can fix a few hundred comma splices would also be an asset.)

    The story follows a ditzy, hot-looking, rich chick who has led a pampered and far too sheltered life. She is swindled out of her inheritance and ends up on the far side of the galaxy in a shady mining operation where she seems likely to end up as a company-owned prostitute. But the pulpish SF setting is only window dressing. Without it, this would probably be just another Harlequin Romance.

    There's a prominent warning on the back cover about the "explicit sexual situations" so I thumbed through until I found a few of them. There's some fairly tame S&M fantasy played out here and there, and a couple of more or less racy sex scenes, but even they don't redeem the overall poor writing of this turgid romance.

    7LXP

    SevenLong.com is as odd a website as The Players is an odd book. Among other absurd tidbits you'll find the "Bubble Wrap Update" which, last time I checked, included this cryptic message:  "2/12/00 Bought another 175 feet along with industrial size baby oil."  

    The Players The Players
    by Joseph Fullam
    Sevenlong X Press (7LXP), trade paperback, 168 pages

    I spent an hour with this book, and I couldn't figure it out at all. It starts off seeming somewhat satirical, moves into wildly psychedelic, and may eventually become philosophical. Whatever it is, it seems like a very odd sort of head-trip book.

    The protagonist is presented to us only as "the professor" and he's from a planet far from Earth. He is chosen to go on an interplanetary space voyage (to Earth), and some weird stuff happens.

    I'm not being very helpful, I know, but I really don't think this is the kind of book you can just skim. What I saw, however, didn't inspire me to read it in more depth.

    More to come...

    We have quite a few more small press and self-published books that I intend to have a look at in the next while. So, with any luck, I'll have another installment of these overviews again soon. If my schedule permits, and all goes according to plan (which, quite frankly, it rarely does) I'll have a report on my findings regarding a few titles from Universal Publishers, Spectrutek.com, and zero-g press


    Neil Walsh

    Neil Walsh is the Reviews Editor for the SF Site. He lives in contentment, surrounded by books, in Ottawa, Canada.

    Copyright © 2000 by Neil Walsh


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