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Dispatches From Smaragdine
A column by Jeff VanderMeer
September 2007

[Editor's Note: Here you will find the other Dispatches From Smaragdine columns.]

Installment #10

Sabre Literati in Smaragdine
Spotlight on Tachyon Publications
Next Time
Contact Information

Sabre Literati in Smaragdine

Dance of Synchronicity Groupies
Groupies swarm the Dance of Synchronicity participants. Here some of them pose for the cameras.
In September, things heat up in Smaragdine, even as the weather is becoming tolerable. At the end of summer, the twenty novelists deemed the best in the country by the Ministry of Culture come together for a sabre dance and ensuing battle that must be seen to be believed.

Anyone in Smaragdine who, as a child, dreamed of writing a novel learns almost from birth a series of complex dance steps whilst wielding a miniature sabre -- steps that have been part of ritual for nearly a thousand years. Sabre dueling, too, is taught to these prospective literati, so that by the time any of them becomes eligible for and appointed to the List of the Twenty, as it is called, they are ready for the moment.

The dance is the Dance of Synchronicity, performed on a high plateau overlooking the city, with spectators like myself, Michael, Horia, and others gathered on the hills to all sides. The Twenty, dressed in traditional green-and-gold garb, complete with tassels, take their places and perform a clockwork series of steps, sabres held waist high, pointing up. Many of them have old sabre scars on faces, hands, arms, and legs.

After twenty gyrations or rotations of a ridiculously complex sort, mixed with a kind of monk-like chanting, the Dance gives way to the Battle of Elusion, in which each participant must simultaneously seek to give non-lethal harm whilst also avoiding it. The simplest of slashes parting sequined cloth and you are out of the Sabre Battle. Similarly, if you stop for even five seconds to attempt offensive maneuvers, the black-clad-and-hooded, heavily-padded referees remove you from the contest.

Those who have fallen, line the plateau, watching those who are left with a yearning that goes beyond culture, beyond pride. Until, finally, there is only one, and even this winner is soon subsumed by the dusk and the lantern light, and the laughs of children playing in the dust.

Jacob Weisman Spotlight on Tachyon Publications

In the interests of disclosure, I should mention that Tachyon will be publishing two anthologies edited by my wife Ann and me next year. That said, I'd been planning a feature on Tachyon somewhere for a long time. Ever since meeting Jacob Weisman, the founder of Tachyon, at the Madison, Wisconsin World Fantasy Convention, I'd been impressed by what I have to call a kind of beautifully professional consistency. When you get a Tachyon book, you always know you're getting something that's interesting, well-edited, and nicely designed, as well as something published on schedule.

Steadily, slowly but surely, Tachyon has made a real impact on the SF/F world, and made an impact on readers. Now, publishing new and reprint books from Michael Swanwick, Harlan Ellison, Tim Powers, and many others, Tachyon has to be considered one of the highest quality indie presses in genre fiction. Underscoring this fact is that while Tachyon doesn't take many chances on new authors, they do take a chance on short story collections by more established names, along with having the vision to publish a series of definitive fiction anthologies on Slipstream, post-Cyberpunk, New Weird, etc.

In addition to Weisman, Tachyon boasts the talents of the dynamic and creative Jill Roberts, the managing editor and chief publicist for the company.

I interviewed Weisman via email in September.

What's Tachyon's main focus?

We publish science fiction and fantasy books, and our books tend strongly toward the literary end of the genre. We put out a variety of novels, short story collections, and these days, quite a few anthologies, and even the occasional chapbook. Our readers are looking for more sophisticated versions of the SF/F books they grew up reading, and we aim to fill that niche.

The James Tiptree Award Anthology 1 The James Tiptree Award Anthology 2 The James Tiptree Award Anthology 3

What do you feel have been some of your most successful books?
Short story collections by Peter S. Beagle and Tim Powers have done phenomenally well for us. We've begun a new line of anthologies starting with the sensational Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology, edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel (2006). The follow-up comes out in September, Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology. There's great buzz around Rewired, fueled by William Gibson's bestselling new novel, Spook Country.

The Asimov's SF 30th Anniversary Anthology Year's Best Fantasy 6 Feeling Very Strange The Best of Xero

What differentiates you from other publishers?
Most of the larger presses buy office space in New York City, let everybody know that they're looking for material, and hire editors to wade through manuscripts that multiply like Tribbles. As a smaller press, we can't afford to play that game. We can't wait for books to fall in our laps, so we often invent them.

We publish about ten very carefully selected books a year. Because our line is not huge, each of those books -- and authors -- receives a great deal of personal attention from us. From cover artwork to interior design, we give a tremendous amount of consideration to detail. We work with amazing contractors who turn in stellar work. Most of our books are designed by John D. Berry. John isn't just the best type designer in our field, he's recognized as one of the leading typographers in the entire world. Our books are as high-quality as possible, which definitely shows.

We consider our authors and editors to be full collaborators (or maybe co-conspirators), and we regularly solicit their input. So the people we work with really enjoy the experience of working with us. I think it's really rare in this day and age to give authors/editors so much participation -- and we're really proud of it.

Tales of Old Earth Cigar-Box Faust and Other Miniatures The Fate of Mice Stable Strategies and Others

How has the press changed over the years?
The press started without a grand vision, just the clear idea that this was what I wanted to do. I published one book, starting with Wayne Wightman's Ganglion, then another book, and another, all science fiction, because that's what I knew best. Success was measured in very moderate terms; I didn't print many books, didn't widely distribute those books (now we work with a national distributor, Independent Publishers Group), but I sold what I printed, and it worked.

The company that began life as a one person operation publishing one or two books a year, now employs several people, and last year we published eleven titles. There has never been any time in the last twelve to thirteen years where we have ever stopped changing or growing.

Greetings and Other Stories Numbers Don't Lie Cultural Breaks The Secret City

Any amusing anecdotes from the early days?
God, I remember designing ads for Locus with line tape and an exacto knife, the same way I'd laid out the school newspaper in college. I didn't really know what I was doing. I'd worked on magazines all my life, starting on my first one when I was six years old. I interned for Asimov's and Locus in my early twenties. But I didn't know anything about publishing books. I made it up as I went along and the books got better and better, and I had some luck, not making too many mistakes and hiring the right people.

What have you learned from running Tachyon over the years?
If you're not going to sew a hardcover, you better have it fan bound. The serial comma is mandatory; I don't care what your teacher taught you in grade school. Borges' first name is Jorge, not Josť. And Tom Disch wrote the first interactive text-adventure game Amnesia, playable on the Commodore 64, IBM PC, or Apple II computers.

Reading the Bones Olympic Games Catalyst

Every publisher has ups and downs. What was your low point? How about a high point?
Low point: there was the time my car broke down on the way from San Francisco to WorldCon in San Antonio. The car made it just a few miles past El Paso, coming to rest near Fort Stockton, Texas, about 380 miles from our destination. I had to leave my car behind and get me, my fellow passenger, and 400 pounds of books to San Antonio before morning. We made it, but not before meeting two men named Fred, almost getting arrested, and getting stuck in traffic behind a flaming garbage truck at four o'clock in the morning.

The high point? There's at least one every day. This is what I've always wanted to do. I had a teacher in college who made me read David Hartwell's The Age of Wonder. David, at the time, was editing Timescape. I remember thinking, that's what I want to do when I grow up. I think I've grown up now, sort of. It's going great. Thanks, Jacob.

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever The Line Between The Dog Said Bow-Wow

Next Time

I'll be talking to Peter Crowther from PS Publishing, catching up on books with some short reviews, and keeping you up to date on what's going on in Smaragdine.

Contact Information

If you would like to send me things for review, or even complaints, hints, suggestions, or other feedback, please do so via email at or via my U.S. snail mail address:

Jeff VanderMeer
c/o Smaragdine Dispatches
POB 4248
Tallahassee, FL 32315

There will be a delay of about a month from receipt at the post office box to the arrival of your missive in Smaragdine, but to send direct would be folly as my stint at the hostel runs out at the end of the month and I don't know where I will be after that.

Copyright © 2007 Jeff VanderMeer

Jeff VanderMeer's reviews have appeared in The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, The New York Review of SF,, and many others. VanderMeer writes the graphic novel/comics summation for The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror (St. Martin's Press) and is a guest editor for Best American Fantasy. Monkey Brain Books published his non-fiction collection Why Should I Cut Your Throat? in 2004.

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