Quick Review: ACADEMIC EXERCISES by K.J. Parker (Subterranean Press)

ParkerKJ-AcademicExercisesA superb collection of short fiction by one of the masters of the form

Academic Exercises is the first collection of shorter work by master novelist K. J. Parker, and it is a stunner. Weighing in at over 500 pages, this generous volume gathers together thirteen highly distinctive stories, essays, and novellas, including the recent World Fantasy Award-winner, “Let Maps to Others”. The result is a significant publishing event, a book that belongs on the shelf of every serious reader of imaginative fiction.

The collection opens with the World Fantasy Award-winning “A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong,” a story of music and murder set against a complex mentor/pupil relationship, and closes with the superb novella “Blue and Gold,” which features what may be the most beguiling opening lines in recent memory. In between, Parker has assembled a treasure house of narrative pleasures. In “A Rich, Full Week,” an itinerant “wizard” undergoes a transformative encounter with a member of the “restless dead.” “Purple and Black,” the longest story in the book, is an epistolary tale about a man who inherits the most hazardous position imaginable: Emperor. “Amor Vincit Omnia” recounts a confrontation with a mass murderer who may have mastered an impossible form of magic.

Rounding out the volume — and enriching it enormously — are three fascinating and illuminating essays that bear direct relevance to Parker’s unique brand of fiction: “On Sieges,” “Cutting Edge Technology,” and “Rich Men’s Skins.”

Taken singly, each of these thirteen pieces is a lovingly crafted gem. Together, they constitute a major and enduring achievement. Rich, varied, and constantly absorbing, Academic Exercises is, without a doubt, the fantasy collection of the year.

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of K. J. Parker’s novellas and short stories. The novellas he’s published with Tor.com and Subterranean Press routinely are among my favourite reads of any given year. Academic Exercises is the author’s first big collection of shorter fiction, and it’s a fantastic one at that. I really enjoyed this, and it further cemented my opinion of Parker as one of the best authors of short fiction. Continue reading

New Books (November-December)

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One final New Books post for 2019. It’s been quite a year! So many memorable books — new and old — and clearly many more exciting titles on the horizon.

Feel free to leave a comment with your favourites from the year, and/or your most-anticipated for 2020.

Featuring: Kathleen Barber, Michael Booth, M.R. Carey, Nino Cipri, Myke Cole, Eoin Colfer, William Dalrymple, E.J. Dionne, David Downing, Kester Grant, Andy Greene, S.A. Hunt, Howard Andrew Jones, Ezra Klein, Micheline Aharonian Marcom, J.T. Nicholas, Garth Nix, K.J. Parker, Ivy Pochoda, David James Poissant, Robert R. Reich, James Rollins, Jon Skovron, Maggie Stiefvater, Matthew Ward, Marian Womack

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Quick Review: PROSPER’S DEMON by K.J. Parker (Tor.com)

ParkerKJ-ProspersDemonAnother magnificent novella from the master of the form

In a botched demonic extraction, they say the demon feels it ten times worse than the man. But they don’t die, and we do. Equilibrium.

The unnamed and morally questionable narrator is an exorcist with great follow-through and few doubts. His methods aren’t delicate but they’re undeniably effective: he’ll get the demon out — he just doesn’t particularly care what happens to the person.

Prosper of Schanz is a man of science, determined to raise the world’s first philosopher-king, reared according to the purest principles. Too bad he’s demonically possessed.

I love K.J. Parker’s short fiction. In addition to his excellent prose, the author is able to pack in so much into his short stories and novellas: they are humorous, subversive, and peppered with historical allusions. Prosper’s Demon is no different. I thoroughly enjoyed this. Continue reading

New Books (October-November)

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Featuring: Luke Arnold, Leigh Bardugo, Timothy Brook, Kacen Callender, Miles Cameron, Andy Clark, Michael Connelly, Nate Crowley, Flea, Denny Flowers, Rana Foroohar, R.W.W. Greene, Lucy Hughes-Hallett, James Islington, Joseph Kanon, Rym Kechacha, John le Carré, Brian McClellan, Graham McNeill, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Tochi Onyebuchi, K.J. Parker, Kate Reed Petty, Tasha Suri, A.P. Sylvia, Timur Vermes, K.B. Wagers, Danie Ware, Elizabeth Wetmore, Ryan Wick

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Quick Review: MY BEAUTIFUL LIFE by K.J. Parker (Subterranean Press)

ParkerKJ-MyBeautifulLifeAn excellent new novella from a master of the form

The story of an individual life that takes extraordinary turns. As the story begins, the nameless, dying narrator takes us back to his childhood home in a remote corner of the ubiquitous Empire. The second of three sons, he lives there with his mother in a state of unrelieved poverty. Life eventually becomes so dire that the mother — who can only find work as a prostitute — is forced to sell one of her children. The oldest son, Nico, volunteers to be sold in order to protect his family, and that decision sets in motion everything that follows.

Nico’s journey takes him, in time, to the heart of the Empire and the very center of power. Over time, he acquires considerable power of his own and uses it to bring his younger brothers into the circle of his influence, changing their lives forever. Under Nico’s guidance, the middle brother — our nameless narrator — achieves a destiny that will alter not only his own life, but the life of the Empire itself.

Each new K.J. Parker novella is something to be cheered. A prolific writer of short fiction (and full-length novels), Parker always brings something new to his stories. Written with a gentle, observant wit, this novella manages to pack a lot into its slim frame. Continue reading

Upcoming: PROSPER’S DEMON by K.J. Parker (Tor.com)

ParkerKJ-ProspersDemonJust a quite post to draw your attention to this, the latest novella by master of the form K.J. ParkerProsper’s Demon is out in late January 2020, and is easily one of my most-anticipated books of next year. Here’s the synopsis:

In a botched demonic extraction, they say the demon feels it ten times worse than the man. But they don’t die, and we do. Equilibrium.

The unnamed and morally questionable narrator is an exorcist with great follow-through and few doubts. His methods aren’t delicate but they’re undeniably effective: he’ll get the demon out — he just doesn’t particularly care what happens to the person.

Prosper of Schanz is a man of science, determined to raise the world’s first philosopher-king, reared according to the purest principles. Too bad he’s demonically possessed.

Parker’s novellas are among some of my favourite reads of the past few years. The Devil You Know, in particular, cemented his place among the ranks of my favourite authors.

Prosper’s Demon is due to be published by Tor.com in North America and in the UK, on January 28th, 2020.

Also on CR: Reviews of The Devil You KnowThe Last Witness, and Downfall of the Gods

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads

Upcoming: MY BEAUTIFUL LIFE by K.J. Parker (Subterranean Press)

ParkerKJ-MyBeautifulLifeUSToday, Subterranean Press announced the latest novella by K.J. Parker that they will publish: My Beautiful Life. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed everything Subterranean Press has published of Parker’s, although I have allowed myself to fall behind a bit. (Parker is a prolific writer of novellas and short fiction, and the publisher has released a number of anthologies that are tricky to get ahold of outside of the US, but I’ve been working on collecting them all.) If you are familiar with Parker’s Tor.com novellas — The Devil You Know (one of my favourites) and The Last Witness — then I’m sure you’ll want to pick up this latest books.

Due to be published in November 2019, here’s the synopsis for My Beautiful Life:

As the ironic title indicates, Parker’s latest tells the story of an individual life that takes extraordinary turns. As the story begins, the nameless, dying narrator takes us back to his childhood home in a remote corner of the ubiquitous Empire. The second of three sons, he lives there with his mother in a state of unrelieved poverty. Life eventually becomes so dire that the mother — who can only find work as a prostitute — is forced to sell one of her children. The oldest son, Nico, volunteers to be sold in order to protect his family, and that decision sets in motion everything that follows. Nico’s journey takes him, in time, to the heart of the Empire and the very center of power. Over time, he acquires considerable power of his own and uses it to bring his younger brothers into the circle of his influence, changing their lives forever. Under Nico’s guidance, the middle brother — our nameless narrator — achieves a destiny that will alter not only his own life, but the life of the Empire itself. 

Written with wit, economy, and considerable style, My Beautiful Life is at once a profoundly gripping narrative and a rueful meditation on the workings of fate. Equally suitable both for long-time fans and for newcomers to Parker’s fictional universe, it is an essential — and hugely enjoyable — addition to a distinguished body of work.

As I mentioned above, Parker has published a number of titles with Subterranean Press, including: Father of LiesAcademic ExercisesMightier than the Sword, Downfall of the Gods, and Savages.

Also on CR: Reviews of The Devil You KnowThe Last Witness, and Downfall of the Gods

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads