Saturday, 25 October 2014

Small Publisher Specials #1: Readux

Being the first in a series of posts focusing on the splendid work of small publishers in this small-publisher-unfiendly age.


Readux is a small publisher in both senses of the word--they are a small Berlin-based outfit, but they also publish small (32, 48 or 64-page) books: novellas, short stories and essays, either in the original English or else translated from Swedish or German. These are not little stapled booklets, either: they're proper, perfect-bound books.

Usually published in batches of four, three times a year, each Readux series has a specific look, unified by the overall design of Susann Stefanizen.

Series 1 makes use of surrealistic illustrations by André Gottschalk, full of flat colour and strange elements.

Series 2, all Stefanizen's work, are more abstract, with coloured polygons on textured backdrops.

The most recent series, #3, uses delicate pencil sketches by Lisa Schweizer against worn paper backgrounds.

And then there's the imminent series 4, all eye-warping patterns and neon colours, designed by André Gottschalk and Susanne Stahl, based on their 'See Before Reading' system...

Returning to Susann Stefanizen, here are her beautifully simple geometrical designs for a series of German-published books on music...

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Never Any End to Hemingway

The newest English translation of Spanish novelist Enrique Vila-Matas's work is Never Any End to Paris, his thoroughly enjoyable and funny story of a Hemingway-obsessed young Spaniard trying to be a writer in 1970s Paris, with Marguerite Duras, of all people, as his landlady. Published by Harvill Secker, the cover illustration of the pretentious narrator and his hero at a cafe table is by Jörn Kaspuhl... 

..and it rather cleverly plays off the original dustjacket for Hemingway's own A Farewell to Arms

Some of Kaspuhl's more unsettling illustrations, which are derived from casual photos and show people turning into strange cross-species hybrids, were collected in his now sadly out-of-print Humanimal.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014


It should come as no surprise that sometimes I buy a book because of its design. I'm not really a reader of horror, at least that published since the era of Machen/Dunsany/Lovecraft/James, so normally a book about a haunted Ikea-style store would have passed me by. But when the book is designed to emulate an actual Ikea catalogue? That's a different story.

Horrorstör, Grady Hendrix's first novel, is published by Quirk Books, and they've really gone to town on this one. Illustrated by Michael Rogalski and designed by Andie Reid, with cover photography by Christine Ferrara, the attention to detail is superb, with order forms, house ads, increasingly disturbing product showcases and more. The whole thing is even printed in the dark blue ink of an assemble-it-yourself instruction leaflet. Click any image below for embiggening...

Entertainingly, this very morning I was looking at a catalog of books coming out next year, and one of them--a home design guide--looks weirdly like Horrorstör, but with an airbrushed person added...

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The Future is Your Mind Derailed

Are you in the mood for some cynical, world-weary, mind-blowing science-fiction? Of course you are! The near-simultaneous release of two books along these lines is a cause for some downbeat celebration, as long as you're in the mood to explore just how little control you have over the contents of your mind, the nature of your personality, and the probable non-existence of yourself as a continuous, discrete entity.

The first of these two books is Peter Watts's Echopraxia (that word being the involuntary and meaningless mimicking of someone else's movements), a semi-sequel to his astonishingly good and bleak Blindsight, which is easily one of the best SF novels of the century so far. Sporting cover art by Richard Anderson (who manages to combine the unlikely but convincing mass effects of John Harris with the dynamic figure work of Phil Hale), Echopraxia is not quite the equal of the previous book, but it comes close. This is not due to any lack in the prose, but more because it tends to explore Blindsight's concerns in more depth--the earlier book had the shock of the new to add to its brain-boggling effect.

Echopraxia's many threads explore the difficulties of communicating with alien intelligences, the possibilities of intelligence without sentience, the probably non-existence of free will, how the brain works when high on religion, networking human minds, disturbingly convincing evolutionary-throwback neanderthal vampires, and brain-rigged zombie soldiers.

Somewhat confusingly, in the UK Echopraxia and Blindsight have been bundled togetehr as one volume, Firefall, which uses a spaceship designed and "built" by Watts himsellf for the cover.

If genre prejudices make you shy away from books which feature hair-raising jaunts around the solar system, Darin Bradley's Chimpanzee might be more your sort of thing. Published by one of the small presses that are increasingly the heart of interesting SF (Underland Press in this case), it takes a satirical idea--that in a near-future USA suffering another Great Depression, those who can't afford to pay off their student loans will have their educations repossessed--and develops it with bleak, serious sincerity. The unemployed narrator's Ph.D. is being taken away from him through a cocktail of cognitive therapy and drugs, with the rest of his higher education to follow. But his memories of his life with his wife, who he met at graduate school, are inextricably bound up with his learning. Add to this a developing anarchist movement which makes use of the image of a chimpanzee, and Bradley's book is a fascinating and depressing novel of great originality.

The cover, designed by Jennifer Tough, makes use of the chimpanzee glyph, which she created to be used for both the book design and promotional images. It has also been stamped in blood red onto the book's boards, making a part of the book which is normally staid and boring a dramatic treat for the eye.

I suspect that simple, bold design would have been effective as a cover by itself, especially if you disregard the fingerprint smears that have made their way onto my scan.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Bondage Manga Wodehouse & Stolen Cover Art

Yet another case of public-domain PG Wodehouse being debased by random ebook sellers, this time one Sheba Blake Publishing...

..who also sells another Wodehouse short story using artwork stolen from the cover Norton's edition, by Antony Hare. The Norton edition looks like this...

..and the Sheba Blake version like this...

In fact, a quick look at the Sheba Blake website reveals a vast array of stolen covers, many from Vintage UK and Penguin. Cunningly, those stolen from Vintage still retain the 'Vintage' branding...

Penguin Frome and Vintage Mirth

Vintage Rudge and Dombey, and that Hunted Down cover is from Peter Owen

..and I'm sure that all of these other covers could be found to have been stolen too, with a bit more Googling.