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Tachyon’s Moving Forward (Go Ahead, Physicists, Laugh)

jacob-weisman-headshot.jpgJacob Weisman, the editor and publisher of Tachyon Publications, an independent publisher specializing in science fiction and fantasy, was in New York recently for a sales conference, so we took the opportunity to meet with him—as you can imagine, we’re particularly interested these days in how independent publishers might be able to cope with the economic downturns affecting the book industry, particularly in a climate where increased returns from Borders have crippled at least one small press. “We’ve done pretty poorly getting our books in Borders , so we’re actually pretty well covered,” he revealed. “We do really well with Barnes & Noble, though, so if the shoe were on the other foot we’d be in deep trouble… What we need more than anything else is a robust book economy. The better the industry is doing overall, the better it is for us.”

Weisman started the press 13 years ago by publishing Ganglion, a short story collection by Wayne Wightman, beginning a pattern of publishing material that larger science fiction houses, linked to publishing conglomerates, might not find commercially viable. “It just seemed like something that would be fun to do,” he recalled. “I had no idea what I was doing when I published my first book.” In the beginning, Tachyon typically dealt with 1,000-copy print runs, selling directly to SF-themed specialty bookstores (“which you can’t do anymore,” he added). Now the company averages ten books a year, in both a spring and fall season, with printings of 3,000 to 5,000 copies; they’ve been working with Independent Publishers Group since 2003.

Along with those bigger print runs, Tachyon has been acquiring books of a much higher profile; Weisman regards 2005—a year in which the press published short story collections by Terry Bisson, Tim Powers, and Brian Aldiss, along with a novella by James Patrick Kelly that went on to win the Nebula award—as the tipping point. That was right around the time he acquired two books by Thomas M. Disch—at which point, he said, “I felt like we could be publishing anything.” (The first of those books, The Word of God, was thrust into n unfortunate spotlight earlier this year when Disch killed himself shortly after the novel’s publication. Like others who knew Disch well, Weisman said that in retrospect he was saddened but not entirely surprised by Disch’s suicide, although he had had the impression that the release of the novel, and the impending publication of a short story collection, The Wall of America, was raising the author’s spirits.)

Tachyon’s offerings for 2009 include Shambling Towards Hiroshima, a long story Weisman commissioned from James Morrow (“technically not a novel,” the editor noted; it’s just short enough that Morrow didn’t have to show it to his usual publisher, William Morrow) and We Never Talk About My Brother, a collection of fantasy stories by Peter S. Beagle. After that, there’s a new novel from Andrew Fox, a “best of” story collection from Michael Moorcock, and a “diamond anniversary” Fantasy & Science Fiction collection showcasing many of the best stories to have appeared in the magazine since its launch in 1949.

And then there’s an anthology, edited by James Patrick Kelly, and John Kessel, which we can’t wait to read—it takes its organizing principle from a Jonathan Lethem essay called “The Squandered Promise of Science Fiction,” which basically postulates that the genre could’ve gained mainstream respectability if Thomas Pynchon had won the Hugo for Gravity’s Rainbow 35 years ago. Weisman explained that Kelly and Kessel will be compiling science fiction stories by “literary” authors, along with stories of a literary bent by authors generally regarded as strictly genre, from that 1973 date up to 2008, when Michael Chabon was embraced by sci-fan fans and writers.

photo: Ellen Datlow

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