Many years ago an acquaintance recommended that I check out a collection of short stories by the Australian science fiction writer Greg Egan. The book was Axiomatic. I looked everywhere in Toronto for it but finally had to order it online. The book hit me hard. It was full of brilliant ideas and radiant visions. I went on to read other books by Egan. They run the gamut from highly accessible short stories (I think of Ted Chiang's works in a similar vein) to novels chock-full of hard sci fi. Much of his work is set in a far-distant, post-human era, as human consciousness has leapt to new realms, ensconced in immortalizing technologies.
What really got me, what lingers to this day, is the emotional intensity of his vision and the exceptional scientific and rational rigor he applies to his world-building.
Although he's been publishing award-winning and cutting-edge novels and story collections since the early 1980s, Egan's work has remained a challenge to find on U.S. bookstore shelves. They seem perennially under stocked. This has meant that works like the novella Oceanic, which won both Hugo and Locus Awards, and the novel Permutation City, which won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, have often felt like closely held secrets.
This stands in sharp contrast to Egan's reputation in countries like Japan, where he's won numerous Seiun Awards, and his native Australia, where he's gained a reputation as a master of the genre, a somewhat reclusive outsider and a passionate advocate of refugee rights.
I was thrilled to learn recently that Night Shade Books, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing, is in the midst of reprinting paperback editions of seven of Egan's works that have been out of print in the U.S. In the last months of 2014, Night Shade published Permutation City, Quarantine and Axiomatic. They're just releasing Diaspora,Distress, Schild's Ladder and Teranesia.
I was curious about the motives behind the reprinting and how the deal got done, so I reached out to Skyhorse Publishing and was able to find out some of the backstory from Editor Cory Allyn.
Why did Skyhorse Publishing and Night Shade Books decide to reprint Greg Egan's books?
Egan was always a writer that Night Shade admired. He'd had a good run with HarperCollins' Eos and HarperPrism imprints in the U.S. back in the 90s and early 2000s. Since then the climate of genre fiction changed a bit – hard science fiction was no longer really the epicenter, and you started to see increased interest in urban fantasy and epic fantasy. But I think there still remained a dedicated fan base for Egan and that particular brand of very hard science fiction.
Night Shade's relationship with Greg actually starts before these new reprints. Night Shade was the first U.S. publisher for the last five Egan titles – starting in 2008 with Incandescence, then Zendegi in 2010, and most recently the Orthogonal trilogy (The Clockwork Rocket, The Eternal Flame, The Arrows of Time). All of them have been successful – maybe not on the Harper level, but certainly they've done well enough to allow us to continue going after his books.
Were there any challenges to getting the rights to reprint these titles for the U.S. market?
Getting a hold of all of Egan's out of print titles was always something Night Shade was interested in, but back when the company was based out of San Francisco there just weren't the funds available to acquire a large batch of backlist titles.
When the company transitioned into an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing and Start Publishing in mid 2013, one of the earliest pitches that two of the Night Shade principals made was to pick up the Egan backlist titles. The company had already been dealing with Egan's U.S. agent for years on his newer books, so it wasn't an issue of trying to track down a mysterious rights-holder or anything like that – the idea had been around for a little while.
Was anyone at Night Shade Books or Skyhorse Publishing in contact with Egan in the process of negotiating the deal to reprint the backlist?
We negotiated the deal through his agent, but after the acquisition we've worked closely in house with Greg on these reprints. Greg actually did all of the cover art for our new editions himself, and we ended up with a very clean series design that I think gives Egan's work the finishing touches necessary to stand out on bookstore shelves today.
I assume maybe this question is also alluding to Greg's reputation for shying away from the camera. There are no pictures of Greg online, and his website has a disclaimer that while some of his more dedicated fans claimed to have tracked down a picture of the author, it's not him and there aren't any floating around. And being from Australia, the fact is that he's geographically removed from a lot of the larger SF communities. My impression has always been that Greg, although he's happy to do interviews from time to time via email, has always been more interested in focusing the attention on his work.
But although he isn't likely to do Skype chats with fans any time soon, his website is a fascinating and encyclopedic resource. It includes a comprehensive bibliography, supplemental material to many of his books for those that wish to dive further into the math and science aspects of his books, and a number of free short stories as well. It also has a great old-school website feel to it, which I really get a kick out of.
How do you think U.S. readers who may not be familiar with Greg Egan's work will react to his books?
I envy anyone picking up a book by Greg Egan for the first time – it's a bit of a punch to the gut, if that could somehow be a positive. One of those I didn't know science fiction could do this! kind of things. Central to his work is a lot of theoretical math and physics, but behind the complicated science there's also a lot of exploration of humanity and philosophy – the things that often separate good SF from great SF.
It's been only a few months since you started reprinting the backlist. How have readers reacted to the books so far?
The reaction has been great, and we're seeing it in the early sales numbers. I don't think we ever expected these titles to be blockbuster sellers for us, but the bookstore buyers are certainly familiar with the success that Night Shade has had with publishing Egan's work in the past, and they know that the imprint has a good reputation for knowing which out of print authors are worth (both artistically and from a sales perspective) bringing back into print.
The books are also available as ebooks. How can readers get copies of Egan titles in ebook format?
Egan himself actually publishes the ebook editions of the seven backlist titles we acquired. Night Shade publishes the ebooks to Incandescence, Zendegi, and the Orthogonal trilogy. All are available through your traditional ebook outlets.