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No Pressure: The Making of Sci-Fi and Fantasy Anthology Ecotones

Good things come to those who ask.

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How do you get some of the leading figures in Speculative Fiction to lend their names to a collection featuring largely unknown writers?

You may never have had to ask yourself that question, but if the need arose you’d probably agree that it’s a pretty good one. When I was given the chance to edit Ecotones, an anthology of fantasy and science fiction with an ecological theme, it was a question immediately at the forefront of my mind. Fortunately I have a revelation to share on this vital problem, so prepare yourself:

The short answer is, You ask.

The long answer is, You wait until someone else has been asking for years, then take over.

The complete answer begins in 2012, when the writers community at SFFWorld.com—a portal delivering “The Best in Sci Fi, Fantasy and Horror”, a position which The Mary Sue and others may dispute—released an ebook of apocalyptic short stories. The world was due to end that year, you might recall.

The plan was simple: aspiring writer Nila E. White challenged her peers to take part in three short story contests, to end the world via the additional themes of Earth, Wind and Fire respectively. Psychedelic funk-soul-disco fusions notwithstanding, the forum as a whole would then vote, and the top three stories from each contest would go into a small, inexpensive ebook which Nila would self-publish.

The goal was to provide some valuable exposure to authors mostly at the beginning of their careers.

The stroke of genius was to get some big names involved as well.

At that time, the world was not only gripped by anticipation of ancient Mayan extinction myths, it was waiting for the next installment of Hugh Howey‘s indie-blockbuster Silo series. Hugh Howey also happened to be an occasional presence on SFFWorld’s forums, so Nila approached him and asked if he would provide a piece to help raise the project’s profile.

Hugh Howey said, yes. So did Michael J. Sullivan, author of The Riyria Revelations, both of whom had recently been ranked among the world’s most successful self-publishing SFF authors by io9. Along with experimental author Tristis Ward, their names graced the cover of The End: Visions of Apocalypse, their stories rubbing shoulders with the work of less well-known writers of science fiction and fantasy.

 This established the strategy for what has since become an annual project. Lucky or Unlucky? Thirteen Stories of Fate followed in 2013, featuring as its headliner Mark Lawrence, author of The Broken Empire trilogy. Last year we saluted the centenary of the First World War alongside the Nebula Award winning Elizabeth Moon with Wars to End All Wars: Alternate Tales from the Trenches.

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There have also been some personal success stories as a result: Peter McLean‘s imminent début novel—Drake, to be published by Angry Robot early in 2016—expands on his story from our first collection; and this summer, Igor Ljubuncic‘s WW1 tale The Girl with the Flaxen Hair was runner-up for a Sidewise Award for Alternate History at the World Science Fiction Convention.

Those three anthologies owe their existence to one person more than any other, and all the participants are grateful for the platform she created for us. However, in 2015 real life got in the way and Nila was forced to step back from her editing duties. She handed responsibility for the latest anthology to me, with one cover author already attached:

New York Times best-seller Tobias S. Buckell.

No pressure, she said.

And for the first time, I asked myself that question: How do you get some of the leading figures in Speculative Fiction to lend their names to a collection featuring largely unknown writers?

With the greatest respect, and modesty, I had to face the facts: I am small time. I am a freelance editor and sometime writer-for-hire who struggles to pay the bills, a hybrid author whose first novel sank without trace when my publisher went down with all hands. My writing represents just a few more drops in the New Amazonian Sea. Excellent drops, yes, but still.

On the other hand, I thought, Nila managed it, why can’t I?

The first person I thought to ask was Ken Liu, the only person to ever win the Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy awards for the same short story, and who was to win the Hugo again a few months after I called (correlation, not causation) as the translator of Liu Cixin’s The Three Body Problem.

Ken Liu said, yes, but only if he could give us something original.

The second person I thought to ask was Lauren Beukes, the Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning author of Zoo City, not to mention Moxyland, The Shining Girls and Broken Monsters.

 Lauren Beukes said, yes, but only if we could pay her with gift vouchers.

It turns out, that question really isn’t all that hard to answer.

Ecotones: Ecological Stories from the Border Between Fantasy and Science Fiction contains thrillers and comedies, romance and satire, space opera and epic fantasy, and explores themes like bio-technology, social activism, family sacrifice, militant conservationism, the frustrations of ageing, and good food—all with an environmental flavour to them.

In addition to the three cover stars, we also have a couple of other established genre pros in Matthew Hughes and Stephen Palmer, who hang around the forum dispensing the fruits of their experience to the motley likes of Daniel Ausema, Victor Espinosa, Kurt Hunt, Christina Klarenbeek, Jonathan Laidlow, Igor Ljubuncic (again, but a different website), P. J. Richards, Rebecca Schwarz and, ahem, myself.

Ecotones will be published as a DRM-free ebook this December, but if you want to reserve a copy at a discounted price—and maybe pick up the three previous anthologies on the cheap too—then check out our Kickstarter campaign. You’ll encounter a whole crowd of new writers, as well as those you already know about, and you’ll be underlining the lesson I learned this year.

Good things come to those who ask. So I’m asking.

Andrew Leon Hudson is an improper Englishman often found in Spain, who mostly writes horror, crime and science fiction and edits whatever you give him. He can be found on Facebook and Twitter, sometimes.

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