Dust jacket illustration by Vincent Chong
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.
Limited: 1000 signed numbered hardcover copies
From Publishers Weekly (Starred Review):
“Parker (the Engineer trilogy) collects 10 stories and three essays to deliver all the cynicism, dry wit, and gray morality that fans have come to expect. The World Fantasy Award-winning ‘A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong’ explores the tense relationship between a disillusioned music teacher and his brilliant but murderous student. Amoral scoundrels wreak havoc in ‘The Sun and I’ and ‘Blue and Gold.’ …This meaty compilation will please fans as well as readers who are now discovering this skilled author.”
“‘Let Maps to Others’ is certainly be my favorite piece here. A ironic and blackly humorous account of the rediscovery of a Prester John-style kingdom lost to history involves scholarly rivalry and deceit and royal bull-headedness. It’s comic gold where, as in much comedy, the most vile deeds are the funniest.”
From Locus (different review):
“There may be a good reason why K. J. Parker is the only author to win back-to-back World Fantasy Awards for novellas (in 2012 and 2013). As engaging and popular as Parker’s novels have been, the remarkable outpouring of shorter fiction over the last five years or so—nearly all of it collected in Academic Exercises and most having appeared originally from Subterranean Press—is practically a master class in the form, a body of work that suggests an already accomplished artist refining a particular instrument while still experimenting with structure and technique. Parker’s familiar dry and mordant wit is still much in evidence, as is the meticulous attention to procedural matters and odd bits of microhistorical lore (like the inconvenience and expense of obtaining blue pigments for manuscript illuminations), but readers are going to find a good deal more magic than in the novels…and a lot more first-person narrators, who are about as reliable as you’d expect from Parker’s familiar gallery of scurrilous if amiable rogues, scoundrels, liars, cowards, and double-crossers.”
From Locus (yet another review):
“Parker has delivered one of the first major fantasy collections of the year, and one that I suspect is going to be in the running for the title of Year’s Best Collection. Nobody else is writing anything like the stories collected here: sophisticated, character-driven, often featuring wily rascals trying to outsmart and out-con each other, with the stakes raised at each reversal, told in a sly and knowing voice that’s instantly addictive and draws you smoothly through the often intricate plots, intelligent and full of cutting wit, deep cynicism toward the institutions of society, and black humor.”
From San Francisco Book Review:
“…And, of course, there’s that consistently wry sense of humor running through the fiction (and some of the non-fiction) in which characters get their comeuppance, or not, depending on how powerful they are rather than what they deserve. It’s a delight! No matter what your interests in fiction, this has something for you. The prose is silky smooth. The plots are elegantly vicious. And the characters are magnificently realized as they struggle against their fate.”
“…this is world-building one story at a time, along the lines of Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age or Fritz Leiber’s Nehwon cycle…And K.J. Parker’s stories are good enough to invite comparison with those illustrious forebears, as well as benefiting from great maturity of presentation. Politics as well as magic are dealt with in a decidely adult, non-fantastic manner—more sabres-and-scientific-alchemy than swords-and-sorcery—and the ironies are piled on thick and fast.”
Table of Contents:
|Authors||Parker, K. J.|
|Print Status||Out of Print|