Monday, June 16, 2014

Phoenix Comicon 2014: Angry Robot Preview Panel

In my lap around the exhibitor hall on Thursday evening, I stopped by all the publisher booths to say hi and make an effort towards the whole networking thing. Though they didn’t have books to give away like the others, the people at the Angry Robot table were super nice to me as a blogger (the nicest, in fact)—very friendly and happy to tell me what they’re all about, which books of theirs I might be interested in, get me signed up on their mailing list, etc. I told the man I was chatting with that I had heard about them via a recent episode of the SF Squeecast podcast, and was surprised to find out I was speaking to none other than Mike Underwood, who had been on that particular podcast episode and is also the author of Geekomancy, which I have yet to read, but have heard only good things about! We talked a bit about their YA imprint (called Strange Chemistry), cover design, and some of their authors who were in attendance at the con, and I promised to come back later to pick up a few of their titles. Which I did!

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Because they were so nice to me and so many of their books that I’d perused sounded intriguing, I decided to check out their preview panel the next morning. It ended up being the only publisher preview I was able to fit in my schedule, and it was perfect as a nice, low-key-yet-entertaining chaser after the fun-yet-also-a-bit-on-the-terrifying-side Improbable Dystopias panel I had attended the hour before. The panel consisted of Lee Harris (Senior Editor), Mike Underwood (North American Sales and Marketing Manager), Chuck Wendig (Blackbirds), Wesley Chu (The Lives of Tao), Danielle Jensen (Stolen Songbird), and Jay Posey (Three). Here’s a bit of Angry Robot 101 from the panel:

  • Launched initially in the UK, with their first books hitting the shelves in July 2009
  • Humorously self-described as a publisher of “SF/F/WTF?!”
  • Has three different imprints: Angry Robot (Science fiction, fantasy, and the aforementioned WTF?!), Strange Chemistry (YA), and Exhibit A (Mystery/Crime Thrillers)
  • They publish their books simultaneously worldwide, so if you’re looking forward to a book coming out, you don’t have to wait months for it to become available in your country after its debut in the UK
  • They publish e-book, paperback, and audio (where possible) formats on the same day
  • They offer e-book subscriptions where you can pay one flat, discounted price and receive monthly downloads off all e-books released during the period of your subscription (pretty neat idea, eh? You can get more info on it here!)
  • They also have a nifty e-book and paperback bundling program called “Clonefiles.” It’s a simple yet brilliant idea—you buy the paperback, you get the e-book version free. Lee Harris stated, “It makes absolute sense. I don’t understand why everybody isn’t doing this, because the readers want it and it costs next to nothing to provide that service.” Hear, hear!

Mr. Harris then turned it over to the authors on the panel to talk a bit about themselves and their books. Chuck Wendig talked about his various works, such as the Miriam Black series and the Mookie Pearl series, as well as his blog at, where he talks about writing (Lee Harris gave Terrible Minds a whole-hearted endorsement, too). Wesley Chu introduced us to his Tao series and may have let slip a few spoilers for the published volumes, but was careful to keep a tight lid on anything related to the third volume in the series, out this December. Danielle Jensen, the sole representative of the Strange Chemistry YA imprint, discussed Stolen Songbird, the first book in a trilogy that debuted in April. Opera divas! Trolls! Underground cities! (You can see why I purchased that one.) Lastly, Jay Posey told us a bit about his Legends of the Dustwalker series, and also a little about his work on video games and as a screenwriter.

The panel was then turned over to Mike Underwood to share with us some upcoming and buzz-worthy Angry Robot books. Here are some of the ones I thought sounded exciting and will be adding to my TBR list:

Arriving: 6/24/2014

In a land riven with plague, inside the infamous Walled City, two families vie for control: the Medicis with their genius inventor Leonardo; the Lorraines with Galileo, the most brilliant alchemist of his generation.

And when two star-crossed lovers, one from either house, threaten the status quo, a third, shadowy power – one that forever seems a step ahead of all of the familial warring – plots and schemes, and bides its time, ready for the moment to attack...

Assassination; ancient, impossible machines; torture and infamy – just another typical day in paradise.

“A great adventure for anybody who likes The Lies of Locke Lamora, or if you like the Romeo and Juliet story,” said Mr. Underwood, also noting that it’s got some of the fun flavor of Assassin’s Creed 2.

Arrived: 8/1/2013

A Victorian mystery.

Murder. Vice. Pollution. Delays on the Tube. Some things never change…

London, 1859. Novice detective, Campbell Lawless, stumbles onto the trail of Berwick Skelton, an elusive revolutionary, seemingly determined to bring London to its knees through a series of devilish acts of terrorism.

But cast into a lethal, intoxicating world of music hall hoofers, industrial sabotage and royal scandal, will Lawless survive long enough to capture this underworld nemesis, before he unleashes his final vengeance on a society he wants wiped from the face of the Earth?

Lawless & The Devil of Euston Square is the first of a series of Victorian thrillers featuring London policeman, Campbell Lawless on his rise through the ranks and his initiation as a spy.

“A great, slow-burn historical mystery,” said Mr. Underwood.

Arriving: 8/26/2014

Elizabeth Barnabus lives a double life—as herself and as her brother, the private detective. She is trying to solve the mystery of a disappearing aristocrat and a hoard of arcane machines. In her way stand the rogues, freaks and self-proclaimed alchemists of a travelling circus. But when she comes up against an agent of the all-powerful Patent Office, her life and the course of history will begin to change. And not necessarily for the better…
“If you like alternate histories like Pavane or you’re in the early steampunk interest, then this is a fantastic book,” he advised.

Arriving: 9/4/2014

On the eve of a recurring catastrophic event known to extinguish nations and reshape continents, a troubled orphan evades death and slavery to uncover her own bloody past…while a world goes to war with itself.

In the frozen kingdom of Saiduan, invaders from another realm are decimating whole cities, leaving behind nothing but ash and ruin.

As the dark star of the cataclysm rises, an illegitimate ruler is tasked with holding together a country fractured by civil war, a precocious young fighter is asked to betray his family and a half-Dhai general must choose between the eradication of her father’s people or loyalty to her alien Empress.

Through tense alliances and devastating betrayal, the Dhai and their allies attempt to hold against a seemingly unstoppable force as enemy nations prepare for a coming together of worlds as old as the universe itself.

In the end, one world will rise – and many will perish.

“This book, when it came up to acquisitions meeting, I declared to my colleagues—and Lee can back me up on this—I would knife fight a man to get this book on our list,” said Mr. Underwood, and later described the book as “Game of Thrones meets Fringe,” adding that if there’s any justice in the world, it will do for epic fantasy what Ancillary Justice did for sci-fi.

Arriving: 9/30/2014

Meet Hwa. One of the few in her community to forego bio-engineered enhancements, she’s the last truly organic person left on the rig. But she’s an expert in the arts of self-defence, and she’s been charged with training the Family’s youngest, who has been receiving death threats – seemingly from another timeline.

Meanwhile, a series of interconnected murders threatens the city’s stability – serial killer? Or something much, much worse…?

Mr. Underwood said that it’s going to be really rad, and suggested we check out the author’s other series as well.

Following the show-and-tell of cool-sounding upcoming books, the panel turned to Q&A time with the authors. Some noteworthy occurrences and topics that came up:

  • The importance of interpretive dance in selling books
  • A bit of Michael-Crichton-science bashing
  • Bemoaning the lack of a term for a male mistress
  • Creation of a term for this—manstress, coined at Phoenix Comicon 2014 by Chuck Wendig
  • My absolute favorite thing at this panel was Mike Underwood’s response to an audience question asking if Angry Robot is open to publishing new adult books: “If it would fit into any of the three categories, I think we would definitely take a look a new adult book…New adult isn’t really a thing yet. It’s a romance sub-genre at most, but everybody’s trying to make fetch happen. I really like new adult. There’s a lot of cool storytelling to be done there, so if you’ve got a new adult science fiction/fantasy, I think we’d definitely be interested in looking at it.” Love the Mean Girls reference, and I agree completely—there’s lots of good storytelling to be done in the realm of new adult, but so far it seems to be focusing mainly on the romance/sexual awakening aspects, and it’s not its own genre/target audience yet.
  • Angry Robot usually only takes agented submissions, but once a year they have an open door period where they invite people to submit without an agent, which is actually how they found Wesley Chu!
  • The challenges of being a writer while also holding down a full-time job
  • A great quote from Jim Butcher regarding the source of his inspiration and impetus to write (though he was not on the panel): “I don’t have a muse, I have a mortgage.”
  • Leaving the house is important for writers!

Lots of books I want to check out, lots of laughs with authors and publishers, and lots of tango references! I’ll definitely be checking some of these out on NetGalley.

Have you read any of Angry Robot’s offerings? What do you think of their marketing strategies such as Clonefiles and e-book subscriptions? Hit the comments and let us know!

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