K. J. Parker
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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 & 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 & 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.