I've always believed the future of the book lies with independent presses and just this month, I've read impressive publications from the likes of Papaveria Press and Twelfth Planet Press. As far as production quality is concerned, one needs to actually hold and grasp a copy of Twelfth Planet Press's Doubles Series which Above/Below is part of. It features double covers and one can read the novelettes in either order. Suffice to say, it's not the mainstream presses that publish books like these: they're risky and unconventional and not easily categorized. But to readers, they can be rewarding--if done right. And if Above/Below is any indication of the future, then Twelfth Planet Press is indeed cutting edge.
Now this isn't the first Doubles Series from Twelfth Planet Press that I've read. Roadkill/Siren Beat was an enjoyable romp. Above/Below however goes beyond that previous publication. If either Roadkill or Siren Beat were published individually, they would still work as stories. Combining them into one book, aside from the aesthetic appeal of book design, adds nothing to the narrative. That's not the case with Above/Below however. Again, if either Above or Below were published individually, they would stand well on their own. Combined into this single publication however, they are greater than the sum of their parts, adding another layer that the reader can enjoy. There is also the impact of reading them in a different order, setting a different expectation for the second story read. The book is laid out in such a way that one could start with Ben Peek's Below before reading Stephanie Campisi's Above. What I've come to realize, especially since I was reading this book through an eBook rather than print, is that this quality is lost in the electronic version. As a file in my computer, the narrative is linear: the book starts with Above and then transitions into Below. It is possible to simply skip to Below before reading Above but this feels unnatural, especially when Above is the first section of the eBook. That's not the case though with print--and that reminds me of the value of the book as an artifact. There is no strict "beginning" and starting with Below is as legitimate as starting with Above. The only betrayal in the print version is the presence of the book's ISBN. In this specific case, I think I can say the print version provides value that the eBook can never provide.
One of the questions I'm asked when it comes to the craft of writing and speculative fiction is whether the genre has done anything new or remarkably different. Most of the time, I have no valid reply. A short story is a short story after all, irregardless of genre. It's not everyday after all that we come across a book like The Griffin and Sabine trilogy or City of Saints and Madmen: The Book of Ambergris in which the medium or the storytelling technique changes everything. Above/Below is one such book and I say that not just because of the format but due to the quality of the writing as well. While short and immediate, one could spend a long time analyzing the book, poring over the details, debating the politics of the setting, and analyzing the nuances of Campisi and Peek's technique. They're compelling novelettes in their own right but together, a must-read novel for any reader--genre or otherwise--and is easily one of my favorites for 2011.
Obviously, on this day of lovers, you want to buy a copy for whoever it is you love.