Interview: Epic by John Joseph Adams


Cover 1-7I love anthologies.

Besides the fact that one is going to save my financial ass from uninsured cancer treatment last year, anthologies are the best way to read work by some of your favorite authors while finding new favorite authors. I have found countless new authors through anthologies, including Robin Hobb, George R. R. Martin, Joe Haldeman, David Weber, Kim Harrison, Patricia Briggs, and countless others.

I also take great satisfaction at reading a story a night. Reading a tale and finishing in an hour feels great, especially if it is a wonderful read.

Today, I am featuring Epic edited by John Joseph Adams. It is an anthology filled with great epic tales from some of the best writers working!

Here is a bit more about it:

There is a sickness in the land. Prophets tell of the fall of empires, the rise of champions. Great beasts stir in vaults beneath the hills, beneath the waves. Armies mass. Gods walk. The world will be torn asunder.

Epic fantasy is storytelling at its biggest and best. From the creation myths and quest sagas of ancient times to the mega-popular fantasy novels of today, these are the stories that express our greatest hopes and fears, that create worlds so rich we long to return to them again and again, and that inspire us with their timeless values of courage and friendship in the face of ultimate evil—tales that transport us to the most ancient realms, and show us the most noble sacrifices, the most astonishing wonders.

Here are those tales:

  • Foreword by Brent Weeks
  • “Homecoming” by Robin Hobb
  • “The Word of Unbinding” by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • “The Burning Man” by Tad Williams
  • “As the Wheel Turns” by Aliette de Bodard
  • “The Alchemist” by Paolo Bacigalupi
  • “Sandmagic” by Orson Scott Card
  • “The Road to Levinshir” by Patrick Rothfuss
  • “Rysn” by Brandon Sanderson
  • “While the Gods Laugh” by Michael Moorcock
  • “Mother of All Russiya” by Melanie Rawn
  • “Riding the Shore of the River of Death” by Kate Elliott
  • “The Bound Man” by Mary Robinette Kowal
  • “The Narcomancer” by N. K. Jemisin
  • “Strife Lingers in Memory” by Carrie Vaughn
  • “The Mad Apprentice” by Trudi Canavan
  • “Otherling” by Juliet Marillier
  • “The Mystery Knight” by George R. R. Martin

Now acclaimed editor John Joseph Adams (Wastelands, The Living Dead) brings you seventeen tales by today’s leading authors of epic fantasy, including George R. R. Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire), Ursula K. Le Guin (Earthsea), Robin Hobb (Realms of Elderlings), Kate Elliott (Crown of Stars), Tad Williams (Of Memory, Sorrow & Thorn), Patrick Rothfuss (The Kingkiller Chronicle), and more.

Return again to lands you’ve loved, or visit magical new worlds. Victory against the coming darkness is never certain, but one thing’s for sure—your adventure will be epic.

Here is the interview with the anthology’s editor, John Joseph Adams, where he talks about the project and the stories within:


Shawn Speakman: Hi John! Tell Unbound Worlds readers about EPIC, your new fantasy anthology?

John Joseph Adams: Epic–whose full title is Epic: Legends of Fantasy–is a mammoth reprint anthology of epic fantasy fiction. Basically, it’s an attempt to survey the field of short form epic fantasy and include all the best examples in one volume. It includes stories by George R. R. Martin, Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, Robin Hobb, Tad Williams, Ursula K. Le Guin, Kate Elliott, Orson Scott Card, and Paolo Bacigalupi, among others.

Folks can read more about the anthology at the promotional site we built to support its release, which is at There you’ll find some interviews with the authors (both about their stories in the anthology and their thoughts on epic fantasy in general), as well as some “free reads” (i.e., stories in the anthology that you can read for free online).

Shawn Speakman: The stories in this anthology have been published before but EPIC is almost a Best of the Best. Was it more difficult pulling these stories together than an anthology with all new content?

John Joseph Adams: Typically, I’ve found reprint anthologies to come together a bit easier than original anthologies, because most authors are reasonable when it comes to reprint requests and they’re usually amenable to having their story appear again, since for many readers it will be new to them. Of course, the big issue with a reprint anthology is that for any theme there are going to be certain authors who–if you’re going to be able to call your volume definitive–really have to be in the book. What if that author is a noteworthy novelist in your subgenre but doesn’t even write short stories? What if they do write short stories, but they only have the one that fits–a bonafide classic–but you can’t arrange the reprint rights for it? What if they’re amenable to the reprint but just want too much money to license it? (And though most folks, as I said, are quite reasonable, there are any number of issues that could come up to prevent you from being able to reprint a story.)

With an original anthology, there’s a lot more juggling involved–authors drop out due to time constraints, or they misinterpret the theme, or they just fall off the face of the Earth and you never hear from them again–so that leaves the anthologist to do a lot of scrambling to repair that damage done when those things occur.

In this case, I’d say doing a reprint anthology of epic fantasy was definitely easier than doing an original anthology would have been, mainly because most of the pre-eminent practitioners in today’s marketplace are just going to be too busy to write new stories for such a project. Sure, you might be able to get one or two top people, but the chances you’d be able to line up all of the top epic fantasy writers to write you original stories…well, that’s definitely a tough thing to pull off. That said, though I was nearly able to pull it off in Epic, I didn’t quite manage to get everyone into the anthology. One of the issues in editing Epic was that the length of epic fantasy stories does tend to be, well, epic, and though the book is quite large, if I was going to fit everything in there, it would have had to have been quite a bit larger. Many of the stories I wanted to use were novella-length, and fitting novellas into an anthology is always challenging. I also ran into some rights issues, which prevented me from being able to include some folks I would have really liked to have in there, such as Robert Jordan, Steven Erikson, and Stephen R. Donaldson. Though if I had been able to secure the rights to the stories I wanted to use by those three, that would have presented even more issues, because all three of those stories were long novellas (together they’d almost be a whole book between the three of them!).

Shawn Speakman: Since these stories have come before, what was your work like on the anthology as editor?

John Joseph Adams: Generally I think of the editor of a reprint anthology as a curator. Like: Think of a museum curator; he has access to thousands of notable items that would fit into his exhibits, but he has to use his knowledge and expertise to whittle it down, balancing space, variety, and quality to come up with an exhibit that showcases the best and breadth of the subject matter. That’s almost exactly what a reprint anthology editor does, at least when you’re doing the kind of reprint anthology I’ve been doing in my career–that is, attempting to create definitive anthologies on each subject I’ve tackled. The idea is: I’ll do all the research and read all of the stories on the subject I can find, so the regular reader doesn’t have to; I’ll pick the best of what I uncover in my research, and put those stories all in one volume, so that regular readers–who generally don’t have the time or resources to scour the Earth for stories fitting a theme they’re interested in–can just read my anthology, and reap the rewards of my labor.

That’s the creative side. There’s also a lot of administrative stuff to deal with as an editor: There’s rights to negotiate; there’s contracts to issue (then make sure they’re signed, and then countersigned); there’s payments to send out; there’s text to acquire and proof. Often you have to write an introduction that pontificates about the theme, which is sometimes easy and sometimes quite difficult; also sometimes you need to craft header notes to introduce each story. Then once the book comes out, you have to help with the promotion of the book, and make sure the authors get their contributor copies, and after it’s been out for a while, if it sells well enough, you have to distribute a royalty share to the authors…

Shawn Speakman: Why are anthologies like this one important to our genre and why should readers try it?

John Joseph Adams: I think themed reprint anthologies like this one are important to the genre because the fact is most readers are not really short fiction readers; the vast majority–if not 100%–of their fiction reading will be in novel form. But theme anthologies like this can often reach out across that divide and get folks who otherwise wouldn’t seek out short stories to try an anthology of stories that is entirely focused on a theme they really like. (As opposed to a magazine or unthemed anthology, which would be a much harder sell to those same folks, in all likelihood.) Of course, that’s all predicated on the idea that short fiction is important to our genre–and I think it is–though of course I’m sure some people would disagree.

One nice thing about Epic, which is true of this particular book more so than any other anthology I’ve done to date, is that readers can really use it as a kind of theme sampler — in this case, an epic fantasy sampler. Because most of the stories in the book are set in the same milieu as their authors’ epic fantasy series, reading the anthology introduces you to those worlds, and maybe gives you a good idea of whether or not you’d enjoy reading a whole novel set there. But obviously I think the stories all work independently of their larger worlds their authors have created, and each standalone without any prior knowledge. On the flip side, it’s also a nice way to get a picture of what’s happening with epic fantasy today, without having to dive headfirst into a dozen different series that all span multiple books of 1000 pages each.

Shawn Speakman: What are you working on presently? Something cool, I bet!

John Joseph Adams: I have several new books about to come out, actually. In December, Night Shade is releasing a revised and expanded second edition of my acclaimed anthology Brave New Worlds: Dystopian Stories; the second edition contains three additional stories, along with some new nonfiction. In February, I have two new anthologies coming out. One is The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination, from Tor. The other, which I co-edited with Douglas Cohen–is from Amazon’s 47North imprint; it’s called Oz Reimagined: New Tales from the Emerald City and Beyond, and, as you might guess from the title, it contains stories in which the authors reimagine L. Frank Baum’s beloved classic.

At the moment, I’m working on promotional stuff for all of those, but I’m also currently working on–or curating–Wastelands 2, which will collect more of the best post-apocalyptic fiction (focusing on material published in the last several years, since Wastelands, vol. 1 came out).

Down the road a ways, I’ve also got Robot Uprisings–which I’m co-editing with roboticist and bestselling author Daniel H. Wilson–coming out from Doubleday in 2014. There’s one other project that’s basically done but I’m not cleared to talk about publicly yet, and some other stuff that’s still in the fetal stage.

But other than that, I’m just working, as always on Lightspeed Magazine and now also Nightmare Magazine, as well as co-hosting’s The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. I try to stay busy!

Epic by John Joseph Adams is available now in fine bookstores! Learn more about John Joseph Adams and Epic HERE!

Go epic! Or go home!