A decade after John Crowley, best known for Little, Big, first queried Small Beer Press about publishing a 400-year-old science fiction novel, his English-language version of Johannes Valentines Andreae's The Chemical Wedding (1616) is scheduled for this fall. The original book (Chymische Hochzeit Christiani Rosencreutz anno 1459) was written in German and set in the 1400s.
Crowley--whose final book in his Aegypt quartet, Endless Things, was published by Small Beer--claims that Chemical Wedding holds a unique distinction as the world's first science fiction novel, nosing out Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) by a couple centuries.
In the video Crowley made for Small Beer’s Kickstarter campaign to raise money for a hardcover edition of Chemical Wedding—a trade paperback and e-book edition are already set for November—he called the work “an amazing wonder novel,” and one which he believes has been misunderstood for years.
“I think it can be called a science fiction novel, because it deals with the cutting edge science of its time in a speculative way, with what was regarded in 1616 as the furthest reaches of possible science, of which alchemy and astrology were both representative,” Crowley stated.
As for the lag between when Crowley first approached Small Beer and the book's publication, the publisher said the manuscript took time to read. Gavin Grant, co-founder of Small Beer with his wife, Kelly Link, said the couple is not always the "fastest" when it comes to reading manuscripts. It also took Crowley time to turn in a finished product and to find an illustrator for the project, Theo Fadel.
Grant regards the book as “weird and great” and so beautifully done that he and Link decided to try Kickstarter for the first time to fund three hardcover editions. They couldn’t resist the urge to make “a weird and beautiful artifact” out of the project—an exclusive hardcover; a signed, numbered, slipcased limited edition; and a more limited signed, lettered, and slipcased edition.
But the Kickstarter project, Grant emphasized, is only about funding the hardcover editions. The campaign will not determine Small Beer’s ability to publish a paperback edition. “We’re a publisher," he said, "and our job is to take a chance and transmute art into money and find readers for it.”