"...it has been enormously fun being two people."
April 23, 2015 3:25 PM   Subscribe

K.J. Parker’s Identity Revealed
For 17 years - since the publication of Colours in the Steel - the identity of K.J. Parker has been one of fantasy literature's most tightly-kept secrets. Now, after a dozen novels, a collection of short stories, a handful of essays and two World Fantasy Award wins, K.J. Parker has stepped forward...

- as author Tom Holt.

In a conversation with Locus‘s own Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe, on their Coode Street Podcast. You can listen to the interview here.

Related: Tom Holt interviewing K.J. Parker for Subterranean Magazine in 2010.
posted by Fizz (37 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:39 PM on April 23, 2015

Fizz has stolen my post. I will now begin an unnecessarily complicated plan involving the toppling of several nation-states to get it back.
posted by Etrigan at 3:40 PM on April 23, 2015 [16 favorites]

But more seriously, I'm kind of annoyed at this, because Holt and "Parker"'s publishers (Orbit and Subterranean) have specifically denied that Holt was Parker for years, when they could have easily said "We're not going to make any comment on this until K.J. Parker wants us to."
posted by Etrigan at 3:46 PM on April 23, 2015 [5 favorites]

Was anyone else absolutely utterly convinced that Parker was a woman?
posted by skycrashesdown at 3:50 PM on April 23, 2015 [13 favorites]

Was anyone else absolutely utterly convinced that Parker was a woman?

posted by antiwiggle at 3:52 PM on April 23, 2015 [8 favorites]

Yeah, it's one thing to evade the question or refuse to comment; it's quite another to lie about it directly, and produce fake "interviews" with yourself that purport to be factual. It just looks tawdry.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:53 PM on April 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

I remember reading a bit of Sharps when they're passing through the countryside in a carriage and there's a bit about how the land looks so long after a huge engineering project changed the landscape that all traces are obscured. I can't do the prose justice in summary, but it was an engaging bit of back story to throw in and an example of how masterfully Parker handles the meticulous details of world building without becoming boring.

I'm indescribably thrilled that I now have a bunch of Holt's books to add to my reading list as I haven't read any yet.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:55 PM on April 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Slightly related (and previously on Metafilter): The Slow Unveiling of James Tiptree Jr.
posted by Fizz at 3:55 PM on April 23, 2015

Hm. I've read some Holt, but not a lot in the last ... 20 years? I know I first read him in 1987 when Expecting Someone Taller came out. I remember liking Who's Afraid of Beowulf quite a bit.

K. J. Parker I first heard of a few days ago when someone on Metafilter said they thought K. J. Parker and Tom Holt were the same person.

So, um, I am ... very surprised! Yeah, shocked even! To find that this ... author I kind of liked when I was a teenager and this ... other author that people seem to like a lot are ... um ...

I'm not nearly as in the loop about what's going on in fantasy fiction as I thought I was, am I.
posted by kyrademon at 4:03 PM on April 23, 2015 [6 favorites]

Was anyone else absolutely utterly convinced that Parker was a woman?

There was a fair amount of disinformation spread to that effect, so, yes.
posted by Etrigan at 4:15 PM on April 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Holt's book Expecting Someone Taller is a hoot, or at least I remember it being so. Looks like I have a lot of his later work to catch up on--everything past Overtime is new to me.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 4:17 PM on April 23, 2015

Lovely. Now, can we fast-forward to the reveal on this "Alex Marshall" nonsense?
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 4:18 PM on April 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Which one is Orson Scott Card?
posted by evilDoug at 4:48 PM on April 23, 2015

Turns out Orson Scott Card and Baron Harkonnen are the same person.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:51 PM on April 23, 2015 [26 favorites]

Ineluctably feminine.
posted by The Tensor at 4:53 PM on April 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Which one is Orson Scott Card?

Sometimes a piece of shit is just a piece of shit.
posted by Fizz at 4:57 PM on April 23, 2015 [5 favorites]

Although this has been the leading theory for years, I still find it jolting. I have read some of Holt's work, and I can't say that I'm a fan. On the other hand, Parker is one of my favorite fantasists of all time. I own #430 of the signed, limited edition of Academic Exercises and pre-ordered Savages the day it was announced. The cognitive dissonance I felt when I first read this news was...significant. That dissonance only increased when I listened to the interview today on my drive home from work. In his fiction, Parker has such a clear, strong voice, and to listen to Holt stuttering through that interview really threw me. (He talks about his stammer in this interview from 2003.) To clarify, I am not criticizing or ridiculing the man for his speech disorder. It's just that for someone whose language is so clear - to me - in his writing, it made me uncomfortable to hear him seemingly struggling over words when speaking.

Some of K.J. Parker's shorter works are available for free at Subterranean Online. The novellas "A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong" and "The Sun and I" were World Fantasy Award finalists in 2012 and 2014, respectively. "Let Maps to Others" won in 2013.
posted by zakur at 5:07 PM on April 23, 2015 [8 favorites]

Which of his series would you say is his best? Fencer Trilogy? I'm always looking for good fantasy. Some of my favorites are The Book of the New Sun, Gormenghast and Imajica.
posted by meta87 at 5:32 PM on April 23, 2015

If you like Parker but aren't a fan of Holt's humorous fantasies, definitely try his historical novels--particularly the omnibus edition of The Walled Orchard. FWIW, I reviewed one of Parker's novels in the spring of 2010 and mentioned how, gosh, this is similar to Holt's historical novels. I didn't disbelieve that it might have been someone who admired his work a lot or who'd been involved in editing his work or something like that, but it's seriously the closest match in styles I can recall observing. Anyway, The Walled Orchard is one of my favorite books: frequently hilarious, historically fairly accurate (Holt studied classics at Oxford, apparently), sometimes bitterly cynical, sometimes emotionally moving, etc., etc.--a lot of things, but also very readable.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 5:34 PM on April 23, 2015 [5 favorites]

This previously from 2013 seems relevant: "All my literary detectors told me, when I first read KJ Parker's The Folding Knife in spring of 2010, was that KJ Parker's writing had stylistic and thematic qualities extremely reminiscent of Tom Holt's five historical novels[...] But what I am saying is that if you like KJ Parker you'll probably also like Tom Holt's historical novels."

(on preview: oh, hi! :-)
posted by effbot at 5:48 PM on April 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Which of his series would you say is his best?

I first came to Parker via the Engineer Trilogy, which many have derided as overly precise, but was still damn good.

The Fencer Trilogy is really, crazy good, but leans a little too hard on the "sword-bow-armor" stuff (like he came up with the titles first and felt constrained by them), and has a twist in the middle that turned it very, very dark -- past GRRM/Abercrombie grimdark into Michael Haneke "Fuck you, reader" dark.

I struggled through the Scavenger Trilogy. Wouldn't recommend it.

I tore through the first three parts of The Two of Swords, and it's shaping up to be really good. I worry that the author* has said that he hasn't actually finished plotting it yet, given how clockwork-like most of his stuff is, with everything fitting into everything else.

* -- I honestly haven't figured out how I want to refer to Parker/Holt in the present or future tense yet.
posted by Etrigan at 6:05 PM on April 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

meta87: Personally, The Engineer Trilogy is my favorite. However, I would recommend starting with one of the standalones - The Hammer or The Folding Knife - followed by some of the shorts to get a taste of Parker before diving into one of his series.

It should be noted that all of Parker's fiction takes place in the same world (though not contemporaneously). As he facetiously stated just yesterday on The Two of Swords website: "All my stuff is set in the same imagined geography, because I’m too idle to make up a new one each time."
posted by zakur at 6:05 PM on April 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

The Tensor: "Ineluctably feminine."

I knew that was coming.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:22 PM on April 23, 2015

Yeah seriously, I only know about this mystery from my failed attempts at googling an answer to the "who is Alex Marshall" problem. Come on, detectives.
posted by Tesseractive at 8:05 PM on April 23, 2015

I think that, while the author may look on himself as shrewd or clever, this, over time, erodes the trust that the fan base had for him.

Having said that, no one has published my books yet, and apparently several of his have been published, so make of that what you may.
posted by newdaddy at 8:10 PM on April 23, 2015

Thanks for the recommendations Etrigan and zakur!
posted by meta87 at 8:15 PM on April 23, 2015

"All my stuff is set in the same imagined geography, because I’m too idle to make up a new one each time."

Especially when it comes to rivers -- I'm trying to think of an instance of a river in a Parker book that didn't start with a bunch of people relaxing by it and end up with most of them dead in it.
posted by Etrigan at 8:45 PM on April 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Have to admit I'm gobsmacked at this, even though I've read and liked Tom Holt's serious books for ages. "The Walled Orchard" is a classic.

First, Parker always seemed to have a distinct voice and style. Those carefully detailed imaginary but non-magical worlds seem very different to Holt's history or broad-brush comic fantasy.

Second, sheer volume. Over the last ten years according to Wikipedia Holt has published 12 novels, Parker 9. I know Charles Stross and a few others manage to write a 2-3 per year but it's still a tremendous work rate for books that read as carefully written like Parker's.

Third, the broad comedy of Holt's comic novels seems a world away from the dry irony of Parker. I read a couple but they didn't really click with me: seemed a bit too similar to Robert Rankin and Terry Pratchett maybe.

So, hat off to Holt for a great piece of puppetmastery!
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:43 AM on April 24, 2015

I really wanted Parker to be a woman, but I knew there was a good chance he wasn't. He characterizes well, does relationships and dialogue well--except women. So that was a clue, even if I wanted it to be a deliberate commentary on the industry.

I strongly recommend The Company as a first dive into Parker's work. The Engineer trilogy is really too long, so while it's an excellent payoff, it's really a bit too delayed a gratification in my view.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:40 AM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

(I should say: I may be rewriting history a bit. I was pretty convinced Parker was a woman and Monsieur Caution was correcting me in the comment thread above. So it was only after that well-informed cautionary--teehee--correction that I started developing suspicions.)
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:45 AM on April 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Huh. I knew this, but had no idea it was an interesting thing to know.

(I did work experience at Little, Brown group back in 2004, spending a couple of days on each of their imprints. One of the jobs I got was dealing with the sort of correspondence where a reader sends in corrections to the typesetting in a published copy of a book so the edits can be made to the proof in case the book gets reprinted. Someone had sent in some errors from a K.J Parker book, so I made the edits and was told to file the proof in the Tom Holt file, which confused me. I was told it was a pseudonym and it was secret so not to tell anyone. I'd heard of Tom Holt but hadn't heard of K. J. Parker, and none of my friends read either of them so I had nobody to tell and promptly discarded it as useless information. And now it turns out I had hot literary gossip! But didn't know! I'd make a terrible spy.

I was way more excited about getting to write letters to Margaret Atwood and Sarah Waters.)
posted by theseldomseenkid at 11:45 AM on April 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

fake "interviews" with yourself that purport to be factual

I'm not sure why conducting an interview with questions/answers both presented by yourself makes it, ipso facto, fake. Sometimes you can learn new and fascinating things that way.
posted by The Zeroth Law at 2:27 PM on April 24, 2015

It purports to be an interview between two different people, and this part at least was an outright lie:
I should point out, we first met at our local blacksmith’s shop, we were both there to learn blacksmithing. But I wanted to make hinges and pokers and stuff. You wanted to know how to make swords.

posted by Joe in Australia at 1:59 AM on April 25, 2015

Huh. I loved the Engineer's Trilogy, though I haven't read more by Parker, simply because I haven't gotten around to it yet. But I also read something by Tom Holt many, many years ago and shrugged him into the "not really my thing" pile, because I'm not usually much a fan of humorous fantasy. I don't recall having any personal opinion or leaning on whether Parker was a man or a woman, though maybe at the time I Had Opinions... and I have had some problems mixing up KJ parker with KJ Bishop, who actually is a woman. Interesting!
posted by taz at 2:42 AM on April 25, 2015

this part at least was an outright lie

I think what he's saying in the blacksmithing quote--obliquely--is that what he typically appreciates about history is the everyday stuff, but as K. J. Parker he was branching out. A bio of his that I think I've seen in a number of places says, "At Oxford he studied bar billiards, ancient Greek agriculture and the care and feeding of small, temperamental Japanese motorcycle engines." Using "agriculture" there as an index of his visibly intense interest in classics is I think sort of a joke, but it's a joke that reflects one theme of his historical novels, which is to downplay the significance of military history and point out how much fun the mundane details actually were. But in the podcast interview, he mentions that he took up the pen name K. J. Parker in part to try writing about darker, more violent things. So ... Holt likes hinges and pokers ... Parker likes swords.

It's an unusual way to think about yourself, but with the benefit of hindsight, it doesn't seem like a lie. On the other hand, the analogy he makes in the Subterranean interview between the names K. J. Parker and Marilyn Monroe seems more misleading in retrospect than it did before. I have no idea how he makes sense of that in his head, but when J. K. Rowling went for a gender-swapped pen name, she said it was to take on a writing persona as far from her own as possible, and that would make sense here. Although there's been a welcome uptick in the respect afforded to women writing fantasy, I seriously doubt there's a significant advantage in borrowing on that respect dishonestly. So I'm glad to have the blacksmithing example to think about: it provides a concrete basis for thinking Holt imagined Parker to be a separate persona who happened to be a woman.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 3:07 AM on April 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Was anyone else absolutely utterly convinced that Parker was a woman?

Until recently I wasn't actually aware that Parker's identity was a mystery and I always thought she was Australian, like Kate Elliott.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:14 AM on April 25, 2015

I always thought she was Australian, like Kate Elliott

I may be parsing this incorrectly, e.g. if Kate Elliott thought K. J. Parker was Australian, but Kate Elliott is from the US. As a shout out for her, I'll add that The Very Best of Kate Elliott came out recently, though I haven't read it yet.

K. J. Bishop, whom taz mentioned, is Australian, and I'll use that as an excuse to recommend her story "Alsiso," which I really enjoyed for its unusual chronotope.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:46 PM on April 25, 2015

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