An Agent of Utopia

Andy Duncan  - published November 2018

trade paper · 288 pages · $17 · 9781618731531 | ebook · 9781618731548

Signed copies available.

Locus Award finalist

“What might well be the collection of the year.”
— Gary K. Wolfe, Locus, Recommended Reading List

“A wildly varied and consistently brilliant collection.”
— B&N, Favorite Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of 2018


Andy Duncan has shamelessly told flat-out made-up stories for twenty years, and this book right here is the evidence.

In the tales gathered in An Agent of Utopia: New and Selected Stories you will meet a Utopian assassin, an aging UFO contactee, a haunted Mohawk steelworker, a time-traveling prizefighter, a yam-eating Zombie, and a child who loves a frizzled chicken—not to mention Harry Houdini, Zora Neale Hurston, Sir Thomas More, and all their fellow travelers riding the steamer-trunk imagination of a unique twenty-first-century fabulist.

From the Florida folktales of the perennial prison escapee Daddy Mention and the dangerous gator-man Uncle Monday that inspired “Daddy Mention and the Monday Skull” (first published in Mojo: Conjure Stories, edited by Nalo Hopkinson) to the imagined story of boxer and historical bit player Jess Willard in World Fantasy Award winner “The Pottawatomie Giant” (first published on SciFiction), or the Ozark UFO contactees in Nebula Award winner “Close Encounters” to Flannery O’Connor’s childhood celebrity in Shirley Jackson Award finalist “Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse” (first published in Eclipse) Duncan’s historical juxtapositions come alive on the page as if this Southern storyteller was sitting on a rocking chair stretching the truth out beside you.

Duncan rounds out his explorations of the nooks and crannies of history in two irresistible new stories, “Joe Diabo’s Farewell” — in which a gang of Native American ironworkers in 1920s New York City go to a show — and the title story, “An Agent of Utopia” — where he reveals what really (might have) happened to Thomas More’s head.

Table of Contents

An Agent of Utopia
Joe Diabo’s Farewell
The Map to the Homes of the Stars
The Pottawatomie Giant (World Fantasy Award winner)
Senator Bilbo
The Big Rock Candy Mountain
Daddy Mention and the Monday Skull
Zora and the Zombie
Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse
Slow as a Bullet
Close Encounters (Nebula Award Winner)

Advance Praise & Reviews of Andy Duncan’s Stories

“A sui generis author of speculative fiction, Andy Duncan gives us a beautiful new collection of stories in An Agent of Utopia. Hopping from Thomas More’s England to Flannery O’Connor’s South to Hell, Duncan’s charmingly colorful stories blur the lines between history, alternate history and the subtly fantastic.” — Angela Matano, Best Holiday Books, Campus Circle

“Andy Duncan – in what might well be the collection of the year – invoked everyone from Sir Thomas More to Zora Neal Hurston in An Agent of Utopia, which also brought together some of his most evocative tales about the hidden corners of Americana, from an afterlife for Delta blues singers to the travails of an aging UFO abductee.” — Gary K. Wolfe, Locus

“Andy Duncan writes SF in a distinctive voice–big ideas hidden inside stories that read like tall tales told on the porch. But this collection shows that he has multiple strings to his bow.” — Benjamin Wald, SF Revu

“An essential introduction to one of the great tellers of fantastic tall tales.” — Graham Sleight (Ten books of the year, Locus)

“Andy Duncan’s charming and affable stories abound with hidden depths, and An Agent of Utopia is no different, with a dozen stories, including a pair of originals that are generating a lot of buzz.” — Tim Pratt, Locus

“Andy Duncan’s first North American collection since 2000, An Agent of Utopia (Small Beer) mixed new, recent, and older material in a book that showcased why he is a treasure.”
— Jonathan Strahan, Locus

“Reading Duncan can feel like being taken on a tour of your own dusty attic and being shown treasures you didn’t know you had.” — Chicago Tribune

“Must rank as one of this year’s best collections. It’s on bookstore shelves now and deserves to be on your shelves soon.” —

“Whatever the topic, all of Duncan’s fictions are united by an evocative, playful, and deeply accomplished storytelling style. Highly recommended for fans of Kelly Link or other slipstream writers, and for any reader looking to lose themselves in an engaging and fun reading experience.”—Booklist (starred review)

“Zany and kaleidoscopic, the 12 stories in Duncan’s third collection draw on Southern traditions of tall tales and span time periods, continents, and the realm of human imagination to create an intricate new mythology of figures from history, literature, and American folklore. . . . This is a raucous, fantastical treat.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“There are few contemporary writers in any genre as immediately identifiable by voice alone as Andy Duncan. . . . with his wry sense of absurdity. . . . ‘The Map to the Homes of the Stars’ describes a pair of teen friends who cruise around listening to Aerosmith or the Beatles while mapping out the homes of girls as though they were Hollywood celebrities, until one of them unexpectedly escapes with one of the girls, leaving his friend, years later, to muse on the map his own life has followed. It’s not really fantastic at all, but it feels like the most personal tale in the book, and it captures, as movingly as anything in this brilliant collection, the distance between the dreams and legends we inherit and those that we make for ourselves.”
— Gary K. Wolfe, Locus

“A rare book that blends fun with fury and tomfoolery with social consciousness.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Andy Duncan is a writer’s SFF writer—his short fiction has earned him a Nebula Award, the Theodore Sturgeon Award, and three World Fantasy Awards and won him endless praise from genre giants like Gardner Dozois, Nancy Kress, Michael Swanwick, and Jonathan Strahan. Now, Small Beer press has assembled his most noteworthy stories—along with two new tales—into a wildly varied and consistently brilliant collection drawing from tall tales and legends of old, and featuring a Utopian assassin, an aging UFO contactee, a haunted Mohawk steelworker, a yam-eating zombie, Harry Houdini, Thomas More, and more.”
— Joel Cunningham, B&N, Favorite Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of 2018

An Agent of Utopia is all the proof you’ll need to see that Andy Duncan is one of the very best short story writers in Science Fiction, Fantasy, or anywhere else. It’s a sure bet that you’re holding in your hand the best story collection of the year.”
— Jeffrey Ford, author of A Natural History of Hell

“Duncan will get you to bust a gut laughing. He’ll make you teary, and put a shiver up your spine. But most importantly, his stories ask questions you might not know how to answer, and leave you looking inside yourself long after you’ve read the last line of his singing prose.”
— Lara Elena Donnelly, author of Amberlough

“Andy Duncan’s unique voice shines through in his third collection. You’ve not read him yet? Shame on you! Go out now and buy An Agent of Utopia: New and Selected Stories. You’ll thank me.”
— Ellen Datlow, award-winning editor.

“Andy Duncan is one of the most hilarious and poignant writers of short stories that we have. He effortlessly forges dreamlike and nightmarish tales with wit and wisdom that rivals Mark Twain.”
— Christopher Barzak, author of Wonders of the Invisible World

“Andy Duncan is the Andy Duncan of Andy Duncanland, and we are all lucky to have access to that fabled locale via the portal between his brain and these pages. The stories in this collection drip with magic and mayhem and time and place and personhood, along with the most creative cussing this side of anywhere. Each one is a microcosm, a moment from our own history, real or imagined, passed along to us by a master storyteller.”
— Sarah Pinsker

“Andy Duncan is the best storyteller of our generation. Every page is breathtaking, down-to-earth magical.” — Ellen Klages

“Andy Duncan’s work bursts on the tongue. Every word is a rhythm, perfectly shaped to thrum in the throat, to twang in the mouth, to dance on beats of breath. His dialogue drums savory dialects. His prose is a brass instrument, trumpeting stories like songs. Like blues, like jazz, his stories are written to an American tempo, her checkered history, her bright syncopation, her Southern storytellers and conjuring women. He is a musician, magician, mythmaker, a raconteur of marvels.”
— Rachel Swirsky

“Mesmerizing.” — Ed Park, Los Angeles Times

“Duncan shows an hallucinatory grasp of idiom, of place-setting tact, an actor’s clarity at the rendering of voice.” — John Clute, Washington Post Book World

“There’s no good name for what Andy Duncan does. . . . Duncan’s imagination runs through that fertile ground previously tilled by artists such as Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson and Poe.” — Mark Hughes Cobb, The Tuscaloosa News

“Duncan’s short stories are marvels of setting and diction.” — Michael Berry, San Francisco Chronicle Book Review

“Virtually unclassifiable . . . as powerful as any from Richard Powers or Rick Moody, T. C. Boyle or Steve Erickson … a bizarre blend of Faulkner and Hemingway with touches of Tennessee Williams and Kurt Vonnegut.” — Gary S. Potter, Charleston Post and Courier

“You’re likely to be laughing one moment, in awe the next and perhaps horrified before the tale is done. Few authors can pull off such delicate tonal balances in a short story, although William Faulkner achieved it more than once … Will satisfy any reader brave enough to handle the strange places Duncan visits, the places between disturbing fantasy and ruthless reality.” — John Mark Eberhart, The Kansas City Star

“Stunningly beautiful.” — Sean Melican, BookPage

“Duncan is often most comfortable when working in the rich tradition of the American folk tale, crafting shrewd and funny stories of the intersection between the modern world and folk traditions and superstitions, particularly those of Appalachia and the American South, but … he also has other strings to his bow, and a surprising depth of range as a stylist. … Whichever critical pigeonhole you try to push Andy Duncan into, he remains one of the best and most original writers in the business.” — Gardner Dozois

“Wonderful.” — Nancy Kress · “Wonderfully demented.” — Michael Swanwick · “Excellent.” — Rich Horton · “Superlative.” — Paula Guran · “Superb.” — Jonathan Strahan · Brilliant.” — Mary Anne Mohanraj · “Genius.” — Nick Gevers · “Irresistible.” — Ernest Hogan · “Knockout.” — Tim Pratt · “Powerful.” — Fiona Kelleghan · “Amazing.” — Patrick O’Leary · “Unique.” — Steven H. Silver

“Duncan has amassed a record of superior work out of all proportion to mere number of pages gathered between boards. He feels like an essential, towering part of the fantastika landscape, his every story eagerly awaited.” — Asimov’s Science Fiction

“Fantasist and folklorist, he takes premises that are not made up, or at least are not made up by Andy Duncan . . . and creates new and strange stories out of them, which nevertheless tell the truth about the way things happened.” — Christopher Cobb, Strange Horizons

“Duncan gives us the oldest form of fantasy, the legend, or folk tale: not just the childish folk legend of fireside entertainment but the one that has taken on enough mythic resonance to seem real.”  — Sherwood Smith, author of King’s Shield

“A new writer who, like Dylan, gathers up traditional materials and twists them into something new.” — Paul McAuley, author of Austral

About the Author

Andy Duncan’s short fiction has been honored with the Nebula, Sturgeon, and multiple World Fantasy awards. A native of Batesburg, SC, Duncan has been a newspaper reporter, a trucking-magazine editor, a bookseller, a student-media adviser, and, since 2008, a member of the writing faculty at Frostburg State University in the mountains of western Maryland, where he lives with his wife, Sydney.