The Adventurists

Richard Butner  - published March 2022

trade paper · 320 pages · $17 · 9781618731944 | ebook · 9781618731951

A collection of stories written over a lifetime of looking forwards and backwards and sometimes even at the now.


. . . Kelly Link interviews Richard Butner for Catapult “about the short story form, running the Sycamore Hill Writer’s Workshop, and the value of writing with other people.”
. . .  an interview by Christopher Rowe in the Subterranean Press newsletter
. . . “Adventure” in The Deadlands


. . . Gil Roth interviews Richard Butner for the Virtual Memories podcast about “his love of the short story as a form . . .writing & performing theater and how he balances that collaborative art with the solo process of writing” and a lot more.

The Adventurists

Remember the girl you once knew, the theater kid? Now she’s become the Queen, and you might need to rescue her. There’s the historic house, where someone once saw a ghost and you almost fell in love. An ornithopter hangs in the lobby of your corporate workplace: your co-worker thinks he might be able to operate it. Once you found a tunnel under your old high school, and couldn’t resist going to see where it led.

Sometimes a door will open into a new world, sometimes into the past. Putting on a costume might be the restart you are half hoping for. There are things buried here. You might want to save them. You might want to get out of the way.

Butner’s allusive and elusive stories reach into the uncanny corners of life—where there are no job losses, just HCAPs (Head Count Allocation Procedures), where a tree might talk to just one person, where Death’s Fool is not to be ignored.


“Richard Butner’s work explores the weird, uncanny corners of everyday life — from a theater kid who becomes the queen, to a tree who talks to just one person, to Death’s Fool, who you really shouldn’t ignore.” — Lyndsie Manusos, Book Riot

“Butner, who lives in North Carolina, livens his writing with wry humor and moments of absurdity and surrealism, but his stories also explore the fraying of friendships and the sense of loss that the passage of time can bring. What also anchors the 16 stories in the collection is Butner’s crisp, understated prose, a style that lets him quickly segue from straightforward descriptions of everyday life to off-kilter narratives. . . . Yet for all his off-hand tone and biting humor, Butner writes feelingly about human connection and loss, and about the challenge of moving forward without losing touch with the past.” — Steve Pfarrar, Daily Hampshire Gazette

“Gorgeously mesmerizing.” — Beatrice Toothman, San Francisco Review

“Butner’s new collection of SF stories is a wonderful look at his long-established but back-burner career as a writer of speculative fiction. Richard is beloved by many in Raleighwood for his quirky and often endearing local theatre roles, his championing of local music and its venues, and (among the cognoscenti) his loyalty to Modernist architecture. This review is overtly from the perspective of a Raleigh native who enjoys the many local references in these stories and the bits and pieces of RB rendered in the protagonists.” — John Dancy-Jones, Raleigh Rambles

“Butner’s stories are wonder­fully insidious in a number of ways. He seldom works beyond traditional short story lengths, and the stories tend to be constructed in ways that first seem conventional, with conventional concerns: trying to recapture the past or reconnect with old friends, visiting sideshows and fairs, surviving in anonymous corporations, exploring a spooky old house. Butner also brings along some famil­iar furniture of fantastika, like magic portals, timeslips, and ghosts. But – more through the accumulation of sinister anomalies than through dramatic plot twists – we watch the world of the tale grow estranged around us. . . . Often haunted by a profound sense of loss. If not quite a new voice, Butner’s is one of the most distinctive and memorable I’ve encountered in quite a while.” — Gary K. Wolfe, Locus

“Landscapes and memories alter, gentrify, and crumble in Butner’s flawless debut collection, which wends ghosts, virtual futures, and the intricacies of friendship into 16 breathtaking, intimate stories. “Holderhaven” slowly unfurls a country house museum’s ghostly mystery into a multifaceted examination of recreation’s limits, who is allowed agency, and the impossible truth behind the legend. “Ash City Stomp,” about an encounter with the devil, and “The Ornithopter,” set in a high-technology future, both imbue their speculative setups with vital humanity. The delicate “Adventure” holds a mirror to the aging process while still honoring a vividly alive present, and in “Sunnyside,” exes attend a successful artist friend’s virtual-reality wake in a breathtaking commentary on the act of remembering. Butner pairs clean, elegant prose with keen and generous human insight, unique imagery, and a broad range of interests, treating Renaissance faires, 1980s counterculture, and rich small-town worlds with the same loving deliberation. Readers of John Crowley, Ray Bradbury, and Sally Rooney alike will find a home in this beautiful, grounded exploration of pasts and futures—and the people suspended between them.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Butner’s short stories are strange little vignettes of people’s lives, tales of the ways time and memory—both what we remember and what we don’t—affect the stories we tell about ourselves and the world around us. The collection opens with ‘Adventure,’ with a long-overdue visit to an old friend and a tale told about a stranger, which may be just fantasy, but, setting the tone for the collection, the reality is not entirely clear-cut. There are tales about history like ‘Holderhaven,’ in which a house-turned-museum has plenty of secrets hidden by both the stories the family who owns it tell and in the architecture of the building itself, and tales in which the past is all too real, like the nostalgia-riddled ‘Delta Function.’ Sometimes Butner ventures into near-future speculation, as he portrays people clinging to corporate life in the decaying office park of ‘The Ornithopter’ and climbing the virtual backyard Everest of ‘Give Up.’ All in all, a worthwhile collection of not entirely comfortable stories exploring the past, the present, and the future.” — Booklist

“Butner has a knack for a quirky, eye-catching premise. . . . The stories’ arch tone, offbeat scenarios, and folkloric elements bear a resemblance to George Saunders’ and Carmen Maria Machado’s work, though Butner has his own thematic obsessions. . . . In his best stories, Butner effectively merges the strange setups with a bracing mix of humor and dread.” — Kirkus Reviews

“Grounded by concrete pop culture details, each strange narrative makes what’s familiar seem eerie.” — Foreword Reviews (starred review)

“I’ve been enjoying this debut collection of short fiction by Richard Butner. It’s New Fabulist fiction in the vein of Amber Sparks, Kelly Link, and Aimee Bender but with a flavor all its own.” — Craig Laurance Gidney

“This astonishing story collection stars protagonists with special gifts such as telepathy, time travel, and traversing parallel worlds. A few other stories employ fantastic futuristic technologies to great effect. Butner stretched my brain this way and that and quite possibly reactivated some long-unused circuits. I see a second reading in my not-too-distant future.” — Kay, Boswell Books

Advance Praise for The Adventurists

“Consistently one of my favorite short story writers.”
— Kelly Link, author of Get in Trouble

“My heart isn’t large enough to contain all these stories at once.”
— Christopher Rowe, author of Telling the Map

“Richard Butner has taught me so much about the art of short fiction, and The Adventurists is an essential travelers’ guide to packing a small space with all the wit, craft, invention and heart needed for the journey. Thank you, Richard Butner — once again!” — Andy Duncan, World Fantasy Award-winning author of An Agent of Utopia

“Richard Butner’s stories are funny, scary, personal, dispassionate, satirical, and heartfelt, if those incompatible adjectives can be assembled to describe the same work. He writes about the subtle losses we suffer (often without noticing) as we get older, about love and loyalty, about how the past is never completely past and can come sweeping back over you at the slightest opportunity like a tidal wave, so you’d better be ready lest you drown.” — John Kessel, author of Pride and Prometheus

“At last, one of the contemporary masters of the uncanny and darkly humorous, Richard Butner, has his stories in one place where we can get at them. With a toe (just a toe) in the literary pool, and the rest of him splashing happily in the spec fic/sci-fi/surreal swimming hole, Butner’s tales deal in the deadly habits of nostalgia, and the surprises waiting for the wistful and the obsessive whose march forward obliges a look backward. Linkean, Barthelmean, Saundersean . . . hm, okay, these guys do NOT lend themselves to sonorous adjectivization but, nonetheless, they’ll have to welcome a new storyteller beside them on the shelf.”
— Wilton Barnhardt, author of Emma Who Saved My Life and Lookaway, Lookaway

“A Richard Butner story is an invitation to discovery alongside his characters. It’s a left turn off of reality’s highway and into its old business district: defiantly shabby, casually weird, and occasionally surreal, perfect in every grounding detail. Every story zigs when you expect it to zag. You only think you know where they are going, but it turns out you are on the same adventure as the protagonist, discovering as you go that the world is stranger than it was the minute before, and the minute before that. Well worth the journey.”
— Sarah Pinsker, author of We Are Satellites

“Richard Butner writes gorgeous, heartfelt stories that are completely his own, each propelled by an inner logic that may or may not match consensus reality, each ringing utterly true. He is unafraid of tough questions and even tougher answers. His characters sweat, grieve, exult, and struggle for understanding, and even when they terrify, they never fail to touch me.”
— Lewis Shiner, author of Outside the Gates of Eden

Table of Contents

Scenes from the Renaissance
Ash City Stomp [listen]
Horses Blow Up Dog City
The Master Key
At the Fair
Pete and Earl
The Ornithopter
Delta Function [Read an excerpt on]
Give Up
Chemistry Set
Under Green

Reviews of Richard Butner’s stories:

“Captivating and gripping.”— Bookotron

“In the face of even the most absurd scenario, Butner’s writing remains cool and understated; he treats the bizarre as if it were commonplace, eventually convincing the reader that nothing is too far from the real. Indeed, many of the stories’ most bizarre moments are simply exaggerations of the inanities of our world, thrust into the forefront of the plot as a sort of social criticism. . . . Butner picks up the absurdities of high-speed America and throws them back in its face, reveling in the wild, wonderful mess he creates.”— New Pages Review

“A powerful story of obsession.” — Lois Tilton, Locus

“The saddest ghost story you’ll read this year.” — Charlie Jane Anders, Gizmodo

“Haunting and heartbreaking.” —

“Wry, caustic, calculated, impulsive…. Gems of gorgeous weirdness.”— Asimovs

“Finely wrought fiction that earns its effects. Evocative and passionate, meaningful and filled with wonders.” — SF Site

“Butner’s meticulous prose lays a cool surface over some twisty terrain. Understated and profound, deft and smooth, these stories sneak up on you and then don’t let go. Boxes within boxes, wheels within wheels.”— Karen Joy Fowler, author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

“If you let Richard Butner’s sideways fiction into your brain it will slice you to ribbons so quietly that you won’t even know why you’re laughing, or crying. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” — John Kessel, author of Pride and Prometheus

“In the work of writers who have truly burrowed in, often I’ve a sense of there being not many stories but one continuous, ongoing story, ever growing, ever increasing, turning this way and that in shifting light — which is how I feel about Richard Butner’s.” — James Sallis, author of Sarah Jane


March 16-20: ICFA, Orlando, FL
April 2, 6 p.m. Richard Butner, John Kessel, & Wilton Barnhardt, So and So Books, Raleigh, NC
May 17, 6 p.m. Richard Butner & Nathan Ballingrud, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, NC
Aug 17, 7 p.m. Richard Butner & Veronica Schanoes, KGB Fantastic Fiction, KGB Bar, NYC
Aug 18, 7 p.m. Little City Books, Hoboken, NJ

Richard Butner‘s short fiction has appeared in Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror, been shortlisted for the Speculative Literature Foundation’s Fountain Award, and nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award. He has written for and performed with the Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern, Aggregate Theatre, Bare Theatre, the Nickel Shakespeare Girls, and Urban Garden Performing Arts. His nonfiction, on topics ranging from computers to cocktails to architecture, has appeared in IBM Think Research, Wired, PC Magazine, The News & Observer, Teacher, The Independent Weekly, The North Carolina Review of Books, Triangle Alternative, and Southern Lifestyle. He lives in North Carolina, where he runs the annual Sycamore Hill Writers’ Conference. He and Harry Houdini have used the same trapdoor.