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Tor’s Finalists for the Compton Crook Award

A Darkling Sea by James CambiasExpiration Day by William Campbell PowellCopper Magic by Julia Mary Gibson

Tor Books has three finalists for the 2015 Compton Crook Award for the best debut science fiction, fantasy or horror novel of the year!

The members of the Baltimore Science Fiction Society, Inc. (BSFS) created the Compton Crook Award in 1982 to honor the best first novel of the year written by an individual author in the Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror genre. Since its inception, the award has been presented at Balticon — the four-day annual Maryland regional science fiction convention produced by BSFS, currently held on Memorial Day weekend in the Baltimore, MD area.

Here are the 2015 Compton Crook Award Finalists:

See more details about the award here. Congratulations to all of the finalists!

Debut Author Collection Sweepstakes

Debut author prize pack

We’re offering a chance to win a prize pack of five books by Tor debut authors, including: Three Princes by Ramona Wheeler, The Ultra Thin Man by Patrick Swenson, A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias, The Waking Engine by David Edison, and Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson!

Comment below to enter for a chance to win.

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 as of the date of entry. To enter, leave a comment here beginning at 10:00 AM Eastern Time (ET) October 13, 2014. Sweepstakes ends at 12:00 PM ET October 17, 2014. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010. Sponsor: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

On the Road: Tor/Forge Author Events in May

Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette KowalThe Kraken Project by Douglas PrestonThe Tropic of Serpents by Marie BrennanMy Real Children by Jo Walton

Tor/Forge authors are on the road in May! Once a month, we’re collecting info about all of our upcoming author events. Check and see who’ll be coming to a city near you:

Thursday, May 1

Renee Graziano, Playing With Fire
Barnes & Noble
Eatontown, NJ
7:00 PM

Marie Brennan, The Tropic of Serpents and Mary Robinette Kowal, Valour and Vanity
DePaul University Bookstore
Chicago, IL
6:00 PM

Friday, May 2

Marie Brennan, The Tropic of Serpents and Mary Robinette Kowal, Valour and Vanity
University Bookstore
Seattle, WA
7:00 PM

Daryl Gregory, Afterparty
Copperfield’s Books
Petaluma, CA
7:00 PM

Saturday, May 3

W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear, People of the Morning Star
Hastings Entertainment
Laramie, WY
1:00 PM

Marie Brennan, The Tropic of Serpents and Mary Robinette Kowal, Valour and Vanity
Powell’s Books
Beaverton, OR
2:00 PM

Daryl Gregory, Afterparty
Borderlands Books
San Francisco, CA
3:00 PM

Sunday, May 4

Daryl Gregory, Afterparty
Mysterious Galaxy
San Diego, CA
2:00 PM

Marie Brennan, The Tropic of Serpents and Mary Robinette Kowal, Valour and Vanity
Book Bin
Salem, OR
3:00 PM

Tuesday, May 6

Marie Brennan, The Tropic of Serpents and Mary Robinette Kowal, Valour and Vanity
Murder by the Book
Houston, TX
6:30 PM

Thursday, May 8

Marie Brennan, The Tropic of Serpents and Mary Robinette Kowal, Valour and Vanity
Weller Book Works
Salt Lake City, UT
6:00 PM

Elizabeth Bear, Steles of the Sky
Pandemonium Books & Games
Cambridge, MA
7:00 PM

Saturday, May 10

Marie Brennan, The Tropic of Serpents and Mary Robinette Kowal, Valour and Vanity
Mysterious Galaxy 21st Birthday Bash
San Diego, CA
10:00 AM

W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear, People of the Morning Star
Hastings Entertainment
Gillette, WY
2:00 PM

Elizabeth Bear, Steles of the Sky
Annie’s Book Shop
Worcester, MA
3:00 PM

Sunday, May 11

Marie Brennan, The Tropic of Serpents and Mary Robinette Kowal, Valour and Vanity
Borderlands Books
San Francisco, CA
3:00 PM

Monday, May 12

Mary Robinette Kowal, Valour and Vanity
Quail Ridge Books
Raleigh, NC
7:30 PM

Tuesday, May 13

James L. Cambias, A Darkling Sea
Powell’s Books
Beaverton, MA
7:00 PM

Wednesday, May 14

Douglas Preston, The Kraken Project
Murder by the Book
Houston, TX
6:30 PM

Thursday, May 15

W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear, People of the Morning Star
Barnes & Noble
Billings, MT
7:00 PM

Hilary Davidson, Blood Always Tells
One More Page Books
Arlington, VA
7:00 PM

Douglas Preston, The Kraken Project
Tattered Cover
Highlands Ranch, CO
7:30 PM

Friday, May 16

Kevin J. Anderson, The Dark Between the Stars
Dallas Comic-con
Dallas, TX
May 16-18

Douglas Preston, The Kraken Project
Arizona Biltmore, books provided by Poisoned Pen
Scottsdale, AZ
7:00 PM

James L. Cambias, A Darkling Sea
University Bookstore
Seattle, WA
7:00 PM

Saturday, May 17

Jon Leiberman and Margaret McLean, Whitey on Trial
Meriden Public Library
Meriden, CT
2:00 PM

W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear, People of the Morning Star
Barnes & Noble
Bozeman, MT
2:00 PM

Hilary Davidson, Blood Always Tells
Mystery One Bookstore
Milwaukee, WI
2:00 PM

Sunday, May 18

Glen Hirshberg, Motherless Child
Mysterious Galaxy
San Diego, CA
2:00 PM

Monday, May 19

Douglas Preston, The Kraken Project
Collected Works
Santa Fe, NM
7:00 PM

Tuesday, May 20

Douglas Preston, The Kraken Project
Bookworks
Albuquerque, NM
7:00 PM

Thursday, May 22

Jo Walton, My Real Children
Towne Book Center
Collegeville, PA
7:00 PM

Friday, May 23

Kevin J. Anderson, The Dark Between the Stars
Comicpalooza
Houston, TX
May 23-26

Saturday, May 24

Glen Hirshberg, Motherless Child
Dark Delicacies
Burbank, CA
2:00 PM

Douglas Preston, The Kraken Project
Book People
Austin, TX
4:00 PM

Sunday, May 25

Gary Kriss, The Zodiac Deception
Booksy Galore
Pound Ridge, NY
2:00 PM

Tuesday, May 27

Jo Walton, My Real Children
Word Bookstores
Brooklyn, NY
7:00 PM

Wednesday, May 28

Jo Walton, My Real Children
Wellesley Books
Wellesley, MA
7:00 PM

Saturday, May 31

Melanie Rawn, Thornlost
Alamosa Books
Albuquerque, NM
4:00 PM

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Starred Interview: A Darkling Sea

A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias“Cambias writes with a light touch and occasional flashes of humor, and the science supporting his novel is sound and unobtrusive. This is an impressive debut by a gifted writer.”

James L. Cambias’s A Darkling Sea got a starred review in Publishers Weekly!

Here’s the full review, from the December 9th issue:

Poster Placeholder of - 10 In Cambias’s vivid hard SF debut, humans land on the oceanic world of Ilmatar to study its indigenous population of intelligent aquatic creatures. The Terran scientists successfully avoid contact until a “shameless media whore” secretly films the Ilmatarans, resulting in disastrous first interactions. The incident leads to the appearance of a second alien race, the hairless, six-limbed Sholen, who arrive on Ilmatar ostensibly to identify the cause of the unfortunate inter-species encounter and prevent further mishaps. Opinion on the Sholen home world regarding “the Terran problem” is divided—some wish to avoid any involvement while others want to ensure that humanity is confined to Earth—and that debate plays out on Ilmatar in a satisfying blend of political intrigue, military posturing, and shifting alliances. Cambias paints imaginative, convincing portraits of the Ilmatarans, who struggle to impose order on their primitive and violent agrarian society, and the Sholen, whose self-identification as “compassionate” and “nurturing” masks a capacity for savagery. Cambias writes with a light touch and occasional flashes of humor, and the science supporting his novel is sound and unobtrusive. This is an impressive debut by a gifted writer.

A Darkling Sea will be published on January 28th.

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Starred Review: A Darkling Sea

A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias“An exceptionally thoughtful, searching and intriguing debut.”

James L. Cambias’s A Darkling Sea got a starred review in Kirkus Reviews!

Here’s the full review, from the December 15th issue:

Image Place holder  of - 94 Like Jupiter’s Europa, Ilmatar is a moon of a giant gas planet. Here, under a roof of ice a kilometer thick and beneath a deep ocean, a team of Earth scientists has established a habitat in order to study the blind, intelligent aliens who resemble giant, lobsterlike, bald otters and whose home is this lightless, frigid, forbidding environment. The explorers have come to an agreement with a six-legged alien race, the Sholen, humanity’s first extraterrestrial contact, not to disturb the Ilmatarans or their habitat. But when media blowhard Henri Kerlerec persuades scientist Rob Freeman to venture out in secret so that Henri can use his new stealth diving suit to film the Ilmatarans up close, the Ilmatarans eventually detect him and, being scientists themselves and not recognizing him as intelligent or alien, dissect him. According to the Sholen, this constitutes interference; having repeatedly ruined their own planet, the Sholen’s misguided and self-appointed mission is to make sure nobody else ruins their planet either, so they order the humans to withdraw. Wary of the older, more advanced Sholen technology, the humans decide on passive resistance. Inevitably, matters slowly escalate into overt violence. More impressive than the worldbuilding, which is based on logical extrapolation, is Cambias’ diligent consideration of the technology required to survive in such an extreme environment. Best of all are the aliens. Ilmataran civilization is based on farming the products of deep-sea hot-water vents, while their perceptions and communications employ sound and pressure waves—although, since oxygen is poisonous to them, it’s difficult to envisage what gives them metabolic power enough to support intelligence. The Sholen behave according to consensus reached through political and sexual bonding.
An exceptionally thoughtful, searching and intriguing debut.

A Darkling Sea will be published on January 28th.

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Starred Review: A Darkling Sea

A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias“Like [Robert] Silverberg, who developed fully realized alien societies in such novels as Downward to the Earth…Cambias makes the Sholen and Ilmataran people and cultures as real as the more familiar human component. Beautifully written, with a story that captures the imagination the way SF should.”

James L. Cambias’s A Darkling Sea got a starred review in Booklist!*

Here’s the full review, from the December 15th issue:

starred-review-gif Strongly reminiscent of Robert Silverberg from the late 1960s and early 1970s, this SF novel is set on a distant world, Ilmatar, whose native species are being studied by human scientists. The Sholen, the dominant alien species in that area of space, have allowed the humans access to Ilmatar, but under strict rules, which include the requirement that they absolutely must not have any contact with its sea-dwelling residents. When a human gets too close to a group of Ilmatarans and is killed by them, the Sholen send a team of investigators to the planet; the incident not only threatens the diplomatic relations between humans and the Sholen but also could lead to all-out war. The author tells the story through the eyes of three characters: Rob, a member of the human exploration team and witness to the incident; Broadtail, an Ilmataran who has been declared an exile from his community after he took the life of another Ilmataran; and Tizhos, an unconventional Sholen who’s concerned the incident will cause her government to shut down all contact with Ilmatar. Like Silverberg, who developed fully realized alien societies in such novels as Downward to the Earth (to which this novel bears some thematic resemblance), Cambias makes the Sholen and Ilmataran people and cultures as real as the more familiar human component. Beautifully written, with a story that captures the imagination the way SF should.

A Darkling Sea will be published on January 28th.

Booklist is a subscription-only publication.

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Building Ilmatar

A Darkling Sea by James Cambias

Written by James Cambias

Settings are one of science fiction’s fundamental strengths. Readers of SF and fantasy love to play tourist in worlds of the author’s imagination, and an intriguing setting is a great way to draw the readers in and keep them reading while you make them care about the characters and get them to worry about what’s going to happen next.

When creating a fantastic setting, there are two approaches: crafting what you need to fit the demands of the story (what we’ll call “top-down”) and extrapolating a setting based on some basic scientific assumptions (what we’ll call “bottom-up”).

Hal Clement was probably the most famous exponent of the pure “bottom-up” method. His landmark 1953 novel Mission of Gravity was inspired by some data about a planet orbiting the star 61 Cygni (in the end the data turned out to be spurious, but that doesn’t matter). Armed only with the mass of the planet and its orbital motion, Clement built his planet Mesklin according to the state of the art of planetary science at the time. Once he had his world, he invented beings to live there, and then crafted a story about them.

In my own novel A Darkling Sea, I took a mixed approach. I was inspired by scientific discoveries about Jupiter’s moon Europa, and speculation about life in its subsurface ocean.

But I didn’t want to write a story which might go obsolete before I could even sell it. Scientists are sneaky bastards like that. Even with no probes bound for Jupiter in the next few years, they could find a way to squeeze more data out of existing observations, and discover things about Europa which would invalidate my story. I hate getting things wrong, so I moved Europa to another star system thirty light-years away and gave it a different name: Ilmatar, a goddess in the Kalevala. I made Ilmatar a little bigger and more massive than Europa, giving it more rock and less ice.

A planet’s not very interesting unless someone lives there. When I created the inhabitants of Ilmatar I used a mix of half top-down demands-of-story design and half Clementian bottom-up extrapolation. I made them blind (a very defensible assumption for creatures living in a lightless ocean) yet intensely curious, because that fit my theme. Beings absolutely incapable of perceiving the outside universe would have interesting reactions to first contact with aliens. I wanted them to be tool-using beings, which dictated bottom-dwelling crustacean-analogues rather than free-swimming fish-analogues.

An underlying theme in A Darkling Sea is how many of our “rational” motivations are no such thing. Both the human characters in the novel and their interstellar rivals the Sholen are motivated by status, sexual desire, and ideology. To throw those things into sharper relief, I made the Ilmatarans effectively sexless (they spawn, an act of about as much emotional significance to them as sharing a taxi), and largely un-social. While both my human and Sholen characters are haunted by history and worried about the future, the Ilmatarans live in an environment nearly devoid of time.

All of this had to come out in the scenes written from the point of view of Broadtail, my main Ilmataran character. Since I hate long passages in italics, I relied instead on language. The Ilmataran scenes are all in the present tense, with no time clues and no visual metaphors. The Ilmatarans can’t say that something happened, but rather that they remember it happening.

I liked Ilmatar and its people, and I liked spending time there writing the book. As I mentioned, settings are one of science fiction’s main strengths, but that’s not why I do it: world-building is fun. Who else but science fiction writers get paid for making up planets? I hope the readers enjoy reading about Ilmatar as much as I enjoyed building it.

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