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Excerpt Reveal: To Challenge Heaven by David Weber & Chris Kennedy

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to challenge heaven by david weber & chris kennedy

In a universe teeming with predators, humanity needs friends. And fast.

We’ve come a long way in the forty years since the Shongairi attacked Earth, killed half its people, and then were driven away by an alliance of humans with the other sentient bipeds who inhabit our planet.

We took the technology they left behind, and rapidly built ourselves into a starfaring civilization. Because we haven’t got a moment to lose. Because it’s clear that there are even more powerful, more hostile aliens out there, and Earth needs allies.

But it also transpires that the Shongairi expedition that nearly destroyed our home planet … wasn’t an official one. That, indeed, its commander may have been acting as an unwitting cats-paw for the Founders, the ancient alliance of very old, very evil aliens who run the Hegemony that dominates our galaxy, and who hold the Shongairi, as they hold most non-Founder species, in not-so-benign contempt.

Indeed, it may turn out to be possible to turn the Shongairi into our allies against the Hegemony. There’s just the small matter of the Shongairi honor code, which makes bushido look like a child’s game. We might be able to make them our friends—if we can crush their planetary defenses in the greatest battle we, or they, have ever seen…

Please enjoy this free excerpt of To Challenge Heaven by David Weber & Chris Kennedy, on sale 1/16/24


PUNS RELENTLESS ,
SHONGSYSTEM ,
241.5LYFROMEARTH ,
APRIL7,YEAR41TE.

I find myself, as I rather suspect you expected, surprised to see you,” Vlad Drakulya said.

“No! Really?” David Dvorak smiled as he extended his hand to the man history knew as “Vlad the Impaler.” Among other things.

“The boat bay gallery in which they stood was somewhat larger than the one Vlad had left behind aboard the dreadnought Târgoviște. Not unreasonably, perhaps. Târgoviște, which Vlad had captured from the Imperial Shongair Navy four decades earlier, was over I’ve kilometers long . . . but that was barely twenty percent of the Planetary Union Navy ship Relentless’s length. What was surprising—aside from the fact that the Planetary Union hadn’t existed when Vlad left the Sol System—was that, despite the absence of any spin section, the boat bay’s up and down were as firmly established as they would have been on the surface of Earth itself.

A half dozen or so men and women—and three other . . . beings—stood behind Dvorak in that obviously artificial gravity. Most of the humans wore military uniforms, although not that of any military which had existed when Vlad left Earth, and all of them smiled in obvious amusement as he and his companion took in their surroundings.

“The nonhumans among them weren’t equipped to smile.

“Whyever should you be surprised?” Dvorak continued. “I mean, be reasonable, Vlad! You did leave a planet full of humans with the entire tech base of the Galactic Hegemony. What did you expect us to do with it?”

“Obviously, very much what you did do,” Vlad replied, shaking the proffered hand, “although you appear to have applied rather more . . . vigor to the process than I had anticipated.”

Dvorak chuckled and extended his hand in turn to the very tall, very black, former-Marine who had followed Vlad from the shuttle into the boat bay.

“It’s good to see you, too, Stephen,” Dvorak said, gripping his hand firmly. “Your dad and mom asked me to tell you they miss you.”

“You told them about me?” Stephen Buchevsky sounded much less amused than Vlad had, and his eyes darkened.

“I did.” Dvorak met those dark eyes levelly, still gripping his hand. “I know you didn’t want them told you were a vampire. “Things changed, though, and you know I never liked lying to your dad, even by omission, about that. And before you get too bent out of shape people’s attitude about the vampires is one of those things that have changed—changed one hell of a lot—since you left.”

Buchevsky looked at him for several more of Dvorak’s breaths—Buchevsky didn’t breathe anymore—and then released his hand.

“All right.” He still wasn’t happy about it, but he nodded. “I wish you hadn’t. But maybe things have changed enough for them to handle it. I hope to hell they have, anyway.”

“Believe me, they have.” Dvorak laid a hand on Buchevsky’s shoulder and squeezed. “That’s why Pieter and Dan both agreed I should tell them. So did Jasmine, for that matter.”

“Even Jasmine?” Buchevsky’s lips quirked. “I’m starting to feel ganged up on!”

“But only in the friendliest way!” Dvorak assured him.

“Yeah. Sure!” Buchevsky drew one of the deep breaths he no longer really needed. “Dad . . . took it okay?”

“He not only ‘took it okay,’ his sermon the next Sunday was about the mysterious and miraculous ways God moves to achieve his purposes, and he used you as an example.” Dvorak smiled as Buchevsky’s eyes widened. “Not much worried about the ‘vampiric taint,’ your dad. And he and your mom also asked me to tell you they look forward to seeing you again a bit sooner than you probably anticipated.”

“I guess ‘a bit sooner’ is probably one way to put it.” Buchevsky shook his head with a smile of his own, obviously grateful for the opportunity to change topics. “Just how much ‘sooner’ did you have in mind, though?”

“Well, when we say ‘a bit,’ we mean ‘quite a lot,’ actually.” Dvorak’s smile segued into what could only be described as a grin. “The monkey boys and girls came up with a new way to break into phase space, and we can go a lot higher than the Hegemony.”

“How much higher?” Buchevsky asked.

“Gamma bands . . . for now,” Dvorak replied, and watched Buchevsky’s eyes widen. “e phase-drive aboard Târgoviște, which represented the Galactic Hegemony’s best hardware—as of eighty years or so ago, which wasn’t even yesterday yet for the Galactics’ glacial approach to technology— could break only into the upper reaches of the alpha bands, which allowed them a maximum apparent velocity of a little more than six times the speed of light, and explained why it had taken forty years for Târgoviște to reach the Shong System from Sol. But if Relentless could go as high as gamma. . . .

“”at means you can pull damned near twenty lights!”

“A tad over twenty-four, actually, because the Gannon Drive doesn’t need particle screening.” Dvorak’s expression would have filled the Cheshire Cat with envy. “We can get all the way up to point-niner-niner cee, nineteen percent better than anything the Puppies or the Hegemony can pull. We dialed that down a bit, though. We didn’t need that much speed to beat you guys here, and it seemed like a good idea not to push things to the max on our very first extended gamma-band voyage. So we held it down to twenty-two cee. Made the trip in just over twelve years. Well, a smidge under six, subjective. If we had pushed it all the way up to point-niner-niner, we could’ve done it in just over ten years and only fifteen months, subjective.”

“Gannon Drive?” Buchevsky repeated in a rather shellshocked voice.

“The actual official name is the Gannon-Jackson-Nesbitt Drive, but shorthand—” Dvorak shrugged. “Chester gets a little pissed with us over that, but Warren Jackson and Trish Nesbitt are fine with it. “They insist he did most of the heavy lifting.”

Buchevsky opened his mouth again, then closed it firmly before he could parrot the names of people he’d never met.

“Look, the Gannon Drive’s only one of the things we need to bring you guys up to speed on. Why don’t we take the two of you to the &ag briefing room where we can talk about that. Among other things.”

“Quite a few other things, I suspect,” Vlad said, glancing at nonhumans in the greeting party.

“Their heads were distinctly saurian looking, with high, pronounced crests covered in a line down, and they were built on a lean, slender model. “They appeared to be toe-walkers, and although those heads were shaped quite differently, they reminded him strongly of the velociraptors from one of his favorite science fiction movies. All of them were at least twenty centimeters shorter than he, which made them over thirty centimeters shorter than Dvorak or Buchevsky, but two of them were noticeably taller than their companion.

“Oh, definitely,” Dvorak told him. “Definitely.”

Copyright © 2024 from David Weber & Chris Kennedy

Pre-order To Challenge Heaven Here

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$3.99 eBook Sale: February 2023

It’s a new month and that means…NEW EBOOK DEALS! Check out the below to find out which books you can snag for only $3.99.


Placeholder of  -13The Magic of Recluce by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

Young Lerris yearns to find a place in the world better suited to his skills and temperament. In Recluce this means taking one of two options: permanent exile from Recluce or the dangergeld, a complex, rule-laden wanderjahr in the lands beyond. Many do not survive. Lerris chooses dangergeld. Lerris will need magic in the lands beyond, where the power of the Chaos Wizards reigns unchecked, and he must learn to use his powers in an orderly way before his wanderjahr, or fall prey to Chaos.

Poster Placeholder of - 2The Stone in the Skull by Elizabeth Bear

The Stone in the Skull, the first volume in her new trilogy, takes readers over the dangerous mountain passes of the Steles of the Sky and south into the Lotus Kingdoms. The Gage is a brass automaton created by a wizard of Messaline around the core of a human being. His wizard is long dead, and he works as a mercenary. He is carrying a message from the most powerful sorcerer of Messaline to the Rajni of the Lotus Kingdom. With him is The Dead Man, a bitter survivor of the body guard of the deposed Uthman Caliphate, protecting the message and the Gage. They are friends, of a peculiar sort. They are walking into a dynastic war between the rulers of the shattered bits of a once great Empire.

Place holder  of - 31The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

Our universe is ruled by physics. Faster than light travel is impossible—until the discovery of The Flow, which can take us to other planets around other stars. Riding The Flow, humanity spreads to innumerable other worlds. Earth is forgotten. A new empire arises, the Interdependency, based on the doctrine that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war—and, for the empire’s rulers, a system of control. The Flow is eternal—but it’s not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well. In rare cases, entire worlds have been cut off from the rest of humanity. When it’s discovered that the entire Flow is moving, possibly separating all human worlds from one another forever, three individuals—a scientist, a starship captain, and the emperox of the Interdependency—must race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.

Image Placeholder of - 78Lock In by John Scalzi

Not too long from today, a new, highly contagious virus makes its way across the globe. Most who get sick experience nothing worse than flu, fever and headaches. But for the unlucky one percent – and nearly five million souls in the United States alone – the disease causes “Lock In”: Victims fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. The disease affects young, old, rich, poor, people of every color and creed. The world changes to meet the challenge. A quarter of a century later, in a world shaped by what’s now known as “Haden’s syndrome,” rookie FBI agent Chris Shane is paired with veteran agent Leslie Vann. The two of them are assigned what appears to be a Haden-related murder at the Watergate Hotel, with a suspect who is an “integrator” – someone who can let the locked in borrow their bodies for a time. If the Integrator was carrying a Haden client, then naming the suspect for the murder becomes that much more complicated.

Image Place holder  of - 68Off Armageddon Reed by David Weber 

Earth and her colonies are smoldering ruins, and the few survivors have fled to distant, Earth-like Safehold to try to rebuild. But the Gbaba can detect the emissions of an industrial civilization, so the human rulers of Safehold have taken extraordinary measures: with mind control and hidden high technology, they’ve built a religion in which every Safeholdian believes, a religion designed to keep Safehold society medieval forever. 800 years pass. In a hidden chamber on Safehold, an android from the far human past awakens. This “rebirth” was set in motion centuries before, by a faction that opposed shackling humanity with a concocted religion. Via automated recordings, “Nimue” – or, rather, the android with the memories of Lieutenant Commander Nimue Alban – is told her fate: she will emerge into Safeholdian society, suitably disguised, and begin the process of provoking the technological progress which the Church of God Awaiting has worked for centuries to prevent.

The Omen Machine by Terry Goodkind 

Hannis Arc, working on the tapestry of lines linking constellations of elements that constituted the language of Creation recorded on the ancient Cerulean scroll spread out among the clutter on his desk, was not surprised to see the seven etherial forms billow into the room like acrid smoke driven on a breath of bitter breeze. Like an otherworldly collection of spectral shapes seemingly carried on random eddies of air, they wandered in a loose clutch among the still and silent mounted bears and beasts rising up on their stands, the small forest of stone pedestals holding massive books of recorded prophecy, and the evenly spaced display cases of oddities, their glass reflecting the firelight from the massive hearth at the side of the room.

Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston

A hundred years before Ender’s Game, humans thought they were alone in the galaxy. Humanity was slowly making their way out from Earth to the planets and asteroids of the Solar System, exploring and mining and founding colonies. The mining ship El Cavador is far out from Earth, in the deeps of the Kuiper Belt, beyond Pluto. Other mining ships, and the families that live on them, are few and far between this far out. So when El Cavador‘s telescopes pick up a fast-moving object coming in-system, it’s hard to know what to make of it. It’s massive and moving at a significant fraction of the speed of light. But the ship has other problems. Their systems are old and failing. The family is getting too big. There are claim-jumping corporates bringing Asteroid Belt tactics to the Kuiper Belt. Worrying about a distant object that might or might not be an alien ship seems…not important. They’re wrong.

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$2.99 Ebook Sale: Off Armageddon Reef by David Weber

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About Off Armageddon Reef:

Humanity pushed its way to the stars – and encountered the Gbaba, a ruthless alien race that nearly wiped us out.

Earth and her colonies are now smoldering ruins, and the few survivors have fled to distant, Earth-like Safehold, to try to rebuild. But the Gbaba can detect the emissions of an industrial civilization, so the human rulers of Safehold have taken extraordinary measures: with mind control and hidden high technology, they’ve built a religion in which every Safeholdian believes, a religion designed to keep Safehold society medieval forever.

800 years pass. In a hidden chamber on Safehold, an android from the far human past awakens. This “rebirth” was set in motion centuries before, by a faction that opposed shackling humanity with a concocted religion. Via automated recordings, “Nimue” – or, rather, the android with the memories of Lieutenant Commander Nimue Alban – is told her fate: she will emerge into Safeholdian society, suitably disguised, and begin the process of provoking the technological progress which the Church of God Awaiting has worked for centuries to prevent.

Nothing about this will be easy. To better deal with a medieval society, “Nimue” takes a new gender and a new name, “Merlin.” His formidable powers and access to caches of hidden high technology will need to be carefully concealed. And he’ll need to find a base of operations, a Safeholdian country that’s just a little more freewheeling, a little less orthodox, a little more open to the new.

And thus Merlin comes to Charis, a mid-sized kingdom with a talent for naval warfare. He plans to make the acquaintance of King Haarahld and Crown Prince Cayleb, and maybe, just maybe, kick off a new era of invention. Which is bound to draw the attention of the Church…and, inevitably, lead to war.

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Excerpt: Through Fiery Trials by David Weber

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Image Place holder  of - 99David Weber’s New York Times bestselling military science fiction series continues with Through Fiery Trials.

Those on the side of progressing humanity through advanced technology have finally triumphed over their oppressors. The unholy war between the small but mighty island realm of Charis and the radical, luddite Church of God’s Awaiting has come to an end.

However, even though a provisional veil of peace has fallen over human colonies, the quiet will not last. For Safefold is a broken world, and as international alliances shift and Charis charges on with its precarious mission of global industrialization, the shifting plates of the new world order are bound to clash.

Yet, an uncertain future isn’t the only danger Safehold faces. Long-thought buried secrets and prophetic promises come to light, proving time is a merciless warden who never forgets.

I: Nimue’s Cave, The Mountain of Light, Episcopate of St. Ehrnesteen, The Temple Lands

“No matter how many times Owl and I look at it, it keeps coming up the same,” Nahrmahn Baytz said. “Something’s obviously gone wrong with Langhorne and Chihiro’s master plan. We just don’t know what, and that’s what may kill us all in the end. Well, kill everyone else, I suppose, given your and my . . . ambiguous status.”

The hologram of the rotund little Emeraldian prince who’d been dead for almost five years sat on the other side of the enormous, round table. Nimue Alban (who’d been dead far longer than he had) had instructed Owl to manufacture that table—and make it round—even before she’d reconfigured her PICA into Merlin Athrawes for the very first time. Now Merlin sat tipped back in one of the reclining chairs with his boot heels parked inelegantly on the polished surface and waved a beer stein at the hologram.

“If it was easy, anyone could play and we wouldn’t need you,” he observed, and Nahrmahn chuckled a bit sourly.

“I don’t think most people would object if it wasn’t easy as long as they knew what the rules were!” he said.

“Nahrmahn, you spent your entire adult life playing the ‘Great Game.’ Now you’re going to complain about not having rules?”

“There’s a difference between creatively breaking the rules and not knowing what the damned things are in the first place!” Nahrmahn shot back. “The former is a case of polished and elegant strategies. The latter is a case of floundering around in the dark.”

“Point,” Merlin conceded.

He sipped from the stein in his right hand (a PICA had no need for alcohol, but he liked the flavor) and checked his internal chronometer. Fourteen minutes yet until the “inner circle” convened by com to discuss his and Nahrmahn’s recommendations. Finding a time when people in every time zone of the planet could coordinate com conversations without anyone noticing they were sitting in a corner talking to themselves was a nontrivial challenge, and usually only a relatively small percentage of the entire—and growing—inner circle could be “present.” More of them than usual would be making it tonight, however, and he wished the two of them had been able to come up with something more . . . proactive to share with them.

“I’m going to call it the ‘Nahrmahn Plan,’ you know,” he said now, smiling crookedly at the electronic ghost of his friend.

“Hey! Why do I get the blame?”

“Because you’re our designated Schemer-in-Chief. If there’s skulduggery afoot, your foot’s usually in it up to the knee, or at least the ankle. And because I believe in giving credit where it’s due.”

“And because you think the uncertainties built into its foundation comport poorly with your status as the all-knowing, ever-prepared Seijin Merlin?”

“Well, of course, if you’re going to be tacky about it.”

Nahrmahn chuckled again, but he also shook his head.

“I just wish there weren’t so many complete unknowns. Especially given what we do know. For example, we know the bombardment system’s still up there, we know its maintenance systems are still operable, we’ve proved there’s a two-way com link between it and something under the Temple, and we know its automated defenses took out the probes Owl sent towards it right after you woke up and started flailing around in your ignorance.”

“Hey!” Merlin protested with a pained expression.

“Well, you did!” Nahrmahn shook his head again. “If whatever’s missing in the command loop hadn’t been missing, how do you think it would’ve responded to the evidence of a competing source of high-tech goodies? You’re just damned lucky the system never even noticed, beyond swatting the pesky flies buzzing around its platforms!”

“All right,” Merlin conceded. “That’s fair.”

“Thank you.” Nahrmahn sniffed. “Now, as I was saying, we know all of that, but why in God’s name did Chihiro leave it set up that way? Operating so . . . half-arsed? Why isn’t it doing anything about all the steam engines and blast furnaces we’ve strewn across the planet? That’s got to be a flare-lit tipoff that technology is reemerging, so why no kinetic bombardments? Why don’t Charis and Emerald look like Armageddon Reef?”

“Because it’s looking for electricity?” Merlin suggested. “I’ve always thought it’s significant that the Book of Jwo-jeng specifically anathematizes electricity whereas the Proscriptions are defined in terms of what’s allowable. They don’t say ‘You can’t do A, B, or C;’ they say ‘You can’t do anything besides A or B.’ But not about electricity. And in addition to what she had to say about it, Chihiro says ‘You shall not profane nor lay impious hands upon the power the Lord your God bestowed upon his servant Langhorne.’” His lips curled in distaste as he quoted from the Book of Chihiro. “That’s why I’ve always assumed electricity would almost have to be a red line as far as any automated system under the Temple was concerned.”

“And I tend to agree with you. But don’t forget your own point—Chihiro anathematized it in terms of the ‘Rakurai’ Langhorne used to punish Shan-wei for her defiance of God’s law. Lightning’s sacred, unlike wind, water, or muscle power, so its use in any way is expressly forbidden.”

“But Chihiro goes on to specifically describe electricity, not just lightning,” Merlin pointed out. “People may call the damned things rakurai fish, but they don’t flash like rakurai bugs. They just shock the hell out of anything that threatens them! But Chihiro uses them as a ‘mortal avatar’ of Langhorne’s ‘Holy Rakurai’ placed on earth to remind humans of the awesome power entrusted to him by God. That’s why the Writ says rakurai fish are sacred in the eyes of God, but where’s the ‘lightning bolt’ in their case? He flat out tells people they have the same power as the Rakurai, and he didn’t have to. For that matter, the Writ even talks about static electricity and links that to Langhorne’s Rakurai, too.” It was his turn to shake his head. “There’s got to be a reason that Chihiro gassed on about it that long and that thoroughly, and the most likely one was to make damned sure no one even thought about fooling around with it.”

“I said I agree with you, and there’s no way in hell I want us playing around with electricity, because you may well be right. That could be the one-step-too-far that triggers some sort of auto response. I’m just saying any sort of threat analysis looking for the emergence of ‘dangerous’ technology should already have been triggered even withoutelectricity. And that I don’t understand why someone as paranoid as Langhorne—or, especially, Chihiro—didn’t set up that threat analysis.”

“Unless he did and the system’s just broken,” Merlin suggested.

“Which certainly seems to be what’s happening, yes.” Nahrmahn’s avatar stood and began pacing around the conference room, apparently oblivious to the fact that its feet were at least an inch above the floor. “The problem is that it seems to be the only part of the system that’s broken. I wish we could get a sensor array inside the Temple, but everything we can see from the outside—and all of the stories about the routine ‘miracles’ that go on inside it—seem to confirm that everything else is working just fine, even if no one has a clue how. So is the system really broken? And if it is, is there something we might do that could reset it? The last thing we want to do is turn it back on if it’s gotten itself switched off somehow!”

“Nahrmahn, we’ve been over this—what, a dozen times? Two dozen?” Merlin said patiently. “Of course there may be an ‘on button’ we don’t know a thing about. But whatever it might be, we obviously haven’t hit it yet. And you’re right, we’ve been scattering stuff all over Safehold for nine or ten years now. So it doesn’t look like sheer scale’s the critical factor. The threshold has to be something qualitative, not quantitative. Assuming there is a threshold, of course.”

“Oh?” Nahrmahn paused in his pacing, hands folded behind him, and raised an eyebrow at the far taller seijin. “Are you suggesting we might assume there isn’t one?”

“Of course not!” Merlin rolled his eyes. “I’m just saying it would appear we can go on doing what we’re currently doing without getting blown up for our pains. And there are a lot more innovations we can introduce without going beyond water, steam, hydraulics, and pneumatics.”

“I’ll agree that that’s most probably true,” Nahrmahn said after a moment. “Whether it is or not, we have to assume it is or sit around with our thumbs up our arses without getting a damned thing done, anyway, and the clock’s ticking.”

“Damn, I wish we could get into the Key,” Merlin sighed, and Nahrmahn snorted harshly in agreement.

The Key of Schueler was the most maddening clue they had—or didn’t have, actually—about Safehold’s future. According to the Wylsynn family tradition, the Key had been left by the Archangel Schueler as both the repository of his inspirational message to the family he’d established as the special guardians of Mother Church and as a weapon to be used by the Church in its time of greatest need. What it actually was was a memory module: a two-inch-diameter sphere of solid molecular circuitry which could have contained the contents of every book ever written on Safehold. What it actually did contain, aside from the recorded hologram of Androcles Schueler delivering his exhortation to the Church’s guardians, remained a mystery. Owl, the artificial intelligence who resided in the computers in Nimue’s Cave along with Nahrmahn’s electronic personality, had determined that at least one of the files tucked away inside it contained over twelve petabytes of data, but no one had a clue what was in it and the Key’s security protocols precluded accessing it without the password no one possessed.

It was entirely possible that the answer to every question facing them was contained inside the Key.

And they couldn’t get at it.

“That would be nice, for a lot of reasons,” Nahrmahn agreed. “Especially if the damned thing would tell us exactly what the hell Schueler meant by ‘a thousand years’!”

Merlin grunted, because Androcles Schueler’s promise to the Wylsynns that the “Archangels” would return “in a thousand years” was the true crux of their problem. If they weren’t coming back, the time pressure came off and the inner circle could take however long it needed to find the right solution. But if someone—or something—actually was coming back to check on the progress of Eric Langhorne’s grand scheme, whatever they or it might be would undoubtedly command the kinetic bombardment system, at a minimum.

That could be . . . bad.

Of course, there was no way of knowing if the Wylsynn family tradition that he’d promised anything of the sort was accurate. No one had been going to write something like that down, so it had been passed purely orally for almost nine centuries, and a few little details—like the password for the Key, for example, assuming the Wylsynns had ever known it—had gotten lost along the way. No one was certain if Schueler had meant that he and the other “archangels,” themselves would return—although that seemed unlikely, since most of them had been dead even before he recorded his message—or if something else would return. Or where whatever it was would return from, for that matter, although given all of those active power sources in the Temple, Merlin knew where he expected it to come from.

And had he meant the return of whoever or whatever was coming back would occur a thousand years after the Day of Creation when the first Adams and Eves had awakened here on Safehold? Or had he meant from the time he left the Key, at the end of the War Against the Fallen? Mother Church had begun counting years from her victory against the Fallen, but the war hadn’t ended until seventy-plus Safeholdian years after the Day of Creation. So, if Schueler had meant a thousand years after Creation, he’d been talking about sometime around the middle of July of 915. If he’d meant a thousand years from the time he left the Key with the Wylsynns’ distant ancestor, he’d been talking about the year 996 or so. Or he could simply have been talking about the year 1000, a thousand years after the start of the Church’s post-Jihad calendar.

So we have fifteen years . . . or ninety-six . . . or a hundred and ten, Merlin thought now. Nothing like a little ambiguity to liven up the day.

“You know Domynyk’s going to argue in favor of a fullbore onslaught on Church doctrine because we only have fifteen years,” he said out loud.

“And I imagine Ahlfryd will support him,” Nahrmahn agreed.

“And not just because he wants the Church kicked out on its ass.” Merlin chuckled. It was not a sound of unalloyed mirth. “Braiahn was right about Ahlfryd’s . . . impatience. Mind you, I still think Sharley was right and we needed to tell him, but he wants to tear down the Temple yesterday, if only so he can start playing openly with Federation tech!”

“I’m sure, but Maikel and Nynian—and, to be fair, you—are right. We can’t go straight for an attack on the Church this soon after the Jihad.” Nahrmahn’s expression darkened. “Too many millions are dead already, and what looks like starting up in North Harchong’s likely to be bad enough without cranking an overt religious war back into it. God knows, nobody in the North’s going to be a candidate for industrialization, so it’s not going to affect that side of things much, but the violence is going to be ugly as hell, and I’m pretty sure the divide between Zion and Shang-mi will already put religion front and center in it for a lot of those people. The Spears may be keeping the lid more or less screwed down so far, but when Waisu—or his ministers, anyway—decided the Mighty Host could never come home, they lit a fuse nobody’s going to be able to put out. Sooner or later, the spark’s reaching the Lywysite, and an awful lot of people will get killed when it does, if Owl and Nynian and Kynt and I are reading the tea leaves accurately.”

The hologram gazed broodingly at something only Nahrmahn could see. Then he shook himself.

“It’s going to be bad enough without our injecting religion back into the mess by attacking Church doctrine in the middle of it,” he repeated, and chuckled mirthlessly. “Besides, the one thing we absolutely can’t afford is to reopen that whole can of worms about demonic influence on Charisian innovation.”

“Which only leaves the nefarious, unscrupulous, underhanded ‘Nahrmahn Plan.’”

Merlin smiled as Nahrmahn perked back up visibly at his choice of adjectives, but then the little Emeraldian shook his head with a chiding expression.

“That’s really not fair,” he replied. “Especially since the original idea came from you.”

“I think it occurred pretty much simultaneously to several of us,” Merlin countered, “but I do like some of the . . . refinements you’ve incorporated. It’s nice to see a little thing like dying hasn’t diminished your devious quotient.”

“To quote Seijin Merlin, ‘One tries,’” Nahrmahn said, and bowed in gracious acknowledgment of the compliment.

Merlin chuckled again. Not that there was anything all that humorous about their options. Given ten years or so to openly deploy the capabilities of Owl’s manufacturing capacity here in Nimue’s Cave—and for it to clone itself and begin producing Federation-level technology outside the Cave—any belligerent “Archangels” who returned would find themselves promptly transformed into glowing clouds of gas, and their most pessimistic estimate gave them at least fifteen years before the return. The existence of the bombardment system, however, meant they couldn’t deploy their own industry without almost certainly triggering that “reset” Nahrmahn feared. So, since they couldn’t defeat any return by the archangels, the best they could hope for was to create a situation in which those archangels recognized the technology genie was irretrievably out of the bottle. If a native Safeholdian tech base could be spread broadly enough across the planet to make its eradication by bombardment impossible without killing enormous numbers of Safeholdians, any semi-sane “archangel” would settle for a soft landing that accepted the inevitable. If the returnees weren’t at least semi-sane, they might well opt to repeat the Armageddon Reef bombardment on a planetwide basis and damn the casualties, of course, but as Cayleb had put it with typical pithiness “If they’re that far gone, we’re screwed whatever we do. All we can do is hope they aren’t and plan accordingly.”

So, assuming the earlier return date, the inner circle had fifteen years to spread Charis-style industrialization as broadly as possible around the planet. From the purely selfish viewpoint of the Charisian Empire’s economic power, “giving away” its technological innovations would be a very poor business model. From the viewpoint of trying to keep everyone on the planet alive, however, it would make perfect sense, although that wasn’t something they’d be explaining to anyone.

Nothing could be allowed to interfere with that process, and that was the reason, more even than the staggering potential casualties of a renewed Jihad, why any headlong assault on the Church of God Awaiting’s fundamental doctrine had to be avoided . . . or at least postponed. Nahrmahn was right about what looked like firing up in Harchong, no matter what else happened, but he was also right about the need to keep any doctrinal conflict out of the equation. They couldn’t afford to reawaken the charge that all of these innovations were the handiwork of Shan-wei, spreading her evil among humankind. If 915 came and went without any angelic reappearance, they’d have another eighty-five years to work on doctrinal revolutions.

And in the long run, that’s as important as any piece of hardware, Merlin reflected. “Archangels” who turn up and discover that everyone’s laughing at them or giving them the finger instead of bowing down to worship them are a lot less likely to think they can cram the genie back into the bottle, and that has to be a good thing from our perspective. And I do like Nahrmahn’s notion about the opening round if we decide a time’s come when we can go after the inerrancy of the Writ.

“It’s going to dump a lot of responsibility on Ehdwyrd’s shoulders,” he said out loud, “and he’s going to have to come up with some fancy footwork to convince his board and his fellow investors to let him more or less give away their technology.”

“I’m sure he’ll be up to the task,” Nahrmahn said dryly. “And if he isn’t, there’s always Cayleb and Sharleyan. Or you could go stand behind him at the next board meeting and loom menacingly.”

“I do do a nice ‘ominous,’ if I say so myself,” Merlin conceded. “And Nynian’s been helping me work on a proper curled lip.”

“Has she really?” Nahrmahn looked the far taller seijin up and down. “I admire her willingness to tackle challenges. Especially when she’s working with such . . . unprepossessing material.”

Copyright © 2019

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Our Favorite Female Captains in Sci-fi and Fantasy

Being the boss of a ship, whether on the high seas or in space, is a challenging job. You have to balance the personalities of your crew, your goals (be they military, trade, etc.), and the inherent dangers of the environment. Oftentimes, being a woman and the one in charge can add yet another difficulty to the job. But the #FearlessWomen in these books can handle it, because they’re serious badasses. Here are some of our favorite female captains in science fiction and fantasy. Who’s on your list?

Captain Josette Dupre from By Fire Above by Robyn Bennis

Image Place holder  of - 80 When you’re an airship captain, you can’t be afraid of heights. Captain Josette Dupre, the first female airship captain in the Corps, isn’t worried about falling. She’s more worried about a bullet in the back. And while she proved herself to the world in Robyn Bennis’s debut The Guns Above, that doesn’t mean the prejudice against her is going to instantly disappear. To constantly combat it, Captain Dupre must always be the best of the best. But when her hometown of Durum is occupied by the enemy, and her mother taken as a prisoner of war, all bets are off.

Captain Leela from The Ballad of Beta-2 by Samuel R. Delaney

Placeholder of  -72 First published in 1965, Delaney’s short novel is framed by a graduate student’s search for the anthropological and historical meaning behind a short poem left by the Star Folk, who had left Earth in generation ships to colonize the stars. But it’s the story in between the frame that really caught our imagination–the story of Captain Leela, the alien she meets in deep space who gets her pregnant, and the Judges who declared her a “Misfit” and condemned her to death. And, of course, the Wonder Child that resulted from Leela’s pregnancy. We can only go along for the ride with Joneny, the student, as he discovers a story packed with wonder and horror.

Anne Bonney from The Queen of Swords by R. S. Belcher

Image Placeholder of - 90 The third book in Belcher’s Golgotha series, The Queen of Swords is the first to take place in the wider world, rather than in the confines of the small mining town Golgotha. In it, we follow the twinned narratives of the world class assassin Maude Stapleton and her several times great grandmother, the pirate queen Anne Bonney. Bonney’s journey serves as a guide for her descendant, but more importantly for readers, she’s a badass pirate queen who breaks out of prison and treks across Africa in search of treasure. Anne Bonney is the pirate and adventurer we wish we could be some day.

Captain General Zezili Hasario from The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

Place holder  of - 59 If you love grimdark fantasy, but hate that it’s so often dominated by male characters, then Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire is for you. The women in Hurley’s world are the soldiers and rulers, taking charge even as they work to slaughter each other. One of our favorite characters is Zezili Hasario, the Captain General of the Empress of Dorinah. Zezili is definitely a complex woman: she’s abusive to her husband (as is the custom for many Dorinah), and often uses her mixed heritage to unnerve others. Her world, already complicated, becomes even more so when she must choose between the eradication of her father’s people or loyalty to her alien Empress.

Honor Harrington from On Basilisk Station by David Weber

Poster Placeholder of - 68 When one thinks of female captains in science fiction, Honor Harrington is often the first name on the list. Debuting in David Weber’s 1993 novel On Basilisk Station, the newly graduated Honor takes command of her first ship, only to fail in her first outing. That failure leads to punishment duty: picket duty at the remote Basilisk Station. There, with hard work and a clever use of resources, Honor and her crew not only succeed in defending the station, but uncover and defuse a massive plot to invade the Star Kingdom of Manticore. From her very first posting and through the subsequent 13 novels (with a 14th coming this year), Honor Harrington embodies everything we want in our female captains: she’s resourceful, resilient, intelligent, and overall, a badass.

Zamira Drakasha from Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

While the focus of the second book in Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards series is, of course, on our heroes Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen, our favorite character was without a doubt Zamira Drakasha, the middle-aged, black mother of two who ran her murderous pirate crew with an iron fist. She could leap between ships, wield her sabers with deadly accuracy, and cuddle her kids at the end of a hard day of looting. We would absolutely join the scrub watch and do whatever labor was demanded of us if only we got to join the crew of the Poison Orchid!

Lila Bard from the Shades of Magic Series by V. E. Schwab

Lila Bard was born to be a pirate. She knows it, deep down in her bones. Even after she starts going on magical adventures with Kell, she never sets aside this dream. Her first thought after meeting privateer Alucard Emery is, naturally, to steal his ship. Instead, she chooses to join his crew by becoming their thief—after killing the original crew thief, of course—and Alucard teaches her about the world of Red London. No matter how difficult the path, or how many obstacles kept getting in her way, Lila Bard knew she was meant to be a pirate. And she won’t let anything stand in the way of fulfilling her dreams.

Bonus Novella:

Captain Ann-Marie from The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark

This one’s a bonus title because it doesn’t come out until August, but we think you’ll love it. In an alternate America caught up in a Civil War that ended with a divided country, an independent New Orleans sits uneasily between North and South. Haitian airship Captain Ann-Marie and orphaned street urchin Creeper must work together to save the world from a mysterious weapon called The Black God’s Drums. Between sky pirates, powerful and cagey African Gods, and a pair of very interesting nuns, Clark’s debut novella will draw you in, and you won’t want to come back to the real world.


Feature image © Greg Manchess

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Today Only: Sci-Fi Classics eBook Sale

May the 4th be with you! It’s Star Wars day, and we’re celebrating with some of our favorite science fiction titles. Check out tales of empires in the stars, alien conflict, and more with this ebook sale—available today only for just $2.99 each.

The Collapsing Empire  by John Sclazi

Placeholder of  -20Our universe is ruled by physics. Faster than light travel is impossible—until the discovery of The Flow, an extradimensional field available at certain points in space-time, which can take us to other planets around other stars.

Riding The Flow, humanity spreads to innumerable other worlds. Earth is forgotten. A new empire arises, the Interdependency, based on the doctrine that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war—and, for the empire’s rulers, a system of control.

Buy The Collapsing Empire: B&N Nook | eBooks.com | Google Play | iBooks | Kindle | Kobo

The Dark Between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson

Poster Placeholder of - 11Twenty years after the elemental conflict that nearly tore apart the cosmos in The Saga of Seven Suns, a new threat emerges from the darkness. The human race must set aside its own inner conflicts to rebuild their alliance with the Ildiran Empire for the survival of the galaxy.

In Kevin J. Anderson’s The Dark Between the Stars, galactic empires clash, elemental beings devastate whole planetary systems, and factions of humanity are pitted against each other. Heroes rise and enemies make their last stands in the climax of an epic tale seven years in the making.

Buy The Dark Between the Stars: B&N Nook | eBooks.com | Google Play | iBooks | Kindle | Kobo

Dune: The Butlerian Jihad by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

Place holder  of - 77Throughout the Dune novels, Frank Herbert frequently referred to the long-ago war in which humans wrested their freedom from “thinking machines.” In Dune: The Butlerian Jihad, Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson bring to life the story of that war, a tale previously seen only in tantalizing hints and clues. Finally, we see how Serena Butler’s passionate grief ignites the war that will liberate humans from their machine masters. We learn the circumstances of the betrayal that made mortal enemies of House Atreides and House Harkonnen; and we experience the Battle of Corrin that created a galactic empire that lasted until the reign of Emperor Shaddam IV.

Buy Dune: The Butlerian Jihad: B&N Nook | eBooks.com | Google Play | iBooks | Kindle | Kobo

Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston

Image Placeholder of - 77A hundred years before Ender’s Game, humans thought they were alone in the galaxy. Humanity was slowly making their way out from Earth to the planets and asteroids of the Solar System, exploring and mining and founding colonies.

The mining ship El Cavador is far out from Earth, in the deeps of the Kuiper Belt, beyond Pluto. Other mining ships, and the families that live on them, are few and far between this far out. So when El Cavador‘s telescopes pick up a fast-moving object coming in-system, it’s hard to know what to make of it. It’s massive and moving at a significant fraction of the speed of light.

Buy Earth Unaware: B&N Nook | eBooks.com | Google Play | iBooks | Kindle | Kobo

A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge

Image Place holder  of - 27Thousands of years in the future, humanity is no longer alone in a universe where a mind’s potential is determined by its location in space, from superintelligent entities in the Transcend, to the limited minds of the Unthinking Depths, where only simple creatures, and technology, can function. Nobody knows what strange force partitioned space into these “regions of thought,” but when the warring Straumli realm use an ancient Transcendent artifact as a weapon, they unwittingly unleash an awesome power that destroys thousands of worlds and enslaves all natural and artificial intelligence.

Buy A Fire Upon the Deep: B&N Nook | eBooks.com | Google Play | iBooks | Kindle | Kobo

Haze by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

What lies beneath the millions of orbiting nanotech satellites that shroud the world called Haze? Major Keir Roget’s mission is to make planetfall in secret, find out, and report back to his superiors in the Federation, the Chinese-dominated government that rules Earth and the colonized planets.

For all his effectiveness as a security agent, Roget is troubled by memories of an earlier mission. When he was assigned to covert duty in the Noram backcountry town of St. George, he not only discovered that the long-standing Saint culture was neither as backward nor as harmless as his superiors believed, but he barely emerged with his life and sanity whole.

Buy Haze: B&N Nook | eBooks.com | Google Play | iBooks | Kindle | Kobo

Hellhole by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

Only the most desperate colonists dare to make a new home on Hellhole. Reeling from a recent asteroid impact, tortured with horrific storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, and churning volcanic eruptions, the planet is a dumping ground for undesirables, misfits, and charlatans…but also a haven for dreamers and independent pioneers.

What no one knows is this: the planet Hellhole, though damaged and volatile, hides an amazing secret. Deep beneath its surface lies the remnants of an obliterated alien civilization and the buried memories of its unrecorded past that, when unearthed, could tear the galaxy apart.

Buy Hellhole: B&N Nook | eBooks.com | Google Play | iBooks | Kindle | Kobo

Jupiter by Ben Bova

Grant Archer only wanted to study astrophysics. But the forces of the “New Morality,” the coalition of censorious do-gooders who run 21st-century America, have other plans for him.

To his distress, Grant is torn from his young bride and sent to a research station in orbit around Jupiter, to spy on the scientists who work there. Their work may lead to the discovery of higher life forms in the Jovian system-with implications the New Morality doesn’t like at all.

Buy Jupiter: B&N Nook | eBooks.com | Google Play | iBooks | Kindle | Kobo

Off Armageddon Reef by David Weber

Humanity pushed its way to the stars – and encountered the Gbaba, a ruthless alien race that nearly wiped us out.

Earth and her colonies are now smoldering ruins, and the few survivors have fled to distant, Earth-like Safehold, to try to rebuild. But the Gbaba can detect the emissions of an industrial civilization, so the human rulers of Safehold have taken extraordinary measures: with mind control and hidden high technology, they’ve built a religion in which every Safeholdian believes, a religion designed to keep Safehold society medieval forever.

Buy Off Armageddon Reef: B&N Nook | eBooks.com | Google Play | iBooks | Kindle | Kobo

*This offer ends May 4th.

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New Releases: 10/31/17

Happy New Release Day! Here’s what went on sale today.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Image Placeholder of - 98 A Darker Shade of Magic, the first book in V.E. Schwab’s New York Times bestselling Shades of Magic trilogy, is now available in a special collector’s edition.

Kell is one of the last Antarimagicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.

The Dark Intercept by Julia Keller

Place holder  of - 63 When the state controls your emotions, how hard will you fight to feel free?

In a radiant world of endless summer, the Intercept keeps the peace. Violet Crowley, the sixteen-year-old daughter of New Earth’s Founding Father, has spent her life in comfort and safety. Her days are easy thanks to the Intercept, a crime-prevention device that monitors emotion. But when her long-time crush, Danny Mayhew, gets into a dangerous altercation on Old Earth, Violet launches a secret investigation to find out what he’s hiding. An investigation that will lead her to question everything she’s ever known about Danny, her father, and the power of the Intercept.

Last Year by Robert Charles Wilson

Placeholder of  -87 Two events made September 1st a memorable day for Jesse Cullum. First, he lost a pair of Oakley sunglasses. Second, he saved the life of President Ulysses S. Grant.

In the near future of Robert Charles Wilson’s Last Year, the technology exists to open doorways into the past–but not our past, not exactly. Each “past” is effectively an alternate world, identical to ours but only up to the date on which we access it. And a given “past” can only be reached once. After a passageway is open, it’s the only road to that particular past; once closed, it can’t be reopened.

The Mongrel Mage by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

Poster Placeholder of - 82 In the world of Recluce, powerful mages can wield two kinds of magic—the white of Chaos or the black of Order. Beltur, however, has talents no one dreamed of, talents not seen in hundreds of years that blend both magics. On the run from a power hungry white mage, Beltur is taken in by Order mages who set him on the path to discover and hone his own unique gifts and in the process find a home.

However, when the white mage he fled attempts to invade his new home, Beltur must hope his new found power will be enough to save them all.

NEW IN PAPERBACK:

The Wishing World by Todd Fahnestock

At the Sign of Triumph by David Weber

The Final Day by William R. Forstchen

Pacific Destiny and Bear Flag Rising by Dale L. Walker

Time After Time by Karl Alexander

NEW IN MANGA:

Freezing Vol. 17-18 Story by Dall-Young Lim; Art by Kwang-Hyun Kim

The Girl From The Other Side: Siúil A Rún Vol. 3 Story and art by Nagabe

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8 Military Sci-Fi Must-Reads

Ready, set, action! We’re obsessed with military sci-fi. If you’re ready to go on an adventure filled with aliens, terrifying technology, dangerous weapons, and even pirates, these books are for you. Here are some of our favorites, ranging from classic military sci-fi everyone should read to new and upcoming novels destined to become classics in their own right one day.

Off Armageddon Reef by David Weber

Placeholder of  -5 The Gbaba aliens destroyed nearly all of humanity. The few survivors have fled to Earth-like planet Safehold. However, because the Gbaba can detect any industrial emissions, the people on Safehold must regress to an earlier medieval time. Using mind control technology, the government on Safehold imposes a religion that every citizen believes in — a religion that keeps them safe. 800 years pass, and an android awakens to spur a technological revolution… and likely war. Off Armageddon Reef is just one of David Weber’s many impressive science fiction works.

Valiant Dust by Richard Baker

Poster Placeholder of - 62 When David Weber praises a sci-fi novel, it moves to the top of our reading list, and he calls Valiant Dust “new and extraordinary.” Baker drew on his background as a U.S. Navy officer to create an exciting tale of war and action set in space. The novel takes place aboard a starship led by gunnery officer Sikander Singh North, who, when faced with a planetary uprising, must prove to himself and his crewmates that he is the right man for the job.

Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein

Place holder  of - 81 In this adventure-packed military sci-fi classic, lead character Juan “Johnnie” Rico leaves his privileged life to join the military in its fight against an alien species known as the “Bugs.” As philosophical as it is fantasy, Starship Troopers was written in response to the politics of the Cold War and 1950s America. If you’re looking for a novel that strongly has plenty of action but also deals in real-world moral issues, then this book is a great option.

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

Image Placeholder of - 30 In The Old Man’s War series, interstellar space travel has led to territory wars with alien species. These wars are fought by elderly volunteers of retirement age, whose consciousness, along with their knowledge and skills, are transferred to younger bodies.. John Perry, the protagonist, has chosen to enlist on his 75th birthday, in the hopes that he will receive a homestead stake in one of the colony planets if he survives his two-year tour. This Hugo-award nominee is an enjoyable and thought-provoking series that provides a fresh interpretation of humanity’s future.

Unbreakable by W. C. Bauers

Image Place holder  of - 57 Promise Paen reluctantly returns to her birth planet of Montana to lead the Republic of Aligned Worlds’ Marines infantry, sent to Montana to stabilize the region from pirate raids. Haunted by her past and none too pleased to be back on her home planet, Promise has her work cut out for her. When the marines appear depleted, RAW’s rival, the Lusitanian Empire, is all too eager to take advantage. This suspense-filled, action-packed novel is W. C. Bauers’ wonderful debut.

Dauntless by Jack Campbell

Captain John “Black Jack” Geary has been in survival hibernation in enemy territory for over a century. While in hibernation, the captain is heroized in the Alliance for facing the Syndics in his “last stand.” Now, Geary wakes up to end the war once and for all. He aids a depleted Alliance fleet that is stranded on the Syndics’ territory, and sets forth on a mission to bring back the stolen hypernet key: the Alliance’s last chance at winning the war. If you enjoy Dauntless, check out the rest of the Lost Fleet series, which are equally as exciting.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

The award winning Ender’s Game series is one of the most well-known science fiction novels for a reason — Orson Scott Card creates a military sci-fi masterpiece using beautifully simple prose. Set in a time when Earth is at war with an alien species, Ender’s Game is about a young genius, nicknamed Ender, who is grouped with other skilled children to go through rigorous military training to prepare for a third alien invasion. Ender and his friends think they are playing video game simulations… but these “games” have much more dire consequences.

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

A science fiction classic and winner of the Nebula, Hugo, and Locus awards, The Forever War is about physics student William Mandella who is drafted into the army to fight in a thousand-year war on a faraway planet. When Mandella finally returns home, he finds that what felt like two years in space was nearly 30 years on Earth — and nothing seems to be the same. The Forever War is a captivating story about war, time dilation, death, and survival.

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New Releases: 11/8/16

Here’s what went on sale today!

At the Sign of Triumph by David Weber

At the Sign of Triumph by David WeberThe Church of God Awaiting’s triumph over Charis was inevitable. Despite its prosperity, the Charis was a single, small island realm. It boasted less than two percent of the total population of Safehold. How could it possibly resist total destruction? The Church had every reason to be confident of a swift, crushing victory, an object lesson to other rebels. But Charis had something far more powerful than simple numbers.

Alien Morning by Rick Wilber

Alien Morning by Rick WilberPeter Holman is a freelance sweeper. The year 2030 sees a new era in social media with sweepcasting, a multisensory interface that can convey every thought, touch, smell, sight, and sound, immersing the audience in another person’s experience. The fate of two civilizations depends on one troubled family in Rick Wilber’s science-fiction adventure Alien Morning.

Belle Chasse by Suzanne Johnson

Belle Chasse by Suzanne JohnsonSuzanne Johnson’s “strong and intriguing” (Publishers Weekly) urban fantasy series continues with Belle Chasse. With the wizard-elven treaty on the verge of collapse, the preternatural world stands on the brink of war. Unless former wizard sentinel DJ Jaco manages to keep the elven leader, Quince Randolph, focused on peace and not personal matters.

Dark Shadows: Heiress of Collinwood by Lara Parker

Dark Shadows: Heiress of CollinwoodDark Shadows: Heiress of Collinwood is the continuing story of the classic TV show, Dark Shadows by series star, Lara Parker. An orphan with no knowledge of her origins, Victoria Winters first came to the great house of Collinwood as a Governess. It didn’t take long for the Collins family’s many buried secrets, haunted history, and rivalries with evil forces to catch up to Victoria and cast the newcomer adrift in time, trapped between life and death.

NEW FROM TOR.COM:

The Iron Beast by Andy Remic

The Iron Beast by Andy RemicA war is being waged in an impossible world. The Skogsgra and the Naravelle have launched their final offensive, and Private Jones and his companions are caught in the melee. Tens of thousands will die before the battle is over. They travel deep underground, to find and release the Iron Beast… the one creature that can end not one world war, but two.

NOW IN PAPERBACK:

The Collected Stories of Frank Herbert by Frank Herbert

The Collected Stories of Frank Herbert by Frank HerbertFrank Herbert, the New York Times bestselling author of Dune, is one of the most celebrated and commercially successful science fiction writers of all time. But while best known for originating the character of Paul Atreides and the desert world of Arrakis, Herbert was also a prolific writer of short fiction. His stories were published individually in numerous pulps and anthologies spanning decades, but never collected. Until now.

Last Song Before Night by Ilana C. Myer

Last Song Before Night by Ilana C. MyerA high fantasy following a young woman’s defiance of her culture as she undertakes a dangerous quest to restore her world’s lost magic in Ilana C. Myer’s Last Song Before Night. Her name was Kimbralin Amaristoth: sister to a cruel brother, daughter of a hateful family. But that name she has forsworn, and now she is simply Lin, a musician and lyricist of uncommon ability in a land where women are forbidden to answer such callings-a fugitive who must conceal her identity or risk imprisonment and even death.

NEW IN MANGA

Devils and Realist Vol. 11 Story by Madoka Takadono; Art by Utako Yukihiro

A Centaur’s Life Vol. 10 Story & Art by Kei Murayama

Re:Monster Vol 1 Story by Kanekiru Kogitsune; Art by Kobayakawa Haruyoshi

Shomin Sample: I Was Abducted by an Elite All-Girls School as a Sample Commoner Vol. 3Story by Nanatsuki Takafumi; Art by Risumai

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Sneak Peek: At the Sign of Triumph by David Weber

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At the Sign of Triumph by David Weber

The Church of God Awaiting’s triumph over Charis was inevitable. Despite its prosperity, the Charis was a single, small island realm. It boasted less than two percent of the total population of Safehold. How could it possibly resist total destruction? The Church had every reason to be confident of a swift, crushing victory, an object lesson to other rebels.

But Charis had something far more powerful than simple numbers. It had a king, a crown prince, and a navy prepared to die where they stood in its defense. It had the Brethren of Saint Zherneau, who knew the truth about Safehold’s founding. Who knew that the Church of God Awaiting was a monstrous lie. And it had Merlin Athrawes, last survivor of long-vanished Earth. Merlin, the cybernetic avatar of a woman dead over a thousand years, who was determined to break the Church’s grip upon the human mind and soul.

So after eight years of war, it is not Charis but the Church that stands upon the brink of defeat. But the Church still commands immense resources, and — faced with the unthinkable — it’s decided that it, too, must embrace the forbidden technology which has carried Charis so far.

In the end, it is simple, for only one can survive. The lines are drawn, the navies and armies have been raised, and all of Safehold is poised for the final battle between those who believe in freedom and those who would crush it forever.

At the Sigh of Triumph will become available November 8th. Please enjoy this excerpt.

.I.

The Earl of Thirsk’s Townhouse,
City of Gorath,
Kingdom of Dohlar.

“Forgive me for intruding, My Lord, but you and I need to talk.”

The Earl of Thirsk stared at the black-haired, blue-eyed guardsman in his townhouse study. Sheer, disbelieving shock froze him in his chair—a shock deep enough to reach even through the agony of his dead family—because he knew that sapphire-eyed man, and that man couldn’t possibly be here. Not in the middle of the city of Gorath. That man was with his emperor in Siddar City, thirty-four hundred miles from this spot. Everyone knew that. And even if he hadn’t been, there was no conceivable way a man in the livery of the House of Ahrmahk could have traveled into the very heart of the Kingdom of Dohlar’s capital city without being spotted and accosted.

Yet there he stood, and Thirsk felt his good hand fumble at his belt, seeking the dagger that wasn’t there.

“I assure you I intend no harm to anyone under this roof,” Merlin Athrawes continued. “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t raise a hue and cry, though.” He stroked one fierce mustachio with a quick smile. “That would get messy, and I’m afraid quite a lot of people would be harmed under those circumstances.”

Rain pelted against the study windows, gurgled in waterfalls from eaves and gutters, swirled down paved streets or cascaded into storm drains, and distant thunder rumbled somewhere beyond the thick clouds of midnight. Streetlights in Gorath were both dim and few and far between, even on nights when pounding rain didn’t reduce visibility still further. Perhaps that might explain how he could have passed through those same streets unnoted. Yet even as the earl thought that, it only created its own preposterous questions, for Athrawes’ blackened chain mail and the black tunic beneath it were dry, and so was his raven-dark hair.

Of course they are, a voice said in the back of Thirsk’s brain. After all, what’s a minor impossibility like that if he can be here at all?

That inner voice sounded preposterously clear, given how much whiskey he’d consumed that evening.

Athrawes closed the door behind him and crossed the study floor, and his gleaming dry boots were silent on the thick carpet. He stopped fifteen feet away, and Thirsk drew a deep breath as lamplight gleamed on the “revolvers” holstered at both hips and the curved blade sheathed across the seijin’s back. God alone knew how many men those weapons had killed, and a chill ran through him as he thought of how the Inquisition would explain how this man might have come to stand before him.

“Does that ‘no harm to anyone under this roof’ apply to me, too?” he heard himself ask, and his voice sounded almost as unnaturally calm as his … visitor’s. “I don’t imagine there’d be many more legitimate targets.”

“Oh, trust me, My Lord.” Athrawes’ smile was thinner this time. “I can think of dozens of targets more ‘legitimate’ than you. Which isn’t to say—” the smile disappeared “—that Charis doesn’t have a few bones to pick with you, too.”

“I imagine.” Thirsk settled back in his chair and his good hand rose to the fresh pain that stabbed through his healing shoulder as he moved. “I won’t blame Cayleb if he’s sent you to deliver the same sentence he’s passed on inquisitors taken in the field. And to be honest, I won’t really mind, either. Not anymore.” His lips twitched in a parody of a smile. “At least I could trust you to be quick, Master Seijin, ‘demon’ or no. That’s more than I could say for some ‘godly’ men I might mention. And it’s not as if you wouldn’t be doing me a favor.”

The other pain, infinitely worse than any physical hurt, roused to ravenous life as the anesthesia of shock began to fade, and the anguish of his family’s death ripped at him with claws of fire and ice.

“I can understand why you might feel that way.”

There was no anger in Athrawes’ tone. Indeed, there was … compassion, and that only made Thirsk’s pain worse. He didn’t deserve any Charisian’s sympathy, not after what he’d allowed to happen to the men who’d surrendered to his navy. He damned well knew that, and he remembered a passage from the Book of Bédard: “Do good to those who despise you and return kindness to those who smite you, and so you will heap coals of fire upon their heads.” He’d heard that scripture countless times in his life, yet until this very moment, he’d never truly understood what the Archangel had meant. But now—as he heard the simple compassion in Merlin Athrawes’ voice, received the gift of sympathy from someone he’d given so many reasons to hate him—his own sense of guilt, the knowledge of how much Athrawes ought to hate and despise him, crashed down upon his soul like Shan-wei’s hammer.

“I can understand it,” Merlin repeated, “but that might be premature. You still have things to do, My Lord.”

“I have nothing to do, Seijin!” Thirsk snapped with a sudden flare of fury spawned by grief … and guilt. “That bastard in Zion’s seen to that!”

“Maybe he hasn’t … quite,” Athrawes replied.

Thirsk stared at him. Athrawes had to know what had happened to his family—the entire world knew that! He opened his mouth to spit back a reply, his face dark with anger, but Merlin raised one hand.

“I’m not here tonight only for Cayleb and Sharleyan, My Lord. I have a message for you from someone else, as well.”

“And who might that be?” Thirsk’s demand was harsh.

“Your daughters, My Lord,” Athrawes said very quietly.

“How dare you come into this house with that kind of—?!”

Thirsk got that far before words failed him entirely. He thrust himself up out of his chair, heedless of the pain in his mending shoulder, confronting the armed and armored seijin—a foot and more taller than he—with no other weapon than his rage.

“My Lord, your daughters are alive,” Athrawes told him unflinchingly. “So are your grandchildren and your sons-in-law. All of them.”

Lywys Gardynyr raised a clenched fist, prepared to assault the towering seijin physically as the Charisian mocked his pain. But Athrawes made no move to deflect the blow. He simply stood there, arms folded unthreateningly across his breastplate, and his unflinching eyes froze the earl’s fist in mid-strike.

They were very dark, those blue eyes, Thirsk thought, a sapphire so deep it was almost black in the lamplight, but they met his fiery gaze without flinching. That was what stopped him, for there was no lie in those eyes, no mockery … and no cruelty.

And yet Athrawes’ words were the cruelest trap of all, for they held the whisper of possibility, an invitation to breach the armor of acceptance, to open his heart once more, delude himself into hoping.…

“So are you going to tell me now that Charis can bring people back from the dead?” he demanded bitterly, grinding that deadly temptation under his heel. “Not even Langhorne could do that! But they do call Shan-wei Mother of Lies, don’t they?”

“Yes, they do. And I don’t blame you for a certain … skepticism, My Lord. But your family wasn’t aboard Saint Frydhelm when she blew up. They were aboard a schooner, with two of my … colleagues.”

Thirsk blinked. Then he stood there for a heartbeat or two before he shook his head like a weary, bewildered bear.

“What?”

The one-word question came out almost calmly—too calmly. It was the calm of shock and confusion too deep to express. And the calm of a man who dared not—would not—allow himself to believe what he’d just been told.

Merlin reached into his belt pouch. His hand came back out of it, and the earl sucked in a deep, shocked breath as gold glittered across a calloused swordsman’s palm. Disbelief and fear froze the earl and he stood as if struck to stone, listening to the pound of rain, the crackle of the hearth fire, eyes locked to the miniature he’d known he’d never see again. He couldn’t—for at least ten seconds, he literally couldn’t—make himself touch it. Yet then, finally, he held out a trembling hand and Athrawes turned his wrist, spilling the miniature and its fine golden chain into his cupped fingers.

He held its familiar, beloved weight, looking down at the face of a gray-eyed, golden-haired woman—a very young woman. Then his stunned gaze rose again to Merlin Athrawes’ face, and the compassion which had edged the seijin’s tone filled his sapphire eyes, as well.

“I’m sure there are all sorts of ways that might’ve come into my possession, My Lord. And many of them would be little better than what you thought actually happened to Lady Mahkzwail. But I could hardly have obtained it if it had gone to the bottom of the Gulf of Dohlar, could I?”

Thirsk turned the miniature in his hand, seeing the intertwined initials engraved into its back. It was hard, with only one working hand, but he managed to wedge a thumbnail into the thin crack, and the back of the glass-fronted locket sprang open. He turned it to catch the light, and his own face—as young as his beloved Kahrmyncetah’s—looked back at him from the reverse of her portrait.

He stared at that image of a long-ago Lywys Gardynyr, then closed the locket and gripped it tightly enough to bruise his fingers. It was possible someone in Charis might have known his daughter Stefyny wore that miniature around her neck day and night. They might even have known about the initials on its back. But no mortal hand could have so perfectly forged its duplicate. So unless Cayleb and Sharleyan of Charis truly served demons.…

“How?” His legs collapsed abruptly, refusing to support him, and he thudded back down in his chair, scarcely noticing the white-hot stab from his shoulder. “How?!

“My Lord, Cayleb and Sharleyan have known for years how the Group of Four’s held your family’s lives over your head. It’s hardly surprising Clyntahn would do something so contemptible, and you’re scarcely the only one to whom he’s done it. If he understood how to inspire the Church’s children a tenth as well as he understands how to terrify them, perhaps the Temple wouldn’t be losing this jihad! But there’s a problem with terror; if the threat’s removed, it becomes useless. Is it really so hard to believe Cayleb and Sharleyan would strike that sort of weapon from Clyntahn’s hand if they could?”

“But.…”

“You may have noticed that our spies are very good.” For a moment, Athrawes’ smile turned almost impish. “We knew about Clyntahn’s plans to move your family to Zion even before you did, My Lord. It took longer to discover how he meant to transport them, but once we did, my companions intercepted Saint Frydhelm. The weather was on their side, and they managed to board undetected.”

Thirsk had suffered too many shocks in far too short a time, but he’d been a seaman for well over half a century. He knew exactly how preposterous that statement was, and Athrawes snorted as he saw the incredulity in his expression.

“My Lord, the world insists on calling me a seijin. That being the case, my fellows and I might as well act the part from time to time, don’t you think? And there is that little matter of Irys and Daivyn, you know. With all due modesty, this was no harder for Gwyliwr and Cleddyf than that was. It was certainly over sooner! And it seems to be becoming something of a specialty of ours. I’m thinking that after the jihad we seijins might go into the people-retrieving business. Just to keep our hands in, you understand.”

Thirsk blinked in incipient outrage that the seijin could find anything amusing at a moment like this! But then he drew another deep breath, instead.

“A point, Seijin Merlin. Definitely a point,” he conceded. “However, there was still the matter of a war galleon’s entire crew to deal with.”

“Which they did.” The amusement of an instant before vanished, and Athrawes’ face tightened. “Seijin Gwyliwr saw to your family’s transfer to their fishing boat—where, I might add, she says your sons-in-law and young Ahlyxzandyr and Gyffry made themselves very useful—while Seijin Cleddyf … prevented the crew from intervening.”

Thirsk looked at that grim expression for a long, silent moment, then nodded slowly. He’d heard the stories about the bloody path Merlin Athrawes had carved through the crews of no less than three Corisandian galleys. How he’d cut his way single-handed through a wall of swords and pikes, leaving no man alive behind him, as he’d raced to save Haarahld of Charis’ life. How he’d held Royal Charis’ quarterdeck alone against twice a hundred enemies while his mortally wounded king died behind him in a midshipman’s arms. They were incredible tales, whispered to close friends over tankards of beer or glasses of whiskey when there were no Inquisition ears to hear, and Thirsk had seen far too much of battle and death to believe the half of their wild exaggerations … until tonight.

“They deserved better, those men,” Athrawes said now, harshly. “But the moment Clyntahn put your family aboard that ship, he signed their death warrants.”

You blew her up, didn’t you?” Thirsk said softly, and it wasn’t truly a question.

“We did.” Merlin’s nostrils flared, but he refused to look away. “We had no choice. If Clyntahn had suspected for a moment that your family was alive—far less that they might be in Charisian hands—you and I would never have had a chance for this conversation. You know that as well as I do.”

“Yes.” Thirsk’s voice was barely audible, but he nodded slowly. “Yes, I do.”

Silence fell, perfected by the backdrop pound of winter rain. It lingered for several seconds before Thirsk straightened in his chair, still clutching the miniature of his long-dead wife.

“And now you intend to hold them over my head,” he said. “I don’t suppose I can blame you. God knows your Emperor has reason enough to hate me! In his place, I’d be remembering the mercy he showed off Armageddon Reef and comparing it to what happened to his men when they fell into Dohlaran hands.”

“I think you can take it as a given that neither he nor Sharleyan—nor I, for that matter—are likely to forget that, My Lord,” Merlin said bleakly. “But you’ve met Cayleb. Do you really see him using your daughters and their children as weapons? He’d die before he became Zhaspahr Clyntahn!”

The blue eyes were fierce this time, and shame twisted in Lywys Gardynyr’s soul, because he had met Cayleb, knew the man who lived behind the Charisian Emperor’s larger-than-life legend. Yet he knew too much of the necessities and imperatives of war, as well.

Seijin Merlin, if I lived to twice my age, I could never express the gratitude I feel at this moment. You—and Cayleb—have given my family back their lives, and I genuinely believe you did it because it was the right thing to do.” He shook his head, faintly surprised to realize he truly meant that. “But Cayleb’s an emperor, and he’s at war with Mother Church. He can’t possibly fail to see the opportunity—the necessity—of compelling me to do his will. No ruler worthy of his crown could simply ignore that! And he wouldn’t have to threaten to harm them to accomplish that, either.”

“Of course not.” Athrawes nodded. “All he’d have to do is inform the world they’re alive and in Charisian hands. Clyntahn would no doubt deny that, given how it cuts against the narrative he’s constructed. But that wouldn’t keep him from recognizing that you’d just become a potentially deadly weapon in Charis’ hands, one he could no longer hope to control. At which point, his reaction would become a foregone conclusion. Unfortunately for that scenario, Cayleb and Sharleyan would really rather keep you alive and un-martyred.”

“Out of the goodness of their hearts, I’m sure,” Thirsk said dryly.

“Actually, there is quite a bit of goodness in those hearts. But, no, you’re right. They do have responsibilities of their own, and they’re as well aware of them as you are of yours. But they aren’t going to threaten your children, and they aren’t going to reveal the fact of their survival. I’m afraid they aren’t going to do what Lady Stefyny asked us to do, either, though.”

“What Stefyny—” Thirsk began, then stopped and shook his head. “Of course. She would ask you to ‘retrieve’ me, as well, wouldn’t she?”

“She loves you very much,” Athrawes replied, and the earl smiled at the seeming non sequitur.

“Unfortunately, though, that’s not why I’m here,” the seijin continued, and there was an edge of genuine regret in his deep voice. “I do have this for you.” He reached into his pouch once more and extracted a thick envelope, sealed with wax. “It’s briefer than I’m sure she would have liked it to be, because she knew the person who delivered it might not be able to spend a great deal of time in Gorath and she wanted time for you to write at least a brief reply. I’m afraid I do need to be gone before much longer, but I think I can give you a quarter hour or so in which to reply. And—” he held out the envelope “—I’ll also ask you to be sure you burn it afterward. Letting it fall into the Inquisition’s hands would probably be a bad idea.”

Thirsk glanced at the envelope, then almost snatched it from Athrawes’ hand as he recognized his daughter’s handwriting.

“I’m sure she’ll give you her own version of what happened that night, My Lord. Seijin Cleddyf promised her I’d deliver it unread, which I have, so I can’t be certain, but I doubt her account will differ much from the one he shared with me. Not that I expect it to be identical to his. She’ll have a rather different perspective, after all.” The seijin smiled again, briefly. But then the smile disappeared. “I’m afraid Cayleb’s asked me to deliver a rather different message to you, however.”

“What sort of message?”

“It’s a fairly simple one, actually. Just as you once sat across a table from Cayleb, he sat across that same table from you, and he’s almost frighteningly good at taking the measure of other men, He took yours, and he knows how little you’ve relished some of the actions the Church has demanded of you. Notice that I said the Church, not God. There’s a difference, and I think you know what it is.”

“I won’t pretend I don’t know what you mean. But the fact that Clyntahn’s vile and corrupt doesn’t automatically grant Cayleb and Maikel Staynair license to destroy Mother Church and defy God’s will.”

“And you don’t believe for a moment they are defying God’s will,” Athrawes countered. “I doubt you ever did. And even if you did once, you stopped believing it long ago.”

The seijin’s riposte lay between them, a steely challenge Thirsk declined to pick up. He only looked back at the other man steadily, refusing to admit the charge … or to deny it.

“My Lord, as I say, time is pressing, you have a letter to read and another to write, and I still have a long way to go tonight, so I’ll be brief. Cayleb and Sharleyan make no demands in return for your family’s safety. And they fully understand that not only were you raised a son of Mother Church but that you take your oaths to the Crown of Dohlar and your responsibilities to the navy you command seriously. A man of honor has no choice about that … unless an even greater duty, an even deeper responsibility, is used against him. That deeper responsibility’s been lifted from you now, yet neither Cayleb nor Sharleyan would expect you to act against what you believe are the best interests of your kingdom and your own soul. If they tried to force you to, they’d be no better than the Group of Four, and because they refuse to be that, they’ve sent me to give you the deadliest gift of all, instead.”

His level gaze held Thirsk’s in the lamplight.

“Freedom, My Lord. That’s Charis’ gift to you. The freedom to do what you think is right … whatever the consequences.”

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