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Our Favorite Book/Celebrity Costume Pairings

Halloween will be here before you know it, and with that comes the wild and outlandish costumes – and no one has as much money to throw at making amazing costumes than famous people. As celebrities start to reveal what they are going to wear this year, take a trip down memory lane with these costumes from the past – and books that match their character vibes.

By Elizabeth Hosty


The-Firmament-of-FlameThe-Firmament-of-Flame1Drew Barrymore as Glinda / The Firmament of Flame by Drew Williams

Just like how Glinda helped a young Dorothy navigate the wondrous world of Oz, so too do the Justified and Jane Kamali help seventeen year old telekinetic protégé Esa, and other gifted children, to help prevent the return of the pulse in The Firmament of Flame by Drew Williams. In this third installment in the Universe After series, Esa, Jane, and their allies in the Justified might have to go to the ends of the known universe to prevent Cyn – a being of pure energy – who is hellbent on hunting down the gifted.

Image Place holder  of - 22Place holder  of - 41Halsey as Corpse Bride / Vengewar by Kevin J. Anderson
In the Corpse Bride, Emily is put to rest by an ambitious man during the height of the Victorian era in the British Kingdom. In another kingdom, the queen lies in a coma as a power-hungry priest seizes power. Vengewar by Kevin J. Anderson is the second in the Wake the Dragon series, a powerful ancient race that wants to remake the world hasreawakened, and two warring nations must put aside their differences to defend against a mutual enemy.

Placeholder of  -41Image Placeholder of - 34The Weeknd as Nutty Professor / Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky

In order to stop the demon wreaking havoc, a daughter of the queen asks the Elder sorcerer that lives in the local tower for help – but no one has met him before. Elder Nyr isn’t a sorcerer, but a scientist who cannot help, but through his knowledge of science, he knows the threat is not a demon. This is similar to the Nutty Professor in how the weight loss formula invokes a skinnier version of himself that disrupts his life and ruins relationships for him, but he is unable to help stop his alter ego after he takes control.

Heidi Clum as Herself-1The Firmament of Flame2Heidi Clum as Herself + Clones / Interlibrary Loan by Gene Wolf

E.A. Smith in Interlibrary Loan by Gene Wolf is a clone – just as Heidi Klum dressed 5 other women to become clones of her! – and who is not human, but a piece of property with an uploaded memory of a mystery writer. Along with two other clones of cookbook and romance writers, E.A. Smith meets a little girl desperate to save her mother, a father who may or may not be dead… and the real E.A. Smith.

Lizzo as The Fly-1Lizzo as The Fly-2Lizzo as The Fly On Pence’s Head / Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire

In Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire, centaurs, kelpies, and other magical equines run wild – and the only humans there are expected to step up and become heroes. But Regan learns that not all forms of heroism are equal, and not all quests are as they seem. This really embodies Lizzo’s energy last year as the fly on Pence’s head, since in the race to find a hero to become our president, sometimes the hero is a singer impersonating a fly that landed on the Vice President’s head.

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Let’s Go to SPACE with Our Favorite Crews!!!

We all have dreams and one of our biggest ones? To go to SPACE!!! We want to touch the stars, see the aliens, get lost in the void—you know, the usual space dreams. But to fulfill our deepest wish, we need a chaotic crew to get us there. Check out our favorite space cohorts here!


Image Placeholder of - 18Unconquerable Sun by Kate Elliott

Growing up in the shadow of her mother, Eirene, has been no easy task. The legendary queen-marshal did what everyone thought impossible: expel the invaders and build Chaonia into a magnificent republic, one to be respected—and feared. But the cutthroat ambassador corps and conniving noble houses have never ceased to scheme—and they have plans that need Sun to be removed as heir, or better yet, dead.

Place holder  of - 90The Last Watch by J. S. Dewes

The Divide. It’s the edge of the universe. Now it’s collapsing—and taking everyone and everything with it. The only ones who can stop it are the Sentinels—the recruits, exiles, and court-martialed dregs of the military. At the Divide, Adequin Rake, commanding the Argus, has no resources, no comms—nothing, except for the soldiers that no one wanted. They’re humanity’s last chance.

Image Place holder  of - 21In the Black by Patrick S. Tomlinson

In a demilitarized zone on the border of human space, long range spy satellites are mysteriously going quiet, and no one knows why. Captain Susan Kamala and her crew are dispatched to figure out what’s going on and solve the problem. That problem, however, is a mysterious, bleeding edge alien ship that no human vessel could hope to match in open conflict. But, it’s not spoiling for a fight. Now, the Captain and her Crew must figure out how to navigate a complicated game of diplomacy, balancing the needs of their corporate overlords, and the honest desire for a lasting peace between the two races, all without letting a long standing cold war turn hot.

Placeholder of  -23To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

During a routine survey mission on an uncolonized planet, Kira finds an alien relic. At first she’s delighted, but elation turns to terror when the ancient dust around her begins to move. As war erupts among the stars, Kira is launched into a galaxy-spanning odyssey of discovery and transformation. First contact isn’t at all what she imagined, and events push her to the very limits of what it means to be human. While Kira faces her own horrors, Earth and its colonies stand upon the brink of annihilation. Now, Kira might be humanity’s greatest and final hope . . .

Poster Placeholder of - 13All Systems Red by Martha Wells

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety. But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern. On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is. But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

book-9781250186119The Stars Now Unclaimed by Drew Williams

Jane Kamali is an agent for the Justified. Her mission: to recruit children with miraculous gifts in the hope that they might prevent the Pulse from once again sending countless worlds back to the dark ages. Hot on her trail is the Pax–a collection of fascist zealots who believe they are the rightful rulers of the galaxy and who remain untouched by the Pulse. Now Jane, a handful of comrades from her past, and a telekinetic girl called Esa must fight their way through a galaxy full of dangerous conflicts, remnants of ancient technology, and other hidden dangers. And that’s just the beginning . . .

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$2.99 eBook Sale: A Chain Across the Dawn by Drew Williams

The ebook edition of A Chain Across the Dawn by Drew Williams is on sale now for only $2.99! Get your copy today, and prepare for the release of the third book in The Universe After series, The Firmament of Flame, available February 2nd, 2020.

Image Place holder  of - 61About A Chain Across the Dawn:

It’s been three years since Esa left her backwater planet to join the ranks of the Justified. Together, she and fellow agent Jane Kamali have been traveling across the known universe, searching for children who share Esa’s supernatural gifts.

On a visit to a particularly remote planet, they learn that they’re not the only ones searching for gifted children. They find themselves on the tail of a mysterious being with impossible powers who will stop at nothing to get his hands on the very children that Esa and Jane are trying to save.

With their latest recruit in tow—a young Wulf boy named Sho—Esa and Jane must track their strange foe across the galaxy in search of answers. But the more they learn, the clearer it becomes—their enemy may be harder to defeat than they ever could have imagined.

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$2.99 Ebook Deal: The Stars Now Unclaimed by Drew Williams

The ebook edition of The Stars Now Unclaimed by Drew Williams is on sale now for only $2.99! Get your copy today and prepare for the third book in the series, The Firmament of Flame, before it goes on sale on February 4.

Place holder  of - 73About The Stars Now Unclaimed:

Jane Kamali is an agent for the Justified. Her mission: to recruit children with miraculous gifts in the hope that they might prevent the Pulse from once again sending countless worlds back to the dark ages.

Hot on her trail is the Pax–a collection of fascist zealots who believe they are the rightful rulers of the galaxy and who remain untouched by the Pulse.

Now Jane, a handful of comrades from her past, and a telekinetic girl called Esa must fight their way through a galaxy full of dangerous conflicts, remnants of ancient technology, and other hidden dangers.

And that’s just the beginning . . .

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This sale ends 12/31/2019.

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Drew Williams & John Scalzi Discuss Writing, Space, & Everything In Between

What happens when two great sci-fi authors sit down for a conversation? Well, things get interesting. Check out A Chain Across the Dawn author Drew Williams’ conversation with Hugo Award-winning author John Scalzi below!

What made you decide to set your stories in space?

Place holder  of - 38John Scalzi: Well, not all of them are set in space! A number of them are set here on the planet Earth. However, the ones that I have set in space, I mostly have because quite simply the action requires it one way or the other. The good news is, writing science-fiction, people are not surprised when suddenly they find themselves on a spaceship, or otherwise events taking place beyond a gravity wall.

I do like setting stories in space. One of the nice things about it, is the possibilities it offers. To coin a phrase, it really is the Last Frontier, the place where you can pretty much get away with anything, as long as your story is internally consistent. As long as you can manage that then literally the sky’s the limit.

Drew Williams: Exactly – part of the joy of writing SFF is that you can make the universe reinforce whatever metaphor or thematic work you’re trying to accomplish. Does it help sell whatever idea you’re after if, I don’t know, all your characters can turn into bears? Then bam, everybody’s a bear when they need to be, and nobody’s like, ‘what the hell is up with all the bears?’ That’s just how their universe works; that’s the reality that they’ve always lived with. A reality full of werebears.

Space opera and adventure stories go in and out of style – why do you think they are popular at certain times, and less so at others?

DW: Time is a flat circle, or so sayeth Detective Cohle. No, I think public interest is just cyclical; whether it’s westerns or superheroes, detective novels or horror stories, what holds the cultural interest depends on a great many factors, some of which are complex metaphors created by the world we live in… and some are just based on ‘what’s been popular, and so everybody’s jumping on the bandwagon’.

JS: I agree with the idea that things are cyclical. Sometimes, people get saturated with stories about space and they just don’t want to dive into that anymore, they want something new and novel. At the same time, eventually it gets to where space and Space Opera becomes the Less Traveled Road, and therefore offer some excitement and novelty that they previously didn’t. It comes and goes, basically. The thing is even in the moments where it is not the hot thing, there is still an audience for it. So I think what it comes down to is you should write it if it’s interesting to you, and the people who want to read it will find it, hopefully.

If you were to join any spaceship crew, what would it be?

JS: The Apollo 11 crew. I’m sorry, Buzz Aldrin, I’m just going to have to take your place.

DW: I mean, as much as I’d love to say ‘the crew of the Serenity!’, just because I’d like to hang out with those characters… I don’t know, man. Reavers on one hand, various angry pirates and criminals on the other, the Alliance on the third hand… I would almost certainly die. I’d be, like, ‘special guest star’, the kind you know’s going to kick the bucket by the end of the episode.

Science fiction and space opera can run the gamut from serious to silly – how did you choose the tone for your books?

JS: I’m not sure I really chose the tone of my books. The tone of my books is mostly just me. I find that my own tone is sort of humorous, sort of snarky and basically that transfers onto what’s on the page. I can write stuff that is not my personal tone, see my novella The God Engines for that, but generally speaking at this point in time it seems that people actually like the tone that I use, so for most of the stuff that I write I’m just going to keep doing it that way.

DW: John, you’re absolutely right on that one; tone just happens, unless I’m actively trying for something else. I tend to have to work to edit out my own knee-jerk, smartass responses… assuming I even want to, which most of the time, I don’t. Because I think I’m hilarious. All right, time for some questions of my own! John – I know you spent part of your early career as a film critic; what would you say was the single most important non-literary of your work? (Doesn’t have to be film; I just figured that was a good lead-in.)

Image Place holder  of - 11JS: Actually, as it happens film was a huge influence on how I write. I spent six years as a full-time newspaper film critic, so I was literally watching a film a day, and sometimes two films a day. You don’t spend that much time looking at storytelling, and not have it rub off. So if you look at Old Man’s War, for example, it looks very much like a film: it’s got a three-act structure, there’s lots of dialogue, and most of the description is functional rather than sort of ornate. So I would say actually film has been a huge influence. What about you?

DW: Film, without a doubt – it’s definitely what I think of, structurally, when I’m trying to figure out pacing, or just generally ‘what happens next’. There’s an old story about George Lucas on the set of Star Wars saying, ‘Everything needs to go faster’, and that’s usually something I try to apply to my writing – as little description or internal dialogue as possible. Keep things moving, keep the audience engaged; go faster. (It doesn’t hurt that I don’t particularly enjoy writing description.)

JS: Raymond Chandler is supposed to have said if you ever write yourself in a corner, bring a man into a room with a gun. And in science fiction, I took that to mean if I write myself in the corner have a spaceship blow up. So if you look at some of my books and you see a spaceship blow up suddenly, that might be the reason.

DW: If your characters find themselves in a corner, blow out the bulkhead behind them and have them vented into space. Good news: they’re not in a corner anymore! Bad news: floating through space.

***

DW: When creating an alien/far-future culture, what matters more: where that culture differs from our current society, or what they have in common with us?

JS: I don’t know that I would say one has to matter more than the other. I think what happens is, if you are going to deviate from what we already know, you have to make sure that there’s a reason for it. There has to be something other than oh this would just be a cool thing to have them do. Has to have meaning, it has to have contacts within the larger culture, and it usually has to have something involving the plot as well.

As a practical matter, I do think you want to have something in common with our current culture. The reason for that is, aside from anything else, you need to give readers something they can hook into. So even if the rest of the culture is wildly different than ours, some small things that they can understand and grab hold of is a good thing. You don’t always have to do that, see Ted Chiang as an example of someone who makes truly alien creatures, but generally speaking, I think it’s a good idea.

DW: Essentially, then, there’s kind of a baseline – ‘can you create empathy with these characters’. It definitely feels like there is a point at which a culture is so alien that it becomes almost impossible to empathize with them (though, when it comes to authors who write that sort of thing, that’s often the entire point).

JS: I was just reading Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky, and I think that that’s a good example of a book where you have aliens that are genuinely alien, yet at the same time the author makes them sympathetic to the reader. And he also has humans, and in the book the humans have a hard time identifying with the aliens, and they have to work to find some sort of common ground. It was nicely done, which is probably why that book won the Clarke Award.

DW: Damn you, authors that can pull off that balancing act! I mean… ahem. Well done, Tchaikovsky. Well done.

***

DW: Science fiction tends to lean either in a utopian direction, or, at the opposite end of the scale, toward a more cataclysmic/dystopian galaxy. Which variety of future do you think we’re closer to right now?

JS: Well, I think it depends on perspective. If you read the news, on a day-to-day basis, it really does feel like we’re moving towards a dystopia. But at the same time if you dig a little deeper, there are many things about progression of human civilization that are much more positive than we see on the day-to-day news. So a lot of it just depends on where you stand.

Personally, I think we’re in a moment where the politics is edging towards dystopia, in the idea that there is a lot of authoritarian and even Fascist governments that are on the rise recently. At the same time, it seems that there is a heightened awareness of how we are basically sabotaging the planet, and a lot of social awareness that we need to make changes, and that’s to all the good.

What I really think is happening, is something that is important for fiction writers to know, which is that dystopia and Utopia are not separate states, they can be happening at the same time.

DW: So rather than a pendulum, it’s a knife edge, with forces pulling us in either direction at any given time. The amount of human deaths attributable to war is way, way down in the last few decades; that’s good! We’re absolutely screwing up the climate, and the rise of fascist or autocratic regimes are endangering democratic norms we now take for granted; that’s bad. But we’re aware of the mistakes we’re making – much more so than previous generations were – so that’s good; we seem to lack the political will to actually do anything about them; that’s bad. (And now I’m Homer Simpson in the bit with the evil frozen yogurt machine.)

JS: At least we’ll get sprinkles!

DW: Most of the SFF authors I’ve talked to tend to have more ideas than novels: what’s one really cool concept you’ve never been able to fit into an actual work? (I promise not to steal it; I can’t say the same for anyone who reads this.)

JS: In my case, I have a very long book deal with Tor. And what that means for me, is that basically all the really cool ideas that I had, that I didn’t know that I wouldn’t necessarily be able to write, I pitched and Tor took! So I’m actually obliged to write out my really cool ideas sometime over the next decade. I know, I know, that’s really obnoxious. But I’ll take it!

I will say in a larger sense, there are some things that I want to work on, that I don’t have time for now, but I put them away possibly for later. For example, there is something that I want to do involving Christmas time, that I am surprised that no one else seems to have looked at. Very much in the sense of I was surprised that no one had actually written a novel about red shirts. It was something that everybody took to be just sort of joke length rather than the novel length. So, at some point or another in the hopefully not too far future you may see a Christmas-themed novel or novella from me. And when you do, remember that I mentioned it here first! What’s yours?

Poster Placeholder of - 58DW: Redshirts was definitely one of those ‘Man, how come nobody’s done this yet!’ concepts – it seemed so simple in retrospect, and you delivered perfectly on it; it’s always impressive when a writer manages to not just deliver on a concept, but also to build a narrative out of it that doesn’t entirely depend on just selling the concept. So well done!

I tend to have ‘fragments of ideas’; little snippets that maybe, with enough time and attention, might become full novels, but most of which wouldn’t necessarily support even a short story, let alone a universe; I’ve been toying around with a fantasy notion where ‘magic’ is essentially rainfall – too little, and everything dies; too much and you have a natural disaster on your hands. Could there be a story in there? Possibly, but the idea in and of itself isn’t a story; it’s just an idea.

JS: Yeah, the thing that’s really hard to get across to non-writers is how it’s not the ideas that are the hard part. Ideas are all over the place, basically there for the picking up. The hard part is deciding which ideas are worth pursuing, and which are best left chucked back down onto the ground. So it’s not about the ideas or the quantity of ideas, it’s about the discrimination of ideas. Knowing which ones are the ones that are going to turn into interesting stories or novels, and which are just idle thoughts. And of course, the idea that I might not think is worth pursuing, might be the story that you win an award for! And vice versa.

DW: And just which ideas can fit together, in strange and interesting ways! A novel – or even a short story – takes more than one idea to get off the ground; figuring out which ones you can kind of jury-rig together, and which ones, when applied side-by-side, will implode the whole thing you’re trying to build… that takes, well something. Luck. Practice. More than a handful of implosions.

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How to Sell Your Friends & Family On Genre Fiction

With A Chain Across the Dawn coming in May, we’re revisiting author (and bookseller!) Drew William’s brilliant post on convincing the readers in your life to try genre.


Poster Placeholder of - 97Written by Drew Williams

So: you read genre novels. Maybe you devour space opera science fiction, maybe high fantasy is your thing, maybe you couldn’t imagine living without the visceral thrill of spine-tingling horror. The point is, you love the books you love, and you want to share them with the people you love, because that makes you feel good, and you think if they just got over themselves, they’d love them, too, and that would make you feel even better (because you would have been able to measurably improve the lives of your loved ones, with the added benefit of being right). But every time you suggest something along genre lines, the reactions you get are usually something like: “I don’t know… spaceships, though?” or “I feel like scary stuff is just scary,” or “Does this have, like, wizards in it? Because I don’t… wizards.”

As a genre author and bookseller for nearly 20 years, I’m here to help.

Because I agree with you: the objections most people have against genre fiction (whether they’d admit it or not) tend to be buried in 1950s era moral panic, the sort of thing that led to the creation of the Comics Code and Joseph McCarthy. (Am I saying that if Joe McCarthy had just read more of his era’s genre works, he wouldn’t have been what he was? Yes. Yes I am.)

The sense that genre work is “juvenile” or somehow less “mature” than stories about white bread nuclear families quietly hating each other across dinner tables is one that’s dogged narrative art for quite some time, and not just in books (hence why The Dark Knight didn’t get nominated for an Oscar, and Black Panther probably won’t), but it seems more pronounced with novels: even your friends and family that have no hesitation flocking to the multiplex to see the latest Star Wars movie might balk at reading a novel with a starship on its cover, or a wizard and a dragon dueling on a mountaintop, even if it’s the sort of thing that would look absolutely bitchin’ airbrushed on the side of a van.

There’s a reason for that, and it’s a simple one: since roughly high school or so, most of us have been conditioned to think of books as vegetables, something we consume more because they’re good for us than because we enjoy them. That’s utter nonsense, of course (if you don’t enjoy the book you’re reading… stop. Stop reading it, and find another one; you’ll get significantly more out of something you like than something you’re forcing yourself to consume) but the idea still has a great deal of traction: books are important, and important things can’t be fun. The concept that something might be both can be difficult for some people to grasp thanks to being forced to read Moby Dick or Silas Marner in eleventh grade, and that dissonance is what I’m trying to address.

The first step is to find out what your family member does read (if they don’t read at all… that’s a different row to hoe, and a much harder one), then tailor your recommendation for something that plays to their strengths. Does your Aunt stick to historical literary fiction, because learning about history makes her feel like her reading is “worthwhile”? Then start her off with something along the lines of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, which is both historical literary fiction and a spellbinding tale of magic and romance. Does your father love to watch science fiction movies, but will only read thrillers like Lee Child? Then consider someone like Richard K. Morgan, who writes neo-noir detective novels that also deliver big idea science fiction (also, you’ve got a good entry point with him in the Netflix adaptation of Altered Carbon, but I’ll get to that in a moment). Is your sister big on political engagement and ripped-from-the-headlines narratives? Then Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach might be your best bet. Most genre novels aren’t just fantasy or horror or sci-fi – they’ve usually got one foot in other genres, as well. Figure out where that crossover is with what your loved ones already read, and you’ve got an angle to work from.

If they still balk at this step, whip out the big guns: turn to the classics. Fahrenheit 451, Frankenstein, The Handmaid’s Tale, pretty much all of Poe’s or Wells’ or Verne’s works— these are all considered “classic” novels, the sort of thing that regularly get assigned in high schools, and are still great reads. Once that’s done, you can work your way towards the more well-established names in classic genre fiction: Ursula K. Le Guin, Isaac Asimov, Octavia Butler, the sort of luminaries that even those who don’t read genre stuff have at least heard of, and know carry a certain level of literary cachet.

Film or television adaptations can help, as well (like the Altered Carbon adaptation I mentioned earlier): it somehow becomes “acceptable” to read a novel by George R. R. Martin or Stephen King once that specific work has been made into a film or TV property. After all, it’s common knowledge that a book is always better than a film, so if you like watching Game of Thrones, you’re more likely to be willing to read it, too. And once they’re that deep, you can reel them in with similar works: maybe Joe Hill for the Stephen King readers, Daniel Polansky or Steven Erikson for the Game of Thrones fans, that sort of thing.

If you want a different angle of approach, lean in to the ‘all genre work is inherently juvenile’ thing: plenty of people who wouldn’t read V. E. Schwab will read J. K. Rowling, just because one is intended for children— and therefore “allowed” to have genre trappings— and the other isn’t. And once you’ve got them started on juvenile genre work, it’s usually pretty easy to push them towards more adult stuff (this is also easier if you start them with an author like Jonathan Maberry or Dan Wells, both of whom write separate series for juvenile and adult audiences). With fantasy in particular, this can be a good track to take, since a good deal of older fantasy writing— things published before the advent of “juvenile” fiction— straddle that line anyway; Robin McKinley’s The Blue Sword and David Eddings’s Belgariad come to mind as novels that start off “feeling” like juvenile works, but grow in maturity and complexity the further in you get.

Just remember: if all else fails, force them to read either The Princess Bride or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy— sit there and stare at them the whole time, if you have to— and if they hate those… you’re probably tilting at windmills. Not everyone will love genre fiction, after all. Also, some people are just terrible. People who hate those two books, specifically.

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Top Five Space Battles

As we prepare for the release of A Chain Across the Dawn, the sequel to Drew William’s 2018 debut The Stars Now Unclaimed, we revisit Drew’s guest post about  the most epic space battles of page and screen. A Chain Across the Dawn is on sale May 7!

Placeholder of  -8Written by Drew Williams

Conflict is an inevitable part of humanity; we’ve been waging war since one clan of Neanderthals looked at another clan of Neanderthals and said, “Hey, their caves are nicer than ours and closer to prime hunting grounds. Let’s go jab at them with our spears (which we just invented yesterday), then take their caves for ourselves.” Utopian science fiction aside—which is a fine genre in its own right, but not at all germane to the subject at hand—it seems inevitable that war will follow us into the stars. And moral hand-wringing over the spiritual cost of violent conflict aside… space battles are frickin’ awesome. So, without further ado, the five coolest space battles of all time:

5) Starship Troopers (Robert Heinlein)

So, yes, even with the first entry, I’m bending the rules a bit, since the vast majority of Heinlein’s seminal novel doesn’t actually occur in space: most of it is urban combat against an aggressive alien enemy (and not the mindless “bugs” of Verhoeven’s 1997 film, which, though a brilliant satire and a fascinating look at how a director can completely invert the politics of his source material, is more a pastiche of what came before than anything particularly inventive in its own right, at least where the actual battles are concerned). Still, in terms of influence, it’s hard to get past Heinlein’s “grunt’s-eye-view” of future combat: his titular troopers would pave the way for every gung-ho space marine that followed, from the overconfident grunts of Cameron’s Aliens (mirroring the American engagement in Vietnam), to the icy-cool sociopath at the heart of Twohy’s Pitch Black (mirroring the injustices of America’s own penal system), to damn near every sci-fi video game protagonist from Halo’s Master Chief to Gears of War’s Marcus Fenix (mirroring the fact that… shooting big-ass science fiction guns at inhuman aliens is cool as all hell).

4) Cowboy Bebop – “Honky Tonk Women” (Shinichiro Watanabe)

You can say a great many things about Cowboy Bebop, but the first word that’s going to come to mind is always going to be “cool”. The jazz-infused neo-noir anime that follows the adventures of a disparate pack of loners somehow roped into serving together (though rarely enjoying it) on the titular starship is like science fiction Miles Davis: what should be a bunch of different, chaotic elements working against each other emerges as a wildly improvisational-seeming masterpiece, instead. Picking an episode for this column was difficult, as there are a wealth of great dogfights to choose from, but I ultimately went with “Honky Tonk Women” not just because of the ship-to-ship combat—both exhilarating and phenomenally pretty, as all the dogfights in Cowboy Bebop are—but of the zero-g stand-off at the climax, a clever usage of gravity and inertia that plays up the “space” part of the show’s “low-rent bounty hunters… in space” premise. Bebop excels at both the designs of its craft—witness the juxtaposition between main character Spike Spiegel’s dragonfly-like ship, aggressive and thrusting, versus Faye Valentine’s rounder, more versatile craft, one signifying a character who likes to end a fight as quickly as possible, the other his opposite number, who excels at adapting to whatever circumstances she finds herself in—and in the sheer sense of speed the anime lends its dogfights, both of which are on great display in “Honky Tonk Women”.

3) Battlestar Galactica (2004) – “33” (Ronald Moore)

You can make the argument that “Pegasus” (or perhaps the mid-season follow-up two-parter, “Resurrection Ship”) is actually the high-water mark for the Battlestar Galactica remake’s space combat, and you probably wouldn’t be wrong: “33” isn’t so much a “battle” as it is a “rout”. But that’s what makes it work so damned well: not all fights are won, at least not by the “good guys”. Technically the first episode of the series following the miniseries debut, “33” finds the last remnants of humanity in a desperate flight from the AI zealots intent (or so it seems) on their utter destruction. Episode director Michael Rymer uses a veritas handheld filmmaking style to really sell how exhausting the constant pursuit is for the characters on board the various ships in the fleet, how the greatest ally humanity’s AI opponents have is not their mechanized strength or lightning-quick intelligence, but the frailty of the human condition. When your opponent doesn’t tire, doesn’t rest, doesn’t quit, the physical limits of what the human body can take come into play, and humanity’s constant flight from the overwhelming force of their foes—who arrive 33 minutes after the fleet jumps into a new system, after every… single… jump to hyperspace—becomes a white-knuckle descent into tension and anxiety for the viewer, almost as much as it is for the characters.

2) Challenger’s Hope – “The Fish Attack” (David Feintuch)

There are two common directions to take with space battles, in terms of “metaphor your audience can easily grasp”: WWII Pacific Theater dogfights (single pilot fighters or small crew bombers launched from the aggressive “safe” envelope of heavily armed carriers) or Age of Sail naval engagements. (The third most common metaphor, “the starship as submarine,” is best exemplified by The Wrath of Khan, the sixth entry in this five-entry list.)

David Feintuch’s Seafort series takes the Age of Sail option, structuring not just his battle sequences but his entire space-faring society around an interstellar stand-in for the Napoleonic Wars-era British Navy, complete with a strictly regimented class system, a military service defined by “honor” and “duty”, and a level of emotional repression that only a society based on the British Empire during the Regency could manage. In the stand-out sequence of Challenger’s Hope (the second volume in the seven book cycle that mirrors C. S. Forester’s Hornblower novels, in which we follow the protagonist up the ladder of command throughout the series), the crew of the Challenger – their ship already deeply damaged, almost certainly not able to see them safely home – come face to face with the completely alien threat that has hounded them throughout the novel: a species of organic, space-faring creatures that utterly confounds everything they know about the galaxy. The sheer level of tension Feintuch creates purely through dialogue is one of the most exhilarating things you’ll ever read. The Captain recites Psalm 23 in his mind (“the Lord is my Shepherd”) acting as a counterpoint to the terrified screams of his crew that echo back and forth across the bridge and over an open comm channel, making an intense juxtaposition between the surety of faith and the chaos of the battle raging around their seemingly doomed vessel.

1) The Last Jedi – “The Bombing Run” (Rian Johnson)

I mean, let’s be honest: the question was never “would a Star Wars sequence” make this list but, “which sequence – from which film – would be chosen?” I could have gone for the trench run in the original film, because that’s the sequence that set the bar not just in the Star Wars universe, but in every other Star Wars-influenced space opera universe to come, otherwise known as… all of them. I could have gone for the opening waterfall shot of Revenge of the Sith, because yeah, I’m a prequel defender, and there’s no better sequence out there in terms of selling the scale of a space battle. I could have proved my Star Wars bonafides by choosing the season 3 finale of Rebels, because… well, mostly because it’s fantastic.

But in terms of what Star Wars does, the bombing run on the dreadnought near the opening of The Last Jedi is roughly five minutes of absolute perfection. Populated almost entirely by characters we’ve never met and (as of yet) don’t know the significance of, Johnson crafts a stunningly structured short film full of tension, pathos, bravery, and loss. It lets him simultaneously pay homage to the sort of films that inspired Star Wars space battles in the first place (films like Tora! Tora! Tora! and The Wings of Eagles), and begin to develop the themes that will play out in ways large and small across the rest of the picture. As the annihilation of the bombing wing plays out around it, a single bomber makes its way to its target area and the destruction of the supercraft preparing to kill off the entire Resistance comes down to one woman, injured and likely dying, desperately kicking at a metal strut to will her ship to succeed in its mission, no matter the cost. Whatever medal it was that Luke and Han received at the end of A New Hope, she absolutely deserves its posthumous award, as there’s no greater sequence of valor, determination, or sacrifice in the entirety of the Star Wars canon, and that’s what makes a great battle sequence: not the design of the ships or the maneuvers of the fleets, but the characters involved in the action and what the fight means to them and to the galaxy around them if they fail.

Plus, the whole sequence is… just… stupidly pretty.

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Excerpt: A Chain Across the Dawn by Drew Williams

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Place holder  of - 41It’s been three years since Esa left her backwater planet to join the ranks of the Justified. Together, she and fellow agent Jane Kamali have been traveling across the known universe, searching for children who share Esa’s supernatural gifts.

On a visit to a particularly remote planet, they learn that they’re not the only ones searching for gifted children. They find themselves on the tail of a mysterious being with impossible powers who will stop at nothing to get his hands on the very children that Esa and Jane are trying to save.

With their latest recruit in tow—a young Wulf boy named Sho—Esa and Jane must track their strange foe across the galaxy in search of answers. But the more they learn, the clearer it becomes—their enemy may be harder to defeat than they ever could have imagined.

A Chain Across the Dawn is the second book in Drew Williams’ Universe After series! Read the first chapter on Tor.com and continue reading with the following excerpt.

Chapter 2

In relatively short order, we got a response to our banging. That response was, of course, half a dozen rifles pointed at us from murder holes carved out of the sides of the high wall, but it was a response nonetheless. “Travelers,” Jane said, spreading her hands wide to show that she was unarmed—well, to show that she wasn’t holding a weapon, at least. On a world like Kandriad, nobody went anywhere unarmed, and the rifle butt sticking up from behind Jane’s shoulder would have just seemed like an everyday necessity to the locals, no different than a farmer carrying a hoe would have been on my homeworld. “Seeking shelter.”

“This city is at war, traveler,” a voice said from one of the murder holes— sounded like a Wulf, which made sense, since the vaguely canid species had made up about a third of this world’s population, before the pulse. “There’s very little shelter to be had here.”

“Very little to be had out there, either.” Jane jerked her thumb behind us, indicating the smoking craters the poorly aimed bombs had blown in the urban “countryside” of what had once been a factory planet.

“How do we know you’re not enemy spies?” the Wulf growled. I mean, Wulf almost always growl, the sound was just what their muzzles were built for, but I detected a distinct note of aggression in the low-pitched rumble of this one’s voice.

“Esa,” Jane prompted me, and I reached into my jacket—slowly, as the rifles were still following my every move—to produce a tightly rolled-up scroll. The parchment was as close to what local conditions would have allowed the natives to create as Schaz had been able to make it; hopefully they wouldn’t ask too many questions about its provenance beyond that, questions we wouldn’t be able to answer given that we’d actually printed it on board a spaceship in orbit, a concept that had receded mostly into myth for the people on Kandriad.

I held the scroll up, where they could see. “Reconnaissance,” Jane told them simply. “Aerial photography of the enemy assaulting your walls from the north. Troop positions, fortifications, artillery emplacements—enough intelligence to turn the tide of the fight.” Neither Jane nor I really gave a damn who won this particular battle, or even this particular war—whatever conflict it had spun off from, the fighting on Kandriad had long since ceased to matter to the galaxy at large, let alone to the doings of the Justified. What we did care about was getting access to the city, and to the gifted child hidden somewhere inside.

“You have planes? Like they do?” The guns were still holding . . . pretty tightly on us.

“Kites,” Jane said simply. “And mirrors.” That was a flat-out lie, but “we took images from our spaceship in low orbit, then smudged them up to look like low-tech aerial reconnaissance” wouldn’t have gone over nearly as well.

A low sound from the Wulf, not that dissimilar to his growl from before; thankfully, our boss back on Sanctum was also a Wulf, and I recognized the sound of a Wulven chuckle when I heard one. “Kites,” the unseen sentry said to himself, almost in wonder. Then: “Open the gate!”

The big metal gates rumbled open; Jane and I stepped along the train tracks, into the interior of the city, where the sentries—Wulf to a one, their rifles still held tightly, though at least not aimed directly at us anymore— watched us closely. Jane handed over the map to their leader, the one who’d spoken. He unrolled it, studied its contents for a moment, then without a word handed it off to one of his subordinates, who promptly took off, presumably for the factory city’s command. “It’s valid, and it’s recent,” the lieutenant acknowledged to us, his ice-blue predator’s eyes still watching us closely, not as friendly as his words. “I recognize shelling from just a few days ago. Intelligence like that will buy you more than just entry here, strangers. Name your price.”

“We’re looking for some intelligence of our own,” Jane replied. “Looking for one of your citizens, actually. A child, younger than my associate here.” She nodded her head toward me; I didn’t know how well the local Wulf population would be at gauging a human’s age, but at seventeen, I guess I did still have a slightly “unfinished” look, as compared to Jane, at least.

“And why do you seek this child?” the lieutenant asked—not a no. Progress.

“He or she will have . . . gifts. Abilities. We seek children with such gifts, and we train them.” All true, for its part. It was simply a question of scale that Jane left out.

“Train them to do what?”

“Whatever is necessary.” That part wasn’t exactly an official piece of the Sanctum syllabus.

The Wulf nodded his head, once. “I know the child you’re looking for,” he said.

Finally, something going our way for once.

Copyright © 2019 by Drew Williams

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New Releases: 8/21/18

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

Assassin’s Run by Ward Larsen

Place holder  of - 14 Ward Larsen’s Assassin’s Run revives globe-trotting, hard-hitting assassin David Slaton for another breathless adventure. When a Russian oligarch is killed by a single bullet on his yacht off the Isle of Capri, Russian intelligence sources speculate that a legendary Israeli assassin, long thought dead, might be responsible. However, David Slaton—the assassin in question—is innocent. Realizing the only way to clear his name is to find out who’s truly responsible, he travels to Capri.

The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal

Image Placeholder of - 84 Mary Robinette Kowal continues the grand sweep of alternate history begun in The Calculating StarsThe Fated Sky looks forward to 1961, when mankind is well-established on the moon and looking forward to its next step: journeying to, and eventually colonizing, Mars.

Of course the noted Lady Astronaut Elma York would like to go, but there’s a lot riding on whoever the International Aerospace Coalition decides to send on this historic—but potentially very dangerous—mission?

So Say We All: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Battlestar Galactica by Edward Gross & Mark A. Altman

Placeholder of  -91 Four decades after its groundbreaking debut, Battlestar Galactica — both the 1978 original and its 2004 reimagining ? have captured the hearts of two generations of fans. What began as a three-hour made for TV movie inspired by the blockbuster success of Star Wars followed by a single season of legendary episodes, was transformed into one of the most critically acclaimed and beloved series in television history. And gathered exclusively in this volume are the incredible untold stories of both shows – as well as the much-maligned Galactica 1980.

The Stars Now Unclaimed by Drew Williams

Poster Placeholder of - 8 Think big guns, smugglers, epic space battles, and a telekinetic girl with all the gifts.

Jane Kamali is an agent for the Justified. Her mission: to recruit children with miraculous gifts in the hope that they might prevent the pulse from once again sending countless worlds back to the dark ages.

Hot on her trail is the Pax—a collection of fascist zealots who believe they are the rightful rulers of the galaxy and who remain untouched by the pulse.

NEW IN PAPERBACK

Invisible Planets ed. by Ken Liu

Image Place holder  of - 43 Science fiction readers the world over have recently become familiar with Ken Liu’s Chinese translation work via The Three-Body Problem, the bestselling and Hugo award-winning novel by acclaimed Chinese author Cixin Liu. Ken Liu has now assembled, translated, and edited an anthology of Chinese science fiction stories, the most comprehensive collection yet available in the English language, sure to thrill and gratify readers developing a taste and excitement for Chinese SF.

Judgment at Appomattox by Ralph Peters

Written with the literary flair and historical accuracy readers expect from Ralph Peters, Judgment at Appomattoxtakes readers through the Civil War’s last grim interludes of combat as flags fall and hearts break.

A great war nears its end. Robert E. Lee makes a desperate, dramatic gamble that fails. Richmond falls. Each day brings new combat and more casualties, as Lee’s exhausted, hungry troops race to preserve the Confederacy. But Grant does not intend to let Lee escape. . . . In one of the most thrilling episodes in American history, heroes North and South battle each other across southern Virginia as the armies converge on a sleepy country court house.

NEW FROM TOR.COM

The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark

In an alternate New Orleans caught in the tangle of the American Civil War, the wall-scaling girl named Creeper yearns to escape the streets for the air – in particular, by earning a spot on-board the airship Midnight Robber. Creeper plans to earn Captain Ann-Marie’s trust with information she discovers about a Haitian scientist and a mysterious weapon he calls The Black God’s Drums.

But Creeper also has a secret herself: Oya, the African orisha of the wind and storms, speaks inside her head, and may have her own ulterior motivations.

NEW IN MANGA

Akashic Records of Bastard Magic Instructor Vol. 4 Story by Hitsuji Tarou; Art by Tsunemi Aosa

Arpeggio of Blue Steel Vol. 13 Story and art by Ark Performance

Saint Seiya: Saintia Shō Vol. 3 Story by Masami Kurumada; Art by Chimaki Kuori

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Excerpt: The Stars Now Unclaimed by Drew Williams

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Image Placeholder of - 77 Jane Kamali is an agent for the Justified. Her mission: to recruit children with miraculous gifts in the hope that they might prevent the Pulse from once again sending countless worlds back to the dark ages.

Hot on her trail is the Pax–a collection of fascist zealots who believe they are the rightful rulers of the galaxy and who remain untouched by the Pulse.

Now Jane, a handful of comrades from her past, and a telekinetic girl called Esa must fight their way through a galaxy full of dangerous conflicts, remnants of ancient technology, and other hidden dangers.

Think big guns, smugglers, and epic space battles.

And that’s just the beginning…

The Stars Now Unclaimed will be available August 21st, but we’re so excited about it that we’re offering two chances to win an early copy! Check out the excerpt below and then enter here or here.

Chapter 1

I had Scheherazade drop me on top of an old refinery, rusted out and half-collapsing. Around me the stretch of this new world’s sky seemed endless, a bright sienna-colored cloth drawn over the stars above. I watched Schaz jet back off to orbit—well, “watched” is probably a strong word, since she had all her stealth systems cranked to high heaven, but I could at least find the telltale glint of her engines—then settled my rifle on my back and started working my way down, finding handholds and grips among the badly rusted metal.

It’s surprising how used to this sort of thing you get; the climbing and jumping and shimmying, I mean. On a world free of the effects of the Pulse, none of that would have been necessary—I
would have had antigravity boots, or a jetpack, or just been able to disembark in the fields below: scaling a three-hundred-foot-tall structure would have been as easy as pressing a button and dropping until I was comfortably on the ground.

Now, without all those useful cheats, it was much more physically demanding—the climbing and jumping and shimmying bits—but I didn’t mind. It was like a workout, a reminder that none of that nonsense mattered on the world I was descending toward, and that if I wanted to stay alive, reflexes and physical capability would be just as important as the few pieces of tech I carried that were resistant to post-Pulse radiation.

By the time I made it down the tower I’d worked up a decent sweat, and I’d also undergone a crash course in the physical realities of this particular planet: the vagaries of its gravity, of its atmosphere, that sort of thing. Most terraformed worlds were within a certain range in those kinds of measurements—on some, even orbital rotations had been shifted to roughly conform to the standard galactic day/night cycle—but it’s surprising how much small differences can add up when you’re engaged in strenuous physical activity. A touch less oxygen in the air than you’re
used to, a single percentage point of gravity higher or lower, and suddenly everything’s thrown off, just a bit. You have to readjust.

I checked my equipment over as I sat in the shadow of the refinery tower, getting my breath back. Nothing was damaged or showing signs of the radiation advancing faster than I would have expected. I had a mission to complete here, yes, but I had no desire to have some important piece of tech shut down on me at an inopportune time and get me killed. Then I wouldn’t be able to do anyone any good.

As the big metal tower creaked above me in the wind, I kept telling myself that—that I was still doing good. Some days I believed it more than others.

After I’d recovered from my little jaunt, I settled my rifle onto my back again—a solid gunpowder cartridge design common across all levels of post-Pulse tech, powerful enough that it could compete with higher-end weapons on worlds that still had a great deal of technology intact, low-key enough that on worlds farther down that scale like this one, it wouldn’t draw undue attention—and set off across rolling plains of variegated grass.

This world was very pretty; I’d give whoever had designed it that. The sky was a lovely shade of pinkish orange that would likely shift into indigo as night approached. It perfectly complemented the flora strains that had been introduced, mostly long grasses of purple or green or pink, with a few patches of larger trees, mostly Tyll-homeworld species, thick trunks of brown or gray topped by swaying azure fronds. Vast fields of wheat—again, of Tyll extraction—made up most of the landscape that wasn’t grassland; that made sense with the research I’d done before having Scheherazade drop me off.

The research told me that this world had been terraformed for agricultural use a few hundred years ago or so; it had seen only mild scarring during the sect wars, which meant it was a little bit perplexing that the Pulse had knocked it almost as far down the technology scale as a planet could go—all the way to before the invention of electric light.

Still, trying to understand why the Pulse had done what it had done was a fool’s errand: I’d seen systems where one planet had been left untouched, another had been driven back to pre-spaceflight, and the moon of that same world had lost everything post–internal combustion. There was never any rhyme or reason to it, not even within a single system—the Pulse did what it did at random, and looking for a will behind its workings was like trying to find the face of god in weather patterns.

I knew that much because I was one of the fools who had let it off the chain in the first place. That’s why I was here: trying to right my own wrongs. In a very small way, of course. I was only one woman, and it was a big, big universe. Also, I had a great many wrongs.

 

Copyright © 2018 by Drew Williams

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