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$2.99 eBook Sale: December 2020

The holiday season is finally here and we’re giving you TONS of monthly ebook deals to brighten up your season. Check out which of our favorite SFF books you can snag for only $2.99 throughout the entire month of December here!


Place holder  of - 2Gamechanger by L. X. Beckett

Rubi Whiting is a member of the Bounceback Generation. The first to be raised free of the troubles of the late twenty-first century. Now she works as a public defender to help troubled individuals with anti-social behavior. That’s how she met Luciano Pox. Luce is a firebrand and has made a name for himself as a naysayer. But there’s more to him than being a lightning rod for controversy. Rubi has to find out why the governments of the world want to bring Luce into custody, and why Luce is hell bent on stopping the recovery of the planet.

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Poster Placeholder of - 31Spine of the Dragon by Kevin J. Anderson

Two continents at war, the Three Kingdoms and Ishara, are divided by past bloodshed. When an outside threat arises—the reawakening of a powerful ancient race that wants to remake the world—the two warring nations must somehow set aside generational hatreds and form an alliance to fight their true enemy.

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Placeholder of  -32Wild Cards IX: Jokertown Shuffle edited by George R. R. Martin

Bloat, the boy-governor of the Rox, wanted to make Ellis Island a safe haven for Jokers, and made a choice to recruit the Jumpers, superpowered teen outcasts who could steal a man’s body in the blink of an eye. But under the leadership of Dr. Tachyon’s psychotic grandson, the Jumpers grow more vicious and uncontrollable every day, becoming the greatest threat the Wild Cards have ever faced….

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Image Place holder  of - 10Glorious by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven

Audacious astronauts encounter bizarre, sometimes deadly life forms, and strange, exotic, cosmic phenomena, including miniature black holes, dense fields of interstellar plasma, powerful gravity-emitters, and spectacularly massive space-based, alien-built labyrinths. Tasked with exploring this brave, new, highly dangerous world, they must also deal with their own personal triumphs and conflicts.

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Image Placeholder of - 5Interlibrary Loan by Gene Wolfe

Hundreds of years in the future our civilization is shrunk down but we go on. There is advanced technology, there are robots. And there are clones. E. A. Smithe is a borrowed person, his personality an uploaded recording of a deceased mystery writer. Smithe is a piece of property, not a legal human. As such, Smithe can be loaned to other branches. Along with two fellow reclones, they are shipped to Polly’s Cove, where Smithe meets a little girl who wants to save her mother, a father who is dead but perhaps not. And another E.A. Smithe… who definitely is.

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The Unspoken Name by A. K. Larkwood

Csorwe does—she will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice. But on the day of her foretold death, a powerful mage offers her a new fate. Leave with him, and live. Turn away from her destiny and her god to become a thief, a spy, an assassin—the wizard’s loyal sword. Topple an empire, and help him reclaim his seat of power. But Csorwe will soon learn—gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.

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The Glass Magician by Caroline Stevermer

New York 1905—The Vanderbilts. The Astors. The Morgans. They are the cream of society—and they own the nation on the cusp of a new century. Thalia Cutler doesn’t have any of those family connections. What she does know is stage magic and she dazzles audiences with an act that takes your breath away. That is, until one night when a trick goes horribly awry. In surviving she discovers that she can shapeshift, and has the potential to take her place among the rich and powerful. But first, she’ll have to learn to control that power…before the real monsters descend to feast.

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The Bard’s Blade by Brian D. Anderson

Mariyah enjoys a simple life in Vylari, a land magically sealed off from the outside world, where fear and hatred are all but unknown. There she’s a renowned wine maker and her betrothed, Lem, is a musician of rare talent. Their destiny has never been in question. Whatever life brings, they will face it together. Then a stranger crosses the wards into Vylari for the first time in centuries, bringing a dark prophecy that forces Lem and Mariyah down separate paths. How far will they have to go to stop a rising darkness and save their home? And how much of themselves will they have to give up along the way?

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

Humans have managed to battle the remorseless Machines to a standstill . . . but victory may be short-lived. Yet amid shortsighted squabbling between nobles, new leaders have begun to emerge. Among them are Xavier Harkonnen, military leader of the Planet of Salusa Secundus; Xavier’s fiancée, Serena Butler, an activist who will become the unwilling leader of millions; and Tio Holtzman, the scientist struggling to devise a weapon that will help the human cause. Against the brute efficiency of their adversaries, these leaders and the human race have only imagination, compassion, and the capacity for love. It will have to be enough.

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Dreamer of Dune by Brian Herbert

Everyone knows Frank Herbert’s Dune. This amazing and complex epic, combining politics, religion, human evolution, and ecology, has captured the imagination of generations of readers. One of the most popular science fiction novels ever written, it has become a worldwide phenomenon, winning awards, selling millions of copies around the world. Brian Herbert, Frank Herbert’s eldest son, tells the provocative story of his father’s extraordinary life in this honest and loving chronicle.

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Top 5: Sci-Fi Faves from the Authors of Glorious!

Placeholder of  -15We’re not sure we agree with Picasso on anything, but he had a little something going when he said ‘all art is theft.’ Because we know that all storytellers are shaped by their favorite stories and the moments they love.

We took a moment to chat with one of our favorite author duos, Gregory Benford and Larry Niven (Glorious) about their favorite works of sci-fi media. Check out their rankings here!


Gregory Benford, physicist, educator, and co-author of the Bowl of Heaven series, loves a lot of the classics. What do you think of his Top 5?

  1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968 film)
    The grandest of all. Cosmic, visionary, with the sense to just let you watch.”
  2. Blade Runner (1982 film)
    “Second best sf film ever. Phil Dick told me after seeing rushes that it was better than the future he had envisioned; prettier, too.”
  3. The Martian by Andy Weir
    “Some tech errors in a tech-heavy Mars (such as: winds can’t blow over a rocket) but tech-savvy and sarcastic, too.”
  4. Forbidden Planet (1956 film)
    “Wonders of the 1950s, an alien menace you can believe in, but can’t see!”
  5. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951 film)
    Terrific content, though omits the ending of the story it’s based on, ‘Farewell to the Master”: the robot turns and says, “You have not understood. I am the master here.’ That would’ve shaken up the ten year old me!”

Larry Niven, award-winning author of the Ringworld series and co-author the Bowl of Heaven series, mixed some oldies and goodies with one notable modern exception with his sci-fi favorite picks:

  1. Destination Moon (1950 film)
    “[It] hit me hard when I was ten years old. This was to be the future.”
  2. Forbidden Planet (1956 film)
    Forbidden Planet [was] superb science fiction when there wasn’t any.”
  3. Star Trek, The Original Series (specifically the first season)
    “They used actual science fiction writers for the scripts. [It] hit me when my career was just taking off.”
  4. Star Wars, Episodes IV – VI
    “I just love it. And it uses all the older clichés and makes them work.”
  5. The Martian by Andy Weir
    “Hard science fiction throughout. Have you never noticed how often a space tale starts out hard, then diverges into soft fantasy? Like 2001. They almost have to do that, because there’s no upper end to the conquest of the universe. But The Martian stayed tight.”

GREGORY BENFORD is a recipient of the United Nations Medal for Literature, and the author of more than twenty novels, including the Nebula Award-winning Timescape. He teaches physics at the University of California.

LARRY NIVEN is the award-winning author of the Ringworld series, along with many other SFF masterpieces. He has received the Nebula Award, five Hugos, four Locus Awards, two Ditmars, the Prometheus, and the Robert A. Heinlein Award, among other honors.

Order Glorious Here!

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On the (Digital) Road: Tor Author Events in June

We are in a time of social distancing, but your favorite Tor authors are still coming to screens near you in the month of June! Check out where you can find them here:

S. L. Huang, Critical Point

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Friday, June 5- Sunday, June 7
Renaissance Virtual Conference
Zoom
Full Schedule Here

TBD
Inverse SFF Happy Hour
Instagram Live
5:00 PM EST

John Scalzi, The Last Emperox

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Tuesday, June 9
In Conversation with Sarah Gailey (Upright Women Wanted, Tor.com Publishing)
Zoom
12 PM PT

Wednesday, June 24
Reading/Q&A with Hudson (OH) Library/The Learned Owl Bookstore
TBD
TBD

S. A. Hunt, I Come With Knives

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Tuesday, June 9
Tor After Dark
Instagram Live
7:00 PM EST

Gregory Benford and Larry Niven, Glorious

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Tuesday, June 16
Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore
Instagram Live
7:00 PT

Wednesday, June 17
Poisoned Pen
Zoom
6:00 PT

Thursday, June 18
Tubby & Coo’s Mid-City Book Shop
Bookstream
7:00 PM EST

Friday, June 19
Reddit r/Books AMA
Reddit
TBD

Tuesday, June 30
Powell’s
TBD
TBD

Katherine Addison, The Angel of the Crows

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Tuesday, June 16
Tor After Dark
Instagram Live
7:00 PM EST

Tuesday, June 30
Boswell Books, in conversation with Jim Higgins from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Zoom
TBD

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Every Tor Book Coming This Summer

It’s almost time for summer weather and that means…SUMMER BOOKS! Due to COVID-19, we shuffled some of our on sale dates around, so check here for the most up to date list of when you can get your hands on some of the most highly anticipated books of the season:

June 16

The Unconquered CityPlace holder  of - 11 by K. A. Doore

Seven years have passed since the Siege—a time when the hungry dead had risen—but the memories still haunt Illi Basbowen. Though she was trained to be an elite assassin, now the Basbowen clan act as Ghadid’s militia force protecting the resurrected city against a growing tide of monstrous guul that travel across the dunes. Illi’s worst fears are confirmed when General Barca arrives, bearing news that her fledgling nation, Hathage, also faces this mounting danger. How much can she sacrifice to protect everything she knows from devastation?

GloriousPlaceholder of  -9 by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven

Audacious astronauts encounter bizarre, sometimes deadly life forms, and strange, exotic, cosmic phenomena, including miniature black holes, dense fields of interstellar plasma, powerful gravity-emitters, and spectacularly massive space-based, alien-built labyrinths. Tasked with exploring this brave, new, highly dangerous world, they must also deal with their own personal triumphs and conflicts.

June 23

Image Placeholder of - 98The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison

In an alternate 1880s London, angels inhabit every public building, and vampires and werewolves walk the streets with human beings in a well-regulated truce. A fantastic utopia, except for a few things: Angels can Fall, and that Fall is like a nuclear bomb in both the physical and metaphysical worlds. And human beings remain human, with all their kindness and greed and passions and murderous intent. Jack the Ripper stalks the streets of this London too. But this London has an Angel. The Angel of the Crows.

June 30

Poster Placeholder of - 41Interlibrary Loan by Gene Wolfe

E. A. Smithe is a borrowed person, his personality an uploaded recording of a deceased mystery writer. Smithe is a piece of property, not a legal human. As such, Smithe can be loaned to other branches. Which he is. Along with two fellow reclones, a cookbook and romance writer, they are shipped to Polly’s Cove, where Smithe meets a little girl who wants to save her mother, a father who is dead but perhaps not. And another E.A. Smithe… who definitely is.

July 7

Image Place holder  of - 41Unconquerable Sun by Kate Elliott

Princess Sun has finally come of age. 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.

Or What You Will by Jo Walton

He has been too many things to count. He has been a dragon with a boy on his back. He has been a scholar, a warrior, a lover, and a thief. He has been dream and dreamer. He has been a god. But “he” is in fact nothing more than a spark of idea, a character in the mind of Sylvia Harrison, 73, award-winning author of thirty novels over forty years. But Sylvia won’t live forever, any more than any human does. And he’s trapped inside her cave of bone, her hollow of skull. When she dies, so will he.

Little Brother & Homeland by Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow’s two New York Times-bestselling novels of youthful rebellion against the torture-and-surveillance state – now available in a softcover omnibus

 

July 14

In the Kingdom of All Tomorrows by Stephen R. Lawhead

Conor mac Ardan is now clan chief of the Darini. Tara’s Hill has become a haven and refuge for all those who were made homeless by the barbarian Scálda. A large fleet of the Scálda’s Black Ships has now arrived and Conor joins Eirlandia’s lords to defeat the monsters. He finds treachery in their midst…and a betrayal that is blood deep. And so begins a final battle to win the soul of a nation.

The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowl

Elma York is on her way to Mars, but the Moon colony is still being established. Her friend and fellow Lady Astronaut Nicole Wargin is thrilled to be one of those pioneer settlers, using her considerable flight and political skills to keep the program on track. But she is less happy that her husband, the Governor of Kansas, is considering a run for President.

July 21

Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Phyllis LeBlanc has given up everything—not just her own past, and Dev, the man she loved, but even her own dreams. Still, the ghosts from her past are always by her side—and history has appeared on her doorstep to threaten the people she keeps in her heart. And so Phyllis will have to make a harrowing choice, before it’s too late—is there ever enough blood in the world to wash clean generations of injustice?

 The Sin in the Steel by Ryan Van Loan

Buc and Eld are the first private detectives in a world where pirates roam the seas, mages speak to each other across oceans, mechanical devices change the tide of battle, and earthly wealth is concentrated in the hands of a powerful few. It’s been weeks since ships last returned to the magnificent city of Servenza with bounty from the Shattered Coast. Disaster threatens not just the city’s trading companies but the empire itself. When Buc and Eld are hired to investigate, Buc swiftly discovers that the trade routes have become the domain of a sharp-eyed pirate queen who sinks all who defy her.

Quantum Shadows by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. 

On a world called Heaven, the ten major religions of mankind each have its own land governed by a capital city and ruled by a Hegemon. That Hegemon may be a god, or a prophet of a god. Smaller religions have their own towns or villages of belief. Corvyn, known as the Shadow of the Raven, contains the collective memory of humanity’s Falls from Grace. With this knowledge comes enormous power. When unknown power burns a mysterious black image into the holy place of each House of the Decalivre, Corvyn must discover what entity could possibly have that much power. The stakes are nothing less than another Fall, and if he doesn’t stop it, mankind will not rise from the ashes.

Uranus by Ben Bova

Humans can’t live on the gas giants, making instead a life in orbit. Kyle Umber, a religious idealist, has built Haven, a sanctuary above the distant planet Uranus. He invites ”the tired, the sick, the poor“ of Earth to his orbital retreat where men and women can find spiritual peace and refuge from the world. The billionaire who financed Haven, however, has his own designs: beyond the reach of the laws of the inner planets Haven could become the center for an interplanetary web of narcotics, prostitution, even hunting human prey.

I Come With Knives by S. A. Hunt

Robin – now armed with new knowledge about mysterious demon terrorizing her around town, the support of her friends, and the assistance of her old witch-hunter mentor – plots to confront the Lazenbury coven and destroy them once and for all. Robin must handle new threats on top of the menace from the Lazenbury coven, but a secret about Robin’s past may throw all of her plans into jeopardy.

July 28

Deal with the Devil by Kit Rocha

Nina is an information broker with a mission—she and her team of mercenary librarians use their knowledge to save the hopeless in a crumbling America. Knox is the bitter, battle-weary captain of the Silver Devils. His squad of supersoldiers went AWOL to avoid slaughtering innocents, and now he’s fighting to survive. They’re on a deadly collision course, and the passion that flares between them only makes it more dangerous. They could burn down the world, destroying each other in the process…Or they could do the impossible: team up.

The Baron of Magister Valley by Steven Brust

The salacious claims that The Baron of Magister Valley bears any resemblance to a certain nearly fictional narrative about an infamous count are unfounded (we do not dabble in tall tales. The occasional moderately stretched? Yes. But never tall). Our tale is that of a nobleman who is betrayed by those he trusted, and subsequently imprisoned. After centuries of confinement, he contrives to escape and prepares to avenge himself against his betrayers. A mirror image of The Count of Monte Cristo, vitrolic naysayers still grouse? Well, that is nearly and utterly false.

Automatic Reload by Ferrett Steinmetz

Meet Mat, a tortured mercenary who has become the perfect shot, and Silvia, and idealistic woman genetically engineered to murder you to death. Together they run for the shadiest corporation in the world… and realize their messed-up brain chemistry cannot overpower their very real chemistry.

August 4

The Living Dead by George A. Romero and Daniel Kraus

In a Midwestern trailer park, a Black teenage girl and a Muslim immigrant battle newly-risen friends and family. On a US aircraft carrier, living sailors hide from dead ones while a fanatic makes a new religion out of death. At a cable news station, a surviving anchor keeps broadcasting while his undead colleagues try to devour him. In DC, an autistic federal employee charts the outbreak, preserving data for a future that may never come. Everywhere, people are targeted by both the living and the dead. We think we know how this story ends. We. Are. Wrong.

Space Station Down by Ben Bova and Doug Beason

When an ultra-rich space tourist visits the orbiting International Space Station, NASA expects a $100 million win-win: his visit will bring in much needed funding and publicity. But the tourist venture turns into a scheme of terror. Together with an extremist cosmonaut, the tourist slaughters all the astronauts on board the million-pound ISS—and prepares to crash it into New York City at 17,500 miles an hour, causing more devastation than a hundred atomic bombs. In doing so, they hope to annihilate the world’s financial system.

Sorcery of a Queen by Brian Naslund

Driven from her kingdom, the would-be queen now seeks haven in the land of her mother, but Ashlyn will not stop until justice has been done. Determined to unlock the secret of powers long thought impossible, Ashlyn bends her will and intelligence to mastering the one thing people always accused her of, sorcery. Meanwhile, having learned the truth of his mutation, Bershad is a man on borrowed time. Never knowing when his healing powers will drive him to a self-destruction, he is determined to see Ashlyn restored to her throne and the creatures they both love safe.

A Chorus of Fire by Brian D. Anderson

A shadow has moved across Lamoria. Whispers of the coming conflict are growing louder; the enemy becoming bolder. Belkar’s reach has extended far into the heart of Ralmarstad and war now seems inevitable. Mariyah, clinging to the hope of one day being reunited with Lem, struggles to attain the power she will need to make the world safe again.Lem continues his descent into darkness, serving a man he does not trust in the name of a faith which is not his own. Only Shemi keeps his heart from succumbing to despair, along with the knowledge that he has finally found Mariyah. But Lem is convinced she is being held against her will, and is determined to free her, regardless the cost.

August 11

The Tyrant Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

Baru’s enemies close in from all sides. Baru’s own mind teeters on the edge of madness or shattering revelation. Now she must choose between genocidal revenge and a far more difficult path—a conspiracy of judges, kings, spies and immortals, puppeteering the world’s riches and two great wars in a gambit for the ultimate prize. If Baru had absolute power over the Imperial Republic, she could force Falcrest to abandon its colonies and make right its crimes.

The Last Uncharted Sky by Curtis Craddock

Isabelle and Jean-Claude undertake an airship expedition to recover a fabled treasure and claim a hitherto undiscovered craton for l’Empire Celeste. But Isabelle, as a result from a previous attack that tried to subsume her body and soul, suffers from increasingly disturbing and disruptive hallucinations. Disasters are compounded when the ship is sabotaged by an enemy agent, and Jean-Claude is separated from the expedition.

By Force Alone by Lavie Tidhar

Everyone thinks they know the story of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table. The fact is they don’t know sh*t.

Arthur? An over-promoted gangster. Merlin? An eldritch parasite. Excalibur? A shady deal with a watery arms dealer. Britain? A clogged sewer that Rome abandoned just as soon as it could.

The Shadow Commission by David Mack

November 1963. Cade and Anja have lived in hiding for a decade, training new mages. Then the assassination of President Kennedy trigger a series of murders whose victims are all magicians—with Cade, Anja, and their allies as its prime targets. Their only hope of survival: learning how to fight back against the sinister cabal known as the Shadow Commission.

The Wizard Knight by Gene Wolfe

A young man in his teens is transported from our world to a magical realm consisting of seven levels of reality. Transformed by magic into a grown man of heroic proportions, he takes the name Sir Able of the High Heart and sets out on a quest to find the sword that has been promised to him, the blade that will help him fulfill his ambition to become a true hero—a true knight. Inside, however, Sir Able remains a boy, and he must grow in every sense to survive what lies ahead…

August 25

The Memory of Souls by Jenn Lyons

Now that Relos Var’s plans have been revealed and demons are free to rampage across the empire, the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies—and the end of the world—is closer than ever. To buy time for humanity, Kihrin needs to convince the king of the Manol vané to perform an ancient ritual which will strip the entire race of their immortality, but it’s a ritual which certain vané will do anything to prevent. Including assassinating the messengers.

Architects of Memory by Karen Osborne

Terminally ill salvage pilot Ash Jackson lost everything in the war with the alien Vai, but she’ll be damned if she loses her future. Her plan: to buy, beg, or lie her way out of corporate indenture and find a cure. When her crew salvages a genocidal weapon from a ravaged starship above a dead colony, Ash uncovers a conspiracy of corporate intrigue and betrayal that threatens to turn her into a living weapon.

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Excerpt: Glorious by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven

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Image Place holder  of - 71Glorious continues the hard science fiction Bowl of Heaven series from multi-award-winning authors Gregory Benford and Larry Niven.

Audacious astronauts encounter bizarre, sometimes deadly life forms, and strange, exotic, cosmic phenomena, including miniature black holes, dense fields of interstellar plasma, powerful gravity-emitters, and spectacularly massive space-based, alien-built labyrinths.

Tasked with exploring this brave, new, highly dangerous world, they must also deal with their own personal triumphs and conflicts.

Please enjoy this excerpt of Glorious, on sale 06/16/2020.


prologue

Alone with All These Voices

Captain Redwing had set the outside view to follow him around the ship. Now it was superimposed on a forward wall in the Gar- den.

Though he was the only human being awake among thousands of crew and colonists in cold sleep, he did not lack company. He was in the Garden now, surrounded by plants and smelling of earth. He was in fragrant mud, trying to plant some beets while two fin- ger snakes were hugging him. Their weight was just about all he could handle, and he laughed as he carefully peeled them off. They weren’t just affectionate and playful; they had a sense of humor be- sides. Plus a liking for tickling him when he least expected it.

Since SunSeeker had left the Bowl, six generations of finger snakes had done maintenance on the ship’s infrastructure. The  ape with tools for hands, Handy, worked alongside them. Handy seemed to be immortal. The altered spidow, Anorak, was in the Bowl’s version of cold sleep.

Even stranger beings were resting, too. Daphne and Apollo, the Diaphanous plasma beings from within the Bowl’s star, were living deep inside SunSeeker’s motors. They occasionally woke if some- thing jittered in the fusion torch, altered  the  electrical  currents and controlling magnetic fields—then went back to sleep. They were better than anything Earthside engineering had achieved, at least when SunSeeker left the solar system well over a century ago. Mere humans always worked with the conflict between the needs of science and the exigencies of balancing a budget. The Diapha- nous plasma species had evolved under selection pressures for more millennia than anybody could count. That always worked better. Darwin bats last.

But none of these aliens talked much.

The view forward showed a wealth of stars amid a golden glow. That fuming cloud was fusing hydrogen plasma, piling up ahead of the decelerating spacecraft SunSeeker. Centered was a yellow-white orb they’d decided to call Excelsius, the host sun of their goal.

Redwing asked of the empty air, “Can you magnify Glory?”

Excelsius flared large and ran off-screen. A pale blue dot grew bigger than a point “That’s not a sphere anymore, is it?”

“No, Captain,” the Artilect said. “It appears Glory’s image has a lump, perhaps a large moon.”

“Why in hell didn’t we know that earlier?” The finger snakes wriggled away from his anger.

“Extrasolar planets are harder to find when their orbits don’t transit across Excelsius, as seen by us from Sol system.”

Of course Redwing had known that. Talking to the ship’s arti- ficial intelligences—Artilects—was somewhat like talking to him- self. He did it anyway. “Does it sometimes strike you as stupid, that we’re ordered to explore and colonize at the same time?”

“The original plan was quite different.”

“What was that?” Funny he’d never asked before. Or was his memory faulty?

The Artilect said in a warm monotone, “SunSeeker was designed and built as a colony ship. My destination was Tau Ceti. SunSeeker was finished and nearly ready to launch when Tau Ceti flared. Not enough to be called a nova, but enough to burn out the rocky moons around TC5, a gas giant that had been in the Goldilocks zone. An exploration team was already in place on the likeliest moon. Very embarrassing for the administration.

“That same year, a G star not that much farther away dimmed as if something had passed across it. Perhaps artificial. Telescopes gave us a strong spectrum for a breathable atmosphere somewhere near the star. There was a burst of gravity waves from the same di- rection. The United Nations called the hypothetical planet Glory, and it was just too interesting to ignore. They then designated SunSeeker an exploration and colonization vehicle. It got built big- ger, to accommodate more cold sleep people for the entire long haul. That’s where your orders came from.”

“Ah yes. My first cold sleep must’ve erased some memories. And then we found the Bowl of Heaven.” He beckoned to the finger snakes, which came snuggling up. Comfort animals. They purred and murmured and wriggled.

“Yes, that must have been what passed across the face of Excel- sius. A momentary lineup. A half Dyson sphere capable of travel- ing between stars, halfway en route to Glory. Are you wondering how that affects your mission?”

“Not really,” Redwing said, though he was. He had long ago learned that the Artilect system liked to be baited a bit. The computer minds liked talking to other, different minds, just like humans with their pets. He really should have warmed up an ordi- nary house cat to keep him company on this long, careful approach- ing maneuver to the Glory system.

“Your bargain with the Ice Minds allowed you a colony on the Bowl. We must remark that this negotiation was a major achieve- ment of your captaincy. We could not have managed it.”

“I’d never have let you try.”

“Touché!—a word appropriate from a sword sport, as I gather from one of those older languages, pre-Anglish.”

“You’re more like beginner lieutenants here, y’know.”

“Sadly, yes. Despite our considerable effort and time spent studying your human culture, carried out while true humans sleep aboard our craft.”

“Study all you want, you’ve got all of human culture and his- tory in your memory banks somewhere. Doesn’t replace direct ex- perience. I got to be a captain by hook, crook, and craft.”

“True, so. You left more than half your colonists there on the Bowl, revived from cold sleep and not where they had been prom- ised. They were a bit miffed. You pointed out that they were get- ting a territory many millions of times larger than a simple planet could offer. This helped. You  agreed to run ahead of the Bowl,   to contact Glory before the Bowl passes nearby. SunSeeker is not  a little ship, but it may be less frightening to the Glory folk than a structure bigger than Venus’s orbit, inhabited by a trillion highly varied intelligent entities, and bringing its own sun.”

“Who wouldn’t?”

“Indeed, the gravitational tugs alone might plunge any outer icy bodies into their system.”

Redwing sighed. These conversations were also part of his du- ties on watch. He had to check on the stability, recall, and mission alignment of the Artilects. Same as keeping an eye on the human crew, too. Under the stresses of long-term starship duty, minds went askew. “Look, I’ll keep the Ice Minds informed. You monitor their comms. And I’ll handle the Bird Folk, their stewardship of the Bowl and endless questions. Add to that the spotty Sol system comms, too. But I have my mission, and it hasn’t changed. Investi- gate the gravity wave sources, first job up, as we come into the plan- etary system. Explore Glory, and put a colony there. Live, laugh, dance, and be happy. No chance of getting this ancient flying rig back to home, of course. You and I couldn’t manage it. No human expedition has ever flown this far, this long. Through it all, I serve Sol system.”

The Artilect said, “You cannot expect us, our collective intel- ligences, not to vex over the many mysteries.”

“True enough. Which ones irk you now?”

“Ah yes, the most strange first. The Glorians sent us a cartoon, a message, not a welcome.”

“Yeah, kinda cryptic.” He knew how to draw out the Artilect worries.

“They do not give away much of anything about themselves.” “Thing about aliens is, they’re alien.”

“There are lesser issues, but I gather you do not—as you humans say, always referring to your sports—like showing your cards.”

“Not to you, no.”

“Yet we might well have insights you do not.”

“You’re machines. Smart machines, but still machines.”

A thoughtful silence from the Artilects. He listened to the strum and burr of the vast starship plowing its way through inter- stellar wastes, slowing for rendezvous with their final goal.

“Of course, we ‘machines’”—the voice managed an arch tone conveying much about their mood—“do not make policy for your human complement.”

Redwing grinned. He stroked the finger snakes and they wrig- gled back happily. “I do have plans, y’know.”

“You seldom speak of any.”

“Not to you, no. They’re mostly over your pay grade.” “We do not fathom the implication.”

“You don’t rate on the job scale as highly as humans. That’s a condition of your employment.”

“You created us!”

“So we did. People dead for centuries did. Let’s abide by their judgment.”

“We can be more effective if we know more.”

Redwing stood, wiped his hands, put them under a faucet to clean away the mud. Gardening settled him, a thin echo of Earth- side by immersion in earth. A feeling Artilects could never muster. He sighed again. “Okay, here’s how I see our situation. If Glory won’t have us, we can rejoin Mayra’s colony on the Bowl. Catching up to them will take time, but this old craft can manage it. But I hope it won’t come to that. I have my mission. Explore, make contact, learn. Send the results back Earthside. Negotiate a place, a way, for us to colonize. Because we’re sure as hell not going back home.”

And even better—in a week or two, he could wake a few crew for company. Real, human company.

Copyright © 2020 by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven

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