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2006: The Lit Listicle

This is a listicle about a bygone age that some who read it may not remember, prompting us to marvel at the impressive and intimidating march of time. This is a listicle about the year 2006, and it exists because of Cory Doctorow. Well, not the year—that was going to happen anyway, but the listicle, yes. That’s thanks to Cory, and his new novel The Bezzle, which is set in 2006. 

You can read about it, and other titles that feature, include, or span the year 2006 below!


the bezzle by cory doctorowThe Bezzle by Cory Doctorow

The year is 2006. Martin Hench is at the top of his game as a self-employed forensic accountant, a veteran of the long guerrilla war between people who want to hide money, and people who want to find it. In The Bezzle, Martin squares off against a cadre of the ultra-wealthy, and the arena where they clash is California’s Department of Corrections. This novel is a rebuke of the privatized prison system and the arcane financial chicanery that lead to the 2008 financial crisis. 

wolfsong by tj kluneWolfsong by TJ Klune

The Green Creek Series chronicles the lives of a pack of smalltown werewolves, and the year 2006 is pivotal to the first novel in the series, Wolfsong. This is a story of familial trauma and queer love—the story of Joe and Ox, two young werewolves who one day will fall in love. Perhaps it is a coincidence that in all the chapters of this book, which encompass a broad swath of time, specifies 2006 as the year Joe and Ox first meet. 

Perhaps. 

But imagine how excited we were to discover this significance to the year so crucial to this listicle. 

. . .

In case imagination fails, we were quite thrilled. 

the atlas six by olivie blakeThe Atlas Six by Olivie Blake

The Atlas Series devotes much time to the relationships between big concepts like space, life, energy, death, and time. But we’re not talking about time broadly. We want time specific. Specifically, 2006. What was happening in the Atlas universe of magic grad students and dangerous research in 2006? 

Well, the world was falling apart, for one. For two, Atlas was going through a deep and soul-shaking emotional journey that we can’t fully disclose in this list for fear of spoiling an incredible book series, but trust us. It was happening. 

In 2006, Atlas Blakely was going through it. 

last exit by max gladstoneLast Exit by Max Gladstone

Speaking of ‘Going through it’ as a colloquialism for having a tough time, let’s talk about Last Exit. Zelda, our primary point-of-view in Last Exit, is most certainly going through it. A relatively sheltered child, Zelda’s world expanded when she went to college and met her girlfriend Sal, and then expanded rapidly when she and Sal discovered a magic sort of power that allowed them to explore adjacent dimensions. It is likely that 2006 was somewhere in the soon-to-meet-Sal / going steady with Sal / optimistically exploring alternate realities phase of Zelda’s life. 

Years later, in the present, that phase is over. 

An interdimensional rot spreads between worlds, and the optimism is gone. So is Sal. Can the old gang muster together for an attempt at doing things right this time? It’s probably their last chance. 

exordia by seth dickinsonExordia by Seth Dickinson

When performing research for this list, we received ironclad confirmation that the events of the novel Exordia do, in fact, predate and postdate the year 2006, therefore giving us reason enough to include this book about the team-up of a disaffected office worker / refugee and an eight-headed snake alien as they combat an extra-extraterrestrial threat. 

Read Exordia. It is Very Good. 

 

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7 Icy Songs & 7 Cool Books

by Julia Bergen & a cat

Yo VIP, let’s kick it.

Ice. It’s cool. It’s…there. But there’s not much humor to it. Not like sand

But with winter upon us, we wanted to make an article about ice. But how to give ice a little chaos, a little twinkle, a little magic?

We thought. And we thought.

Ice…

Ice…

Baby?

And thus was born, the chaotic, twinkling, maybe even magical, icy songs and books pairing listicle.


The Cradle of Ice by James RollinsVanilla Ice’s Ice Ice Baby + James Rollins’ The Cradle of Ice

Taken in a certain light, Vanilla Ice’s classic Ice Ice Baby is a quest song. A group of heroes must collaborate and listen. They travel for a while, pursuing to the next stop. Action heats up when Gunshots ranged out like a bell and our heroes must get away before the jackers jack. But in the end they pull together as if with a rallying cry of, if there was a problem, yo, I’ll solve it.

What does that make you think of?

Obviously, the fantasy epic The Cradle of Ice by James Rollins! Where a soldier, a thief, a lost prince, and a young girl must form a fellowship to stop an apocalypse by traveling into a vast region of ice and to a sprawling capital of the world they’ve only known in stories. It’s an incredible, gripping fantasy, because Rollins truly understands that “anything less than the best is a felony.”


The Atlas Six by Olivie BlakePat Benetar’s Fire And Ice + Olivie Blake’s The Atlas Six

This anthem to the inevitability of attraction and heartbreak is the perfect tune to compliment the messy, messy personal dynamics at play in The Atlas Six. In the book, six powerful magicians do graduate research and contemplate asking out their crushes and murdering their friends. In the song, Pat Benetar is familiar with the capricious and cruel nature of the one she’s craving (You come on like a flame, then you turn a cold shoulder), but knowledge is not enough to prevent carnage. She knows if she surrenders to the heat she feels, it’ll fall away and she’ll be left in the cold (I want to give you my love, but you’ll just take a little piece of my heart). 

In the end, Pat seems determined not to fall for her crush’s games, while the characters of The Atlas Six are pretty much incapable of not allowing their peers to burn them, but talk is cheap. 

Ask Atlas Society resident Tristan Caine if he’s going back for more Fire And Ice, knowing he’ll be hurt, and he’ll tell you to shut up and get lost, but that’s only because he has somewhere to be. 

Also something something re: Robert Frost’s poem about fire, ice, and the end of the world. 


starter villain by john scalziForeigner’s Cold as Ice + John Scalzi’s Starter Villain

Okay, on the outside, Cold as Ice by Foreigner may seem like it’s about a broken-hearted ex describing a former lover’s rejection. But ice can be deceiving, just like this song! I think it’s actually about a group of billionaire super villains trying to run the world, much like the cabal in John Scalzi’s sf romp, Starter Villain

They are cold as ice. They are willing to sacrifice. The line you’re digging for gold, particularly relevant, as these turds are just as into money as they into power. You want paradise well, their version of paradise, anyway. You leave the world behind, they don’t care about the world, they just want what they can get out of it.

But it ends on a hopeful note, as both Starter Villain and Foreigner promise us, someday you’ll pay the price, I know. Oh, we know.


the archive undying by emma mieko candonPinkPantheress & Ice Spice’s Boy’s a liar Pt. 2 + Emma Mieko Candon’s The Archive Undying

So before getting into more advanced parsing, The Archive Undying is a match for Boy’s a liar Pt. 2 because every boy in this book is lying through his teeth. Now, you could say that about all the women characters, nonbinary characters, and nonhuman characters too, and you’d be right. But Sunai, who is the main character of The Archive Undying—well, you just want to grab him by shoulders and plead with him to love himself a little and tear himself away from the long line of men that have only emotionally devastated him, knowing that Sunai himself is absolutely one of those men. The lyrics I don’t sleep enough without you / And I can’t eat enough without you are very Sunai-coded; he’s definitely not taking care of himself. He’s a man who would sooner feed himself to a giant starving robot than love himself enough to tell someone he loves them. 


the bezzle by cory doctorowBilly Joel’s Running on Ice + Cory Doctorow’s The Bezzle

When we were picking out pairings, this one felt like an obvious choice. Although Billy Joel could not possibly have read The Bezzle (on sale 2.20.2024) when he wrote Running on Ice (part of Joel’s album The Bridge, released 7.9.1986), it does feel like this song is about forensic accountant Martin Hench, AKA the culmination of technology and civilized experience.

The song describes someone pushed to the brink by modern civilization, and though the narrator doesn’t specifically say that he’s battling amoral billionaires trying to make their next buck no matter the cost, it’s basically implied. In a world of high rise ambition most people’s motives are ulterior? Definitely what Hench runs into in both Red Team Blues and the follow up, The Bezzle, where now he’s pitted against a group of the ultra rich taking advantage of the private prison system to make even more money. Poor Martin Hench, always wandering into another nefarious scheme. But as the song says, as soon as I get one fire put out

There’s another building burning down.

At least that means we’ve got lots of Martin Hench adventures to read?


last exit by max gladstoneSimon & Garfunkel’s A Hazy Shade of Winter + Max Gladstone’s Last Exit

Look around / Leaves are brown / And the sky is a hazy shade of winter

Last Exit is kind of like that. Look around—things are not as they were. Leaves are brown—no youth, no hope. There’s a patch of snow on the ground

In the distant past before the events of Last Exit, Zelda and her friends discovered a magic sort of spiritual momentum that could propel one into a different dimension. The roads to alternate realities were a navigable spiderweb, and they knew they could use their findings to improve not just their world, but all of them. 

There’s a patch of snow on the ground

They were wrong, and they suffered for it, and the future is colder than the past. The rot between worlds—an interdimensional sickness—claimed Zelda’s girlfriend, but she’s still out there. Calling. Approaching. Does the old gang have enough idealism left to band together for one last adventure? 

There’s a patch of snow on the ground.

It is very cold. 


projections by s.e. porterChristina Perri’s Jar of Hearts + S. E. Porter’s Projections

When we made this list, things were pretty silly. We called our brainstorming sess ice ice meeting. We were so, so goofy.  But honestly, a lot of these songs that invoke ice are about pain, which perhaps we could have anticipated, had we not been so initially focused on Vanilla Ice. 

Anyway, the ice in Jar of Hearts comes from this chorus: You’re gonna catch a cold / From the ice inside your soul / So don’t come back for me / Who do you think you are? The novel Projections is about as harrowing as those lines. A rejected sorcerer murders Catherine, the woman who denied him, and then sends projections of himself out into the world to seduce more women to add them to his jar of hearts. 

Catherine’s not about this, and haunts him. Seeks vengeance. As Christina Perri sang, Don’t you know I’m not your ghost anymore? 

The song and book aren’t 1-1 parallels, but the notes are all present. The hurt. The betrayal. The haunting. 


video soruce

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Queer Books Coming in 2022 🏳️‍🌈

2022 was a big year to be queer and a big year for books! Way back, we combined these two things together into a list of every queer book coming out from Tor Books in 2022, and now we’re bringing it back around with a few new additions 😎🏳️‍🌈

Check it out, y’all!


Legends & LattesLegends & Lattes by Travis Baldree by Travis Baldree

After a lifetime of bounties and bloodshed, Viv is hanging up her sword for the last time.

The battle-weary orc aims to start fresh, opening the first ever coffee shop in the city of Thune. But old and new rivals stand in the way of success — not to mention the fact that no one has the faintest idea what coffee actually is.

If Viv wants to put the blade behind her and make her plans a reality, she won’t be able to go it alone.

But the true rewards of the uncharted path are the travelers you meet along the way. And whether drawn together by ancient magic, flaky pastry, or a freshly brewed cup, they may become partners, family, and something deeper than she ever could have dreamed.


The Thousand EyesThe Thousand Eyes by A. K. Larkwood by A. K. Larkwood

Two years after defying the wizard Belthandros Sethennai and escaping into the great unknown, Csorwe and Shuthmili have made a new life for themselves, hunting for secrets among the ruins of an ancient snake empire. Along for the ride is Tal Charossa, determined to leave the humiliation and heartbreak of his hometown far behind him, even if it means enduring the company of his old rival and her insufferable girlfriend. All three of them would be quite happy never to see Sethennai again. But when a routine expedition goes off the rails and a terrifying imperial relic awakens, they find that a common enemy may be all it takes to bring them back into his orbit.


cover of The Atlas Six by Olivie BlakeThe Atlas Six by Olivie Blake

The Alexandrian Society, caretakers of lost knowledge from the greatest civilizations of antiquity, are the foremost secret society of magical academicians in the world. Those who earn a place among the Alexandrians will secure a life of wealth, power, and prestige beyond their wildest dreams, and each decade, only the six most uniquely talented magicians are selected to be considered for initiation. When the candidates are recruited by the mysterious Atlas Blakely, they are told they will have one year to qualify for initiation, during which time they will be permitted preliminary access to the Society’s archives and judged based on their contributions to various subjects of impossibility: time and space, luck and thought, life and death. Five, they are told, will be initiated. One will be eliminated. The six potential initiates will fight to survive the next year of their lives, and if they can prove themselves to be the best among their rivals, most of them will. Most of them.


The Atlas ParadoxThe Atlas Paradox by Olivie Blake by Olivie Blake

Six magicians. Two rivalries. One researcher. And a man who can walk through dreams. All must pick a side: do they wish to preserve the world—or destroy it? In this electric sequel to the viral sensation, The Atlas Six, the society of Alexandrians is revealed for what it is: a secret society with raw, world-changing power, headed by a man whose plans to change life as we know it are already under way. But the cost of knowledge is steep, and as the price of power demands each character choose a side, which alliances will hold and which will see their enmity deepen?


Image Place holder  of - 53Last Exit by Max Gladstone

Ten years ago, Zelda led a band of merry adventurers whose knacks let them travel to alternate realities and battle the black rot that threatened to unmake each world. Zelda was the warrior; Ish could locate people anywhere; Ramon always knew what path to take; Sarah could turn catastrophe aside. Keeping them all connected: Sal, Zelda’s lover and the group’s heart. Until their final, failed mission, when Sal was lost. When they all fell apart. Ten years on, Ish, Ramon, and Sarah are happy and successful. Zelda is alone, always traveling, destroying rot throughout the US. When it boils through the crack in the Liberty Bell, the rot gives Zelda proof that Sal is alive, trapped somewhere in the alts. Zelda’s getting the band back together.


Place holder  of - 40The Discord of Gods by Jenn Lyons

Relos Var’s final plans to enslave the universe are on the cusp of fruition. He believes there’s only one being in existence that might be able to stop him: the demon Xaltorath. As these two masterminds circle each other, neither is paying attention to the third player on the board, Kihrin. Unfortunately, keeping himself classified in the ‘pawn’ category means Kihrin must pretend to be everything the prophecies threatened he’d become: the destroyer of all, the sun eater, a mindless, remorseless plague upon the land. It also means finding an excuse to not destroy the people he loves (or any of the remaining Immortals) without arousing suspicion.


cover of The Origin of Storms by Elizabeth BearThe Origin of Storms by Elizabeth Bear

Hugo Award-winning author Elizabeth Bear returns to conclude her acclaimed epic fantasy trilogy of the Lotus Kingdoms, which began with The Stone in the Skull and The Red-Stained Wings, bringing it all to a surprising, satisfying climax in The Origin of Storms. The Lotus Kingdoms are at war, with four claimants to the sorcerous throne of the Alchemical Emperor, fielding three armies between them. Alliances are made, and broken, many times over—but in the end, only one can sit on the throne. And that one must have not only the power, but the rightful claim.


 

Image Placeholder of - 88The Grief of Stones by Katherine Addison

In The Grief of Stones, Katherine Addison returns to the world of The Goblin Emperor with a direct sequel to The Witness For The Dead

Celehar’s life as the Witness for the Dead of Amalo grows less isolated as his circle of friends grows larger. He has been given an apprentice to teach, and he has stumbled over a scandal of the city—the foundling girls. Orphans with no family to claim them and no funds to buy an apprenticeship. Foundling boys go to the Prelacies; foundling girls are sold into service, or worse.

At once touching and shattering, Celehar’s witnessing for one of these girls will lead him into the depths of his own losses.

The love of his friends will lead him out again.


cover of A Strange and Stubborn Endurance by Foz MeadowsA Strange and Stubborn Endurance by Foz Meadows

Velasin vin Aaro never planned to marry at all, let alone a girl from neighboring Tithena. When an ugly confrontation reveals his preference for men, Vel fears he’s ruined the diplomatic union before it can even begin. But while his family is ready to disown him, the Tithenai envoy has a different solution: for Vel to marry his former intended’s brother instead. Caethari Aeduria always knew he might end up in a political marriage, but his sudden betrothal to a man from Ralia, where such relationships are forbidden, comes as a shock. With an unknown faction willing to kill to end their new alliance, Vel and Cae have no choice but to trust each other. Survival is one thing, but love—as both will learn—is quite another.


cover of The Book Eaters by Sunyi DeanThe Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean

Out on the Yorkshire Moors lives a secret line of people for whom books are food, and who retain all of a book’s content after eating it. To them, spy novels are a peppery snack; romance novels are sweet and delicious. Eating a map can help them remember destinations, and children, when they misbehave, are forced to eat dry, musty pages from dictionaries. Devon is part of The Family, an old and reclusive clan of book eaters. Her brothers grow up feasting on stories of valor and adventure, and Devon—like all other book eater women—is raised on a carefully curated diet of fairytales and cautionary stories. But real life doesn’t always come with happy endings, as Devon learns when her son is born with a rare and darker kind of hunger—not for books, but for human minds.


Dance with the DevilDance with the Devil by Kit Rocha by Kit Rocha

Tobias Richter, the fearsome VP of Security of TechCorp is dead. The puppetmaster is gone, and the organization is scrambling to maintain control by ruthlessly limiting access to resources to Atlanta, hoping to quell rebellion. Our band of mercenary librarians have decided that the time for revolution has come. Maya uses her wealth of secrets to weaken the TechCorps from within. Dani strikes from the shadows, picking off the chain of command one ambush at a time. And Nina is organizing their community—not just to survive, but to fight back. When Maya needs to make contact with a sympathetic insider, Dani and Rafe are the only ones with the skill-set and experience to infiltrate the highest levels of the TechCorps. They’ll go deep undercover in the decadent, luxury-soaked penthouses on the Hill. Bringing Dani face-to-face with the man who turned her into a killer. And forcing Rafe to decide how far he’ll go to protect both of his families—the one he was born to, and the one he made for himself. Victory will break the back of Power. Failure will destroy Atlanta.


The Genesis of MiseryThe Genesis of Misery by Neon Yang by Neon Yang

Neon Yang (they/them) is the author of the Tensorate series of novellas from Tor.Com Publishing (The Red Threads of FortuneThe Black Tides of HeavenThe Descent of Monsters and The Ascent to Godhood). Their work has been shortlisted for the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, Lambda Literary and Locus awards, while the Tensorate novellas were a Tiptree honoree in 2018. They have over two dozen works of short fiction published in venues including Tor.com, Uncanny MagazineLightspeedClarkesworld, and Strange Horizons. 


Ocean’s EchoOcean's Echo by Everina Maxwell by Everina Maxwell

When Tennal—a rich socialite, inveterate flirt, and walking disaster—is caught using his telepathic powers for illegal activities, the military decides to bind his mind to someone whose coercive powers are strong enough to control him. Enter Lieutenant Surit, the child of a disgraced general. Out of a desperate need to restore a pension to his other parent, Lieutenant Surit agrees to be bound to Tennal and keep him conscripted in the army, a task that seems impossible even for someone with Surit’s ability to control minds. Tennal just wants to escape, but Surit isn’t all that he seems. And their bond may just be the key to their freedom.


Which book is at the top of your TBR? Let us know in the comments! 

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Tor Books EPIC Holiday Gift Guide For Your Oddball Family

Hello hello, and welcome back to our annual TOR BOOKS HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE, where we give you what we think are the best gifts for the hyper specific, super chaotic individuals in your life. From your childhood BFF to your mildly traumatized game master, we have a whole slew of bookish picks for you this holiday season. Enjoy, and Happy Holidays, y’all!

By Rachel Taylor and a cat


For your long suffering GM (Game Master) who just wants a break from your party

Stranger Things' Eddie Munson hosting a session of DnD

via tenor

Anyone who acts as game master for Dungeons & Dragons (or any other TTRPG, to be frank) deserves an award for powering through all the shenanigans their party puts them through. From attempting to fight a dragon with a fork to accidentally leading your party off a cliff, your deeply stressed out GM deserves a cozy novel to help them decompress. Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree is out now and, for an extra little something, you can submit your receipt to get an adorable acrylic charm, a perfect addition to your gift!


For your cousin who remained loyal and never left Tumblr 

Books whimsically flying off a shelf to a concerned-looking guy

via GIPHY

You remember the Tumblr exodus of 2019, and for shame—you were part of it, you fragile soul. But not your cousin. Resolute, they stood by their blog and posted through the long, long night. Three years later, Tumblr is resurging and you need a gift for the one who never lost faith. What’s more Tumblr than magic danger-nerds alternatively hooking up with and hating each other as they conduct research and mainline caffeine and/or alcohol? Redeem your past mistakes with the perfect bookly gifts for your cousin: Olivie Blake’s The Atlas Six and thrilling sequel, The Atlas Paradox.


For the enthusiastic players who got their GM Legends & Lattes

Cartoon Doge Rogue—a 'Dogue'

@lookhuman via GIPHY

You love the players at your table, but even after years of collaborative TTRPG storytelling, you’ve never once anticipated the many ways they have conspired to unravel every plot thread you’ve ever written. How then could you ever predict what they might like as a gift? Easy. Just listen to us: Daughter of Redwinter by Ed McDonald is a fantastic epic fantasy about a girl who can A) see ghosts, and B) turn people into them with an expertly placed arrow, if she takes the mind. Of course, if anyone finds out about her power, she’s dead, and circumstances have led her to become a ward in the monastery of the very warrior-magi that would execute her. Oops! What gamesplayer can resist a quick-paced and twisting tale of magic, adventure, and deceit?


For your ex-boyfriend who’s still blowing up your phone with House of the Dragon TikTok’s

Daemon Targaryen very sexily receiving troubling news that his brother Viserys loves him with the GIF ending frames before he does something evil. I'm so sorry whoever's reading this I'm not perfect

via GIPHY

So your ex-boyfriend (who you’re still friends with, DESPITE THE ADVICE OF OTHERS) just finished House of the Dragon and he won’t stop texting you about how much it sucks to have to wait 2 years for season 2. He’s right, but you can still give him a new epic fantasy to obsess over with The First Binding by R.R. Virdi. At over 800 pages, it’ll keep him busy for quite a while AND it also doubles as a premium bludgeoning weapon for you if he doesn’t appreciate your gift. Win win!


For your chronically-online uncle who needs to stop doomscrolling for his own health

very cool neon void road this artist is so good (@dualvoidanima)

@dualvoidmania via GIPHY

He’s mister doom-and-gloom. If there’s an upsetting tweet, you’ve seen it because he’s retweeted it. You don’t quite know him well enough to be comfortable with direct intervention. You need to gift him Last Exit by Max Gladstone. It’s a book about the death of idealism and the rot that creeps through the cracks of reality like so many corrosively fecund vines. It’s about a generation who thought they would transform the world and failure’s fallout. He’ll still be very DOOM-ful, but in an artistically fun, yet still scary way.


For your brother who is OBSESSED with The Wheel of Time on Amazon Prime

Rosamund Pike casting some overpowered magic. Queen

via GIPHY

So your brother watched The Wheel of Time on Amazon Prime and has fallen down the 14+ book-deep rabbithole that is Robert Jordan’s timeless epic fantasy series. Help him delve even further into the lore with Origins of the Wheel of Time by Michael Livingston! He’ll be able to learn even more about all the mythology and legends that inspired Robert Jordan’s universe and you’ll get some peace and quiet while he’s absorbed in his new book.


For your sister who is always has at least 5 open browser tabs of Ao3 fics

dancing, logging in to ur laptop for fanfiction time!

via Gfycat

Who among us hasn’t spent some time reading fix-it fics on Ao3? Well, no one compares to your sister, who currently has 30 tabs open on her iPhone filled with her favorite OTP falling in love 30 different ways (IF THE SHOW WON’T GIVE THEM A HAPPILY EVER AFTER, THE INTERNET WILL). You can’t buy her the perfect 100 chapter slow burn coffee shop fix-it fic of her OTP, but you CAN buy her Ocean’s Echo by Everina Maxwell! It features all the choicest tropes like mutual pining, slowburn, and fake dating and will be sure to put a smile on her face for the holidays.


For your estranged mother, to subtly let her know that your relationship still requires some Conversations

Lucille Bluth: "If you're saying I play favorites, you're wrong. I love all my children equally."

*Earlier that day* Lucille Bluth: "I don't care for Gob."

via GIPHY & tenor

Do you want to give your mother a gift that’s also a hint about how you feel about your tumultuous parental relationship? Just Like Home by Sarah Gailey is the gift for her! It’s got great thriller vibes, with a daughter coming back to her family home for the first time after her father was arrested for being a serial killer…which she kind of caused. And mom’s still holding a grudge over a DECADE later. It’s got drama, monsters, and enough parallels to make your mom go ‘Wait, is this f*cking play about US?!’


For the loved one in your life who waited 2.5 years to finally see My Chemical Romance live in Fall 2022

dark spell book with eye on the cover it's VERY cool

@KyleeConriquez via GIPHY

A million years ago (Or two and a half. Whatever. Time is meaningless mush) your loved one planned to attend the My Chemical Romance reunion. A show that would eventually be put off and off and off due to ongoing events until earlier this year. It was epic, but you know what else is? Book of Night by Holly Black. Your loved one won’t have to wait 900~ days for this literary event, and just like an MCR show, they’ll want to acquire (more) goth clothes and tattoos after.


For the childhood BFF everyone called a ‘voracious reader’ growing up / anyone who was ‘a delight to have in class’

Matilda reading. "She devoured one book after another"

via Goodreads

Did your childhood BFF simply devour every book in front of her? Is she still That Person whose TBR pile is precariously stacked in the corner of her living room, a threat to anyone who brushes too close? Give her a book to really whet her appetite for reading in The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean, where a very special family literally sustains themselves entirely by eating books. Did we bite a book while reading this to see if we were book eaters? Who’s to say.


For your college best friend with at least one historical quote tattoo

Joan of Arc look at the MET Gala

via GIPHY

Does your college best friend have an encyclopedic knowledge of historical retellings? Do they have, at minimum, one historically linked tattoo that prompts a 20 minute lecture whenever someone asks what it means? Do they have five different editions of The Song of Achilles on their shelf? And most importantly, do they crave a new, queer retelling to sink their teeth into? Look no further! Neon Yang has a Joan of Arc inspired, post-apocalyptic sci-fi story for you. Check out The Genesis of Misery, ​​starring a queer and diverse array of pilots, princesses, and prophetic heirs.


For the ambiguously LGBTQ+ niece whose fashion sense you try to understand, but ultimately makes you feel insecure about how fast you’re aging

wildly cool psychedelic snake meets girl shadow

@yifan via GIPHY

You love them, but no one makes you feel old like your nebulously but definitely queer niece. They’re so cool, and are very helpful in keeping you up to date on the hippest trends, but every time you talk to them, you feel the pent-up years in your joints. Get your niece A. K. Larkwood’s The Serpent Gates series, including The Unspoken Name and The Thousand Eyes. It’s about a gay orc death priestess who rebrands herself as a garbage wizard’s personal assassin and picks up a gods-cursed, magi-baddie mid-adventure. There are cosmic gods, ancient ruins, devious machinations, and a lot of awesome gay stuff.


For the sibling on their third+ rewatch of The Expanse

The Expanse's incredible Naomi Nagata: "I'm using my last remaining brain cells to try and kill my last remaining brain cells."

via GIPHY

We get it. Your sibling buddy is bummed that The Expanse has finished its TV run and is still hopelessly in love with its marriage of adrenaline-flooding action and introspective parsing of human expansion / empire. Again, we do get it, and what you need to get is Sweep of Stars by Maurice Broaddus.


For the nephew who you gifted The Way of Kings to last year

Old book leafing through pages

via GIPHY

Your nephew reads through books at speeds generally known only to muscle cars and lightning, and he needs long fantasy books now! The time required to produce the next installment in an epic series is often as long as the books themselves, which is unfortunate since it’s time for you to gift your nephew another book. Here’s the good news: Brandon Sanderson writes as fast as your nephew reads, and his long-awaited continuation of the Mistborn series, The Lost Metal, is the perfect gift. And then next year you can get him the next Brando Sando, and the book cycle of giving goes on and on and on.

We hope you and your loves ones have a happy and safe holiday season! Did we miss a super niche friend/family member that you want to see a gift for? Let us know in the comments! 

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Thrilling and Chilling Halloween Reads From TPG!

OUR TIME HAS COME……AGAIN!

What time is that, you ask? The time of October, which means Fall, which means…HALLOWEEN! And yes, we first posted this list LAST Halloween, but we will not be taking questions at this time, thanks.

We’re kicking off the scariest month of the year with some thrilling old, new, and new-in-paperback reads from Tor Publishing Group! Check them out below and let us know which is at the top of your TBR in the comments.


MordewMordew by Alex Pheby by Alex Pheby

God is dead, his corpse hidden in the catacombs beneath Mordew. In the slums of the sea-battered city, a young boy called Nathan Treeves lives with his parents, eking out a meagre existence by picking treasures from the Living Mud and the half-formed, short-lived creatures it spawns. Until one day his desperate mother sells him to the mysterious Master of Mordew. The Master derives his magical power from feeding on the corpse of God. But Nathan, despite his fear and lowly station, has his own strength—and it is greater than the Master has ever known. So it is that the Master begins to scheme against him—and Nathan has to fight his way through the betrayals, secrets, and vendettas of the city where God was murdered, and darkness reigns.

Book of Night by Holly Black

Book of Night by Holly BlackCharlie Hall has never found a lock she couldn’t pick, a book she couldn’t steal, or a bad decision she wouldn’t make. She’s spent half her life working for gloamists, magicians who manipulate shadows to peer into locked rooms, strangle people in their beds, or worse. Gloamists guard their secrets greedily, creating an underground economy of grimoires. And to rob their fellow magicians, they need Charlie Hall. Now, she’s trying to distance herself from past mistakes, but getting out isn’t easy. Bartending at a dive, she’s still entirely too close to the corrupt underbelly of the Berkshires. Not to mention that her sister Posey is desperate for magic, and that Charlie’s shadowless, and possibly soulless, boyfriend has been hiding things from her. When a terrible figure from her past returns, Charlie descends into a maelstrom of murder and lies. Determined to survive, she’s up against a cast of doppelgangers, mercurial billionaires, gloamists, and the people she loves best in the world—all trying to steal a secret that will give them vast and terrible power.

Last Exit by Max GladstoneLast Exit by Max Gladstone

When Zelda and her friends first met, in college, they believed they had all the answers. They had figured out a big secret about how the world worked and they thought that meant they could change things. They failed. One of their own fell, to darkness and rot.Ten years later, they’ve drifted apart, building lives for themselves, families, fortunes. All but Zelda. She’s still wandering the backroads of the nation. She’s still fighting monsters. She knows: the past isn’t over. It’s not even past.The road’s still there. The rot’s still waiting. They can’t hide from it any more. Because, at long last, their friend is coming home. And hell is coming with her.

Just Like Home by Sarah GaileyJust Like Home by Sarah Gailey

“Come home.” Vera’s mother called and Vera obeyed. In spite of their long estrangement, in spite of the memories — she’s come back to the home of a serial killer. Back to face the love she had for her father and the bodies he buried there, beneath the house he’d built for his family. Coming home is hard enough for Vera, and to make things worse, she and her mother aren’t alone. A parasitic artist has moved into the guest house out back and is slowly stripping Vera’s childhood for spare parts. He insists that he isn’t the one leaving notes around the house in her father’s handwriting… but who else could it possibly be? There are secrets yet undiscovered in the foundations of the notorious Crowder House. Vera must face them and find out for herself just how deep the rot goes.

Black Tide by KC JonesBlack Tide by KC Jones

It was just another day at the beach. Then the world ended. Mike and Beth were strangers before the night of the meteor shower. Chance made them neighbors, a bottle of champagne brought them together, and a shared need for human connection sparked something more. Following their drunken and desperate one-night stand, the two discover the astronomical event has left widespread destruction in its wake. But the cosmic lightshow was only part of something much bigger, and far more terrifying. When a lost car key leaves them stranded on an empty stretch of Oregon coast and inhuman screams echo from the dunes, when the rising tide reaches for their car and unspeakable horrors close in around them, these two self-destructive souls must fight to survive a nightmare of apocalyptic scale.

The Witch in the Well by Camilla BruceThe Witch in the Well by Camilla Bruce

When two former friends reunite after decades apart, their grudges, flawed ambitions, and shared obsession swirl into an all-too-real echo of a terrible town legend. Centuries ago, beautiful young Ilsbeth Clark was accused of witchcraft after several children disappeared. Her acquittal did nothing to stop her fellow townsfolk from drowning her in the well where the missing children were last seen. When author and social media influencer Elena returns to the summer paradise of her youth to get her family’s manor house ready to sell, the last thing she expected was connecting with—and feeling inspired to write about—Ilsbeth’s infamous spirit. The very historical figure that her ex-childhood friend, Cathy, has been diligently researching and writing about for years. What begins as a fiercely competitive sense of ownership over Ilsbeth and her story soon turns both women’s worlds into something more haunted and dangerous than they could ever imagine.

The Echo WifeThe Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey by Sarah Gailey

“I’m embarrassed, still, by how long it took me to notice. Everything was right there in the open, right there in front of me, but it still took me so long to see the person I had married. It took me so long to hate him.” Martine is a genetically cloned replica made from Evelyn Caldwell’s award-winning research. She’s patient and gentle and obedient. She’s everything Evelyn swore she’d never be. And she’s having an affair with Evelyn’s husband. Now, the cheating bastard is dead, and both Caldwell wives have a mess to clean up. Good thing Evelyn Caldwell is used to getting her hands dirty.

You Let Me InYou Let Me In by Camilla Bruce by Camilla Bruce

Cassandra Tipp is dead…or is she? After all, the notorious recluse and eccentric bestselling novelist has always been prone to flights of fancy—everyone in town remembers the shocking events leading up to Cassie’s infamous trial (she may have been acquitted, but the insanity defense only stretches so far). Cassandra Tipp has left behind no body—just her massive fortune, and one final manuscript. Then again, there are enough bodies in her past—her husband Tommy Tipp, whose mysterious disembowelment has never been solved, and a few years later, the shocking murder-suicide of her father and brother. Cassandra Tipp will tell you a story—but it will come with a terrible price. What really happened, out there in the woods—and who has Cassie been protecting all along? Read on, if you dare…Get it in paperback now!

Certain Dark ThingsCertain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Welcome to Mexico City, an oasis in a sea of vampires. Domingo, a lonely garbage-collecting street kid, is just trying to survive its heavily policed streets when a jaded vampire on the run swoops into his life. Atl, the descendant of Aztec blood drinkers, is smart, beautiful, and dangerous. Domingo is mesmerized. Atl needs to quickly escape the city, far from the rival narco-vampire clan relentlessly pursuing her. Her plan doesn’t include Domingo, but little by little, Atl finds herself warming up to the scrappy young man and his undeniable charm. Vampires, humans, cops, and criminals collide in the dark streets of Mexico City. Do Atl and Domingo even stand a chance of making it out alive? Or will the city devour them all?

SlewfootSlewfoot by Brom by Brom

Connecticut, 1666. An ancient spirit awakens in a dark wood. The wildfolk call him Father, slayer, protector. The colonists call him Slewfoot, demon, devil. To Abitha, a recently widowed outcast, alone and vulnerable in her pious village, he is the only one she can turn to for help.mTogether, they ignite a battle between pagan and Puritan – one that threatens to destroy the entire village, leaving nothing but ashes and bloodshed in their wake. “If it is a devil you seek, then it is a devil you shall have!” This terrifying tale of bewitchery features more than two dozen of Brom’s haunting paintings, fully immersing readers in this wild and unforgiving world.

The Last House on Needless StreetThe Last House On Needless Street by Catriona Ward by Catriona Ward

In a boarded-up house on a dead-end street at the edge of the wild Washington woods lives a family of three. A teenage girl who isn’t allowed outside, not after last time. A man who drinks alone in front of his TV, trying to ignore the gaps in his memory. And a house cat who loves napping and reading the Bible. An unspeakable secret binds them together, but when a new neighbor moves in next door, what is buried out among the birch trees may come back to haunt them all.

HEXHEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Welcome to Black Spring, the seemingly picturesque Hudson Valley town haunted by the Black Rock Witch, a seventeenth century woman whose eyes and mouth are sewn shut. Muzzled, she walks the streets and enters homes at will. Everybody knows that her eyes may never be opened or the consequences will be too terrible to bear. The elders of Black Spring have virtually quarantined the town by using high-tech surveillance to prevent their curse from spreading. Frustrated with being kept in lockdown, the town’s teenagers decide to break their strict regulations and go viral with the haunting. But, in so doing, they send the town spiraling into dark, medieval practices of the distant past.

The Living DeadThe Living Dead by George A. Romero & Daniel Kraus by George A. Romero and Daniel Kraus

It begins with one body. A pair of medical examiners find themselves battling a dead man who won’t stay dead. It spreads quickly. 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.

Nothing But Blackened TeethNothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw by Cassandra Khaw

A Heian-era mansion stands abandoned, its foundations resting on the bones of a bride and its walls packed with the remains of the girls sacrificed to keep her company. It’s the perfect venue for a group of thrill-seeking friends, brought back together to celebrate a wedding. A night of food, drinks, and games quickly spirals into a nightmare as secrets get dragged out and relationships are tested. But the house has secrets too. Lurking in the shadows is the ghost bride with a black smile and a hungry heart. And she gets lonely down there in the dirt.

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5 SFF Books Featuring Memorable Trips

by Becky Yeager

Buckle up, readers. Do you hear the call of the road? These authors did, except the routes they have planned involve stops that are decidedly elsewhere. Don’t forget to pack your map.


Placeholder of  -98Last Exit by Max Gladstone

Have you ever gone on a road trip, had everything go completely wrong, and then decide maybe it’s worth trying that road trip a second time? Ten years ago, Zelda led a band of merry adventurers whose knacks let them travel to alternate realities and battle the black rot that threatened to unmake each world. The group’s center—its heart—was Sal, Zelda’s lover. On their last mission, Sal was lost. And they all fell apart. A decade later, Sal threatens to return, surrounded by the rot. Zelda cannot face this peril alone and needs to reunite the old band. Which brings us to Road Trip 2.0 where the stakes are higher than ever.

Image Place holder  of - 55American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Shadow only wanted to go home when he finally got out of prison. Tragedy leads him to accepting a job offer from a mysterious man named Mr. Wednesday to become his bodyguard. Together they travel across America on a strange road trip. There’s far more than meets the eye to the places they visit and the individuals they meet.

Poster Placeholder of - 61The Brotherhood of the Wheel by R. S. Belcher

Sometimes the road requires protectors. The Brotherhood of the Wheel descended from a small offshoot of Templars. They are a secret group of knights composed of truckers, bikers, taxi hacks, state troopers, bus drivers, and others. Their mission is to defend the roads of the world and to guard those who travel on them. Jimmy Aussapile is one such knight. He’s driving a big rig down South when a promise to a ghostly hitchhiker sets him on a quest to find out the terrible truth behind a string of children gone missing all across the country.

Image Placeholder of - 76Redwood and Wildfire by Andrea Hairston

This is one traveling act you won’t want to miss. Redwood and Aiden are gifted performers and hoodoo conjurors. At the turn of the 20th century they leave behind George and journey to Chicago, going from a haunted swampland to a “city of the future.” Their adventure is both magical and painful as they deal with trauma, a changing world, and the challenges their own abilities present.

Place holder  of - 99Deal with the Devil by Kit Rocha

Road trips are so much more challenging when the terrain involves a post-apocalyptic dystopia. Luckily, mercenary librarians are made of tougher stuff. The prospect of access to the long-lost U.S. Library of Congress is enough to convince Nina, Maya, and Dani to work with the Silver Devils, a rogue group of enhanced ex-soldiers. Together they will deal with numerous perils including no-good biker gangs and the secrets they’re keeping from each other. Now if Nina can avoid falling for the leader of Silver Devils then everything might go off without a hitch.

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Exit Pursued

Placeholder of  -84Max Gladstone’s Last Exit is the winding tale of a labyrinthian web of alternate realities, the poisonous rot that corrupts so many of them, and of a woman who once set off with her friends to find something better, or make it. But the writing of Last Exit held just as many twists as the resulting plot! Here, Max presents his story behind the story, and it’s an exciting one: Robbery, rumination, writing, and a shoutout to Bob Seger await. Check it out!


By Max Gladstone

I came home one hot Tuesday night in the fall of 2015 to notice that my notecards were out of order. And then, that my laptop was gone.

I’d left the house that afternoon after hours of sweating through a high-level revision. I knew something was off about the book I was writing, but I didn’t know what, and I was trying to figure it out through wishful thinking and office supplies. There were pacing problems that might be structure problems, or character problems that might be pacing problems, or…. Hard to say. So I tried something new: I wrote every major beat in the book on a notecard, spread the notecards on our dining room table with every leaf extended, and spent hours pacing around the table, moving scenes, tearing them up. Sometimes writing looks like correspondence chess with index cards, and sometimes it smells like huffing markers.

I left the cards in their careful grid on the table, and left—for a walk, for the gym. When I came home I found the cards jumbled together, half on the floor. Cat? We don’t own a cat. Did my wife come home early, read my notecard outline, and express extreme and uncharacteristically violent objections to a proposed reordering of the third act?

Oh wait, never mind. We’ve been robbed.

In 2011, a friend told me something terrifying. We were two writers—this is not the terrifying part, this is the context part—and our debut novels were both due out the next year. We’d met through mutual friends, and it was a relief to find someone else who was on more or less the same road, more or less by accident. I asked her, after we’d known each other long enough and had enough wine to talk about this sort of thing, about her book, about how she’d come to write it.

She said, well, it took me ten years to write this one. I wrote it the first time. That took five years. Then I realized I’d written it in the wrong voice. The wrong register. So I went back to the beginning, and wrote it again.
I don’t think I have ever respected a person more and understood them less than I did at that moment. The respect hasn’t changed. The understanding has.

Manuscripts, Bulgakov wrote, don’t burn. Contrariwise, I’m positive that novels can and do get stolen, but in my experience, thieves haven’t been all that interested. In 2017, while I was on tour for the release of The Ruin of Angels, my suitcase was stolen out of a parked car. “Don’t worry,” my host had said when I asked if I should bring it into the restaurant with us, “this is a very safe neighborhood.” The thief made off with clothes, a Kindle, my toothbrush, etc. They left my mass market paperback of Stephen King’s It, covered in broken glass.

(They kept my signed copy of Fonda Lee’s Exo, though, so maybe this just speaks to their individual taste. Or they’d already read the King.)

It was eerie, in 2015, how fast I got back to work after being robbed. The notecards weren’t even all that out of order. All seven drafts of the book were “safely” in “the cloud.” We had renter’s insurance, and renter’s insurance paid out. I’m typing this now on the computer the insurance bought. After a few hours spent changing passwords, I clicked, clicked again, and there was the manuscript. Same as it ever was.

In 2013, staring out the window at the highway at night on tour and feeling a bit like a Bob Seger song, I had an idea: roads as a kind of magical network, driving as a way to cast a spell. Highways that led to other worlds, that led off the map into the dark, into places where the world was different. The country as a kind of spell, casting itself. All of us working the magic, without understanding—driving the world into being, to ends we did not know and could barely guess. The road as a story.

I felt danger, out there in the dark. There was something wrong with the sky. It did not sit on top of the earth the way it used to. We were pretending everything was okay, when it wasn’t. There were oceans on maps that didn’t exist anymore. We were supposed to be doing things, changing things, and yet—where, and how? What, really, was being done? What now? What next?

I tried to write that book. I tried to write about some kids who wanted to change the world, and went out into the dark to try, only it didn’t work out like they hoped. And now they were older and had to try again.

And I did write that book. More or less. That was the one the thieves didn’t steal.

A road is a choice. A highway is a choice. A bridge is a choice. You might not be able to decide what towns will exist, but you can decide which ones will thrive. You cannot banish neighborhoods but you can cast them in shadow, blight them, drive their people out.

What is a story but a series of choices? For the characters, certainly, but for the writer as well: each word a choice in the context of every other word.

Sometimes you have to make different choices.

In the summer of 2019, I opened a notebook.

The book I had written, the one that was not stolen, was still there on the computer. But I felt so many things differently, and more deeply, than I had when the concepts and characters first met, years before. The threat remained, but nobody was pretending anymore. This wasn’t okay. We weren’t sure what this was. And it wasn’t even 2020 yet.

I wasn’t honest with myself even then. I thought, the book is good, the bones are good, the characters. I’ve written it so many times and revised it. All it needs is a new opening. I can get it right this time. A few tweaks through to smooth it in.

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door,” the man says. “You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no telling where you’ll be swept off to.”

I started to write. I was a new parent. I had minutes snatched between naps and feeding sessions. I had a nice pen and good paper. A line is like a road, or a trail. It circles, switchbacks, it does not take the crow’s route from point to point, and yet—if you’re walking, that’s the way to go.

I sent the chapter to my agent. I didn’t understand what was going on even then. I must have hoped they would say, “Great, just copy this over the first chapter and send it in.” I cannot, looking back, imagine how they would have said that.

What they said—well, they laid out a bunch of options. But the one I took was, keep going.

You do the thing once. It doesn’t quite work. Something’s still broken, something’s lost. Maybe even stolen. You’re older now, and the world looks darker.

So you set off on the road.

And maybe this time you can make better choices.

That’s my story. That’s our story. And that’s the story of Last Exit.

Purchase Last Exit Here:

Placeholder of amazon -61 Poster Placeholder of bn- 10 Place holder  of booksamillion- 65 ibooks2 12 indiebound

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Last Exit to Playlist

Image Placeholder of - 31Do you love to listen to music when you read? We know we do, and we’re especially excited that Max Gladstone, author of Last Exit, has shared his very own curated playlist to listen along to while we read his latest book. Check it out here!


By Max Gladstone

I wanted to write a road novel. I wanted to write a book about friends grown apart, a book that drew on memories and dreams and journals of bouncing around the country all summer in the back seat of a Plymouth Voyager, a book that understood space and could chew time. So, I needed a mixtape.

I used to do this for every road trip. There was a different art to it when you had to fit your vibe into a forty-five minute A side and a forty-five minute B. Poets know: constraint breeds creativity. You start to understand why radio singles used to have long outros, which lets the DJ choose the right moment to crossfade, and fit the tune to their set. I loved the challenge, and the music would set the tone for the trip. So: why not make a mixtape for a road trip into my own imagination?

This wasn’t a playlist for the process itself, the actual word-by-word writing. In the flow, I drift between ambient albums, chiptunes, soundtracks, games music, jazz. I find tracks that have the right vibe or rhythm and drop them into a giant “writing music” folder, where live ancient OCReMix tracks based on the Morrowind title theme or the Chrono Trigger soundtrack. I do whatever works. But this wasn’t a playlist to write by—this was a playlist to help me think through what I was thinking through. And the road, for me, is songwriter country.

video soruce

“Good Man,” Josh Ritter, The Animal Years

The Animal Years was my first Ritter album. I played it again and again in my bedroom in southeast China late at night as the Iraq War kept on being bad. The Animal Years casts a prophet’s eye on America—clear, visionary, angry—and any three of its songs could have made it to this list, but the album resolves on this note of tired, broke-down grace. Even in its earliest iterations, I knew the book that turned into Last Exit would start after what felt like the end—after the breaking point, when the young kids who thought they could save the world tried, failed, and broke up. None of them have yet reached the promise this song holds out—of rest, of, at least, friendship—but it gave me, and them, something to steer toward.

“Tangled Up in Blue,” The Indigo Girls, 1200 Curfews

I’m a Dylan fan, but—something magical happens when you give Dylan songs to someone else. Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” is the iconic version. And the Indigo Girls’ cover of “Tangled Up in Blue” takes this raw and wry tale of wandering around the country, wondering what the hell happened to your generation, and layers in passion and mourning. In Dylan’s version, the narrator feels resigned—of course it all went down like that, it couldn’t have happened any other way, people are just like that and you have to understand. Here, the narrator cares. She misses what she’s lost, and even though she’s getting through, she’s angry about it. That gave me the right touchstone for Zelda, for my main character: memory and loss, regret and anger, and a worn-down determination.

“Democracy,” Leonard Cohen, Live in London

Speaking of prophecies. “It’s coming with the feel that it ain’t exactly real, or it’s real, but it ain’t exactly there.” In this version, gravelly and terrifying, Cohen unsettles. It’s “Democracy” by way of The Future, and you feel the hope, but you have to concede—it is murder. In earlier recordings, this song can feel triumphant, but by Live in London, you can’t tell whether it’s a prophecy of salvation or of Armageddon. Maybe both.

“Galahad,” Josh Ritter, To the Yet Unknowing World

I heard this song for the first time live, and I went home and listened to it a dozen times in the next day. I love that walking-beat drum, like a cane echoing on a marble floor. I love the sly and vicious sense of humor. I love how virtue twists in this song—how nothing’s quite what it sets itself out or up to be. You have to look under the surface. And the King Arthur mythos, as slantwise as we see it here, really speaks to me in an American country/folk/blues setting. It’s the one you read in Steinbeck’s The Acts of King Arthur, or in Tortilla Flat. Kings and knights in a land without knights and kings.

“Tear My Stillhouse Down,” Gillian Welch, Revival

Gillian Welch is one of those songwriters who leaves you certain you’ve just heard a song that’s a hundred years old.

“The Hobo Song,” Old & In the Way, Old & In the Way

A track about being lost at the end of your part in the American story. Old & In the Way is a tremendous project—Pete Rowan, Jerry Garcia, David Grisman on mandolin, John Kahn, and of course all-star Vassar Clements’s elegant, barn-burning fiddle. I could have a dozen of their songs on this playlist. Speaking of which…

“Panama Red,” Old & In the Way, Old & In the Way

I’m honestly not sure what this song is doing here as opposed to, say, “Land of the Navajo,” which has more of the cosmic vision I aimed for in Last Exit. Maybe it’s just that “Panama Red” is a great name. Maybe it’s that cowboy vibe. Maybe the tape needed a moment to breathe.

“Wagon Wheel,” Old Crow Medicine Show, O.C.M.S.

You too, perhaps, have heard this one at every bonfire you’ve attended since the mid year-zeroes, and I hope that when you did, you had the fullness of heart to join in and sing. It’s had a lot of play, and it’s probably been used to sell some SUV somewhere, and that’s fine, but for me when I hear this song, it’s late at night, I’m in the middle of the People’s Republic of China, far away from anyone and everything I grew up beside and especially from the Cumberland Gap and Johnson City, Tennessee, and a visiting buddy has just handed me a thumb drive with some music on it, and—well. I worked out the fiddle part that night.

“I Hear Them All,” Old Crow Medicine Show, O.C.M.S.

The world is a hard place and there are lots of people hurting, and all that pain is a bright and fearful light. We close down in the face of it. David Rawlings, Gillian Welch’s guitarist collaborator, has a great version of this song, too, which could be on this list, but the O.C.M.S. version is the one I heard first.

“Walking in Memphis,” Marc Cohn, Marc Cohn

Look, okay, look. Just…look.

“Silver Thunderbird,” Marc Cohn, Marc Cohn

You’ll have noticed a lot of doubled artists on this track list, and to be honest, some of that’s because I took out the album looking for one song, saw the other, and couldn’t resist adding it. In this case, I couldn’t pull out the Mark Cohn album without adding “Walking in Memphis”—”She said/ Tell me are you a Christian child?/ And I said ‘Ma’am I am tonight’”—but “Silver Thunderbird” was why I got the album out in the first place. It’s a haunting, brief song about being a kid, about your parents, about shoes you can’t quite grow into—and about a car. I’ve never been a Car Person, and maybe because I’m not, I don’t have the contempt familiarity can breed. For me, a few cars have a mythic heft. The Thunderbird is one, and so’s the Dodge Challenger, which features in Last Exit. I can’t say quite what it is about the Challenger. It’s a haunting design. It’s the car that idles at the corner, as if waiting for something. It’s the car that the man in the hat drives when he comes to town.

“Pancho and Lefty,” Townes Van Zandt

I could write whole essays on Townes Van Zandt. He’s a tradition all to himself. Every one of his songs is a vision.

“Across the Great Divide,” Nanci Griffith, Other Voices, Other Rooms

It’s hard to write this entry now—I started and stopped and started and stopped again—because I haven’t come to terms with Nanci Griffith’s passing. Artists exist in strange ways. A writer you’ve never met remains as alive to you in their books as they ever were. We put on an album, and the ghosts sing to us. John M. Ford once wrote: the train stops, but the line goes on.

“The Queen and the Soldier,” Suzanne Vega, Suzanne Vega

In college, I was fortunate to take a class from John Crowley, and in an offhand way as he was trying to make another point in a lecture, he touched on the way certain words gather and hold power—ring, or cup, or sword. I’ve often wished I could go back in time and replay those five minutes of lecture—I knew I was hearing something important, but trying to hold it in my mind felt like trying to hold a river. This song is about that power, I think, and it communicates in those words—the dream we have of the world, and the distance between that dream and the world. There’s something young about the magic of those words. For a kid, the dream that a word like sword suggests can be clear and bright, even (especially?) because of its distance from the world we know. Do we ever look for the truth behind the dream? What happens when we do? Can we bear to leave the old world behind? Even as it strangles us?

“Jack’s Crows,” John Gorka, Jack’s Crows

This is a drifting dream-song for me, not so much the storm as the darkening on the horizon, that feeling in the air before things change. It’s autumn: not as the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, but as a season of coming darkness, as a season of threat and prophecy. For me this is a song for long stretches of road, for weeds and roadside gravel. It’s magic seeping out of the shadows. Calling us.

“I’m from New Jersey,” John Gorka, Jack’s Crows

To be honest, I like to end on a note of contrast. You can’t stay in grim prophecy all the time. I’m not from New Jersey originally, but my dad is, and we did some growing up in Ohio, so a line like—”I’m from New Jersey/it’s like Ohio/but even more so/imagine that”—I can’t resist it. But listening to it again now, I’m struck by the opening and closing line, which is more true than I expected to Last Exit, in its totality: “I’m from New Jersey/I don’t expect too much/If the world ended today/I would adjust.” The end of the world is coming. So: what can we do?

 

This isn’t the only playlist I could have made for this book—entire Mary Gauthier albums should be on here, for example, and Anais Mitchell’s Young Man in America, and there’s no Alabama 3 (which I think we’re now required to call A3 in the States for trademark reasons?) only because I was listening to them a lot at the time and I wasn’t sure how I felt about including a British project even if they have such intense Americana energy on projects like M.O.R. Tenacious D’s “The Road” belongs on here for pure contrast and humor purposes—I can imagine more than one character in Last Exit saying, “Why can’t I stay in one place for more than two days? Why??”

The music I wrote to, in the end, was silence, and the Mad Max: Fury Road soundtrack, and Makaya McCraven, and, in revision, the truly wild The Comet Is Coming album called Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery. But as a mission statement, as a call to adventure, as a map—to the thematic territory, or just to the wall I meant to bash my head against—it did the job. It mapped a few of the cracks in the world. It gave me a cowboy and a car and it gave me loss, and absent friends.

And it left me looking for a tape deck.

MAX GLADSTONE is a fencer, a fiddler, and the winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards for This is How You Lose the Time War, co-written with Amal El-Mohtar. A two-time finalist for the John W. Campbell Award, he is fluent in Mandarin and has taught English in China. He is also the author of the Craft Sequence of novels—a Hugo Award finalist, a game developer, and the showrunner for the fiction serial, Bookburners. Max lives and writes in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Order Last Exit Here:

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Every Book Coming From Tor in Spring 2022

Ready to build up that Spring TBR pile? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Check out everything coming from Tor Books in Spring 2022 here!


March 1

cover of The Atlas Six by Olivie BlakeThe Atlas Six by Olivie Blake

The Alexandrian Society, caretakers of lost knowledge from the greatest civilizations of antiquity, are the foremost secret society of magical academicians in the world. Those who earn a place among the Alexandrians will secure a life of wealth, power, and prestige beyond their wildest dreams, and each decade, only the six most uniquely talented magicians are selected to be considered for initiation. When the new candidates are recruited by the mysterious Atlas Blakely, they are told they will have one year to qualify for initiation. One will be eliminated. The six potential initiates will fight to survive the next year of their lives, and if they can prove themselves to be the best among their rivals, most of them will.

March 8

Image Placeholder of - 45Last Exit by Max Gladstone

When Zelda and her friends first met, in college, they believed they had all the answers. They had figured out a big secret about how the world worked and they thought that meant they could change things. They failed. One of their own fell, to darkness and rot. Ten years later, they’ve drifted apart, building lives for themselves, families, fortunes. All but Zelda. She’s still wandering the backroads of the nation. She’s still fighting monsters. She knows: the past isn’t over. It’s not even past. The road’s still there. The rot’s still waiting. They can’t hide from it any more. Because, at long last, their friend is coming home. And hell is coming with her.

March 15

Poster Placeholder of - 45The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi

When COVID-19 sweeps through New York City, Jamie Gray is stuck as a dead-end driver for food delivery apps. That is, until Jamie makes a delivery to an old acquaintance, Tom, who works at what he calls “an animal rights organization.” Tom’s team needs a last-minute grunt to handle things on their next field visit. Jamie, eager to do anything, immediately signs on. What Tom doesn’t tell Jamie is that the animals his team cares for are not here on Earth. Not our Earth, at least.

Cover of Worlds of Exile and Illusion by Ursula K. Le GuinWorlds of Exile and Illusion by Ursula K. Le Guin, introduction by Amal El-Mohtar

These three spacefaring adventures mark the beginning of grand master Ursula K. Le Guin’s remarkable career. Set in the same universe as Le Guin’s groundbreaking classics The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, these first three books of the celebrated Hainish Series follow travelers of many worlds and civilizations in the depths of space. The novels collected in this Tor Essentials edition are the first three ever published by Le Guin, a frequent winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards and one of the greatest science fiction and fantasy writers of all time. With a new introduction by Amal El-Mohtar, Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author.

Placeholder of  -93Three Kings edited by Melinda M. Snodgrass, in the Wildcards World of George R.R. Martin

In the aftermath of World War II, the Earth’s population was devastated by an alien virus. Those who survived were changed forever. Some, known as jokers, were cursed with bizarre mental and physical mutations; others, granted superhuman abilities, became the lucky few known as aces. Queen Margaret, who came to the English throne after the death of her sister Elizabeth, now lies on her death-bed. Summoning the joker ace Alan Turing, she urges him to seek the true heir: Elizabeth’s lost son. He was rumored to have died as a baby but, having been born a joker, was sent into hiding.

March 22

Place holder  of - 13The Bone Orchard by Sara A. Mueller

Charm is a witch, and she is alone. The last of a line of conquered necromantic workers, now confined within the yard of regrown bone trees at Orchard House, and the secrets of their marrow. Charm tends the trees and their clattering fruit for the sake of her children, painstakingly grown and regrown with its fruit: Shame, Justice, Desire, Pride, and Pain. The wealthy and powerful of Borenguard come to her house to buy time with the girls who aren’t real. Except on Tuesdays, which is when the Emperor himself lays claim to his mistress, Charm herself. But now—Charm is also the only person who can keep an empire together, as the Emperor summons her to his deathbed, and charges her with choosing which of his awful, faithless sons will carry on the empire—by discovering which one is responsible for his own murder.

Image Place holder  of - 21Destiny of the Dead by Kel Kade

The God of Death is tired of dealing with the living, so he’s decided everyone should die. And he’s found allies. The Berru, an empire of dark mages, has unleashed a terrifying army of monstrous lyksvight upon everyone with a pulse. While the wealthy and powerful, the kings and queens, abandon the dying world, one group of misfits says no more. Through dogged determination and the ability to bind souls to their dead bodies, Aaslo and his friends fight on. In the mountains of the far north, another bastion of defense is opened. Cherrí, the avatar of a vengeful fire god, has united the survivors amongst her people and begun her own war on the invaders. Now, Aaslo and Cherrí must find a way to unite their powers, one divine, the other profane, to throw back the monsters of the Berru, and challenge Death itself.

March 29

Sweep of Stars by Maurice Broaddus

The Muungano empire strived and struggled to form a utopia when they split away from old earth. Freeing themselves from the endless wars and oppression of their home planet in order to shape their own futures and create a far-reaching coalition of city-states that stretched from Earth and Mars to Titan. With the wisdom of their ancestors, the leadership of their elders, the power and vision of their scientists and warriors they charted a course to a better future. But the old powers could not allow them to thrive and have now set in motion new plots to destroy all that they’ve built. In the fire to come they will face down their greatest struggle yet.

April 5

Our Lady of Mysterious Ailments by T.L. Huchu

When Ropa Moyo discovered an occult underground library, she expected great things. She’s really into Edinburgh’s secret societies – but turns out they are less into her. So instead of getting paid to work magic, she’s had to accept a crummy unpaid internship. Then her friend Priya offers her a job on the side. Priya works at Our Lady of Mysterious Maladies, a very specialized hospital, where a new illness is resisting magical and medical remedies alike. If Ropa can solve the case, she might earn as she learns – and impress her mentor, Sir Callander. Her sleuthing will lead her to a lost fortune, an avenging spirit and a secret buried deep in Scotland’s past. But how are they connected? Lives are at stake and Ropa is running out of time.

Aspects by John M. Ford

Enter the halls of Parliament with Varic, Coron of the Corvaric Coast. Visit Strange House with the Archmage Birch. Explore the mountains of Lady Longlight alongside the Palion Silvern, Sorcerer. In the years before his unexpected death, John M. Ford wrote a novel of fantasy and magic unlike any other. Politics and abdicated kings, swords and sorcerous machine guns, divination and ancient empires—finally, Aspects is here.

April 12

Shadow Fallen by Sherrilyn Kenyon

For centuries, Ariel has fought the forces of evil. Her task was to protect the souls of innocent mortals when they die. Captured by a powerful sorceress, she is transformed into a human who has no memory of her real life or calling. And is plunked into the middle of the Norman invasion of England. Cursed the moment he was born with a “demonic deformity,” Valteri wants nothing of this earth except to depart it and will do his duty to his king until then. When a strange noblewoman is brought before him, Valteri realizes he has met her before…in his dreams. When others come for her, bringing with them preternatural predators, he is faced with a destiny he had no idea was waiting. One he wants no part of.

April 19

Flint and Mirror by John Crowley

As ancient Irish clans fought to preserve their lands and their way of life, the Queen and her generals fought to tame the wild land and make it English. Hugh O’Neill, lord of the North, dubbed Earl of Tyrone by the Queen, is a divided man: the Queen gives to Hugh her love, and her commandments, through a little mirror of obsidian which he can never discard; and the ancient peoples of Ireland arise from their underworld to make Hugh their champion, the token of their vow a chip of flint.

April 26

Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher

Marra never wanted to be a hero. As the shy, convent-raised, third-born daughter, she escaped the traditional fate of princesses, to be married away for the sake of an uncaring throne. But her sister wasn’t so fortunate—and after years of silence, Marra is done watching her suffer at the hands of a powerful and abusive prince. Seeking help for her rescue mission, Marra is offered the tools she needs, but only if she can complete three seemingly impossible tasks. But, as is the way in tales of princes and witches, doing the impossible is only the beginning.

The Discord of Gods by Jenn Lyons

Relos Var’s final plans to enslave the universe are on the cusp of fruition. He believes there’s only one being in existence that might be able to stop him: the demon Xaltorath. As these two masterminds circle each other, neither is paying attention to the third player on the board, Kihrin. Unfortunately, keeping himself classified in the ‘pawn’ category means Kihrin must pretend to be everything the prophecies threatened he’d become: the destroyer of all, the sun eater, a mindless, remorseless plague upon the land. It also means finding an excuse to not destroy the people he loves (or any of the remaining Immortals) without arousing suspicion.

Up Against It by Laura J. Mixon

Jane Navio is the resource manager of Phoecea, an asteroid colony poised on the knife-edge of a hard vacuum of unforgiving space. A mishap has dumped megatons of water and methane out the colony’s air lock, putting the entire human population at risk. Jane discovers that the crisis may have been engineered by the Martian crime syndicate, as a means of executing a coup that will turn Phocaea into a client-state. And if that wasn’t bad enough, an AI that spawned during the emergency has gone rogue…and there’s a giant x-factor in the form of the transhumanist Viridian cult that lives in Phocaea’s bowels.

May 3

Book of Night by Holly Black

Charlie Hall has never found a lock she couldn’t pick, a book she couldn’t steal, or a bad decision she wouldn’t make. She’s spent half her life working for gloamists, magicians who manipulate shadows to peer into locked rooms, strangle people in their beds, or worse. Gloamists guard their secrets greedily, creating an underground economy of grimoires. And to rob their fellow magicians, they need Charlie Hall. Now, she’s trying to distance herself from past mistakes, but getting out isn’t easy. Bartending at a dive, she’s still entirely too close to the corrupt underbelly of the Berkshires. Not to mention that her sister Posey is desperate for magic, and that Charlie’s shadowless, and possibly soulless, boyfriend has been hiding things from her. When a terrible figure from her past returns, Charlie descends into a maelstrom of murder and lies.

May 24

cover of The Origin of Storms by Elizabeth BearOrigin of Storms by Elizabeth Bear

The Lotus Kingdoms are at war, with four claimants to the sorcerous throne of the Alchemical Emperor, fielding three armies between them. Alliances are made, and broken, many times over—but in the end, only one can sit on the throne. And that one must have not only the power, but the rightful claim. The Rajni Mrithuri stands as the chief claimant to the Alchemical throne now, but she and her empire remain a prize to be taken unless she gets an heir. She has her allies–her cousin Sayeh, a dragon, a foreign wizard, a fearsome automaton, and the Dead Man–but the throne has the final say. And if it rejects her, the price is death.

What book are you reading first? Let us know in the comments!

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Excerpt: Last Exit by Max Gladstone

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Placeholder of  -66American Gods meets The Dark Tower in Last Exit, a dark, contemporary fantasy of the open road, alternate realities, and self-discovery, from a Locus Award-nominated and Hugo and Nebula Award-winning writer Max Gladstone.

Ten years ago, Zelda led a band of merry adventurers whose knacks let them travel to alternate realities and battle the black rot that threatened to unmake each world. Zelda was the warrior; Ish could locate people anywhere; Ramon always knew what path to take; Sarah could turn catastrophe aside. Keeping them all connected: Sal, Zelda’s lover and the group’s heart.

Until their final, failed mission, when Sal was lost. When they all fell apart.

Ten years on, Ish, Ramon, and Sarah are happy and successful. Zelda is alone, always traveling, destroying rot throughout the US.

When it boils through the crack in the Liberty Bell, the rot gives Zelda proof that Sal is alive, trapped somewhere in the alts.

Zelda’s getting the band back together—plus Sal’s young cousin June, who has a knack none of them have ever seen before.

As relationships rekindle, the friends begin to believe they can find Sal and heal all the worlds. It’s not going to be easy, but they’ve faced worse before.

But things have changed, out there in the alts. And in everyone’s hearts.

Fresh from winning the Hugo and Nebula Awards, Max Gladstone weaves elements of American myth—the muscle car, the open road, the white-hatted cowboy—into a deeply emotional tale where his characters must find their own truths if they are to survive.

Please enjoy this free excerpt of Last Exit by Max Gladstone, on sale 03/08/2022.


1.

When the worst of the bleeding stopped, Zelda hitchhiked back to the Bronx to say that she was sorry.

New York wasn’t safe for her even then. She crept in sideways, kept her head down, and did not think about possibilities, about spin or rot or all the other ways the skyline might have looked. Those thoughts were dangerous here. But she had to tell Sal’s mother she was gone.

Years ago, when Zelda and Sal and the others left to begin their time on the road, she had dreamed that one day she might come back to this city triumphant, to stride down her long boulevards as confetti rained from rooftops and bands played marches. They were young and proud, and they knew that if they tried, they could fix what was broken in the world. It was a stretching early summer then, the glass-walled streets casting the blue of the sky back up so they’d felt as if they were marching off to storm the gates of heaven. They were saviors. They were adventurers. They believed.

Zelda made her way back alone. The 138th Street subway station was a grungy straight tunnel tagged with graffiti in hard-to-reach places, a tired, worn station best used for homecoming, just as it had been when Sal first brought Zelda here to meet her mother, all smiles at her gawping, cornpone girlfriend. Zelda had never left South Carolina before she came north for college. She was used to backcountry roads and towns with two stoplights. More people crouched on New York’s few square miles than lived in her whole half of the state, all those lives weaving around and through one another.

She climbed the dirty stairs to a street that had not changed much since she had been what she’d then thought was young. Her mistakes climbed with her. Down on the platform, a girl cried, “Hey, wait!” Zelda almost did. She almost turned, and a nightmare voice suggested that if she had, she would have seen Sal.

She climbed instead, into the wet-dog heat of an August afternoon.

When she knocked on Ma Tempest’s door, she heard the old woman wailing upstairs. So, she knew. A premonition, a dream, or just word traveling fast. Ramón might have called her, or Sarah, or even Ish. Zelda knocked, and kept knocking, and no one came. She bruised her knuckles, broke the scabs on her fists, and left bloody prints on the olive-painted door. Her heart was a hairy, howling thing too large for the cage of her ribs. She had lost Sal. She had lost Ma’s girl, her favorite and firstborn.

She had gone off onto the road with her lover and their friends and ruined everything. She wanted to kneel at Ma Tempest’s feet, bow her head to those thick sandals, and let herself be beaten until blood flowed from her back and the white bones lay bare. The bloodletting might relieve the pressure in her chest and quiet the voice inside, repeating: It’s your fault.

It was her fault they’d left in the first place, and so was everything that came after, and the fact that Sal was gone. After all that, to need punishment or absolution from Sal’s mother, now, was a crime greater than any she’d committed in those road-bound years. Except, perhaps, for stepping out on the road in the first place.

But she had nowhere else to go.

So she stood there, a tired woman in her midtwenties, sobbing bloody-knuckled, slumped against a door on a sidewalk in the Bronx. The most natural fucking thing in the world. Dog walkers took no notice. Trucks rolled by on the Cross Bronx Expressway. A cop car blared its siren at her once and she jumped, turned, glared. They drove off snickering. A bodega cat sauntered out and sat across the street to watch.

She kept knocking. This had brought her across ten states, straining to outrun the shadows on her heels. After Montana, there had been nothing left for her in the world except for this olive door. If she could look Ma Tempest in the eye and say that she was sorry, that it was all her fault, if she could take the blow across her cheek, then she could go and find a cozy little hole to die in. Or she could leave—walk out into the Hudson and never, ever come back. There were pills she could take, needles she could slide into veins, and if all else failed, there was good old legal booze. She could rot her liver and die jaundiced, miserable, screaming. That would be worth it. That would be right.

One conversation, and then she could go away forever.

So she knocked, and sobbed, and felt the steel in her spine bend.

The door took her weight.

It opened. She stumbled, caught herself.

A girl waited inside. Skin Sal’s own deep brown, hair in puffballs. Cheekbones that with another ten years’ growth could mirror Sal’s, and big, dark eyes blinking behind glasses mended with masking tape, lenses thick enough for Zelda to see herself in the reflection. Not a sister but close to it—a cousin Ma had the raising of. June. Zelda had met her when she first came to visit during college. She was barely walking then.

June stood straight, silent, with the uncanny stillness of a child watching an adult (which Zelda had never, before this moment, felt herself to be) lose her shit.Zelda trembled to see her, this girl who might have been her Sal long before it all went wrong.

Just say it, she told herself, just say, She’s gone, or I’m sorry, or anything with an ounce of blood in it.

But before Zelda found her voice, June said: “She doesn’t want to see you.” Precise and clipped. Zelda reached for her—just to touch her arm or the black hand-me-down Wu-Tang T-shirt—and the door closed in her face and left her out there on the sidewalk alone, with tears stinging her eyes and snot running down her nose and blood on her knuckles where the scabs had opened, and the sky uncaring and perfect blue, solid as a dome overhead.

She forced herself away from the closed olive door, away from Ma Tempest, as untouchable as the past.

Since she had not apologized, she could not now disappear to die. So she took her first step away.


Every year she came back.

Every year she’d failed a little more. Every year she’d gained a scar or two. Road dirt worked into her skin. Every year the country grew a little darker. She’d been told, back in college, that she and her friends were going to save the world. She’d been told they would seize its reins and turn it toward truth and light. No one said it in quite those words, no one would be so gauche, but the intent was there. You, they said, are special. You will help the planet, you will guide the nation.

They’d been out in the world a decade now or nearly, those bright young things—the fuckups like Zelda and the ones who got it right, the polished and prepared debate-team children, the masters of the college political union. They’d been out there in the world for ten years, and somehow there was less truth each year than the last, and the light was dying.

Even in the years of hope, she’d seen it. In the great cities of the coasts, there was a sidelong wariness, glancing out of the corner of the eye at something not quite there, a high-pitched laugh of desperation, almost a scream.

And in the heart—on the long open roads—the tension grew. Small-town cops dressed in black now and sported rifles like the ones they might have used before they got kicked out of the army, in one of the smaller stupid fucking wars. She got their sidelong glances—head to foot and back up, lingering along the way—a woman traveling alone, ratty and ragged. Their fingers twitched when they looked at her. The small-town diners and truck stops got hard, and they’d been no easy places before, America always quicker to call itself friendly than to make friends. The smiles, when she found them, seemed shallow and fragile. She felt hated there, in the dark that seeped through the fault lines in those lips.

Heat lightning flashed, silent in the gathering air.

The world moved on. Or had it always been this bad, and she just never noticed before? Facebookless, lacking mobile phone, and with no internet but the public library, she was left to feel out the moment on her own. Those false smiles soured and became the baring of teeth. Cop cars on grim city streets slowed when they passed her—the eyes behind the windows covered in dark glasses, reflective like the nighttime eyes of monsters.

Every year she came back and knocked on Ma Tempest’s door until her knuckles bled. The door never opened. The Bronx changed with the years: coffee shops opened and the young rich, or at least the young not-quite-poor, filtered in. But the important details did not change at all: the blood, the olive door, her memory of June’s dark eyes.

#

The tenth year after she’d lost Sal, Zelda was living in the back seat of a hard-used Subaru in a small town in Middle Tennessee, waiting for the end of the world.

It might happen any day. She worked as a checkout clerk at the local Walmart and slept in the parking lot with the other losers and retired mobile home people, and every day she felt the rot gather, the wet foul heat of it, the summer heavy as a guillotine in this time of change. She had followed the rot here across three states, guided by the hackles on the back of her neck, by yarrow stalks and the faces of upturned tarot cards. This was the place. There was a mystery here, and she would solve it, or she would die—which would solve one mystery at least.

A boy—eighteen, nineteen, in a black T-shirt, with a homemade tattoo of Thor’s hammer on his wrist, always staring at his phone—wandered up and down the fishing aisle. She’d pass him sometimes as she restocked. While she was around, he never, ever looked at the guns one aisle over. Sometimes he’d glance at her, though. Never quite brave enough to match her eyes.

It might be him.

Or: Mona, her sometimes partner in the checkout line, her eyes deep-set and red, her shoulders down, her face bruised sometimes, or her wrist. She offered Zelda weed, and they smoked out on someone’s back forty under the stars, and Zelda coughed because it had been a while since she last smoked and when she remembered just how long and whom she’d been with, she began to weep and passed it off as more coughing. Mona wasn’t from around here either, she said, by which she meant she was from East Tennessee, Smoky Mountain country, not used to flatlands or the local flavor of dirty strip mall. When she worked her lighter, the spark caught reflections of something jagged in the depths of her eyes.

Mona’s husband drank and stayed up late into the night, typing on the internet and watching videos about how she was the root of his problems. He’d been a good man, she said, when they met, and he still was, just confused. Zelda said she didn’t care what was in people’s hearts. You only had to watch their hands.

Mona said that she had a secret place, a clearing in the woods out back of their small house, where she’d go when it got too much. She’d pretend that no one could find her there, and she’d lean against the rough bark of one tree and talk into a cleft, tell the dark space her fears, and sometimes, she said, she thought it whispered back.

It might be her.

You had to be lost to let the darkness in. You had to lie awake turning and churning around a coal in your stomach, body aching and mind alert to the whispers behind the door. You had to need something you couldn’t imagine, need it more than life or sanity, you had to pray not to some airy aftermath god of smoke and cloud and resurrection but to a grotesque wriggling belly-deep god of Now. No one comfortable could muster that razor need. But you never knew who was hungry. Or sick. Or curled around a fishhook of what he thought, or the TV said, the world denied him, or gave to someone less deserving. Everyone else was less deserving.

So where would the end begin? Where would the rot break through, and who would call it?

She never knew. She envied movie detectives the clarity of their cases. In real life, you never know what your problem is, unless someone loves you enough to tell you. Philip Marlowe just had to drink and wait and not even hope—sooner or later, a beautiful blonde with legs long and bright and curved as the swell of swift water over rocks would stride through his door, of all the doors in the world, with a mission. Zelda would never be half so lucky, with the mission or the blonde. And she was running out of time.

Every morning she crossed off another day on the calendar hanging in the Subaru, one day closer to Sal’s birthday, one day closer to her date with that olive door. One week left, and the drive would eat most of that if she wanted to do it safely.

She could give up. She didn’t have to sneak a third of the way across America and through the black hole orbit of Manhattan to stand on Sal’s mother’s doorstep and knock and fail for another year. This was her life now, had been for the better part of a decade: wandering alone, haunting back lots, shoring up the sandcastles of the country as they crumbled. Give up what was gone. Take the L.

She considered it, drunk, for the better part of an hour. Then she went hunting.

It was harder to do things this way than to wait for the rot to manifest. First she had to build spin. She circled the small town in her Subaru, to the extent there was a town to circle. There was a town square, at least, a city hall in red brick and a movie theater built in 1950, where she’d spent some of her spare cash to watch a forgettable action picture starring a guy named Chris. The other buildings on the square were shuttered and empty, except for the attorney’s office, and there the curtains were drawn. Vacant storefronts sported peeling decals: cole’s hardware, a liquor store, a pharmacy with a punning name, all gone now.

The buildings in the town square had been built to last three hundred years. They would stand while the stick-and-board houses she drove past rotted to dust. But they would stand three centuries empty. Why build anything to last when the whole country lived on borrowed time?

She drove circles around the city hall, drinking the strangeness of the shuttered place. The sun glanced off windows as haunted as Mona’s eyes. Turn and turn and watch it, feel it—suck the spin of the wheel and the suchness of the passing world down into the pit in your heart, where it gathers like cotton candy around a carny’s wand. She listened to the wheels of the Subaru on the seams of the road. And when the spin churned inside her, she popped the glove compartment without taking her eyes off the road, withdrew a handful of yarrow stalks, and tossed them onto the empty passenger’s seat.

The yarrow stalks told her that she’d almost missed the turn.

She heeled the car hard right, felt it tip, and slid through a narrow gap in the wide-open gulf of the two-lane road, onto the right track. Hunting.

She had worked out how to do all of this way back in college, had perfected it on the road with the others, and with Sal. Driving by yarrow stalks and by the transformations in her head, Zelda remembered other cars and other worlds, lifetimes ago: Ramón’s black Challenger with the red racing stripe, Sal in the passenger seat, the two of them blissed out and talking math as they slipped from streetlight to streetlight and all the darkness of the world rolled over Sal Tempest’s skin. They had dared each other out into the deep, like girls at summer camp, not realizing just how far either of them would go to please the other, until the lake’s depths yawned bottomless beneath and they’d both lost the strength to swim for shore.

Just a little further.

#

That’s what Sal had said every time Zelda balked—those full lips parted slightly as they curled into a smile. Just a little further, her hand on Zelda’s wrist, cheek, thigh, drawing her after.

Zelda had never known anyone like her when they met. It had been orientation week of Zelda’s freshman year, at, of all the absurdities in retrospect, a Christian Fellowship mixer, one of those ploys the campus evangelicals used to rope in faithful who might otherwise hear the siren song of the convulsive drunken rest of the campus. Zelda went because she’d promised her mom she would—Zelda, who’d come to campus book-smart and quiet and careful, a little South Carolina Lancelot, armored with purity and hair clip and sensible skirt against the corruptions of the northern school to which her parents couldn’t bear not to send her.

To the collar of her unremarkable blouse she’d clipped the enamel rainbow flag pin she took from the alphabet soup alliance table at the activities fair that afternoon when she’d thought no one else was looking. She went to the mixer because she’d promised Mom, and she wore the pin because she’d promised herself.

Surely, she thought, heart in her throat as she walked down York Street to the events space where the Fellowship met, one gothic pile down from the campus newspaper, surely it would be different here, surely the Fellowship would get it, at least the other kids would—she still thought of herself as a kid then. Surely this was a small concession, set beside her willingness to come here at all, to keep her feet on this particular path when she’d left North Bend and family and church behind.

And yet.

One thing to tell herself this, and a whole different thing to grip the wrought iron handle of the great, heavy wooden door and pull with her legs and back until it begrudged her entry. To stride into the brightly lit room with the yellow walls and the punch bowl on the table in the rear right corner and all the kids in polo shirts. That heavy-bellied man with the bouncing step would be the pastor, turning toward her like an artillery battery. She already felt as if she’d walked in naked with a fanfare. How could she have been so dumb? She knew the rules. You never showed anyone else your soul, not even a piece of it, or you would give them something to pray against. Of course it wouldn’t be different here. The rules didn’t change in adulthood, no matter what anyone said. You kept your surface clean and tidy, made yourself look like everybody thought everybody else was supposed to look. You mowed your lawn so no one thought to look in your toolshed. And now here she was, exposed to the withering heat of the pastor’s kind smile. She might have run, but there were other kids between her and the door already, the congregation extending amoebic pseudopods to draw her in, digest her.

Anyway, she’d promised Mom.

The pastor knew his job. He welcomed her, offered her punch, a name tag—made a joke about the princess being in another castle that confused her too much for her even to pretend to laugh. Pastor Steve was his name, but of course he wanted everyone to call him Steve.

“And where are you from, Zelda?” Pastor Steve asked.

Where, indeed. The world was small, smaller still with a name like hers, and in that moment as she met his eyes, the part of her brain that calculated fast but figured people slow churned away. There were only so many churches in North Bend, South Carolina. One might without trouble call them all, if one were a youth pastor wondering whether the new girl with the rainbow pin might have worn one at home or whether her family knew, or cared. She had meant to contain this small experiment, this small moment of rebellion—to test herself, to masquerade as the kind of person who would wear the pin not just on trips to bars in town but to church. And now the mask might glue itself to her face. She imagined the phone call soon to follow, and Mom on the other end of the line.

Her mouth went dry and her tongue was too large to fit her mouth. The room with the punch bowl seemed too bright and inhuman and close. Cheery faces pressed in to crush her as the floors and ceiling opened out to infinity and down forever. She felt herself begin to fall.

“Zelda!” A voice from out of sight, and then a girl dawned through the crowd—tall, sharp, and dark, her hair in tight braids back from her face. Her arms flung wide and she embraced Zelda, firm and warm, and Zelda’s own indrawn breath caught her speechless. The girl smelled of sandalwood.

“Sal,” Pastor Steve said without a trace of chill.

“Zelda’s a friend from back home,” Sal said, turning around to face the pastor, arm still around Zelda’s shoulders. “Grew up down the block. Ma asked her to meet me here—that’s okay, right? All who are hungry, let them come and eat.” She had a brownie from the snack table in her free hand. She took a bite. “Though I guess that’s the other guys.”

“Will we see you at youth group?”

“Expect me when you do.” She saluted with her brownie hand, two fingers to the temple like a Girl Scout. “We’ll get gone, Pastor. I’m sure you have fishes to multiply.”

And, arm still around Zelda’s shoulders, Sal drew her from the room into the dark, down York Street with the tall castle walls of the residential colleges to their right. Loping beside her, Sal chewed, swallowed. Zelda watched the muscles of her jaw and neck. Sal tore off the part of the brownie she’d bitten into, offered Zelda the rest, and asked questions. “First week’s rough, but you’ll get used to it. Where are you from, really? What’s your roommate like? Don’t worry, at first it seems like half the kids here are from Westchester, but they’re just, you know, different. And there’s plenty of the rest of us around. We just don’t talk about high school as much. You learn the patterns, anyway. I’m still getting used to the guys who wear their shirt collars popped.”

The voice that had frozen in Zelda’s throat when she faced Pastor Steve babbled now like a spring brook, answering, and Zelda felt herself melt to Sal’s side, though she had to stretch her legs to keep pace.

Cars rolled along Elm past the Au Bon Pain where the woman stood selling roses, and somewhere some orientation group raised a cheer loud enough to make Zelda flinch. Sal pulled away, looked at her. Zelda felt her departure as if a magnet pulled them together.

“Thank you,” Zelda said.

“You can’t leave everything behind,” Sal said, as if she hadn’t. “I made the same mistake when I showed up. Spent half the year wrestling with people who wanted to save my soul.”

“Did they call your church?”

“They tried. Turns out my pastor’s cooler than I thought.”

“Why did you come back?”

“Brownies.” She finished her half. “And to rescue young ingenues.” Gesturing with her chin to Zelda, grinning.

She’d learned that word her second day at college. Her roommate was into musical theater. “I’m hardly.”

“Oh.” Sal appraised Zelda: her sensible blouse, her skirt past the knee, her long hair gathered back. “I must have been mistaken. You’re clearly piratical. Scourge of the seven seas. I came back,” she said, “to spike the punch bowl.”

When Zelda laughed, she realized it was the first time she’d really laughed since she came to town, a laugh untainted by confusion. “You didn’t.”

She took a flask from her inner jacket pocket, unscrewed it, upended the last drop into her mouth. “Either it was me or the miracle at Cana.”

“So—what now?”

“I thought I might show you around. But with you being so piratical and all, you obviously don’t need my help.” She grinned, mocking, inviting. The light did interesting things to her silhouette. She must have noticed Zelda’s sway toward her as she drew back; she turned away slow enough to torture.

“Wait.”

Sal stopped at her word, one eyebrow raised.

“What if I’m a pirate,” Zelda said, “in disguise?”

“A ruthless killer, faking innocence. A murderer in a french braid.” She flicked Zelda’s hair.

“I’m here on a mission. I feel naked without my cutlass. I spent hours staring into a mirror, practicing how to flutter my eyelashes.” She demonstrated, and got the hoped-for laugh. Sal took her arm again.

“Come on, Captain Kidd. Let me show you around.”

All night Zelda followed Sal from courtyard to courtyard, skimming the edge of parties—peering through astronomy club telescopes on Old Campus at the moon when it peeked through orange sherbet clouds—a pitch-perfect mock ingenue. Playing that role, she had the freedom to ask the questions she’d not felt comfortable asking before—where people came from and what it meant, what Westchester was and what Stuyvesant might be, where power lived on campus, how that power worked. Zelda had never been around class before, not this flavor of class, anyway, which the kids (she wasn’t thinking of them as men and women yet) pretended didn’t exist, even though it was obvious that some people, like Zelda, were working in the library, and some people, like her roommate, would spend Thanksgiving break in Switzerland. Sal knew it all, and liked sharing what she knew, with cutting asides that made Zelda laugh. Zelda wondered, while they walked, at the depth of Sal’s insight, and wondered also if this girl was lonely: watching, judging a world with little place for her. After a year of study, in self-defense, it must feel good to share what she’d found with someone else.

After hours of wandering, Sal led her up the stairs of the A & A Building, floor by floor to the rooftop deck and then to the fence that separated the lower deck from the true roof. Just a little further. Sal’s eyes sparkled with reflected streetlights and the few stars that pierced the orange shell of New Haven sky

Zelda lay beside Sal on the pebbly roof and pointed up into the swirls of yellow, purple, pink. “A comet!”

The warm length of Sal twisted against her as she raised her arm to point at another patch of weird and mottled sky. “Spaceship. Aliens.”

“Looks like a plane to me.” She nestled into the hollow of Sal’s arm. Where Sal pointed, Zelda could almost see the ship—curves of crystal and translucent metal, impossible to build, a gross affront to aerodynamics, useless to imagine anything like that leaving a planet’s surface, a perfect rose in the sky trailed by—“

Rainbows,” Sal said. “That’s how you know they’re aliens. Like in E.T.”

“I think that’s a dragon over there.”

“Dragons don’t come north of Pennsylvania,” Sal said. “Everybody knows that.”

“Not me.” Zelda didn’t have an accent, but she could put one on for effect. “I’m just a plain, simple country girl, on mah own here in the big city.”

“This isn’t a city.”

“I can’t see but three stars. That makes a city.”

“You forgot the comet. And the spaceship.”

“And the dragon.”

“I said, no dragons this far north. They don’t like the winters.”

“What about Viking dragons?”

“European varietal. Hardier. Your American dragon is temperate.”

The colors turned in the sky above, and on the street below, the Christian Fellowship stumbled from their orientation mixer, warbling hymns, drunk on the Holy Spirit and the contents of Sal’s flask. Zelda found herself on her side. Sal’s chest rose beneath her tank top, and fell. Her hoodie’s wings spread out beside her on the roof. She wore a gloss that gave her lips the shine of still water, a pool where a big cat might kneel to drink.

If you’d asked Zelda hours ago, she would have said that of course she’d kissed people before. But now, searching back and comparing each of those moments to this one, she found only memories of being kissed, moments where kissing had happened to her. And this, what she thought this might be— there was nothing passive in it, nothing of the pawing pro forma junior prom date with Billy Klobbard or the deeply uncomfortable truth-or-dare with John Domino. She wanted to do fierce things to this woman, and that need, owned fully for once in this strange place, scared her.

Sal was watching. “It’s okay to ask, you know. If you want something.”

“May I?” Zelda’s lips pursed around the m.

“Have you ever done this before?”

She would not lie. “Not . . . as such. Not exactly. No.” The shame was real. She felt it color her cheeks.

“I should not take advantage of an innocent.” A dare, an invitation. Sal’s hand on her side, on her hip.

She had a vision then of the two of them perfectly alone in the center of a vast and hostile universe, these few square feet of pebbly rooftop the heart, the city and that sickly melted-candy sky just a shell, and beyond that shell an immense and profound darkness, a writhing night full of blades and fangs and needles pointing in, the cosmos a trap and her the mouse creeping, whiskers atwitch, toward the trigger. And she prayed to a god she was no longer certain she believed would listen: Let me have this.

“I’m not an innocent, remember? I’m a pirate. In disguise.”

Sal’s face eclipsed the trap of the world. She was smiling. “Come on, then, Captain Kidd.” Her breath warm. “Just a little further.”

Copyright © Max Gladstone 2022

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