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Characters Who Think With Mythology

Placeholder of  -42Ada Palmer’s Terra Ignota series is an epic saga of political science fiction, strongly influenced by her background as a historian. As the series draws to a close with the recently released volume, Perhaps the Stars, Ada has taken the time to share her thoughts on how mythos impacts the lives and thoughts of characters, but also people.

Check it out!


By Ada Palmer

Which Greek god governs voyages? The answer is more complicated than just Poseidon, and an example of how, separate from having gods and mythological figures actually appear, another way to use mythology in fiction is depicting human characters who view the world through myths, offering new lenses on familiar concepts.

The ship voyage example is a useful one, and one I use a lot in my Terra Ignota. We are all familiar with Poseidon as the sea god, the one who raises storms and gives Odysseus such a hard time getting home, but sailing was extremely important to ancient Mediterranean cultures, and the Greek polytheism didn’t see sailing as one simple act, but a complex one with separate facets overseen by separate divine patrons. Who else might one pray to when setting out on a ship? (Or a spaceship?) To the winds perhaps, the Anemoi: Boreas, Notus, Eurus, and Zephyrus. To Hermes for some types of voyages, fundamentally a god of circulation, of people and information moving from town to town like coins from purse to purse, appropriate for merchant voyages, news-carriers, and travel among known and connected places, within the human world (including the afterlife, where all human roads ultimately lead). To Athena, who as goddess of crafts and craftsmanship is goddess of the craft of shipbuilding (those ropes, those woven sails), a patron of technology and vehicles, and sometimes known as Αἴθυια (Aithuia) i.e. “the diver” referring to the kinds of diving birds that skim along the water like a ship. And to Apollo, who is not well known as a travel god, but as god of archery is god of aiming, departure, inspiration, and discovery, connected with distance and seeing or aiming far, and whose titles include Έπιβατήριos (Epibaterios), god of embarkations, or god who leads people onto ships, as well as Θεοξένιos (Theoxenios) a protector god of foreigners or strangers traveling or staying in lands other than their own.

If you think about your last few trips somewhere, you can probably break down the different hopes and aspects of the trip governed by each: hoping the car/train/plane doesn’t malfunction (Athena), that the weather is alright (Poseidon, winds), that the business aspect of a work trip is successful (Hermes), that the ambitions of a more distant voyage find their aim (Apollo). It’s a very fine-grained subdivision, one which shows us how important and vexed travel was for such a culture, much like how Egypt’s many separate gods of different aspects of the Nile river show how complex its role was in Egyptian culture. And when writing a character who thinks in such terms—who considers Apollo-type journey and a Hermes-type journey very different, or who connects the creation of ships and vehicles with the arts of weaving and wisdom more than with those of fire and industry i.e. Hephaestus—you have not only the seed of an interesting character but a perspective which can give the reader new and mind-opening ways to think about what it means to climb on that spaceship, or set out on that quest.

This is exactly the kind of thinking-through-mythology that you can use in writing, either on a culture-wide level for world building—a world where Hermetic and Apollonian travel are regulated by different branches of government, or where shipbuilding is a women’s art—or for a single character. In Terra Ignota, one of my main narrators is Greek, and has an idiosyncratic understanding of the Greek gods which colors the narration throughout, the narration’s analysis of what it means to be waiting for transport, or his feelings about the impact of space elevators on humanity’s space access lensed through his understandings of Hermes, Poseidon, and Apollo. One of the early turning-points of the text is a moment when the narrator, declares “I have misunderstood Poseidon, reader, all this while!”, elaborating how, in a world with flying cars, orbital cities, a lunar capital, and Martian terraforming underway, “We mistake, we foolish moderns, when we seek the sea god in the sea. He is not H2O, not surface tension, tides and shorelines known and knowable,” concluding, “the god who rings the earth, Poseidon, is Old Enemy Distance.” (You can read the full excerpt here). In some sense it’s a strange moment to call a turning point since there is no event, nothing blows up, no tower falls or tide of battle turns, but in a global crisis in the Terra Ignota future, a world built around its easy transit and the commixing of all peoples around a globe, realizing that Poseidon—the part of voyaging which is the dangerous, disruptive distance in between—is still a major force shaping this trial of humanity, is an essential realization, enabling the next stages in which the characters can grapple with and shape the crisis in ways impossible without this understanding.

Similar moments happen in Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun (1980-3)—one of my major influences in writing Terra Ignota. Readers can sometimes get frustrated as the narrator Severian’s introspective tangents about ethics and metaphysics constantly interrupt the action, until we realize that in this far-distant future the most advanced technologies, space travel, time, even the growth and death of stars and planets, can all be wielded by those who attain clear understanding the moral and providential structures of the cosmos, thus that Severian’s insights into ethics or theodicy are more important than the battles, breakthroughs as world-saving as when a scientist progresses toward the long-sought formula. Gene Wolfe’s Soldier of the Mist (1986) and its sequels have similar-yet-different mythological lenses at their cores, in which the protagonist Latro and others he encounters in his ancient Greek/Mediterranean setting think through Greek myth and epic, but in different ways, as Latro encounters a world saturated with mythic beings he does not recognize (but we do), while others around him sometimes recognize his epic-hero nature and act on it in different ways. In one telling moment, a ship’s captain sees Latro knocked overboard in a storm, then sees other waves carry him safely back onto the deck, landing him on his feet just where he stood—nothing provably supernatural occurred, but the captain, thinking through his culture, understands this as the action of the gods, and, taking the fates of Odysseus’s companions in the Odyssey as a warning, decides it is not a safe thing to spend time around someone beloved of the gods.

There are a number of other examples of great fiction which uses mythological character lenses, some of them with and some without the mythic figures actually acting or existing. In Mary Renault’s historical novel The Mask of Apollo (1966) the protagonist understands the events he experiences lensed through his ancient culture and especially through Greek drama, his actions constantly shaped by his understanding of himself as a servant of Dionysius, and while the book contains a couple moments which the reader can interpret either as real divine portents or as all in the character’s head, the question of whether the gods are or are not real and acting in many ways has less impact on the events than the character’s period worldview. Eleanor Arnason’s Woman of the Iron People (1991) is anthropological science fiction, depicting aliens who see the world through their distinct mythology, without gods or metaphysics ever directly appearing—worldview is the key. Dan Simmons’ Hyperion (1989) does comparable things in its alien travel stories, as do his Ilium/Olympos cycle (2003, 2005). Poul Anderson’s novelette Goat Song (1972) is a future science fiction retelling of Orpheus, but one which doesn’t only keep the events and character relationships, but also transplants into a future context key parts of the ancient characters’ worldviews and ideas of ethics and justice. And Anderson’s brilliant The Broken Sword (1954), drawing on Norse mythology, does even more. In other media, mythological/theological thinking saturates the new Battlestar Galactica TV series (2004-9), in which characters on different sides of the key conflict hold a range of polytheistic, monotheistic, and skeptical worldviews, and their understandings of fate, providence, prophecies, free will etc. both shape the conflict and help us understand it. And in the anthropological direction, Larry Marder’s innovative comic series Beanworld (1985-ongoing) depicts a stylized primitive society gradually inventing elements of culture (music, art, story-teaching) and understanding their world through archetypes such as the Big Fish in the Sky.

People often ask if I think it’s odd to be a historian writing science fiction, since we think of past and future as opposites. But really there is nothing more similar to the future than the past: it’s a long period of time in which societies and beliefs develop, and new technologies spread causing disruption and innovation. And with different mindsets and worldviews. To me, the appeal of both history and genre fiction is first contact, encountering people who have a very different understanding of the cosmos they/we live in, putting things in different categories, analyzing them in different ways. Back in college, my favorite history professor Alan Charles Kors once said in class that, if you had a time machine and were stranded in the past, you could pick up the language with time, you could learn how to wear the clothing, and with good fortune find a way to make a living enough to eat, but that the difference which would still feel alien and constantly challenging even after years would be the mindsets, learning how to make persuasive arguments when what kinds of evidence people find most persuasive is so different, or learning how to guess how people will react to things you say or do when their ideas of what’s acceptable or unacceptable, a small thing or a big deal, are rooted in the completely different universes people from different historical cultures (or planets) believe they’re living in.

I often tell my own students in class that no alien in any episode of Star Trek has as unexpected a worldview as what they’re about to meet reading the first-person letters and opinions of people from centuries ago. That’s why so much of my favorite SF is SF shaped by history, especially the worldviews of history, the mythologies and cosmologies shaped the actions of people so fascinatingly different from our present. And it’s why I think one of the most powerful tools genre fiction can use to help us to step outside ourselves and question our own worldviews is by presenting characters who think in the robust yet alien worldviews of real historical belief systems, or invented belief systems modeled on them, whether the setting is past or far future, on Earth or far beyond.

  • Read the beginning of Perhaps the Stars on the Tor/Forge Blog.
  • Read the beginning of book 1 of Terra Ignota, Too Like the Lightning.
  • Read two short, stand-alone excerpts from Perhaps the Stars reflecting on Poseidon and the Greek mythological understanding of travel at the New Decameron Project.

Ada Palmer (she/her) is a professor in the history department of the University of Chicago, specializing in Renaissance history and the history of ideas.

Purchase Perhaps the Stars Here:

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Political Sci-Fi of the Possible Future

With far-future science fiction on the rise in film and TV, (see Denis Villeneuve’s Dune (2021) and Foundation (2021) on Apple TV+) we’re looking back and uplifting some of the great science fiction books and series on our list from the last handful of years that delve into the depths of politics and society in a possible future. Check them out here!

by a frog


Image Placeholder of - 20Terra Ignota series by Ada Palmer

Perhaps the Stars, the highly anticipated conclusion to the Terra Ignota series hit store shelves on 11.2.21, and now is the perfect time to pick up this quartet by Ada Palmer. World Peace is shattered and war spreads across the globe. In this future, the leaders of Hive nations—nations without fixed location—clandestinely committed nefarious deeds in order to maintain an outward semblance of utopian stability. But the facade could only last so long. And the catalyst came in the form of special little boy to ignite half a millennium of repressed chaos.

Poster Placeholder of - 50Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine

In the Hugo Award–winning novel, A Memory Called Empire, Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.

Image Place holder  of - 53Luna series by Ian McDonald

The Luna series has been called Game of Thrones in space, and the politics between warring space-faring corporations on the Moon stands up to the comparison. Adriana has wrested control of the Moon’s Helium-3 industry from the Mackenzie Metal corporation and fought to earn her family’s new status. Now, at the twilight of her life, Adriana finds if the Corta family is to survive, Adriana’s five children must defend their mother’s empire from her many enemies… and each other.

Placeholder of  -68The Interdependency series by John Scalzi

John Scalzi is known for his science fiction and The Interdependency is his latest completed series with Tor Books. This series is packed with political suspense, action, and all the great reasons we love a Scalzi novel. When the Flow, an extradimensional field available at certain points in space-time begins separating all human worlds from one another, three individuals—a scientist, a starship captain, and the emperox of the Interdependency—must salvage an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.

Place holder  of - 19Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell

While at its heart a romance, Everina Maxwell’s Winter’s Orbit explores the necessities of political alliances by way of marriage among the stars. Prince Kiem, a famously disappointing minor royal and the Emperor’s least favorite grandchild, has been called upon to be useful for once. He’s commanded to fulfill an obligation of marriage to the representative of the Empire’s newest and most rebellious vassal planet. His future husband, Count Jainan, is a widower and murder suspect.

The Caladan Trilogy by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson

If you loved the latest film adaptation of Dune, why not consider checking out what more the universe has to offer? Tor is in the midst of publishing a prequel series about House Atreides’ rise to power and just how they made their enemies along the way. Dune: The Duke of Caladan and Dune: The Lady of Caladan are available now and look for Dune: The Heir of Caladan next fall in 2022.

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

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New Releases: 12/19/17

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

The Will to Battle by Ada Palmer

Placeholder of  -24 The long years of near-utopia have come to an abrupt end.

Peace and order are now figments of the past. Corruption, deception, and insurgency hum within the once steadfast leadership of the Hives, nations without fixed location.

The heartbreaking truth is that for decades, even centuries, the leaders of the great Hives bought the world’s stability with a trickle of secret murders, mathematically planned. So that no faction could ever dominate. So that the balance held. Now everyone—Hives and hiveless, Utopians and sensayers, emperors and the downtrodden, warriors and saints—scrambles to prepare for the seemingly inevitable war.

NEW IN MANGA:

Arpeggio of Blue Steel Vol. 12 Story and art by Ark Performance

Captive Hearts of Oz Vol. 3 Story by Ryo Maruya; Art by Mamenosuke Fujimaru

Magical Girl Apocalypse Vol. 13 Story and art by Kentaro Sato

Not Lives Vol. 7 Story and art by Wataru Karasuma

Servamp Vol. 11 Story and art by Strike Tanaka

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Other Story Ingredients beyond World, Characters, and Plot

Image Placeholder of - 60Written by Ada Palmer

The more I talk to other authors about craft the clearer it is that novelists use a huge range of different planning styles. People talk about “Planners” vs. “Pantsers,” i.e., people who plan books and series in advance vs. people who plunge in and write by the seat of their pants. Each category contains a spectrum, for instance people who plan just the major plot points vs. people who plan every chapter. But even then, authors who are improvisational about some parts of storymaking can be very much plotters when it comes to others.

Characters, plot, and setting, or—for genre fiction—world building are very visible. They tend to be what we talk about most when geeking out about a favorite book: a plot twist, a favorite character’s death, the awesome magic system or interstellar travel system. Sometimes an author will develop a world or characters in detail before writing but not outline the chapters or think through a plot. I develop the world first, then develop characters within the world, and then make my chapter-by-chapter outline. But even those stages of world building and character aren’t the first stage of my process. I want to talk about some of the less-conspicuous, less-discussed elements of a novel which, I think, a lot of writers—pantsers or plotters—begin with.

“Too like the lightning which doth cease to be/ Ere one can say ‘It lightens’.”

The Terra Ignota series was born when I first heard these lines while sitting through a friend’s rehearsal of Romeo and Juliet after school. The speech didn’t give me plot, characters, world, or setting—it gave me structure. In a flash, I had the idea for a narrative which would revolve around something incredibly precious, and beautiful, and wonderful, something whose presence lit up the world like lightning in the night, that would be lost at the midpoint of the story. The whole second half would be about the loss of that thing; the world and all the characters would be restructured and reshaped because of that one, all-transforming loss. All at once I could feel the shape of it, like the central chords that structure the beginning, middle, and end of a melody, and I could feel the emotions I wanted the reader to experience in the brightly-lit first part, at that all-important central moment of loss, and in the second half. It was so intense I teared up.

I had no idea at the time whether this series would be science fiction or fantasy, Earth or another world, past or future, but every time I re-read or re-thought that line, I felt the structure vividly, and the power it contained. Over the following years I developed the world and characters—what could be so precious, and what kind of world could be ripe to be transformed by its loss. At last I sat down to outline, working out, chapter by chapter, the approach to that central moment, and its consequences. Now that The Will to Battle is coming out, and I’m working on the fourth and last book of the series, I’m sticking to that outline, but even more I’m sticking to that structure, and feeling that emotional finale that came in the flash so long ago finally taking on a form that will let other people feel it too.

I’ve heard a lot of authors use different words to discuss this sense of structure: knowing the beats of a story, knowing where it’s going, knowing the general shape, knowing the emotional arc. Some sit down to write with a very solid sense of structure but no chapter-by-chapter plan. Some—like me—use this sense of structure, not only to write an outline, but to shape the world and characters. And some writers plunge into chapter one without a sense of structure, working out the emotional beats as the character actions flow. And I think this difference—when, during the process, different authors develop the structure of a book or series—is just as important as the difference between outlining vs. not outlining, or world building in advance vs. world building as you write.

You can design a world and characters and then think about whether a tragic or triumphant ending would be best for them, or you can have a tragedy in mind and then design the characters to give maximum power to that tragedy, with very different results. But since we rarely discuss structure as a separate planning step, I think many developing writers don’t consciously think about structure as separate from plot, and don’t think about when the structure develops relative to other ingredients. After all, you can sit down to outline—or even to write—and only discover at the end that the story works well with a tragic ending, or you can feel tragedy coming from the beginning, and plan the chapters as steps toward that inexorable end.

Of course, sometimes genre brings some elements of structure with it. Think of Shakespeare sitting down to write a tragedy vs. a comedy—some of the beats of these structures are pre-set, but Shakespeare varies them by deciding how early or late to resolve the main romantic tension, or whether the most emotionally-powerful character death will come at the very end or at the two-thirds point so the last third can focus on mourning and aftermath. Shakespeare thinks a lot about structure, which is how he can get you with structural tricks, like how Love’s Labour’s Lost seems to resolve the romantic tension about half-way through and then disrupts it at the end, or how King Lear has so many tragic elements that you start to feel there has been enough tragedy already and there may not be more coming, a hope Shakespeare then uses to powerful effect.

Modern genres too contain these sorts of unspoken structural promises, such as disaster movies, which promise that the plucky central characters will make it through, or classic survival horror, which used to promise that the “good” characters would live while the “flawed” characters would be the ones to die. One of the major reasons that the first Japanese live action horror series that saw U.S. releases—like The Ring—seemed so stunning and powerful to horror fans was that their unspoken contract about who would live and who would die was different, so the deaths were extremely shocking, violating traditional unspoken structures and thus increasing the shock-power of the whole. Varying the expected structural promises of genres like epic fantasy, particularly regarding when in the narrative major characters die, has similar power.

Another major ingredient which different authors plan out to different degrees and at different stages is voice. Is the prose sparse (a sunny day) or lush (fleecy cloud flocks flecked the ice-blue sky)? Are the descriptions neutral and sensory (a bright, deep forest) or emotional and judgmental (a welcoming, unviolated forest)? Is there a narrator? One? Multiple? How much does the narrator know? Are we watching through the narrator’s eyes as through a camera, or is the narrator writing this as a diary years later? I’ve spoken with people who have started or even completed drafts of a first novel without ever actively thinking about voice, or about the fact that even very default choices (third person limited, past tense but movie camera type POV, medium-lushness prose) are active choices, as important as the difference between an ancient empire and a futuristic space republic in terms of their impact on reader experience. We’re all familiar with how retelling a fairytale from the villain’s point of view or retelling a children’s story with a serious adult tone can be immensely powerful, but any story, even a totally new one, can be transformed by a change in voice. Often the stories I enjoy most are the ones where the author has put a lot of thought into choosing just the right voice.

Terra Ignota’s primary narrator, Mycroft Canner, has a very complicated personality and idiosyncratic narrative style, so central to the book that I don’t exaggerate when I say that switching it to being fantasy instead of science fiction would probably make less difference than changing the narrator. But while many people ask me about how I developed this narrative voice, few ask about when I developed it: before or after world building, before or after plot. Mycroft Canner developed long after the structure, and after the other most central characters, but well before the plot; at about the midpoint of developing the world. Mycroft’s voice had a huge impact on how world and plot went on to develop, because (among other things) Mycroft’s long historical and philosophical asides mean that I can convey a lot of depth of the world and its history without actually showing all the places and times that things took place. This allows a very complicated world to be portrayed through a comparatively limited number of actual events—a high ratio of setting to plot. With a more clinical narrator I would probably have had to have more (shorter) chapters, and portrayed more actual events.

Mycroft’s very emotional language acts as a lens to magnify emotional intensity, so when a scientific probe skims the surface of Jupiter I can use Mycroft’s emotional reaction to make it feel like an epic and awe-inspiring achievement. If I had a less lush, more neutral style, I would have to do a lot more event-based setup to achieve the same kind of emotional peak, probably by having a character we actually know be involved in creating the probe. Movies use soundtracks to achieve the same thing, making an event feel more intense by matching it with the emotional swellings of the music, and movies with a grand musical score create very different experiences from movies with minimalist soundtracks that have to gain their intensity from words, events, or acting.

Voice—in Terra Ignota at least—also helped me a lot with the last story ingredient I want to talk about here: themes. Stories have themes, and these can be totally independent of plot, characters, all the other ingredients. Let’s imagine a novel series. We’ll set it on a generation starship (setting). Let’s give it two main narrators, the A.I. computer and the ghost of the original engineer (voice), who will be our windows on a cast that otherwise changes completely with each book (characters). Let’s say that there will be three books showing us the second, the fifth, and the last of the ten generations that have to live on the ship during its star-to-star voyage, and each book will be a personal tragedy for those characters—the first with thwarted love, the second with some people who dream of launching off on their own to explore but have to give it up to continue the voyage, and the third with the loss of someone precious just before the landing (plot)—but that the whole voyage will be a success, juxtaposing the large-scale triumph with the personal-scale tragedies (structure). Even with so many things decided, this story could be completely different if it had different themes. Imagine it focusing on motherhood. Now imagine it focusing heroic self-sacrifice. Try techno-utopianism. The will to survive. Plucky kid detectives. The tendency of tyranny to reassert itself in new forms whenever it’s thwarted. Art and food. The tendency of each generation to repeat the mistakes of its past. The hope that each generation will not repeat the mistakes of its past. Try picking three of these themes and combining them. Each one, and each combination, completely reframes the story, the characters, and how you can envision the events of the plot unfolding.

So, returning to plotter versus pantser, when in planning a story do you choose the themes? For some writers, the themes come very early, before the plot, possibly before the genre. For others the themes develop along with the characters, or with the voice. Some don’t have a clear sense of themes until they come to the fore at the very end. Some genres tend to bring particular themes with them (the potential of science in classic SF, for example, or the limits of the human in cyberpunk). And voice can make some themes stronger or weaker, easier or more possible.

In Terra Ignota a number of the major themes come from Enlightenment literature: whether humans have the ability to rationally remake their world for the better, whether gender and morality are artificial or innate, whether Providence is a useful way to understand the world and if so what ethics we can develop to go with it. Mycroft Canner’s Enlightenment-style voice makes it much easier to bring these themes to the fore. Other themes—exploration, the struggle for the stars, how identity intersects with citizenship, how the myth of Rome shapes our ideas of power, whether to destroy a good world to save a better one—I bring out in other ways. Some of these themes I had in mind well before the world and characters, so I shaped the world and characters to support them. Others emerged from the world and characters as they developed. A couple developed during the outlining stage, or turned from minor to major themes during the writing. In that sense even I—someone almost as far as you can get on the plotter end of the plotter-pantser scale—can still be surprised when I discover that a theme I expected to come to the fore in chapter 17 comes out vividly in chapter 8. Knowing the themes helped me in a hundred different ways: Where should this character go next? If she goes here, it will address theme A, if she goes there theme B… right now theme B has had less development, so B it is!

All three of these ingredients—structure, voice, and themes—could be the subject of a whole book (or many books) on the craft of writing. For me, this brief dip is the best way I can think of to express how I feel about the release of The Will to Battle. Yes it’s my third novel, but it’s also the first part of this second section of Terra Ignota, the pivot moment of the structure, when we’ve lost that precious thing that was “Too like the lightning” and have to face a world without it. It’s the moment when other people can finally experience that sequence feeling that I felt years ago, so intense and complicated that I couldn’t communicate it to another human being without years of planning and three whole books to begin it, four to see it to its end. It feels, to me, completely different from when people read just book one, or one and two. And that’s a big part of why I think, when we try to sort writers into plotter or pantser, the question “Do you outline in advance?” is only one small part of a much more complicated process question: Setting, plot, characters, structure, voice, themes: which of these key ingredients come before you sit down to write the first chapter, and which come after?

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Follow Ada Palmer on Twitter, Facebook and on her website.

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New Releases: 11/28/17

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

A War of Gifts by Orson Scott Card

Image Place holder  of - 2 At the Battle School, there is only one course of study: the strategy and tactics of war. Humanity is fighting an alien race, and we fight as one. Students are drawn from all nations, all races, all religions, taken from their families as children. There is no room for cultural differences, no room for religious observances, and there is certainly no room for Santa Claus.

But the young warriors disagree. When Dink Meeker leaves a Sinterklaaus Day gift in another Dutch student’s shoe, that quiet act of rebellion becomes the first shot in a war of wills that the staff of the Battle School never bargained for.

Weave a Circle Round by Kari Maaren

Poster Placeholder of - 91 Freddy doesn’t want people to think she’s weird. Her family makes that difficult, though: her deaf stepbrother Roland’s a major geek, and her genius little sister Mel’s training to be the next Sherlock Holmes. All Freddy wants is to survive high school.

Then two extremely odd neighbors move in next door.

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Seriously Shifted by Tina Connolly

Image Placeholder of - 20 Teenage witch Cam isn’t crazy about the idea of learning magic. She’d rather be no witch than a bad one. But when a trio of her mother’s wicked witch friends decide to wreak havoc in her high school, Cam has no choice but to try to stop them.

Now Cam’s learning invisibility spells, dodging exploding cars, and pondering the ethics of love potions. All while trying to keep her grades up and go on a first date with her crush. If the witches don’t get him first, that is.

Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer

Placeholder of  -43 In a future of near-instantaneous global travel, of abundant provision for the needs of all, a future in which no one living can remember an actual war…a long era of stability threatens to come to an abrupt end.

For known only to a few, the leaders of the great Hives, nations without fixed location, have long conspired to keep the world stable, at the cost of just a little blood. A few secret murders, mathematically planned. So that no faction can ever dominate, and the balance holds. And yet the balance is beginning to give way.

NEW FROM TOR.COM

Starfire: Shadow Sun Seven by Spencer Ellsworth

Place holder  of - 6 Jaqi, Araskar and Z are on the run from everyone – the Resistance, the remnants of the Empire, the cyborg Suits, and right now from the Matakas – and the Matakas are the most pressing concern because the insectoid aliens have the drop on them. The Resistance has a big reward out for Araskar and the human children he and Jaqi are protecting. But Araskar has something to offer the mercenary aliens. He knows how to get to a huge supply of pure oxygen cells, something in short supply in the formerly human Empire, and that might be enough to buy their freedom. Araskar knows where it is, and Jaqi can take them there. With the Matakas as troops, they break into Shadow Sun Seven, on the edge of the Dark Zone.

NEW IN MANGA:

Don’t Meddle With My Daughter Vol. 2 Story and art by Nozomu Tamaki

Magical Girl Special Ops Asuka Vol. 1 Story by Makoto Fukami; Art by Seigo Tokiya

Shomin Sample: I Was Abducted by an Elite All-Girls School as a Sample Commoner Vol. 7 Story by Nanatsuki Takafumi; Art by Risumai

Tales of Zestiria Vol. 3 Story and art by Shiramine

There’s a Demon Lord on the Floor Vol. 4 Story and art Kawakami Masaki

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Excerpt: The Will to Battle by Ada Palmer

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Place holder  of - 37

The long years of near-utopia have come to an abrupt end.

Peace and order are now figments of the past. Corruption, deception, and insurgency hum within the once steadfast leadership of the Hives, nations without fixed location.

The heartbreaking truth is that for decades, even centuries, the leaders of the great Hives bought the world’s stability with a trickle of secret murders, mathematically planned. So that no faction could ever dominate. So that the balance held.

The Hives’ façade of solidity is the only hope they have for maintaining a semblance of order, for preventing the public from succumbing to the savagery and bloodlust of wars past. But as the great secret becomes more and more widely known, that façade is slipping away.

Just days earlier, the world was a pinnacle of human civilization. Now everyone—Hives and hiveless, Utopians and sensayers, emperors and the downtrodden, warriors and saints—scrambles to prepare for the seemingly inevitable war.

The Will to Battle will be available December 19th. Please enjoy this excerpt.

Chapter the First: We the Alphabet

Hubris it is, reader, to call one’s self the most anything in history: the most powerful, the most mistreated, the most alone. Experience, and the Greek blood within my veins, teach me to fear hubris above all sins, yet, as I introduce myself again here, I cannot help but describe myself as the most undeservedly blessed man who ever lived. I, who once moved act by act through the catalogue of sins, I cannibal, torturer, traitor, parricide, who at seventeen gave myself over to deserved execution, I Mycroft Canner find myself at thirty-one alive, healthy, with far more liberty than I deserve, making full use of my skills in the service of, not one, but several worthy masters, and even permitted to sleep at night in the arms of he whose embrace will always be the one place in this universe where I most belong, while he too lies in his proper place, on the floor outside his mistress’s bedchamber.

War has not yet come, but the waters have withdrawn to form the tidal wave, leaving the beaches and their secrets bare. Hobbes tells us that war consists not in Battle only, but in that tract of time wherein the Will to Battle is so manifest that, scenting bloodlust in his fellows and himself, Man can no longer trust civilization’s pledge to keep the peace. If so, we are at war. We have been these four months, since Ockham’s arrest and Sniper’s bullet revealed too much truth for trust to stay. But we do not know how to turn the Will to Battle into Battle. We have enjoyed three hundred years of peace, World Peace, real peace, whatever the detractors say. This generation has never met a man who met a man who marched onto a battlefield. Governments have no armies anymore, no arms. A man may kill another with a gun, a sword, a sharpened stone, but the human race no longer remembers how to turn a child of eighteen into a soldier, organize riot into battle lines, or dehumanize an enemy enough to make the killing bearable.

We will learn fast. Man is still a violent beast; I proved that thirteen years ago when the swathe of atrocities I scarred across the public consciousness stirred the world to scream in one voice for my blood. We will make war, but no one wants to light the first match when we do not know how fast the fuel may burn. Three hundred years ago humanity had weapons enough to exterminate ourselves a hundred times over. Now the technology that birthed those weapons is so outdated that children who split the atom for a science fair are labeled antiquarians. We have no newer weapons, but no one doubts that, with a month’s cunning, the technologies that cook our food and slow our aging will birth horrors beyond imagining. If we survive, the wreckage of posterity will want to know how. It is for curious posterity, then, that I am now commanded to keep this chronicle.

I have done this work before. A week ago my masters presented to the world my little history of those Days of Transformation, now four months past, which left us on war’s threshold. They tell me that the history has done what they had hoped: shared much of the truth, without pushing us farther toward the brink. My great merit as an historian is that I am known to be insane. No court or council can trust my testimony, and each reader may pick and choose what to believe, dismissing anything too unsettling as lunacy. I gave the public what it wanted of the truth, no more, leaving the pundits and propagandists free to shape opinion into faction, and faction into sides and enemies.

This chronicle is different. My first history was written to be shared and used, now, by my masters. This chronicle cannot be shared, not while these secrets are still War Secrets. The powers that bid me record their doings week by week will not even let each other read the transcript. I, alone, enjoy this strange trust from the many leaders of what will soon be warring states. I hear the inner whispers of palace and boudoir, whispers which will shape armies, yet which history will never hear unless someone records them. It is this human underbelly of the war my masters bid me chronicle, not for the public, nor even for themselves, but so a record will survive, and with it some apology, as Plato’s apology preserves lost Socrates. We will lose them all in this, I fear: the wise and iron Emperor, patriot Sniper, subtle Madame. We have already lost the best. There lies my chief regret, reader. Since you cannot trust a madman’s word, I cannot persuade you of the one fact which is true comfort to me, even as I grieve. He was real: Bridger. There was a boy who walked this Earth who was a miracle. I held him in my arms. The Divine Light within his touch brought toys to life, made feasts of mud pies, raised the dead, and through him the God Who Conceived This Universe, Who usually sits back invisible, revealed Himself. I wish you could believe me. There is Providence, reader, an inscrutable but intelligent Will which marched us with purpose from the primeval oceans to these battle lines. That is how I know you will be alive to read this. He Who put such effort into mankind will not let us end here. No, I lie. I do not know with certainty that He still needs us. Those fatalists, who have long preached that all things, from the insect’s flutter to these words you read, are fated, determined, written up yonder in the Great Scroll, never considered that that Scroll might have an Addressee. There are two Gods, reader, at least, He Who Conceived This Universe and He Who Visits from Another, just as Infinite and just as Real. We humans are the letters of a message our Creator wrote to make first contact with His Divine Peer. Now that the letter has been received, it may be crumpled and discarded, or set aside as keepsake in a coffin-stale drawer. We the alphabet may pray only that Their new friendship will continue to rely on words. If so, we will survive.

Copyright © 2017 by Ada Palmer

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What the Future Will Call This Era

Written by Ada Palmer

One question a science fiction writer faces when world-building a future Earth, alongside questions of future technology and future politics, is the question of future history. What will people in this future call the twentieth and twenty-first centuries? They can’t call them ‘modern’ since the nineteenth century called itself “modern” with its steamships and telegraphs; the eighteenth century called itself “modern” with its spinning jennies and lightning rods; even the Renaissance called itself “modern” with its arquebuses and donkey-powered winches. So, when setting a story in the future, the title “modern” belongs to whenever the story takes place, leaving our age in need of a new name—and what name that future uses for this era can tell you a lot about how it sees itself and its past, and what has happened in between.

Let’s try on a few for size.

How about a 25th century that calls our era the Computer Age? It’s a straightforward option, but using it implies that, in this particular future, the development of computers is considered to be the most important aspect of our age—and if this 25th century believes the Computer Age is over, then we instantly want to know what came after it. What new technology is humanity’s big focus if computers came in and went out, like the Age of Steam?

What if, instead, this era is called the Nationalist Era? That focuses our minds on politics rather than technology, implying that our political and cultural tumults are considered the defining factor of our age and that some huge political change must have brought the Nationalist Era to an end.

What if they call these centuries the Genocidal Age? Or the World War Era? Such names are simultaneously deeply upsetting, predicting that we will be remembered above all for our darkest failures, and strangely hopeful, since they imply futures where humanity has moved beyond such things. Calling it the Early Mormon Era, like the Early Christian Era, makes a whole sequence of historical and cultural changes play out in the reader’s mind with just three words. What if this future that calls our age the Space Age? If the 2400s see themselves as being as far beyond the Space Age as we are beyond Shakespeare, then either humanity has given up on space exploration, and considers it a blip in their past like the 19th century vogue for spiritualism or the 12th century obsession with Aristotle–or it means there’s some new frontier beyond space which makes the Space Age feel as quaint to this future as the Age of Sail does to us. The Screen Age. The Digitization. The Greenhouse Era. The Educational Revolution. The Age of Capital. The Age of Free Capital. The Age of Capital Lockdown. By showing what characteristic looms largest in the future’s memory of now, each name does tons of world-building, or rather world history building, in one short phrase.

Even more can be packed in if you use a historical name which—like Late Antiquity or Early Industrial Revolution—implies that our centuries are mostly important for their relation to some even more important neighboring era. If this is the Prepandemic Age, then 2100+ are going to be very bad centuries; if this is the Late Pandemic Age, they’re going to be great centuries. The Early Unification. The Late National Era. The Late Surface Era. The Interimperium. The Truce. The Early Digital Ages. The Late Digital Ages. Comparative labels with a strong judgment—positive labels, negative labels—can also imply enormous amounts about what comes after the 21st century. Are we the Dark Digital Age? Or the Golden Digital Age? Are we the Dark Interracial Age? The Golden Interracial Age? Entire future histories spin out in the imagination from each one.

Related to the question of naming the past is the question of how a future world divides its past. We divide our history into different sections: ancient, medieval, and modern, with a few more detailed subdivisions: Hellenistic, High Medieval, Renaissance, or Enlightenment. But those subdivisions haven’t been permanent. One of the big revolutions of the Renaissance was that they changed where they drew the dividing lines in History, from the Medieval European subdivision of history into two parts—an early, bad, pre-Christian age and a later, good, Christian age—to a three-part division: the golden age of Antiquity, then the bad Middle Ages or Dark Ages, and then the good modern age, which we now call the Renaissance. So where does the future draw its lines around us? Is the 20th century the first part of an era that extended through the 24th? Or the last stage of an era that began in the 17th? Are we characterized by being part of a continuity with the ages of scientific revolution, exploration, colonialism, and industrialization that came before us? Or are we separated from them by some vital characteristic that even the 25th century sees as a step more modern? And if, for us, the famous dividing dates of historical epochs are the conquests of Alexander the Great, the fall of the Roman Empire, the Norman Conquest, the French Revolution, and the First World War, what are the most famous dates in this future’s understanding of its history?

In my own Terra Ignota novels, I intentionally waited a long time before revealing what the year 2454 calls our century, or where it draws its big historical lines. I waited until the reader had learned a lot about this 25th century: its flying cars and robot helpers, its 150 year life span and chilling censorship, its new borderless nations and old persistent monarchies, its painstakingly slow Martian terraforming project and its painfully familiar tensions over religion, race, and gender, which take new forms but are still the recognizable old problems. It’s a 2454 with many good features and many bad ones, but it isn’t nearly as far beyond the present as we expect of the 25th century, if Star Trek had us exploring the galaxy’s depths by the 23rd. I tried to pack a huge amount of world-building into the two little words I chose. Read Seven Surrenders and let me know if you agree with my choice.

So what does your 25th century call our age of history? And why?

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New Releases: 1/24/17

Here’s what went on sale today!

Death’s Mistress by Terry Goodkind

Death's Mistress by Terry GoodkindOnetime lieutenant of the evil Emperor Jagang, known as “Death’s Mistress” and the “Slave Queen”, the deadly Nicci captured Richard Rahl in order to convince him that the Imperial Order stood for the greater good. But it was Richard who converted Nicci instead, and for years thereafter she served Richard and Kahlan as one of their closest friends–and one of their most lethal defenders.

The Skill of Our Hands by Steven Brust & Skyler White

The Skill of Our Hands by Steven Brust & Skyler WhiteThe Incrementalists are a secret society of two hundred people—an unbroken lineage reaching back forty thousand years. They cheat death, share lives and memories, and communicate with one another across nations and time. They have an epic history, an almost magical memory, and a very modest mission: to make the world better, a little bit at a time.

NOW IN PAPERBACK

Age of Wonders by David G. Hartwell

Age of Wonders by David HartwellAge of Wonders: Exploring the World of Science Fiction gives an insider’s view of the strange and wonderful world of science fiction, by one of the most respected editors in the field, David G. Hartwell (1941-2016). Like those other American art forms, jazz, comics, and rock ‘n’ roll, science fiction is the product of a rich and fascinating subculture. Age of Wonders is a fascinating tour of the origins, history, and culture of the science fiction world, written with insight and genuine affection for this wonder-filled literature, and addressed to newcomers and longtime SF readers alike.

Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

Too Like the Lightning by Ada PalmerMycroft Canner is a convict. For his crimes he is required, as is the custom of the 25th century, to wander the world being as useful as he can to all he meets. Carlyle Foster is a sensayer–a spiritual counselor in a world that has outlawed the public practice of religion, but which also knows that the inner lives of humans cannot be wished away.

 

NEW FROM TOR.COM

Passing Strange by Ellen Klages

Passing Strange by Ellen KlagesSan Francisco in 1940 is a haven for the unconventional. Tourists flock to the cities within the city: the Magic City of the World’s Fair on an island created of artifice and illusion; the forbidden city of Chinatown, a separate, alien world of exotic food and nightclubs that offer “authentic” experiences, straight from the pages of the pulps; and the twilight world of forbidden love, where outcasts from conventional society can meet.

NEW IN MANGA

The Girl From the Other Side: Siúil, a Rún Vol. 1 Story & Art by Nagabe

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Excerpt: Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer

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Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer

In a future of near-instantaneous global travel, of abundant provision for the needs of all, a future in which no one living can remember an actual war…a long era of stability threatens to come to an abrupt end.

For known only to a few, the leaders of the great Hives, nations without fixed location, have long conspired to keep the world stable, at the cost of just a little blood. A few secret murders, mathematically planned. So that no faction can ever dominate, and the balance holds. And yet the balance is beginning to give way.

Mycroft Canner, convict, sentenced to wander the globe in service to all, knows more about this conspiracy the than he can ever admit. Carlyle Foster, counselor, sensayer, has secrets as well, and they burden Carlyle beyond description. And both Mycroft and Carlyle are privy to the greatest secret of all: Bridger, the child who can bring inanimate objects to life.

Shot through with astonishing invention, Seven Surrenders (available March 7th) is the next movement in one of the great SF epics of our time. Please enjoy this excerpt.

CHAPTER THE FIRST

 

Nihil Obstet

Nihil Obstat—“Nothing prevents it”—was the old license-by-fiat which kings and inquisitors pronounced in stifled ages when no printing press could give its inky kiss to paper until Tyrant Church and Tyrant State had loosed censorship’s universal gag. But “nihil obstet” is something else when He appends it to our permissions page, Good Jehovah Mason. “Obstet” it is a prayer, one He made over and over to the many authorities who guard humanity: His Imperial father, the Cousin Chair, the King of Spain, the Sensayers’ Conclave, the far-seeing Censor, Brill’s wise Institute: “Let nothing prevent it.” They feared as much for Him as for themselves, tried to sow doubt in Him, asked Him by His many names: Are You sure You want to do this, J.E.D.D. Mason? Tribune? Porphyrogene? Prince? Tenth Director? Tai-Kun? Xiao Hei Wang? Jed? Jagmohan? Micromegas? Jehovah Epicurus Donatien D’Arouet Mason? Are You sure You want this snarling, wounded Earth to learn so much of You? But Madame D’Arouet, who raised Ἄναξ Jehovah in that strange bash’-out-of-time she cultured in the gold-drenched heart of Paris, also taught Him numbers: one and many, less and more. So, the same grim calculus that compelled Cicero and Seneca to give their lives for bleeding Rome compels Jehovah now to end the desperation-pain of the ten billion who cry for answers, even at the cost of worse pain to those dearest to Him, and Himself. For your sake, reader, He prayed, to one, to many. And for His sake I pray too, to that one Power—absent from our permissions page—Which could still stop us, as It stopped firebrand Apollo. The many mouths of Providence have swallowed up a thousand histories, and could swallow one more. So I pray: Let nothing obstruct this book and the Good it aims at. If there is benevolence in You, strange Creator, nihil obstet.

 

CHAPTER THE SECOND

 

Sniper’s Chapter

RESTRICTION: THIS SECTION MUST BE EXCISED BEFORE THIS DOCUMENT MAY BE PUBLISHED OR DISTRIBUTED. PRIVATE ACCESS MAY BE GRANTED BY JUDICIAL ORDER.

RESTRICTION ORDERED BY: The Conclave of Sensayers of the Universal Free Alliance.

REASON: Libelous attribution of criminal acts to a licensed sensayer.

RESTRICTION ORDERED BY: Cousins’ Legal Commission.

REASON: Potential harm to the public peace, potential harm to minors herein discussed.

RESTRICTION ORDERED BY: Ordo Quiritum Imperatorisque Masonicorum.

REASON: Instigation of violence against a Familiaris Regni.

RESTRICTION ORDERED BY: Commissioner General Ektor Carlyle Papadelias.

REASON: Strong evidence that substantial parts of this document are an alteration or forgery with destructive intent.

DURATION OF RESTRICTION: Five years, renewable pending review.

Howdy, fans and foes! This is your very own Sniper. First, let me assure you that I’m alive and well. The fugitive lifestyle suits me fine, my wounds are healed, I have plenty of allies, and I will kill Jehovah Mason for you, that I swear, today, tomorrow, a year from now, however long it takes. They can’t guard the little prince forever. Tyrants and assassins have a great symbiosis. Assassins are always evil and despised (even when our effects are good we’re still a bad means to a good end) until tyrants crop up. Then suddenly assassins are heroes, patriots; suddenly we alone have the power to save the world without a revolution, and the destruction revolutions bring. You admit you need us. But, between tyrants, you forget that assassins will only be here, ready, when you want us if we’ve been here, ready, the whole time. You feel dirty keeping such a weapon in the house, but somebody has to keep one or it won’t be there when the bad wolf comes to huff and puff. My office is no less a pillar of this age than Censor or Anonymous. I serve with no less pride.

Second, I should say I’m only writing this one chapter, and Mycroft will take over again when I’ve had my say. Mycroft went to great lengths to contact me so I could describe this event, which did come next in sequence. I agreed to relate it only on condition that they promise not to touch a word of what I wrote. It’s a privilege I intend to abuse to the utmost, and I’ll have my say about Jehovah Mason before I’m done. But I’ll start first with the part that will make your usual narrator squirm the most: correcting their willful omission and giving you a proper physical description of Mycroft Canner.

Mycroft is average height, shorter because they stoop, and swimming in their oversized uniform, like a statue wrapped in sacking, waiting to be restored. Their hair is curly in that classical Greek way, off-black, closer to a grayish tint than brown, and overgrown around the sides and forehead, as if they imagine so marvelous a creature could hide itself beneath a few stray locks. Modern science has kept their face as fresh at thirty-one as it was at seventeen, when all it took was a glance from Mycroft Canner to make the strongest shudder, but now those devil eyes lock tamely on the floor. They’re brown eyes if you get a look at them, bright brown and antique feeling, like the brown tint which makes old wine richer than new. There’s a scarring on their upper lip where violence has split it once too often, which gives a sense of hidden fangs. But the real prize comes when you strip away their uniform and bare the skin beneath, a tapestry of scars, all shapes, all vintages: the crumpled edges of old cuts and bites, the roughness of burns, strap-sores around the wrists and ankles, the ley lines of surgery, bullet holes round like little kisses, all layered on top of one another like a graffiti wall which tempts you to add your own mark. There’s a story behind every scar, and I’ve spent many lucky hours tracing that skin and asking about each; Mycroft answers about one-third of the time.

The Mycroft you remember from the news was lean, all muscle like a starving scavenger. That hasn’t changed. The wildest stray goes soft after a year of warm laps and petting, but not Mycroft. I don’t believe Mycroft starves themself only as self-punishment. It could be that they don’t want to taint such a body with whatever unhealthy slop Servicers’ patrons tend to offer, but I suspect it’s just that our predator finds common food hard to choke down after what they’ve tasted. Their famous hat (and even I was surprised to learn it came from Dominic Seneschal) is an old cloth newsboy cap, round, brown, more patches than cloth at this point, with a small brim in the front and a sprig of frayed threads on the top where the central button was long since lost. Mycroft lied to you, you know. They said there was no Beggar King to command the Servicers, but the sight of that hat makes the others snap to attention as surely as a crown. It’s not for the crimes that the other Servicers idolize Mycroft, it’s what Mycroft’s done since. Even in Hell they’re stunned to find an angel among them, willing to be as much a guardian as a fallen angel can.

Today’s Mycroft genuinely is as obsequious in person as they are in print, a self-styled slave in this world which has none. But if you sit with them awhile, and talk, and coax, the formality fades, the hunch which hides the still-strong shoulders loosens, the hands begin to splay like claws, and eventually the beast I call True Mycroft pokes its nose above the surface. It’s not a prisoner in there, not fighting to break free, just resting inside Slave Mycroft like a ship in harbor, saving itself for something. Slave Mycroft has only one expression: apology. As for True Mycroft, their expressions are unreadable, or rather you’re wrong if you try to read them, like when the shape of a dog’s face makes it seem to smile or frown where really you’re just projecting human expressions onto an inhuman thing.

Like most of us, I first laid eyes on Mycroft Canner on the news just after the capture, as the police wheeled them past row on row of emergency forces. Mycroft was so serene then, basking in the procession as if that transparent coffin-cage was a triumphal chariot. We’d already heard Mycroft’s reasons for the Mardi killings from the recorded speeches they left beside the later bodies. This was the supreme act of violence of this century, done, not by a government, not a Church, not a tribe, not an army, but by an individual. Ever since villagers first wielded sharpened sticks in their chief’s name, the State had had a monopoly on supreme violence, but the Hive system ended that. Mycroft called their killings a demonstration of a liberty our era had not realized we possessed, proof of history’s progress if seventeen deaths were enough to shock the world; historically, seventeen deaths is a good day. Philosophers had long speculated about Savage Man, whether the conscience is innate or implanted by society, and whether the human mind is actually capable of willing evil for the sake of evil—even the most heinous killers still tend to imagine some goal (revenge, profit, personal pleasure, some mad command). It’s an important question, fundamental really—can we choose actions that purely make the world worse without any perverse perceived benefit?—but we couldn’t discover whether the true Human Beast could exist back when the Beast was like a craftsman in an age of mass-production, negligible beside the infinitely greater evils: Democide and War. There before the cameras Mycroft preached that, in these days of peace when we choose our Hive and values for ourselves, human individuals finally have the chance to be the worst thing in the world, and the right to be proud of our choice if we are not. That was the first time I fell in love with anyone outside my bash’.

It was a month after the arrest that Eureka told me Mycroft Canner wasn’t executed after all. We had to make them ours, that was clear. My crush aside, I always say a killer can smell a killer, and with yours truly on the news every five minutes, Mycroft had surely scented me by now. Eureka tracked Mycroft down among the Servicers, and Ockham paid the visit. It took moments for each to recognize what other was. Laconic Ockham delivered simply, “Come,” which Mycroft matched with an instant, “Yes, Məəəer Saneer,” in Mycroft’s signature vague diction which lets you think they’re saying ‘Member’ but underneath it’s really ‘Master’ leaking out. Lesley and I had spent weeks concocting blackmail enough to collar the beast (and keep them silent, which was Ockham’s concern), and were a little pissed to find our schemes superfluous. We’d sent the trapper after a wolf and caught a fawning puppy; there was no choice but to adopt it. It was supposed to be my puppy, but Thisbe set their sights on it, and when Thisbe stirs even O.S. trembles. I still got Mycroft as a playmate, storyteller, sparring partner, but only Thisbe got them at night, and (as I’ve learned now) never touched them. Just as well; as one learns from the obituaries of the wealthy perverts Mycroft used to prostitute themself to, raising money to help other Servicers, if you sleep with Mycroft Canner you don’t live long (and thanks to reading the first half of this history, I now know to call that phenomenon Saladin).

Enough authorial abuse for now. My kidnapping on March twenty-seventh, that’s what I’m supposed to talk about. It happened at six A.M. by my schedule. I’d just endured a nasty (but deserved) chewing out from my fencing coach (obnoxious but worth putting up with, since it’s so hard to find a coach who won’t fall in love with me). I’d removed my tracker for a shower when an odorless and fast-acting drug knocked me cold.

It’s hard to say when I awoke, since the world I woke to was so like a dream. I couldn’t see; I couldn’t move; I couldn’t speak. I wasn’t bound or gagged. It was my hands, my arms, my legs, they all lay limp, and when I tried to call for help, not only would the sound not rise but even my lips refused to form the words. I could feel, and recognized at once that I was lying in the molded contours of a lifedoll box; I know the shape, since fans often ask me to have myself delivered in the packaging so they can have the pleasure of unwrapping me. My first thought was that I might be one of my dolls come to life (no, at the time I did not know about Bridger’s power to bring toys to life, but my profession made one think hard about these things), but my tongue could move, enough to keep me from choking, and I found the notch on the inside of my top left molar which no doll has, which I had etched there for just such eventualities (I told you, I thought hard about these things). Clearly, then, I was no doll. I was breathing. I could swallow (with difficulty), could blink and move my eyes (though the packaging strap across my eyes was as solid as a blindfold), and I could control my bladder and anus enough to keep from soiling the box. A few other joints did tense slightly as I strained—my jaw, some spots on my belly, one muscle in my neck—so I set to exercising them, to see if I could get my blood pumping a bit and so flush chemicals from my system faster, if chemicals were the cause. With concentration I detected spots of soreness scattered around my body which I guessed were remnants of however this paralysis had been achieved. Fear? I didn’t feel much fear. I thought about trying to induce panic to get my heart rate up, but better to keep myself sharp, and ready.

The first words I heard were muffled, both by the box and by a voice distorter, which left the syllables gritty and robotic. « Now, let’s see this surprise that was worth dragging me out here. » I do not speak French, but I hear it often, and Spanish gives me enough of a start to piece the simple stuff together.

« It might have been dangerous bringing it to Your Holiness’s office. I tried to decorate this place to make you feel at home. »

« It’s perfect. All my favorite posters, and the rug’s so cushy. »

« I am a professional. »

« Mmm. That you are. »

The two paused and, from the sound of it, made out. There were two voices, both veiled by distorters. I’m not going to use names. The police promised (in writing) not to use this testimony as evidence against anyone, but the police aren’t so good with that sort of promise. You know which sensayer was promised Sniper in return for handing over the Cousin Carlyle Foster to a certain Blacklaw. If I omit the names then I maintain reasonable doubt.

« Is this the surprise I hope it is? » Hands made the packaging flex.

« If you’ve guessed, it isn’t a surprise. »

I felt clean air on my chest as the box opened. « Oh! Gorgeous … » Hands explored my chest. « It’s real? The real Sniper? »

« I pay my debts, Your Holiness. » Another handguided the first to test my pulse.

« The real Sniper. That’s really the real Sniper? »

« I’ll give my oath on it, if you doubt. »

« Did you get them to consent? »

« Of course not. I knew you’d want to do that part yourself. » « Mmm. How did you snatch them? Did you take the Canner Device for a spin? » «

« And draw a swarm of Moonmen down upon my head? No, no. Stealth and patience, Your Holiness, stealth and patience. »

Hands lifted my arm, the touch delicate but not gentle. « They’re limp. Are they unconscious? »

« That would be no fun. It’s conscious, just frozen like a doll. It can hear us, and when you unwrap the eyes it’ll be able to see, so make sure your mask stays in place. »

Hands played with my fingers, bending them to test resistance. « How did you do this? »

« The paralysis? A very delicate application of this and that. It’s not my invention; Madame’s had this sort of special request before. It’s not permanent, it needs to be refreshed every few hours, but I can arrange another round if need be. »

« Oh, you’ve outdone yourself! You can have Carlyle! You can have any pawn you want! » The other laughed. « You deserved a prize today. That imaginary friend you identified from the boy’s drawings was just what I needed, trick worked like a charm. »

« That child you asked advice about, you broke them successfully? »

« Am breaking. No need to rush. I’ve three of their little friends hostage, and you wouldn’t believe what treasures are already flocking to the bait. »

« Little friends? I hope you’re not breaking any Black Laws, harming minors? »

« Nothing of the sort. Besides, I’ll hardly need such bait once I have little Carlyle to finish things for me. »

« And God? The common God, I mean, are you making progress? You dropped such taunting hints. »

Another hush for kisses.

« God’s almost mine. »

« How long? »

A chuckle. « Patience is a virtue, Your Holiness. Think of it as a balance for today’s delicious vice. Your doll awaits. »

“Mmm.”Practiced hands gripped me under the arms and eased my torso forward until I flopped forward into an embrace. Some long hair caught in my lips as my face fell against bare skin, and I felt breasts against my chest. “Oops! Careful!” They switched to English to address me, laughing as they adjusted my head so my cheek could rest on their shoulder. “What a fragile thing you are, Sniper, and so light! I always imagined the real thing would be heavier than the dolls.”

« Careful you don’t strain its neck. Actually, better put this neck brace on it. I didn’t want the brace to spoil the effect when you opened the box, but there’s real danger of straining something, like with babies. »

“Well, we can’t have that, can we, Sniper? Can’t have you getting hurt. Come here.” My New Owner (what else can a doll call the one to whom it’s given?) held my head still for the Gift-giver to strap the brace in place. That helped, kept my head centered as my Owner tipped me forward into a cuddle. It was an intense embrace, no awkwardness, no holding back, the kind of hug two people can only achieve after long intimacy, but anyone can give in an instant to a stuffed bear. Amazing. “There, is that better? Now let’s get you out of your box and settled somewhere comfortable.”

« Let me help. » I felt the second person’s hands now, midsized enough to belong to either sex, but fierce as clamps. « On three, ready? One, two, three! »

The two of them carried me a short way, then laid me on soft carpet with my head and shoulders propped against a cushion.

“There.” My Owner laid my hands neatly at my sides. “Much better. Now, let’s get this packaging off so we can see your pretty eyes.”

They picked at the packing strip which protects the doll eyes during shipping, splitting the seal with fingernails which (almost) succeeded in not scratching my skin. Even common lamplight seared after such darkness, and I closed my eyes at once, flinching as much as I had power to flinch.

“Oh!” my Owner cried. “Did the bright light hurt you? Here.” They leaned close enough to veil me with shadow, and restored complete darkness to my left eye with a soft kiss on the eyelid. “Let me make it better.” The kiss moved, one eye, then the other, then down my cheek. “There, that’s better. Now open your eyes. It’s okay.”

Squinting at first, I saw a clean white half mask covering the upper half of a light face, with a wash of black hair behind it, leaking over a bare body which was probably not as beautiful as I remember, but I’m about as objective here as Mycroft is about Bridger. (The whole Bridger thing is true, by the way, their powers, everything, there’s proof. Unlike Mycroft, I won’t let you get away with pretending it’s madness.) The room behind my Owner was a collage of me: posters, portraits, some quite rare, all different costumes, naughty, nice, formal, skimpy, all five sports, all seven Hives, and dominated by the 2442 limited-edition of me slumped shirtless in a chair with puppet joints drawn on my skin and the strings of a marionette holding me half-upright. I’ve always liked people who like that one.

“There. Welcome home, Sniper.”

As they kissed my lips which could not kiss back, I felt, at last, my long-sought, threat-free love. In my years as a professional living doll I can’t count how many times I’ve been brought home by a fan who’d dreamed of a night with the original, but the consummation often fails to meet their expectations. Those who want a doll as a lover tend to be timid, shy of being touched, more comfortable with plastic and make-believe. I’ve made myself as benign as possible: hairless, childlike, not strongly gendered either way, and I always let myself be dressed, be fed, be led, but I still touch back, kiss back by reflex, have the potential to be active. That potential spoils the illusion, like when you know a ba’sib is in earshot in the next room, and the fact distracts you even if they do nothing. As long as I could act, Owners weren’t as safe with me as with my dolls. Bondage doesn’t solve this, makes it worse, actually, since the bonds are just reminders of the power they’re restraining. Here, though, with my power not constrained but gone, my Owner was as comfortable as when you sit naked in an empty house, or sing in the bathroom, so I tasted at last that easy affection which only dolls and dildos had enjoyed before. I could feel how much it was changing me even as it happened, the granting of such a visceral wish rewiring things inside my mind, not just the conscious iceburg tip but down into those black depths that even Brillists barely understand. At the time, Thisbe and Eureka hadn’t told the rest of the bash’ about their “black hole” in Paris or what lurks in it, so I had no way to recognize that this was trickle-down of the same threat. . My Owner didn’t study with Madame D’Arouet, but absorbed through the growling Gift-giver the same techniques, as through some dark umbilical: sniff out the forbidden appetites that people don’t admit they have, and make them so real that afterward the normal world feels dull as black and white. Mycroft showed you how Chair Kosala and the Anonymouscan’t kindle the fire anymore without their ‘he’s and ‘she’s and lace and waistcoats. Mycroft was right to use the word ‘addiction.’

“And now for the real mystery.” My Owner’s hands traced a slow path down my sides toward the second packing strip which protected my most private parts. They glanced over their shoulder at the Gift-giver. « You’ve been waiting for this, haven’t you? »

“Actually, I already saw. » The Gift-giver stood behind my Owner, also masked, and with a black cloak which hid everything but a spot of shadowed throat. “Apologies for not waiting for you, Your Holiness, but I had to towel it off and get it boxed up. It was quite suspenseful, the rumors being so contradictory. »

« I know. » My Owner eased my thighs apart. “You’re a naughty thing, Sniper, spreading confusing rumors to keep us guessing.” I couldn’t look down, but saw a subtle smile as their fingers cracked the seal. (I thought hard about whether to reveal this here, but it’s time. I remain infinitely grateful to everyone who helped me keep the secret this long: the Celebrity Youth Act, my coaches, doctors, teammates, journalists, my many fans who knew, and many more who burned to know but respected my request so much you even rioted outside The Scoop that time they threatened an exposé. But it’s time free you all from that silence, that mystery, to let you see completely what I was, now that my doll days are over.) “A boy,” my Owner announced. “Not surprising. No, wait.” They leaned closer, their long hair tickling my thighs, which could not twitch. “Both! Oh, excellent.” They lifted my penis gingerly and reached past to feel the vaginal folds behind. “You sweet thing, you didn’t want to disappoint fans who got used to either model. How thoughtful!” They spread me further, the room’s air cold against the wetness of my labia. « It’s a beautiful job, seamless!” They turned again to the Gift-giver. « Which sex were they originally, do you know? »

The Gift-giver leaned forward. « I couldn’t tell. Everything down there looks and tastes genuine. I could take some hair to the lab. »

« No need. This is how Sniper should be, now that I think about it. » My Owner withdrew their hands from my penis carefully, as if handling a baby bird. « Oh! It twitched. » They chuckled their delight. “Can they perform? »

« Of course. The paralysis is very selective. It’ll take some massage, but you can get it up if you want. »

« Mmm. Not much massage from the look of it. Somebody’s enjoying themself. » My Owner ran a finger up my cheek. “Aren’t you?”

Knowing no answer would come, my Owner tasted my lips again, and eased me forward, their affection washing over me like a good movie, which takes you to all the peaks of passion without you having to lift a finger. They were used to my body, knew just how my shoulders swing, and at what height to hook my chin over their shoulder.

« How long can I keep them? »

It was a burning question for me, too.

The Gift-giver shrugged. « That’s up to Your Holiness. If you want to keep it permanently I can bring what you’ll need, but it’ll be difficult keeping its Olympic physique from deteriorating in captivity, and there’ll be quite the manhunt. I recommend catch-and-release: you enjoy yourself, then have me return Sniper to the wild and take it again when next you’re in the mood. »

« Would that work? »

« Certainly. I estimate another two hours until the rest of the bash’ realizes Sniper’s missing, but they’ll hunt in secret for at least a day before letting the news get beyond His Grace the Duke. So long as we get Sniper back this evening there won’t be any larger fuss. We can erase its memory as extra security if you like, but I’m sure it won’t breathe a word of this to anyone. If I can do this much to it when I’m calm, it can imagine what I’d do if I were angry. »

My Owner hugged me closer. “There’s no need for threats. My Sniper won’t want to spoil this, not when I’m done. I know what Sniper wants. I’ve known for ages what my Sniper really wants.”

You probably imagine I thought something defiant and heroic here. Some addictions only need one dose.

« Of course, Your Holiness. I apologize for insulting your abilities. »

« Mmm. I’ll have you do some penance for that later. »

« As you wish, Your Holiness. »

My Owner stroked my hair, flicking stray black strands out of my eyes. “Sniper’s turn first, though.”

The computer distortion made the Gift-giver’s chuckle sound like a computer’s dying scream. « Maybe you should keep it permanently. There’s enough nastiness around its bash’, it might be safer here with you. »

« I’ll think about it. »

I thought about it too, realizing that all I could do was lie and wait for my Owner make this decision which would literally determine my entire world, and have a big impact on everybody else’s. Duty was enough to make me wish for freedom, but that was the only moment I can remember that I’ve ever wished the duty wasn’t mine.

The Gift-giver turned to go. « I have work. I’ll be back before the paralysis wears off. I brought some doll clothes for dress-up, they’re in the chest back there. »

« Thanks. »

« Give me a call if you see any twitching. Athletes often have a fast metabolism, so there’s a chance things will wear off faster than normal. »

« Right. »

The Gift-giver came within my line of sight as my Owner shifted me onto their lap. I searched for hints of identity (skin color, weight) beneath the cloak and plaster-white mask, but this foe was too practiced. « Enjoy. »

Enjoy my Owner did, every inch of me, but I’ll skip the details. It was not all sex. A lot of it was being held, that warm, trusting embrace. A lot of it was talk. My Owner talked about what it’s like being able to see people’s hidden obsessions, like having X-ray vision and spotting all the ailments doctors haven’t discovered yet. They talked about the nature of secrets, speculating about why one feels the need to share secrets with someone, whether one imagines something might happen if one says them aloud, like knocking on wood, or whether it just feels more real when there’s a witness. They talked about the state of the world, about ideas of God which I won’t repeat, and a lot about gender. Gender they called a universal language which we’re all supposed to pretend we can’t read. Most just play blind or try (as we know we ought) to eliminate the traces of it, and the ancient inequalities those traces threaten to revive, but, they said, cunning folk can use that language to attack targets with body rhetoric they can’t acknowledge, let alone resist. My Owner used a strongly gendered persona intentionally to make people uncomfortable, just as I used my neuter one to set people at ease. We were two house cats who had both learned again the true purpose of claws and fangs; my Owner had taken to hunting, while I had tried to have myself declawed.Now, having read the first half of Mycroft’s history, I know to blame Madame D’Arouet. Mostly, though, my Owner talked about power.

“I need a break from power, Sniper. It sometimes feels like I’ve been playing the manipulation game forever, and once you’re you can’t stop. I enjoy it, I wouldn’t give it up for anything, but my rival is also very good, and I have to turn everyone around me into a pawn on my side to keep them from becoming a pawn on theirs. I need a break, just once in a while, like this. It’s different with you. You can’t try to use me, and I don’t want to use you even though I could. You’re off-limits to my rival, so I can safely make you off-limits to me, too. I can relax. There’s no power with the two of us like this, just fun. I’m sure you need a break too. It’s a very hard game you play keeping Ganymede in power. It must be exhausting, all the training, and competitions, and stunts to keep voters from thinking about anyone but you and Ganymede. But there’s no spotlight here. With me you can stop performing, and you don’t need to worry about your obligations when there’s absolutely nothing you can do about them. You can relax. Isn’t that what you really want, Sniper? A life where you can finally relax?”

I could have tried to answer somehow, give a long blink, a distinct breath, but that would have spoiled it, undone these hours which truly were the pinnacle of my avocation. There’s a word to chew on, ‘avocation’: a second great occupation that takes you away from your vocation, like a musician sidetracked by acting, a teacher by politics, Thisbe by making movies, or my ba’pa designing dolls, all important tasks but secondary still. I don’t blame the parents who made me and Ockham rivals for O.S. (it made us stronger), but when Lesley entered the picture it was clear there would be a winner and a loser when we grew up, no ties. When the fuss over being a Lifedoll model made me a child star, I saw a second path before me, a surer shot than the fight for bash’ leadership, which was always fifty-fifty. The rest agreed a celebrity in the house would be a good addition to our arsenal, so I worked like a maniac to secure my fame: studying for the press, keeping informed, full of jokes, always the most fun to interview, then finding a sport at which my small body (neither exceptionally strong nor fast) could excel, and working to remain competition-worthy through three Olympiads and counting. I loved my avocation, suffered for it, and I took very seriously the duty of belonging to everyone who loved me. But that still came second, and my bash’ vocation first. I do apologize to all who were in love with what I was. I miss you too, and if you contact my underground and host me for a night I’ll do my best to be your Sniper again, but that comes second. My Hive, all Hives, come first. I am a Humanist because I believe in heroes, that history is driven by those individuals with fire enough to change the world. If you aren’t a Humanist it’s because you think something different. That difference matters. I will not let Jehovah Mason undo the system which (as Mycroft sacrificed so much to prove) gives us the right at last to be proud of what we choose to be. The Hives must be defended. Never before has one tyrant been in a position to truly threaten the whole world, so never in history has my true vocation been so necessary. I will kill Jehovah Mason for you; please accept that as my apology.

I’m over my five-thousand-word limit already. What else should I cram in before I go? The Bridger parts are true. Don’t trust the gendered pronouns Mycroft gives people, they all come from Madame. The coup is happening, don’t let anybody tell you different. As for the resistance, I’m not expecting most of you to volunteer to fight and die, but if you support my side, all it means is that you love your Hive, and that you’ll cheer for us when the deed is done. The First World War was the moment humanity learned to count its casualties in millions, but as a Humanist I must ask, as my bash’ founders asked, which changed the world more, the loss of millions or of that handful who would have been the next generation’s heroes? Wilfred Owen left behind a tiny collection of poems, not enough to even make a book, but still the most upsetting things I’ve ever read; if Owen had lived they might have revolutionized literature, spurred presses and politics away from the guilt-laden bravado which would light war’s fire again, or driven countless readers to suicide. Karl Schwarzschild corresponded with Einstein from the trenches and deduced the existence of black holes while rotting knee-deep in muck; if Schwarzschild had lived they might have accelerated physics by fifty years, enabled Mukta two generations earlier, or given the Nazis nukes. Owen and Schwarzschild; calculate carefully which firebrands to snuff and one death can redirect history better than any battle. That was the foundation of O.S.

Ojiro Cardigan Sniper, Thirteenth O.S., May 23rd, 2454

END OF RESTRICTED SECTION. PUBLIC ACCOUNT RESUMES.

Copyright © 2017 by Ada Palmer

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