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Inventing a Game for a Future Disunited States

Flying the Coop by Lucinda Roy“I didn’t want to write about why the caged bird sings; I wanted to write about how the caged bird flies.”  –Lucinda Roy, author of Flying the Coop

Lucinda Roy’s speculative dystopia Dreambird Chronicles trilogy that began with The Freedom Race and continues with Flying the Coop depicts a haunting vision of future America. Despite the horror, elements of Black history are woven into the world-building. Check out this essay from Lucinda Roy!


By Lucinda Roy

When I wrote The Freedom Race, the first volume in my Dreambird Chronicles speculative trilogy, I was faced with some burning questions I had to address. And now, with the publication of Flying the Coop, the second volume, it’s clear that these questions have shaped the series in ways I couldn’t have imagined when I first conceived of the story over a decade ago.

Among the questions I had to address were these. If, in the aftermath of a second Civil War, slavery returns to a large section of a trifurcated country, a place now known as the Disunited States, how would enslaved characters retain their humanity? What would inspire them and give them joy?

In Flying the Coop, set primarily in D.C., I depict a future Disunited States still reeling from the aftermath of a second civil war known as the Sequel. The U.S. has been blown apart by conflict, climate insecurity and pandemics. Its primary autonomous regions are the Eastern and Western SuperStates along the coasts; independent cities like D.C., Atlanta, and Chicago; and the Homestead Territories in parts of the South and Midwest, which adhere to a segregationist ideology modeled on the old plantation system. It is chilling to see how much closer we have moved toward a second civil war since I first envisioned the series all those years ago.

Although I knew I could never minimize the horrors of slavery, I didn’t want to write about suffering without also exploring the miracle at the heart of enslavement. The miracle is this: in the face of unspeakable suffering, the enslaved survived. I didn’t simply want to catalogue a litany of suffering, especially when slavery has been handled movingly by writers in the past; instead, I wanted to celebrate this miracle of survival in a way that could be embodied in something concrete. But how?

I hadn’t expected that one of the answers to these questions would be a game the enslaved invent to honor those who fought against racism and slavery. The game was absent in the first iterations of this story. After a while, it became peripheral. Then it was something played by a few of the male characters. Only later did the game take shape as a central force and touchstone in the novels.

The game, called simply Fly the Coop, serves as a refuge, an inspiration, a site of rebellion, and a deeply ironic commentary on the apartheid system, a system that reclassifies “imported laborers” from Africa, and other people of color who don’t have the documentation to claim indigenous status, as botanicals—or, more colloquially, as seeds. In one fell swoop, this heinous reclassification strips laborers of their rights and privileges under the law and consigns them to a life of servitude in the Homestead Territories. The botanical classification cages them and holds them captive. But there’s a catch: it also amplifies their yearning for Freedom, a concept the so-called seeds revere and therefore always capitalize. This quintessential conflict lies at the heart of Fly the Coop—a game of contradictory impulses suffused with the tension slavery produces. If characters can’t literally escape the cage, can they escape it figuratively? Can they fly the coop in plain sight of those who hold them captive?

Designing a game played in a future Disunited States wasn’t easy. It had to be exciting enough to entice spectators and meaningful enough to players that they would be willing to risk injury or even death to play it. Having taught many college athletes in the past, I was aware of the critical role competitive sports plays in the U.S., and how team sports are often hinged to notions of ownership. Even so, I didn’t want it to be only a game imposed by oppressors on victimized people. Though this kind of simplified, top-down approach to game design in speculative fiction has proven popular, it seemed more plausible that this game would grow organically out of the soil of the setting. The characters’ yearnings would design it. What I had to do as a writer, therefore, was listen to them.

I had a few lights to steer by. I knew, for example, that whatever game I invented would need to be dangerous and uplifting, based in reality but dependent on illusion, part satirical commentary and part go-for-broke spectacle, part battle and part beauty. One other thing I knew for certain: the game had to reflect the culture that produced it, which meant it had to pay tribute to the phenomenon of storytelling and the persistent power of dreams.

Fly the Coop draws from tropes prevalent in stories by those of us who trace our roots back to the African Diaspora. But it also draws upon feelings of confinement felt by women and by disadvantaged men throughout the centuries. Prohibited from elevating themselves in any meaningful way, seeds invent a game that not only permits elevation but which actually enables them to “fly.”

A cross between a flying circus, a gladiatorial Colosseum battle, and cage fighting, Fly the Coop embodies the famous Flying Africans myth—the idea that people rose up spontaneously to escape slavery and flew a way back home. Protagonist Jellybean “Ji-ji” Lottermule recalls what Uncle Dreg, revered by seeds as a Tribal wizard and prophet, told her about it:

Uncle Dreg used to tell Ji-ji that the coop was equally symbolic to seeds and steaders. To seeds it was a reminder that flight was possible; to steaders it emphasized the inescapable supremacy of the cage…. What mattered to Ji-ji was that the planting flying coop was the one place where her dreams were more powerful than her yearning.

The fly coop houses a multi-tiered, high-tech fly cage where battles are waged between pro teams. In these circus-like arenas, seeds and former seeds battle for supremacy, using weapons and daring athletic skill. Between battles, they vault from trampolines, fly on trapezes, and shimmy up hope-ropes, striving to seize a tactical advantage by climbing higher in the cage than their opponents.

The game is played inside an arena called a coop. Fly coops on plantings are modest in size—more like small circus tents. But the pro coops in the cities are massive, comparable in size to American football arenas. In Flying the Coop, the newly constructed Dream Coop in D.C. is an impressive feat of engineering, with a control booth and special effects teams, intricate projection systems, and a center ring that opens up like the mouth of a monster to reveal terrifying surprises which shock the tens of thousands of flyer fans in the arena and those watching at home.

As is the case in other pro coops around the country, much of the equipment inside D.C.’s Dream Coop honors Civil Righters, Middle Passengers, and other inspiring figures from history. There are King-spins and Harriet Stairs, Douglass Pipes and Rosa Parks Perches, ‘Bama’s Dramas (state-of-the-art trampolines), Ali Stingers, Baldwin Beams, DuBois’ Toys, Biles Trials, an enormous Ellison Wheel players can be invisible inside, and a smaller Wheatley Wheel flyers can leap onto to escape attack. The crowning glory in the coop is the Jim Crow Nest suspended from the dome, the largest nest of its kind and the exclamation point in the seeds’ satirical commentary on oppression.

The athletes who fly the coop select their own flyer names: Tiro the Pterodactyl, Angel Birdgirl, Laughing Tree, Marcus Aurelius (a.k.a. the Thinker), and X-Clamation, to name a few. Naming becomes a rite of passage for characters in these books, some of whom go by multiple names. Many decades ago, not long before he died, my Jamaican Maroon father selected another name for himself and his biracial offspring. Even though he had so little money (his paintings, sculptures and novels weren’t selling, and he’d been fired from his job at a Brillo factory for attempting to start a union), he paid to change his name legally. He told my mother he didn’t want to have a name that could be traced back to plantation owners. As a proud Black man, he wanted his name to be his creation alone. Names matter. They don’t simply tell us who we are, they can also reveal who we most want to be.

Fly the Coop’s arbiters are an acknowledgement of the brutal penal system in the Territories. The intimidating Jury of Judges awards points for victories in battle and for acrobatic skill on the coop equipment. The twelve black-robed judges often mete out justice arbitrarily, influenced by the sentiments of spectators and coop owners. The person who “conducts” the coop is known as the coopmaster. In D.C.’s famous Dream Coop, the maestro is also known as the Dream Master, a fitting title for a character named Amadeus “I’m-a-God” Nelson, who was once an outcast Serverseed and is now the most powerful Black Man in the city.

Not all of the enslaved are enamored with the fly coop. In The Freedom Race, protagonist Ji-ji Lottermule’s mother rails against it and against Tiro, the reckless fly-boy her daughter loves:

“Swinging around in that coop like some brainless bird! Those vulgar wings on his shirt! Using cheap tricks to fly! An illusion—is it not so? A game steaders play to pacify seeds—trick us into forgetting we can never fly from here. They’ve snatched our history like they snatched us!”

Yet most of the seeds find the coop inspiring, a sentiment Tiro describes as he sits inside the Dream Coop fly cage on a Rosa Parks Perch and speaks to his dead brother:

“We got an Ellison Wheel big as a building, largest wheel of its kind. It’s got these paddles function as landing platforms an’ springboards. With a touch of a button, Coopmaster Nelson can expand and contract it, spin it fast, or spin it slow. Can make the whole goddam wheel invisible, pretty much, if he wants.”

Though readers unfamiliar with figures in Black history may not recognize the allusion to Ralph Ellison’s famous novel Invisible Man, or know who is being referenced in the architecture and equipment in these fly coops, what is far more important is how the game houses the dreams of the characters. Played inside a gargantuan bird cage, where mystery and magic combine to thrill those who invest in a dream, the dangerous game of Fly the Coop reminds characters who suffer under the yoke of enslavement that liberty and justice—the most precious gifts a nation possesses—have never been easily won. For enslaved people, the yearning to fly the coop is eternal.

Novelist, poet, and memoirist Lucinda Roy is the author of the speculative novel The Freedom Race and three collections of poetry, including Fabric: Poems. Her early novels are Lady Moses, a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection, and The Hotel Alleluia. She also authored the memoir No Right to Remain Silent: What We’ve Learned from the Tragedy at Virginia Tech. Her latest book Flying the Coop, is now on sale.

Order Flying the Coop Here:

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The Freedom Race by Lucinda RoyThe Freedom Race by Lucinda Roy

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Excerpt: The Freedom Race by Lucinda Roy

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Poster Placeholder of - 88The Freedom Race, Lucinda Roy’s explosive first foray into speculative fiction, is a poignant blend of subjugation, resistance, and hope.

In the aftermath of a cataclysmic civil war known as the Sequel, ideological divisions among the states have hardened. In the Homestead Territories, an alliance of plantation-inspired holdings, Black labor is imported from the Cradle, and Biracial “Muleseeds” are bred.

Raised in captivity on Planting 437, kitchen-seed Jellybean “Ji-ji” Lottermule knows there is only one way to escape. She must enter the annual Freedom Race as a runner.

Ji-ji and her friends must exhume a survival story rooted in the collective memory of a kidnapped people and conjure the voices of the dead to light their way home.

Pleas enjoy this free excerpt of The Freedom Race by Lucinda Roy, on sale now, and check out book 2, Flying the Coop, on sale 7/5/22!


1: The Cradle

A convulsive wail catapulted Ji-ji awake. Oletto had woken to nurse. The wailing reached a crescendo. Each night her little brother woke at ten and two, guzzled from her mam’s teat like a drunkard, then fell back to sleep so rapidly it looked like he was faking it. Only he wasn’t—not according to Ji-ji’s mam, who welcomed the wailing, said it assured her that her lastborn was still with them. “Don’t ever leave a seedling to purple-wail like that, Ji-ji,” Silapu would warn. “Unanswered yearning can split you wide open, force you to spend the rest of your life searching for foolish ways to plug up the wound.”

Ji-ji rolled over to face the tattered curtain hanging over the doorway that separated her bedroom from the main room. For a few seconds, she tried to convince herself her name wasn’t Jellybean Lottermule. She was Ji-ji Jubilation, the j’s in her first name pronounced like the g in gee whiz. She’d chosen it because it sounded cute and sassy, neither of which she was. “Brown as dung” the steaders called her, nothing like her dark and pretty mam, or Charra, her light-skinned, pretty sister. Not that she gave a damn what dumbass steaders thought. The only name worse than Jellybean was Lottermule. Thinking about it made her want to gag.

Oletto’s wails turned to hiccuping whimpers. Sleep had deserted her, so Ji-ji took refuge in her pretend life. She was living Free! Free! Free! in Dream City . . . or up in the Eastern SuperState maybe, where rumor had it they’d rebuilt some of the iconic skyscrapers, locating them farther back from the coast this time cos SuperStaters didn’t blame floods on the wrath of God like steaders did. She pictured herself living in a penthouse—a term Father-Man Lotter used to describe the main offices of the Territorial Headquarters in the Father-City of Armistice, a.k.a. the City of Cages. (Don’t think about their disgusting capital. It’ll drive you crazy. Go back to where you can live Free. . . .) She found a place of refuge again.

She was a half-Toteppi princess living high on the hog with her mam and little brother in a penthouse hundreds of miles from the Territories. No man could ever touch her or beat her. Ji-ji Jubilation was her very own self on her very own terms. . . .

Her brother’s whimpers turned to shrieks. The truth gnawed like rats, severing the hope-rope she clung to. They weren’t living in a liberty SuperState or an Independent oasis; they were trapped at the butt end of the Old Commonwealth of Virginia on one of the hundreds of plantings homesteaders established following the Civil War Sequel. She was Jellybean Lottermule, chief kitchen-seed. . . . It would never be enough. . . .

Ji-ji grabbed her wristwatch from the small bookshelf Tiro had made for her fourteenth birthday. She’d won the watch in one of the planting races. She stared at the hands on the watch’s face. It was a child’s wind-up watch, which explained why the steaders had given it as a prize to the fastest female runner. A tiny, coal-black cartoon mouse pointed his white-gloved, chubby fingers at the numbers on the watch face. The mouse was grinning so hard it looked painful. He reminded Ji-ji of the black-faced minstrels who played at the barn dance during the Harvesting Festival. Two A.M. Only three more hours to go before her morning run. By six thirty, she’d be preparing Lotter’s breakfast at the father-house. He liked to eat early: poached eggs cooked just right—never hard-set but not undercooked either; coffee smooth not bitter—no milk, no sugar. Father-Man Lotter didn’t go in for diluting anything.

Oletto’s whimpers turned to screams. If she didn’t get an hour or more of sleep she’d be dragging all day. She tried to think of herself as lucky. At fourteen, she was one of the few postpubescent females still living in her mam’s cabin. She recited the words Zaini, Tiro’s mam, had taught her to raise her spirits: “Our mother, which art the Cradle, may we know our hallowed names.” She took a deep breath and blew it out slowly to calm herself, then stepped lightly out of bed. Yawning, she shuffled through the bedroom, careful to avoid the twelve dents in the floor made by the legs of her three lost siblings’ beds. The dents they’d left behind were pretty much all she had to remember them by. Stepping on them would have seemed like blasphemy.

Ji-ji entered the only other room in the cabin. Silapu must have been up for a while because a crackling fireplace warded off the winter chill. Apart from Oletto’s cradle and Lotter’s fancy rocking chair, all their other furniture was junk: a rickety table on a tired rug whose edges curled up like fried bacon; three wobbly wooden chairs, one with part of its back missing; and a sink with a working pump—admittedly a luxury few seed cabins possessed.

Ji-ji glanced over at the one object in the room—apart from her brother’s magnificent cradle, of course—that didn’t make her want to scream. Tiro’s mam Zaini had made the quilt as a grieving gift for Silapu after Luvlydoll died. It depicted blackbirds—three perched in a tree while a few dozen took off from the branches in a burst of something akin to fireworks on the Fourth of July. The quilt almost convinced you the seedmate cabin was home, almost made you forget that behind it was Lotter’s seeding bed. Not that her mam used it much. When Lotter wasn’t paying her a seeding call, Silapu didn’t sleep in the mating bed, opting instead for a makeshift bed on the floor. However hard she scrubbed, she claimed, it was impossible to wash Lotter’s mating stench from the sheets.

Having dragged a chair over from the table, Ji-ji sat down beside the cradle. Woven from twigs fashioned into impossible patterns, it had solid black walnut rockers decorated with intricate carvings of beasts and birds. Six months before, a few hours after her mam had given birth, Uncle Dreg had shown up out of the blue to present Silapu with the magnificent cradle. When Ji-ji had asked him how he’d known her mam had seedbirthed, he’d pointed to his Seeing Eye necklace and smiled the way you do when you want to keep someone guessing. “This cradle will keep your offspring safe,” the wizard had promised.

“Your brother is teething,” Silapu declared with unmistakable pride. “His front tooth is sprouting, see? It is a sharp one. He will start biting down hard when he nurses. You were a biter. . . .”

Ji-ji poked her index finger into Oletto’s mouth—not easy because he was snuffling around for the large dark nipple he craved—and found his wayward tooth. It had put down roots in the middle of his top gum.

“That center tooth is a sign,” Silapu stated. Her Toteppi accent made her sound wise. “My own father’s front tooth was in the center like this one. It is my father come to me again. ‘Same mouth, same words’—that is what we Toteppi say. When this one is a warrior grown, he will sound like my father. His voice will boom out across the bush.”

“We’re not in the bush,” Ji-ji reminded her. “We’re in the Homestead Territories.”

“Only when our eyes are open,” Silapu insisted.

Ji-ji smiled. It was good to hear her mam speak of her homeland, good to see her happy again. Tribalseed “imports” from the Cradle, shipped over to the Territories to address the severe labor shortage, sometimes wasted away or killed themselves soon after they arrived on transport planes or cargo ships. Silapu had been Ji-ji’s age when she’d been snatched from the Cradle by pickers. Her mam knew the old words and the old stories, though unlike Uncle Dreg, she never spoke them aloud. “You know what memories are, Jellybean?” she’d said once to Ji-ji, after Clay had been auctionmarted. “Memories are knives—slice, slice!” She’d slashed her arms through the air and banged her head against the wall until Ji-ji and Charra coaxed her quiet. But tonight, as Silapu looked at her lastborn, there was a deep contentment and a Toteppi pride in her eyes.

“Do you hear that, Bonbon?” Ji-ji asked, suddenly happy. “Mam says all you need to do is keep your eyes shut an’ you won’t even know you’re on a planting.”

Ji-ji loved to use the nickname she’d given her little brother. She’d had a bonbon once—a dark chocolate one. It had slipped down her throat as easy as spit. She wished her lost brother and sisters could have seen him; they would have loved him too. But after metaflu took Luvlydoll, and they shipped Clay off to the auctionmart, and Charra—god knows what happened to Charra—Ji-ji was the only one left. Charra, the last of the three to be lost, had disappeared some months ago. Silapu, who’d been barely holding things together before then, was inconsolable. She blamed herself for what happened, though she wouldn’t tell Ji-ji why. Crazy with grief, she’d drowned her sorrows in cheap whiskey from the planting store and pills she got from Lotter. She hadn’t known she was pregnant until roughly the fifth month. When Doc Riff diagnosed her condition, she swore she’d never touch a drop of booze or swallow another of Lotter’s pills—as long as her offspring was healthy and she was allowed to keep him. She sensed early that her lastborn was a boy, the seedling who would make her life bearable, she said. Silapu and Ji-ji had delivered Bonbon without a midwife or doctor in attendance. Ji-ji suspected her mam had somehow guessed her lastborn’s secret.

When Bonbon slipped out of the seed canal into her hands, Ji-ji had stared at the seedling in disbelief. Unlike Silapu’s other liveborns and deadborns, the infant was Midnight dark. Ji-ji had been “disappointingly dusky” herself, according to Lotter, her complexion aligning more closely with a typical Commonseed’s than a Mule’s. But Lotter reconciled himself to Jellybean’s “dun-colored cheeks and nappy head.” Bonbon’s case was much more extreme, which was why both Ji-ji and her mam were terror-struck when they saw him.

Among Tribalseeds and products of Commonseed matings, very dark complexions were not unusual. Biracial Muleseeds, on the other hand, especially those begat by father-men, were supposed to testify to the strength of the patriarchal seed. Bonbon’s complexion was on the Midnight arc of the official Color Wheel—a number 35 or 36. According to steader doctrine, Muleseeds on the duskiest arc (a.k.a. the cuckold arc) testified to the promiscuity of a seedmate.

Silapu and Ji-ji were thrown into a panic. They debated making a run for it. But how would they scale the electric fence without being fried? Even if they managed it somehow, the planting search hounds would hunt them down, or mutant beasts roaming The Margins would tear them to pieces. Silapu was terrified of the mutant big-cat and wolf species unleashed by the Territories to discourage trespass—an experiment gone hideously wrong. How would she protect her lastborn if they ran into a pride of snarlcats or a pack of stripers?

Ji-ji knew mutants and search hounds weren’t the only horrors they would encounter. Because Uncle Dreg served as an errander for Cropmaster Herring (one of only four seeds on the planting who had a Right to Roam) he’d seen the world outside the 437th and had told her and Tiro how brutal it was, revealing things about his travels that made her blood run cold. She’d also read An Abbreviated History of These Disunited States, a book Miss Zyla Clobershay had given her days before she was fired for teaching things not on the seed curriculum. Though the Sequel had ended decades before, and some parts of the nation were at last beginning to emerge from the chaos created by the Long Warming, the former United States could be hell on earth for seeds.

Fueled by armed militias and taking advantage of the turmoil caused by shifts in climate, all of the Deep South and great swaths of the country’s Midwest had seceded from the union to form the self-governing Homestead Territories. After the Sequel, the Eastern and Western SuperStates and the Homestead Territories had signed an uneasy truce, to the consternation of many urbanites in the Territories who were ready to die rather than submit to Territorial rule. Cities like Atlanta, Chicago, TriCity, Birmingham—and smaller places like Oxford, Mississippi, and Fayetteville, Arkansas—rebelled. In a coordinated effort that took the Territories by surprise, city mayors signed DUIs—Declarations of Urban Independence—broke ties with the Territories, and formed militias of their own. At first, flush with their own success, the Independents had welcomed refugees. But that soon changed when they understood the precariousness of their situation.

What Ji-ji learned from the history book she kept strapped to the underside of her bed refuted everything on the seed curriculum. The United States wasn’t “reformed and revitalized,” as the steaders liked to put it. It was a fractured, jittery nation teetering on the edge of total anarchy.

Ji-ji might have been afraid to tell Silapu the unvarnished truth, but Uncle Dreg had no such reservations. When he’d visited them to deliver the cradle a few hours after Silapu had given birth, he’d also delivered dire warnings about the dangers that awaited them should they try to run (though how he knew they’d been thinking about doing so, neither of them could figure out). He painted an alarming picture: the SuperStates and Independents were turning away hordes of asylum seekers; outbreaks of metaflu, cholera, and malaria had turned the squalid shantytowns that had sprung up around the Independents into death traps. If they made it to Dream City without entry papers, they would join the thousands of other refugees in the No Region. They would live in sight of a Dream they could never enter and a wall they could never climb.

The old wizard had taken Silapu’s hand tenderly in his own. “Place your trust in the Freedom Race,” he’d told her. “And in your courageous offspring. I have never seen another racer fly as fast as your thirdborn. When Ji-ji wins, she will petition for you and the infant.”

In a tone brimming with certainty, Uncle Dreg had told Silapu her lastborn had come to him as a grown Freeman during one of his journeys through future-time. “He stood tall in the Cradle, like your father. His voice echoed across the land. I have also seen Ji-ji in the Window-of-What’s-to-Come, wearing the Freedom Race logo and running like the wind. So you see, Sila. All will be well.”

After Dreg had left, Silapu—no slouch herself when it came to manipulation—said it was ironic that the old wizard had used Ji-ji’s gift as a runner to persuade them not to run. Then she’d said something else that still haunted Ji-ji: “Let us hope we do not regret placing so much faith in your abilities, Jellybean.” Ever since, Ji-ji had thrown herself even more aggressively into her training, often going on late-night runs in addition to predawn ones, running till her feet bled and her heart was a piston in her chest. She was their only hope now; she had to succeed.

Deciding not to make a run for it had meant facing Lotter. In hopes of avoiding him, Silapu hadn’t ventured out during the day, not even to the outhouse, for fear one of Lotter’s parrots would spot her and relay the fact that she’d seedbirthed. On the seventh night, however, without warning, Lotter had barged in like a man possessed. Before they could stop him, he’d snatched up Bonbon and examined him from head to toe, rubbing his thumb over his seedling’s back and shoulders like someone who could erase the blackness completely if he worked at it hard enough. After Lotter had finished rubbing, he’d done something they’d hardly ever seen him do before. He’d laughed—a full-throated guffaw. By this time Ji-ji was certain Lotter was drunk, high, or both. He’d wrapped his seedling carefully in the mushroom-colored seeding quilt Zaini had made and eased himself into his rocking chair. Still chuckling, he’d taken out his pipe and puffed contentedly while he rocked his dusky seed in his fairskin arms, as if Oletto were his Son-Proper instead of his Mule.

“Little bugger’s black as pitch, Mammy Tep,” he’d said, addressing his dumbstruck seedmate. “Black as an import. But pretty as the devil in spite of that. See those big black eyes round as moons? Damn! You ever seen a seedling prettier’n this one?”

Lotter assured his favorite seedmate she could keep her lastborn. Said he’d “figure out the rest later.” It was the first time Ji-ji could remember her mam looking at her father-man with something approaching affection. It had always been the other way around—Lotter needing her so much he’d try to beat the love out of himself by beating her. That’s what her mam said anyhow. Ji-ji wasn’t convinced a selfish bastard like Lotter was capable of loving anyone.

In the six months since Bonbon’s birth, every day had been a celebration. Whenever Bonbon grasped Ji-ji’s Chestnut finger in his Midnight ones, everything felt right.

Ji-ji and Silapu were laughing at Bonbon’s ecstatic gurgling when they heard footsteps outside the rough-hewn wooden door. They knew at once who it was: Lotter making one of his late-night seeding calls. He’d likely be high or drunk. Mean too.

Reluctantly, Silapu placed her sleeping offspring back in his cradle. In his dreams, Bonbon was sucking on an invisible nipple as though his life depended on it.

Ji-ji rose hurriedly. She stood next to the cradle in her flimsy cotton nightshift. Scared the light from the fire behind her would make it see-through, she covered herself with her hands.

Arundale Lotter thrust open the door and stood stock-still in the doorway. His thick blond hair was pulled back, his steader’s beard neatly combed.

Ji-ji was hurrying toward her bedroom when something made her stop dead.

Lotter took one step forward. Usually, when he entered one of his seedmate cabins, he swallowed everything whole; this time something was different. He was hesitant, if she could apply a word like that to a father-man like him. Behind him, the night was pitch-black: no moon, no stars. Lotter stood inside a headstone of gloom. A feeling of dread enveloped her. It’s only the night, she thought, tamping down her sense of foreboding. But the shadows writhing on the uneven walls looked sinister. More sinister still were the shadows licking the rocker Lotter had gone to enormous lengths to have custom-made because he wanted to sit in comfort when he made a seeding call. Neither Mam nor Ji-ji used Lotter’s rocker, unwilling to plant their asses where his had been. Silapu had eaten a late supper; her plate and fork were still on the table. He wouldn’t like that. He liked things clean and put away in their rightful places.

Lotter’s scent wafted toward Ji-ji on night breeze—a lavender-citrus, musky fragrance that preceded him like a warning shot. He had the man-scent shipped all the way from Armistice. It arrived in a brown velvet box whose color would fall squarely in the middle of the Burnt Sienna arc of the Color Wheel, exactly where her mam’s complexion did. In gold calligraphy on the inside of the box was the perfume’s fancy name: Dark Essenceial. Because she hadn’t known any better as a seedling, Ji-ji used to repeat that name to herself, swishing it around in her mouth like spring water on a hot day. Father-Man Lotter was the only one of the thirteen father-men on the 437th who wore scent. Not even Cropmaster Herring—who, like every cropmaster on every planting in the Territories, had the right to lord it over his disciples—indulged in that kind of vanity.

Without warning, two tall men stepped out of the shadows and took up positions on either side of Lotter. Ji-ji recognized them at once. The brute on Lotter’s right went by the name of Vanguard Casper. He was Lotter’s chief overseer—a man of immense height and girth who always, for some inexplicable reason, made Ji-ji think of shovels. Van Casper’s beard reached almost to his waist. The one on Lotter’s left was Matton Longsby, the blond guard only a few years older than Ji-ji, whose beard was more of a promise than a fact. Everyone commented on how much the guard looked like Lotter’s Son-Proper, if he’d had one, which he didn’t. (When drunk or high, Lotter complained to Silapu that his Wife-Proper in Armistice was as frigid as a glacier and as barren as a desert. No point in dragging the bitch down here to the boondocks, he’d say, if she can’t be put to good use.)

Seconds passed. Ji-ji felt panic rise inside her. Everything seemed to be scurrying for the exits—screams, even piss. . . . She held them in, knowing how disgusted Lotter would be if she didn’t.

It was when Lotter turned to give instructions to ’Seer Casper that Ji-ji and her mam saw it. Lotter’s long blond hair was pulled back into a ponytail with a fat black seizure ribbon!

NO!” Silapu cried. “I kill you if you do this thing!

To Ji-ji it seemed as though someone had fired a starting pistol. Everything took off running as Silapu leapt toward Lotter, screaming like something on fire. Lotter pushed her roughly to the side. Silapu recovered and flung herself toward the cradle. Casper grabbed her before she could snatch up her seedling.

Ji-ji rushed to help her mam but found herself hoisted off the floor by the blond guard as she kicked and screamed. It was useless. Matton Longsby’s grip was as strong as hope-rope.

Mad with terror, Silapu punched the overseer in the eye. ’Seer Casper reeled back in fury. He came at her again, cinching her so tight round the waist she gasped for breath. Silapu let out a mother’s agonized roar.

Casper yelled at her: “Shut the fuck up, bitch!”

Immediately, the overseer realized his mistake. Still trying to shield himself from Silapu’s crazed attack, he looked over at his boss and began to apologize.

Lotter interrupted him: “Overseer Casper, have eighty rebel dollars in an envelope on my desk by dawn.” No one doled out an eighty-dollar fine for cussing, but Casper knew how foolhardy it would be to argue with a man like Arundale Lotter. “And another thing. You hurt one hair on my seedmate’s head and I will kill you. Is that clear?”

Van Casper, his face a thunderstorm, nodded. The overseer gritted his teeth and held Silapu tight, wincing as her frenzied kicks made contact with his shins. Bonbon was screaming bloody murder. Every seed in Lotter’s quarters and beyond could hear his wails.

When Lotter yanked open the flap of his leather satchel and drew from it a white wooden wheel the size of a dinner plate, Silapu’s agonized cries echoed around the small cabin. Glued at regular intervals along the wheel’s rim were thirty-six color swatches made from small squares of cloth—paler swatches first, followed by light tans, deeper tans, browns, black-browns, and finally the darkest shades of all, on the Coal and Midnight arcs. Bending over the wizard’s beautiful cradle, Father-Man Lotter held the Wheel to the seedling’s face, beginning with the lightest swatches and rotating it until he reached the shade that matched his seedling’s skin color.

He read the official ruling in a tight, emotionless voice: “I, Arundale Lotter, First Father-Man on Planting 437, hereby decree the fifth seedling of botanical Silapu Lotterseedmate to be a number 35 on the Midnight arc of the Color Wheel. He fails to testify to the strength of the patriarchal seed, attesting instead to the hussification of his mam and the blatant disrespect she has shown to myself, her fathermate and benefactor. Accordingly, the seedling will be removed from Planting 437 and shipped to a server camp where he will be raised nameless to serve the Territories as a Cloth-35. May his mam understand the error of her ways. May all who witness her shame be mindful of the authority of the Color Wheel and the divine hierarchy of the Great Ladder.”

Lotter reached back and tore off his seizure ribbon. Set Free, his blond locks cascaded to his shoulders. He picked up Bonbon and draped the black worm of a ribbon round his seedling’s chubby neck. Lotter hadn’t looked at Silapu when he’d read the pronouncement, but he did so now. His handsome face was battered by the firelight; it looked like he was crying. Ji-ji didn’t give a shit if he was. Her mam would never survive this. Might as well put a gun to her head.

Ji-ji tried to utter Bonbon’s name, but she was choking back tears and struggling against the viselike grip of the bastard guard who held her.

Just then, Uncle Dreg arrived with his niece Zaini. Ji-ji knew why Lotter had ordered them to be there. Left to her own devices, Silapu would kill herself.

“Get her out of my sight, Dreg!” Lotter ordered. “Don’t make me whip her quiet.”

Lotter’s voice cracked when he said this. She looked over at Uncle Dreg. He and Zaini were trying and failing to calm Silapu. Using her eyes, Ji-ji pleaded with Uncle Dreg to intervene. Uncle Dreg was an Oziadhee, a Toteppi wizard from the Cradle, the person who’d told her magical stories and fooled her into believing anything was possible. “Please,” she whispered. “Please!” But he only shook his head and said something to her mam in Totepp—some worthless drivel about hope.

Zaini and Uncle Dreg dragged Silapu from the cabin as she called out to Bonbon and flung curses at Lotter, who ordered Casper to escort them safely back to Zaini’s cabin. “Not a hair on her head, Casper—understand?” Lotter warned again.

“Yessir,” Casper said, and followed them out. It took a long time for Silapu’s screams to fade into the night.

“Stay here, Longsby. I’ve sent over to Petrus’ quarters for . . .” Lotter paused. “What’s that Mule’s name? Lua? Sent for her mam too. They’ll be here soon.” He addressed Ji-ji. “Don’t do anything stupid, Jellybean. You’re your mam’s Last&Only now.”

Ji-ji spat at him. The arc of spittle fell short and landed at his feet. If Guard Longsby hadn’t spoken up at that moment, Ji-ji suspected her father-man would have beaten her bloody.

“Let me carry the Serverseed, sir,” Longsby suggested.

Although Lotter had given Bonbon that designation, he looked daggers at the young guard when he uttered the word Serverseed. Lotter, who never cussed in front of his men, said he’d carry his own damn seedling himself. Ji-ji snatched at straws. He’d used the possessive to refer to Bonbon.

Did that mean he wouldn’t issue a Public Condemnation against her mam for whoring? What did it matter either way when he’d already snatched the one person her mam needed to keep on breathing?

Lotter tucked an apoplectic Bonbon under one arm like a bag of cornmeal.

As he stepped into the headstone doorway, Ji-ji made one last plea: “Please, Father-Man! Let me kiss Bonbon goodbye!”

Lotter didn’t seem to know at first who Bonbon was. He glanced down at the screaming seedling as if he couldn’t imagine how he got there. “Oletto you mean? Her lastborn? You want to kiss him?”

Lotter seemed to think about it; then he shook his head. Without another word, he tore out into the gloom.

Her father-man had ripped her arm off. He’d torn open her chest and excised the last sliver of hope. Wrenching herself from the guard’s grip, she fell to her knees, gasping. She would never see her little brother again. Bonbon, the last of her four siblings, was gone.

Copyright © Lucinda Roy 2021

Buy The Freedom Race Here:

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What Do Poetry and SFF Have in Common? Some of Our Favorite Authors!

While poetry doesn’t seem to have much in common with science fiction and fantasy, these multi-talented authors prove that these genres can go hand in hand more often than you think. With fantastical stories told in verse to science fiction story collections containing poetry, there’s something here for all lovers of the written word to enjoy. Check it them out here!

By Elizabeth Hosty


Poster Placeholder of - 32The Freedom Race by Lucinda Roy

Known for Fabric, The Humming Birds, and Wailing the Dead to Sleep, Lucinda Roy is making her first foray into speculative fiction with her new novel, The Freedom Race, on sale from Tor Books now! Following the events of the Second Civil War, the United States became fractured. One faction, the Homestead Territories, began a new slave trade by recruiting immigrants from Africa. Ji-ji Lottermule is one of the slaves born into captivity and forced to breed new “muleseeds,” the only way to gain her freedom is through winning the annual Freedom Race.

Placeholder of  -10Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

With collections such as Seasonal Velocities and Why Dust Shall Never Settle Upon This Soul, Ryka Aoki has now written the upcoming Light From Uncommon Stars that takes place in a donut shop in San Gabriel Valley. Over fresh made donuts, Shizuka Satomi meets Lan Tran, retired starship captain, interstellar refugee, and mother of four. While Lan’s kind smile and eyes that could redefine a soul’s worth are enticing, Shizuka doesn’t have time for crushes. Especially considering she’s currently trying to convince Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway, to give up her soul to the devil for success so Shizuka can escape damnation.

Image Placeholder of - 20Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers and Other Stories by Alyssa Wong

Alyssa Wong is well known for her compelling science fiction and fantasy short stories, including a poem published by Uncanny Magazine titled For The Gardener’s Daughter and her new story collection Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers and Other Stories. The anthology contains eight of her award winning short stories and flash fiction, along with five entirely new short stories.

Image Place holder  of - 83Unconquerable Sun by Kate Elliott

Author of the Spiritwalker series, including a short story told entirely in verse entitled The Beatriceid, Kate Elliott’s book Unconquerable Sun follows Princess Sun when she finally comes of age, only for the cutthroat ambassador corps and conniving noble houses to attempt to remove Sun as heir, or better yet, kill her. To survive, the princess must rely on her wits and companions: her biggest rival, her secret lover, and a dangerous prisoner of war.

Place holder  of - 21Book of Night by Holly Black

Having dabbled in poetry through her publication of The Third Third: Israfel’s Tale and Bone Mother, Holly Black has returned to science fiction and fantasy with her upcoming adult novel, Book of Night. In a world where altering someone’s feelings and memories come free, but manipulating shadows can cost hours or days off your life, Charlie Hall is scraping by on an existence of odd jobs for the patrons and new money in the edges of Berkshire. But when someone from her dark past returns, Charlie finds herself facing a maelstrom of secrets and murder, of doppelgangers, mercurial billionaires, shadow thieves, and her own sister – all desperate to control the magic of the shadows.

 

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#ICYMI- A Recap of TorCon 2021

A big THANK YOU to all our amazing friends and fans who joined us for TorCon 2021. We hope you had an amazing time and hope to see you again for our next virtual event!

If you’re bummed you couldn’t make it to all of the activities, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. You can see the recordings of almost all of TorCon PLUS some short recaps here!

Gillian Flynn and Catriona Ward, in conversation

Catriona Ward’s twisty and terrifying The Last House on Needless Street is one of the most anticipated books of the fall–and who better to join her to discuss all things thrilling and chilling than #1 New York Times bestselling author Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl, Dark Places, Sharp Objects)? Check out this powerhouse duo here! Thank you to Den of Geek for co-hosting.

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Chaotic Storytelling–Take 2!

It’s time for Chaotic Storytelling: 2 Chaotic, 2 Furious! Christopher Buehlman (The Blacktongue Thief), J.S. Dewes (The Last Watch), Andrea Hairston (Master of Poisons), Jenn Lyons (The House of Always), and Neil Sharpson (When the Sparrow Falls) incorporated writing prompts from the audience to create a brand new story—and talk about their craft and inspirations along the way. This panel was co-hosted by LitHub and moderated by Drew Broussard.

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Nightfire Family *Blood* Feud

Our new horror imprint, Nightfire, brought together some of your favorite horror and gothic authors as they went head-to-head in a horror-inspired version of the favorite game show… What tropes are fan favorites? Which movie franchise is the scariest? Check out Gretchen Felker-Martin (Manhunt), Cassandra Khaw (Nothing But Blackened Teeth), Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Hex, Echo), Silvia Moreno Garcia (Certain Dark Things), and host Lee Mandelo (Summer Sons) as they found out during Nightfire’s Horror Feud!

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Holly Black & James Rollins in conversation

Holly Black joined James Rollins to discuss his new epic novel, The Starless Crown–plus an exclusive announcement for Holly’s fans! Check out these two #1 New York Times bestsellers as they talked bringing the thrills to fantasy, fighting the moon, stealing a god, new projects…and even a sneak peek at some of their latest work. Holly announced her adult debut from Tor, coming next summer, Book of Night. This panel was co-hosted by Den of Geek.

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All the Feels: Emotional Storytelling in SFF

SFF has the coolest story elements, but the *real* reason we love these books is that they hit us right in the feels. Becky Chambers (A Psalm for the Wild-Built), Kerstin Hall (Star Eater), T.L. Huchu (The Library of the Dead), Alex Pheby (Mordew), Lucinda Roy (The Freedom Race), and moderator TJ Klune (Under the Whispering Door) joined us to discuss making stories more than just words on a page, and mastermind an evil plot to make us have FEELINGS!

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Ethereal & Eerie: A Glimpse at Captivating Fall Reads

Catch a glimpse of fall’s most ethereal and eerie reads from authors Alix E. Harrow (A Spindle Splintered), Freya Marske (A Marvellous Light), Lee Mandelo (Summer Sons), Zin E. Rocklyn (Flowers for the Sea), and Catherynne M. Valente (Comfort Me With Apples). Moderated by Seanan McGuire (Where the Drowned Girls Go).

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Charlie Jane Anders & TJ Klune in conversation

Check out internationally bestselling author Charlie Jane Anders (Victories Greater than Death, Never Say You Can’t Survive) in conversation with New York Times and USA Today bestselling author TJ Klune (The House in the Cerulean Sea, Flash Fire) as they discussed writing SFF for adults and teens, crafting authentic queer narratives, and everlasting fictional characters that stay with readers long after they’ve finished the book. This panel was co-hosted by Den of Geek.

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Space is Gay!

Only two things are infinite: Space and Gay. Check out Charlie Jane Anders (Victories Greater than Death), Ryka Aoki (Light From Uncommon Stars), A.K. Larkwood (The Unspoken Name), Everina Maxwell (Winter’s Orbit), and moderator K.M. Szpara (First, Become Ashes) as they discussed queer science fiction spaces, extraterrestrial OTPs, and how in space, no one can hear your gay pining. Attendees were able to enter for a chance to win one of Tor’s limited edition Space is Gay pins.

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Conjuring the Diaspora: Myths, Legends, and Classics Reimagined

Check out authors Ryka Aoki (Light From Uncommon Stars), Aliette de Bodard (Fireheart Tiger), Shelley Parker-Chan (She Who Became the Sun), and Nghi Vo (The Chosen and the Beautiful) for a discussion of how the Asian diaspora intersects with storytelling in the speculative fiction space. This panel was co-hosted with the Bronx Book Festival.

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Jo Firestone & Joe Pera in conversation

Joe Pera, from the Adult Swim show Joe Pera Talks With You, has been lauded for his warmhearted comedic stylings. Now, check out him and Jo Firestone to present a preview of his first book! A Bathroom Book for People Not Pooping or Peeing but Using the Bathroom as an Escape is a funny and sincere guide to regaining calm and confidence when you’re hiding in the bathroom from life’s stresses. This panel was co-hosted by Den of Geek. It is not available for rewatch.

TorCon 2021 Presents: Cooking the Books!

As a special treat, we asked three of our authors to share some of their favorite food-related tidbits. Check out their choices below!


Becky Chambers, author of A Psalm for the Wild-Built, shared some of her favorite teas with the audience, DRAMATIC READING STYLE.

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J. S. Dewes, author of The Last Watch, shared her quest to find the best gum! Do you agree with her choices?

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Aliette de Bodard, author of Fireheart Tiger, made a strong cup of tea to give a ‘cheers’ to the final day of the convention.

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Every Book Coming From Tor in Summer 2021

Summer is almost here and we’re so excited for warm weather, sunshine, and NEW BOOKS!!! Check out everything coming from Tor Books in summer 2021 here:

June 1

Poster Placeholder of - 42The Library of the Dead by T. L. Huchu

Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker – and they sure do love to talk. Now she speaks to Edinburgh’s dead, carrying messages to those they left behind. A girl’s gotta earn a living, and it seems harmless enough. Until, that is, the dead whisper that someone’s bewitching children – leaving them husks, empty of joy and strength. It’s on Ropa’s patch, so she feels honor-bound to investigate. Ropa will dice with death as she calls on Zimbabwean magic and Scottish pragmatism to hunt down clues. And although underground Edinburgh hides a wealth of dark secrets, she also discovers an occult library, a magical mentor and some unexpected allies. Yet as shadows lengthen, will the hunter become the hunted?

Image Placeholder of - 61Alien Day by Rick Wilber

Will Peter Holman rescue his sister Kait, or will she be the one to rescue him? Will Chloe Cary revive her acting career with the help of the princeling Treble, or will the insurgents take both their lives? Will Whistle or Twoclicks wind up in charge of Earth, and how will the Mother, who runs all of S’hudon, choose between them? And the most important question of all: who are the Old Ones that left all that technology behind for the S’hudonni . . . and what if they come back?

June 8

Image Place holder  of - 9Shadow & Claw by Gene Wolfe

The Book of the New Sun is unanimously acclaimed as Gene Wolfe’s most remarkable work, hailed as “a masterpiece of science fantasy comparable in importance to the major works of Tolkien and Lewis” by Publishers Weekly.

June 22

Place holder  of - 33Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison

When the young half-goblin emperor Maia sought to learn who had set the bombs that killed his father and half-brothers, he turned to an obscure resident of his father’s Court, a Prelate of Ulis and a Witness for the Dead. Thara Celehar found the truth, though it did him no good to discover it. He lost his place as a retainer of his cousin the former Empress, and made far too many enemies among the many factions vying for power in the new Court. The favor of the Emperor is a dangerous coin. Now Celehar’s skills lead him out of the quiet and into a morass of treachery, murder, and injustice. No matter his own background with the imperial house, Celehar will stand with the commoners, and possibly find a light in the darkness.

June 29

Placeholder of  -71When the Sparrow Falls by Neil Sharpson

Here, in the last sanctuary for the dying embers of the human race in a world run by artificial intelligence, if you stray from the path – your life is forfeit. But when a Party propagandist is killed – and is discovered as a “machine” – he’s given a new mission: chaperone the widow, Lily, who has arrived to claim her husband’s remains. But when South sees that she, the first “machine” ever allowed into the country, bears an uncanny resemblance to his late wife, he’s thrown into a maelstrom of betrayal, murder, and conspiracy that may bring down the Republic for good.

July 6

The Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley

The Annurian Empire is disintegrating. The advantages it used for millennia have fallen to ruin. The ranks of the Kettral have been decimated from within, and the kenta gates, granting instantaneous travel across the vast lands of the empire, can no longer be used. In order to save the empire, one of the surviving Kettral must voyage beyond the edge of the known world through a land that warps and poisons all living things to find the nesting ground of the giant war hawks. Meanwhile, a monk turned con-artist may hold the secret to the kenta gates. But time is running out.

Joker Moon from George R. R. Martin

Theodorus was a dreamer. When the wild card virus touched him and transformed him into a monstrous snail centaur weighing several tons, his boyhood dreams seemed out of reach, but a Witherspoon is not so easily defeated. But now when he looked upward into the night sky, he saw more than just the moon . . . he saw a joker homeland, a refuge where the outcast children of the wild card could make a place of their own, safe from hate and harm. An impossible dream, some said. Others, alarmed by the prospect, brought all their power to bear to oppose him. Theodorus persisted . . .never dreaming that the Moon was already inhabited. And the Moon Maid did not want company.

July 13

The Freedom Race by Lucinda Roy

In the aftermath of a cataclysmic civil war known as the Sequel, ideological divisions among the states have hardened. In the Homestead Territories, an alliance of plantation-inspired holdings, Black labor is imported from the Cradle, and Biracial “Muleseeds” are bred. Raised in captivity on Planting 437, kitchen-seed Jellybean “Ji-ji” Lottermule knows there is only one way to escape. She must enter the annual Freedom Race as a runner. Ji-ji and her friends must exhume a survival story rooted in the collective memory of a kidnapped people and conjure the voices of the dead to light their way home.

The Justice in Revenge by Ryan Van Loan

The island nation of Servenza is a land of flint and steel, sail and gearwork, of gods both Dead and sleeping. It is a society where the wealthy few rule the impoverished many. Determined to change that, former street-rat Buc, along with Eld, the ex-soldier who has been her partner in crime-solving, have claimed seats on the board of the powerful Kanados Trading Company. Buc plans to destroy the nobility from within—which is much harder than she expected.

July 20

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected. When a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother’s identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There, Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes to stay hidden from her fate.

August 10

The Rookery by Deborah Hewitt

After discovering her magical ability to see people’s souls, Alice Wyndham only wants three things: to return to the Rookery, join the House Mielikki and master her magic, and find out who she really is. But when the secrets of Alice’s past threaten her plans, and the Rookery begins to crumble around her, she must decide how far she’s willing to go to save the city and people she loves.

Sword & Citadel by Gene Wolfe

Sword & Citadel brings together the final two books of the tetralogy in one volume: The Sword of the Lictor is the third volume in Wolfe’s remarkable epic, chronicling the odyssey of the wandering pilgrim called Severian, driven by a powerful and unfathomable destiny, as he carries out a dark mission far from his home. The Citadel of the Autarch brings The Book of the New Sun to its harrowing conclusion, as Severian clashes in a final reckoning with the dread Autarch, fulfilling an ancient prophecy that will forever alter the realm known as Urth

August 17

Neptune by Ben Bova

In the future, humanity has spread throughout the solar system, on planets and moons once visited only by robots or explored at a distance by far-voyaging spacecraft. Three years ago, Ilona Magyr’s father, Miklos, disappeared while exploring the seas of Neptune. Everyone believes he is dead—crushed, frozen, or boiled alive in Neptune’s turbulent seas. With legendary space explorer Derek Humbolt piloting her ship and planetary scientist Jan Meitner guiding the search, Ilona Magyr knows she will find her father—alive—on Neptune. Her plans are irrevocably altered when she and her team discover the wreckage of an alien ship deep in Neptune’s ocean, a discovery which changes humanity’s understanding of its future…and its past.

The Exiled Fleet by J. S. Dewes

The Sentinels narrowly escaped the collapsing edge of the Divide. They have mustered a few other surviving Sentinels, but with no engines they have no way to leave the edge of the universe before they starve. Adequin Rake has gathered a team to find the materials they’ll need to get everyone out. To do that they’re going to need new allies and evade a ruthless enemy. Some of them will not survive.

August 31

The Devil You Know by Kit Rocha

Maya has had a price on her head from the day she escaped the TechCorps. Genetically engineered for genius and trained for revolution, there’s only one thing she can’t do—forget. Gray has finally broken free of the Protectorate, but he can’t escape the time bomb in his head. His body is rejecting his modifications, and his months are numbered. When Maya’s team uncovers an operation trading in genetically enhanced children, she’ll do anything to stop them. Even risk falling back into the hands of the TechCorps. And Gray has found a purpose for his final days: keeping Maya safe.

Fury of a Demon by Brian Naslund

The war against Osyrus Ward goes poorly for Bershad and Ashlyn. They are pinned in the Dainwood by monstrous alchemical creations and a relentless army of mercenaries, they are running out of options and allies. The Witch Queen struggles with her new powers, knowing that the secret of unlocking her dragon cord is key to stopping Ward’s army, she pushes forward with her experiments. Meanwhile, with every wound Bershad suffers, he gets closer to losing his humanity forever, and as the war rages, the exile turned assassin turned hero isn’t even sure if being human is something he wants.

September 7

You Sexy Thing by Cat Rambo

TwiceFar station is at the edge of the known universe, and that’s just how Niko Larson, former Admiral in the Grand Military of the Hive Mind, likes it. Retired and finally free of the continual war of conquest, Niko and the remnants of her former unit are content to spend the rest of their days working at the restaurant they built together, The Last Chance. But, some wars can’t ever be escaped, and unlike the Hive Mind, some enemies aren’t content to let old soldiers go. Niko and her crew are forced onto a sentient ship convinced that it is being stolen and must survive the machinations of a sadistic pirate king if they even hope to keep the dream of The Last Chance alive.

 

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Download a Free Digital Preview of The Freedom Race

Place holder  of - 61The Freedom Race, Lucinda Roy’s explosive first foray into speculative fiction, is a poignant blend of subjugation, resistance, and hope. Download a FREE sneak peek today!

In the aftermath of a cataclysmic civil war known as the Sequel, ideological divisions among the states have hardened. In the Homestead Territories, an alliance of plantation-inspired holdings, Black labor is imported from the Cradle, and Biracial “Muleseeds” are bred.

Raised in captivity on Planting 437, kitchen-seed Jellybean “Ji-ji” Lottermule knows there is only one way to escape. She must enter the annual Freedom Race as a runner.

Ji-ji and her friends must exhume a survival story rooted in the collective memory of a kidnapped people and conjure the voices of the dead to light their way home.

Download Your Free Digital Preview:

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Mapping The Freedom Race with Lucinda Roy

Place holder  of - 35Every fantasy world needs a map, right? But what happens when the map needs to come from the hands of the characters you’ve written? Lucinda Roy, author of upcoming speculative fiction novel The Freedom Race, discusses her journey to drawing the maps in her book and how her characters helped shape the art she created. Check out the article PLUS our exclusive map reveal below!


By Lucinda Roy

I was writing The Freedom Race when it struck me in the head like the muck thrown at poor Cersei Lannister during the “Shame, shame shame!” scene in HBO’s Game of Thrones: I needed a map!

Not only did I need a map, I needed a persona map—a map that could feasibly have been drawn by Ji-ji, the main character in the book. Her map doesn’t simply introduce the world to readers, it actually appears inside the narrative and helps catalyze the action.

When I realized I’d assigned myself the task of drawing Ji-ji’s map of the planting, the British/American half of me was gobsmacked—appalled I hadn’t realized from the get-go maps would be a necessity. The Jamaican half of me was laid back about it. I mean, how hard could it be to draw a map or two, man? After all, I wasn’t a virgin when it came to drawing. I’d even sold some of my original oil paintings in the past, and others had been featured on the covers of my poetry collections. A map would be a breeze, right? Wrong.

I soon realized there wasn’t one but two maps I needed to draw for this first volume in The Dreambird Chronicles trilogy. And there was another problem: the world in The Freedom Race isn’t typical sci-fi or fantasy. Instead, it balances on the rim of realism and magical realism. Its angles are satirical and its landscapes feature a bone-chilling nostalgia for the plantations of the past.

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I decided to trust my instincts—or rather my characters’ instincts—and see what happened. The first map is drawn by Jellybean “Ji-ji” Lottermule (her signature is there on the bottom left of the map); the second is drawn by an elderly Black wizard known to everyone as Uncle Dreg.

The tone of Ji-ji’s map is rebellious. “Imaging a planting” is a cardinal offense in the Homestead Territories, evidence of sedition. Yet Ji-ji—a biracial Muleseed classified as a botanical—has dared to depict the place where she was raised in captivity. Drawing this map is one of the most dangerous things she’s ever done. If her father-man discovers it, the punishment will be severe.

Yet Ji-ji dares to draw the world she knows because, for enslaved people, there is nothing more powerful than testimony. Speech testimony, map testimony, video testimony—all these tools are used by oppressed people to empower themselves.

Ji-ji’s map becomes an affirmation of who she is as a sentient human being. She’s seen what is really going on in the segregated Homestead Territories. She dares to record it because silence is invariably a form of complicity.

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The second map is a gift to Ji-ji from Uncle Dreg, a Toteppi wizard, which is why he signs it “To J from D,” just above the box containing the key, near the three blackbirds. Dreg’s map depicts the Old Commonwealth of Virginia in the Southeastern Homestead Territories, a place that thrived during our time, the Age of Plenty, but which, in the future, is a place of grave jeopardy for people of color.

The tone of Uncle Dreg’s map is one of warning. There are areas to avoid: The Margins, Clan Country, and Militia Regions, and a path to follow up to Dream Corridor and the City of Dreams. This is the race route Ji-ji must take if she’s selected to compete in the Freedom Race. There are clues in the map about what may transpire in the future because Dreg is reputed to have the ability to see through the Window-of-What’s-to-Come.

People who read speculative fiction routinely do something daring. We enter the unknown, a world that exists almost entirely in the author’s head. We trust this stranger to guide us. Maps take hold of the often-chaotic maze of a writer’s imagination and make it orderly and accessible. Amazing to think that a few lines consigned to paper can endow imagined worlds with realness.

The maps in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, and Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, to name just a few, function as tantalizing entry points into invented worlds. The best maps whisper: “This strange world is worth believing in. Come inside and see for yourself.”

Having drawn the maps for The Freedom Race, I’ve concluded that authors of speculative fiction who draw their own maps should get extra points. (I feel the same way about undersized ballers, who should be entitled to double points when they slam-dunk because they have further to go to reach the rim.)

Drawing a map is much harder than it looks, especially for a charmingly neurotic writer who’s made a circuitous journey to speculative fiction via poetry, mainstream literary fiction, and memoir. (“Charmingly” being my adverbial attempt to downplay my idiosyncrasies.) The further I got into the story, the more I realized that the characters themselves—particularly Ji-ji, whose point of view drives the first novel in the series—use them as ways to interpret the world they inhabit.

Maps reveal what we value in ways we don’t always recognize. Look at how maps of the world with Europe at the “center” of a flattened, totally unrealistic, and arbitrary depiction of the globe reveal so much about the power dynamic. Which countries are in the center? Which countries grab the most room for themselves? Which are made to look less impressive, more marginal?

The images we carry around in our heads shape who we are, and those who lay claim to the most memorable imagery often win. Instinctively, Ji-ji knows this, which is why she’s willing to risk her life to draw a map of the planting. The map says, “Ji-ji was here.” The map says she witnessed this travesty.

As I write this, I realize there is another reason why drawing the maps made me nervous: the Afro-futuristic world I was depicting intersects closely with today’s world, where the insidiousness and tenacity of racism is again on display. People of color and their stalwart allies are grieving. At a time of racial upheaval, these characters (for it was they who guided me) drew race into these maps. The warnings on Uncle Dreg’s map reverberate throughout the series and throughout today’s world.

Maps make us believe order is attainable. But orderliness can itself be the perpetrator of evil. It can fool us into believing all is well, persuade us that the status quo is beneficial, and that peace at all costs is the preferred way to live. It’s how the secessionist, segregationist steaders in the world of The Freedom Race persuaded other parts of the Union, still reeling from a Civil War Sequel, climate change, and a metaflu pandemic, that peace was preferable to chaos.

But Ji-ji and Uncle Dreg know that peace without justice is a curse. These maps are their attempt to show us why. The orderliness of the wagon-wheel layout of Planting 437 in Ji-ji’s map is what makes it so sinister.

People don’t rule the world—ideas do. And what is a map if not an impossibly large idea projected onto a small page or screen? As we embark on what I hope will be a worthwhile journey for readers of The Freedom Race, the maps drawn by the characters tell me where to go. My hope is that they will also speak to you.

Novelist, poet, and memoirist Lucinda Roy is the author of the speculative novel The Freedom Race and three collections of poetry, including Fabric: Poems. Among her awards are the Eighth Mountain Prize for Poetry, and the Baxter Hathaway Prize for her long slave narrative poem “Needlework,” and a state-wide faculty recognition award. The Freedom Race is available anywhere books are sold on July 13, 2021.

Pre-order The Freedom Race Here:

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New SFF Series We’re Hyped for in 2021!

It’s a new year and that means (you guessed it) NEW BOOK SERIES!!! From sharp contemporary fantasy to explosive speculative fiction, check out this round-up of the stunning new SFF series we have for you in 2021.


penaltiesThe Helm of Midnight by Marina Lostetter (The Five Penalties series)

In a daring and deadly heist, thieves have made away with an artifact of terrible power—the death mask of Louis Charbon. Made by a master craftsman, it is imbued with the spirit of a monster from history, a serial murderer who terrorized the city. Now Charbon is loose once more, killing from beyond the grave. But these murders are different from before, not simply random but the work of a deliberate mind probing for answers to a sinister question.

ON SALE 4/13/21!

thelastThe Last Watch by J. S. Dewes (The Divide series)

The Divide. It’s the edge of the universe. Now it’s collapsing—and taking everyone and everything with it. The only ones who can stop it are the Sentinels—the recruits, exiles, and court-martialed dregs of the military. At the Divide, Adequin Rake commands the Argus. She has no resources, no comms—nothing, except for the soldiers that no one wanted. Her ace in the hole could be Cavalon Mercer–genius, asshole, and exiled prince who nuked his grandfather’s genetic facility for “reasons.” She knows they’re humanity’s last chance.

ON SALE 4/20/21!

book-9781250621191The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman (Blacktongue series)

Kinch Na Shannack owes the Takers Guild a small fortune for his education as a thief, which includes (but is not limited to) lock-picking, knife-fighting, wall-scaling, fall-breaking, lie-weaving, trap-making, plus a few small magics. His debt has driven him to lie in wait by the old forest road, planning to rob the next traveler that crosses his path. But today, Kinch Na Shannack has picked the wrong mark. Galva is a knight, a survivor of the brutal goblin wars, and handmaiden of the goddess of death. Kinch now finds his fate entangled with Galva’s. Common enemies and uncommon dangers force thief and knight on a journey where goblins hunger for human flesh, krakens hunt in dark waters, and honor is a luxury few can afford.

ON SALE 5/25/21!

book-9781250767769The Library of the Dead by T. L. Huchu (Edinburgh Nights series)

Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker – and they sure do love to talk. Now she speaks to Edinburgh’s dead, carrying messages to those they left behind. A girl’s gotta earn a living, and it seems harmless enough. Until, that is, the dead whisper that someone’s bewitching children – leaving them husks, empty of joy and strength. It’s on Ropa’s patch, so she feels honor-bound to investigate. But what she learns will rock her world. As shadows lengthen, will the hunter become the hunted?

ON SALE 6/1/21!

empiresThe Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley (Ashes of the Unhewn Throne series)

The Annurian Empire is disintegrating. In order to save the empire, one of the surviving Kettral must voyage beyond the edge of the known world through a land that warps and poisons all living things to find the nesting ground of the giant war hawks. Meanwhile, a monk turned con-artist may hold the secret to the kenta gates. But time is running out. Deep within the southern reaches of the empire and ancient god-like race has begun to stir. What they discover will change them and the Annurian Empire forever. If they can survive.

ON SALE 7/6/21!

book-9781250258908The Freedom Race by Lucinda Roy (The Dreambird Chronicles)

In the aftermath of a cataclysmic civil war known as the Sequel, ideological divisions among the states have hardened. In the Homestead Territories, an alliance of plantation-inspired holdings, Black labor is imported from the Cradle, and Biracial “Muleseeds” are bred. Raised in captivity on Planting 437, kitchen-seed Jellybean “Ji-ji” Lottermule knows there is only one way to escape. She must enter the annual Freedom Race as a runner. Ji-ji and her friends must exhume a survival story rooted in the collective memory of a kidnapped people and conjure the voices of the dead to light their way home.

ON SALE 7/13/21!

shewhoShe Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected. When a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother’s identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There,  Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes, no matter how callous, to stay hidden from her fate.

ON SALE 7/20/21!

book-9781250817211Mordew by Alex Pheby

God is dead, his corpse hidden in the catacombs beneath Mordew. In the slums of the 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.

ON SALE 9/14/21! 

isolatedIsolate by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. (The Grand Illusion series)

Steffan Dekkard is an isolate, one of the small percentage of people who are immune to the projections of empaths. As an isolate, he has been trained as a security specialist and he and his security partner Avraal Ysella, a highly trained empath are employed by Axel Obreduur, a senior Craft Minister and the de facto political strategist of his party. When a respected Landor Councilor dies of “heart failure” at a social event, because of his political friendship with Obreduur, Dekkard and Ysella find that not only is their employer a target, but so are they, in a covert and deadly struggle for control of the government and economy. Steffan is about to understand that everything he believed is an illusion.

ON SALE 10/19/2021!

book-9780765323590The God is Not Willing by Steven Erikson (Witness series)

Many years have passed since three warriors brought carnage and chaos to Silver Lake. Now the tribes of the north no longer venture into the southlands. Responding to reports of a growing unease among the tribes beyond the border, the Malazan army marches on the new god’s people. And in those high mountains, a new warleader has risen amongst the Teblor. Scarred by the deeds of Karsa Orlong, he intends to confront his god even if he has to cut a bloody swathe through the Malazan Empire to do so. Further north, a new threat has emerged and now it seems it is the Teblor who are running out of time. Another long-feared migration is about to begin and this time it won’t just be three warriors. No, this time tens of thousands are poised to pour into the lands to the south. And in their way, a single company of Malazan marines . . .

ON SALE 11/09/21!

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