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Throwback Thursday: The Incredible Journey to Cambodia That Helped Inspire Impact

Welcome to Throwback Thursdays on the Tor/Forge blog! Every other week, we’re delving into our newsletter archives and sharing some of our favorite posts.

The latest Wyman Ford novel, by Douglas Preston, has arrived! The Kraken Project published earlier this week, and to celebrate, we went back into our newsletter archives and found this piece from January of 2010. In it, Preston discusses the trip that inspired the first Wyman Ford adventure, Impact. We hope you enjoy this blast from the past, and be sure to check back every other Thursday for more!

Impact by Douglas PrestonBy Douglas Preston

In December 1996, NASA flew a special reconnaissance DC-8 over the jungles of northwestern Cambodia. The plane was equipped with a foliage-penetrating radar camera which took pictures of a great swath of rainforest. When the resulting data were crunched on a T3D Cray supercomputer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, a discovery was made. A vast, ruined temple, covering almost a square mile of land and dating from the 12th century, was buried in the jungle.

An expedition was mounted to go to this temple, which was named Nokor Pheas after the closest village. At the time, I was working for National Geographic magazine, and I managed to get a berth on the expedition, which was led by Elizabeth Moore, head of the Department of Art and Archaeology at the University of London and an authority on the ancient Angkor civilization. Also on the expedition were Anthony Freeman and Scott Hensley, two top scientists from JPL.

This experience would lead, more than ten years later, to the events described in my new novel, Impact.

When we arrived in Cambodia in 1998, we learned that there were no roads to Nokor Pheas and that the trails were flooded from the monsoons and still heavily mined from the war. In addition, the lost temple was, unfortunately, located in Khmer Rouge territory (the Khmer Rouge had, by that time, evolved into guerrilla bands involved in kidnapping and smuggling.) Five days before, the Khmer Rouge had kidnapped three people from the village of Nokor Pheas and were holding them for ransom.

Elizabeth Moore was not deterred. With cajoling, pleading, and of course heavy payments, we were able to secure permission for the expedition to search for the temple. We hired a small army of soldiers and ‘rented’ a fleet of old motorbikes which could negotiate the jungle trails. The bikes were light enough, we were assured, to not set off the land mines, which had been calibrated to go off when triggered by the weight of a vehicle.

Nokor Pheas, while remote, was not a huge distance from Siem Riep. The plan was to drive like hell and get there and back in the same day. Spending the night in the jungle would be suicide.

We set off before sunrise. Where the last road dead-ended into the jungle, we were met, as if by a conjurer’s trick, by a swarm of motorbike-riding soldiers bristling with AK-47s and 79mm mortar launchers—our military escort. We drove for hours through the rainforest before stopping at a tiny hamlet at the edge of the Khmer Rouge territory. While we waited for the soldiers to scout the route ahead, we made a startling discovery. Most traditional Cambodian villages have a central plaza in which stands a shrine containing the ‘ancestor stones’ of the village—sacred stones that embody the spirits of their departed. One of the JPL scientists inspecting the shrine realized that one of these stones was an extremely rare meteorite. The headman of the village confirmed that the stone had been dropped from the sky by the gods.

To make a long story short, we journeyed beyond Trey Nhor, we found the great temple of Nokor Pheas, and we got back alive. It was one hell of a journey. Being a fiction writer, I was determined to use this amazing experience in my fiction someday—and I finally was able to so in Impact.

There is, of course, much more in the novel—two girls who go meteorite hunting among the Maine islands; a NASA scientist who discovers a mysterious source of gamma rays in the outer Solar System and later is found beheaded; the sudden appearance of strange, radioactive gemstones on the black market in Bangkok. All these plot threads come together in Impact into an explosive—and surprising—climax.

(Note: some of this article previously appeared in National Geographic magazine.)

Impact (0-7653-1768-0; $25.99) by Douglas Preston, released January 5, 2010, from Forge.

This article is originally from the January 2010 Tor/Forge newsletter. Sign up for the Tor/Forge newsletter now, and get similar content in your inbox twice a month!

New Audiobook Release: The Kraken Project by Douglas Preston

The Kraken Project by Douglas PrestonAbout The Kraken ProjectWyman Ford is back again in The Kraken Project, the thrilling new novel from New York Times bestselling author Douglas Preston.

NASA is building a probe to be splashed down in the Kraken Mare, the largest sea on Saturn’s great moon, Titan. It is one of the most promising habitats for extraterrestrial life in the solar system, but the surface is unpredictable and dangerous, requiring the probe to contain artificial intelligence software. To this end, Melissa Shepherd, a brilliant programmer, has developed “Dorothy,” a powerful, self-modifying AI whose true potential is both revolutionary and terrifying. When miscalculations lead to a catastrophe during testing, Dorothy flees into the internet.

Former CIA agent Wyman Ford is tapped to track down the rogue AI. As Ford and Shepherd search for Dorothy, they realize that her horrific experiences in the wasteland of the Internet have changed her in ways they can barely imagine. And they’re not the only ones looking for the wayward software: the AI is also being pursued by a pair of Wall Street traders, who want to capture her code and turn her into a high-speed trading bot. Traumatized, angry, and relentlessly hunted, Dorothy has an extraordinary revelation—and devises a plan. As the pursuit of Dorothy converges on a deserted house on the coast of Northern California, Ford must face the ultimate question: is rescuing Dorothy the right thing? Is the AI bent on saving the world… or on wiping out the cancer that is humankind?

See upcoming releases.

Tor and Forge at BEA

BEA attendees eagerly awaiting the opening of the doorsBook Expo America 2014 takes place in New York City from May 28th to May 31st and we’ll be there! Take a look below to see which Tor authors, editors, and more will be appearing. Meet Douglas Preston, John Scalzi, Jo Walton, and more!

Tor Books will also be present in the Macmillan section at booth #1738 for the entirety of the conference. Stop by and say hello!

WEDNESDAY, MAY 28TH

Tom Doherty – IDPF Digital Conference – Keynote Speaker (Ticket Required), 3:35pm-4pm

Ben Tripp Blogger Celebration (Invitation Only), 3:45pm-5:00pm

THURSDAY, MAY 29TH

Where Near-future Techno-thrillers and Sci-fi Meet: Douglas Preston and John Scalzi in conversation, 1:00 – 1:30pm, Uptown Stage

Every day, our present begins to look more and more like science fiction. We converse with AIs on our phones, communicate by digital avatars, and maintain entire social presences online. Movies like HER demonstrate how familiar – and how close – a world could be where AI’s become completely essential to our personal lives. Join bestselling authors Douglas Preston and John Scalzi as they discuss the implications of current technologies, the blurred lines between sci-fi and techno-thrillers, and near-future possibilities in a rapidly changing world.

Signings at Tor Table #13
Jon Land (Strong Darkness), 9:30-10:30am
Hank Phillipi Ryan (Truth Be Told), 10:30-11:30am
Doug Preston (The Kraken Project), 2-3pm
John Scalzi (Lock In), 3-4pm
Jo Walton (My Real Children), 4-5pm

Macmillan Booth Signings #1738/39
Ben Tripp (The Accidental Highwayman) 11:30am-12pm

Mystery Writers of America Booth Signings @ MWA Booth #2557
Hilary Davidson (Blood Always Tells) 1:00pm – 1:30pm
Hank Philippi Ryan (The Wrong Girl), 2:30pm – 3pm

Macmillan Booth Giveaways #1738/39 (No author participation)
The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man, by Bruce Cameron, 9:00am – 9:30am

FRIDAY, MAY 30TH

John Scalzi The Worst Social Media Advice Ever, 11:00am – 11:50am, Special Panel E: Hallway

Macmillan Booth Signings #1738/39
John Scalzi (Lock In), 2pm-2:30pm

Mystery Writers of America Booth Signings @ MWA Booth #2557
Bruce DeSilva (Providence Rag), 1:45pm – 2:15pm

Macmillan Booth Giveaways # 1738/39 (No author participation)
My Real Children, by Jo Walton, 10:30am – 11:00am

Book Trailer: The Kraken Project by Douglas Preston

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The Kraken Project by Douglas Preston

Wyman Ford is back again in The Kraken Project, the thrilling new novel from New York Times bestselling author Douglas Preston.

NASA is building a probe to be splashed down in the Kraken Mare, the largest sea on Saturn’s great moon, Titan. It is one of the most promising habitats for extraterrestrial life in the solar system, but the surface is unpredictable and dangerous, requiring the probe to contain artificial intelligence software. To this end, Melissa Shepherd, a brilliant programmer, has developed “Dorothy,” a powerful, self-modifying AI whose true potential is both revolutionary and terrifying. When miscalculations lead to a catastrophe during testing, Dorothy flees into the internet.

Former CIA agent Wyman Ford is tapped to track down the rogue AI. As Ford and Shepherd search for Dorothy, they realize that her horrific experiences in the wasteland of the Internet have changed her in ways they can barely imagine. And they’re not the only ones looking for the wayward software: the AI is also being pursued by a pair of Wall Street traders, who want to capture her code and turn her into a high-speed trading bot.

Traumatized, angry, and relentlessly hunted, Dorothy has an extraordinary revelation—and devises a plan. As the pursuit of Dorothy converges on a deserted house on the coast of Northern California, Ford must face the ultimate question: is rescuing Dorothy the right thing? Is the AI bent on saving the world… or on wiping out the cancer that is humankind?

The Kraken Project, by Douglas Preston, publishes on May 13th.

On the Road: Tor/Forge Author Events in May

Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette KowalThe Kraken Project by Douglas PrestonThe Tropic of Serpents by Marie BrennanMy Real Children by Jo Walton

Tor/Forge authors are on the road in May! Once a month, we’re collecting info about all of our upcoming author events. Check and see who’ll be coming to a city near you:

Thursday, May 1

Renee Graziano, Playing With Fire
Barnes & Noble
Eatontown, NJ
7:00 PM

Marie Brennan, The Tropic of Serpents and Mary Robinette Kowal, Valour and Vanity
DePaul University Bookstore
Chicago, IL
6:00 PM

Friday, May 2

Marie Brennan, The Tropic of Serpents and Mary Robinette Kowal, Valour and Vanity
University Bookstore
Seattle, WA
7:00 PM

Daryl Gregory, Afterparty
Copperfield’s Books
Petaluma, CA
7:00 PM

Saturday, May 3

W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear, People of the Morning Star
Hastings Entertainment
Laramie, WY
1:00 PM

Marie Brennan, The Tropic of Serpents and Mary Robinette Kowal, Valour and Vanity
Powell’s Books
Beaverton, OR
2:00 PM

Daryl Gregory, Afterparty
Borderlands Books
San Francisco, CA
3:00 PM

Sunday, May 4

Daryl Gregory, Afterparty
Mysterious Galaxy
San Diego, CA
2:00 PM

Marie Brennan, The Tropic of Serpents and Mary Robinette Kowal, Valour and Vanity
Book Bin
Salem, OR
3:00 PM

Tuesday, May 6

Marie Brennan, The Tropic of Serpents and Mary Robinette Kowal, Valour and Vanity
Murder by the Book
Houston, TX
6:30 PM

Thursday, May 8

Marie Brennan, The Tropic of Serpents and Mary Robinette Kowal, Valour and Vanity
Weller Book Works
Salt Lake City, UT
6:00 PM

Elizabeth Bear, Steles of the Sky
Pandemonium Books & Games
Cambridge, MA
7:00 PM

Saturday, May 10

Marie Brennan, The Tropic of Serpents and Mary Robinette Kowal, Valour and Vanity
Mysterious Galaxy 21st Birthday Bash
San Diego, CA
10:00 AM

W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear, People of the Morning Star
Hastings Entertainment
Gillette, WY
2:00 PM

Elizabeth Bear, Steles of the Sky
Annie’s Book Shop
Worcester, MA
3:00 PM

Sunday, May 11

Marie Brennan, The Tropic of Serpents and Mary Robinette Kowal, Valour and Vanity
Borderlands Books
San Francisco, CA
3:00 PM

Monday, May 12

Mary Robinette Kowal, Valour and Vanity
Quail Ridge Books
Raleigh, NC
7:30 PM

Tuesday, May 13

James L. Cambias, A Darkling Sea
Powell’s Books
Beaverton, MA
7:00 PM

Wednesday, May 14

Douglas Preston, The Kraken Project
Murder by the Book
Houston, TX
6:30 PM

Thursday, May 15

W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear, People of the Morning Star
Barnes & Noble
Billings, MT
7:00 PM

Hilary Davidson, Blood Always Tells
One More Page Books
Arlington, VA
7:00 PM

Douglas Preston, The Kraken Project
Tattered Cover
Highlands Ranch, CO
7:30 PM

Friday, May 16

Kevin J. Anderson, The Dark Between the Stars
Dallas Comic-con
Dallas, TX
May 16-18

Douglas Preston, The Kraken Project
Arizona Biltmore, books provided by Poisoned Pen
Scottsdale, AZ
7:00 PM

James L. Cambias, A Darkling Sea
University Bookstore
Seattle, WA
7:00 PM

Saturday, May 17

Jon Leiberman and Margaret McLean, Whitey on Trial
Meriden Public Library
Meriden, CT
2:00 PM

W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear, People of the Morning Star
Barnes & Noble
Bozeman, MT
2:00 PM

Hilary Davidson, Blood Always Tells
Mystery One Bookstore
Milwaukee, WI
2:00 PM

Sunday, May 18

Glen Hirshberg, Motherless Child
Mysterious Galaxy
San Diego, CA
2:00 PM

Monday, May 19

Douglas Preston, The Kraken Project
Collected Works
Santa Fe, NM
7:00 PM

Tuesday, May 20

Douglas Preston, The Kraken Project
Bookworks
Albuquerque, NM
7:00 PM

Thursday, May 22

Jo Walton, My Real Children
Towne Book Center
Collegeville, PA
7:00 PM

Friday, May 23

Kevin J. Anderson, The Dark Between the Stars
Comicpalooza
Houston, TX
May 23-26

Saturday, May 24

Glen Hirshberg, Motherless Child
Dark Delicacies
Burbank, CA
2:00 PM

Douglas Preston, The Kraken Project
Book People
Austin, TX
4:00 PM

Sunday, May 25

Gary Kriss, The Zodiac Deception
Booksy Galore
Pound Ridge, NY
2:00 PM

Tuesday, May 27

Jo Walton, My Real Children
Word Bookstores
Brooklyn, NY
7:00 PM

Wednesday, May 28

Jo Walton, My Real Children
Wellesley Books
Wellesley, MA
7:00 PM

Saturday, May 31

Melanie Rawn, Thornlost
Alamosa Books
Albuquerque, NM
4:00 PM

Starred Review: The Kraken Project by Douglas Preston

The Kraken Project by Douglas Preston“Whether or not you buy the premise of sentient software roaming the Internet, you won’t be able to deny that this is an exciting story. Preston sells the premise by sheer force of will: his characters are so compelling, his storytelling so persuasive, that we buy it all completely…Bravo.”

Douglas Preston’s The Kraken Project got a starred review in Booklist!

Here’s the full review, from the April 1st issue:

Place holder  of - 11 Preston’s latest solo novel (he’s mostly known as one half of the Preston-Child team who write the Special Agent Pendergast series) takes a wildly implausible premise and turns it into a very entertaining thriller. The Kraken Project is a NASA initiative to send a probe to Titan, a large moon of Saturn. Because of the distance involved, real-time control of the probe is impossible, so NASA decides to make the probe autonomous via cutting-edge artificial-intelligence software. But the software, called Dorothy, malfunctions and escapes into the Internet, where it plans a reign of terror that begins with revenge against its creator and will end with the annihilation of humankind itself. Dorothy’s creator goes on the run; Wyman Ford, ex-CIA agent and star of a few previous novels, is tasked by the president to find the woman (who, most everyone suspects, deliberately unleashed Dorothy). Whether or not you buy the premise of sentient software roaming the Internet, you won’t be able to deny that this is an exciting story. Preston sells the premise by sheer force of will: his characters are so compelling, his storytelling so persuasive, that we buy it all completely, at least as long as we’re inside the book. Bravo.

The Kraken Project will be published on May 13th.

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