Kevin J. Anderson’s Blog

i write. i make up stuff. i adventure hard, so you don’t have to.
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  • August 2014
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    Posted By on August 19, 2014

    I’ve long established myself as a very prolific writer, and I’ve given countless talks and workshops on productivity over the years. Finally, I’ve put together all the most important advice I have to share, in a book just released by WordFire Press, MILLION DOLLAR PRODUCTIVITY.  Available in all eBook formats for $4.99, or in trade paperback for $9.99.

    All other eBook formats

    Life is crazy and hectic for most of us. We’re surrounded with personal and family obligations, jobs, fitness programs, virtual mountains of email, not to mention videogames, TV, smartphones, social networking, and millions of things to check out on the web.
    With all those distractions, how does an aspiring author find time to write?
    And when you do find the time, how do you make the most of it?

    Award-winning and #1 international bestselling author Kevin J. Anderson is one of the most prolific authors in the business. He has published over 125 novels—an average of five novels a year, every year, for the past quarter century. Anderson has taught numerous writing seminars and lectured on productivity, and here he shares his tips on how to find the time to write, and how to make the most of that time.



    Back in the heyday of pulp fiction magazines, when freelancers struggled to pay the bills by writing stories for half a cent per word (at most), they had to produce, produce, produce. Their motto was “Be prolific or starve.” Armed only with manual typewriters and carbon paper, the most popular and productive writers managed to crank out entire novels in only a few days, stories and novelettes in a single sitting.

    Today, with an arsenal of writing tools that includes word processors, email, scanners, internet research, lightning-fast printers, digital recorders, and voice-recognition software, it must be easy for modern authors to be even more prolific than their “prehistoric” predecessors. Right?

    Life is crazy and hectic for most of us. We’re surrounded with personal and family obligations, jobs, fitness programs, virtual mountains of email, not to mention videogames, TV, smartphones, social networking, and millions of things to check out on the web.

    With all those distractions, how does an aspiring author find time to write?

    And when you do find the time, how do you make the most of it?

    That’s what I’ll show with this book. You don’t have to be manically productive (though some of us consider that to be fun), but you will learn ways to get more writing out of every available moment.


    Flophouses and Fourteeners

    Posted By on August 19, 2014

    Every year for the past seventeen years since I’ve lived in Colorado, I have climbed at least one Fourteener, or 14,000-ft peak in the state. I’ve summited all 54 of them, so now I’m going back to do some of my favorites, climbing from different sides.

    This year, I set my sights on Mt. Lincoln, 14, 236 ft, highest peak in Park C0unty and 11th highest peak in the continental US. It’s an impressive-looking peak as seen from Hoosier Pass, just south of Breckinridge. I had climbed it before, but this time I wanted to climb from a different side, on a little used trail.


    In order to get an early start on the trail, and thus avoid early-afternoon thunderstorms, I decided to stay overnight near the trailhead. On previous drives through the area, I had been intrigued by a tiny town right at the foot of Mount Lincoln, Alma CO, population Not Many, with a handful of buildings … something I called a “zombie town”—a ghost town that won’t admit it’s dead.  I was charmed by the handful of “necessary businesses”—general store, feed store, liquor store, and a most intriguing little place called (this is its exact name) Alma’s Only Bar and Hotel.  Of course I had to stay there.

    I called ahead, but they didn’t take reservations. “Just come in, we’ll find a room for ya, don’t worry.”  $50 per night. So I drove in, arrived in the middle of the afternoon to find a sign on the closed door of the hotel “See bartender for room.”  I found the bartender, and she rummaged among a tray of keys behind the bar, took my credit card, and said “You have room number one.”  Then gave me set of complicated directions through a maze of doors and staircases to get to my room.  Fortunately, she had two kids out of school who were very excited to have a lodger, and they went off on a great adventure with me to find my room.  Up at the top of the stairs, we found #1.

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    It was a real flophouse, a room not much larger than the bed and a little dresser, torn bedspread, one lamp, creaky floors, and a communal bath.  Even a little more rustic than my usual “off the beaten path discoveries.” But I had my laptop, a cooler with a growler of microbrew IPA, and a place to work. I edited a few chapters in BLOOD OF THE COSMOS that afternoon before wandering off to the saloon to get a burrito for dinner, made a call to Rebecca (with very poor cell reception). When I made my way out of the hotel, one of the other lodgers bumped into me in the hall, a single man who was sharing the room with his two dogs.  He said, “Oh, you’re in room number one–you know that’s the haunted room!  I stayed there for ten days, but I never heard anything.”

    After dinner I came back to the room (mind you, it was not much bigger than the bed and the dresser), crawled onto the bed, took out my laptop…and my screen was going crazy. Menus going down and up, random characters scrolling across the screen, cursor blinking.  Huh?  I managed to shut down and restart, but the screen was still going haywire. Haunted room, indeed!  How was I supposed to get editing done?  Of course, I discovered that I had left my bluetooth remote keyboard in my computer case, which was on its side pressing against the keys, hence creating the mayhem on the screen. So much for ghosts. I got another several chapters edited then went to bed—I had a Fourteener to climb the next morning, ghosts or no ghosts.

    Next morning, alarm set for 5:30 AM, I got up, took a shower in the shared bath, used the Keurig I had brought along for a cup of coffee (good thing, because nothing in Alma was open), ate a granola bar, filled my backpack with water, and hauled everything out of the haunted room. I drove off through a maze of dirt roads, winding up into the foothills around Mount Lincoln in search of the trailhead. Part of the road was a real horror, the type where you have to stop the car, walk ten feet ahead and figure out the best spots for the tires to go, then drive ten feet, and do the whole thing again. But I got to the trailhead, parked off the road, and started heading uphill.

    It was a beautiful hike. Now this was worth it! On the way up I reveled in the scenery, didn’t even do any writing (I saved that for the hike down).  Up winding rugged roads, past mining ruins, higher and higher. This was not at all the standard route up Mt Lincoln, and I had the trail ALL to myself.

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    By the time I reached the summit, however, it was an entirely different story. Crowds had come from the popular Kite Lake Trail, and I shared the top with 28 people.  I didn’t stay long after I got my picture taken.

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    I trudged back down (hard on the knees!), got back to my car, toiled and struggled my way—driving ten carefully assessed feet at a time—back to the main road…and home!  I did manage to write two new inserted chapters in BLOOD OF THE COSMOS, tying up loose threads, all with another Fourteener under my belt.



    Kirkus and Fresh Fiction review SLIMY UNDERBELLY

    Posted By on August 13, 2014


    From Kirkus Reviews

    Dan Chambeaux, zombie private eye (Hair Raising, 2013, etc.), once again juggles a series of cases as deftly as if he were equipped with the same tireless tentacles as his chief suspect. In the Unnatural Quarter, it’s either a feast or an orgy of malefactors. Just as Chambeaux & Deyer’s former client, frog demon Lurrm, is celebrating the opening of the Recompose Spa, his smartly refurbished zombie bathhouse, the competition between Alastair Cumulus III and Chambeaux’s client Thunder Dick over which of them will be elected head of the Weather Wizards Fraternal Order breaks into open warfare, as each wizard stoops to new lows to undermine the other. Mr. Bignome, head of a ring of garden gnomes that robs flower shops, compounds his felonies by stealing the glorious baritone voice of Stentor, the ogre opera star who’s frantic that he’ll get fired by The Phantom of the Opera. Twelve-year-old junior mad scientist Jody Caligari seizes the moment to ask Chambeaux to take on a pro bono case: overturning his eviction from the underground lab he’d rented from fearsome Ah’Chulhu, the demon sewer landlord who’s the richly tentacled half-breed son of a pair of Senior Citizen Gods. Ah’Chulhu, it turns out, has a tentacle in most every one of Chambeaux’s current cases—which may make them easier to solve but certainly doesn’t make them any less dangerous. An appended bonus story, “Stakeout at the Vampire Circus,” reminds you that the best parts of Chambeaux’s waggish adventures are often the early chapters, before the normal zaniness of the Unnatural Quarter gets clogged with criminal mischief. Anderson’s obviously found his niche. Readers who share it will be in zombie heaven, or wherever zombies would go if there were life after undeath.

    from Fresh Fiction

    SLIMY UNDERBELLY is Book four in Kevin J. Anderson’s Dan Shamble, Zombie PI series. I love this series! I always look forward to a new book in this series because it is always funny, and very entertaining. This book is no exception. Even though SLIMY UNDERBELLY is part of a series, I believe that it can be enjoyed without having read the previous books in the series. Kevin J. Anderson does a good job of establishing characters and background information. This is a great book for anyone who likes paranormal mysteries with a little goofiness and great story-telling.

    As with other books in this series, there are a few side stories going on at the same time. Dan works a few different cases throughout the course of SLIMY UNDERBELLY, but a lot of them tie back to the sewers. For that obvious reason, there are some gross bits in the story but nothing that ruins the story. There are some cases that are lighter in tone than others. Some situations border on slapstick. I think it’s because of the sillier moments that the more serious ones pack such a punch. Right after some amusing antics by some paranormal characters, a crime will happen and a character you get emotionally invested in or some innocent bystander might get hurt.

    In addition to the cornball jokes, a little social commentary is thrown in for good measure. In SLIMY UNDERBELLY, the villains might be bizarre, gross, or goofy, but I like that Dan humanizes them and considers what made them become a bad guy. This is illustrated beautifully by the storyline involving one of Dan’s clients — junior mad scientist Jody Caligari. He’s a cute little kid who might be too smart for his own good, and aspires to be a supervillain. Dan and company take him under their wing and try to encourage his intelligence, while trying to steer him away from a potential life of crime. For me, there are no stock characters in this series. All of them are full of life and multi-faceted.

    SLIMY UNDERBELLY is another in a long line of wildly imaginative and entertaining detective stories. Dan Shamble is a zombie take on Philip Marlowe. I can’t wait for the next installment in this excellent series!



    Teaser Tuesday: TALES FROM THE TRAILS

    Posted By on August 13, 2014

    Many of you have followed my blogs about my adventures while hiking, often with my brother-in-law Tim. We both just completed the 500-mile Colorado Trail together, and we’ve both summited all 54 mountain peaks in Colorado over 14,000 ft.  Along the way we’ve learned much, experienced much, and built up some great stories to tell.

    WordFire Press just released Tim’s book TALES FROM THE TRAILS, which collects the best stories of those adventures. It is available now in trade paperback and in all eBook formats. Here’s the introduction I wrote for the book:

    FINAL 1425 TFTT Cover

    Getting away from it all—and
    getting to the heart of it all.


    o far the dentist appointment has been the best part of the day—and that should tell you what kind of day it was. Numerous deadlines, complications, and administrative details as the publisher of Wordfire Press; several new releases coming out at once as well as some major revisions to a six hundred page novel manuscript of my own; a looming deadline for an entirely different (an entirely unfinished) novel manuscript and travel arrangements for a convention appearance; ninety-six story submissions to read for two anthologies my wife and I are editing … and on top of it all getting a new crown put on at the dentist. Bombarded by all that, as I was driving back home from the dentist appointment, I saw how beautiful it was outside. A Colorado February day: sixty degrees, blue skies, only a few patches of un-melted snow remaining, it made me recall how long it had been since I went hiking

    Which of course reminded me that I had to write this introduction for my hiking partner and brother-in-law Tim’s book. Sigh. Another deadline. Then I realized that writing the introduction was not actually a burden—but an opportunity. Rather than being locked in my office, strapped to the keyboard to fight back the constant flood of emails or to wince each time the phone rang with someone requesting “just a quick little thing,” I could think about all of the wonderful hiking adventures I’d done with Tim. And since I do all of my writing by dictating into a digital recorder, I could actually go outside in this beautiful day, walk along a few wonderful trails, breathe the fresh air, listen to the trickle of melting snow. No, that wasn’t a burden at all. I could get away from it all, I could be outside, surrounded by beautiful Colorado scenery and just recharge my batteries.

    When my wife and I had moved to Colorado seventeen years ago, I was already an avid hiker in California, but I did most of those hikes alone, climbing Half Dome in Yosemite, Mt. Whitney, Lassen Peak, wandering dozen miles of trails in King’s Canyon or Sequoia National Park, exploring the deserts of Death Valley. Tim and his family had moved to Colorado a few years ahead of us. An avid hiker and outdoorsman, he had done plenty of exploring on his own and had discovered many places that I simply had to see.

    On the Christmas before we moved to Colorado, Tim gave me two books, a set of books as a gift. Trails and instructions on how to climb all fifty-four of the mountain peaks in Colorado that were over fourteen thousand feet high, comma dubbed the “Fourteeners.” Tim had decided to climb them himself and was hoping for a hiking partner. I spent that winter (as many forlorn hikers do) looking at the guidebooks, reading descriptions of trails and imagining myself out there on those dotted lines, wending their way up ridges, over saddles, and up to the final ascent.

    When we did move to Colorado that following July, I already had my marching orders and Tim had his plans. Although I did climb some of those peaks solo, Tim and I ascended many of them together. We tried to get friends to join us, most of whom had insufficient lung capacity or endurance. We did the harder and harder ones. Each summit had its own unique character; each name checked off on the list felt like another triumph. While staying in shape throughout the winter season we would go snowshoeing up around Rocky Mountain National Park or in other high mountain trails. We’d exchange tips and maps of new places we had discovered, new trails to explore.

    As a prolific writer, I produce several novels a year and numerous short stories and articles. To me when I’m out on the trail, I find the inspiration to describe alien worlds and interesting characters. In the silence and the solitude, I can walk for miles and dictate dozens of pages.

    After we finished all the Fourteeners, Tim and I decided to tackle the Colorado Trail. Nearly five hundred miles winding through the most beautiful mountainous terrain in the state. As of this writing, we’ve done all but one segment, only twenty miles left, and you can bet we’ll finish it this summer.

    Tim and I have a system down, how we’ll walk together, but far enough apart so that I can have the concentration I need to dictate my stories and he can revel in the beautiful scenery and take all the photos he likes. Oftentimes we’ll start at opposite ends of the trail and hike toward each other and swap cars on the way home.

    We both find the wilderness a place to get away from the chaos and pressure of modern life, from deadlines and bills and family obligations. It’s an environment where we can simply get to our roots, clear our heads and just be filled with all the majesty around us.

    Even though we’re both in our fifties, we can do things that most of our peers can’t. A few years ago, we drove to Arizona and hiked down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up in a day, passing signs warning us not to do that and winded, muscular German hikers who were struggling to keep up. Twenty more miles in a day is no longer an impossible challenge, we would simply do it and we work hard to stay in shape so we can keep doing these things we enjoy so much.

    And even though there are times we are snowed in, trapped by a raging blizzard close to the summit of fourteen thousand foot Columbia Peak, huddled between rocks and shivering; or dancing across the treacherous Sawtooth Ridge that connects Mt. Evans and Mt. Bierstadt as thunder rumbles and lightning flashes all around and the hair stands up on our heads and arms; or when we’re plodding along through a Noah-worthy downpour with miles to go  before we reach our cars, it’s all part of the adventure. While dangling on ropes climbing a six hundred foot sheer dry waterfall on the face of Little Bear Peak, or when Tim missed the trail turn off and walked for miles out of the way (after already having hiked sixteen miles that day), we still wouldn’t trade that for anything.

    When I tell these stories to my wife, Rebecca, she doesn’t understand why we would consider that to be “fun.” But if you have to ask, you won’t understand. There’s something indefinably special about walking hard for hours and hours, reaching a saddle and seeing a pristine and untouched vista of mountain and valleys spreading out in front of you, knowing that you are quite likely the only human being within miles. It’s not just to get away from all the frenzy of modern life, it’s to get in touch with your core.

    It’s good for your soul.

    Tim has discovered that and this book includes some of his most heartwarming and nerve-wracking adventures. Some of them include me without (much) exaggeration. Some of them are escapades and insights Tim had with other companions or just by himself.

    I hope you enjoy the vicarious journey and I hope that Tim and I continue to have real outdoor adventures of our own.

    — Kevin J. Anderson —

    TALES FROM THE TRAILS is available in print and in all  eBook formats.



    HELLHOLE INFERNO released tomorrow!

    Posted By on August 11, 2014

    For those of you following my epic HELLHOLE science fiction trilogy with Brian Herbert, the waiting is over…and could be the end of the universe is at hand!  HELLHOLE INFERNO hits bookstores (and eTailer outlets for those of you who prefer to read electrons) tomorrow in the US and UK.

    After doing more than a dozen novels in Frank Herbert’s DUNE universe, we used our collaborative skills to develop a sweeping, big SF trilogy with galactic empires, lost alien races, politics, a war for independence, ruthless leaders. HELLHOLE INFERNO is the grand finale.  Preorder your copy now at your favorite retailer, or pick up a copy tomorrow. We pulled out all the stops for this one!


    The other two books in the trilogy are now out in paperback, in case you need to catch up.

    Hellhole-MM-2  HHawakemm

    This has been a summer of momentous releases from me and Brian—we do the Dune books together as well as the original Hellhole trilogy, but we also write many solo novels.  My most recent SF novel is THE DARK BETWEEN THE STARS, first in the Saga of Shadows trilogy.


    And Brian also has a new standalone SF novel that just came out, THE LITTLE GREEN BOOK OF CHAIRMAN RAHMA, a “green” dystopian nightmare.  Also from Tor Books in hardcover.


    And on a lighter note, by the end of this month you’ll be able to get the fourth novel featuring Dan Shamble, Zombie PI—SLIMY UNDERBELLY. Not quite the end of the universe, as with our science fiction epics, but something smells dangerously funny…



    The End of the Trail

    Posted By on August 10, 2014

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    485 miles from Denver to Durango, Colorado, through some of the most rugged and most spectacular wilderness in the state.  28 segments ranging from 11-23 miles long.  And Tim and I walked it all.  Last week we completed our final segment in the long journey, a remote 21-mile stretch from Kennebec Pass north of Durango, to Hotel Draw, south of Silverton.

    Tim and I started hiking the Colorado Trail eight years ago, working off one segment at a time, many of them with his wife Diane. We would often take two vehicles, park one at each end of a segment, and hike toward each other, then drive the opposite car back home or to base camp. After we finished all the easy ones, the remaining segments were harder to reach, some accessible only by horrific rugged roads out in the middle of Absolute Nowhere. But each hike was an adventure, each segment full of amazing scenery, and it just got better and better.

    And I sure dictated a lot of new stories and chapters along those miles. On this latest hike, Segment 27, I did four chapters of a great new project (one I haven’t even announced yet)

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    I drove out to Durango a day early (about a six-hour drive) so I could spend a day holed up editing BLOOD OF THE COSMOS and also to join fellow writer Blake Crouch (WAYWARD PINES) for dinner at a fine Durango microbrewery restaurant. Tim arrived the following day near sundown (we had just enough time to drive out to the actual terminus of the CT in Durango…we had done this section several years ago, but we wanted victory pictures! See above.) Then we got to bed early after setting the alarm for 4:30 AM.

    Tim drove north toward the Purgatory Ski Resort and Silverton, then worked his way out to Hotel Draw, where he parked the car for me to pick up at the end of the day. And he started hiking.  I enjoyed a second cup of Keurig coffee in the room, then drove off to the other end of the segment, south and west out of Durango, then 14 miles up an absolutely awful road … one we remembered from the last time we were there, doing the adjacent segment of the trail. But by the time my Expedition made it to the top of Kennebec Pass, at a little before 7 AM, the sun was bright on the mountains and beautiful for miles around.

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    After making sure my moleskin and blister bandages were properly placed, socks adjusted so there were no lumps, hiking boots tightened (I had 21 miles ahead of me!), I gulped a Red Bull from the car and headed off, hiking stick in one hand, digital recorder in the other.

    We are usually out of cell-phone range, often out of walkie-talkie range, but strangely on this hike we managed to have text access on our phones, so we were able to update each other on our progress.  I took a lot of photos. I think this was truly one of the most beautiful segments of the entire Colorado Trail. Wildflowers everywhere!  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. At one point, I even heard a distant group of coyotes howling in a full choir.

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    At this time of year, we got hit with heavy rain, and there was a downpour (hail included) right about the halfway point when Tim and I met up on the trail…which was also right around lunchtime. We were both wearing our rain ponchos (which kept us nice and dry, but made it impossible to have a nice lunch, or even get our snacks out of the backpacks!)  I hiked another two miles before the rain stopped enough for me to get out my lunch.  Fortunately, I had sunny skies for the rest of the afternoon, but an even worse deluge hit Tim as he covered the trail I had already finished.

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    Finally, after more than ten hours, I was getting closer to the end of the segment, listening to an audiobook (THE DEVIL’S EYE by Jack McDevitt) on my iPod as I trudged along with very sore feet. And then I spotted my car parked on the Hotel Draw 4WD road. Some of the best scenery I saw all day!


    After reaching the car, I changed into clean socks and soft shoes, a dry t-shirt, drank some water (all while moving very slowly), and headed back to the hotel. It was still an hour drive back, but boy did that shower feel good! Tim was behind me, since he had been forced to hunker down for an hour in the furious storm, unable to keep going, so I went out to a celebratory steak dinner [still moving VERY slowly and stiffly]. Tim checked in that he had made it back to the Expedition parked on the top of Kennebec Pass and was toiling his way back down the horrendous road.  I was back at the room when he made it home—and we had cleverly prepared the day before by getting a growler of IPA for me and a growler of Amber for Tim. So we could just relax and enjoy our microbrews, exhausted but victorious!

    If you’d like to read more of our hiking adventures and anecdotes, check out Tim’s new book TALES FROM THE TRAILS, published in eBook an print from WordFire Press. I wrote the introduction, Tim wrote the stories. Print at amazon and Barnes & Noble, eBook for Kindle, Kobo, Nook, iBooks, and all other formats.

    FINAL 1425 TFTT Cover





    Teaser Tuesday: DEATH WARMED OVER

    Posted By on August 6, 2014

    Since Kensington has just put the very first Dan Shamble, Zombie PI novel as a special on Kindle for FREE download, I thought I’d give you a sample of humorous zombie flesh. Try the first chapter of DEATH WARMED OVER, then download the whole novel FREE ON KINDLE.

    Single Dead Detective Seeks Clue

    Ever since the Big Uneasy unleashed vampires, werewolves, and other undead denizens on the world, it’s been hell being a detective–especially for zombie P.I. Dan Chambeaux. Taking on the creepiest of cases in the Unnatural Quarter with a human lawyer for a partner and a ghost for a girlfriend, Chambeaux redefines “dead on arrival.” But just because he was murdered doesn’t mean he’d leave his clients in the lurch. Besides, zombies are so good at lurching.

    Now he’s back from the dead and back in business–with a caseload that’s downright unnatural. A resurrected mummy is suing the museum that put him on display. Two witches, victims of a curse gone terribly wrong, seek restitution from a publisher for not using “spell check” on its magical tomes. And he’s got to figure out a very personal question–Who killed him?

    For Dan Chambeaux, it’s all in a day’s work. (Still, does everybody have to call him “Shamble”?) Funny, fresh, and irresistible, this cadaverous caper puts the P.I. in R.I.P. . ..with a vengeance.

    “Wickedly funny, deviously twisted and enormously satisfying. This is a big juicy bite of zombie goodness. Two decaying thumbs up!”–Jonathan Maberry

    “Anderson has become the literary equivalent of Quentin Tarantino in the fantasy adventure genre.”–The Daily Rotation

    “An unpredictable walk on the weird side. Prepare to be entertained.” –Charlaine Harris



    I’m dead, for starters—it happens.  But I’m still ambulatory, and I can still think, still be a contributing member of society (such as it is, these days). And still solve crimes.

    As the detective half of Chambeaux & Deyer Investigations, I’m responsible for our caseload, despite being shot in the head a month ago.  My unexpected murder caused a lot of inconvenience to myself and to others, but I’m not the sort of guy to leave his partner in the lurch.  The cases don’t solve themselves.

    My partner, Robin Deyer, and I had built a decent business for ourselves, sharing office space, with several file cabinets full of pending cases, both legal matters and private investigations. Although catching my own killer is always on my mind, paying clients have to take priority.

    Which is why I found myself sneaking into a cemetery at night while trying to elude a werewolf hit man who’d been following me since sunset—in order to retrieve a lost painting for a ghost.

    Just another day at work for me.

    The wrought-iron cemetery gate stood ajar with a Welcome mat on either side.  These days, visiting hours are round-the-clock, and the gate needs to stay open so that newly risen undead can wander out.  When the gates were locked, neighbors complained about moaning and banging sounds throughout the night, which made it difficult for them to sleep.

    When I pulled, the gate glided open on well-oiled hinges.  A small sign on the bars read, Maintained by Friends of the Greenlawn Cemetery.  There were more than a hundred ostentatious crypts to choose from, interspersed with less-prominent tombstones.  I wished I had purchased a guide pamphlet ahead of time, but the gift shop was open only on weekends. I had to find the Ricketts crypt on my own—before the werewolf hit man caught up with me.

    The world’s a crazy place since the Big Uneasy, the event that changed all the rules and allowed a flood of baffled unnaturals to return—zombies, vampires, werewolves, ghouls, succubi, and the usual associated creatures. In the subsequent ten years, the Unnatural Quarter had settled into a community of sorts—one that offered more work than I could handle.

    Now, the quarter moon rode high in the sky, giving me enough light to see the rest of the cemetery.  The unnatural thug, hired by the heirs of Alvin Ricketts, wasn’t one of the monthly full-moon-only lycanthropes:  He was a full-time hairy, surly beast, regardless of the time of month.  Those are usually the meanest ones.

    I moved from one crypt to the next, scrutinizing the blocky stone letters.  The place was quiet, spooky . . . part of the ambience.  You might think a zombie—even a well-preserved one like myself—would feel perfectly at ease in a graveyard.  After all, what do I have to be afraid of? I can still get mangled, for one thing. My body doesn’t heal the way it used to, and we’ve all seen those smelly decomposing shamblers who refuse to take care of themselves, giving zombies everywhere a bad name. And werewolves are experts at mangling.

    I decided I wanted to avoid that, if possible.

    Even undead, I remain as handsome as ever, with the exception of the holes left by the bullet—the largish exit wound on my forehead and the neat round one at the back of my head, where some bastard came up from behind, pressed the barrel of a .32 caliber pistol against my skull, and popped me before I got a good look at him.  Fortunately, a low-slouched fedora covers the big hole.  For the most part . . .

    In the broader sense, the world hasn’t changed much since the Big Uneasy.  Most people go about their daily lives, having families, working jobs.  But though a decade has passed, the law—not to mention law enforcement—still hasn’t caught up with the new reality.  According to the latest statistics by the DUS, the Department of Unnatural Services, about one out of every seventy-five corpses wakes up as a zombie, with the odds weighted heavily in favor of suicides or murder victims.

    Lucky me to be on the interesting side of statistics.

    After returning to life, I had shambled back into the office, picked up my caseload, and got to work again.  Same as before . . . sort of. Fortunately, my zombie status isn’t necessarily a handicap to being a private detective in the Unnatural Quarter. As I said, the cases don’t solve themselves.

    Days of investigation had led me to the graveyard. I dug through files, interviewed witnesses and suspects, met with the ghost artist Alvin Ricketts and separately with his indignant still-living family.  (Despite Robin’s best mediation efforts in the offices, the ghost and the living family refused to speak to each other.)

    Alvin Ricketts was a successful pop-culture painter before his untimely demise, attributable to a month’s worth of sleeping pills washed down with a full bottle of 21-year-old single-malt. (No sense letting it go to waste.)  The ghost told me he would have taken more pills, but his insurance had only authorized a thirty-day supply, and even in the deep gloom of his creative depression, Alvin had (on principle) refused to pay the additional pharmacy charge.

    Now, whereas one in seventy-five dead people returns as a zombie, like myself, one in thirty comes back as a ghost (statistics again heavily weighted toward murder victims and suicides).  Alvin Ricketts, a pop-art genius, had suffered a long and debilitating creative block, “artistic constipation” he called it.  Feeling that he had nothing left to live for, he took his own life.

    And then came back.

    His ghost, however, found the death experience so inspirational that he found a reawakened and vibrant artistic fervor.  Alvin set about painting again, announcing he would soon release his first new work with great fanfare.

    His grieving (sic) family was less than enthusiastic about his return to painting, as well as his return from the dead.  The artist’s tragic suicide, and the fact that there would never be more Alvin Ricketts paintings, had caused his existing work to skyrocket in value—until the ghost’s announcement of renewed productivity made the bottom fall out of the market.  Collectors waited to see what new material Alvin would release, already speculating about how his artistic technique might have changed in his “post-death period.”

    The Ricketts family sued him, claiming that since Alvin was dead and they were his heirs, they now owned everything in his estate, including any new or undiscovered works and the profits from subsequent sales.

    Alvin contested the claim.  He hired Robin Deyer to fight for his rights, and she promptly filed challenges, while the ghost happily worked at his new painting. No one had yet seen it, but he claimed the work was his masterpiece.

    The Ricketts heirs took the dispute to the next level.  “Someone” broke into Alvin’s studio and stole the painting. With the supposed masterpiece gone, the pop artist’s much-anticipated return to the spotlight was put on hold. The family vehemently denied any involvement, of course.

    That’s when the ghost hired me, at Robin’s suggestion, to track down and retrieve the painting—by any means necessary. The Ricketts heirs had hired a thug to keep me from succeeding in my investigation.

    I heard a faint clang, which I recognized as the wrought-iron cemetery gate banging shut against the frame.  The werewolf hit man wasn’t far behind me. On the bright side, the fact that he was breathing down my neck probably meant I was getting close.

    The cemetery had plenty of shadows to choose from, and I stayed hidden as I approached another crypt.  BENSON.  Not the right one.  I had to find RICKETTS.

    Werewolves are usually good trackers, but the cemetery abounds with odors of dead things, and he must have kept losing my scent.  Since I change clothes frequently and maintain high standards of personal hygiene for a zombie, I don’t have much of a smell about me.  Unlike most unnaturals, I don’t choose to wear colognes, fancy specialized unnatural deodorants, and perfumes.

    I turned the corner in front of another low stone building fronted by stubby Corinthian columns.  Much to my delight, I saw the inhabitant’s name:  RICKETTS.  The flat stone door had been pried open, the caulking seal split apart.

    New rules required quick-release latches on the insides of tombs now, so the undead can conveniently get back out.  Some people were even buried with their cell phones, though I doubted they’d get good service from inside.  Can you hear me now?

    Now, if Alvin Ricketts were a zombie, he would have broken the seal when he came back out of the crypt.  But since ghosts can pass through solid walls, Alvin would not have needed to break any door seals for his re-emergence.  So why was the crypt door ajar?

    I spotted the silhouette of a large hairy form loping among the graves, sniffing the ground, coming closer.  He still hadn’t seen me. I pulled open the stone door just enough to slip through the narrow gap into the crypt, hoping my detective work was right.

    During the investigation into the missing masterpiece, the police had obtained search warrants and combed through the homes, properties, and businesses of the Ricketts heirs.  Nothing.  With my own digging, I discovered a small storage unit that had been rented in the name of Gomez Ricketts, the black-sheep of the family—and I was sure they had hidden the painting there.

    But when the detectives served their warrant and opened the unit, they found only cases and cases of contraband vampire porn packaged as sick kiddie porn. Because the starlets were actually old-school vampires who had been turned while they were children, they claimed to be well over the legal age—in real years if not in physical maturity.  Gomez Ricketts had been arrested for pedophilia/necrophilia, but he was out on bail.  Even Robin, in her best legal opinion, couldn’t say which way the verdict might go.

    More to the point, we didn’t find the stolen painting in the storage unit.

    So I kept working on the case.  Not only did I consult with Alvin’s ghost, I also went over the interviews he’d given after his suicide.  The ghost had gone into a manic phase, deliriously happy to put death behind him.  He talked about awakening to find himself sealed in a crypt, his astral form rising from the cold physical body, his epiphany of throwing those morbid chains behind him. He had vowed never to go back there.

    That’s when I figured it out: the last place Alvin would ever think to look for his painting was inside his own crypt, which was property owned by the Ricketts family (though a recent court ruling deemed that a person owned his own grave in perpetuity—a landmark decision that benefitted several vampires who were caught in property-rights disputes).

    Tonight, I planned to retrieve the painting from the crypt.

    I slipped into the dank crypt, hoping I could grab Alvin’s masterpiece and slip away before the werewolf figured out what I was doing.

    It should have been as quiet as a tomb inside, but it wasn’t.  I heard a rustling sound, saw two lamp-like yellow eyes blinking at me.  A shrill nasal voice called out, “It’s taken—this one’s occupied!  Go find your own.”

    “Sorry, didn’t mean to disturb you,” I said.

    “You can’t stay here.”

    Zombies have good night vision, and as my eyes adjusted, I made out a grayish simian creature with scaly skin.  I’d heard that trolls sometimes became squatters inside empty crypts whose original owners had returned to an unnatural life.

    The troll inched closer.  I carried my .38 revolver loaded with silver-jacketed bullets.  I would use it if I had to, but a gunshot would surely bring the werewolf hit man running.  I had enough silver bullets to take care of the thug, too, but that would open a can of maggots with the law, and I just plain didn’t want the hassle.

    The troll rubbed his gnarled hands together.  “If you’re interested in a place to stay, we have many viable options.  Pre-owned, gently-used post-mortem dwellings.  If you’re undead and homeless, I can help you with all of your real-estate needs. Edgar Allan, at your service.  Here, let me give you a business card.”

    “This crypt doesn’t belong to you,” I pointed out.  “I happen to know the actual owner.  He hired me to retrieve some of his personal property.”

    “Then we have a problem.”  The troll looked annoyed.  “Burt!”

    From the gloom emerged a larger and more threatening creature.  Trolls come in various sizes, from small and ugly to huge and ugly.  At close to seven feet tall with wide and scabby shoulders, this one belonged in the latter category.

    “Burt is our evictions specialist,” Edgar Allan explained.

    I held up my hands in surrender.  “Now, no need for that!  I came here for a painting, that’s all.  No intention of interfering with your rental business.”

    “Painting?  You mean this one?”  The little troll flicked on a tiny flashlight.  Hanging on the stone wall was a painting, unmistakably in the cute pop-culture style of Alvin Ricketts:  Two large-eyed puppies . . . gaunt, zombie puppies.  “Somebody left it here.  Looks real nice on the wall, brightens up the place.”

    A plan began to form in my mind.  “I have a suggestion that would benefit both of us.”  I glanced back at the door of the crypt, straining to hear the werewolf outside. I doubted I could slip out of the cemetery carrying the Ricketts “art” without the hairy hit man intercepting me.  Werewolves can run much faster than zombies, and inflict severe bodily damage—the kind that’s difficult to repair.  If he got his paws on the painting, I would never get a second chance to retrieve it.

    I also knew that Alvin Ricketts had no interest whatsoever in owning this crypt.

    “What kind of suggestion?” the real-estate troll said. “I can make a deal. Nobody beats my deals.”

    “What if I could get the legal owner of this property to sign over the deed to you, free and clear, completely above-board—in exchange for the painting?”  (Which was rightfully Alvin’s property anyway, but I didn’t want to tangle up the conversation.)

    Edgar Allan seemed interested, but narrowed his big yellow eyes.  “If we handed over the painting, we’d never hear from you again.”

    “I won’t take it now.  You deliver the painting to my office tomorrow,” I said.  “Bring Burt for protection if you like.”  I nodded toward the huge troll.  “I’ll see to it that the crypt owner signs all the right documents.  We have an attorney and a notary right there in our offices.”  I reached into my jacket and pulled out one of my business cards.

    After making sure that I took one of his cards, the troll shone his little flashlight on mine.  “Chambeaux & Deyer Investigations. What’s the catch?”

    “No catch.  Just be careful.  That’s a beautiful painting—I’d hate to have it damaged.”

    The troll glanced back at the large-eyed zombie puppies.  “You think so?  I was wondering if it might be a bit kitschy, myself.”

    “I’m not an art critic.  Tomorrow, in my offices at noon.”

    “We don’t usually go out at that hour . . . but I’ll make an exception.”

    I slipped out of the crypt and back into the shadows, ducking behind a tall stone angel, then moving to a big flat grave marker.  I intended to circle around as quietly as I could on my way to the wrought-iron cemetery gate.

    Before I made it to the third tombstone, a furry mass of growling energy slammed into me and knocked me to the ground.  The werewolf hit man grabbed me by the collar and yanked me back to my feet.  He was a smelly, hairy, muscular guy, half wolf and half human.  His claws dug into the fabric of my sport jacket.

    “Careful, this is my only suit.”

    The werewolf pushed his long snout close to my face.  “I caught you, Shamble.”  I could see he was having trouble forming words with all those teeth in the way.

    Chambeaux,” I corrected him.  “Can’t a guy take a peaceful stroll in a cemetery at night?”

    He patted me down, poking with his claws.  “Where’s the painting?”

    “Which painting?”  Not the cleverest response, but werewolves aren’t the cleverest of creatures, especially the at-will lycanthropes.

    “You know which painting.  I’ve been watching you.”

    “I know you were hired by the Ricketts heirs,” I admitted, “and I’m sure your employers think they’re very important, but I have plenty of other cases.  As a private detective who specializes in unnatural clientele, believe me, I’ve got more than enough reasons to come to a cemetery.”

    Growling, the werewolf searched me again, though I don’t know where he suspected I might hide a large rolled-up painting.  My chest pocket?

    I heard heavy footfalls and looked up to see the scaly form of Burt the troll.  “There a problem here?”  Burt was sufficiently intimidating that even the werewolf didn’t want to mess with him.

    I pulled myself away from the claws and straightened my jacket in an attempt to regain some dignity.  “I was just leaving,” I said, and looked pointedly at the werewolf.

    “I was escorting him out,” the hairy guy growled. “Name’s Larry.”

    Burt loomed there, watching as the two of us left the cemetery.

    After we both passed through the gate, I sized up the werewolf.  Since Chambeaux & Deyer had accepted the Alvin Ricketts case only a month-and-a-half before my murder, maybe it was connected to my own case somehow.  “Say, Larry, you wouldn’t happen to be the guy who shot me, would you?” No harm in asking.

    “Yeah, I heard about that.”  The hairy hit man growled deep in his throat.  “Do I look like the kind of guy who sneaks up behind someone in a dark alley and shoots him in the back of the head?”

    “That wouldn’t be my guess.”

    “Have you ever seen a werewolf victim?  Look at you, Shamble.  You could pass for human, if somebody doesn’t look too close.”  He flexed his claws.  “If I killed you, you’d have been a pile of shredded meat.”

    “I’ll count my blessings then,” I said.  “See you around.”  I touched a finger to the brim of my fedora in a brief salute and headed away from the cemetery.



    Free Zombies!

    Posted By on August 3, 2014

    Zombie detectives, that is!  As we shamble toward the release date of SLIMY UNDERBELLY, the fourth Dan Shamble Zombie PI novel, Kensington is doing a big promo push for the series.  Right now, you can get the Kindle version of the first novel, DEATH WARMED OVER,  for *free*.  Download your free Kindle copy here.


    If that’s not enough fresh brains for you, Kensington has also dropped the price of the next two novels to only $2.99. UNNATURAL ACTS and HAIR RAISING



    Still not enough undead cases? Three Dan Shamble solo adventures are available for 99¢ – $2.99.  STAKEOUT AT THE VAMPIRE CIRCUS, ROAD KILL, and NAUGHTY & NICE

    Stakeout  RoadKill  NaughtyNiceFinalColors copy


    You should have just enough time to read them all before SLIMY UNDERBELLY comes out at the end of the month, just in time for DragonCon!



    Seven Suns: An Unlimited Special Effects Budget

    Posted By on July 31, 2014

    It’s summer blockbuster movie season, and we’re ready for the biggest movies of the year. Gigantic budgets, incredible special effects, 3D IMAX, fantastic colors, amazing images, explosions, monsters, super heroes. The studios promise to show you things that you’ve never seen before.

    But, I have. In my imagination, as I develop my stories and write my novels. I’ve seen things that no filmmaker could ever put on screen. With words, you see, I’ve got an unlimited special effects budget.


    Years ago, when I was writing my first X-files novels, I asked Chris Carter, the show’s creator, what kind of story he was looking for. Chris said, “Write something so big that I could never afford to do it as an episode. You’re not constrained by set limitations, location shots, or effects budgets. Take advantage of that.”

    So, I did. And I’ve always remembered that advice. I like thinking big, telling stories that are constrained only by my imagination and nothing else.

    I’ve written epic Star Wars novels, Dune novels with Brian Herbert, as well as our big and complex Hellhole trilogy, and my Terra Incognita fantasy trilogy about sailing ships and sea monsters. But my greatest creation of all, I think, is my Seven Suns universe, originally published as a seven novel series, and now I’m embarking on a brand new standalone trilogy, The Saga of Shadows.

    It’s the biggest canvas I’ve ever written on, the grandest story, the most complicated cast of characters, and a labyrinth of interconnected plots. I can feel James Cameron quaking in his boots.

    You want alien planets? You got ‘em–a whole Spiral Arm full of them. Lava planets, ice planets, stormy gas giants, ocean stations, alien capitals, a jungle planet with gigantic interconnected sentient trees (hmm, maybe James Cameron is trembling after all), ancient abandoned cities on desert worlds.

    There’s a race of intelligent and murderous insects, as well as killer black robots. An empire of benevolent aliens who look mostly human on the outside, but have tremendous differences. A dimensional transportation network, telepathic priests who can commune with trees, outlaw space gypsies. And monsters. Did I mention monsters?

    SAGA#1.16SAGA#1.23 SAGA#1.33

    Each new idea in the Seven Suns universe led to a character or a storyline that would allow me to feature the concept, because when I developed such fantastic images, I had to use them somehow. The first volume of my new trilogy, THE DARK BETWEEN THE STARS, is a 672-page tome, and I crammed everything I could into it, but had plenty to spare for the remaining two volumes.


    An energy-harvesting industrial station in the center of a blazing nebula, a huge derelict space city filled with the bodies of an extinct alien race, a hollowed-out comet that serves as a school. And of course there are incredible creatures: destructive elemental beings composed of pure fire, a race that lives in diamond-hulled chambers at the cores of gas-giant planets, a huge dragon insect that preys on a quiet fishing village—and the terrifying Shana Rei, the creatures of darkness, that are entropy incarnate with a desperate quest to unravel the universe itself.

    Yeah, all that would probably be too cost-prohibitive to film.

    I had so many colors and images in my mind as I came up with one idea after another, building upon concepts that I developed for previous scenes. I did my best to visualize them, but I’m no artist.

    Before writing the original Saga of Seven Suns, I hired one of my comic artists, Igor Kordey, to help me put it down on paper. I gave him the outline for the series, my write-ups of the history, the characters, and the cultures . . . and I turned him loose. Igor did close to fifty sketches, developing the architecture and clothing of the Ildiran Empire, and the magnificent crystalline Prism Palace, where the Mage-Imperator ruled. He sketched out the types of organic buildings that Therons would construct in their gigantic worldtrees.


    And he did more than sketches. Igor presented me with three complete paintings: a gypsy Roamer standing on the deck of a skymine looking down at the stormy clouds of the gas giant his factory was harvesting. Another painting shows a desert world with the empty ruins of a Klikiss city and the insidious beetle-like robots they constructed. And a third painting shows the bizarre and exotic hydrogue city in the high-pressure depths of a gas giant.

    I used those images as reference when I wrote my novels, and I built upon them, creating even larger landscapes. After all, I had an unlimited special effects budget and I intended to spend every penny.

    THE DARK BETWEEN THE STARS is one of my biggest, most ambitious novels ever. Writing it was immensely satisfying, and now it’s the reader’s turn to interpret those words, enjoy the story in their own minds on the screen of their own imagination—because as a reader, you have an unlimited effects budget too.

    And, yes, Book 2, BLOOD OF THE COSMOS, is written and I am editing it now for release next summer.


    Teaser Tuesday: HELLHOLE INFERNO

    Posted By on July 29, 2014

    On August 12, Tor Books will release HELLHOLE INFERNO, the grand finale of my science fiction epic trilogy with Brian Herbert.  To whet your appetite, here’s a sneak preview.

    The planet HELLHOLE, devastated by an ancient asteroid impact, is inhabited by only the hardiest and most desperate colonists.  It is one of 54 remote frontier worlds forced to pay tribute to the corrupt Constellation, which is ruled by decadent nobles.  An exiled rebel general, Tiber Adolphus, was tough enough to keep his colony alive on Hellhole, and he has now mounted a second rebellion against the Constellation, much larger than his earlier failed attempt.

    This time Adolphus aligns himself with the Xayans, a resurrected alien race from Hellhole, thought to have been destroyed in the long-ago asteroid impact.  As the ancient civilization awakens, the Xayans encourage converts from among the colonists to immerse themselves in strange “slickwater” pools and acquire ancient alien memories. Their goal is to gather sufficient numbers to achieve ala’ru, an accelerated evolution that will transform them into godlike beings.

    General Adolphus rallies his fellow rebels from across the vast Deep Zone to fight for their independence, while the ruthless leader of the Constellation, Diadem Michella, vows to eradicate the rebellion and all colonists on Hellhole.  The Xayans add their “telemancy” defenses to the General’s conventional military resources, until they reveal an enemy far more terrifying than the Army of the Constellation: a faction of rogue Xayans bent on the extermination of their race . . . and the destruction of any planet that happens to be in the way. The rogue Xayans have already turned worlds into rubble, and now they have set their sights on the original homeworld.

    As a barrage of deadly asteroids hurtles toward Hellhole, and the Constellation’s gigantic space fleet arrives for a final engagement against General Adolphus, the hardy settlers are caught between a human enemy that wants to raze their colony to the ground and much more powerful aliens who can destroy not only themselves, but human civilization, as well as the foundations of the universe itself.



    Three Constellation warships descended through a sky spider-webbed with vapor trails.  Pilots guided the bristling vessels to the staging field at the Aeroc military complex, where they joined the numerous other warships already landed in formation.  By now, Commodore Percival Hallholme had lost count of the new arrivals, each one with new armor and reinforced shielding, loaded with all the armaments the Diadem’s government could muster.

    As he assessed the massive preparations, Percival nodded to himself and muttered, “Putting everything on the line this time.”

    After stinging defeats at the hands of rebellious Deep Zone planets, led by his nemesis General Tiber Adolphus, the Constellation was expanding the war.  No hesitation, no reservations, no mercy.

    And not much of a plan, Percival thought, but he didn’t express such reservations out loud.  It would not be appropriate for the ostensible commander of the operation.

    This influx of additional warships—all of them rounded up by Lord Selik Riomini—increased the confidence among the Diadem’s fighters, although Percival knew that the sheer quantity of ships would not guarantee a victory.  He had faced General Adolphus before, numerous times, and in their last encounter at Hallholme—a planet named after the Commodore and not-so-affectionately nicknamed “Hellhole” by the colonists—Percival had suffered an embarrassing defeat, forced to retreat.

    Now it was time for a rematch.

    The Aeroc military yards were bustling.  The upbeat victory tempo of “Strike Fast, Strike Hard!” rang out from widely distributed loudspeakers.  The Commodore watched attack ships loaded with fresh, untrained recruits who had rushed to sign up after Diadem Michella saturated them with propaganda and fear. She painted Adolphus as a monster and a threat to human civilization itself, and worse, the rebel General had allied himself with a mysterious alien race that could possess innocent victims, filling their minds with bizarre memory-lives.

    The crisis was enough to inflame the population—at least those who believed the Diadem’s words and concurred with her fears.  Many people were not so easily swayed.  And Percival knew full well that the old woman’s portrayal was not precisely accurate. Nevertheless, he was bound by his duty.

    As he crossed the parade ground to the towering military headquarters building, he wore a crisp new uniform from the Army of the Constellation.  It was more modern and stylish than the old uniform he’d worn during the General’s first, failed rebellion fifteen years ago—back when Commodore Hallholme had made his name as a hero.  In historical images from those old battles, Percival had looked younger, fresher, bright-eyed, optimistic . . . and gullible.

    Although he still sported the same distinctive muttonchop sideburns and steel-gray hair, he looked older and thinner now, carrying the weight of years and regrets.  His degenerative limp was much more pronounced.  He had retired at the end of the last rebellion and intended to stay out of the limelight, wanting nothing more than to tend his grapevines, play with his grandsons, and let his son Escobar be the next renowned military hero.

    But as the new rebellion went sour, Percival had been dragged out of retirement and pressed back into service at the Diadem’s command. His fresh uniform was adorned with colorful, even gaudy, medals—some of them earned, some merely for show.

    Forcing himself not to show weakness or hesitation despite his chronic limp, he strode at a brisk pace that exuded authority.  With briefing documents tucked under one arm, he walked past fountains and military memorials, obelisks engraved with thousands of names of the fallen, but his thoughts were preoccupied. Diadem Michella and Lord Riomini had requested a special briefing, and Percival knew he would have to tell them what they wanted to hear.

    Five sleek fighters streaked across Aeroc’s sky, performing aerial maneuvers, which impressed those who were impressed by that sort of thing.  A man like Commodore Hallholme knew that combat would require more than tricks this time.

    He mounted the marble steps of the pillared headquarters building and glanced at the engraved quotes from past heroic commanders.  One of his own pithy sayings was included somewhere, but he had never bothered to find it.  Pennants of noble families hung outside the arched entrance, arranged according to their financial sacrifice.  Inside the hall, red banners carried the names of lesser families who had lost sons and daughters during the bloody battles of the General’s first rebellion.

    Percival lifted his chin and made his way down the oddly empty hall to the giant simulation chamber.  With a glance at his chronometer, Commodore Hallholme saw that he was precisely on time, and he entered.

    The curved ceiling of the simulation chamber was embedded with high-res holographic projectors.  During wartime the chamber had been used for combat scenarios and tactical planning, but in the decade of calm after Adolphus’s exile to Hellhole, it was primarily used for wealthy noble officers to experience immersive simulations of the Battle of Sonjeera or other famous engagements—particularly the ones in which Commodore Hallholme had defeated the rebel General.  That way the participants could imagine being heroes themselves.

    The Diadem and the Black Lord sat in VIP participation chairs in the prime viewing area.  They did not rise as Percival presented himself to them.

    Diadem Michella Duchenet was so ancient that she might have been a poorly preserved museum piece.  Thin and wrinkled, she was not frail, but intimidating in her old age, with bird-bright eyes and quick movements.  Defying her own mortality, Michella remained lean and healthy, kept herself fanatically fit, as if she intended to rule for yet another century.  Over her long reign, the old woman had survived many battles, and Percival knew not to underestimate her.  Generally, Michella liked to present a sweet, maternal demeanor, convinced that her people loved and adored her, but she was as comforting as a bed of glass shards.

    Beside her, Lord Riomini sat dressed entirely in black, as usual.  Two decades younger than Michella, the Black Lord’s body was soft, his eyes hard.  Though he was primarily a politician and businessman, he was not afraid of command and had seen battle first-hand.  But unlike a commander who simply had a war to win, Riomini had something to prove: he wanted to be the next Diadem.

    Percival held out his briefing papers. “I have the report you requested, Eminence.”

    Upon his return to Sonjeera in defeat, the Commodore had offered his resignation, but Diadem Michella refused to accept it.  Since then, he felt as if he were more of a military trophy than a useful participant.

    Instead of taking the report, Michella lifted a hand that was overburdened with jeweled rings.  “We are not here to discuss inventory, Commodore, but to talk about your upcoming conquest of the Deep Zone.  Fifty-four valuable worlds have broken away from the Constellation. We need them back.”

    Riomini added, “The lost wealth is incalculable.  The political embarrassment is even more devastating.”

    Arguments and replies boiled up within him, but Percival held himself silent.  Better to say nothing than to point out that this current clash was an unnecessary crisis of the Diadem’s own making.

    “Present your overview, Commodore.”  Riomini operated controls linked to his seat, and the vault filled with stars, showing the settled systems of the Constellation, the twenty central Crown Jewel planets and the fifty-four outlying Deep Zone worlds.

    Percival nudged the controls of the galactic model himself, calling up a standard template.  Bright blue lines radiated outward from the center of the star map to each one of those worlds.  Twenty established lines connected the Crown Jewels, and an additional fifty-four extended into the less-populated Deep Zone, connecting the dots.  “With Sonjeera as the hub for all stringline travel, Eminence, you control all of the stringline paths, and thus all commerce throughout the original Crown Jewels as well as the new DZ worlds.”

    Another nudge of the controls, and a secondary webwork of red lines radiated from one of the distant unobtrusive points—planet Hellhole—in a network that linked every one of the Deep Zone planets.  He was sure Michella understood the credible threat that Adolphus could wield—had wielded.

    “The General’s independent stringline network gives him a strategic advantage that we cannot overcome.  Now that he has secretly laid down those alternate iperion paths, the DZ no longer needs the Constellation.  And because his rebels are fanatically independent, they are willing to sever every one of the old lines binding them to Sonjeera if they feel threatened.  We know the General will do it, cutting the entire Deep Zone loose from the Constellation.  He’s already cut his own direct stringline to Hellhole.”

    That was how Adolphus had stranded the first Constellation retaliatory fleet—commanded by Percival’s son Escobar. The General had left the fleet adrift in empty space, and then he had seized all those ships, taking thousands of soldiers prisoner—including Escobar.  “It’s an ancient tactic, an army blowing bridges to deny the enemy access across vital rivers or canyons.  For General Adolphus, those canyons are many light-years wide.  If we attack him directly, he will do it without hesitation, and then we’ll never be able to get him.”

    Both Riomini and the Diadem listened, but they appeared bored.  “That is old news, Commodore,” the Black Lord said with a quirk of a smug smile.  “You’re not aware of what has changed.  That is why we summoned you.”

    Michella couldn’t contain her excitement.  “We have a route into the Deep Zone—one the General will not suspect.”

    Riomini reached out to touch the hovering image of an insignificant Deep Zone speck at the edge of the frontier network.  It glowed when he selected it.  “This is how you will achieve victory. Tehila.”

    Percival was familiar with the names of all Deep Zone worlds, but this one meant nothing to him.

    Michella explained.  “When the General declared independence for all the frontier worlds, by fiat, he did so without the knowledge, cooperation—or desire—of many Deep Zone worlds.  When he embroiled them in this unnecessary war, not every planet was pleased to be part of it.  In fact, most of them were shocked.”

    Riomini’s mouth twisted in a cruel grin.  “Theser was certainly shocked when I demonstrated the consequences of their unwise choice.”  The Black Lord had led a punitive assault that turned Theser into a smoldering, uninhabited rock.

    Percival still didn’t understand.  “How does Tehila factor into this? What is its significance?”

    The Diadem said, “Tehila’s planetary administrator Karlo Reming never had any desire to leave the Constellation, and now he wishes to come back into our protective embrace.  He and his people want our forgiveness.”

    Percival raised his eyebrows,unconvinced.  “All of his people want that?”

    “Enough of them,” said Riomini.  “Administrator Reming is about to stage a purge to get rid of any Adolphus loyalists.  Then he will seize and secure the stringlines, both the path to Sonjeera as well as their connection into the Deep Zone network.  Through him, we will have a back door right to the General’s doorstep.” 

    Michella’s papery lips formed a terse smile.  “The way will be wide open for you, Commodore.  Your fleet is almost ready.  Take those ships to Tehila, secure the planet and establish a beachhead from which to swoop down on the General.  Crush planet Hallholme just like the asteroid that struck centuries ago.”

    Upon hearing the new option, Percival felt an unfamiliar hope.  “That will give me a chance to rescue my son, along with the other prisoners the General is holding.”  He suddenly remembered.  “And your daughter too, Eminence.  I will do everything in my power to see that Keana is returned safely to you.”

    Michella gave an unconcerned wave.  “Defeating General Adolphus and restoring order throughout the Deep Zone is your primary goal, Commodore.  Naturally, I love my daughter, but she is an adult and she went to that awful planet of her own free will.  Now she’s been possessed by one of those hideous aliens.”  The old woman shuddered visibly.  “I doubt there is a cure for it, so I have to consider her already lost.  They are casualties of war—my daughter, your son.  A price we have to pay.”

    Riomini spoke up, as if wanting to make certain he was included. He shook his head.   “And my poor grandniece with her two boys, left fatherless when we lost Escobar.”

    “Escobar is still alive,” Percival said pointedly, “as far as I know.”

    “Yes, let us hope he is,” Michella added without any apparent sincerity.  “For now, begin planning your military operation.  Move your ships from Aeroc and stage them at the Sonjeera hub.  Be ready to move as soon as Administrator Reming has taken over Tehila and opened the door for us.”

    HELLHOLE INFERNO will be released in eBook formats and hardcover on August 12. You can preorder your copy now!  Also, as a special, Tor Books is offering the Kindle version of the first book in the trilogy, HELLHOLE for only $2.99 right now.

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