Kevin J. Anderson’s Blog

i write. i make up stuff. i adventure hard, so you don’t have to.
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    Meet the Watchmaker

    Posted By on April 4, 2014

    Before the release of CLOCKWORK ANGELS issue #1 from BOOM! Studios, I wrote the following article for Rush.com, but the Anarchist somehow contrived to have it fall through the cracks.  Here it is:

    Stories to fire my imagination…

    I can’t stop thinking big…

    While our loving Watchmaker loves us all to death…

    When Neil Peart first started bouncing ideas off of me for the story behind the new concept album Rush was developing, his excitement was clear. He had vivid images in his head, scenes for part of the story that would eventually become songs on the album: an innocent young man set up as a patsy in the middle of a steampunk carnival and left holding a bomb by an evil Anarchist, the fabled city of Poseidon that turns out to be far less than its legend would imply, lost cities of gold, pirates called the Wreckers who lured ships to their doom, and the ethereal mechanical Clockwork Angels, as well as the Big Brother-style Watchmaker who keeps the whole land running like clockwork.  Steamliners, quests, airships, sea voyages, mysterious pedlars—it all sounded wondrous to me.

    I have stoked the fire on the big steel wheels, steered the airship right across the stars…

    For months we developed the characters and stories as Neil wrote the lyrics, sending me each new song as it was finished, and I began to outline in detail what would become CLOCKWORK ANGELS: THE NOVEL. Hugh Syme began sending us paintings inspired by the scenes; I would send Hugh and Neil drafts of the chapters (and Hugh came up with the absolutely perfect honeybee symbol for the Watchmaker after reading an offhand description in one of my chapters; we liked that so much that the honeybee as well as the Watchmaker’s apiary, became a central focus for that part of the tale.  When I finally got to hear the rough cut of the whole album, hearing Alex’s guitars, Geddy’s vocals and bass, and of course Neil’s drums, the whole world of the Watchmaker suddenly took on a much more complex dimension. It came alive in my imagination, and I tried to make sure of that when I finished the novel.

    When the novel was published shortly after Rush launched the CLOCKWORK ANGELS tour, it immediately hit the New York Times bestseller list—thanks in large part to the legions of Rush fans who had preordered it. Not only was this the very first NYT bestseller the publisher, ECW, had ever had, we hit the bestseller list exactly on Neil’s 60th birthday, and I was able to text him with the good news just before he went on stage. Great way to start a show!

    But as we built the story, created the scenes, saw Hugh’s paintings, it became obvious to me that CLOCKWORK ANGELS was such a visual story that it seemed made for adaptation as a graphic novel. Two months before the release of the hardcover novel, I was at San Diego Comic Con as a guest, and, armed with a pre-release copy of the novel and color printouts of Hugh’s paintings, I had lunch with Ross Richie and Matt Gagnon from BOOM! Studios, one of the larger comics companies—big enough to be a powerful force in the market, but not so big that they were a mountain of bureaucracy.

    I also happened to know that Ross Richie, the publisher of BOOM!, was a big Rush fan.

    When I showed them the property, they immediately saw the potential and it didn’t take us long to decide this was a project we wanted to do.  With the release of the novel and my own promotional tours, as well as the extensive CLOCKWORK ANGELS tour, it took us a while to get the gears turning.  But now it’s all surging ahead…on a headlong flight.

    CoverA

    As for Neil’s background in comics, he wrote,”When I was growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, comic books were a VERY important part of my life. I devoured hundreds of them, I realize now — all of the superheroes, and everything else from Archie and Veronica to “Classics Illustrated.” (Some truly WEIRD ones, too — what was that bizarre giant creature that floated around holding a balloon?)

    “On a family car trip, I might be allowed to select two new comic books from a drugstore rack, and that was about as thrilling as could be for a suburban Canadian boy. Over the years, I shared all the typical flashlight-under-the-blankets experiences.

    “Comic books entertained me, delighted me, inspired me, and definitely taught me a few things, too. In Grade 8 I won a public-speaking medal for a speech about General Douglas McArthur that was “researched” in one of the World War II comics that were also popular in that era.

    “It occurs to me now that not only have I grown up with comic books, but comic books have grown up with me. The rise of the graphic novel has been a wonderful evolution, and I am very pleased that Clockwork Angels will be appearing in that genre. Kevin’s words and Nick’s art are making my visions live and breathe — a phenomenon I call “artificial reality” — and it is exciting to be a part of it.”

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    I have already written the first three scripts (of six issues)—NOTE: Five done now; BOOM! sent us some art samples, and both Neil and I loved the work of relative newcomer Nick Robles, whose color, style, and sensibilities seemed to match our vision perfectly.  Working together with the editorial team at Boom! we’ve created something special. The first issue comes out in March and is currently available for preorder on the Boom! Site (http://www.boom-studios.com/clockwork-angels-6-issue-subscription.html).

    The Watchmaker has time on his hands…

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    Some of the other artwork has been released in previous interviews, but here’s a special treat for rush.com: the exclusive premier of Nick Robles’s design for the Watchmaker, a man who is alchemically preserved, who has held Albion under perfect control for more than two centuries.

    While our loving Watchmaker loves us all to death…

    —Kevin J. Anderson

    Watchmaker v2

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    Teaser Tuesday: TWIST

    Posted By on March 18, 2014

    I just did a Hitchcock-style SF thriller for the Kindle Worlds program, an adventure in the universe of Marcus Sakey’s “Abnorm Chronicles,” which begins with the novel BRILLIANCE.  Amazon is launching their Kindle Worlds program and they commissioned me to play in Sakey’s sandbox. This is a tangential story to the novel, another adventure with superior-intellect mutations in the human race; you can probably read it without knowing the original novel.

    TWIST.  A serial killer is murdering Brilliants in Denver…and Agent Nick Cooper believes the killer may also be a Brilliant. The only witness is disabled vet Adam Lee—wounded in a Special Forces mission to Cuba to destroy Fidel Castro’s secret Brilliant academy. Though wheelchair-bound and trapped in his seventh-story apartment, Adam Lee has a special skill, his ability as a Brilliant, that allows him to use hints and reflections to see around corners and through the smallest cracks. If he pushes his ability, he may be able to identify the murderer…but that also makes him a target.   $3.99, only available in Kindle version (since it’s for the Kindle Worlds program).

    Anderson_TWIST_Final

    THURSDAY

    Chapter 1

     

    Shadows were opportunities. Places to hide, secret routes for movement, chances for a hunt.

    The streets were full of shadows.

    The streets were full of opportunities.

    Winding down after rush hour, traffic was sporadic around Denver’s Capitol hill. The sun had long since set, though the chill of night was just cutting its way through the air. Bright streetlights and buildings huddled together in an island of illumination, ceding the territory around alleys and side streets to the darkness.

    A form flitted between pools of light. Shadow to shadow. Taking advantage of the opportunity.

    On the edge of the neighborhood, apartment buildings thinned out to make way for ramshackle old homes that didn’t seem to know about Denver’s much talked-about facelift.

    The form stopped, wavering in the darkness in front of a particular rundown house. Flaking paint barely covered the sun-bleached walls. The battered windows were covered with sagging screens.

    Not a very impressive home for a supposedly superior Brilliant, someone who’d had a lifetime of undeserved advantages.

    Inside, a man wandered around the living room, casting a shadow of his own against thin interior curtains. Decisions. Opportunities.

    Stepping across half-dead grass of an untended lawn, the form climbed the porch steps, alert for the creak of wood, sticking to the shadows. But the porch light was too harsh, posing a problem.

    A risk, but necessary—the form unscrewed the entryway bulb, ignoring the burn of hot glass on gloved fingertips, and welcome shadows descended like a stage curtain at the end of a play. Porch and door vanished into darkness, creating more opportunities.

    Time to move on to the next step.

    Throwing a rock onto the warped wood of the porch, the form melted into the deeper shadow between door and window, becoming a part of the grays and tans of the home’s faded paint. The rock bounced and clacked, just loud enough.

    The interior curtain twitched aside. A man stared out of the living room, blinded by his own lights, scowling out at the mysterious noise but seeing nothing. Worthless Twist! His face turned, saw that the porch light was out. His lips moved, but the dingy glass pane muffled his curse. The curtain fell back into place. Footsteps moved toward the door.

    Coiled and tense in the shadows on the porch, gripping the weapon . . . waiting.  A smile.

    The front door swung inward with a creak, and the man peered out, annoyed but not afraid.  Big mistake. He reached up to check the light bulb in the entryway.

    Spinning away from the wall, the form detached from the background as if being born from a womb of shadows. Each step of the attack perfectly planned, like a blueprint of assassination.

    In the doorway, the victim was surrounded by a halo of dim light, blinded. Noticing the movement, he grunted in surprise. “Who the hell are you?” Instinct made him draw back into the doorway.

    No hesitation, one chance, leverage the opportunity. The form darted forward, tracked the victim’s movement, compensated, and threw a right jab. It was all so fast, carefully coordinated, the victim wouldn’t have a chance.

    But the Twist seemed to know the punch was coming and dodged out of the strike zone with astonishing speed.

    Unnatural. Yes, another freak.

    Another reactive right jab, harder this time, but the victim raised his hands, pivoted to the side, and grabbed the attacker by elbow and shoulder, tried to throw the assailant into the entryway. The scuffle was fast, silent, desperate. Reassess the attack plan, adjust alternatives. The angle and momentum of the move would put the victim in control—and slam the attacker’s head into the wall as a bonus.

    Can’t let that happen.

    Panic wasn’t an option. Fight or flight was an unevolved response. Finish the job.

    The victim could never have guessed beforehand that he would be a target, could not have anticipated this assault, but he defended himself smoothly with reflexes as fast as a cobra’s.

    Damned freak born with a DNA silver spoon in his mouth.

    Some people called them Brilliants, winners of an unfair genetic lottery, with mental gifts that made them feel oh so superior. A part of this man’s brain had developed abnormally in utero, allowing him to analyze patterns and predictively react. One percent of the population were born with the savant genes turned on. Without paying the price of Asperger’s or autism, he was a genius savant, rather than an idiot savant.

    And that one percent thought they could lord it over the rest of the ninety-nine percenters.

    The smug confidence showed in his reaction, as if he just assumed he was superior to any mere normal attacker. And that fact alone presented opportunities.  So predictable. Time to even out the percentages.

    As the Brilliant victim caught the punch and moved with the force of the strike, the attacker rolled in a follow-through, and momentum of defense concealed the real attack—the jagged broken whiskey bottle in the left hand.  Jab, thrust, twist.  Twist.

    Glass parted flesh. The killer floated through the air, everything seemed to slow to half speed. Like shark’s teeth, the bottle’s jagged sawblade ripped into the Brilliant’s throat. He reacted, but even freakish mental powers couldn’t reassemble spurting arteries.

    The victim grabbed at his neck, coughing, his words nothing more than a liquid bubbling red. He seemed to be asking Why me? What did I do? Who are you? But a Twist didn’t deserve answers.

    The man staggered backward into the house, still bleeding, still thrashing, but he was already dead. Maybe the freak thought it was important to live one percent longer than a normal human.

    The killer crouched, recovered, and watched with fascination, careful to avoid the spreading pool of blood. “Worthless, worthless, worthless.”

    As the victim took his time dying, blood spurted across the walls. He sagged to his knees.

    The killer gave an assessment. “One at a time. One at a time.” Even with his superior mental powers, the victim did not seem able to do the math. He fell forward into his own blood.

    Done with the kill, the form dropped the broken bottle and left the house to rejoin the shadows outside. Upping the percentages, a little bit at a time.

     

    MONDAY

    Chapter 2

     

    Twist.

    What a name, thought Adam.

    The elegance of the derogatory word was not lost to him, sitting as he was, trapped and isolated in his chair on the seventh floor, forced to live his life through other people, other actions. As a label, Brilliants sounded better, but Twists seemed more applicable to his own situation.

    He stared out the window, letting his one good hand slowly trail against the warm glass, lower and lower until the fingers touched his wheelchair. Watching—that’s all I can do now. Behind him, the main room of his apartment was open, with bookshelves on the walls but no furniture other than a comfy chair and coffee table in the middle of the room, nothing much to impede the movement of the motorized chair.

    Colorado sunshine pushed its way through the glass, but the warmth stopped at his skin. Inside, he felt cold. He gazed down the seventy-seven feet to the ground below, watching pedestrians who bustled through their days, ignorant of his gaze. He watched the rippling flutter of leaves on the nearest aspen—sixteen feet from the corner. Based on the movement of the leaves, the wind was moving at 4.5 miles an hour, maybe 4.3. He could also immediately estimate the speed of the traffic, from the silver Prius (17 mph), to the black Ford Expedition (an aggressive 31 mph), to the bicycle messenger (21 mph in short bursts as he wove among pedestrians and cars).

    Shaking his head, Adam tried to let go, but it was hard to shake military training. Special Ops had appreciated his gift as a Brilliant, once upon a time. Now that the use of those skills were programmed in, he would always notice the full suite of details, would always factor them into his observations. It was the only way he could force the world to make sense. It was the only thing he could do, trapped here in his apartment.

    That was the snapshot of Adam’s life now: observation and inaction. Vicarious living through other realities that were not his own.

    Last week his therapist, Ingrid Wolverton, had brought him an article from the New York Times. It was a summation of groundbreaking work from the 1980s, research done by Dr. Eugene Bryce, who had first discovered the phenomenon of Brilliants. Since Ingrid’s last house call, Adam had read the article ninety-four times, though he had memorized it in ten. One particular section had caught his attention, and he couldn’t get those words out of his head:

     

    Historically, the term savant was generally paired with another word, to form an unkind, but not inaccurate phrase; idiot savant. Those rare individuals with superhuman gifts were generally crippled in some way. Broken geniuses, they were able to recreate the lemon skyline after only a moment’s glance, yet unable to order a cup of tea; able to intuit string theory or noncommutative geometry and yet be baffled by their mother’s smile. It was as though evolution was maintaining equilibrium, giving here, taking there.

    However, this was not the case with the “brilliance.” Dr. Bryce estimates that as many as one in a hundred children born since 1980 have these advantages, and that these children are otherwise statistically normal. They are smart, or not. Social, or not. Talented, or not. In other words apart from their wondrous gifts they are exactly as children have been since the dawn of man.

     

    In his lap, the fingers of his hand curled into a fist as he repeated the words to himself: “as though evolution was maintaining equilibrium, giving here, taking there.” Evolution may have given Adam a gift of hyper-acute vision and kinesthetic sensitivity, but life itself had evened the scales, taking just as much away from him, if not more. Losing the use of three limbs? That seemed like an overpayment to him.

    Staring at his clenched fist, he ground his jaw together. The one available escape from his this hell came through the same gift that had cost him such a high price. “Micro detail analysis and projection,” his therapist—and the military—had called it.

    Others might have used the term voyeurism.

    But it was so much more than that to him. Adam’s special ability gave him a way out of his nonresponsive physical prison. He placed his one palm against the windowpane again, waiting. It was almost time.

    She would be getting off the bus soon. She would be walking down the street. Of all the needs to be filled in his vicarious life, Chloe trumped them all. How could she not?

    Adam’s ocular muscles began to twitch with anticipation. Spasming faster than he could voluntarily control, the ciliary muscles responded to his Brilliant subconscious as his brain hunted for details, assembled information, zooming in, zooming out, never giving his conscious mind a chance to catch up. Three dimensional constructs, models of the streets and apartments, formed in his mind’s eye. A reflection off of that window on the ground floor refracting from a man’s sunglasses, then caught in the rear-view mirror of a passing car, which in turn bounced off the store front window around the corner and down the street.

    Combined with the optical clues, subtle vibrations against Adam’s palm indicated how the outside world spoke to him through his window. For all the couldn’ts, for all the wouldn’ts, and for all the wasted wishes in Adam’s life, there was one thing he could do. He could see.

    Two and a half blocks away, around the corner and up the street from his window, the bus arrived. He smiled.

    She was home.

     

    Chapter 3

     

    Cooper tried to spread the files across his desk, but there just wasn’t enough room. The sparse offices of Equitable Services were cramped, implying that the task force had not yet attained the importance and visibility it deserved. Even as part of the larger Department of Analysis and Response, Equitable Services was less than a year old and had not yet earned the office space it needed to operate.

    For now, the task force assigned to track and monitor potentially dangerous Brilliants had been shoved into the equivalent of a storage closet just off Capitol Hill in DC. If the ES team could crack enough cases and get a few high-profile wins, however, maybe the agents would get a little more elbow room.

    Cooper tried to make more desk space by sliding the framed photograph of his wife and three-year-old son to the edge of the desk. Sorry, Natalie and Todd. When that didn’t make enough room, Cooper pushed the lamp in the other direction. Finally, he cleared sufficient real estate to spread out the case files of the killings in Denver.

    While others in the DAR hadn’t—yet—paid much attention to the random murders in Colorado, Cooper had spotted an emerging pattern, and that was his specialty.

    In his mind, thanks to his own genetic gift, everything from muscle motions to the decisions made by a fleeing suspect interlocked in a gigantic puzzle. The ability to recognize patterns from grand generalities to the subtlest twitch of a suspect’s cheek was what made him so perfect for this job.

    Precariously balanced on the edge of the desk, the lamp shed insufficient light on the spread of case paraphernalia, so he adjusted the angle to illuminate the photos. By seeing more detail, he could make more connections. four days ago, in Denver, the third murder of its kind had occurred in as many weeks. Every Thursday night, a new body was found, throat slashed open with a broken bottle, the murder weapon left at the scene, no fingerprints. The Denver PD had found no connection among the victims.

    Because of the randomness of the killings—and only three data points so far in a city where hundreds of violent crimes occurred each month, including a murder or two per week—the local police had trouble digging in and finding a pattern to link the murders. And they lacked the resources to give this an appropriate level of urgency.

    The crime-scene techs had found no trace evidence, no shoe prints, no surveillance video footage, no prints. Nothing connected the victims other than the fact that each was a military veteran, though of different times and different services.

    But Cooper had discovered a link that local police were unable to spot, due to confidential records. All three victims were Brilliants.

    But that registry was not available to the public. The killer must have known, somehow.

    DAR Crime Watch, a sophisticated software system designed by Brilliants working for the Department, had flagged these killings. Cooper paged through dozens of flags a day, searching for patterns that would let him notice any Brilliant who might be causing trouble. A watchdog. A safety net. That was what Equitable Services was designed to do.

    Denver’s throat slasher had caught his eye, though. Each large city had numerous murders, and this string of killings had not raised a particular hue and cry, at least not yet.  The victimology was scattershot—male, female, young, old—though it was reasonably obvious that it was the same killer.

    When he pointed out the possible pattern, suggesting that the killings warranted further attention, Director Peters was skeptical. “So you think somebody is hunting down and killing Brilliants, specifically?”

    “Yes, sir. Rowdies could use broken bottles in a bar fight, but these victims were stalked and attacked. Killed in their homes. It’s statistically impossible—at least highly unlikely—that three random victims of a throat slasher would just happen to be Brilliants. We’re only one percent of the population.”

    Peters had folded his hands across the desk in his office, which was much larger than Cooper’s. “Nick, I understand your concern, but the mission of Equitable Services is to make sure Brilliants don’t cause trouble for the rest of society, not to protect them from some human-supremacist vigilante.”

    Cooper, though, had continued to study the case, mulling over the details. Victim three, Dennis Bordki, retired Marine, was the one that had caught his eye. DAR databases logged him as a tier three kinesthetic reader. Cooper knew that no one but another Brilliant would be able to take down a kinesthetic reader in combat—especially not one with  military training.

    And if the murderer was himself a Brilliant, then this case would indeed fit the criteria for an Equitable Services investigation.  Cooper wanted to chase this flag, go to Denver so he could have a look around and use his particular skill to spot underlying threads.

    So far, however, Director Peters had denied Cooper the funding for the travel and the off-site operation. The man was his mentor, someone who wanted to encourage Cooper, maybe even indulge him. But there were budgetary constraints. Operating on a shoestring and fighting for every nickel, Equitable Services had to choose their cases carefully.

    “For the time being, we need to build the department’s track record,” Peters explained. “We need sure wins, not gut feelings. Something that’ll put a spotlight on us—and then we’ll be able to accomplish so much more.”

    Through his pattern sense, Cooper already knew this was a sure thing, and relevant to the ES mission, and he could see he was close to convincing the Director. He just needed a little more leverage.

    The task force had been created to find Brilliants, then expanded to track them down and stop those who would use their genetic abnormality to harm normals. Cooper believed in his job as a loyal member of Equitable Services with every inch of his being and every ounce of his will.

    Find new Brilliants, catalogue them, keep an eye out to spot the ones who meant to do damage. Who better to track down a Brilliant than another Brilliant? None of the advanced humans were registered anywhere other than the DAR, and Cooper was sure the killer didn’t come from inside the DAR.

    “Definitely not,” he said to himself now, sliding the photos around. He would keep his eyes and ears open.  Thursday was coming up in a few days.

    If Cooper was right, another Brilliant would turn up dead. If the body count reached four, all Brilliants, he would have a better shot of convincing Director Peters to let him go to Denver.

    A detail in the case photos caught his eye, and he brought out his personal datapad. Someday, if Cooper and his fellow agents did their job well and brought sufficient prominence to the team, then Equitable Services would be able to provide high-end datapads for all agents. Right now, he was one of only six agents left in the field. Without a sufficient budget even for adequate staff, no way could the DAR equip the agents with the technology they needed to do the job. Cooper provided his own datapad.

    He tapped the apps, calling up what he needed, while musing about the short-lived history of Equitable Services. It was an inauspicious beginning, with only twelve agents to start. Two had died, four had quit. But Cooper stuck around because he believed in their mission.

    The photo-library app finished loading, and he swiped through images of the previous two crime scenes, using the photo processing software to enlarge and enhance the details. Despite the grisly nature of the work, he zoomed in on each of the cut throats, putting the pieces together in analytical mode, studying the angle and depth of the wound, torn skin and blood spatter that could provide the tiniest hint that might shed light on the killer’s height and weight.

    He needed every piece of information, every insight, preparing himself.  He was sure that after Thursday there would be a fourth victim. Which would mean that—next piece of the puzzle—he would be headed to Denver before the week was out.

     READ THE REST OF THE NOVEL FOR $3.99. CLICK HERE

    You may also be interested in the original novel, BRILLIANCE, by Marcus Sakey

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    New Dan Shamble, Zombie PI cover: SLIMY UNDERBELLY

    Posted By on March 15, 2014

    Here it is from Kensington. A picture is worth a thousand tentacles!  The book will be released at the end of August, in time for signed copies at DragonCon!

    SLIMY UNDERBELLY

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    Appearances for MENTATS OF DUNE

    Posted By on March 14, 2014

    For many years, with each new book release, Brian and I have traveled around the country from bookstore to bookstore to sign copies for fans. With the release of MENTATS OF DUNE (did you get your copy?). we decided to try something different.

    Mentats Cover

    Brian and I—either in collaboration or individually—have four major hardcover releases from Tor Books in the next six months. And I have a couple of other newsworthy publications in that timeframe. We wanted to leverage all that excitement and energy. MENTATS OF DUNE is out in March, as is the first issue of CLOCKWORK ANGELS: The Graphic Novel from BOOM! Studios. THE DRAGON BUSINESS is out in April, along with the ECW trade paperback of CLOCKWORK ANGELS: The Novel and their reissue of my first novel RESURRECTION, INC. In June there’s the first book in the Saga of Shadows, THE DARK BETWEEN THE STARS, in July Brian’s ec0-thriller THE LITTLE GREEN BOOK OF CHAIRMAN RAHMA comes out in hardcover, in August HELLHOLE INFERNO is released, and in September is the fourth Dan Shamble novel, SLIMY UNDERBELLY.  Yes, plenty of books to show off!

    So I will be appearing at a marathon of major pop-culture expos over the next six months, beginning with Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle March 28-30 for the official debut of MENTATS OF DUNE as well as the launch of BOOM!’s Clockwork Angels comic.  This will be the only appearance where Brian Herbert and I are together to sign MENTATS. Afterward, he’ll be giving me a suitcase full of signed bookplates to give to fans at all my other shows! At Emerald City, BOOM! will also have a special **Emerald City Only** variant cover for the first issue of Clockwork Angels.

    Next up, after several days in Hollywood for the Writers of the Future workshop and awards ceremonies, I’ll be at FanX in Salt Lake City from April 17-19, then Dallas Comic Con May 16–18 and ComicPalooza in Houston May 23-25.  I’ll be teaching at a Writer’s Conference in Crested Butte, Colorado (ahhh, my beautiful mountains!), and then the following week I’ll be at Denver Comic Con (June 13–15), RushCon in Toronto  August 22-24, DragonCon in Atlanta August 28-September 1, and Salt Lake City Comic Con.

    These are some of the books coming out from now until September—

    Anderson_TWIST_Final CoverA Clockwork_Angels_01_Larrys_Comics_cvr_dressed CoverC Anderson_DragonBusiness_front_cvr_FINAL Clockwork TP ResInc  DarkBetweenTheSta  LittleGreen  Hellhole-Inferno  SLIMY UNDERBELLY

     

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    Teaser Tuesday: More MENTATS OF DUNE

    Posted By on March 11, 2014

    Today is release day for MENTATS OF DUNE, our thirteenth installment in the saga, follow-up to SISTERHOOD OF DUNE and the first new Dune novel in two years.  Enjoy another sample chapter—and I hope you’ll get the book from Tor Books (US) and Simon & Schuster (UK)

    If we accept advanced technology in any form, we will begin to make excuses and justifications for using it.  There are so many ways to take the wrong path and tumble down a slippery slope, down, down, down.  Loyal Butlerians, we must be ever-vigilant and strong!  The Emperor’s Committee on Orthodoxy does not go far enough.  If we let machines do even menial chores for us, they will soon become our masters again.

    I call upon all my faithful followers, across all the worlds of the Imperium, to demand that every planetary leader sign my anti-technology pledge.  If any refuse, my Butlerians—and God—will know who they are.  No one can hide.

    —Manford Torondo, citizen’s decree

    The idiocy of it all!  I cannot decide whether to laugh at Butlerian insanity, or weep for the future of our species.  What will those fanatics demand next?  The complete absence of medical technology?  Would they outlaw fire, and declare the existence of the wheel too dangerous?  Are we all to be relegated to huddling in forests and fields?

    Enough. This is the decree of Venport Holdings:  No VenHold cargo ship or passenger transport shall trade with any planet that signs Manford Torondo’s anti-technology pledge.  We will deliver no goods or passengers, share no communications, engage in no commerce with any world that shares his dangerous, barbarian philosophy.

    Make your choice: Do you prefer to bask in the glow of civilization, or cower in the shadows of primitive despair? Decide.

    —Directeur Josef Venport, formal business announcement

    Each time I solve a crisis, another springs forth like a noxious weed.  What am I to do, Roderick?  Problems come at me from all directions!

    I disbanded the Sisterhood school on Rossak because they were suspected of possessing forbidden computers—though I could never prove it, and they made me look like a fool.  And after what happened to our dear sister Anna when she was among them. . . .  What a terrible shame!  Will she ever be the same?

    When the treachery of the Suk doctors was exposed, I nearly broke them, too.  Despite their purported Imperial Conditioning, and even though I now force them to operate under close scrutiny, I do not trust them. Yet, with my numerous health issues, I have no choice but to let them tend me.

    Manford Torondo pressures me to adopt his Butlerian nonsense and follow his every whim, while Josef Venport demands the opposite.  They are both madmen, but if I ignore Manford Torondo, he can summon wild and destructive mobs. And if I don’t appease Venport, he holds our entire economy hostage.

    I feel like a man chained between two Salusan bulls pulling in opposite directions!  I am the third Corrino to sit on the Imperial throne since the defeat of the thinking machines—why is it so difficult to make my own citizens listen to me?  Help me decide what to do, dear brother.  As always, I value your advice above all others.

    —private Corrino correspondence, Emperor Salvador to Prince Roderick

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    Blind adherence to foolish ideas makes people act in ways that are demonstrably against their own interests. I care only about intelligent, rational human beings.

    —Directeur Josef Venport, Internal VenHold Memo

    The VenHold cargo ship emerged from foldspace precisely where the Navigator predicted—another example of how advanced his mutated humans were.

    From the high navigation deck, Josef Venport watched as his ship approached the planet Baridge.  Few crewmembers and no passengers were allowed in the vicinity of the Navigator’s tank, but Josef could go wherever he pleased. He owned the VenHold Spacing Fleet, controlled the creation of Navigators, and dominated most interplanetary commerce.

    His great-grandmother Norma Cenva had transformed herself into the first Navigator through super-saturation with melange, and Josef had created hundreds more because his expanded fleet needed them.  That effort had triggered a long cascade of requirements: in order to create more Navigators, he needed vast quantities of spice, which necessitated an expansion of operations on Arrakis . . . which forced the VenHold Spacing Fleet to make record-breaking investments, which in turn required him to make immense company profits.  One piece after another after another fell together like a beautiful puzzle.

    He hated it when some fool disrupted that pattern.

    His ship cruised in toward unremarkable Baridge, adjusting position as it entered orbit.  Shaking his head, Josef turned to his wife Cioba.  “I doubt they even know we’ve arrived.  If the barbarians hate technology so much, they must have gotten rid of long-range scanners and communication devices.”  He gave a rude snort.  “Maybe they wear furs instead of garments.”

    Cioba was a beautiful, dark-haired woman trained on Rossak by the Sisterhood before it was disbanded by the Emperor.  In a calm, reasonable voice, she said, “Baridge may have taken Manford Torondo’s pledge, but that doesn’t mean they’ve discarded all technology.  Even people who pay lip service to Butlerian demands may be reluctant to change their lives entirely.”

    Josef’s thick, reddish mustache bristled when he smiled at her.  “And that is why we’ll win, my dear.  Philosophical objections are well and good, but such extreme faith fades as soon as it becomes inconvenient.”

    The planet showed the usual blue of water, a white swirl of clouds, the browns and greens of land masses.  Inhabited worlds had a certain sameness, but Josef ground his teeth as he looked at this one, because of what it represented and the foolish decision their leader Deacon Kalifer had made.

    Josef did not have patience for short-sighted people, especially when they were in positions of power.  “This is a wasted errand.  We should not have expended the fuel and time to come here.  There’s no profit in gloating.”

    Cioba leaned close, touching his arm.  “Baridge deserves a second chance, and you need to remind them of what their decision costs.  Deacon Kalifer may have reconsidered by now.”  She stroked her husband’s thick hair.

    He touched her hand, held it, then let go.  “People often surprise me, but not usually in a good way.”

    Baridge’s turbulent sun was in the upswing of an active starspot cycle.  Formerly, the planet had been known for colorful aurora displays, which trapped and deflected much of the solar radiation, but a rain of charged particles still penetrated to the surface.  To protect themselves, the people of Baridge wore protective creams, covered their windows with filter films, and sheltered their streets with retractable canopies.  Orbiting satellites monitored solar activity and warned citizens when they should stay inside.  Advanced medical systems treated the resulting epidemic of skin cancers, and the population used melange heavily, which helped to protect them.

    Under normal circumstances, Baridge was well prepared for the dangers of the solar cycle, but Deacon Kalifer and his ruling cabal had recently bowed to pressure from Manford Torondo’s barbarian fanatics.  After accepting the Butlerian pledge and condemning Venport Holdings, Kalifer declared that his planet would henceforth be free from all tainted technology.

    And so, true to his word, Josef terminated trade with the planet.  He’d made it clear to the whole Imperium that his ships would not deliver equipment, luxury goods, melange, or other supplies to any world that embraced the Butlerian pledge.  Lesser shipping companies struggled to fill the need, but they ran lackluster and outdated fleets, and none had Navigators to guide their ships safely through foldspace, which resulted in a disastrous lost-vessel rate.

    Josef glanced up to the enclosed tank that held this ship’s Navigator.  He could barely see the twisted form swimming in the murk of spice gas, but he knew that this one had originally been a spy named Royce Fayed, who’d been caught trying to steal the secret of creating Navigators.  Josef had generously revealed those secrets to the man—by forcing him to become a Navigator.  Under the direct tutelage of Norma Cenva, however, Fayed had become one of VenHold’s best Navigators. Now that the transformation was complete, he was deeply grateful for the gift he had been given.

    The Navigator spoke through the tank speaker, “Arriving at Baridge.”

    Josef often had trouble conversing with Navigators, because their minds were so advanced.  “Yes, we are at Baridge.”  Did Fayed think him unaware of their destination?

    “I detect another vessel in orbit.  It is not a commercial ship.”

    With a shimmer, one of the metal bulkheads became a transmission window.  At high magnification, it displayed a warship in close orbit—not a vessel from the current Imperial Armed Forces, but one of the old cruisers from the Army of the Jihad, re-commissioned and used by the barbarians.

    Josef gritted his teeth when he saw the watchdog vessel light up as it accelerated toward them.  “It’s one of the half-Manford’s ships.”  He studied the craft on the transmission screen, saw its bristling guns, but felt no concern.  He had no doubt the warship captain would be arrogant, full of faith and unreason.

    Cioba’s brow wrinkled.  “Does it pose a threat to us?”

    “Of course not.”

    A raspy-voiced young man sitting at the helm of the Butlerian ship sent a transmission.  “VenHold vessel, you are forbidden at Baridge.  These people have sworn not to use your accursed technology.  Depart or be destroyed.”

    “It does no good even to respond, my husband,” Cioba said with a sigh.  “You can’t argue with zealots.”

    Although he agreed there was little point, Josef couldn’t keep his words inside.  He activated the transmitter.  “Strange, I thought VenHold placed an embargo on this planet, not the other way around.  It’s particularly odd to see such a vehement Butlerian follower flying a complex spaceship.  Doesn’t such sophisticated technology make you lose control of your own bladder?”

    The Butlerian captain would probably make some kind of rationalization about their technology being “used for the greater good,” or claim that it avoided being unacceptable because it was “in service of holy work.”

    When Josef’s image appeared on the screen, the warship captain recoiled.  “The demon Venport himself!  You have been warned!”  Surprisingly, he cut off the transmission.

    Cioba nodded toward the transmission window.  “He’s powering up his weapons.”

    “Manford Torondo has likely placed a bounty on my head.”  Josef found the idea as offensive as it was laughable.

    Without warning, the aging Jihad warship opened fire, blasting them with old explosive shells.  The kinetic bombardment hammered away at the VenHold ship’s advanced shields—another miracle invented by Norma Cenva—but the outdated weapons could inflict no harm.  VenHold’s defenses were vastly superior to anything the enemy had.

    “Make a log notation,” Josef said into the wall recorders.  “We did not fire first.  We committed no aggressive or provocative acts.  We have been attacked without cause and are forced to defend ourselves.”  He called down to the weapons deck, where personnel were already at their stations.  “Destroy that ship.  It annoys me.”

    The weapons officer had been anticipating the command, and a swarm of projectiles ripped forth and cut the Butlerian vessel to ribbons.  It was over in seconds, and Josef was glad he didn’t need to waste any more time.

    As she watched the fading glow of debris on the screen, Cioba whispered, “I thought you said that ship didn’t pose a threat to us.”

    “Not to us, but those Butlerian savages pose a threat to civilization itself. I believe this was a necessary punishment.”  He spoke to the Navigator.  “Are there other ships in the vicinity?  Cargo carriers, rival commercial vessels?”

    “None,” Fayed said.

    “Good, then the people of Baridge should be more tractable.”  He sent a transmission down to the surface, addressing Deacon Kalifer directly. He made certain the conversation was on a public band.  Josef guessed that many of the supposedly devout Butlerians there still had illicit listening devices, and he wanted them all to hear his words.

    Deacon Kalifer responded as soon as Josef made contact, which implied that the planetary leader had indeed been watching their arrival.  He probably also knew that the Butlerian watchdog ship was destroyed.  Good—another reason for the deacon not to be difficult.

    On the screen, Kalifer’s shoulders drooped and his skin sagged on his frame as if he’d chosen the wrong size from a rack.  His speech had a slow and ponderous quality, and his sentences always took longer to complete than Josef could stand.  Deacon Kalifer was a man who made every listener want to say Hurry up! 

    “Ah, VenHold ship, we hoped you would reconsider your embargo.  And I’m pleased that you came here in person, Directeur Venport.”

    “I came in person, but I’m not pleased with the reception.  Be thankful that rabid watchdog ship won’t cause you any more problems.”  This might not be a wasted trip after all; at the very least, it gave Josef a chance to twist the knife while the people of Baridge eavesdropped.  “I bring pharmaceuticals, specifically cancer drugs, and polymer creams to protect you against the radiation onslaught from the solar cycle.  I’ve also brought a team of the top doctors trained at the Suk School. They specialize in treating skin lesions and a variety of cancers, and they can help your people.”

    “Thank you, Directeur!”  Kalifer was so excited that he spoke quickly for a change.

    Cioba caught Josef’s eye and he could tell that she knew exactly what he was doing. Her shrewd business sense and keen ability to observe made her an invaluable asset to him.

    Keeping his tone neutral, Josef responded to Kalifer.  “We also have a large cargo of melange, which I know is popular here.  Baridge used to be an important VenHold customer, and we hate to lose your business.  We offer this special shipment at a discounted price, to celebrate our renewed trade.”

    When Kalifer grinned with relief, Josef hardened his voice.  “First, however, you must disavow your pledge to Manford Torondo.  You foreswore all advanced technology, but now you realize how irrational that was.  If you wish to restore trade with VenHold and receive these supplies—including our cargo of spice from Arrakis—you must publicly renounce the Butlerians.”

    He met Deacon Kalifer’s stare.  The planetary leader did not speak for a long moment—a pause even more extensive than his normal ponderous speech.  “But that is not possible, Directeur.  The population would riot, and Leader Torondo would send vengeance squads against us.  I beg you for a little flexibility.  We will pay higher prices if you insist.”

    “I have no doubt of that,” Josef said.  “But increased prices are not what I require.  For the good of humanity, this barbarian nonsense has to stop—and it will only stop when planets like Baridge choose civilization and commerce over fanaticism.”  He crossed his arms over his chest.  “This is not a negotiating ploy, Deacon.  It is my only offer.”

    Kalifer ‘s skin turned gray, and his expression sickened.  “I . . . I cannot accept, Directeur.  The citizens of Baridge will stand firm.”

    Though furious inside, Josef came up with an indifferent tone.  “As you wish, Deacon. I offered you my cargo first, but I can dispose of it at our next planetary stop.  I rescind my offer.  So long as you remain obstinate, we will make no further deliveries.  Good luck surviving the effects of your solar storms.”

    Cioba terminated the transmission.  Josef flared his nostrils, shaking his head and trying to calm himself.

    “They will change their minds soon enough,” she told him.  “I could see it in the deacon’s eyes, his slight flinch, the underlying anxiety in his voice.  They are already feeling desperate.”

    “But how soon will they recant?  I’m not inclined to keep giving them chances.”  Josef turned to the Navigator’s tank.  “Let’s go to the next planet on our list and see what they have to say.”

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    Editing new PULSE POUNDERS Anthology for Fiction River

    Posted By on March 10, 2014

    Last month, Rebecca and I were on the Oregon coast teaching an intensive, invitation-only anthology workshop (approx 46 students) with Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Dean Wesley Smith, John Helfers, and Kerrie Lynn Hughes—as the result of which, I’m editing a new anthology for the Fiction River series, PULSE POUNDERS, and Rebecca is editing a YA anthology called SPARKS.

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    photo by Annie Reed

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    photo by Kim Mainord

    PULSE POUNDERS stories “start with a bang, end with a bang, with a lot of bang in between.”  I read through a stack of 46 submitted manuscripts and also solicited other pieces for the book, including new thriller stories by David Farland, Kevin J. Anderson & Peter J. Wacks, Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch—and, as a special treat, a new and never before published thriller by Frank Herbert.  The rest of the stories I selected from that stack of 46 manuscripts…and it was a tough call.  After spending an entire day critiquing the submissions, I had to whittle down the stories I liked from the stories I LOVED, and even then I had to sacrifice some.

    Then Mark Lefebvre from Kobo came to the rescue at the end of the night, offering the funding for a Kobo special edition of the anthology, offering enough money that I could buy three more stories (15,000 words) in the budget, and I was able to accept some of the ones that caused me the most angst. I finally ended up with a magnificent 72,000 word book that will be out in late 2014.

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    I’ll submit the full table of contents as soon as I get the pieces polished and organized.  This is an excellent anthology from an excellent and diverse series.  I have a new Dan Shamble, Zombie PI story appearing in the upcoming Fiction River volume FANTASTIC DETECTIVES in the next couple of months.

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    A bunch of CLOCKWORK ANGELS covers!

    Posted By on March 6, 2014

    Can’t stop thinking big?  I’ve got a lot of new CLOCKWORK ANGELS to show off.

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    ECW Press is releasing the trade paperback of CLOCKWORK ANGELS the novel in May, with a lovely new Hugh Syme cover, a modification of his “Headlong Flight” painting. The trade paperback edition is less expensive (around $15) but it won’t have all the beautiful full-color illustrations. You can still get the hardcover from ECW or the eBooks in all formats from WordFire Press. Here’s Hugh’s new cover

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    BOOM! Studios will release the first issue (of six) of CLOCKWORK ANGELS: The Graphic Novel, scripted by me and with art by Nick Robles in a few weeks. The comic will debut at Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle on March 28, with a special exclusive cover for ECCC. There will be three variant covers in comic stores, an exclusive cover for the rush.com and BOOM! websites, and a limited cover for distribution with the Larry’s Comics chain.  All copies are about $4 retail.

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    Exclusive rush.com and BOOM! webstore cover

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    Larry’s Comics special cover

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    Emerald City Comic Con exclusive cover

    I will be at Emerald City Comic Con to sign copies of the issues, both at the BOOM! table and at the WordFire Press table.  Stop by to see me. (No charge for the autographs.)  Also, if you haven’t read the novel CLOCKWORK ANGELS yet, it’s being offered as part of a special “Truly Epic Fantasy Bundle” right now, one of nine major fantasy books by leading authors including Neil Gaiman, Brandon Sanderson, Tracy Hickman, David Farland, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, James Artimus Owen, Peter David, and Peter J. Wacks & Mark Ryan (and me and Neil Peart, of course).  Name your own price for all nine books—the bundle will be up for only three weeks at storybundle.com.

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    A Truly Epic Fantasy Bundle: Gaiman, Sanderson, Hickman, Farland, & more!

    Posted By on March 5, 2014

    I’ve participated in several book bundles over the past couple of years—horror, science fiction, fantasy—but I’ve never been so excited about such an awesome batch of titles from storybundle.com.

    The new “truly epic fantasy bundle” that debuts today from storybundle.com is a veritable Who’s Who of bestselling modern fantasy, featuring works by Neil Gaiman (an original American Gods novella!), Brandon Sanderson, David Farland, Tracy Hickman, James Artimus Owen, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Peter David, Kevin J. Anderson, and a collaboration between popular game designer Peter J. Wacks (Cyberpunk, Interface Zero) and prog-rock recording artist Mark Ryan (whose first Vizuddha album had 2 million downloads).

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    With storybundle.com, you can name your own price, pay what you think the books are worth, and you’ll get the first batch of six.  If you pay $12 or more, you’ll get three bonus books—Clockwork Angels by Kevin J. Anderson, The Immortals by Tracy Hickman, and The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson.  Note, this deal is available WORLDWIDE, in all eReader formats (with the exception of Brandon Sanderson’s title, which has a few restricted countries).

    A portion of the proceeds of this bundle goes to benefit the Challenger Centers for Space Science Education—a nonprofit that is close to my heart.

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    For full descriptions of the titles, see storybundle.com.  This bundle will be available for a limited time only, ends in three weeks.  It’s truly epic!

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    Teaser Tuesday: MENTATS OF DUNE

    Posted By on March 4, 2014

    A special treat this time, the first chapter of MENTATS OF DUNE, our follow-up to SISTERHOOD OF DUNE. The novel will be released in hardcover and electronic form in *one week*, next Tuesday.  Jacket copy:

    The struggle for humanity’s future continues.

     The thinking machines have been defeated after Serena Butler’s terrible Jihad. But now, civilization in the fledgling Imperium faces an even greater threat—human fear and fanaticism.

    Gilbertus Albans has lived a secret, artificially extended life for nearly two centuries: first as the young ward of the sadistic robot Erasmus, and then for eight decades after the Battle of Corrin, he has created a different identity for himself, by founding the Mentat School, a place where humans can learn the efficient mental techniques of thinking machines . . . a curriculum developed in part by Erasmus himself.

    But although Gilbertus’s great school teaches how humans can replace computers, it has attracted suspicion of the fanatical anti-technology group, the Butlerians, who despise any hint of the evil machines. Headmaster Gilbertus Albans has to walk an uneasy line between his own convictions and his compromises in order to survive against the fanatics, who are led by the madman Manford Torondo and his brutal Swordmaster Anari Idaho.

    Ancient Mother Superior Raquella has seen her beloved Sisterhood School on Rossak destroyed in a fit of pique by the volatile Emperor Salvador Corrino. She attempts to rebuild it on Wallach IX, with her most talented and ambitious student, Valya Harkonnen . . . who also has designs on becoming the Sisterhood’s next leader after the old woman dies. But Valya Harkonnen has another goal—to hunt down and exact revenge on Vorian Atreides, the legendary and near-immortal hero of the Jihad, whom she blames for her family’s downfall.

    Meanwhile, Josef Venport—head of Venport Holdings and its expansive Spacing Fleet—conducts his own war against the Butlerians. The large VenHold Spacing Fleet controls nearly all commerce throughout the planets in the Imperium, thanks to all the superior mutated Navigators that Venport has created, under the guidance of the great Norma Cenva.  Josef Venport places a ruthless embargo on any planet that accepts Manford Torondo’s anti-technology pledge, hoping to starve them into submission. But fanatics, when pushed into a corner, rarely surrender easily. . . .

    The Mentats, the Navigators, and the Sisterhood all strive to achieve the improvement of the human race. But all know that as Butlerian fanaticism grows stronger and more widespread, the battle is not just one for personal glory . . . but to choose the path of humanity’s future—whether to embrace civilization, or to plunge into an endless dark age.

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    What do all our accomplishments matter, if they do not last beyond our lifetimes?

    —Headmaster Gilbertus Albans, Mentat school Archives

    The great Mentat school was his—from the initial concept seven decades ago, to choosing this location in the remote marshes on Lampadas, to the many graduates he had trained over the years.  With quiet efficiency and determination, Gilbertus Albans was changing the course of human civilization.

    And he would not let Emperor Salvador Corrino or the fanatical anti-technology Butlerians take it away from him.

    In the nearly two centuries of his artificially extended life, Gilbertus had learned how to survive.  Realizing that controversial and charismatic figures tended not to remain alive for long, he played his public role with great care—remaining quiet and unobtrusive, even consenting to distasteful alliances that, according to his projections, helped the overall goals of his Mentat school.

    Mentats: humans with minds so organized they could function as computers in a reactionary society that reviled any hint of thinking machines.  Not even his own trainees knew that Gilbertus secretly drew upon the unique background, wisdom, and experiences of his mentor, the notorious robot Erasmus.  He feared that even his most supportive students would balk at that. Nevertheless, after years of consistently reliable performance, his Mentat graduates were becoming indispensible to the noble houses of the Imperium.

    In such dangerous times, though, any question or mere suspicion could bring down the school.  He knew what had happened to the Sisterhood on Rossak.  If he made the slightest mistake and revealed his true identity . . .

    Inside his office in the main academy building, he glanced at the chronometer.  The Emperor’s brother, Roderick Corrino, was due to arrive on a sanctioned military transport, to confirm that their sister was safe in the care of the Mentat school.  Some time ago, Gilbertus had promised the Corrinos that his rigorous teaching methods could help the mentally damaged girl to improve, if not thrive.  But the human mind was a tricky thing, and the damage done to her brain by the Rossak poison was not quantifiable, nor could the young woman be cured in any obvious way.  Gilbertus hoped Roderick Corrino understood that.

    Before emerging into the school commons, he donned his distinguished carmine-red Headmaster robe.  He had already attended to his makeup for the day—dusting false gray into his hair, roughening his skin—in order to hide his youthful appearance.  Now he hurried, knowing that the Imperial military shuttle would arrive on time.  He had to make sure Anna was ready to put on a good show for her brother.

    Gilbertus left the academy building and shaded his eyes.  The bright air was sopping with humidity; each suspended droplet seemed to hang in front of his eyes like a magnifying glass.  Wooden walkways connected the school structures that floated on the edge of a murky marsh lake.  Originally the school had been anchored farther out in the water, but after problems with aggressive aquatic creatures, the entire complex had been moved to a more protected position on the shore.

    Now the school included a mixture of the original structures and new ones that looked more elegant, with domes and elevated observation decks.  Bridges at varying levels linked the dormitories, study halls, laboratories, meditation buildings, and libraries.  High defensive walls surrounded the entire complex, augmented by a hidden suspensor grid, sophisticated underwater electronics, and watchtowers.

    While portions of Lampadas were bucolic and pleasant, this lake and the bordering swamps were the planet’s razor edge, fraught with hazards and predators.  As the Headmaster made his way to the observatory, swamp sounds burbled into the air, and a hum of biting flies swirled around him.  This was no serene environment where students could develop their mental skills through hours of uninterrupted meditation.  Gilbertus had chosen this inhospitable area with a specific purpose in mind.  He believed the danger and isolation would help focus the minds of his elite candidates.

    Even with the school’s defenses against natural hazards, Gilbertus was actually more concerned about what the increasingly unpredictable Butlerians might do.  A sophisticated military force could easily destroy the school with an aerial or space bombardment, but the anti-technology fanatics would use no high-tech weaponry; nevertheless, their overwhelming numbers could cause great havoc, as they had already proved with mob uprisings on several worlds in the Imperium.  Gilbertus had to walk a fine line.

    On the surface, the Butlerians applauded the basic underpinnings of Mentat training—that humans could do anything thinking machines could, and more.  Their leader, legless Manford Torondo, often made use of Mentat calculations or strategies to achieve his ends, but he was also suspicious of any open exchange of ideas during lively discussions among the students.  In an earlier semester, Gilbertus had exposed the school to great danger when he suggested during a hypothetical intellectual debate that thinking machines might not be as terrible as Butlerian propaganda made them out to be.  The school, and Gilbertus himself, had barely survived their backlash. He had learned his lesson.  Since then he’d remained quiet and conciliatory to avoid inflaming anyone again.

    As he walked toward the outbuildings, one of the minor administrators transmitted an alert that the Imperial shuttle was on descent.  Gilbertus touched his earadio. “Thank you.  I will bring Anna Corrino to the landing zone.”  He hoped she was having one of her lucid days, so she could interact with her brother, rather than remaining lost in a mental maze.

    The school’s tallest building served as a naked-eye observatory, where Mentat students could study the universe, count the stars at night, and memorize the infinite patterns as a recall exercise.  During the day, the high open deck would be empty—except for Anna Corrino, staring at her surroundings.

    The young woman was fixated on the local landscape, where a labyrinth of sangrove trees created an impassable barrier to the east, and soupy marshes, quicksand, and tangled stagnant waterways made travel difficult to the south; the large, shallow marsh lake bounded the school to the north and west.

    Gilbertus stepped up next to Anna.  “Your brother is coming.  He will be glad to see you.”

    She did not acknowledge the Headmaster, but a small twitch in her cheek and a flicker of her eyelids told him she was aware of his presence.  She turned to stare at a drained section of swamp that served as a landing field for shuttles and local flyers.  Dangerous lake beasts had damaged the previous raft airfield, making it impractical to keep under repair.

    His primary aide Zendur and a crew of Mentat trainees used blunt-nozzle devices to spray fire streams across the marsh grasses, clearing an area for Roderick Corrino’s shuttle.  Because vegetation grew so rapidly here, the landing zone had to be groomed for each expected arrival; Gilbertus did not have trainees maintain the site otherwise, since he didn’t want to encourage unexpected visitors—Manford Torondo in particular.

    Anna did not take her eyes from the clearing crew as she spoke.  “How many flies do you think they’re killing?”

    “Or how many blades of grass?” Gilbertus said, knowing it was a game for her.

    Anna considered the problem.  “If I knew the acreage of swampland for the landing field, I could calculate a probable distribution of grass blades.  Given a certain amount of swamp grass, I could estimate how many flies are likely to inhabit it.”

    “And how many spiders to eat them,” Gilbertus suggested, trying to keep her thoughts nimble.

    “I can make a cascade projection following the food chain.”  Anna’s narrow shoulders twitched, and she formed a small smile, turning to focus on him for the first time that day.  “But it doesn’t really matter, does it?  Because the grass will grow back, the flies will return, the spiders will eat them, and the swamp will reclaim its territory—until the next time we clear it.”

    “I am going to meet your brother’s shuttle now.  Would you join me?”

    Anna considered.  “I prefer to wait here and watch.”

    “Prince Roderick is anxious to see you.”

    “He is a good brother. I’ll talk with him . . . but I need time to arrange my thoughts first.  I’ll be ready when you bring him here.  I don’t want to disappoint him.”

    Neither do I, Gilbertus thought.

    #

    After clearing the landing zone, trainees smothered the brushfires, then raked the area clear of charred vegetation.  Although the air retained an odor of damp ashes, Gilbertus found it more pleasant than the swamp’s usual miasma.

    As the Imperial shuttle landed, the Headmaster crossed a series of temporary boardwalks to meet Prince Roderick.  The small diplomatic vessel bore the golden lion insignia of House Corrino, but it was not a gaudy craft.  It had been ferried to Lampadas aboard an Imperial military spacefolder.  Only two people emerged and stepped down the ramp, with no entourage.

    The tall, erect man was Prince Roderick, blond and handsome, with patrician Corrino features.  In a flicker of Mentat recall, Gilbertus reviewed the nobleman’s file: the Emperor’s younger brother had a wife (Haditha), a son (Javicco), and three daughters (Tikya, Wissoma, Nantha).  Known for his calm disposition and sharp mind, Roderick advised the Emperor in most things, and Salvador generally listened to him.  By all indications, he was content to be an adviser rather than a ruler.

    The old woman who accompanied the Prince was a surprise: Lady Orenna, called the “Virgin Empress” because she had been wife to Emperor Jules Corrino, but she had borne him no children (and supposedly never shared his bed).  Instead, the children of Emperor Jules—Salvador, Roderick, and Anna—had three different mothers, all concubines.

    Gilbertus’s thorough Mentat review was so swift that the visitors did not notice the pause.  He stepped forward.  “My Lord Roderick and Lady Orenna, welcome to the Mentat school.  I just spoke with Anna. She is preparing herself to receive you.”

    Roderick gave a quick nod.  “I look forward to observing her progress.”  He looked disappointed that his sister hadn’t come to greet them in person.

    “She is safe, stable, content,” Gilbertus said.  “The routine of the Mentat school helps her.  I caution you not to expect miracles, though.”

    Lady Orenna maintained a bright smile.  “I miss the poor girl, but I want what’s best for her.  I’ll sleep better on Salusa if I can see with my own eyes that she is happy here.”

    As he tried to process why the old woman had come here, data clicked into place in Gilbertus’s mind.  Though Orenna was not Anna’s mother, the Virgin Empress had taken the young woman under her wing, and the two had a special relationship.  Anna had always been a flighty girl, easily distracted, with a swinging pendulum of emotions and an utter lack of common sense.  Disappointed in the unruly girl, Salvador had banished her to the Sisterhood school on Rossak, but there her mind had been damaged rather than improved.  And now she was here.

    “You will find that she is healthy,” Gilbertus said.  “Mentat techniques offer the best possible chance for recovery.”

    Roderick was efficient, all business.  “Our visit will be quite brief.  We’re at the mercy of our transportation—this shuttle was a special dispensation, at the request of Emperor Salvador, since VenHold ships refuse to service Lampadas.  The military spacefolder is finishing a grand patrol and needs to return to Salusa Secundus.”

    The feud between the anti-technology Butlerians and the commercial empire of Venport Holdings had grown more bitter over time, with mutual antipathy spiraling into outright conflict. And the Imperial throne was caught up in the dispute.  Instead of traveling aboard a safe VenHold spacefolder, guided by mysterious and infallible Navigators, Roderick had been forced to come here on a less reliable military transport.

    Lady Orenna was clearly displeased that they would have to depart so quickly.  “We traveled a long way to visit Anna.  I don’t like to be rushed.  We are the girl’s family—the Imperial Armed Forces should alter their schedules for our convenience.”

    Roderick shook his head, lowered his voice.  “I’m also disappointed, but I don’t want to disrupt the workings of the military, because they have to appear strong and reliable. We can’t simply commandeer a VenHold commercial ship and force Directeur Venport to do our bidding.”

    The older woman said with a sniff, “And why not? A loyal citizen should do as the Emperor requests, not the other way around.  Your father would have crushed such insubordination.”

    “Yes,” Roderick said, “he probably would have.”

    Gilbertus said, “My school is a place where Anna can be sheltered from the stress of political tensions.”  He knew that Roderick’s brother was weak, indecisive, and easily intimidated.  Emperor Salvador did not have the power to force his will on either the shipping magnate or the legless Butlerian leader.

    In these days of perilous politics, though, Gilbertus had learned to keep his thoughts to himself and to maintain neutrality.  He had impressed that caution on his students as well: The ideal Mentat should never be a commentator or an advocate, but a tool, an analytical device to offer guidance and projections.

    “You have no political tensions here?” Roderick muttered. “Your school is too close to the Butlerian headquarters for my liking.”

    “Manford Torondo is on the other side of the continent, my Lord, and he has no dispute with the Mentat school. In fact, several of my trainees follow the movement.”  Though not my best students.  “We teach humans mental skills that are the equal of any thinking machine.  Every Mentat graduate who goes out to serve in the Imperium demonstrates that computers are unnecessary, and so Manford applauds us.  Why should we worry about the Butlerians?”

    “Indeed, why?” Roderick asked, but didn’t answer his own question.

    Anna was waiting for them on the observatory deck, still gazing across the landscape.  Out in the tangled sangrove swamps, a group of Mentat candidates worked their way through winding channels of brownish water and unseen pits by making use of stepping stones hidden just beneath the surface.  Any Mentat who had memorized exactly where to walk could find the safe stones.  Now, as the practicing candidates worked their way through, some of them slipped off the path.

    As far as Gilbertus could tell, Anna hadn’t moved from when he’d left her, but her demeanor was different.  Her expression was more animated than the affectless, fixated stare that indicated she was hyper-focused on some detail or calculation.  She brightened upon seeing her brother and Lady Orenna.

    Orenna embraced the girl.  “You look well, Anna!  Much stronger.”

    Roderick looked relieved, even proud. He whispered to Gilbertus, “Thank you.”

    Anna said, “I am having a good day.  I wanted to have a good day for your visit.”

    “And I’m glad you’re safe,” Roderick said.  “The Mentat school has                                             many hazards.”

    Gilbertus said, “We have installed additional defenses.  We can protect your sister—and all our students.”

    As if to challenge his assertion, a commotion occurred out in the swamp.  A spine-backed reptile lunged out of the brownish water where the Mentat students were picking their way across the submerged stepping-stones.  The creature snatched the nearest student in its long jaws and dragged her into the deeper channel.  Both predator and prey vanished as swiftly as a glimmer of sunlight on rippled water.

    The Mentat students sprang together, ready to defend themselves, but the swamp dragon already had its meal and was gone.

    Wide eyed, Orenna shouted, “How can you protect Anna?  You weren’t able to protect that young girl!”

    Gilbertus did not let himself show emotion at the loss of the student.  “Anna is not allowed outside the walls or on the lake.  You have my personal guarantee of her safety.”

    “And what about an outside attack?” Roderick said.  “Anna would make a valuable hostage.”

    Gilbertus said, “We are a small school for the development and improvement of the human mind. Mentats pose no threat to anyone.”

    Roderick gave him a skeptical look.  “You’re being coy, Headmaster.”

    “I am stating a fact.  We have run many projections and developed defenses against all likely scenarios.  It is what a Mentat is trained to do, my Lord.”

    Orenna stroked the young woman’s arm.  “Protect your school at all costs.  You have an incalculably precious treasure in Anna.”

    Gilbertus nodded, but he was thinking instead of the priceless Erasmus memory-core, which he kept hidden in the school.  Protecting the last independent robot was an ongoing risk more dangerous than anything he’d been discussing with the Imperial visitors.  “Yes, many treasures.”

     

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    Superstars Writing Seminar 2014

    Posted By on March 4, 2014

    The first week of February, we held our fifth annual Superstars Writing Seminar, this year in our permanent home of Colorado Springs. We had our usual primary speakers Brandon Sanderson, David Farland, James Artimus Owen, Eric Flint, Rebecca Moesta and me. Our guest instructors were Diana Gill from HarperCollins,  Lisa Mangum from Shadow Mountain Books, Mark Lefebvre and Christine Munroe from Kobo, as well as a few others. With about 70 attendees—including many returning students from previous years—we had a fantastic time.

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    Superstars is a three-day seminar devoted to the business side of writing and career building, NOT the craft of writing. As such, we’re different from most other workshops out there. We’ve also built an extremely tight-knit community among our students and instructors.

    The mountain setting at the base of Pikes Peak was marvelous, although an astonishing cold snap arrived the day before the seminar. As an extra activity, I took a group of students on a hike around the spectacular Garden of the Gods the day before the seminar started…lovely scenery, but not too enjoyable with actual temperatures of –15°F !  Later in the afternoon, when setting up for the seminar, we had a room full of eager volunteers helping us to put the room together. Since all the attendees had met one another on the Facebook page, it was like a gathering of old and new friends.

    The seminar started bright and early Thursday morning (too early, according to the non-morning people!). After introductions, I gave my “Popcorn Theory of Success” talk, followed by Eric Flint’s hour on publishing economics. Then IP and copyright attorney M. Scott Boone gave a lecture on copyright, trademark, and intellectual property. For the afternoon, we had panels on collaboration (Kevin Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, Eric Flint, James Owen), making money in Hollywood with David Farland, the YA Market (Lisa Mangum from Shadow Mountain press), and then Rebecca and I gave our talk on the dirty secrets of being a professional author. We ended the day with a Q&A session.  Afterward, we all met for an open mixer.

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    Friday was primarily an indie publishing day. The sessions opened with Diana Gill’s (HarperCollins) talk about the changes in publishing from the New York perspective, followed by Mark Lefebvre (Kobo) lecturing on eBooks and indie publishing. These talks were balanced by a panel with me, David Farland, James Artimus Owen, Eric Flint, and Mark Lefebvre, discussing different paths—indie, traditional, and hybrid authors. Romantic suspense author Terry Odell gave a talk on her experiences with ACX and audiobook publishing.

    After a networking lunch, Jeff Brazell from the market research group The Modelers delivered an eye-opening talk with incredible fresh statistics on book buying patterns, price points, eBook categories, etc. A panel of indie authors described their experiences in the trenches working on their own books. Diana Gill, Rebecca Moesta, Lisa Mangum, and freelance editor Joshua Essoe gave a panel on the importance of having an editor. Before the Q&A session, James Owen closed the day with his always-crowd-pleasing Drawing Out the Dragons talk.

    The highlight of Friday night was the VIP dinner held at Colorado Springs’s famed Phantom Canyon Brewery. At the sold-out dinner, tables were set up with one instructor and five students for hours of up-close conversation (oh, and excellent food, too).

    Saturday morning began with my talk on increasing your writing productivity, then an energetic panel about “breaking the code” of what editors are really looking for (with Diana Gill, Lisa Mangum, Kevin J. Anderson, and literary scout and former agent Christine Munroe). Eric Flint delivered his nuts-and-bolts dissection of a book contract, clause by clause.  Christine Munroe, Brandon Sanderson, and Diana Gill gave a panel on literary agents. After another networking lunch, Brandon Sanderson gave a solo talk on going from being a newbie writer to a bestselling writer in only a few years; I joined a panel with David Farland, Brandon Sanderson, and James Owen on publicity and self-promotion. Our last session was on how to balance your writing life and your personal life.

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    James Owen draws out the dragons for a young girl in the hotel lobby.

    Next year’s Superstars is already set for February 5-7 in Colorado Springs. We will have the usual Superstars instructors, Kevin J Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, David Farland, Eric Flint, James Artimus Owen, and Brandon Sanderson, with guest instructors mega-bestselling indie author Hugh Howey , Toni Weisskopf, publisher of Baen Books, Christine Munroe from Kobo, and a representative from worldwide reading site Wattpad.

    We are accepting signups now on the Superstars Writing Seminar main site. Early-bird pricing is currently available.  If you are interested in purchasing the MP3s of previous years, or preordering the audios of the recent 2014 seminar, see the MP3 page.

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