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Five new military SF novellas by five high-profile military SF writers. FIVE BY FIVE. WordFire Press released this volume as an eBook last year. Now, for those of you who prefer to read in hardcopy or listen to an unabridged audiobook, FIVE BY FIVE is also available.
It’s a war out there. In these pulse-pounding tales, the best (or worst) soldiers in the galaxy are pitted against powerful aliens on distant battlefields. Never before published stories about monsters, deadly combat tech, treachery, and honor:
Big Plush by AARON ALLSTON—The Dollgangers, artificial people made in mankind’s image, take up arms in a desperate bid to win their freedom.
Comrades in Arms by KEVIN J. ANDERSON—A damaged cyborg soldier and an enemy alien fighter turn their backs on the war and try to escape. But the human and alien governments can’t tolerate the two deserters working together, so they join forces to hunt them down.
Shores of the Infinite by LOREN L. COLEMAN—Separated from command & control, Combat Assault Suit troopers force a beachhead to liberate a new planet from the cyborg threat.
The Black Ship by B.V. LARSON (a mech novella from the Imperium Series)—A human settlement on the deadliest planet ever colonized clings to life … but today new invaders are coming down from the stars.
Out There by MICHAEL A. STACKPOLE—The Qian have discovered humanity and welcomed them into their star-spanning empire. The benefits they offer humanity are many, and they don’t want much in return: just the best human pilots available to take apart a most diabolical enemy.
Click here to order your print copy ($14.99) or order from any bookstore.
Click here to download the audible.com audio version (over 9 hours). $5.59
I have just gathered the next batch of five military SF novellas for FIVE BY FIVE Volume 2—Aaron Allston, Kevin J. Anderson. William C. Dietz, R.M. Meluch, and Brad R. Torgersen. Look for it in about a month.
Frank Herbert published his first novel in 1956, the highly acclaimed futuristic thriller, The Dragon in the Sea. Despite the success of Dragon, though, Frank Herbert spent the next several years writing novel after novel, unable to get them published. Then he wrote Dune, a novel that was also considered unpublishable…and eventually became the best-selling science fiction novel of all time.
We have several complete, finished novel manuscripts that Frank Herbert submitted to publishers but was unable to sell them. WordFire Press just released the second of these novels, ANGEL’S FALL, written in 1957—a gripping thriller set in the South American jungles. After a plane crash deep in the Amazon, freelance pilot Jeb Logan has to keep himself and his passengers alive in a gruelling trip downriver. Adrift in the wreckage of the plane with Jeb are a beautiful singer, her young son, and a ruthless murderer clinging to the last thread of sanity. With supplies running out and nature itself turning against them, this small desperate group struggles to survive against the jungle—and each other.
ANGELS’ FALL is available in trade paperback print format ($15.99) or in all eBook formats ($8.99)
For a free taste, here is the first chapter:
In that stealthy moment just before awakening, a nightmare invaded Jeb Logan’s mind. It implanted an empty feeling that became—at the actual moment of awakening—a premonition.
And that set the pattern for the day.
It was a slow day starting. The first black clouds of the Ecuadorian wet season delayed the dawn. Daylight came somnolently out of darkness like a woman stirring beside her lover. Then the morning wind herded the clouds eastward toward the jungle.
But there was still no rain, and a dusty haze shrouded the dry highlands. It gave the sky the color of sifting ashes.
Sunlight flattened out in a few mica brilliants against the eastern edge of the Andean foothill town where Logan lived. The town was called Milagro after a local miracle, a legend recounted innumerable times: A young boy suffering from a jungle fever had awakened from a deep dream of his own and staggered into the dusty streets. Pointing to the sky, he shouted in Spanish, “See the angels! See the angels!”
The villagers had stared, and the little boy collapsed, sweating, burning. Some of the watchers thought they might have seen angels, too, up in the sky. The fever had already taken many of the people, and yet this boy miraculously recovered. He claimed that as he slept, shivered, sweated, all the while he had been with the angels. Milagro. Miracle.
In Jeb’s own dream, a much darker dream, he had seen angels too. Great, soaring, heavenly creatures with pearlescent wings, surrounded by a halo-glow that was part humidity in the air and part the shine of a heavenly deity. In his dream they had been watching over him, soaring ahead as Jeb made his own way on a quest through the jungle, winding and curving on a course that made sense only with dream-logic. His path was twisted, unpredictable, and when he made the wrong choice and took an incorrect turn, the angels did not bless him for his independence. Rather, they reeled, struggled to attain heaven, and instead they tumbled, falling from the sky.
In the nightmare, Jeb had watched, felt the warning, the premonition. Yet he continued. This was his quest, not one determined by the angels of Milagro or anywhere else.
He had a journey to make.
He met a boat down at Puerto Bolivar. He had still been hypnotized by the mystery and the hothouse odor of the jungle above the coastal town. A luminous-eyed man all in white had squatted in the thick shade of the corrugated iron customs building, singing to the tune picked out on a pearl-inlaid guitar:
“Give me a while longer, death –
Stay your hand while my river flows on.
I do not yet want your dark sea.
For I have a love with grey smoke in her eyes,
And farewells are difficult for my tongue.”
Jeb remembered his piecemeal translation of the song, stumbling through his rusty high school Spanish. Well, two years had changed that: now he could even dream the song in Spanish.
But the other details of his dream evaded him, driven away by the morning sounds. The futile questing of his mind left him troubled, unwilling to open his eyes: the first conscious touch of premonition.
Jeb stretched his leg muscles, felt the ripples of the single sheet that covered him. He was a long, knobby figure beneath the sheet: a moulding of angular shadows in soft focus under an olive drab canopy of mosquito netting. The weathered brown face protruding from one end of the sheet was angular, long: an Egyptian pharaoh’s face with black hair peppered by grey at the temples.
“Well, what the hell,” he muttered. “Time to get up.”
He opened his eyes, blinked at a sudden memory: Hey! This the day that Bannon dame said she’d arrive! Well, by God! She’s coming for nothing!
It had been a particularly frustrating telephone conversation. The long distance connection between Milagro and Puerto Bolivar had been dim and scratchy, and the woman at the other end full of Yankee determination.
“This is Mrs. Roger Bannon,” she had said. “Are you the pilot?”
“I said yes, I’m the pilot.”
“We’ve never met, Mr. Logan. But you flew my husband and his partner to their rancho.”
Then Jeb placed the name, recalled the husband: a scrawny little man with feverish eyes who’d hired Jeb to fly two men (Bannon and a partner named Gettler) to a jungle plantation on the Amazon watershed seven months before.
“What do you want, Mrs. Bannon?”
“I want to charter your plane for a flight to my husband’s rancho.”
“Sorry. No can do. My amphibian’s dismantled for repairs.”
“But the consul here says you have two planes!”
“Yes. But one’s just a little single-engine float job.”
“What kind of a boat?”
“Float! Mrs. Bannon. It won’t do for that flight.”
“But Roger’s ranch is on a river!”
Here the connection had faded, and it had taken two full minutes to explain that he had too much liking for his skin to risk it by flying a single-engine floatplane over the Andes.
But she had persisted. “If it’s a matter of money, Mr. Logan, I’m perfectly willing to …”
“No, dammit! It’s not a matter of money! I’m just not …”
“We’ll catch tomorrow afternoon’s train, Mr. Logan. I’m sure we can work out something when …”
“Lady, you’re wasting your time! Why don’t you catch a mainline flight across to Belem and …?”
“I’ll see you the day after tomorrow, Mr. Logan.”
And by God! She’d hung up!
Jeb had jiggled the hook, gotten the operator with her impersonal, “Bueno?”
Now, he squirmed on his bed, dreading the encounter with Mrs. Bannon. He suspected that it would be a class-one scene. Such scenes always left him with a desire to get drunk and stay drunk for a week.
Jeb frowned, stared up through the netting at the veined cracks of the yellow-brown ceiling. During the night a green spider had set out its web from a shard of the plaster. Gossamer filaments stretched down to the framework that supported the mosquito net. Now, the spider waited with one foot delicately touching a trigger strand of its web. Jeb’s attention shifted to a scorpion resting on the wall beside his bed from its night’s hunt.
The “Ark! Ark!” cry of toucanets came from the dead tree outside his south wall. American jazz blared from the radio in the aberote across the road. The quick pat pat-pat-pat-pat-pat of his cook-maid, Maria, making tortillas sounded from the kitchen below. And there drifted past his nose the thin vapor-trail bite of burning chiles, scorched to remove the skin.
It was all infinitely familiar, and somehow poignant.
For a moment, Jeb lay quietly savoring the morning. Then his thoughts scalpeled the edge of an old memory that easy living had allowed him to evade for a long time: stark, snow-blanched Korean hills, his hands fighting the controls of a crippled B-26 as it skimmed between cold peaks … and the bloody dead figure of Swede Parker, his co-pilot, in the other seat—a gale pouring through the bullet-shattered windshield. Jeb re-experienced the chill of that wind: another touch of the premonition.
Now, what the hell’s got me on this morbid kick? he wondered. That crazy Bannon dame insisting that I fly her inside! Well, I’ll …
The pig in the courtyard emitted a scream like a frightened woman. Immediately, Maria’s voice lifted in a string of curses that she did not know Jeb understood.
“Dump your droppings in my kitchen!” she screamed. “You son of a fat whore! You spawn of uncounted illegitimate ancestors! I’ll boil your testicles!”
There came the clatter of a thrown pan.
Jeb chuckled, folded back the mosquito net. His movement disturbed the green spider on the ceiling. She darted onto her web, stopped, retreated. The scorpion curved up its tail, scurried into a crack in the wall.
From the courtyard came another pig squeal, the quick scuffling of Maria’s footsteps. A water tin banged against the tiled edge of the reservoir outside the kitchen.
Jeb lifted his wristwatch from the chair beside the bed, slipped it on his wrist, glanced at the dial. Eight thirty! What’s happened to the morning?
He swung his feet to the floor, rocked forward, stood up and stretched to his full six feet two inches. His left hand hitched his red and white striped shorts higher about his waist. A yellow robe hung on the wall at the head of the bed. He caught the robe in his right hand, gave it a casual shake to dislodge insects, draped it over his shoulders like a cape, and walked out onto the balcony.
“Maria!” he called.
Her voice came from a recess beneath him: “Si, señor?” There was a slight quaver of age in the voice, but it sounded confident.
Jeb shifted his mental gears into Spanish: “Has there been a message from the airfield?”
Maria’s replay was thick with the musical drawl of the altiplano Indians: “Manuelo sent to say that the airplane of two engines cannot yet be repaired. The little pieces have not arrived. And there was a wireless from the copper mine. They wish to receive their machinery.”
“They’ll have to wait until the amphibian’s airworthy!” he snapped. “They know that!”
“Si, patron.” Maria emerged from a door beneath him, stepped out onto the blue tiles of the courtyard. She was a fat, tubular woman encased in a brown dress the color of damp clay. The dress bound her into ribbed lumps as though she had been moulded by a corrugated culvert pipe. Her face was smooth, round, hook-nosed—topped by coarse black hair parted in the middle and braided in two long strands that hung like tassels across the grey shawl covering her shoulders.
Certain Chimu pottery bore likenesses that could have used Maria as a model. The genes that controlled her facial structure had swallowed Inca and Spaniard alike. The victorious Indian features now graced a woman who enjoyed a considerable reputation as a witch. It bothered Jeb not at all that his cook-maid was the local bruja, dispensing herbs and amulets along with her household duties.
Maria glanced up at Jeb, averted her eyes as she glimpsed the red and white shorts poorly covered by his robe.
“Is that all the news?” he asked.
She addressed the sidewall of the courtyard. “No, patron. The mayor wishes to enjoy your presence at a fiesta on the evening of Saturday. The boy brought an invitation. I opened it, of course, to see if it was something important that would require …”
Her gaze darted toward him, away. “Are you going to marry with the mayor’s daughter, patron?”
Jeb grinned. “Maria, you’re a nosey old hag!”
She smiled, displaying a glittering row of gold-capped teeth. “The Señorita Constancia is very beautiful, patron. She is a virgin of …”
“A pure mango,” agreed Jeb.
Maria pulled her shawl more tightly around her shoulders. “Patron?”
Jeb recognized the tone: it normally preceded a request for a day off, for a contribution to improve the church bell tower, for medicine for a sick nephew (because the bruja knew the limitations of her own magic).
“What is it?” he asked.
She shrugged. “Patron, last night I saw the spirit of my grandfather. Always, when I have this vision, there is violence, and someone dies.” Again she shrugged. “Please be careful today, patron.”
The dark eyes took another darting look in his direction and away.
There was suddenly no amusement in Jeb at this manifestation of witchcraft. He felt himself genuinely touched by her concern. There were in this town, he knew, people who paid Maria to have omens interpreted. For one brief moment he even considered telling her about his dream, and then he rejected the idea, half amused at himself.
In the distance, the train from Puerto Bolivar sent its whistle hooting against the hills. Momentarily, all other sounds hung submerged in the echoes. Jeb lifted his attention from the courtyard. Across the red-tiled rooftops he could see the outline of the first cordilleras lifting to the distant Andes and the Anti-Suyo: the great “Eastern Jungle” of the Incas. In the middle distance the green hills were split by the notch that spilled the Rio Mavari into the gorge below Milagro. From his balcony, Jeb could just see the edge of the river’s upper pool where he kept the little floatplane.
A harpy eagle soared across the near hills, catching up Jeb’s mind in the close awareness of flight. The eagle drifted into a thermal, rode away upward like a glider. He watched the bird until it became lost in the misty, heat-wrinkled air.
Maria scuffed her feet on the tiles. “Forgive me, patron, for bothering you with my vision. Do you desire your bath now?”
Jeb snapped his fingers at her. “Yes. And I want you to scrub my back!”
The old woman ducked her head to conceal a grin, spoke in a shocked tone: “Señor!” She shuffled out of sight below. There came the sound of water splashing into the ten-gallon tin that served Jeb as a shower.
And faintly behind that sound Jeb heard the exhalation of steam—like a tired sigh—from the morning train.
That crazy Bannon dame will probably be on that train, he thought. Well, she can just go back on the train!
And don’t miss the other previously unpublished Frank Herbert novel released by WordFire Press, the SF dystopia HIGH-OPP
Late last fall I went through a writing marathon to finish the first draft of THE DARK BETWEEN THE STARS—Book 1 in The Saga of Shadows, a new “next-generation” trilogy set in my Seven Suns universe. After prepping for many months by rereading all seven novels in The Saga of Seven Suns, plotting the multiple storylines in great detail, I wrote the entire 836-page first draft in 47 days. Then the editing started…
The third draft was in good enough shape that I handed it to my group of test readers and to my editor at Tor Books. After I received all their comments, suggested changes, revisions, deletions, and rearrangements, I had my work cut out for me. Then I also received the detailed letter from the Tor Books editor. I dove in to do my manuscript surgery—just as I set off on my national HELLHOLE AWAKENING tour.
It took me weeks to address the various issues, rewrite scenes, change characters, build suspense, add descriptions. By the time I was done with the Draft 4 overhaul, I had added another 10,000 words, bringing the manuscript up to 869 pages. Now, it was time to go back to page one, sharpen my metaphorical red editing pencil, and then go back through again with a ruthless eye to cutting anything that didn’t need to be there. A book this big cannot afford to have flabby prose or slow spots. I trimmed out everything I possibly could, while also giving the whole story a big read to make sure all the story threads tangled and tied together properly.
On the way through, I found even more ways to speed up the pacing, rearrange a few chapters and scenes, tighten everything up. I had previously added 10,000 words…and now I cut another 16,000 back out—one at a time, word by word, line by line. Back down to 814 pages. And, while I went through the manuscript, I compiled a 14-page glossary of all the terms and characters. In a complex story (which will continue for two more novels), I think the readers deserve the glossary just in case they need the reminder.
So now, Rebecca will go over the manuscript for her final copy edit, checking it line-by-line…while I finish developing and fleshing out the blueprint and chapter-by-chapter outline of HELLHOLE INFERNO (which I brainstormed with Brian Herbert a couple of weeks ago), and Brian, meanwhile, is doing his final read and edit of MENTATS OF DUNE before delivering it to our Tor editor. All the universes mesh together like the gears in a cosmic clock!
Here’s a brand-new, never-before-published original story featuring Dan Shamble, Zombie PI. “Road Kill”—When Dan Shamble, Zombie PI wakes up in a coffin in the back of a semi truck, he knows it’s not going to be a good day. He has to escape, figure out what’s going on, foil a black-market blood-smuggling ring—and make sure he’s not dead on arrival!
Because I love this series so much, I am offering the story for free. It will be available for free Kindle download for three days only, through Saturday. Click here for the link. OR you can get the free pdf by signing up for our fan club on the http://www.wordfire.com homepage. (If you’re already a member, you should have received an email with the direct link.) “Road Kill” will also be available for Nook or Kobo at 99¢.
If you’re a Shamble fan, or if you’ve never tried one of his adventures, YOU NEED THIS. (I can be as relentless as a hungry zombie, because I love this series so much). Cover art by Jeff Herndon.