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Atomic fire blossomed, whiting out the rear-facing sensors of the Dreadstar. First Prince Tavram scowled as his final Malagath warship disappeared from the battle reader, spent to allow him the opportunity to escape. A regrettable sacrifice, if necessary. Avoidable? Perhaps. Foreseeable? Absolutely not; this convoy was a secret even from the admiralty. Conclusion? Betrayal. The ambush had been swift and perfect. Likewise, the retribution would be equally so, in due time. For now, survival in the next few moments became the paramount task.

The Dirregaunt mastery of ambush was unparalleled within the known galaxy. Their vessels lurked, invisible to the naked eye at this distance, and cooled down to avoid sensor detection. From as far as a hundred thousand kilometers away they fired pre—charged banks of laser batteries, slicing metal and composite before closing to finish the work. The Malagath Prince knew the ships, knew the face of their commander, and knew the battle would not end with his retreat. Dirregaunt considered themselves the greatest of predators, and they would pursue him across the stars.

His helmsman said something, a buzz in his ears as a series of smaller explosions on the screen represented the remaining fighters being cut down by high-wavelength lasers. He lifted a blue, three-fingered hand to the helmsman and the remaining screens blurred as the Dreadstar’s emergency engine fired, jumping the envoy frigate with her few survivors. His convoy died to provide him time to plot the calculations and activate the engine, generating a mass field outside the ship substantial enough to initiate a space-tear. It was the last jump the Dreadstar would ever make. Almost all her engineers were dead and her engines lay damaged beyond repair. His fate and the fate of his crew now rested with whomever chanced upon his distress signal. He prayed to the first stars it would not be Best Wishes.


Section Divider

On the bridge of the Springdawn, commander Best Wishes tapped his claws together with a mixture of consternation and elation. Technically, he had failed his mission objective. The Dreadstar fled, despite several large holes in her hull. The emergency engine was a new addition for which he had not been briefed and it allowed for a space fold to carry the Dreadstar away from battle. Rather than an easy pursuit, Best Wishes would be forced to extrapolate his trajectory based on space-time distortions his sensors read from the emergency engine. But once he followed, he would find the Dreadstar hanging limp. The severity of the hull compromises would cause compression shear should the First Prince attempt to accelerate past light speed, leaving the Dreadstar stranded wherever they emerged. A failed objective, but an opportunity to continue the hunt.

Best Wishes did not consider himself bloodthirsty. Rather, he carried a grudging respect for the Malagath and relished the opportunity to test himself further. Respect for their military prowess, if not their ideals. The Malagath culture was brutal and cruel and self-serving, antithetical to Dirregaunt philosophies. Few had more blood on their hands than the Malagath royal family, and the First Prince was the architect of several notable Dirregaunt defeats.

He considered for a moment. His ships had not gone unscathed by the exchange. For whatever else they were, the Malagath were excellent fighters. They managed to destroy two of his frigates and cripple one of his battleships, extrapolating their positions even under fire and lancing them with particle cannons before the Dirregaunt ships began to move.

“Master hailman,” he said, “I do not believe we require an entire battle group to pursue a single crippled frigate. Signal the Surf and the High Rain to return to the staging station.”

He turned to his first officer, Modest Bearing, who had been with his command for almost as long as he’d had a command. “I should like the science team working immediately. Determine where the First Prince has gone, then plot a route,” he ordered. His will carried out, he turned his four eyes back to the viewport where the exhaust residue of the Dreadstar’s emergency engine expanded in an icy cloud at the edge of their magnification.

“You cannot run from me, First Prince.”

Chapter 1: Vick's Vultures


The Condor pushed away from the derelict hulk. There was little of value left aboard the Morning Spear, but the Vultures stole it anyway. It was what they called a cold wreck. No signs of life, no hot reactor, and not one of the Big Three. Malagath, Dirregaunt, Kossovoldt; those were the name of the game. Lately, Captain Victoria Marin of the Union Earth Privateers had run as cold as that salvaged wreck tilting out of her ship’s forward monitors. Six weeks without good salvage would put her command in the red right fast. Trouble was, word across the Orion Spur said there had been no recent battles between the Big Three or their proxies anywhere within range of her little puddle jumper.

Odd that, since she was in a rough part of the galaxy. Hell, all of humanity was. Earth sat practically dead center in the Orion Spur, a no-man’s land providing a bridge of stars directly between the frontiers of the Malagath and Dirregaunt pushing in from the Perseus Arm and the Kossovoldt from the Sagittarius Arm towards the Galactic Core. Right where she would expect them to be fighting. She wouldn’t encounter Kossovoldt in this area, a species so prominent that the local galaxy had based a common language off their influence, but the Malagath Empire and Dirregaunt Praetory? You could hardly pull them away from each other’s throats in this neck of the woods. They hated each other so much that they rarely left anything big enough to salvage anyway. Half their ships had been in service since before humans put a probe in space, but even the scrap was more valuable than her beloved Condor. Yet … no battles. Something was going on.

Victoria turned to her navigation officer.

“Huian, take us out of here. Growl Red while you’re at it and have him report to the wheelhouse. He better have good news.”

“Aye Skipper,” said Lieutenant Wong. Victoria scowled behind the young Chinese woman’s back as she stood from the captain’s chair. Little blue-water puke up-jumped to space duty for being someone’s daughter. Nothing against the little shit personally, but Victoria hated her rosters being mucked by political pull. Space was dangerous enough without the added variable of political nepotism.

Ducking through the hatch from the conn she made her way down two ladders, swinging past the galley and entering the officer’s mess under the hand carved wooden plaque, labeling the compartment ‘The Wheelhouse’. Once inside she made a beeline for the wet stores, snagging a tumbler from the wall on her way. Christ she needed this. As she was pouring the whiskey she heard the swish of the magnetic seal behind her and smelled a body recently freed from an extended vacuum suit vacation. She turned to Red Calhoun, the commander of her marines, still in his armored vacuum suit.

“Christ, Red, you could have at least dressed down. Drink with me.”

The big Scotsman squeezed around the table grabbing a glass for himself. “Orders were to report to the wardroom, Vick. ‘Sides, I dress down and it gives you an excuse to stare at my ass.”

Victoria scoffed, “Don’t kid yourself. I’ve seen what you’re pushing. I wouldn’t write home about it,” she said.

Not entirely true, the marine had good broad shoulders and strong calloused hands. And combat experience was always a plus when serving a tour in her bunk. Not that she would ever tell any of this to Red.

“Anyway,” she continued, pouring a few fingers into the second glass, “Anything good?”

There was a static sensation in the air and a change in the tone of the reactor as the Condor slid into the superluminal compression of her FTL drives. Outside, the ship began to move back towards the system’s star for a horizon jump. Large space-time distortions were needed to enter a horizon jump. The closer to a star, the easier it became. Getting out was another matter, more of an art than a science. The hairs on Victoria’s arms stood up, as they had every FTL slide since she had first climbed aboard an interstellar ship. It made her feel chilly, though every doctor she’d seen said it was psychosomatic.

Red washed his throat before answering. “A few high-freq conduits, burnt out core and storage matrixes, identification and effects of a few of the floaters and a functioning UV spectrum laser. Third generation, Tallidox made. Reactor was scuttled, but Aesop pulled some incomplete logs and schematics off a drive. Kid’s a wizard with xenotech.”

“In other words, garbage,” she said.

“In other words…” said Red, nodding slowly to himself. Victoria sighed, “You know what happens if we can’t haul in any decent thieving.”

“I know, I know. We get to Taru station without collateral and no one will extend us more credit. Ship gets stranded and we have to wait for the Huxley to pay down our debt and lend us some fuel.”

“And you know I hate owing Jax shit. That cocksucker and his three missing teeth still haven’t let me hear the end of it from last time. Never mind when we hauled his ass out of the fire after he got those Graylings on his wake. Don’t take to being ransomed, Graylings.”

Red chuckled over his glass, “You remember when we pulled him outta what was left of the Dolphin? He was grinning so wide I thought his face’d get stuck like that. What’d he get on that haul?”

“Shit, that was the run he made off with the undamaged core manifold what let the third gen Kosso hulks push past 120c wasn’t it? Old tech to them, almost ancient really, but we’re still figuring it out Earth-side. That’s why they gave him the Huxley. Shit, 120 times the speed of light? We do that, and we’ll be hopping between stars in just a couple days. Without a horizon drive. We’re going to go from 40 worlds to 400 before the xenos can blink. Let’s see ‘em try to push us out of the Orion Spur then.”

“That’s still a long way off, Vick. How about we start with making it back to human space?”

The two sat in silence for a time before it was interrupted by the mechanical chirp of the growler. Vick picked up the analogue receiver. Ancient tech even so far as humans were concerned, sound powered and nigh infallible the privateer fleet still made use of them for internal communications.

“Wheelhouse, Captain speaking.”

“Wheelhouse sensors, Ma’am. We’re getting a deliberate distress signal. Encrypted but it’s a Malagath Codec. The crypto computer broke it down enough for a location. It’s within Horizon range, three rungs up on the azimuth and almost on the way to Taru. Could even be hot, origin is two days old maybe.”

“Shit Avery, that’s Big Three, why’d you wait so long to tell me?”

“Wanted to confirm it first, Vick. I’ll go ahead and kick it over to Huian.”

Victoria slammed down the receiver and opened up the command network console in her retinal implants. She watched excitedly as Huian received the information and made the necessary course adjustments to change their Horizon drive destination. She stood up to activate the main circuit and address the crew but found Red had already done it for her, smiling his wide, toothy smile.

“This is the Captain.” She grinned back.

“At 1900 hours we detected a distress call within horizon range. It’s Big Three, people, maybe even hot. We’ll be activating the horizon drive at 2050 hours. General quarters will be at 0230 hours. You know what this means. Rest up if you’re not on watch, all drills are on hold. Marin out.”

The cheer from the crew was audible through the metal hull of the Condor and Victoria couldn’t help feeling proud. Even if the cheers were as much for the cancelled damage control drills as for the prospect of hot salvage. Her Vultures were the best privateers in deep space as far as she was concerned. And damn if Earth wasn’t getting awful tiny in the rear-view mirror all the way out here.

“Red, you gonna get some sleep before GQ?”

He raised an eyebrow, “You?”

“Now? Shit no. I just hope no one beats us there.”

“And I need to debrief my marines, and then brief them back up again, and find time for a shower in there somewhere.”

In her current mood Victoria wouldn’t mind debriefing one of his marines personally. “Malagath Imperials, what can we expect if there are survivors?” she asked.

“Well if the ship is in good shape we’re looking at a tactical Alcubierre drive, high density particle cannons, gravitic seekers.”

“Shit. If they were in good shape there’d be no distress call.”

“I agree. We manage to board, it gets a little simpler. Toxic atmo is likely, but meaningless to a marine in a vac suit. We’re looking at masers and little to no tactical discipline. They haven’t had an infantry battle in centuries. The ablative plates should do for the marines and I doubt the Malagath have seen a slug rifle since they went to space.”

It was probably true, when humanity first entered the galactic arena they found it packed to the rafters with over a hundred other races; all at uneasy odds with each other, and none of whom still used kinetic weaponry. By and large most had made it about as far as the musket before weaponizing light, heat, accelerated particles, or radiation. Battery and energy production technologies in the galaxy-at-large were an area in which Earth struggled to catch up.

So, now she was headed toward a hulk manned by one of the Big Three. She considered the potential salvage, tapping her fingers on her tumbler. No telling what the Union Earth would do to get their hands on that tech. Or for that matter, what some of the local players might do to keep it out of U.E. hands. Red picked up his helmet and left, leaving her alone with the whiskey. She poured herself another.


Section Divider

Best Wishes examined the data brought to him by the science team. For three days they circled the departure point of the Dreadstar, attempting to extrapolate the trajectory and likely emergence destinations with what little they knew of the Dreadstar’s emergency engine. High math. Nigh impossible, he would have thought, but his science team was unparalleled. He thanked the master astrotician and gave the order to his navigator. The Springdawn lurched into action, accelerating back towards the distant pinprick of the local star at almost 250 times the speed of light. Best Wishes did not have access to the single-use gravitic generator of the Dreadstar’s emergency engine. They would have to use the gravity field of the red dwarf to pounce across the stars towards his prey. But he had the scent. It was only a matter of hours now. The Malagath ship fled further in a single jump than the span of most of the lesser empires, but the Springdawn could match it. They were both far from any allies.


Section Divider

First Prince Tavram huddled in the cold interior of the Dreadstar bridge with the nine remaining crew of his original fifty. Habitation control was a luxury they could not afford while emergency power dwindled. The hull breaches exposed the interior of the vessel to the chill of deep space, and with the reactor offline no waste heat was being produced to replace what was lost. Entropy might kill them before ever Best Wishes determined which way they had fled.

“My Prince,” a ragged voice called from the sensor display. Tavram turned toward his youngest crewmember, Aurea, a female of only twenty solar cycles. His junior engineer, now his senior engineer. She looked up at him, face illuminated by the display, “A ship has entered the system, it is accelerating towards us.”

“Is it the Springdawn? Send a signal, let us be done with this one way or another.”

“No my prince, it is moving too slowly, I cannot believe it is Dirregaunt. And I am getting very little data, nothing further than confirming that there is something coming. They should be on the optical now but even visually there is nothing.”

“Sending the distress call again, short range,” another voice rasped. His impromptu communicator. Previously his ship’s cook. Everyone’s voice was labored; carbons were building up in the ship’s atmosphere. Tavram pulled up the optics display on his own console, tuning it to the proper bearing. Aurea had been right, there was nothing. At this range … wait, there. A star winked out. Another followed shortly, and then another along the same vector. Soon a profile began to emerge. The ship was matte black, like nothing he recognized. Had they been purposefully flying between stars to prevent a visual cue? A predatory tactic. The folds of skin on Tavram’s slender throat began to grow moist as the ship’s profile hardened. A primal reaction. Fear? No. Caution. Wariness of the unknown.

It was small, perhaps half the size of the Dreadstar. Odd lines. No elegance. An ugly craft. He couldn’t place it with any of the lesser empires he was familiar with.

In a matter of minutes, the alien ship pulled alongside the Dreadstar. While obviously slow to transit, her helmsman handled her beautifully, matching the Dreadstar’s unstable spin with maneuvering engines. Tavram wondered what the newcomers used to perform the maneuver. Some sort of gravitic adjustors? Subspace repulsors?

The Dreadstar jolted with a metallic thump and a spike in the passive electromagnetic sensors. Magnetic locks. Primitive, inefficient, but effective. Two more impacts resonated through the hull and the ship began to vibrate as the view through the forward monitors slowly ceased spinning. Now what? Would they tow the Dreadstar back to the system’s core and attempt a joined space tear?

He was still postulating when a new sound came from the hull, one that could be mistaken for nothing else. Footsteps. Several of the remaining crew looked panicked, and even Tavram sucked in a breath of stale air. Space walkers, children’s tales to frighten cadets. Creatures who crossed the vacuum to steal souls, who walked in the void. No, this was just an unfamiliar lesser empire, using primitive technology. It must not be …

“My prince, the sunward habitat chamber near the foremost hull breach has been … compromised. The seal has been forced open, atmosphere is venting.”

“By the first stars,” uttered a voice.

“Quiet,” Tavram ordered. He pulled up the airlock status on his console. The venting had ceased. Had the stress on the ship from the docking caused it? Plausible. The chamber was isolated, in full vacuum now.

The icon for the inner habitation chamber hatch began to flash on his screen. Mechanical failure. First stars, the spacewalkers were in the ship! And he could do nothing as he tracked their progress. Nothing except buy himself a few more seconds. He ordered the survivors into position, interposing them between himself and the door. They had no weapons, but they might serve to distract while he got a few shots off. His heart raced, the cartilage in his joints expanded. These were ancient fight-or-flight traits encoded in his genome he’d not felt in years.

Even deathly thin as the atmosphere was, his entire crew’s labored breathing was silent. Metallic sounds from the other side of the bulkhead were translating through the metal floor. Tavram could feel the vibrations of the spacewalkers. He fingered the single handheld maser kept on the bridge, and raised it in a ready stance. It was heavy in his hands, burdened with the weight of his lineage’s survival. It wouldn’t do much good against a serious enemy but the polymer grip was comforting.

Two metal prongs slid through the join in the hatch, startling a cry of alarm from his remaining crew. A mechanical whir, then the prongs began to pry the door open. The device forcing the door open was pulled away. Behind it stood several short, stocky figures. They were matte black like the alien ship had been, except for plating lining their chests and shoulders that was just slightly glossy. Two arms, two legs as evolution had produced on countless worlds as a most efficient design. In their hands they held their primitive xeno weaponry. Long, black, and slim he could not tell if it was some kind of maser like the one he had leveled or perhaps a particle beam. The array of soldiers spread into the room, fingers kept off what must be triggers for the moment. Two of the alien weapons were pointed at him while the rest scanned across his crew looking for additional threats. They found none. Their movement was martial, economical, and precise. No motion was wasted, no part of the bridge unchecked.

Tavram stared through the shaking optics of his maser at what he thought was the leader, but in truth all eight looked identical. A veteran of several space engagements, he had yet to fire a personal weapon at anyone in his life. As he looked down the gaping tunnel of that alien’s weapon he did the only thing he could think to do for any hope of survival. He lowered the maser.

The change in the space walkers was instantaneous. Their deadly muzzles on their weapons lowered, their posture more relaxed, if still tight. The tallest of them reached out and took the maser from his hand. He didn’t resist.

“Is there a leader among you?” he asked. The largest stepped forward.

“I am Major Red Calhoun, of the Condor.”

It spoke in Malagath. His voice was tinny, mechanical, unexpected. Tavram had asked in the common Kossovoldt language, but the alien had answered in his own dialect.

“Space walkers!” cried the engineer from behind Tavram, less in terror and more in amazement. He silenced her with a wave. The First Prince switched back to Malagath.

“What is your empire?” he demanded. Red? Did they often name their warriors after visible spectrum light?

“We are human,” it said. Curious. Tavram had never heard of humans, but then he rarely concerned himself with the affairs of the lesser empires. After all, they were little better than animals, and over 1500 had been encountered. Some of them had even been scoured away by the Malagath. Had the emergency engine cause the Dreadstar to invade their space? Surely their primitive vessels could not secure a large place in the stars.

“And your intent?” asked Tavram.

The creature turned its head away, muffled sound came through the helmet, perhaps he was communicating over a shortwave communicator.

He turned back, “Our intent is to salvage mechanical technology from your ship, then take your remaining crew aboard the Condor.” he said.

This was met with wails of anguish behind him, and the creature raised a hand in what he must have thought was a placating gesture. “After which, we intend to return you unharmed to your people, in exchange for what supplies and technology we can barter for you. You will not be harmed in our custody.”

Tavram relaxed. He had heard about outfits such as these from the lesser empires. Scavengers who picked the bones of the great battles in hopes of finding any functioning wreckage. Likely these space walkers intended to take anything valuable back to the planet Human to study. Though most were not interested in dealing with survivors, and tended to wait until there were none to move in. Some were even less interested in waiting than others.

“In the interest of self-preservation, human Red, I must inform you that we are being hunted, a Dirregaunt specialist has been tasked with eliminating this ship.”

The alien quickly bobbed his head a single time. Curious gesture. “We don’t plan to stay long once we get your people aboard. What is the most valuable asset aboard this ship that we can easily remove?”

The first prince gestured to himself, “You are speaking with him, human Red.”


Section Divider

In the dark between stars, the Springdawn flew bereft of all light. More than half-way through the horizon jump they detected the superluminal distress call carrying Malagath encryption. They couldn’t read it, but out this far there was little doubt what it could be. The Dreadstar was in truly dire straits. His science team’s calculations had been almost perfect; on a stellar scale it was practically next door to their intended destination. Best Wishes complimented his astroticians and set the instructions for the next leg of their journey. Now with the distress signal’s origin they could pinpoint the Dreadstar’s location to within a few thousand meters and emerge from the second horizon jump with the laser capacitors already charged. Foolish to give themselves away.


Section Divider

“Detach the coupling here, Human Aesop. I am sorry there is so little functioning salvage for your crew.”

She spoke in the lilting and fluttery tones of the Malagath language, an approximate translation relayed to Aesop’s retinal implants. It was hard to believe she belonged to one of the most dangerous species in space, or that she probably viewed him as barely alive. Most species avoided contact with the Malagath where possible, they had a reputation for amorality that made most starfaring species nervous. Or dead.

The Malagath technician was wearing one of the vacuum suits the Vultures unpacked for taller humanoid rescues. It still looked uncomfortable, short and wide on her, but she quickly adjusted to the novelty of working in the vacuum of space. She still showed the fear her compatriots had during the transit to the Condor, but at least she was shielded from the intense black expanse her people so feared.

Aesop depressed the spots she directed and the fusion coupling separated from the reaction train, or at least what he thought was the reaction train. This ship was so advanced he barely recognized anything. His retinal implants were going nuts trying to scan and label it all, interfacing with the computer on his vacuum suit, it in turn networking with the Condor. He pulled the coupling from a larger piece he would have loved to tear out, but would have to cut a larger gap in the hull to carry it away. Most of it had holes anyway, which didn’t help matters much. Even damaged, any engine parts were going to be e extremely valuable to Union Earth researchers, but the entire drive had been shot to hell by the Dirregaunt ambush. He passed the coupling to Aurea who pushed it through the hull breach to their waiting skiff.

He’d take this ship apart bolt by bolt if the Old Lady would let him. The captain of what he’d learned was named the Dreadstar insisted they leave immediately for Malagath space. Captain Marin insisted otherwise. Refugees were well and good, but they needed cold hard salvage to get enough credit at one of the neutral stations to refuel in order to get the new tech to friendly space.

His radio beeped in his ear, retinal display showing the captain’s override circuit. He winced. It looked like his fun was over.

“Cohen, I just had a parley with their captain. He’s made a compelling case for not being here any longer. Take what you’ve got and get your ass back to the Condor.”

“Are you sure, Captain? There’s still a lot of tech here I can pry loose.” The line clicked dead. Not one to repeat herself, Captain Marin. He growled into his helmet before switching back to the frequency he shared with the Malagath technician.

“Aurea, they want us back on the Condor. We need to go now.”

The tech slid a hand over the surface of the reactor shell, looking at it with an unreadable expression. Her facial expressions were unfamiliar to him, but her body language was all too recognizable. She regretted having to leave the ship that had been her home. Aesop could sympathize; he’d had a ship shot out from under him before he’d been chartered onto the Condor. The Orion Spur was not a friendly place, especially for species behind the technological power curve.

He followed her to the breach in the hull, bouncing as the charge in the gravity floor plating had almost completely abated. He would have loved to pry those out and take one or two but there wasn’t time. The plates were likely more efficient energy-wise to the stolen tech the Condor was using to generate her own artificial gravity and inertial compensation field.

Aurea reached the breach and then stopped.

“What’s wrong?”

“I am … still nervous,” she admitted, “I see the skiff, but I cannot make myself go to it.”

Cohen checked on the ship’s status with his retinal implants. The Condor was going through its Zero-G checklist, which meant he had to get back and strap down all the new salvage as well as the skiff. “Look, we don’t have time for this. Just hold on to me and I’ll take us over, ok?”

The tech switched places with him, wrapping her long fingers around his shoulders. The gloves of the suit fit her well. They were a plastic polymer that shrunk to form-fit whatever size hand was in them for maximum dexterity, albeit with two extra fingers the Malagath did not need. Her added mass was almost nothing as he maneuvered through the hole in the outer plating. The skiff waited just beyond, and behind it, the open bay of the Condor. He gently pushed off, feeling Aurea tense up against his back, but she did not cry out. He reached out for the skiff, transferring his momentum to it and making small adjustments with the thrusters to get them back in the bay. The bay door slid shut as he was barely through and the hum of the sublight engines greeted him as the ship immediately began to accelerate. The old lady must have a powerful need to be gone.

Gravity gradually returned to the bay, and Aesop was able to coax Aurea down off his back, still surprised by how light she was. He supposed he shouldn’t be. Many of the races they came across were adapted to life in space with less need for physical strength and stamina, relying on their technology to do everything for them.

“There, that wasn’t so bad, right?” he asked, locking down the skiff and securing netting around the cargo.

“It was … something I never thought I would do. It was frightening, but exciting. You humans, you do this sort of thing often? Space walking?”

“All the time, Aurea. Every ship we come across, or any time we need to make repairs on the hull. Come on, I’ll show you something you might like a little better. Would you like to see the engine room?”


Section Divider

First Prince Tavram entered the alien ship’s bridge behind her captain. A mask had been fitted over his mouth by the resident doctor to keep the oxygen from entering his respiratory system. That these creatures required the toxic, flammable gas to survive had flabbergasted him. It seemed the more he learned about this strange little race the more mystery lay ahead. They were clearly matriarchal, aligned behind this captain who asserted dominance by baring her teeth at each crewmember she passed, each of whom returned the gesture in kind. They breathed poison, walked in space, greeted each other with threats, and each member of the crew could perfectly understand his language, though most could not speak it and used the lesser Kossovoldt tongue instead when speaking to him and each other. Baffling. He had asked about human language, and learned it was largely tribal and that many of her crew did not speak a common human language.

The ‘ship’ as they called it, was primitive. Simple forged steel construction with obvious joining of different metals and outdated composites. Wires and piping snaked everywhere like thick vines, carrying power, potables, and hydraulic fluids. But it was still ingenious in a barbaric sort of way.

“Captain Ma’am, Sergeant Cohen is aboard and we’re on our way as ordered.”

“Good, hold steady, max acceleration. Build us up some speed, I have a bad feeling. How’s the trajectory for a horizon shot?”

“Nav computer has it locked in steady with the star’s gravity. We’ll have broken line of sight with the Dreadstar when we make the jump. We’ll need one more star before we can hit Taru station. ETA to jump five two minutes.”

Nav computer? Who would trust such delicate computations to a computer? Were they jumping one star at a time? Perhaps these humans with their primitive brains were more limited than he thought. After all, they had only been among the stars for the last hour of the Malagath Empire. According to their captain, anyway. There was much she had been reluctant to discuss. From his forced crouch he could see the navigation monitor, though the numerals on it weren’t Kosso standard. Not much to be learned there. There was a third seat in the command center of the Condor, marked with a cross and a circle. He took it, his knees somewhere by his shoulder made for an uncomfortable position, though better than hunching beneath the low ceiling.

“Control, sensors. Photon Doppler detected, superluminal contact bearing relative one-eight-zero, one-four degrees azimuthal out of the horizon.”

“Sensors, conn aye. Shit that was quick. Yuri, you get all that? Shutter the drives, turn on the GSD.” The captain flicked a switch, turning the open receiver to the main circuit, “This is the Captain speaking. A superluminal contact has been detected, we are engaging the gravitic stealth device and going ballistic. Stow for Zero-G,” she turned to Tavram, “You’re going to be floating here in a second, chief. Strap into that stay.”

The subtle shuddering of the ship ceased as the engines were shut down. Their constant hum was replaced by a new oscillation, a strengthening of the artificial gravity drive, he thought. His weight began to lessen, and he attached the lanyard the captain had pointed out. He still felt slightly panicky and, though he would never admit it, somewhat sick. Malagath artificial gravity could be localized practically to square meters

“Full ballistic, ma’am,”

“Good, bring up the Dreadstar on the main screen.”

“Aye ma’am.”

“I do not understand, human Victoria. We are simply flying in a straight line in hopes he will not see us?”

“Not now, chief. When we’re out of it.” She replied. Tavram chafed at being addressed so by this lesser empire captain. Her tiny ship barely had room for her ego, it seemed. And yet she had saved his life at risk to her own. This ‘privateer’ as she had called it, who knew the value and safety of a rescued spacefarer. Pragmatic? Astoundingly so, and reasonable if rigid. Martial yet disciplined. Primitive yet, well, resourceful. The rational side of him looked forward to learning more about them on the trip back to the Malagath Empire. If they survived the next few minutes, at any rate. Unlikely, as they would be picked up in the first round of the Springdawn’s active sensors.

The Dreadstar appeared on the monitors and Tavram’s neck folds moistened, a reaction of the increased blood flow and body temperature. Such detail. It was as if his broken and battered ship were still abreast of the Condor.

“Control, sensors. Here she comes, Vick.”

“Thanks Avery. Steady on course, Huian.”

Again Tavram was impressed, until he remembered that the Condor had probably stolen the superluminal sensor technology from another empire. The view screen though, he knew of no one who could produce such optics resolution. Where had they found that?

“Ok people, hold on to your asses.”

There was silence but for the hum of the anti-gravity device. On the screen, hundreds of thousands of kilometers away, a second, massive ship winked out of horizon space less than 100 meters from the Dreadstar, dwarfing it. The sleek lines and narrow profile of the Springdawn was unmistakable, as was the skill of her navigation team. There was a warning from sensors of energy weapon signature, and Commander Best Wishes unleashed his high-wavelength lasers at point blank range. Though the lasers fell outside his visible spectrum their effect on his ship was all too obvious. The metal burned, twisted, and flew apart under their fire. Again and again the lasers cut, pulverizing any section larger than a few meters into space slag. Tavram couldn’t stop himself from keening. It was as though his heart was being pierced by the Springdawn’s fire. Even at this range, the lasers interfered with the optics of the Condor, causing the screen to flash when they fired.

The reactor shielding was breached, though the explosion only harmlessly scattered the remains of his beloved Dreadstar.

The captain turned to him, “You’re sure he’ll ping us?” she asked.

Tavram nodded, attempting to compose himself, “He will. He is thorough, and will take no chances. I am surprised he has not seen the heat signature of your ship already.”

The captain didn’t answer him, instead thumbing the main circuit again.

“This is the Captain. As of 0430 hours the Dreadstar has been destroyed by a hostile Dirregaunt cruiser designated Primary. We are expecting an active sensor pulse imminently. The attenuator is online. It’s going to get a bit warm.”

Sure enough the sensors called it out just as the electro-magnetic wave passed over them.

“Captain, nine-nine point five percent attenuation. Pulse strength recorded at… oh God, 1.2 gigawatts.”

“Fuck, Yuri shut down the attenuator now! If we eat another pulse we’ll all be boiled.”

A wave of heat washed over control and Tavram gasped. Instantly the room had become an oven, the metal rail which he gripped painful to touch. He could see heat shimmers in the air, and every light and screen began to flicker. What happened?

“Engineering, conn. Come in. Engineering, conn. Shit,” the captain thumbed the general circuit, “Damage control parties to engineering.”

Chapter 2: Attenuation

Sergeant Aesop Cohen sucked scalding fire into his lungs. At least that’s what it felt like. Beside him, Aurea hung weightless attempting not to touch any of the scalding hot metal that surrounded them as she roused him. He hadn’t felt heat like this since fighting a fire aboard the Hyperion. Thank god the vacuum suit still protected most of his body or he’d be in as bad a shape as the other engineers. They floated at the ends of their lanyards, passed out or worse. Most of engineering was down, both equipment and personnel, and the heat sirens were blaring in his ears. Who knew what damage to the computers the heat had done before they’d automatically shut down. The smell of burnt circuitry was heavy in the air. Faint blue smoke drifted in the dark compartment, illuminated by sporadic flashes from the struggling lights.

“Human Aesop, what is going on?”

He coughed, his throat so dry and rough he could barely speak, “The attenuator. It turns the electromagnetic energy of active sensors into heat energy and disburses it inside the ship. It stops a reflection, but we have to deal with the waste heat.”

“There are no safeguards against this?” asked Aurea, gesturing around them at the smoking equipment.

“We don’t have data on Dirregaunt sensors, 1.2 gigawatts is 10 times the Condor’s peak output. Just for an active sensor sweep? Come on.”

Aesop detached his lanyard and pushed towards the upper deck of engineering.

“Human Aesop, your comrades!”

“We have to shut down the attenuator first. If they pulse again we won’t survive the temperature increase.”

The heat on the upper level was even worse. Aesop pushed past the free-floating form of Chief Engineer Denisov, stopped briefly to check his pulse to make certain Yuri was still alive before continuing towards the firefighting locker. He winced as the latches singed his bare hands, having stowed his gloves and helmet before showing Aurea the engine room. He pulled out two pairs of asbestos gloves, handing one to Aurea. She seemed better able to handle the heat, but she tugged them on anyway, filling only the first two fingers and thumb of each glove.

Pushing himself toward the attenuator he could see shimmering air coming off the device’s vents. It looked fried, but it was built to work at extreme temperatures. “Aurea,” he called, trying to ignore the feeling of his face baking as he drew closer. It was like sticking his face into an oven. “Those cables on the other side are where it interfaces with the matte plating on the hull. When I give you the signal, pull them out. There will be sparks.”

Aesop tore open the fore panel. Smoke billowed out, along with the acrid stench of burned rubber. The gaskets and fan bearings had melted. It was easy to see why, much of the shielding for the cables within had melted together too. Coughing, he plunged his hand in up to the shoulder, trying to keep his cheek from touching the top of the panel. He felt around, looking for the emergency shutoff he knew was there. His finger wrapped around the little lever and he jerked it forward, hoping the innards of the device hadn’t been completely slagged.

The lever cut power to the attenuator from the engine room, but after absorbing a pulse it could self-power for a time off the waste heat, enough to trigger the reactive plating on the hull. Even after shutting it down it was still a danger while hardwired to the plating, but pulling those connections without securing power first would almost certainly start a fire. The lever isolated the attenuator from the ship’s reactor, but the device was still able to self-power from waste heat. The only problem was, any more heat would lead to a fire. Fire killed a ship as dead as any xeno weapon. The Ulysses, the Merit, and the Haldeman had all been lost to shipboard fires. A fire in space doubled in size every 30 seconds and a closed system left nowhere for the smoke to go unless the captain vented the entire atmosphere. It took less than 5 minutes to choke everyone aboard those ships and raise the cabin temperature over 200 degrees Celsius.

“Aurea, now!” he shouted. She braced her feet against the bulkhead, screaming as the heat from the metal burned her right through the thin shoes of her suit. She yanked at the cables, putting the leverage offered by her long legs to use. The thick cords resisted briefly, then snapped free in a shower of sparks. No longer held in place by the tension of the cables, the Malagath technician spun across the engine room, slamming against the bulkhead with a sickening crunch. On the level below he heard the access hatch to the central compartment open and the damage control teams enter the engine room to search for fires and casualties.

Aurea collided with a backup engineering console and was now drifting nearby. He pushed off the attenuator, reassuring her as he moved to thumb the control circuit.

“Bridge engineering, attenuator offline and disconnected.”

The captain’s voice, previously issuing orders to the damage control station switched back to the open microphone, “Engineering bridge aye, what’s your status?”

“Lieutenant Denisov is down, along with the rest of engineering. Lots of burns. No fires that I can see but most of the equipment is offline. Captain, without the attenuator we’re naked, another sweep will spot us.”

“You let me worry about the fucking sensor sweeps, right? You get your ass to the GSD and keep that fucker online. And stay out of damage control’s way if you can. If there’s no fire we’ll circulate the engine room, get some cool air in there at least. We can’t vent in view of that battleship,” said Captain Marin. True to her word, the fans began to hiss, blowing blessedly cool air into the compartment. It was a temporary relief; the ship was only going to get hotter until they could break line of sight with the Dirregaunt ship.

Aurea whimpered beside the console, “I believe my shoulder has broken. But I will help if I can.”

“No, you need to get to DC central and get that looked at.”

“By what doctor? Is your medic versed in Malagath physiology? I am staying.”

He cursed, but she was right. The doc would have no idea how to treat her. “Alright follow me,” he said. He pushed off towards the aft ladder. The gravitic stealth device was on the fore end of the second level, but taking the aft ladder would keep him out of damage control’s way. As he pulled himself down the rungs he saw two crewmembers in firefighting gear floating unconscious engineers back toward the hatch.

“Aesop, where the hell you going?”

“The GSD,” he called back, “It goes offline and that cruiser will spot us whether or not it does another active sweep.” He shouted back.

“Get going then, boy. You waiting on an invitation?”

Aurea followed closely behind. Nearing the hatch, he swung left to get out of another pair’s way, then bounced to the GSD. The gravitic stealth device wasn’t anything to write home about. No flashing lights, no soft green glow. It was based on tech they stole from the Havash, an amphibious race who developed it to help their ships fly like something other than huge tanks of water. The Havash had adapted it from the Kreesvay, who had stolen it from someone else. On the Condor, it analyzed her mass’ pull on space-time down to the kilogram and pumped out an equivalent antigravity field. It took a lot of power, and wouldn’t work at the same time as the artificial gravity generator so they couldn’t make major acceleration changes while using it. But many hostile xenos used gravitic field analysis in their passive sensor suites, and the GSD hid them from that. After leaving the Mossad, Aesop got his degree in xenotechnology, and had always been shocked at how little the rest of the galaxy had developed stealth warfare. Even the Dirregaunt, who loved ambush tactics, made no effort to remain hidden once battle was joined.

Then again, he reflected as he pulled up the diagnostic panel on the GSD, the ones who are good at it, we don’t know about.

The LCD display was completely cooked, but the device was humming so it hadn’t shut down yet. It had independent heat sinks to deal with the extra waste heat it generated and that’s where the danger lay. Aesop grabbed the diagnostic tool, plugging it into the port of one cooling tower, then the other.

“Shit. Aurea, this thing needs new heat sinks, it’s getting close to burning out. That case there,” he said, pointing. The Malagath technician tore open the shelf, pulling a pair of tall slender heat sinks from within and letting them drift nearby. She was adapting well to the zero-G conditions, despite her injury.

“Good, bring them over here. We’ll have to do it by hand with the automatic system down. I’ll show you what to do.”

“I cannot change these with my broken arm, human Aesop.”

“I know, I’ll do that. Take this tool,” he said, handing her the diagnostic reader, “when I say, hit this button here to open the shielding, and then this one to close it once the new heat sink is installed. Got it?”

“I understand,” she said, taking the diagnostic tool from him.

“Press it.”

The shielding slid open and the air began to hiss and shimmer as the heat sink was exposed. Because warming up the place a bit was exactly what they needed to do. If the attenuator had been an oven, this was a forge-fire ready to bake steel. Holding his breath so as not to burn his lungs he grabbed the handle on the heat sink and pulled the red-hot tower out of the GSD, glove sizzling. He let it hang in midair, out of the way for now and quickly shoved in the replacement unit. Aurea closed the shielding. He would have to move the old one to the deck before the gravity was switched back on. If it could switch back on. Hopefully having it offline protected it, otherwise they’d be limited to what acceleration the human body could tolerate, which wasn’t a great deal.

“Why are they like this? Is one enough?” she asked.

Aesop shook his head, “No, the GSD is at the failsafe shutdown. Both towers need to work in tandem or we lose the gravitic field. The attenuator offloads excess heat to other heat sinks across the ship, they’re probably all like this except for the main computer.”

He maneuvered to the other tower and swapped the cord for the diagnostic tool, “Ok, now,” he said.

The shielding slid open. He gripped the handle, tugging against the cooling tower. The heat sink barely budged. He swore, letting go of the handle as the heat began to bleed through the thick firefighting gloves. Looking around desperately he spotted the lanyard on Aurea’s uniform.

“Aurea, I need your tether,” he said. Good girl, he thought as she unhooked it and passed it to him, didn’t even ask why.

Aesop looped the length of cord around the top of the heat sink and slid it down behind. He braced his foot against the base of the tower and heaved again. He felt something sliding and pulled even harder, rope crackling. The heat sink came free, slamming into his chest and bouncing away, missing his face by inches and leaving a shiny streak down the front of his vacuum suit. The wind was knocked from him and he spun out of control until he collided painfully with the water purifier. As fast as he was able he righted himself and shot after the heat sink to stop it from crashing into anything flammable. While he did, Aurea managed to shove the second replacement in and close the shielding with the diagnostic tool.

Aesop winced as the rogue heat sink crashed into the aft hydraulic pump, but managed to catch it before it could smash into the starboard power bus. He reached out for something and found a pipe joint. His momentum shifted direction and he slammed into what would have been the deck of the level above them, had the ship had gravity. He let the heat sink go. They had done it. Aesop began to laugh, deep, so hard it almost hurt.

“Human Aesop what is wrong, are you hurt? You’re frightening me”

Aesop wiped away tears from the corner of his eye with a soot-stained finger, “No Aurea I’m not hurt. Not badly, anyway. I just can’t believe we did it. Though I suppose we’re not out of it yet. You were brilliant, Aurea.”

“Look!” exclaimed Aurea. Aesop twisted to where she pointed in her ill-fitting glove, worried it was some new crisis. But she pointed at the lanyard, spinning slowly through the air. It was on fire from the heat of the second tower, but the flames adhered to the cord in a close sheet in an almost beautiful way. Aesop continued to laugh.


Section Divider

Victoria scowled at the muted optic image of the Springdawn as it began to slide around the horizon of the local star. She watched unblinking for a count of ten before speaking into the open microphone. “Yuri, we back online back there?”

“Aye Captain, still undermanned but we’re good for a dump-and-jump”

“Roger that. Shutdown the gravitic stealth, flush coolant and prep the horizon drive. Oh, and give Cohen a fucking raise.”

“Aye Captain.”

She switched the main viewport to the forward aspect and watched the star’s rotation on screen. The ship’s belly banked toward the dwarf star and with the automatic cooling system back online they ejected every spent heat sink where no enemy ship could detect them. Gravity returned and she felt the signature shudder of the horizon drive warming up.

“Miss Wong,” she said, looking at Huian, “Get us the fuck out of here.”

“Aye Skipper.”

The Condor used the star’s gravity to pierce into horizon space, and rocketed away from the Springdawn and the atomized remains of the Dreadstar.


Section Divider

Best Wishes stood at the fore of the bridge, hands resting upon the bone protuberances of his chest. Before him, the view screen replayed the final moments of the Dreadstar. The attack had been masterful. Swift. Without warning or opportunity for reprisal, as a hunt should be. He had complimented his crew on it. But he would find room for improvement, as he always did. Every skirmish was a lesson and Best Wishes was a scholar of battle. He had to be, for a member of the lower caste who had elevated himself through merit there was no other honor to be had. His ambition would falter, he knew, when he could no longer climb. He would forever do the dirty work of the Praetory. He was doomed to command small battle groups striking from the shadows, never to strategize grand fleet movements.

“Again,” he commanded, all four eyes locked on the screen. His first officer, Modest Bearing, complied with his order. Again the slippery blue-black waves of the interstellar dispersed to reveal the Dreadstar, and moments later the already warm weapons of the Springdawn began to cut her to smaller and smaller pieces. She had been so close to the point of the distress call that they had emerged not only within visual range, but so near that he could have thrown a spanner from one vessel to the other.

So why did something feel wrong?

“Again,” he barked. The recording reset back to the interstellar emergence. “Hold,” he said, raising his hand as the dark waves faded and the Dreadstar appeared. Modest Bearing stopped the recording.

First Prince Tavram’s ship had been without engine power, as evidenced by her stationary position relative to the earlier distress call, and by initial readings recorded before the attack. So then why is she perfectly oriented to the local stellar plane? he wondered. Troubling. He turned away from the screen, “Master detector, bring me the report on the active sweep and the passive sensor analysis if you please.”

The secondary view screen flickered, then displayed the result of the active sweep. Nothing of note, no space junk larger than a few inches across that was not a planet.

“Thermal,” he requested. Again, nothing of note. A small flare of heat near the bearing of the sun shortly after the active sweep, but a small flare was hardly remarkable. “Now show the gravitic,” came the command.

A display of the disturbances in space-time replaced the thermal readout, both real time and at the moment they had warped into the system. This was pointless, if there was anything worth his attention his sensor team would have alerted him at the time. Why did his doubt persist, despite the success of his attack?

“Spectrum.” A list and analysis of elements that made up the wreckage of the Dreadstar appeared before him. He scanned it, unsure of what he expected to find. He stopped partway down. Ionized xenon, attributed to the Dreadstar’s laser banks. But xenon produced lasers in the ultraviolet range, whereas Tavram’s ship had lasers of a yellowing color on the visible light spectrum. Helium-Neon, if he recalled correctly. He scanned down. Sure enough, the discrepancy had been overlooked and there were two gasses attributed to the Dreadstar’s lasers.

“Master detector, give me a bearing for the highest concentration of xenon.”

The sensor officer, Dutiful Heiress, listed a series of numbers. He snuck a glance at her as she looked to her console, but one of her eyes swiveled, dispelling his attempt at subtlety.

“And the thermal discrepancy I noted previously?”

A pause, “The same, my Commander. The very same. But of the active sweep and the gravitic sensors there is nothing.”

Troubling. Best Wishes tapped upon his bone protuberances in consternation. He eyed one of the junior shipmen serving as a bridge runner. Earthen Musk. Best Wishes knew the name of every member of his crew down to the last unranked child. Even the clandestine pets that were smuggled aboard. “You there, Earthen Musk,” he called. The youth shriveled under the attention of his captain. Whether from nerves, or disgust at being forced to serve under one of lower caste, Best Wishes could not be sure. There was plenty of both aboard the Springdawn and within the battle group.

“Run to the archivist, request knowledge of any of the lower empires who use xenon in their propulsion systems.” He looked to the helmsman, “Master handler, take us to the far side of the star, if you would.”

Within minutes the Springdawn was on a smooth parabola, and as the opposite hemisphere of the local star was crested his sensor team detected a vicious tear in local space-time consistent with the interstellar ignition of less evolved drives. Inelegant but effective. So, there was a chance the first prince still lived.

“Master hailman, relay a message to the science team. We have a new destination for them.”


Section Divider

Vick’s Vultures by Scott Warren
Pre-Order Today: | Barnes & Noble

On-Sale October 4, 2016

2016 Summer Writing Camp Review

Good afternoon, Parvus People!

Summer is coming to a close faster than any of us would like. With July in the rear view,  we are in the tail end of the dog days of summer. Before you know it, school will be in session once more, the ice cream shops will be closing up for the cold months, and the Parvus Hive Mind will be power-loading on protein in order to thicken our chitin shells for the coming winter. Before that, though, we’re going to need some juicy manuscripts to eat read.

Right now, the Parvus Hive Mind is offering to read your 2016 Summer Writing Camp manuscripts and provide notes. We will take manuscripts until our larders schedules are full and will provide each and every writer who sends in a manuscript with feedback from our publishing team. Right now, we think that’s around 30 manuscripts.

What kind of notes can you expect? Notes on plot, pacing, characters, dialogue, etc. If you have specific questions about your manuscript, we’ll even try and answer those too! So, send us your novels, give us sixty days, and we’ll get you some feedback. Rough drafts are welcome! Incomplete manuscripts are welcome! We are NOT evaluating these for publication.

Why are we doing this, if not to find manuscripts to publish? Primarily, we want to support the brilliant community of writers who participate in these summer writing camps, because we know how much effort it takes. We want to help you keep up your momentum and finish your novels. Second, we’re the new kid in town and not a lot of folks really know what kind of book is a Parvus book. We see this as a great opportunity to let the writing community get to know us and what we look for in a killer manuscript.

Grab that summer manuscript while it’s still hot and head on over to today. We’d love to read your work and offer our feedback.

  • Colin

Parvus Acquires Rights to Mareth E. Griffith’s Debut

Small Publisher Expands With Acquisition of Contemporary Fantasy

Herndon, VA (July 1, 2016) – Parvus Press LLC today announced it has acquired world rights to The Year King, by Mareth E. Griffith. This is Parvus’ first contemporary fantasy acquisition and Ms. Griffith’s debut novel.

“Our first books will set the tone for how people think of Parvus for years to come. Accordingly, we’ve been incredibly selective in these early acquisitions,” stated Parvus publisher and co-founder Colin Coyle. “The Year King is a novel that we’re happy to stake our reputation on and hold up as an example of a ‘Parvus book’.”

Parvus Co-founder Eric Ryles continues, “The Year King is one of those rare books that you come across and just can’t put down. When we talk about fresh approaches to the genre, this book is exactly what we’re talking about. We’re incredibly excited to be publishing The Year King.”

Parvus intends to release Ms. Griffith’s debut novel this coming winter. Regarding the acquisition, Mr. Coyle remarked, “I can’t wait to see how readers react to this story. The Year King is a contemporary hidden world fantasy in the vein of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. Ms. Griffith takes us to Dublin and delivers a nuanced, suspenseful mystery while tying in to some of Ireland’s oldest mythology. It’s really a masterful novel.”

Said Ms. Griffith, of her signing with Parvus, “I am thrilled to be one of the first writers selected to become part of the Parvus Press family, and am excited to be working with Parvus Press to bring The Year King to life.”

Editor John Adamus commented, “Working with new authors is one of my favorite parts of being an editor. The opportunity to help refine a strong new voice and make a debut novel the best possible version of itself is an exciting challenge. I’m excited to dig into this story that frames the perils of family against tradition.”

Ivy thought she had stumbled into the deal of a lifetime six months ago when she answered an ad for a flatmate in a posh neighborhood of Dublin. The rent was a steal and so what if her flatmate, Demi, was a bit weird, the apartment was full floor to ceiling in exotic plants, and she was under strict orders never to touch Demi’s cookware.

But now, Demi’s gone missing, there are strange men hiding in the flower boxes, and Ivy is beginning to realize that Demi’s weirdness was nothing compared to the truth. Demi may have drawn the attention of an ancient evil, intent on reaching across the ages to strike her down.

Ivy delves into a hidden Dublin and while her eyes are open to some of Ireland’s oldest mysteries, the longer she stays in, the more she risks slipping from the world she always knew. Can she save Demi without losing herself in the process?

The Year King is a suspenseful, twisting new fantasy that explores and tests the bonds of friendship and family while taking the reader on a journey across time and between worlds.

The Year King will be released by Parvus Press in Winter 2017.

About Mareth E. Griffith

Mareth Griffith bounces between summers along the Alaskan coast and winters in various warmer locations. She lives in Seward, Alaska, and continually tells people that the winters there aren’t as bad as they think. When she’s not writing, she works as a naturalist and wilderness guide, leading adventurous souls on epic quests to seek out glaciers, bears, and whales in the wilds of coastal Alaska.

She’s also lived and worked in Scotland, New Zealand, and Northern Ireland – where her nearest neighbors included two thousand puffins and the ghost of a spectral black horse. Originally from West Virginia, Mareth attended Smith College in Massachusetts, and the University of Glasgow in Scotland, studying music and theatre.

Prior to moving to Alaska, she worked as an audio technician for several east coast theater companies, eventually discovering that while she loved working in theatre, she didn’t love living in cities. Mareth plays classical violin well and rhythm guitar badly, and her writing has previously been featured in the Redoubt Reporter, Alaska Magazine, and Pen the Kenai, an essay exhibit documenting life on Alaska’s Kenai coast.

About Parvus Press

Parvus Press, founded in 2016, is a publisher of speculative fiction. They are passionate about great stories and and continuing genre fiction’s grand tradition of finding new voices and fresh new ways to bring stories to life.

Parvus Press is currently open for submissions, seeking previously unpublished fantasy and science fiction novels. Guidelines are available on their web site:

Art by Lovely Creatures Studio:

The First Fifty Pages – A Walkthrough

Logo for "The First Fifty Pages" blog post series

Hi Parvuteers! Last week we talked about how important the first fifty pages of your book are to me both as a reader and as a publisher. I thought it might be a useful exercise to look at a couple of well-known books and see where they are at page 50. For the purposes of this exercise I’m mostly grabbing paperbacks. The whole “page 50” notion is supposed to be more directional than literal, but since it offers a nice, definitive spot it’ll be a good point for discussion.

Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card
I’m pretty sure this was the first Hugo/Nebula winner I ever read, and to say that it’s had a huge impact on my tastes would be putting it mildly. Let’s just say that from where I’m sitting, I can see the original version of Analog magazine where Ender’s Game first appeared as a short story on page 100.

I’m going to assume that if you’re bothering to read this, you’ve read Ender’s Game. If that’s not true, follow us and Twitter and Facebook and tweet us (@parvuspress) with the hastag #thereisahugegapinmyscificollection. I will send the first two people to actually do this a fresh copy of Ender’s Game straight from Amazon (not any of my many signed copies, you vultures).

Let’s take a look at all of the goodies crammed into the first 50 pages. I’m going to bullet this cause there’s so MUCH going on.

  • Character Development
    • Ender wants to be a normal kid, but he’s not. He’s a Third.
    • Ender fights with his mind in the most coldly calculating manner imaginable
    • Peter is an ambitious sociopath, and Valentine is the peacemaker
  • World Building
    • We’re on earth, with humans, in a near-future scenario
    • Earth has been attacked by Aliens, twice, and almost lost both rounds
    • The government monitors all children and recruits those with military talent to a special school in space. It also controls how many children a family can have
  • “Voice” and Story
    • Each chapter starts with transcripts, underpinning the idea that the government/military is watching everything and everyone.
    • We’re going on a “coming of age” kind of journey. It’s not a revenge tale, or a conspiracy story, or a planet-hopping space epic.
    • Ender leaves home, rides a spaceship, and arrives in Battle School

I had to restrain myself from penning a 10,000 word dissertation on what makes Ender’s Game so good, but it should be clear that there’s a lot we can all learn from how Mr. Card opened this novel. I will also point out that after 50 pages Ender has put a kid in the hospital, opined on how he wished here were a real boy, and traveled to/arrived at Battle School. There’s a ton of plot going on in addition to all of this other character and world building stuff.

Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson
Before he was “that guy who finished the Wheel of Time”, he was that guy whose sophomore work Mistborn had a pull quote from Romantic Times Book Reviews on the back cover. Seriously, they called it “an exceedingly satisfying book”. Anywho, Sanderson is well-known for his deep world building, engaging characters, and zany magic systems. He knocks all three out of the park in the first 50 (note that the first 50 includes the prologue cause, y’know… you read that too).

  • Character Development
    • Kelsier is a snarky, sardonic badass  who is laser focused on his own goal and he doesn’t so much care about the price he and others pay for it. It’s not that he’s heartless, but he recognizes that his real enemy is the status quo.
    • Vin begins the novel as a timid street rat with trust issues who thinks she needs to be part of a group to survive
  • World Building
    • We have a class-based society with corrupt nobles and an oppressed but superstitious working and serf class
    • Magic exists, and some special people can use it.
      • Also, there are “inquisitors” who walk around with spikes in their eyes!
    • There’s an active seedy underbelly to this city
  • “Voice” and Story
    • We don’t get deep into the main plot, but we get an appetizer by watching the first “crew” of criminals scam another crew and pull a fast one on the government. This is essentially a microcosm of the larger story we’re about to get.  It helps us understand that there’s going to be a lot of moving parts working together
    • You’ve got that Sanderson style of writing interactions between good friends. In addition to being a key part of his voice (he does it well in everything) it also helps us understand that this is not a lone-wolf story. Kelsier is not a “man apart”, but rather the respected leader of a team.

Storm Front, by Jim Butcher
Ah yes, the first book in the Dresden Files. No one has ever accused Jim Butcher of not being able to build a compelling world or write interesting characters, and the first 50 pages of this series sets up some relationships and character traits that have persisted through 15 books and counting. Go back and re-read these particular first 50 pages and see how much he crams in.

  • Character Development
    • We meet, and love, Harry Dresden. He’s a grumpy professional wizard working in modern day Chicago. Not afraid to stand up to folk and things who are… “bigger” than him.

Seriously, check out this amazingly crafted paragraph:
“Cujo growled at me in the rearview mirror again and I beamed at him. Smiling always seems to annoy people more than actually insulting them. Or maybe I just have an annoying smile”

Let’s unpack it:

    • Harry gives the bad guy’s henchman a silly nickname. This gives you great insight into his personality
    • Harry goes out of his way to antagonize the guy without actually picking a fight
    • Harry acknowledges that maybe he’s just annoying
    • We meet and get to take the measure of John Marcone. Yes, Butcher uses a shortcut here with a kind of soulgaze that allows him to exposit on Marcone’s character but in that same interaction we also get to see him act in such a way that bears out the exposition. He’ll be doing a lot more of that later in the series.
    • And of course, we meet Harry’s on again, off again, off some more, maybe on, back off, off for realsies, maybe on, someone dies now, on again paramour Karin Murphy. Butcher uses tropes and our pre-conceptions about hard-bitten detective types to give us some initial introduction, and then proceeds to do his own thing.
  • World Building
    • We’re in the “real” world
    • Some kind of magic exists and there are many practitioners  of it
    • There are references to several different kinds of magic, as well as the world of Faerie
    • We’re in for an urban setting
  • “Voice” and Story
    • It’s a detective novel
    • This thing is going to be told in first person, and it’s going to be by a sardonic, smart-ass with a mental smirk.
    • In 50 pages we investigate a murder, go for a ride with a crime kingpin, and take a case with the stereotypical damsel in distress. Not bad for a day’s work!

Each of these three books delivers a lot in the first 50 pages. Yours may not be quite as action packed, but make sure that you’re giving the reader enough to form some meaningful judgments about the rest of the work. If you can nail your first 50, you’ll have your hooks into the reader (and your publisher…) and they will eagerly follow your characters through the rest of the journey.

The First Fifty Pages

Logo for "The First Fifty Pages" blog post series

Hello all, Eric here, and I want to talk to you about what the first fifty pages of a book tells me. Because it’s my company, I get to choose to publish books that I enjoyed reading (which is, for sure, the #1 benefit of starting a publishing company). In the three months we’ve been at this, Parvus has been fortunate enough to receive about 50 submissions. I’ve personally read through 30 so far and have selected one for publication (congratulations again, Scott Warren).

What I’ve come to realize is that I form judgments about books fairly quickly. By the time I’m 50 pages into a book, I am very rarely thinking to myself “I wonder if I’m going to like this”. Oh to be sure it has happened on a number of occasions (at page 50 in The Eye of World they were still about 150 pages from leaving friggin Two Rivers and I had no idea what to think), but most of the time by page 50 I’ve formed a solid opinion. As an author, you want that opinion to include:

1. Elements of your world-building

I don’t need to know the intricacies of your reptile-powered magic system (that’s patent-pending by the way, Sanderson…) but I need to know that magic exists and that some people use it. Let’s go back to The Eye of the World. We don’t get anything resembling in-depth knowledge of the Source, or the Forsaken, or the different Ajahs. But I know that there’s a “Dark One”, I know that there are female magic users called Aes Sedai and that some of them are out to apprehend the third “False Dragon” in five years! All of this happens in the background as Rand and Mat wander around town and start to build some character (spoiler, young Matrim is a bit of a rogue).

2. Your Protagonist

I should be able to describe your main character by the end of the third chapter. It should be pretty clear to me who he or she is, and I should be able to jot down a couple of adjectives describing that person (or whatever). If you’ve got yourself a rotating viewpoint cast, like in Brandon Sanderson’s Elantris, I should have spent at least a little time with all of these folks by the time I get to page 50. Even if I’m not super invested in them yet, I should at least be generally on their side. If your guy spent the first chapter kicking puppies in front of orphans, don’t expect me to get the feels when he stubs his toe on Fido.

You also want to be consistent, here. I get that your main character is a complex tapestry of flaws and super dark and interesting, but don’t expect me to buy in when the guy who is cheerfully walking home from the whorehouse kneels down and weeps when he gets home to find that his wife has been murdered.

3. Your Story

By the end of page 50, I need to know what kind of a ride I’m in for. Establishing character and world is important, but you can’t spend so much time navel-gazing that you don’t at least hint to me what I’m in store for. Are we going on a quest? Is this going to be a revenge tale? Are we going to be defending earth against aliens? Give me something I can get interested in. Characters who just develop and then don’t do anything are best left to 19th century Russian intellectuals or Shakespeare (seriously, go back and re-read Crime and Punishment and Hamlet and tell me I’m wrong).

I want to stress here that the whole of the plot doesn’t need to be laid out. If you’ve got an ancient prophecy that’s going to be slowly revealed over the course of the whole book I can dig it! I wouldn’t mind knowing that we’re in a world where prophecy might be a thing.

4. Your voice.

This is probably the hardest one to quantify, which is why I left it for last like a coward. Give three authors the same basic plot to write and you’re going to wind up with three wildly different stories. There is that quality in all writing that is a shadow of the author (or at least the part of their shadow they want you to see). That’s especially important for a small publisher like Parvus, because a good voice can make a decent story absolutely amazing. I think my favorite example of this is Day by Day Armageddon, by JL Borune. It’s a fairly typical zombie apocalypse story told in a masterful way.

Other authors similarly lend their voices to their work. Rip the cover off any John Scalzi novel and I’ll be able to identify it as a “Scalzi” in the first 30 pages. Jim Butcher I can probably tag in the first 40 and I’m guessing John Ringo takes less than 20. My point is that the uniqueness of your voice is an asset, and you should let it come through.

Those are four of the elements that I, as both a reader and a publisher of books, want to see. They don’t all need to be perfect (that’s what our amazing editors are for), but when someone asks me  what your book is about I should never have to answer “I’m not 100% sure…”.  Put another, more mercenary way:

You can’t convince me to buy your book in the first 50 pages. But you can definitely convince me not to.

Parvus Press Acquires “Vick’s Vultures”


Digital-First Publisher Aims to Provide High-Touch Publishing Partnerships with Writers of Speculative Fiction

Herndon, VA (March 30, 2016) – Parvus Press LLC today announced it has acquired world rights to Vick’s Vultures, by Scott Warren. This is Parvus’ first acquisition and Mr. Warren’s second novel and his first science fiction effort.

“Our mission is simple; find the next generation of great storytellers in genre fiction and bring their novels to new audiences,” stated Parvus publisher and co-founder Colin Coyle. “We believe that success should be shared by all; which includes the authors, editors, artists, and publishers that collaborate to turn great stories into great books.”

Parvus Co-founder Eric Ryles continues, “In the new landscape of publishing, with so many avenues for books to reach consumers, we provide the expertise necessary to allow authors to focus on their craft and produce their best efforts so that they can find the broadest possible audience.”

Regarding their acquisition of Scott Warren’s sophomore effort, Coyle remarked, “We’re incredibly excited to be in the Scott Warren business. Readers are going to love how adeptly Warren leads them toward the expected tropes of the genre, only to pull away at the last moment and drive the story in new and inventive directions. He delivers a thrilling adventure packed with characters they will love.”

Says Mr. Ryles, “When I read this for the first time, I kept thinking ‘Fury Road in Space? Yes please!’ and knew we had to publish it.”

Set in a crowded galaxy where humanity is well below the power curve, Vick’s Vultures is an interstellar adventure that follows Captain Victoria “Vick” Marin and her roughneck crew as they seek out advanced alien technology for salvage or ransom. But when she crosses paths with a prince of the galaxy’s most powerful ruling family, she must traverse hostile space to stay one step ahead of a fleet of ruthless hunters to return him to his home world. Back on Earth the powers-that-be have other plans, and as Victoria’s friendship with the prince grows, she must balance her sense of duty against her morals in a decision that could change the political landscape of the known galaxy.

Editor John Adamus commented, “It’s always exciting to work with an eager author on their manuscript, and Scott Warren is no exception. Vick’s Vultures is a novel of amazing scope and ambition, packed with the smart balance of excitement and detail found in the best science fiction today. I look forward to many more novels as Mr. Warren continues writing.”

Vick’s Vultures will be released by Parvus Press in Fall 2016.

About Scott Warren

Scott Warren is 26, and lives in Central Oregon where he splits his time between writing, aviation, and art. He served as a submariner in the US Navy and is a certified flight instructor. He is also the author of “The Sorcerous Crimes Division: Devilbone”. Follow him on Twitter: @ScottWarrenSCD

About Parvus Press

Parvus Press, founded in 2016 by lifelong friends Colin Coyle and Eric Ryles, is a Digital-First publisher of speculative fiction. They are passionate about great stories and committed to publishing the next generation of great creative minds. They are currently open for submissions, seeking previously unpublished fantasy and science fiction novels. Guidelines are available on their web site:

Follow Instructions, Iconoclast!

Follow instructions!

Happy Monday, Parvus People! This week’s blog post is straightforward and aimed squarely at writers submitting their work to publishers. The rest of you can check out and come back later in the week for a super important announcement that I’m not allowed to talk about right now or the Hive Mind will reduce my brain to a nutrient paste. So – submitters, read on!

Writers, read submission guidelines and follow them. Yes, there are some industry standard practices that are a good idea (Word count on title page, page numbers in manuscript, and so forth), but these practices are not as important as following the publisher’s submission guidelines.

Follow all the guidelines the publisher is giving you. If you’re going to deviate, it’s best to offer an explanation.

Let’s look specifically at our guidelines. We ask for a some specific info in your submission email. Firstly, your full contact info. This lets us get in touch with you if we want to buy your book. It’s important. But what if you aren’t comfortable sharing your phone number (There are a world of valid reasons for this other than paranoia)? Say so, with an apology.

Why do we want your phone number? A few weeks back, I was reading a manuscript and was having a hard time getting in the right headspace to properly evaluate it. This happens a LOT when you read a half dozen manuscripts in a sitting. The author had provided their phone number and I was able to make a quick call, clarify the discord between the author’s writing and my reading, and give the manuscript a fair read. Without that phone number, I may have made a note to look into the issue later, set the manuscript aside, and forgotten everything except that I didn’t enjoy reading it.

How about the word count of the novel? We’re a digital first publisher – why should we care about how long a book is? It’s not like it impacts our costs, right?

Again, this is mainly about giving your manuscript a proper read. Without word count, I’m left floating a bit on what to expect from the pacing of your novel. A 60,000 word and a 120,000 word novel develop at a VERY different pace. Give me the word count so that I can properly calibrate. Also, knowing I’m about to dive into a longer novel will warn me not to start reading it twenty minutes before I have to walk into a meeting. It’s a notice to the reader that they need to set aside more time to evaluate the book.

Most importantly – following the publisher’s guidelines sends two important signals. One: You’ve taken the minimum amount of time to understand who you are submitting the novel to. If you aren’t doing this, there’s a good chance the following are true:

A) You have no idea who we are, so your novel is probably not a good fit for us.
B) You can’t pay attention to detail. When I notice an error early in your manuscript it’s not because you overlooked one small thing in the insanity of writing a novel; it’s because you can’t pay attention to detail and I should stop reading.
C) See “B” above. Because this is the SUPER important point. If you telegraph an inability to focus on detail in your submission, the publisher will see this same flaw in your writing, rather than a simple slip.

Two: You’re indicating to the publisher that you may be difficult to work with after the book is sold. At the minimum, you’re showing that you won’t pay careful attention to what the publisher and editor ask of you throughout the process and you may need extra hand-holding. This could very well be the difference between “Buy this manuscript now” and “I like it, but…”

tl;dr Follow the publisher’s guidelines carefully when submitting a manuscript. There’s not a single good reason on planet earth not to do so.

Thanks for sharing some time with us. Got something to say? Tweet at us!  @ParvusPress

Pirates, Parrots, and Problems with Voice

Happy Monday, Parvus People! First off this week, I wanted to share some statistics compiled from our submissions. So far, 70% of our subs have come from the US, 10% each from Canada and the UK, and 7% from Australia. What about that other 3%? Well, that accounts for submissions that didn’t include an address. It’s important to include your full contact info on your submissions so that we can track you down if we like your manuscript!

Of our fantasy submissions, two thirds have been of the “epic” variety. The remainder are mostly urban fantasy with a few “other” thrown in. Hat tip to all you hardboiled fantasy writers out there! The average fantasy manuscript, of any and all flavors, is 104,000 words. Over on the sci-fi side of the house, it was 86,000 words. There’s a joke in there about the attention span of sci-fi readers or the verbosity of fantasy writers; I’ll let you all fill it in on your own, though.

Nifty? Not nifty? We’ll dig out some more entertaining statistics next month. For now, though, let’s move on to this week’s Lesson From the Submission Pile (We really need a better name for that):

Problems With Voice:

“Voice” is one of those obnoxious meta terms that everybody throws around but nobody really defines all that well (Nobody except Grammar Girl, that is. Stop and read this: Yes, voice is the “feel” of the writing. It’s a mixture of the pacing, language used, grammar, etc. It’s that unique patois which results from all the small writing choices you make. Like using “patois”. That’s a choice I made to make this paragraph a bit more authoritative; give it a French sound, dress it up a bit, etc.

How can you, the writer, identify “problems” in the voice of your manuscript, then? Isn’t the voice entirely subjective?

No. It’s not entirely subjective. In fact, there is one thing that a lot of new writers get wrong when it comes to the voice of their stories and it’s this: You describe scenes with the words you would use instead of the words your narrator would use. Stick with me for a few minutes and I’ll explain:

MOST fiction is written in third person limited viewpoint. For this little adventure in explanation, let’s pretend the narrator is a movie camera. It makes this a bit easier to visualize.

In third person limited, the camera is basically sitting on the POV character’s shoulder like a parrot on a pirate. There’s a cable that runs from the camera into our POV character’s brain, so we can read their thoughts if we want. The camera is a parrot plugged into a pirate’s processing port.

So we see the scene from a spot JUST next to the POV character’s eyes (which lets us, the reader, look around the scene a bit and notice things before the character does), but that line into their brain means we can see their thoughts. It ALSO means that the thoughts of the POV character can influence the camera. How does ANY of this impact voice?

If you choose to tell the scene entirely from the camera’s viewpoint, we are entirely in the voice of the narrator and we can use whatever words we want to describe a scene. Imagine we are watching two men boxing. A ninja and a pirate. Our POV character is the pirate. (…parrot plugged into a pugilist pirate’s processing port…). Check out this line of text:

Paulie the Pirate grinned, showing a mouthful of teeth that resembled the shattered storefronts of an inner city strip mall. He hitched left, winked, and threw a powerful right hook that caught Nancy the Ninja completely unawares. There was a sickening crunch of cartilage giving way under the force of Paulie’s punch as her nose didn’t just break but crumpled.

 Nothing wrong with this, right? Well, nothing related to voice, at least. Now, let’s view the scene with input from that cable to the POV character’s brain.

Paulie grinned. He had been telegraphing weak lefts through this whole fight and the vain ninja thought she had him all figure out. He hitched left and winked and he thought, “Yar, this here’ll be damnably rewarding”. She never saw the right hook coming. He heard a satisfying wet snap as his fist smashed her nose into a shapeless blob of flesh.

There are a number of differences. We see some of Paulie’s thoughts, we see that he has been “telegraphing weak lefts”, data that we can be certain of because Paulie knows they were intentional. Our dispassionate narrator from the first sample wouldn’t be able to so bluntly describe such bluffs, because he doesn’t see it coming any more than Nancy does.

The key difference, however, is the description of the sound of Nancy’s nose breaking. In sample one, our narrator is a proxy for us. It is a dispassionate third party and it does NOT enjoy the sound of a nose breaking (because it’s an icky sound). To this narrator, the sound is “sickening”. In the second sample, the narrator is pulling a live feed from Paulie’s brain. To him, that is the sound of victory, so the sound is “satisfying”.

Note that we don’t have to limit ourselves to grammar and vocabulary that Paulie would use. The narrator is still an independent entity that is delivering us this story. But we DO have to recognize the influence of the POV character’s thoughts on the narrator’s view of events.

SO: Re-read those same two samples but SWAP the descriptor for the sound. Read it as “satisfying” in the first sample and “sickening” in the second. Doesn’t work, does it? THAT is a “voice” problem. Voice problems tend to arise from adjectives. They tend to be the narrator describing something the way the author sees it in their eye rather than from the viewpoint of the narrator/POV character relationship.

Here are some quick and dirty examples:

 Thorgbald prepared for battle. He tightened the straps of his bracers, rolled his neck, and tied back his silky hair…

No. His hair might be silkier than the silkiest silk, but Thorgbald is prepping for battle. He’s not thinking about the silkiness of his hair.

“Jenna had a shit day. Just shit. First, Thorgbald broke up with her to go fight in some Barbarian/Pirate/Ninja tournament, then she had lost her crown to her sister. Angry, frustrated, and hungry, she folded her arms under her ample bosom…”

Or she slammed a fist against her voluptuous thigh, or rested her hands on her shapely hips… You get the idea. The author might be picturing Jenna as a big-breasted woman, but Jenna certainly isn’t thinking about the size of her breasts in this scene. Or the sensuality of her thighs or inviting swell of her waist or any other such silliness. Stop staring at your character’s breasts, too. It’s just odd.

And, lastly,

Commander Jaxxor of the StarCruiser ‘Malevolence’ was looking forward to this. He had come from the farthest reaches of the galaxy in order to assert his dominance over the Barbarians, Pirates, and Ninjas of this sliver of the multiverse. With the barest of efforts, he swung his energized vibroblade through Thorgbald’s meaty torso. The energy weapon split Thorgbald from his well-muscled shoulder to the opposite voluptuous thigh with all the effort of pressing a kabob skewer through a cremini mushroom.

See that metaphor at the end? It’s beautiful, but that’s probably not a comparison that Jaxxor would make. Make comparisons that make sense to your POV characters’ experience and worldview.

 Fine tuning voice is an incredibly complex aspect of writing and something that only comes with practice and time, but it is the difference between writing a good novel and starting to master the art of being a novelist. If you’ve had negative feedback on voice in the past, or had readers tell you “The story was interesting, but I just had a hard time getting into it”, re-read and look for descriptors that don’t quite fit the POV you’re using in a scene.

Best of luck, writers, and please keep sending in your manuscripts! We’re still looking for more books to fill out our 2016 publication schedule. Visit our submissions guidelines here:

Make Your Job Harder

A close-up of a grouping of clover.

Happy Monday, Parvus People, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day to those of you celebrating this week. Being in the storytelling business, we’re big fans of the blarney.

Before we get into submission lessons, if you haven’t seen it already, you should check this week’s Blog Post of our compatriot and Consulting Editor, John Adamus. John talks about showing vs. telling (Something that you’re probably reading about by now) but he does it with stripper metaphors:  John’s Blog. I know you folks are tired of seeing “show vs. tell”, but it’s a skill that is still underdeveloped in a lot of the submissions we receive.

Our focus this week, fair friends, is going to be on how to make your job as a novelist harder. It appears to be a topic that many of you are interested in! So, without any further delay, let’s dig in.

The easiest way to make your job harder is to decide that it’s not enough to JUST be a novelist. You should also be a poet, or lyricist, or short story writer. It is common in fantasy novels (and marginally less so in sci-fi) to include an epigraph at the opening of a chapter. This is sometimes a quote from some fictional wise man in your universe, recalling a quote from a major character in an early chapter (A technique we love when used well), or even a bit of poetry.

I implore you, dear writer. If you are not a poet, do not include poetry in your novel. Most novel readers do not read poetry. Most novelists do not write poetry. When a person who Is not accustomed to interpreting poetry reads less-than-stellar poetry, it’s a disaster for both reader and writer alike.

If you must include poems in your novel, find a poet and ask them to write them for you. The same goes for songs. Find a songwriter, give them the rough sketch of your idea, and trust them to write the lyrics for you.

But, should you want to make your job harder, feel free to try to learn to write effective poetry while you are working your way through a 100,000 word manuscript.

What about short stories? The skills are more closely related; so what’s so bad about including a short story in your novel? Again, it’s about reader expectations. A reader picking up a novel is not expecting to find short stories peppered throughout. If they did, they’d pick up a collection of short stories.

Novels are full of side stories, vignettes, flashbacks, etc. that are mostly self-contained bubbles of story hanging off the main host, but they are not entirely self-contained. They must attach to the main story, either by way of a character weaving the telling of the story into the main through line of their arc, by ending without fully resolving their small plot (because the resolution of said plot is part of the larger story arc), or by some other means.

A short story is a fully self-contained tale with a beginning, middle, and end. If you absolutely must include something of this nature into your novel for reasons that don’t immediately leap to mind, have a character deliver it to us in a first person narrative. Have them relate the events that occurred to them. In this way, at least, you are weaving the short story into the larger narrative.

Or, you can choose to make your job as a novelist impossible by peppering your novel with short stories. Not only will you give your reader a jarring experience and break the spell of the narrative, but you will have the joy of forcing yourself to excel in two very different writing styles just to be considered adequate overall.

If you’re writing a novel, friends, just write a novel. Don’t compound the monumentally difficult task in front of you by attempting to master multiple different styles of writing and story composition in the same work. Give me a complex narrative full of foreshadowing, mirroring, allegory, callbacks and rich characterization. Isn’t that enough of a challenge for you?

Your Prologue Is Hurting Your Novel

Before we begin this week’s blog post, let me give you a little background information that will help you understand our perspective on prologues. 28% of the submissions we receive have prologues. The vast majority of those, 75% are fantasy. 25% of those books with prologues are science fiction.

Of the books that did not have prologues, there isn’t a single one that I read and thought “You know what would make this better? A prologue”.

Of the books that DID have prologues, nearly all of them suffered from the weight of the prologue holding the story back.

So, this week’s discussion is going to center on prologues and why you probably shouldn’t include one in your manuscript. I’d like to focus on what a prologue needs to accomplish in order to justify its existence.

A prologue sets up the reader to enjoy your story. It whets the appetite for the main course. Many people will advise you that the prologue establishes the world or setting. While it MAY do that, that is simply one function a prologue can perform. It is not the reason for the prologue to exist. The prologue makes promises to the reader. It tells them that, if they’re patient, the story will reward them with awe and beauty. And it hooks the reader with a question.

Look at one of the single most effective prologues in modern novels; George R. R. Martin’s prologue to A Game of Thrones. Spoilers (of the prologue only) follow:

What happens in this prologue? Martin introduces us to three characters – two of whom are dead by the end of the prologue and the third of whom dies shortly thereafter. He introduces us to the cold, icy setting of the world north of the wall; but it’s a bare bit of forest of no particular import. We are barely introduced to the Night’s Watch and the idea of the wildlings.

None of these things are really all that important. None of these really serve as an introduction to the world or the setting, as most people believe a prologue should. But, at the end, we see the Others, The White Walkers. We see these other-worldly, clearly magical villains and we watch them kill a member of the Watch, who then rises as a lich to kill his former companion.

THAT bit there is the important part of this prologue. Martin is telling us that there is magic in this world; evil, dark magic. He is telling us that there is an ancient enemy who swells its ranks as you try and fight it by raising the dead. He does this because the next chapter shifts us to Winterfell, a thoroughly unmagical place. In fact, there is very little magic observed in most of the world of A Song of Ice and Fire.

The prologue was a promise to fantasy readers that while most of the books were about the machinations and politics of Martin’s richly detailed world, there was also magic pulsing in the background. It would be important, but it wasn’t going to be available as a tool for our heroes to Deus ex Machina themselves out of every jam.

And it gave us the question – Who are these Others? When will the rest of the world get wise to the danger they pose? This would be a background question for the reader to keep in their mind as they watched the game of thrones unfold. It’s a question that maintains tension throughout the novels; why is it important which Baratheon boy holds the throne when the real threat is an army of the undead coming from the north?

That, my friends, is what your prologue should do. It should leave the readers with a question that will lurk on the edges of the key scenes in your novel. It should promise something to them and keep them reading. Here’s the secret that a good prologue hides; Make the readers the promise of danger, excitement, or thrills and they will grant you an entire chapter one to set up the world.

The prologue buys you the time (and credibility) to deliver the exposition you need. If you’re putting that exposition in the prologue before hitting the reader with an exciting Chapter 1, you’ve gotten it backwards and they won’t even make it that far.

So; take another look at your prologue. Is there action, tension, and mystery? If not, dump it immediately. It’s an anchor you’re asking the rest of the book to carry around. Look at your chapter one; does it contain all the elements of your story in microcosm? Does it have momentum? Does it compel the story forward? If so, you probably don’t need your prologue.

My perspective on prologues in manuscripts is this: If the book opens with a compelling chapter one and keeps my interest moving through, I may find myself thinking “Great book. Could be better with a prologue to set up mid-point events. Should talk to the editor about that.” However, if I’m reading a prologue that is dragging me down with exposition or that seems wholly disconnected from Chapter One, I won’t have faith that the writer is skilled enough to make the rest of the manuscript worth reading.

At the end of the day, that’s the most important promise that your book’s opening makes, whether it’s a prologue of a plain old chapter one, you are promising the reader that you are skilled enough to have crafted an enjoyable story. You are promising the reader that you are worth their time.

Unless you’re certain that you’ve got a killer prologue, dump it before it kills your novel.

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