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Red Horse arrives

Riding the Red Horse is now available from Castalia House, both on their website and Amazon. It’s gotten some fine reviews, and the biggest excitement for me is being published alongside authors such as Tom Kratman and John C. Wright. And of course, the big spoiler is that none other than Jerry Pournelle is featured in the anthology.

he short fiction I wrote for this compilation is called Turncoat and follows the adventure of a self-aware machine intelligence that is caught in the middle of a burgeoning galactic war. It takes place in the Quantum Mortis universe several centuries prior to MCID Chief Warrant Officer Graven Tower’s cases in A Man Disrupted and Gravity Killsand not long after the tale of spy vs. spy Vox penned in A Programmed Mind

Like I said, you can get it both at Castalia and Amazon, whatever your pleasure.

‘Red Horse’ roundup

RedHorse_promoFor all those of you wondering when you’ll see my next published work, here’s the answer: within the next couple of weeks. That’s the estimated release for Riding the Red Horse, from Vox Day’s publishing company Castalia House. That’s the publisher of the sci-fi murder mystery Vox and I produced last year, Quantum Mortis: A Man Disruptedand its accompanying novella, Quantum Mortis: Gravity KillsRiding the Red Horse collects works from Castalia House’s superb lineup of authors, including Tom Kratman and John C. Wright.

The short fiction I wrote for this compilation is called Turncoat and follows the adventure of a self-aware machine intelligence that is caught in the middle of a burgeoning galactic war. It takes place in the Quantum Mortis universe several centuries prior to MCID Chief Warrant Officer Graven Tower’s cases in A Man Disrupted and Gravity Killsand not long after the tale of spy vs. spy Vox penned in A Programmed MindAs a young teen, I was intrigued by the portrayal of Lt. Data by actor Brent Spiner on Star Trek: The Next Generation; stories about artificial intelligence searching for their spark of humanity are among the best science-fiction has to offer. In that spirit, when Vox contacted me about adding to the Quantum Mortis universe and said he was looking for something set in this time period, I was enthused.

You don’t need to have read Quantum Mortis to enjoy Turncoat — and the rest of Riding the Red Horse includes excellent work by myriad other authors — but I recommend at least reading A Mind Programmed to get a feel for the story world.

Stay tuned for more news regarding the release.

Crosswind giveaway — two days left

The clock’s ticking… the deadline for getting your name in for a free copy of Crosswind: The First Sark Brothers Tale is midnight on Monday, Dec. 1. Drop by Goodreads for the giveaway. To that end I’ve got one last excerpt from the book. In it the brothers Winch and Cope have taken a coded message from their mayor-general to a bookseller who is secretly in league with friends:

———————

Oneyear led them behind the counter and through a closet-sized hallway. The stairs at the back led them down to a dingy basement, lit by only a handful of bulbs suspended precariously from the ceiling. Winch spotted the two printing presses right off the bat—the main printing press, which was a massive beast of iron, steel, and wood frames, and the smaller line-puncher set off to one side on a thick-legged table.

Their guide took the punch-tape from Cope. He fixed it to the feed cylinder then threw the switch on the side of the machine. Winch saw it had a fuel tank hooked to the furnace. The boiler rumbled. Steam hissed through valves. The machine rattled to life, the cylinder spinning the tape into the innards of the line puncher. Oneyear cranked on another lever. This time, the machine’s cylinder halted and reversed direction. Then it began tapping out letters—like a tele-typer.

“Doesn’t seem to be a terribly long message. Folk sometimes bring me whole pamphlets.” Oneyear shook his head in disdain. “Then they expect me to be done as fast as lightning. Amateurs.”

“Really.” Winch looked at Cope, who just shrugged.

The smells of the ink and the warm metal reminded Winch of the Advocate’s printing presses in its own basement. That recollection gave Winch a powerful fit of homesickness. In no time, though, Oneyear yanked the piece of paper from the machine and shut it off. It wheezed a contented sigh. Steam petered out. Oneyear patted it with affection. “Probably needs its cylinder replaced. Here you are, gents.”

Winch accepted the paper. Now to see what was so important that Mayor-General Keysor demanded it be hidden in code. Cope craned his neck for a peek, but Winch shouldered him aside.

This note looked more like odd poetry than an urgent message.

Cope elbowed Winch. “Read it aloud.”

“All right. Here:

Did you find mother’s locket?

Make sure, Jesca, that you

Trim the primrose bush outside.

Such a palace for wasps.’”

Cope blinked. Before Winch could hazard a comment, Oneyear’s laugh boomed in the confined space. “Boys, you don’t have a sharp spike’s clue what that says, do you?”

“Ah, no. If we did, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be standing here catching bugs with my trap wide open,” Cope said sourly.

“Give it here.” Oneyear took the paper. He flattened it out against the wall with one hand. Then he rummaged in a pocket. Thick fingers held up a slender red pencil. “Your friend up there in Perch likes his ciphers, and he’s always keen to try out a new one on me. But he went for one of our classics this time.”

Oneyear circled words on the paper. Winch’s eyes widened—not just any words, but the middle one in each of the four lines. Oneyear smiled over his shoulder. “You see it now, correct?”

Winch nodded. “I’m distressed I did not see it sooner.”

“How’s about a bit more edification for those of us with apparent eye problems?” Cope said.

“It’s a null cipher.” Winch accepted the paper back from Oneyear. “See? Every middle word in these four lines of five words each is part of the message. The other words make it seem like poetry. But when you remove them all…”

Oneyear had scribbled below the message in red pencil four words:

“Find Jesca Primrose Palace.”

Cope frowned. “What’s ‘Primrose Palace’?”

“A hotel with a fine coat of paint on the outside and all the hedonism and seedy types that you could fill jail with on the inside.” Oneyear shook his head. “Sorry to say, boys, but if this Jesca is there, well…she’s not likely serving drinks off a silver tray,”

“Huh. Sure. Well, you’ve been a tremendous help.” Cope smiled. “We do appreciate it.”

Oneyear nodded. “And I’d appreciate my fee.”

“Fee?” Winch asked.

“One hundred.” Oneyear crossed his arms. Muscles rippled.

“What? That’s banditry!” Winch was appalled. So much for his assumption this man was some kind of patriot for Perch…

“Here, steady your wings, Winch.” Cope dug into his rucksack and, to Winch’s shock, produced a roll of red-rims, the paper currency of Trestleway. “One hundred, you hulking thief. Your employer’s much obliged, I reckon.”

“Reckon so too.” Oneyear pocketed the money. He gave them a broad smile. “Pleasant day, gents.”

Crosswind sneak peek: Wings in combat

Got a week and change left until the book giveaway of Crosswind is over — stop by Goodreads and enter. Here’s the second excerpt from the novel, this one focusing on Cope’s skill as a daredevil pilot:

——

Cope angled his wings and zipped across the sky over Fort DeSmet. There were dirigibles. His eyes went wide. Free fliers of Sternabend? In eight dirigibles? Great blues skies above. That was one tarnal aero force sitting down there.

Suddenly Daisy’s engine increased its pitch. Cope snapped his head left. Uh-oh. More than eight, apparently.

Four more dirigibles loomed farther down the valley, on their way up from Pearly’s Bend. They came from around a bend in the mountain range. And they were dropping fighters like a teratorn shedding feathers. Five, by Cope’s count.

He grinned rapaciously. Five? Might just be even odds against his three.

His orders were to observe and report back to Colonel Cuthbert. But Cope was not going to let an opportunity such as this pass. No one would expect a reconnaissance flight to attack. It would be lunacy.

Cope accelerated into a dive. Gunshots rang out from the town below. Carbines, probably. Not that they had near the range to hit him this high up. He pulled out of the dive. Good. Daisy and Tread were right there on his wings.

He angled his biplane up and gunned the engine.

The five approaching fighters dipped their wings and dropped down at the Perch aeroplanes. Three of them were two-seater TAB IVs, definitely painted in plain old Trestleway livery. But they were accompanied by a pair of Rhoads 33 triplanes, both painted a gaudy green and gold. That had to be the free fliers.

“Bandit scum,” Cope hissed. “Wait ’til they see what I’ve got. Come in closer, dogs.”

He bore up at them, his hand poised on the lever for his Hinohama rockets. He grinned broadly, but his face froze up in a mask of confusion as the planes broke off into a trio and a deuce. They zoomed right around Cope.

“What?” He was utterly baffled. They acted like they knew. He cursed. Of course. That cussed second councilor and his goons were all at the aerodrome in Perch when he blasted the bandits from the air raid earlier in the week. Maybe they knew he had rockets, because his fighter was still painted the same garish blue and adorned with his squadron leader markings.

So they were staying off his nose.

“Fine by me!” Cope put his plane into a renversement, banking hard up, nose in toward the clouds, engine straining, then rolling over onto one side and racing back down an invisible loop until he was right on their tails.

Daisy and Tread were both dodging the gunfire the planes hailed upon them. The rear gunners of the TAB fighters sprayed bullets from their rotating Keach guns. Cope gritted his teeth and ducked his wings as a burst of gunfire ripped through the air above him. Barely missed the canvas. He pressed down in the trigger for his own gun, but he had his Vigilante jerking about so badly he was sure he’d not hit a thing.

An explosion tore a TAB fighter apart. Cope’s jaw dropped. A line of smoke and fire leap out from Tread’s aeroplane, spinning off in a lopsided spiral. Another explosion burst just feet from another fighter. At first Cope thought Tread’s shot missed, but then something, shrapnel likely, ripped the upper left wing of the TAB to shreds. It limped away from the fight.

Cope laughed out loud. “Rebekah Hawes, you fiend!” he shouted to the air. So she’d finally seen his wisdom and added Hinohamas to other aeroplanes.

The last TAB fighter wheeled around and blazed a trail back toward the dirigibles. The bandit fighters split apart. One ran away, headed toward the mountains, while the second unleashed a furious volley of gunfire at Daisy.

Cope tsked. “Not polite to pick on a lady.” He banked hard to the left. Within moments the fighter’s tail was square in his sights. The rear gunner fired a salvo. Cope slackened his grip on the controls. The wind pushed his plane from the path of the bullets. He pressed the trigger.

Flashes left glowing blobs before his eyes. The tail of the enemy fighter shredded with the force of a smilodon tearing into a bull moose. Bullets traced their way up the fuselage as Cope overflew the fighter, all the way into the cockpit and the engine beyond. Fire and smoke erupted. The fighter dove in a death spin. Cope figured it was best the men were dead already. Being trapped in a burning aerocraft was no way for a flier to go.

Excerpt: The Brothers Sark

coperniscus_winchell_v2

Original cover art for “Crosswind” by Keith Thompson, 2012.

Have you put your name in for the giveaway copy of Crosswind at Goodreads? Mine’s not the only Enclave Publishing book that’s available. We’ve got a whole raft of them listed at Enclave. Make sure you sign up. The Crosswind giveaway ends at midnight on Dec. 1.

As promised, here’s the first of three excerpts from Crosswind, which follows the adventures of Winchell and Copernicus Sark as they uncover a conspiracy aimed at their home city-state of Perch. In this portion, they’re making their escape from the rival city-state of Trestleway:

——-

The pursuing Peace Branch cars raced right through the intersection. They didn’t match Cope’s turn, apparently. Behind them, Winch heard squealing brakes and a chorus of horns.

But the gate was still ahead. And Winch despaired when he saw that it was closing slowly. Two militiamen were at the crank that controlled the mechanism. He couldn’t hear the grinding of gears, but he imagined he could feel the vibration through the street.

“Now what?” Cope slowed the ’wagon’s headlong rush.

Winch flipped through ideas in his mind faster than pages in a notebook. That was when he saw the truck waiting at the gate—the truck from which two more militiamen leapt. It had crates in the back. Stamped with the blurred black word AMMUNITION.

Winch’s hand acted before he could acknowledge the thoughts behind it. He jerked back on one of the levers, and their red motorwagon growled full-speed ahead.

“Winch!” Cope seized his arm. “I’m not one to usually begrudge a man his want for speed, but this isn’t the time!”

“It is!” Winch shouted back. He jerked the rucksack over his shoulders. “Keep us steady to that truck! It’s loaded down with ammunition and should make for quite the show, provided we have enough fuel on us.”

The gate and the truck grew rapidly in Winch’s vision. Militiamen scrambled out of the way. The crack of carbines firing broke through the rumble of the ’wagon’s steam engine. Winch and Cope ducked.

“And what now?”

“We jump.”

Cope stared at him. “Jump?”

Winch nodded. He poised himself by the edge of the ’wagon. Oh, dear. That pavement rushed by faster than an aeroplane’s prop spinning.

“You know, I think I might just be a bad influence on you.” Cope got his own rucksack on and took his gun back from Winch.

“I reloaded.”

“Thanks much.”

They were close now.

“Jump!” Winch cried.

Cope went first, with a howl that faded quickly.

“Forgive me for my insanity, Allfather.” Then Winch pushed off.

Pavement rushed up to reach him. He covered his face and tucked in on himself. For a blissful second, the cool, rushing air and muffled sounds—shouting, the blast of gunfire, the retreating rumble of the motorwagon—held him in their embrace.

Then his body hit what felt like a wall, except that he went rolling over and over and over on its impenetrable surface. He was certain, if he survived this, that his skin would resemble one tremendous bruise.

He slammed ingloriously into a barrel of water, and the air went rushing from his lungs.

Winch pried his eyes open in time to see the motorwagon, driverless and steadfast, collide with the back of the ammunition truck. It crumpled and burst apart, casting metal bits and wood frame and that lovely red paint finish skyward and streetside. The impact shouldered the truck into the gap between the gates, slamming the front end up against one of the massive wooden doors.

Somewhere in its fragmenting engine, a spark or two must have hit the fuel tank. A ball of fire erupted from the wrecked motorwagon and the backside of the truck. A gout of steam shot out of the conflagration and quickly died out.

The militiamen nearby yelled warnings to another and dove for cover.

Winch glimpsed Cope running across the street toward him, with a slight limp on the right leg, as he fired a handful of wild shots toward the scattering guards.

“Stay down!” Cope yelled. “Winch, duck your head!”

Winch ducked.

The back end of the truck exploded in a tremendous flash that threw debris and flame nearly higher than the gate. The explosion lifted the truck bodily a good six feet off the pavement before dropping it to a careless landing that broke the wheels clean off.

The ammunition crates caught fire. Munitions popped and burst, sending off an insane pinwheeling display of sparks like fireworks on the Fourteenth of Octaron.

Something impacted the barrel above Winch. It shattered the rim and sent a stream of water pouring onto him. He pushed out of the way just as Cope slammed into him. They went down in a tangle of arms, legs, and, in Cope’s case, cussing.

“Get up. Get up!” Cope dragged Winch to his feet. A maniacal grin lit his face, which was scored with dirt and soot. Soot, Winch realized, was falling like rain over everything. “Tarnal skies, Winch, when you’ve an idea, it’s one with wings.”

Winch could see that. The truck, motorwagon, and both doors of the gate were now a flaming pile of wood and metal. One of the gatehouses of stone had partially collapsed. There was no way that heap would be moved aside anytime soon. Even the militia stared in abject shock—the ones who hadn’t been blown aside in the explosion and weren’t strewn over the pavement like so many rag dolls.

Alarm bells rang. It didn’t seem the explosion had thrown the Peace Branch boys off their trail, though. Winch counted five clambering out of their motorwagons. All were armed. Someone blew a whistle.

“Don’t suppose they’re here to offer congratulations.”

“Crosswind” giveaway

Crosswind-CoverJust in time for the holidays, I’ve got a new giveaway going on at Goodreads, courtesy of my publisher, Enclave Publishing. Follow the Goodreads link and put your name in the virtual hat for a copy of Crosswind: The First Sark Brothers TaleThe link went active this morning and there’s already 15 people requesting.

The drawing finishes up midnight, Dec. 1, so you’ve got time to get someone an excellent read for Christmas… or a stocking stuffer for yourself. Be advised, it’s a 400-plus page novel, so you’re gonna need a bigger stocking.

For those of you unfamiliar with Crosswind, it and its sequel Sandstorm were my forays into steampunk, set in a fantasy version of Earth in which the coming of Christ took on a very different form. You can read about the making of Crosswind in my past posts. But here’s the blurb:

It’s been almost five hundred years since the collapse of the Great Commonwealth. The plagues left folk few and far between. City-states rule the continent of Galderica. There’s coin to be had in trade— whether you take your wares by aeroplane or ride them over the rails.

Winchell Sark has a fine life as a reporter for the Perch Advocate newspaper, a good family at home and a faith that seems downright peculiar to most everyone else. So when he is called out to investigate a biplane crash at the foot of Perch, the finest center of aviation in the Sawtooth Mountains, he doesn’t think much of it.

But there are dark powers at work—powers that have their eye on Perch. Powers that mankind long thought consigned to the trash heap of mythology. ’Cept they were wrong.

It’s up to Winch and his brother, Copernicus, a hotshot pilot, to save their people—and it ain’t going to be easy.

On the next three Fridays, prior to the giveaway’s deadline, I’ll post excerpts from the story focusing on the brothers Winch and Cope. Stay sharp.

Hands full with aliens and art theft: Calling beta readers

Obviously, it’s been a long while since I posted anything. Summer has been busy, to put it mildly. At my library job our summer reading program turned the place into a zoo — though not literally, unlike last year when we had a live wombat and kangaroo as part of one program.

Then there’s been the writing: I finished a draft for a second Quantum Mortis novel and sent it off to my writing partner for that series, Vox Day. He’ll work his magic on it later this year. Then there’s a superhero story that I’ve been scribbling in my notebook for the past four months. I’ve finally started transcribing that over to the more high tech Microsoft Word.

But the big news is that I finished a novel that’s been in the works for two years. Tentatively titled For Us Humans, it’s a story centering around the recovery of a stolen piece of priceless art, set in an alternate version of the world we know today. And it… well, let me have the main character tell you about it:

“My name’s Caz Fortel. I’m thirty, good looking, and a great liar. In fact, that’s my job: to lie to people who steal works of art, and get them back.

Then one day I get the big call from the FBI: a million bucks, to recover a stolen statue with huge cultural value. Downside: my partner has an unhealthy interest in Jesus, an interest I’ve tried really hard to erase from my own life.

Also, he’s an alien with four arms and a tremendous sense of smell.

Welcome to 2011.

See, the Panstellar Consociation of Worlds is the boss now, of all the Earth and everything that goes on the solar system. Aliens showed up 10 years ago and made us a deal: join us as a protectorate and we’ll leak you tech secrets, pay you real well. All so they could set up a warp tunnel in orbit.

It’s their statue that’s stolen. They want the whole job kept quiet.

Or Earth could be in very, very big trouble.”

I’m looking for readers intrigued enough to read the rough draft. It’s 95,000 words — that’s about 350 pages. The book’s been spell-checked and had one copy editor do a quick pass, so it won’t be atrocious. I’ll be generous and give a deadline of Sept. 30. Sound good?

If you want to be one of my beta readers, email me: steverzasa@gmail.com. I’ll get you a PDF or another format if necessary.

 

 

 

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