Monday, January 20, 2014

I'm donating a manuscript critique

Do you need a sharp read of your novel-in-progress? Or your pitch letter? I’m donating a critique of both through Worldbuilders, Pat Rothfuss’ cool project whereby genre-lovers of all sorts raise cash for the anti-hunger organization Heifer International. 

Heifer's been around since 1944, and is dedicated to fighting poverty household by household through carefully conceived livestock donations and other projects. The organization operates with  a "pay-it-forward" ethos, encouraging recipients to donate the firstborn offspring of their animals to other families in need. You can read more about Heifer here or on wikipedia.

There are a few caveats: I'm only proposing to review the first 25,000 words, and only from the beginning (ever tried to critique the middle of a novel?). But I have a lot of experience as a critic and editor--and I pride myself on remembering to read like a smart, articulate, joy-driven reader, not an abstracted professional.

Lots of great writers are participating. And since I was a few days late to the party, prices on yours truly are still LOW LOW LOW. Bidding ends Jan 29.

For details, head on over to the bidding page on ebay. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Omnipotence is Impotence: Or Why Control Freaks Make Poor Fantasy Writers

I’ve just received three messages from readers. They’re utterly different in their concerns, and yet somehow they all bring me to the same place.

Reader One told me that he’d finally gotten his hands on The Night of the Swarm. He added, “Sandor Ott had better die horribly at the end.” [Something everyone can agree on, I thought]

Reader Two explained that she’d just reached that end, and loved it, BUT:

As I was reading it and seeing how Pazel ________________ I just wanted to cry. And then to end it with _______________ was so heartbreaking…[it] hits too close to home. Great job in rousing deep feelings in how this story ends. I will probably think about this for weeks to come and carry these feelings of sadness for days.
[It’s strange—about half the readers who contact me find the end of the series heartbreaking. I didn’t expect this. I mean, it’s no dancing-Ewoks conclusion, I realize. But…heartbreaking?]

Reader Three, finally, asked a great question about writing description. After we talked about that, he followed up with another: 
How do you go about building your characters? I understand that cliché’s not a bad thing and I also know that using real people is good too, but can you give a more in-depth explanation?
What could I tell these readers? To the first, who hoped the venomous Sandor Ott would suffer and die, I confessed that I, too, kept waiting for some force to come along and chew him to pieces. I can easily imagine his response: Then why didn't you just make it happen? 

To Reader Two, I wrote that I’d watched my beloved character Pazel walk through the story’s close with my mouth agape. “I thought he’d buy a house in Ballytween! I didn’t think he’d become a drinker and a wreck.” I can imagine her response as well:  But wasn’t that… your choice? 

To Reader Three--well, I hope this is the in-depth explanation you wanted. 

1. Storytellers are explorers, not architects. 

This is key. Great fantasy writers are often called “the architects” of their respective worlds, but the term is deceptive. Mountains don’t have architects. Enchanted mountains, where spirits drift and the shadow of a god troubles the heather, sure as hell don’t. Fantasy realms are, alas, partly constructed. But long before that they are found. The marrow (if not the bones) of these lands is our common inheritance. They are born of myth and folktale, ghost story and ancient yarn. Peter S. Beagle may go a bit too far when he says of Tolkien—
the world he charts was there long before him…. He is a great enough magician to tap our most common nightmares, daydreams and twilight fancies, but he never invented them either: he found them a place to live, a green alternative to each day's madness here in a poisoned world.
—but only a bit. That notion of “tapping” is a good one. How do you tap a vein of nightmare, daydream, twilight fancy? Not with graph paper or genealogy charts. There are tools that just don’t exist in such realms. If you go there, you’ll find they’ve vanished from your hands. All this is to say that 

2. Planning alone never brought a world to life. 

It has even, when done obsessively, kept the spark of life from entering well-made worlds. You can do all the outlining, diagramming, plot-balancing, language-inventing, magic-system modeling, warhorse-feedbag nutritional analyses and ogre skeletal-structure weight-bearing trials you like [believe me, I have]. It’s honest work and may well pay dividends. But when you actually write the book the unexpected will happen. Indeed, must happen, if the story’s going to breathe. 

Of course world-building is absolutely vital. It’s simply not the same thing as storytelling. The latter requires a different kind of effort. It requires dream. 

3. To tell a story is to inhabit a waking dream. 

It’s very easy to be woolly and mystical about this, especially if you’ve just finished a long and complex tale, and especially if you’re me. But the fact is that the act of writing shares many characteristics— singular focus, loss of present awareness, altered time sense, emotional conviction, personal vulnerability—with dreams. And that’s a problem, because 

4. It is in the nature of dreams to elude control. 

Nearly every writer who addresses this subject will tell you: the best stuff catches you by surprise. You think your heroine’s going to cross the Old City, climb the Long Stair to Raven’s Landing, sneak through the gardens of the Viceroys and knock on the door of the piano tuner. Because, see, the piano tuner’s shop is where the next plot element is going to snap into place. We know it is. We planned it that way.

But halfway up the Long Stair she smells smoke. She looks up from her reverie and sees her aunt—her once-beloved but long-since-vanished aunt, the one nobody speaks of anymore, the one who made her father sob like a child on the night she disappeared--gazing down at her with a look of horror. She doesn’t speak. In her hands smoldering book. She glances back over her shoulder, gasping a little, turns our heroine a final glance and dashes into a side-street. 

HOLY TWO-HEADED ACID-SPITTING TOADS FROM HELL! Where did that woman come from? Where’s she been all these years? What’s frightened her? Why didn’t she speak? And what in God’s name is she doing with a half-burned book?

Now, it’s very possible that what’s waiting in the piano shop is of greater importance than the aunt and her burning book. If so, you must banish her to the Demented Visions folder (doesn’t everyone have a Demented Visions folder?). But what if this business with the aunt, this unplanned business, has you writing with more eagerness than you’ve found in weeks? What if it’s going somewhere that thrills you, and your paint-by-numbers plan is not? Remember the inscription that Digory Kirke finds in the dead world of The Magician’s Nephew:

Make your choice, adventurous stranger

Strike the bell and bide the danger

Or wonder, ‘till it drives you mad

What would have followed if you had.

Of course he gives in—every gun must go off—and hell, or hell’s queen anyway, immediately breaks lose and goes on a rampage. It’s a moment that captures the best of the Narnia books—economy of vision, a shockingly vivid scene, a reversal of the myth’s gender rolls (Eve resists, Adam succumbs). And then, pages later, the very worst. Lewis can’t help himself. He spells out not just the consequences, not just Digory’s mistake, but the absolute truth—that he knew better, that he betrayed his own soul, that the unchaining of evil is all his fault because he didn’t stick with The Plan. 

Sorry, kid, you blew it. At least you’ll have a story to tell.

This is your choice as the writer of the scene on the staircase. Following your muse, following the voice of the weird in the waterfall, almost certainly will play havoc with your own version of The Plan. You don’t have to do it. You won’t actually go mad. But no story ever came from leaving the forbidden apple on the tree. 

Two and a half centuries ago there was a spat between Voltaire and the latter-day champions of  Shakespeare. The feud turned nasty and nationalist, but it brought to light a vital difference between the literary men.

Voltaire is a thinker and a landscape gardener. Shakespeare is a bard. The former gives us systematic philosophy and logical argument. The latter gives us pain, love, rage, betrayal, hilarity, hope, catharsis. Voltaire offers shining ideals; Shakespeare, scalding experience.

No one remembers Voltaire for his fiction per se: the wit, yes, the ideas, certainly. He's a genius with a reason for everything. A precise reason, one he can both articulate and defend. Before a judge if necessary.

I doubt very much that Shakespeare could defend Lady Macbeth, or Hamlet, or Lear. He didn’t plan them, contrive them as symbols, make them jerk and dance (like C.S. Lewis) to a moral-proving tune. They aren’t devices but forces of nature, famished bears at a picnic; they make a mess of things. Shakespeare’s genius is to achieve order anyway—to create world and music and meaning to encompass these monsters. Voltaire shows us what ought to be. Shakespeare conveys what terrifyingly is. 

When you perceive that—when you sense what’s most true about your vision, rather than most cozy or entertaining or in vogue—your job, quite simply, is to capture it as best you can. Not to tame it, and never to squash it into the service of some lesser thing.

Of course this makes your job much harder. And what's so bad about that? Yes, empty, featherpuff books sell more copies, as a rule. But no one reads an essay this long in pursuit of featherpuff. 

Sooner or later, if we’re after something real, we step beyond the tidy garden of the book we’ve planned and light out for the territories. All hell breaks lose. The sword descends, Eden withers behind us; we sense a world ahead that is vast and frightening and raw. That is where discovery can happen. That is the step that must be dared.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Day 12: Peace in the Heart of the Maelstrom

Toad Hall

Twelfth morning in Indonesia. First good night's sleep since I arrived. Blocked the storm drain under the wall with heavy chicken wire. Apparently this was the Door of the Toads: their only way into our back yard with its sexual and/or hunting delights. So after catching & tossing toad # 17, I had a night without their glass-shattering screeches. 

That said, every hour of my every day, the cup of life runneth over. There are fruit bats with 12-14 inch wingspans that roost in our mango tree; last night I watched them flitting in and out of the yard. There's a foot-long orange lizard called a tokay that can apparently bite your finger off (its night call is what I mistook for the "fuck-you frog") And inside me, there's a  deep sense that I've just gotten what I wished for: a chance to go back to school.
Chatting with girls studying English

To study what, exactly? I'm hoping that question will at least partially answer itself. But here for starters is something West Java illustrates in spades: OBNOXIOUS BEHAVIOR IS NOT THE GROSS HUMAN NORM. Indeed quite the opposite, if one were to judge by daily life in this insanely crowded moped-opolis (footnote 1). For all the overpowering noise of mosques and chaos of traffic, there is a personal ethic of calm & reserve here that could do wonders for America. Braggarts and loudmouths are not just frowned upon; they are, so far as I've seen, simply absent. Nobody yells, except children at play, and whoever happens to be holding the mic

at prayer time. Nobody blasts the
radio or TV. To make eye contact is to burst into smiles. There is no fear of violent crime. I've walked through some of the poorest back alleys of this city of 2-3 million and felt utterly safe--much safer than in the seedier parts of my little university home town, for example, and radically safer than in many parts of large U.S.  cities.

There are, blessedly, no guns washing around in this chaos. But also no hard, threatening glances, no faces composed to transmit a threat, no eyes that say, "Fear me, as I must fear you." That slight, mutual menace, so deeply ingrained that we barely recognize its presence, is simply gone.

Mosque in a riverside neighborhood. Streets often too narrow for cars (but definitely not motorbikes).

If this is the peace of an oppressive State I'm not seeing it. There are no swarms of heavily-armed police enforcing order. What I do see is a broad social consensus: We are crowded together, impossibly close. We will make the best of it. We will get along and find privacy within.

An amazing achievement. And perhaps an inescapable fate. For privacy without is surely an impossibility for all but the wealthiest West Javans, or perhaps a few hermits near the summits of the volcanoes. The latter are calling me--the volcanoes, not the hermits. But I'll need to learn to talk a little before I set out to climb one.

[Footnote 1: My guess is that there are about 1 million small motorcycles in Bogor. This morning at 5:45 AM, I walked down my street and saw, six blocks away, what looked like the flashing windows of a commuter train. In fact it was the even, ceaseless flow of bike helmets on the high street, catching the early sun]

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

First week in West Java

WARNING: FOR THE PATIENT READER ONLY. A long page of reflections on my first week in Indonesia. No sex, danger, drugs or wild animal attacks below (OK, there are some irritating toads).

In our little front garden
HELLO FRIENDS & FAMILY. How are you coping without me? I'm delighted to be here, happy and excited if not yet relaxed or rested, and above all overjoyed to be reunited with Kiran, who has taken to this new life with brilliance, courage and & a highly useful sense of humor. I'm also glad to be through with transitions for awhile. It seems like all I've done for the last 4 months is move junk in and out of boxes, backpacks and suitcases. For a time that can stop.

OK, let's start with the basics: K's found us a large, lovely, uncluttered house in Taman Kencana [“Kinchana”], this lush neighborhood in tawdry, traffic-choked Bogor. The city is, in fact, a provincial town whose population has grown beyond any reasonable scale. How big is Bogor? No one seems certain. The 2010 census names a figure of just under one million; current commentators speak of 3 million. Virtually everyone agrees that this is one of the most crowded places on earth. Those 1-3 million fit in a space roughly the size of greater Charlottesville, about 40 square miles. There are no highrises, no vertical stacking of people. They just live with each other, in crowds, and with remarkable grace and positive energy.
... if Bogor mattered to mapmakers ...

Slightly higher in elevation than broiling Jakarta (60 km north), it was for nine centuries the capital of the  of the medieval Sunda Kingdom (669-1579). Later it became a getaway and administrative center for the Dutch. We’re just a degree or two south of the equator, so there’s almost no seasonal variation in temperature or length of day. Rain is inescapable, but drizzle is rare. The norm seems to be powerful storms (I’ve seen some amazing lightning already) followed by breaks of sun.

I've been a homebody this week. Jetlag, insomnia, a head cold and Kiran’s more severe, lingering cold have left us in poor shape for exploring. Not knowing how to say even so much as "Excuse me, I'm lost" is another deterrent. Beyond this neighborhood, I have made exactly three shopping expeditions--by foot, car and angkot, the latter being the tiny green microbuses that are Bogor’s ubiquitous, cheap transport. What I have seen is friendly people: lovely, bright and kindly of demeanor, full of smiles and curiosity--but in numbers that leave me gasping.

As for traffic--well, there’s simply no overstating its effect on life here. There’s a perpetual traffic jam in Bogor during work hours, apparently, and the lunacy extends to the whole western end of the island. Several CIFOR families apparently go nowhere save Jakarta, for shopping, and the airport to get away. This morning I had a look online at a tempting Pacific beach resort on the South coast. It’s about 87 miles from Jakarta, but the drive, it’s asserted, takes up to 12 hours. An alternative is a middle-of-the-night drive, which in our case might let us make the coast in as little as two.

Fortunately there’s a breathing space in the heart of Bogor--the botanical gardens, world famous, one of the largest and oldest such spaces in Asia. I’m dying to get there.

Here's are a few random pictures from the hood. Taman Kencana is a decidedly rich enclave--not “gated” in the American corporate sense, but yes, physically gated in key spots against what would otherwise be a flood of cut-through traffic.

Our street, Jalan Burangrang

Wildlife, like expats, seems to shelter in the neighborhood. There are exquisite bats that mob the streetlights. There are wild civet cats that hunt in the gardens, and frogs, and toads that cry to each other in deafening skreeeeee-skreeee-screeches throughout the night. Other voices in the night include the “Fuck-you!” frog (rather a charming sound actually) the crickets I mistook for LOUDLY buzzing streetlights, the car alarms I thought outlawed by UN treaty 15 years ago (you remember them, dooo--DOOOOOO! WHEEE WHEEE! uuuuRRRRP! etc.)  the wailing tomcats, the fighting cocks in cages waiting for their chance to die, the night doves, the distant thunder of sleepless roads.

And of course, everybody's favorite, the early-morning call to prayer. The latter is inescapable by design: you simply will NOT be unaware that RIGHT NOW (3:45 to 4:30 am, every day) certain men of faith and/or power believe you should get up and pray. Big speakers are mounted on nearly every block; I’ve heard it said that the mosques somehow compete. The voices do have a kind of beauty, at moments, but these often give way to sheer bludgeoning. The emotions felt may in truth be serenity and religious joy. What I hear, clawing at sleep, is a terrifying, echoing fifty-voice wail that could not be improved on as the soundtrack for a film about, say, mass demonic possession and the end of the world. At first I wondered how I could survive this onslaught for a week. But already, to my amazement, I am finding ways. The strategy involves pillows on my head, loud fans and afternoon naps.

The toads are (were?) another matter. They are horrors. Cute little living fire alarms that go off ten feet from our bed, four times an hour, all night long. We have a lovely little fish pond around which the toads congregate and chat. Luckily they are paralyzed by flashlights. On my second and third nights, I went out and grabbed a total of ten of these screamers, dropped them in a cardboard box, and carried them three blocks away. They are now somebody else's toads. I hope they remain so.

I am entranced by the plant life every time I step outside. These next photos are in our front & back yards:
Snowflake and Sugar Bear, Kiran's new kittens, born on our terrace

The whole neighborhood might be about half again the size of the UVa. lawn. Our house, with five bedrooms, is about as small as they come; many houses look like palaces. Stepping into their courtyards, under the vines, palms, mango trees, climbing ferns, bougainvilleas and a thousand flowering, rioting forms of plant life I’ll never learn the names for, I feel like I’m straying into a romantic dream. This dream comes at a cost to others, however. Expats like us live with more room than we could ever use, while little more than a stone’s throw away it’s literally too crowded to stand still.

Trees with aerial roots further up our street

That much admitted, I have to say that the friends Kiran’s made here are wonderful and fascinating people, full of welcome and a will to help. Already I've been to two welcome parties and enjoyed some damned delicious homecooked food. And mangoes. Bright orange, melt-in-your-mouth mangoes. Oh baby.

Right--more information once I get my feet on the ground. Missing you so much, but doing fine. Love to all--Robert

Monday, June 10, 2013

Just Published! Fearsome Journeys: The New Solaris Book of Fantasy

If you haven't heard already, Fearsome Journeys, Jonathan Strahan's new anthology of adventure & military fantasy, has just been published by Solaris. The volume contains stories by thirteen fantasy writers:

Ellen Kushner, Glen Cook, Jeffrey Ford, Saladin Ahmed, Ellen Klages, K.J. Parker, Ysabeau S. Wilce, Kate Elliott, Scott Lynch, Trudi Canavan, Daniel Abraham, Elizabeth Bear and myself.

I'm very pleased to be in this company. Here, by request, is a teaser in the form of the first page of my story.

Forever People

When Majka stepped out through the kitchen door at dusk she found a huge white weasel in the garden. Brazen, it locked eyes with her: a rare chelu, a ghost weasel, halfway between the garden wall and the little ramp by which the chickens entered the barn. Majka hissed. The chelu answered with a growl. The animal was nearly the size of a wolverine.

The door stood open behind her. From within came the eager thok thok of her mother-in-law’s knife as she battled a turnip, then a chord from the mandolin her son was learning to play. They had borrowed the instrument from a neighbor; it was scratched and worn, and the neck felt slightly loose, but the family treated it like the relic of a saint. It had changed their evenings, brought life to those shadow-swamped rooms.

Majka closed the door. She would face the chelu with the axe from the wood-splitting stump. Never taking her eyes from the creature, she backed along the side of the whitewashed house. A fierce wind was rising. The warmth of the day was ebbing fast.

She had guessed that a predator was about. The chickens had gone early to roost, and Bishkin, the family’s smoke-gray cat, had slipped upstairs after his plate of buttermilk instead of rambling through the village or the ravine. Of course what they needed was a dog. Just days ago she had worked the village, opening her lean little purse. Sell me that mongrel, that runt in the corner, that toothless bitch. Any goddamned dog. She’d come back with nothing. They’d wanted twice what she could pay.

And now the axe was gone. Beside the stump lay only the small spade they used to bury ashes from the stove. Majka snatched it up and advanced on the chelu. The weasel only narrowed its eyes.

Suddenly furious, Majka charged, brandishing the spade like a madwoman.

“You want this, thief? You want me to split you in half?”


You can now start feeling glad you're not Majka Chamsarat. Happy reading!

By the way, if you want the ebook version of Fearsome Journeys, you can buy it from the monopolistic death-force that is Amazon, or from Kobobooks (works on ipad, android devices, koboreaders & computers, and can even be converted to Kindle if you're determined enough).

Friday, April 12, 2013

Disasterpiece Theatre

So last night, Lord and Lady Grantham (living no longer at Downton Abbey but in an awful 2013 McMansion with about 11 unkempt squealing blond kids and runt dogs and backed-up plumbing and pizza boxes and panty hose on the floor) locked me in a spare room and interrogated me, through the keyhole, about my participation in an act of sabotage against the New York Times.

I was guilty. With the aid of union employees, I had magically converted the whole text of the paper into a few dozen long, thin crystals, which I slipped in my pockets, smuggled out of the Times building, and dissolved in the lattes and Americanos being served at the corner Starbucks. In my own defense I claimed it was an alternative form of distribution.

I then steered the conversation to their television show’s execrable writing. Look around you, Lord and Lady Grantham. Look at this house. Is this worthy of you? Lord Gratham’s sense of honesty and fair play, of course, obliged him to concede the point. Then we all had to console him, while the dogs fought under the dining table and his brats took crayons to the walls.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Night of the Swarm: two new excerpts online

As February 5 draws near, I'm pleased as punch to announce not one but TWO new excerpts for you enjoyment.

First off, Patrick St-Denis has an exclusive on Pat's Fantasy Hotlist. Lots of high-seas action in this chapter, so if that's your thing, go to.

Or, if you'd rather start at the beginning, you can read the first 53 pages at this link, courtesy of Del Rey and Scribd. This excerpt includes the Prologue, all of Chapter 1 and 2, and a bit of Chapter 3. .

Friday, January 25, 2013

Chathrand Voyage Crossword--SOLVED

[First you've heard of this crossword? If you just want the fun of solving it (and you know your Alifros lore), you can still access the unsolved puzzle at this link. ]

As contests go, this counts as a success. At least those who played all tell me they enjoyed it. I certainly enjoyed putting it together.

TO THE WINNERS: I've just received three whole copies of THE NIGHT OF THE SWARM from Del Rey. I'm expecting more very soon. I'll personalize these copies and mail them off to the first three of you who solved the puzzle, and follow up with the last two as soon as the copies arrive.

TO EVERYONE: Stay tuned for Wacky Contest #2. I'm going to announce it once I have copies of the book in hand. 

By the way, what do you think of the difficulty level? Too hard, not hard enough? Just right?

Here, in any case, is the solution (click the image):


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Chathrand Voyage Crossword Puzzle

a.k.a. Ridiculous Contest #1

SIX WINNERS will receive

a signed copy of The Night of the Swarm, personalized with a handwritten story footnote of your very own at the end of the text.

(click the image for the full-sized puzzle. Clues below)

The U.S. debut of The Night of the Swarm (Feb 5th) is almost here. 

Given that this fourth & final book was delayed roughly as many times as Leonard Nimoy donned pointy ears between 1965 and 2012, this feels like a day worth celebrating. And how better than with a contest and book giveaway?

I’ve tried to make this crossword something really unique. So along with the familiar sort of trivia questions, I’ve added three clues in the form of unpublished extracts from the novels (two that were cut during the editing stage, and one that I wrote just for the crossword). The trick with each of them is to fill in the blank with the appropriate name.

The other clues could be characters, places, concepts, proverbs, insults...anything at all that appears in books I – III. There are no Book IV spoilers in this puzzle.

The Prize
: the first six players to solve the puzzle will win a signed copy of the Del Rey edition of The Night of the Swarm with a personal, story-related message from me at the end of the book. This message will be in no one else’s possession except my own. You can share it or keep it private, as you like. I reserve only the right to use these notes eventually myself in future Alifros-related work.

How to play: just save the image above, and scroll down for the clues. When you've solved the puzzle, send an image of the completed whole to The image can be a snapshot of a printout, a doctored version of the original image, or a marked-up pdf--just please make sure your answers are legible.  

Along with the completed puzzle, I ask that you include this text:  "I solved at least 15 of the 20 questions myself, without help from anyone." Fair enough?

Who can play: this contest is open to readers worldwide, but due to high mailing costs I can only ship books to addresses in the U.S. or Canada (if you live elsewhere & have a friend here who can receive the books for you, go for it).

•• I think we can all agree that this puzzle HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH HAVING FUN. It is, rather, a coldly logical stratagem designed to TRIPLE MY SALES. And more evidence of the self-promotion skills that make my editors weep into their morning coffee (some people line up interviews with Wired, give readings at the KGB Bar, throw back highballs in Tokyo with Joss Whedon & Haruki Murakami. Redick makes crosswords). ••

And now, the clues:


1. The courage to see.
3. He would have married Ensyl.
5. He will translate poetry, one day.
6. Suthinia’s little glass vials of __________.
7. The admiral in his labyrinth talks to these.
8. Unsuccessful suitor to the (eventual) Treaty Bride.
9. A certain bartender is famous for this, and his neutrality.
10. Mzithrini guild of spies.
12. She’s really part of the ship.
13. An Arquali war. Also, Hercól's harmless knife.
14. He's unlucky in love, but good at killing rats. Two words.
15. “Nobody drowns with _______.”

16.  An unpublished excerpt from Book II. Supply the missing name:

One of the younger goats had a limp. Nothing crippling, the wound half-closed already, but it slowed the animal, so that yard by yard she fell behind the herd. She was as frightened as the rest, and also somewhat shorter, so that when the high grass closed around her she was lost. Rising on her hind legs was too painful, and the Father’s roaring drowned out her bleats. She panicked. She flailed through grass and brambles and sudden sand: these were dunes, that smell was the sea! She bolted in the opposite direction, sand in her wound now, the shrine still close, and she skidded over a sunlit hill and down its darkened face, and two hideous hands shot out and pinned her to the earth.

The man who held her was lying back in the grass. He was old and ugly. All about his face and neck were scratches, as if he had recently tangled with a wildcat. Other scars, long healed, were the work of swords, flails, throwing knives, human teeth. Even his eyes, pitted with old motes and blood-sores, spoke of battle. He pulled the kid hard against his flank and stroked her ears.

“There now, pretty thing. You’ve no need to fear me. I’d make a coat of your skin for my lady, true: but there’s no time for such fancies. Never is. Off you go.”
He watched her bound away. Then he rose and descended to the stream. The mud reeked of fish offal and crabs. The reeds stood powdered in salt.

Two meanders, and the stream found the sea. It was a favorite launch-point for the fisherfolk, who were even now shoving their humble boats into the waves. Most lived in the city, but there was also a row of tumbledown huts beside the streambed, their windows mostly broken, their roofs patched with planks and other flotsam tossed up by the storms. The scarred man aimed for the last of these huts. Fishermen nodded curtly and turned away. No one said a word.

He climbed the sunbleached steps, gave a precisely timed knock. The door was opened by a boy of about eighteen, pale, with thin eyebrows that met at a point like a checkmark between his eyes. He held a book, with one finger closed in it to mark his page.

“Master Ott,” he said.

“Master ________,” said the other. “Get away from the door.”

The boy stepped back with a slight, ironic bow. Ott stepped in and kicked the door shut with his heel. 

“We pay that fishwife to answer the door. Your face is known in the city. Do you fancy being questioned by the king’s guard about your business here? Do you think they’ll believe your studies brought you?”

“I stand corrected, sir.”

“There, the Sizzy’s finished his howling. Even now the Templar monks will be escorting Thasha Isiq to her dressing rooms. Fly, fly to the city. Stop at the archives only long enough to change. And wash your face. No, damn you, douse your whole head. Your hair is unacceptably oily.”

“I am a scholar, Master Ott. Not a dandy of the court.”

Ott looked at him sharply. “Your tone never fails to amuse me, lad.”

The boy gave him a smile; it was not returned. “You know of the caves west of here?” asked Ott.

“Naturally I do. The extensive Simja sea-caves, visible only in the clearest water, at the lowest tide. I’ve explored them rather thoroughly; my elder cousin discovered a new entrance in the year—

“Fail me and you’ll be exploring them in chains this time tomorrow.”

17.     Unpublished excerpt from Book III. This occurs on the Northern Sandwall after the encounter with the sea serpent, as Thasha and others try to sleep around a campire. Supply the missing name.

    Sleep in the heart of catastrophe, with unfamiliar companions, between fire and cold: it is a wonder that it still comes at need. But it does. Exhaustion decrees, the body follows. And how mysteriously sleep and waking commingle, how many bubbles of consciousness are stirred into the vat of slumber, how wet with dream the waking air above the vat. Thasha went many places while her body slept. In one motile sphere she saw Hercól and Pazel rise and slip away; she wondered what sort of care they were taking of her, whether they were discussing life or the gentlest, most merciful form of death. In another moment she fell beneath the sand into the burrows of the crabs, the packed sand where their eggs lay in clutches, the sand smoothed by the trowels of their bodies--and then her foot twitched and ______ shuddered with shame and terror at his attraction to her. An animal, an animal! Was it his fault that she looked exactly like one, harraba, she was one, her body was an animal’s body, a tol-chenni’s. But also a woman’s. He felt plunged into nightmare. He had never touched one of his own kind, there were no girls his age in his village, he’d been sent here before he could summon the nerve to kiss Adeleinka, his father caned him if he soiled his sheets. But this human girl wasn’t a tol-chenni, she was that mythic beast, a human, and in the dream he was showing her the inside of a house, teaching her to sit in a chair, hold a fork, hold a cup to her lips, and when those lips were wet and smiling her eyes blazed with that terrifying proof of intelligence and he was a monster, a monster, he wanted something only a monster could want.


2. Never-before-published dialog. Supply the missing name:

“We are speaking of ten minutes’ work, _____. Scale the wall. Kill the governess. Make sure you don’t wake the children, or spill her blood. We both know that you could manage that much in your sleep.”

“I fear, Master, that I will never sleep again.”

“Rubbish, you’ll sleep better than ever. Now pay attention. There’s a laundry chute. The old woman’s body should fit inside it, and if not you’ll slide her under the bed. Or toss her atop the canopy, or hang her by her nightdress from a hook in the closet and jam the door.”

“To buy me time to escape? But I won’t need it, master. Why not let her lie where she falls?”

“Do it! See how I trust you—I let you risk your own neck. You’re right, forget the governess. Kill the boys in their beds. Only do not mar their features—that’s essential, not a scratch to either royal face. Carry them to the window and drop them into the moat. The other lads will take it from there.”


4.  Felthrup considers these a miracle.
6.  “Acceptance is agony, ________________.”
7.   An ixchel’s disciple.
11. Everyone eats it; no one knows what it is.
13. A name Uskins would like forgotten.