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7th Sigma

7th Sigma

3.6 15
by Steven Gould

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Welcome to the territory. Leave your metal behind, all of it. The bugs will eat it, and they'll go right through you to get it…Don't carry it, don't wear it, and for god's sake don't come here if you've got a pacemaker.

The bugs showed up about fifty years ago--self-replicating, solar-powered, metal-eating machines. No one knows where they came from. They


Welcome to the territory. Leave your metal behind, all of it. The bugs will eat it, and they'll go right through you to get it…Don't carry it, don't wear it, and for god's sake don't come here if you've got a pacemaker.

The bugs showed up about fifty years ago--self-replicating, solar-powered, metal-eating machines. No one knows where they came from. They don't like water, though, so they've stayed in the desert Southwest. The territory. People still live here, but they do it without metal. Log cabins, ceramics, what plastic they can get that will survive the sun and heat. Technology has adapted, and so have the people.

Kimble Monroe has chosen to live in the territory. He was born here, and he is extraordinarily well adapted to it. He's one in a million. Maybe one in a billion.

In 7th Sigma, Gould builds an extraordinary SF novel of survival and personal triumph against all the odds.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Sheer adventure: full of engaging, nerdily detailed depictions of the minutiae of Aikido, spycraft, artificial life theory, frontier economics, religious zealotry, Zen meditation, and beautiful descriptions of the southwestern landscape. It has the true pulp adventure serial spirit, the compulsively consumable zing that'll have you turning pages long past your bedtime.” —Cory Doctorow, New York Times bestselling author of Little Brother, on 7th Sigma
VOYA - Erica Alexander
Part sci-fi horror story, part high-tech western, 7th Sigma is an unusual, yet enthralling coming-of-age tale. Once its savvy, humble, heroic protagonist grabs hold of you, you will have an incredibly hard time putting this book down. I recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of sci-fi stories with a fresh, original twist. Reviewer: Erica Alexander
VOYA - Cheryl Clark
In the future, the American southwest has been decimated by self-replicating, metal-eating, robot "bugs," throwing the region back a hundred years to a kind of Wild West atmosphere. Kim is a street kid who escaped to the territories from his abusive father, and a chance encounter brings him into contact with Ruth, a martial arts master whose dream is to a establish a dojo to train others in the fighting arts. The two work together to build the school, and they become something of a family. As Kim grows up, chance once again asserts itself in his life, and he becomes a spy for the territorial Rangers, putting him up against murderers, rapists, drug-dealers, cultists, and of course, "bugs." 7th Sigma starts out confusing and never lets up. It is marred by a paucity of background information, plot lines that go nowhere, and narrative description that tends to be dry and distant. Suffering the most from this writing style is Kim himself, who is depicted throughout as a stoic, old-time Western hero, much to the detriment of the kind of character development one expects from a young adult novel. Perhaps most disappointing of all is the unfulfilled sci-fi potential of the novel. The idea of deadly, self-replicating robots has been done before, but it is still an intriguing premise. Unfortunately, this sci-fi element is quickly subsumed by plot lines that read more like Westerns and spy novels. Overall, 7th Sigma is plagued by too many problems for it to be worthwhile. Reviewer: Cheryl Clark
Library Journal
You can't go to the Southwest anymore, because it's been taken over by enormous, metal-eating bugs. Kimble Monroe was born there, though, and he's one of the few to remain. Good sf wherever this Nebula and Hugo Award nominee is popular.

Product Details

Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.40(d)

Read an Excerpt

7th Sigma

By Steven Gould

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2011 Steven Gould
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-9640-2


When the Student is Ready, a Teacher Will Come

High atop the Exodus Memorial in the plaza of Nuevo Santa Fe, Kimble paced back and forth, his hand raised to strike down the impudent. The Memorial had nothing to do with the early events of Judeo-Christian tradition, but there were several scriptural references on the ceramic tiles inset in the thick adobe wall, and young Orvel, whose father was the local LDS bishop, and young Martin, whose eldest brother was a deacon at the Church of Christ the Rock, argued from below that these affiliations entitled them to the place occupied by Kimble, an avowed apostate and frequent blasphemer. Alas, neither their spiritual superiority nor their physical efforts had dislodged the smaller boy from his perch.

"Let me up!" yelled Martin.

Kimble smiled kindly down at him. "Never while I breathe."

Martin stepped back to the side where Orvel was trying to form an alliance with César, an altar boy at Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. César was bigger than any of them and might have turned the tide against Kimble, but César was having none of it. There was historical animosity. If Orvel and Martin had not previously sided against César in the affair of Mr. Romero's broken shop window (and borne false witness at that), César might have been more receptive to their appeal to Christian solidarity.

Rebuffed, Martin and Orvel steeled themselves for another attempt on the monument, a two-front assault from opposite ends of the wall. Unfortunately for them, Kimble was monkey quick, and a sudden flick of his hand toward Orvel's face sent that worthy sprawling in time for Kimble to turn and meet young Martin, pudgy and less fit, before he achieved the summit. A mild blow on Martin's grasping fingers sent him down into the dust of the plaza.

Their injuries were slight, but César's mocking laughter was like salt in a cut.

The Territorial Administrative Complex and the Territorial Rangers headquarters bordered the great square on two sides. The Commercial Galleria, a series of businesses clumped together around the main heliograph office, occupied the third side, and the fourth side held the sprawled booths of the city market, open every day but Sunday. Now, shortly after the end of siesta, people strolled the plaza and shopped.

As Kimble watched, a woman wearing goatskin boots, wide-bottomed gaucho pants, and a cotton smock walked out of the market and into the square. She was pulling a travois, a modern one, glass composite poles with a small wheel where they came together. A strap running between the two handles crossed her shoulders and helped support the modest, tarp-covered load. Though her short dark hair was peppered with gray, her face seemed young, or at least unlined.

"Gentlemen," she said, apparently addressing all four of them. "Would one of you be so kind as to tell me where the Land Registrar is?"

Orvel, still on his bottom in the dust of the square, didn't know, and he was mortified, convinced the woman had seen his ignominious descent. Martin, following his church's creed, was unwilling to talk to a woman not of his family. César didn't know but he said politely, "I would be glad to ask inside, ma'am."

"No need," said Kimble. "I know." He dropped lightly off the monument and rolled to absorb the impact, rising smoothly to his feet. He jerked his chin toward the fiberglass awnings of the Galleria. "If you'll walk this way?"

She fell into step with him, the trailing wheel of her travois squeaking slightly as it turned. "I would've thought it would be over there," she said, jerking her chin at the Administrative Complex.

Now that he was closer he could see that fine lines radiated from the corners of her eyes and her mouth. Not young, then, though not as old as the market manager, a veritable raisin of a man. "'Twas. Both the Land Office and the Census Department needed more records space. Census stayed and Land Office moved into an annex earlier this year."

"You know a lot about it. Does your mom work there? Or your dad?"

He shrugged. It was not his place, he felt, to inform against himself. The less said the better. He found that people filled in the gaps all by themselves with details that felt right to them. It wasn't his fault if they made assumptions. "I run errands. Sometimes it's messages. Sometimes it's guiding people to where they need to go." He waited for her next question but it was nothing like he expected.

"Where did you learn to roll like that?"

He blinked and looked sideways at her from the corner of his eye. "Pardon?"

"When you jumped off the monument. The forward roll."

Kimble opened his mouth to answer, but then shrugged again.

She sniffed. "As you like."

They entered one of the arched passageways back into the Galleria, past Bolton & Cable, specialty printers (ceramic type, of course); past Duran, importer of ready-made clothing and the hard plastic needles that fetched high prices over in the market; past the law firm of McKensie, Duncan and Lattimore, specialists in Native American, territorial, and immigration law. "Up there," said Kimble, pointing up a narrow stair to the second story and the sigil of the territorial government, the old Zia of New Mexico rising above the Star on the Horizon of the old Arizona Flag.

The woman eyed the two flights and the tight landing and looked at her travois.

"I can watch it," Kimble offered.

She gave him a look, which made him add, "Really. No harm will come to it and it will be right here."

Again she considered him. "What payment would you want?"

He raised both hands palm up. "You decide." He smiled ingenuously. "No doubt you'll want to take into consideration how long I have to wait."

The woman snorted. "Your name?"


"Is that your first name or last?"

He bowed as a player, one hand on his heart, "Yes."

She raised her eyebrows and then nodded. "I'm Ruth Monroe. See you in a bit, Kimble."

Her business took long enough to close the office — the great ceramic bell atop the Territorial Admin Complex had rung eight different quarters of the hour when, watching from below, Kimble saw one of the clerks escort Ruth to the landing outside the office. The clerk shook her hand and then took down the OPEN sign before vanishing back into the interior. As Ruth came down the stairs, perusing a piece of paper, Kimble heard the doors being barred from within.

"Well, Mr. Kimble, I am hungry. Can you recommend a reasonable eatery? I'm going south, toward the Rio Puerco, but I'd like to eat before I leave town."

Kimble's stomach rumbled at the thought, audible, almost echoing in the passageway.

"A meal for both of us," Ruth amended.

"There's Griegos — it's a taqueria by the south gate. The cabrito ... this is a good time to go. Early enough — they run out."

They ate the goat tacos (whole-wheat tortillas, black beans, red onions, and pico de gallo) in the alley beside the taqueria, where Ruth could watch her travois. They were not alone. The alley had several diners as well as a few hopeful dogs. Ruth and Kimble were among the first, but as the alley filled, Ruth shifted the travois so that it leaned against the wall, handles down, wheel up, to clear more space. An older teen, not eating, took the opportunity to grab a spot by the wall on the other side of the travois from them.

A Jicarilla Apache couple sat against the opposite wall with their burritos. The woman was wearing a traditional deerskin dress with beaded trim. The man wore jeans converted for the territory — all metal removed. The rivets had been pulled and replaced with over-sewing and the zipper fly was now Velcro. His moccasins had thick rawhide soles and buckskin uppers.

The woman gestured at the travois. "I like your outfit," she said. "The wheel is a good notion."

"Thank you. It's worked pretty well as long as I grease it regularly."

"How far have you come with it?"

"I entered the territory at Needles."

The man seemed impressed. "That's almost five hundred miles. Walking the whole way?"

Ruth nodded. "Five weeks. Walk six days, rest one. I averaged fifteen miles a day."

"Any trouble?"

"What do you mean?"

"Bugs. Grass fires. Weather. Ladrones."

Ruth glanced sideways at Kimble and he translated, "Thieves, bandits."

Ruth shrugged. "I'd been briefed on the bugs — I was careful. And it wasn't too dry — saw one grass fire far to the south. Wind was bad for a few days but fortunately it was at my back. I did have some trouble with laladrones? West of Montezuma Well. Two men wanted to take my outfit and, from what they said, rape me."

The woman's eyes grew large. "What happened?"

Ruth pursed her lips. "They decided not to." And then she surged to her feet and was standing over the teen who'd sat next to her travois. "They were clearly smarter than you."

The teen looked up at her, eyes wide. "What?"

Ruth pointed at the lashing on her tarp. "You cut it. I saw the cord jerk when the tension released."

The boy gathered his feet underneath him. "I never touched your stupid rope."

Kimble watched with interest. If the boy had cut the cord what had he used? Was it still in his ha —

The boy slashed upward with a chunk of obsidian as he rose. Perhaps he meant to scare Ruth, to make her recoil, so he could bolt, but it didn't work out that way. Suddenly he was face down in the hard, baked dirt of the alley, his arm pinned to the ground by an absurdly small hand. The teen tried to move and yelped in considerable discomfort. Kimble saw Ruth's free hand take the back of the teen's hand and bend it, fingers toward the elbow. The teen's fingers spasmed, releasing the obsidian flake. Ruth released the hand but kept all her weight on the elbow.

Kimble was impressed. "Nice ikkyo!"

Ruth, without taking her weight off the teen's arm, looked at Kimble. "I knew you learned that roll in a dojo." She took up the flake of obsidian. The teen began to struggle again and she held the flake against his ear. "Feel that?" she asked.

The teen froze.

"I could just cut off your ear." She moved it down to his neck. "Or, since you attacked me with a lethal weapon, I'm sure the Rangers would understand a lethal response."

His voice, previously deep, broke, now high pitched. "I just needed some food, for my mother and sisters!"

"Kimble, check his pockets."

Kimble found a small roll of dollars and a handful of plastic territorial coins in the teen's pants and showed them to Ruth.

"Try another," she said to the facedown boy.

The teen didn't respond.

Ruth looked up. "Where would we find a policeman? It's not like we don't have witnesses."

The Jicarilla Apache had started to rise when the boy surged up, but now he was back against the wall since he saw Ruth had things well in hand. He said, "There were Rangers at the city gate when we came in."

Kimble winced. The gate was only two hundred feet away. Conviction on charges of theft and assault could get the boy a trip outside where, at the very least, he'd be tagged, then jail time or community service. But it was the tag, a surgically implanted LoJack, that would keep him out of the territory. Not just because he could be tracked, but because the bugs would go for the EMF and metal like the chewy nougat center in a candy bar.

The teen spoke then. "No! All right, I did it! Take my money, just don't call the Rangers, I'm already on probation!"

The Apache woman said, "Maybe break his arm, too. The taking arm — his right." She said it seriously, but Kimble thought she didn't really mean it. The corners of her eyes were crinkling.

Kimble offered the money to Ruth but she said, "Just the coins. To replace the rope. Put the dollars back."

"What? He came at you with a blade!"

Ruth turned her gaze on Kimble.

"All right, all right." Kimble shoved the roll back in the teen's pocket. When he'd moved back, Ruth folded the teen's arm across his back and then leaned on it as she stood, keeping him pinned until she was all the way to her feet. She took a sliding step back, releasing him. He got up slowly, rubbing his arm.

Ruth held up the obsidian flake and said, "I'm also keeping this."

The teen turned suddenly and walked out of the alley, his steps quickening as he reached the open street. He took a sharp right, away from the city gate, and was gone.

A growling tussle broke out at Ruth's feet as two of the stray dogs fought over something.

"Crap," said Ruth. "I dropped my taco."

Kimble shook the coins together between his cupped hands.

"You can afford another."

* * *

"I'D like to talk to your parents," Ruth said.

She'd replaced and eaten her taco, knotted the cut rope, and now they were standing near the south gate.

Kimble's mouth went still. He could've told her one of the many fabrications he used on occasions like this, but he was reluctant. My parents are working. They are out of town until next week. My father is on assignment with the Rangers. I'm only visiting today. We live near Grants.

Ruth seemed to sense this. "I'm not going to inform on you. Runaway?"

He held out his hand and rocked it side to side. "My mother died when I was little. My father had heart trouble, uneven heartbeats, last year. He had to have a pacemaker — so he can't live in the territory."

"He left you here?"

"They airlifted him out. I was supposed to take a caravan north and join him in Denver."

"What happened?"

"I sold the travel voucher to someone who wanted to go."

She sat still, regarding him without speaking.

Finally, Kimble gave in. "My dad ... he's not a nice man. Maybe when my mom was alive but not so much after. I hardly stayed at home when he was in the territory, not if I could help it. Not if he'd been working."


"If he worked he could afford liquor. When he wasn't drinking he was just grumpy. When he was — better not to be home."

"Where do you live now? The same place?"

"No. We lived in Golondrinas, but the Rangers there knew me too well. I joined a sheep drive here — dishwasher and orphan lamb care. I'm a useful citizen here."

"Yes," she said. "A guide."

"And messenger."

"But where do you live?"

"It depends on the season." He had a bedroll hidden in a roof garden near Eastgate. Everything else he owned was on his person. "In the winter there are shelters, but they preach at you something fierce."

"I would still think the authorities are looking for you. I mean, your father must've noticed when you didn't show up."

"Well, they're looking for Kim Creighton. I'm Kimble. The picture they have is three years old and I was so much pudgier then. I've been asked, you know, if I've seen myself around."

Ruth smiled briefly. "And had you?"

"Oh, yes. Traveling with a caravan headed into old Arizona. I was positive I'd seen the boy."

She swung her arm, backhanded, toward his face. There was no warning and, he thought, no reason, but she didn't connect. He moved his head back out of the way and took a back roll.

"Hey!" Kimble said, rising to his feet and eyeing her warily.

She smiled at him.

"Tell me about the dojo."

"Ohhhhhhh," he said, in a quiet voice. He squatted on his heels, still out of arm's reach. "That was back in Golondrinas. The kids' class was free if you did dojo chores. They taught karate and judo and aikido."

"The same teacher?"

"Oh, no. It was a cooperative. There were four different styles of karate. There were two judo instructors, but just one old guy who taught aikido."

"Old guy?" She stared at him. "Which classes did you take?"

"Aikido, of course."

"Of course? Is that what all the kids took?"

Kimble shook his head. "Oh, no. If they were the wrestling type, they liked judo. Otherwise, they all wanted to take karate. Punch, kick, punch, kick, and more kicking."

"So ... why aikido?"

"They were the kids who weren't that interested in kicking and punching." Kimble looked down at the dirt. "I got enough of that at home. Besides, once I got the hang of getting off the line, aikido worked pretty well against the kickers and punchers."

Ruth was silent for a moment, then said. "I am building a dojo on the Rio Puerco."

"Oh. Really? You teach aikido?"

"For over twenty years now."

He raised his eyebrows. "So you already had a dojo. Why did you leave?"

She sighed. "Divorce. You know what that is?"

Kimble glared at her.

"Sorry, of course you do. My ex-husband and his new wife kept the dojo. I left. I left ... everything. I'm starting over."

Kimble narrowed his eyes. She looked back at him, very still, like a rock, like a predator, like a statue.

"You'll need students," Kimble finally said. "You can't be a teacher without students. I mean, at least one."

She nodded. "Get your things."

"Yes, Ms. Monroe."

"Sensei," she said gently.

"Yes, Sensei."


Excerpted from 7th Sigma by Steven Gould. Copyright © 2011 Steven Gould. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

STEVEN GOULD is the author of Jumper, Wildside, Helm, Blind Waves, Reflex, and Jumper: Griffin's Story, as well as many short stories. He is the recipient of the Hal Clement Young Adult Award for Science Fiction and has been nominated for both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards. Gould lives in New Mexico with his wife, writer Laura J. Mixon and their two daughters.

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7th Sigma 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is such a great book. I really think other readers will really enjoy it. In this book, it is in some cases it is really steange and weird. I might even read it again and again, that is how much it is such a great book.
Jason_Kristopher More than 1 year ago
I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. The blurb had me going "Wow, that sounds fascinating!" Unfortunately, when all was said and done, the book didn't live up to my expectations. Steven Gould did a good job telling the story of the book, but it's not exactly the one I was expecting from the description. Gould apparently based the character of Kimble Monroe on the titular character of Rudyard Kipling's "Kim", which I've never read, nor do I have any intention of reading. So I can't comment on other reviewers allusions to or comparisons between the characters. It was well-written, engaging, and the characters were believable. Although Kim was on the "well...... okay, I guess" side. A little bit of magic hand-waving and I could get from the street urchin to the master spy with some effort. Street kids are supposed to be nigh-invisible, and I could see him being a master of the observatory craft in trying to stay away from the Territorial Rangers. I liked how Gould referenced the Baker Street Irregulars at one point in the story, because that's how I saw Kimble. Once I got past the idea that the story I thought I was going to be reading - about the metal-eating bugs - was actually more of a sideplot, I could finally get into the novel. It was a good spy story, and the addition of the aikido made for an interesting twist. Ultimately, I was left wondering just what the deal was with the bugs. There was no real resolution there, just some vague references to other plot points that didn't happen until the last two pages. All in all, it was a good book, though I wish I'd bought the ebook instead of shelling out the $30 for it at the bookstore. Although for $11.99 as an ebook, I'm not sure I would've done that, either. The blurb needs work to more accurately set the reader's expectations, but it's still a well-told story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I only read the whole thing because I paid $20 for the paper version and didn't have another book. Poorly written, no real plot, poor character development - bottom line - don't waste your time or money.
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Step one: send them to jail res one Step two: they must go to court Step three: all arrest must go through Alex (main officer)~jade
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Posted bio at res 3 :)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have an important message for your captain. His eyes only! Where will I find him?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just finished another Steven Gould book, Bugs in the Arroya. It was supposed to be over 400KB. This equated to 37 pages. I am not paying 7.99 for this book until I know its 700KB will be more than 80 or 90 pages long.