Exclusive Cover Reveal & Excerpt: Graft by Matt Hill

graftsmallWe can think of few publishers in recent years who can match Angry Robot’s success at introducing exciting new sci-fi and fantasy authors to the world. In 2015, they gave us Carrie Patel and Ferrett Steinmetz; in 2016, they’ll publish the second book by Matt Hill, whose 2012 debut, The Folded Man, was a finalist for the Dundee International Book Prize. Graft, out in February, is a futuristic thriller about transdimensional human trafficking, which is a concept we’ll need help wrapping our brains around.

The other thing we can say about Angry Robot is this: they create some beautiful covers, and they’re doing something a bit different for Graft—the print and ebook editions each look a little different. We’ll show you how—the publisher has given us the chance to reveal both covers, with art by John Coulthart—following the blurb. Then, keep reading for an exclusive excerpt from the novel.

Manchester, 2025. Local mechanic Sol steals old vehicles to meet the demand for spares. But when Sol’s partner impulsively jacks a luxury model, Sol finds himself caught up in a nightmarish trans-dimensional human trafficking conspiracy.

Hidden in the stolen car is a voiceless, three-armed woman called Y. She’s had her memory removed and undertaken a harrowing journey into a world she only vaguely recognises. And someone waiting in the UK expects her delivery at all costs.

Now Sol and Y are on the run from both Y’s traffickers and the organization’s faithful products. With the help of a dangerous triggerman and Sol’s ex, they must uncover the true, terrifying extent of the trafficking operation, or it’s all over.

Not that there was much hope to start with.

A novel about the horror of exploitation and the weight of love, Graft imagines a country in which too many people are only worth what’s on their price tag.

The covers, print on the left and ebook on the right (click on the image to view a larger version):

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And here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite.

Y

Y emerged from induced coma into the cruelest light: a space so bright she had to shut her eyes and scream to offset the burn. Her heart jumped at the shift in reality, and she remembered to inhale – stole a breath like it was her first.

Her senses cycled. She tuned in; knew she’d been absent, knew she was flat on a sterile-smelling surface, and that it was uncomfortable and cold. Oddly she couldn’t remember the word for this surface – nothing came to mind, or quite matched the experience. With this dissonance came a throbbing pain in one shoulder, and the sense she couldn’t lift her arm. She felt hollow. She took another breath and weighed her unease. It was relief, too, she decided. Finally – finally – she’d escaped her recursive dreams, the vast emptiness of them. Finally she’d escaped the grey box that’d encased her for so long. The looming black tower had gone, and with it a mass of dread.

But soon she realised her new box was much worse –

While Y recognised her skin, its familiar texture, it was tight and hairless, and the forms sliding beneath were alien. There was a solidity to her muscles that somehow told her everything was different. And when she reached to massage her sore shoulder, she found she couldn’t understand the joint of it – couldn’t fathom her own body – and felt the lurch of freefall. She didn’t know who she was. Her name was absent. Her past and all the ideas she had for a future. She’d dissipated – gone. And as she ran her hands over her head, she found raw skin there, too.

In fact, Y was sure of nothing but the certainty she’d lost herself. That before there was a named woman in this goosebumped skin, and that now she inhabited a stranger.

She held her breath, an instinctive way to slow the whole world down for long enough to find another moment of clarity. And that was this: she lay alone on a plinth in a plastic case.

Her panic was absolute.

Y tore herself up and clawed at her bonds. Adjusting to the white-out, she saw they were bunched cables and lines filled with a black, viscous liquid that moved into her veins. There were drip-bags, bloodied rags, swaddling. It revolted her. And she screamed and fought and bit and clawed in vain, and the sounds she made were the stranger’s, came from another body, and the fear they inspired only made the terrible light brighter. Here she was, trapped in some kind of incubator, a nightmare folded within a nightmare, and her interior world was returning as a vapour, not dream-vague but livid and real, and all around her were the grey walls again, their images double-exposed on the incubator’s reflective surfaces, and above, projected on to the ceiling, the black tower had returned. It was waiting.

Y spiralled into herself. She took in brushed metal surfaces and the seamless machinery that attended her – the clamps on her ankles. She observed her body numbly, the tightly wound bandages around her swollen arm. She caressed the incubator walls – suedey to the touch, heated by a network of visible filaments inside. A crushing limbo persisted: she was imprisoned in a body between the wakeful and the dead, and nothing that came from her mouth matched her thoughts.

She wanted to be sick.

“Stop struggling.”

It was a woman’s voice. Stout and clear but not unkind.

Y locked up, a startled animal.

The ceiling flickered, and on it a grey square appeared. Y watched as the square jerked into rectangles. Now separated, the shapes began to circle each other and duplicate, tessellating as they went.

Y said something, but her throat garbled it.

“You’ll learn,” the woman said.

The shapes began to lose their order. They re-merged and spat fractals. Then a fierce geometric form came together from all the disparate pieces and detached from the ceiling; dripped down to meet her. Y winced and closed her eyes, but even there she saw its pattern, a vivid tableaux imprinted on the reverse of her lids. The shape vibrated, had its own resonance.

“You’re cooked,” the woman said. “Ready. Done. Dinged.”

Y was sweating, panting. The shapes grew more volatile. Next came a hissing sound. Y tried to push open the unit. Nothing budged. She could’ve been entombed in concrete. And then the woman said: “We’ve worked hard on this. You’re something of a triumph.”

Y didn’t reply. She couldn’t. Her throat simply burbled and popped.

“Do you like pain?”

Rising horror. The concept seemed to mean something.

“Pain…”

Something twinged in Y’s feet. She felt warmth, saw a bright corona, and watched a knot of snake-like machines descend from the incubator ceiling.

“Not pain?” the woman whispered. Y screamed in her way, roiling in her own meat. The metal snakes began to constrict her legs, dislocated their geared jaws as if they meant to swallow her feet. Y tried to kick out, but the ankle clamps held fast.

“Or do we try pleasure?”

With this, the incubator became oily. The snakes disintegrated and a tropical dampness closed around Y’s skin. It was filmy – a liquid fleece that shifted over her. “You must never forget who controls what,” the woman said. “Who controls you.”

Static hissed. Hermetic seals broke. The world grew noisy. “Welcome to Cradle Suite Three,” the woman said. “It’s about time you met your brothers and sisters.”

Now the incubator chamber rose away, smoothly pulled from seals around the cradle. Y sat up as best she could, drawing wretched, ragged breaths. At the foot of her cradle was a masked woman in a tight bodysuit. And all around, in rows that ran forwards and backwards from her own, Y saw hundreds more cradles, identical cases hanging above each and every one.

“Your training begins tomorrow,” the woman told her. “Out on the lawns.” Y was faint from sitting, and her back was weak. She felt herself trying to nod, and, despite resisting, found it wasn’t a reaction she controlled. The woman’s ears moved upwards, and her eyes creased above her mask. She was offering something, Y realised.

The woman came to her side. She pressed an object into Y’s hand. Through layers of swirling colour, pulled far into the distance, Y saw it was a pendant – a pearl fragment, so tiny and glossy, that hung on a slender chain. If she recognised it, the connection was faint. It had a hint of something deliberately forgotten, or severed.

“Wear it unselfconsciously for him,” the woman said. And then she glided away.

Graft will be published February 2, 2016.

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