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About the Author
SEANAN McGUIRE is the author of the October Daye urban fantasy series, the InCryptid series, and other works. She also writes darker fiction as Mira Grant.
Seanan lives in Seattle with her cats, a vast collection of creepy dolls and horror movies, and sufficient books to qualify her as a fire hazard.
She was the winner of the 2010 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and in 2013 she became the first person ever to appear five times on the same Hugo ballot.
CATE GLASS was born and raised in Texas, and now resides in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies with her husband and three sons. She is the author of the Chimera novels (An Illusion of Thieves).
Hugo and Campbell finalist SARAH GAILEY came onto the scene in 2015 and has since become one of the sharpest, funniest voices in pop culture online. They are a regular contributor for multiple websites, including Tor.com. Their nonfiction has appeared in Mashable and The Boston Globe, and their fiction has been published internationally. They are the author of River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow. They live lives in Los Angeles, California.
Duncan M. Hamilton holds Master's Degrees in History and Law, and has practiced as a barrister. He lives in Ireland, near the sea. Hamilton’s debut novel, The Tattered Banner, first of the Society of the Sword trilogy, was named one of BuzzFeed's 12 Greatest Fantasy Books Of The Year in 2013. That book was followed by The Huntsman’s Amulet and The Telastrian Song, and by Wolf of the North, a Norse-inspired fantasy trilogy.
Saad Z. Hossain writes in a niche genre of fantasy, science fiction and black comedy which, on the balance of it, very few people actually want to read. Practical evidence aside, he has powered on in this direction. He studied English Lit and Commerce at the University of Virginia, a combination of studies completely impractical in real life. Due to the stunning unpopularity of his writing he has been forced to work in various industries. This includes digging holes, making rope, throwing parties and failing to run a restaurant. Needless to say, working for a living is highly overrated. He lives in Dhaka, the most ridiculously crowded city in the world, teaming with humans, wildlife, and djinn.
He his novels include Escape from Baghdad! and Djinn City. His short stories have appeared in anthologies A Djinn Falls in Love, The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Vol 12, and the Apex Book of World SF Vol 4.
JY YANG is the author of the Tensorate Series, which began with The Black Tides of Heaven and The Red Threads of Fortune. A finalist for the Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Awards, they are also a lapsed journalist, a former practicing scientist, and a master of hermitry. A queer, non-binary, postcolonial intersectional feminist, and have over two dozen pieces of short fiction published. They live in Singapore and have a MA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia.
TAMSYN MUIR is a horror, fantasy and sci-fi author whose works have appeared in Nightmare Magazine, F&SF, Fantasy Magazine, Weird Tales, and Clarkesworld. Her fiction has received nominations for the Nebula Award, the Shirley Jackson Award, the World Fantasy Award and the Eugie Foster Memorial Award. A Kiwi, she has spent most of her life in Howick, New Zealand, with time living in Waiuku and central Wellington. She currently lives and teaches in Oxford, in the United Kingdom.
Read an Excerpt
Middlegameby Seanan McGuire
Medicine rests upon four pillars — philosophy, astronomy, alchemy, and ethics.
Time is the substance from which I am made.
— Jorge Luis Borges
Timeline: 11:14 CST, October 31, 1886.
The air is heavy with the crackle of electricity, with the taste of ozone and mercury and the burning tang of alkahest, the universal solvent, which has a nasty tendency to consume everything in its path unless properly contained. Making it is a complicated process; destroying it is even more difficult. Still, a few drops of the thing can go a long way toward making the supposedly impossible happen. Even death, it seems, can be dissolved.
The woman who calls herself "Asphodel" walks a slow circle around the table, studying her handiwork for flaws. She finds none, but still she circles, restless as a shark, unwilling to commit to the final stages of her task until she's certain. Certainty is a requirement of her profession, a bone-deep, rock- solid certainty that her will is strong enough and her desires are clear enough to remake the world in her own image.
She isn't the greatest alchemist of her age yet, but she's going to be. There is absolutely no question in her mind of that. If she has to drag those fools in the Congress kicking and screaming into the bright and beautiful future she can see unfolding ahead of her, she'll do it, and she won't be sorry. If they didn't want to follow her, they should have had the sense to get the hell out of her way.
Asphodel Baker is twenty-one years old, thirteen years away from the publication of the book that will cement her legacy in the hearts and minds of children everywhere, twenty-three years away from her disappearance and "death," and she can no more conceive of failure than a butterfly can conceive of calculus. She's going to change the world, remake it in a better image than the one it's made in now, and no one's going to stop her. Not her parents and not her teachers and certainly not the Alchemical Congress.
She was a gifted student: no one who's met her, who's seen what she can do, would deny that. The denial of her mastery is nothing but shortsightedness and spite, the old guard refusing to see the bright and brilliant future rushing up behind them like a steam engine roaring down its track. This is her time. This is her place.
This is her chance to show them all.
Asphodel stops circling and reaches for the bowl she has prepared, its contents glowing glittering gold and mercury bright. Dipping her fingers into it, she begins drawing runes down the chest of the flawless body that lies before her, skin naked to the air. He is a beautiful man. Time and care and access to several morgues operated by hungry, unscrupulous vermin have seen to that. She has purchased each piece of him according to her precise specifications. Thanks to the alkahest, there aren't even any scars. A universal solvent has endless applications, when properly controlled.
When she is done, she steps back and considers her handiwork. So much of her plan depends on this piece being perfect. But what is perfection, really, if not the act of winning? So long as he can carry her to victory, he'll be perfect, no matter what his flaws.
"You will rise against me, my beautiful boy," she says, in a voice like honey and hemlock intertwined. "You will throw me down and swear you saw my bones. You will take my crown and my throne and carry my work into the new century, and you will never look back to see what follows in your wake. You will be my good right hand and my sinister left, and when you fall in finishing my design, you will die without complaint. You will do what I cannot, for your hand will never waver, and your mind will never sway. You will love me and you will hate me and you will prove me right. Above all else, you will prove me right."
She puts down the bowl and picks up a vial filled with liquid starlight, with mother-of-pearl that dances and shines against the glass. She raises it to his lips and pours a single drop between them.
The man she has assembled out of the dead gasps, opens his eyes, and stares at her with fearful wonder.
"Who are you?" he asks.
"Asphodel," she says. "I am your teacher."
"Who am I?" he asks.
She smiles. "Your name is James," she says. "You are the beginning of my greatest work. Welcome. We have so much to do."
He sits up, still staring at her. "But I don't know what the work is."
"Don't worry." Her smile is the first brick in what she will one day call the improbable road. Today, now, in this moment, they are beginning their voyage toward the Impossible City.
"I'll show you," she says, and the deed is done.
It's too late to turn back now.
Avery looked at Zib, and Zib looked at Avery, and neither of them knew quite what to do with what they saw.
Avery saw a girl his age, in a skirt with mended tears all the way around the hem. Some of them were sewn better than others. Some of them were on the verge of ripping open again. Her socks were mismatched and her blouse was patched, and her hair was so wild that if she had reached into it and produced a full set of silverware, a cheese sandwich, and a live frog, he would not have been surprised. She had mud under her nails and scabs on her knees, and was not at all the sort of person his mother liked him to associate with.
Zib saw a boy her age, in a shirt that was too white and pants that were too pressed. She could see her own reflection in his polished shoes, wide-eyed and goggling. His cuffs were buttoned and his jacket was pristine, making him look like a very small mortician who had somehow wandered into the wrong sort of neighborhood, one where there were too many living people and not nearly enough dead ones. He had carefully clipped nails and looked like he had never ridden a bike in his life, and was not at all the sort of person her father liked her to associate with.
"What are you doing here?" they asked in unison, and stopped, and stared at each other, and said nothing further.
— From Over the Woodward Wall, by A. Deborah BakerCHAPTER 2
The Second Stage
Mathematical science shows what is. It is the language of unseen relations between things.
— Ada Lovelace
Sorrow is knowledge.
— Lord Byron
ONE HUNDRED YEARS LATER
Timeline: 23:58 CST, July 1, 1986.
For a man on a mission, a hundred years can pass in the blinking of an eye. Oh, it helps to have access to the philosopher's stone, to have the fruits of a thousand years of alchemical progress at one's fingertips, but really, it was always the mission that mattered. James Reed was born knowing his purpose, left his master in a shallow grave knowing his purpose, and fully intends to ascend to the heights of human knowledge with the fruits of his labors clutched firmly in hand. Damn anyone who dares to get in his way.
Damn them all.
He waits at the end of the hall for his moment, standing in the place where the light, by careful design, fails to reach. Asphodel taught him everything she could: he learned the delicate arts of alchemy and the blunter arts of the con side by side, drinking knowledge like mother's milk. This is all a show, and these men — these craven, prideful men, who think themselves kings of their corporate veldt — are his rubes, ready to be taken for everything they have.
(The Alchemical Congress does not approve of his dealings with the more mundane world, calling them risky and arrogant. The Alchemical Congress has no room to speak. Its members are arrogance personified, and their day of reckoning is coming sooner than they can possibly know or understand. Oh, yes. They'll learn soon enough that they should never have crossed Asphodel Baker, or by extension, her son, heir, and greatest creation.)
This is his sideshow of wonders, his collection of freaks, laid out for the edification and carnival-glass seduction not of the masses, but the chosen few:
The hall is wide enough to accommodate two stretchers side- by-side, lit by glass-screened bulbs too dim to show the color of the floor. They barely illuminate the walls, which could be white, or cream, or gray; the light is too diffuse to make their color clear. Rooms dot the hall. The bulbs inside them are brighter, illuminating the occupants behind the individual one-way mirrors, throwing them into a stark, clinical relief that carries them from "child" to "curiosity." They range in age from two to twelve. They wear colorful pajamas blazoned with cartoon bears, or spaceships, or comically friendly dinosaurs; they sleep under blankets decorated with more of the same; and yet, thanks to the light, they barely register as human.
One little girl has crammed herself into the corner of her room. She is a watchful, doe-eyed thing, sitting with her arms wrapped around her knees and her eyes fixed on the mirror, staring like she can somehow see the men outside. Her companion sleeps under a blanket covered with cartoon robots, his back to the rest of the room. According to the label outside their window, their names are Erin and Darren, and they are five years old, and there is nothing about them that has not been done by design.
But the focus of this day is outside the cells. It's on the men, three of them, soft, balding creatures in respectable business suits and sensible shoes. They would fit perfectly into a boardroom or stockholder's meeting. Here, in this precise, perilous place, they are as out of their element as a blizzard in a volcano. They cluster together, uneasy. This is their doing as much as anyone else's; they were the ones who dotted the i's and crossed the t's and signed the checks that made it all possible. They own this. They own every inch of it. And yet ...
James Reed smiles as he watches them. Their unease is intentional, part of the balance of power. These investors may own everything they see, but he created it: here, he is God Almighty, capable of bringing life out of nothingness, able to command the forces of the universe. They would do well to remember that, these small men with their narrow minds and unstained hands. They would do very well indeed.
Behind the glass, a boy with eyes the color of concrete is rocking back and forth, looking at nothing. He has been humming for the last seven hours. Tiny microphones in his room — never "cell," this is not a prison, this is a breeding ground for the future, and language is incredibly important here — have recorded every second of his meandering tune. Nothing is wasted, ever. Nothing is allowed to slip away.
(Later, cryptographers will reduce his song to its mathematical components, eventually determining that he's been offering them a chemical formula, one atom at a time. The formula will yield a novel painkiller derived from several unexpected sources, nonaddictive and capable of offering relief to cases previously thought hopeless. Patenting and marketing the drug will take another twelve years, but the results will make billions for the shell company that handles the pharmaceutical side of things. Bit by bit, because of moments like this one, the lab becomes self-sustaining. It is already vast, and sprawling, and unspeakably expensive in the way of vast, sprawling things. And it must sustain itself, it must. If the Alchemical Congress paid a penny for its creation and upkeep, they would expect their investment to turn into ten times its weight in gold — and that cannot be allowed. Not now. Not with the Doctrine so close at hand.)
"Gentlemen." Reed times his speech carefully: it emerges from the shadows and he emerges on its heels. Each step he takes highlights the disparities between him and his investors. They wear cufflinks purchased by their wives, their balding pates polished to a mirror sheen. He dresses like a character from a Ray Bradbury story of the endless American twilight: tight black trousers, a buttoned-up shirt in sapphire blue, even a tailcoat with bands of strange glyphs embroidered around the cuffs and bottom hem. The embroidery is gold, a reminder of the promises that drew these men to his side, moths lured by the promise of an all-consuming flame.
Asphodel — master, mentor, martyr — taught him the value of showmanship. He was always an eager student, and he understands his audience. They must think him a distracted dandy, a character from a children's story, something to be tolerated and disdained. They must allow their arrogance to treat him as a synecdoche, using his little affectations to complete an inaccurate picture.
They forget, these pampered creatures of the corporate veldt, that always there are predators, and always there is prey. They think themselves lions when even a casual onlooker can see that they are zebras, weak and plentiful and ready for the kill.
His claws, draped in velvet and wrapped in affectation, are sharp enough to slaughter the world.
"Gentlemen," he says again, and his accent is all things and nothing at all. He has honed it over the span of a century, choosing plosives and sibilants to make him sound exotic and exciting without tipping over the line into "foreign." There is a reason the children on display in this hall are pale, made of milk and bone, rather than earth and stone and all the other things his subjects are rooted in. The white children seem almost like human beings to these greedy, grasping men, and here, in this cold, sterile hall bridging science and alchemy, reason and religion, appearances matter almost as much as words.
Children who seem human create guilt in the men who paid for them. Guilt opens wallets. It's simple racism and simple math, and it opens the chasm of his loathing even deeper, for who with any sense would reject any of the wonders the disassembled human race could have to offer?
"Dr. Reed," says one of the men, the self-appointed leader of this little cluster, elevated by self-importance and, more, by a lack of self-preservation. The other two fall back in what he will interpret as reverence, but which Reed sees as cowardice. "Why are we here? You told our offices you had some great breakthrough to show us, but we're seeing the same old things."
Reed's expression of shock would look almost comical on anyone else. Not on him. Never on him. Practice, as they say, makes perfect. "You're seeing subjects who can tap into the future, who shuffle probabilities like cards, whose cells regenerate at a pace we can't track on our equipment, and you call it 'the same old things'? Why, Mr. Smith. I'm ashamed at your shortsightedness."
The man — whose name is not Smith; he accepts the bland pseudonym as a necessity, as do they all. There are costs to doing business of this kind, hidden in the shadows and outside the boundaries of law — stands a little straighter, narrows his eyes a little more. He isn't being taken seriously. This must stop. "You've shown us wonders, but those wonders aren't marketable, Reed. We can't transform all the world's lead into gold without destroying the economy we're trying to control. What can you possibly have to offer us?"
"At last you're asking the right questions. Come." Reed stalks away, as fluid as the predator he is. The men in their flat-soled shoes have no choice but to follow or be left here, surrounded by the staring, unseeing eyes of the children they've paid to bring into the world.
Not one of them hesitates to go.
The hallway stretches like a band of taffy, passing more white-walled rooms, revealing more pajama-clad children. Some are older, moving into their teens; they sit at desks with their backs to the liars' mirror, aware that they could be under observation at any time. Others are younger, toddlers who play with brightly colored blocks or curl, innocently sleeping, under hand-stitched quilts. The people who care for them say it's better if their possessions are made by hand instead of by machine; something about the process of creation flavors the inanimate, and the children sleep better when surrounded by things with a less sterile past. Childrearing is difficult under the best of circumstances. What is being done here is so much more complicated than that.
The door at the end of the hall boasts three locks and a keypad. Reed undoes each in turn, making no effort to conceal the code as he punches it in. It will be different by morning. The security is for more than just show: it's a warning, making sure these men understand that the things he has to show them are to be taken seriously. If any of them attempt to challenge his sovereignty, there will be consequences.
The door opens. Reed allows the investors to enter first. When he follows them, the door slams behind him like a tomb being sealed, final and cold.
"The universe operates according to several basic principles," he says, without preamble or pause. "Gravity, of course; probability. Chaos and order. We're part of the universe, and so the things we embody are equal in divinity to the forces which act upon us from the outside. Gravity is important. No one wants to drift away because the bonds holding them to Earth have been carelessly shattered. But love, curiosity, leadership — those are equally important, or they wouldn't exist. Nature abhors a vacuum. Nothing without purpose has been made."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Magic & Mayhem Sampler"
Copyright © 2019 Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
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.
Table of Contents
Middlegame by Seanan McGuire,
An Illusion of Thieves by Cate Glass,
Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey,
Dragonslayer by Duncan M. Hamilton,
The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday by Saad Z. Hossain,
Blood of an Exile by Brian Naslund,
The Ascent to Godhood by JY Yang,
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (Fall 2019 sneak peek!),
About the Authors,