AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT – CHRISTOPHER L. BENNETT


eSpec Books interviews best-selling science fiction author Christopher L. Bennett, author of Arachne’s Crime (currently funding on Kickstarter), Only Superhuman, Among the Wild Cybers, and a wide array of media tie-in novels.

eS: Hi, Christopher. Thank you for joining us today. Arachne’s Crime has some pretty detailed tech. How much of the tech is extrapolation and how much is technobabble? Please tell us something about the science of your universe.

CB: I’ve always striven to make the science in the Arachne/Troubleshooter Universe (as I’ve finally settled on calling it) as authentic as I can. I allow for a little poetic license with things like faster-than-light travel, but I ground them in real theory with a minimum of fudging. The novelette that Arachne’s Crime is expanded from — “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide,” my first professional sale back in 1998 — was a concept that came out of the science, when I worked out the asteroid defenses an interstellar colony ship would need and wondered what would happen if an alien ship crossed its path.

However, when I wrote the original story, I didn’t know that the science I based it on was outmoded in some respects. For the novel version, I updated the colony ship Arachne from a Bussard ramjet (which would have too much drag against the interstellar medium) to a magnetic sail craft using a system proposed by Jordan Kare and explained by Paul Gilster in his book and namesake website Centauri Dreams. (The original version of “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide” is reprinted in Among the Wild Cybers, albeit with some tweaks to ameliorate the credibility problems.) I also got some invaluable science help from my fellow posters on the ExIsle BBS, including Paul Woodmansee of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in working out the nature and technical details of the disaster that opens the story.

eS: Where did you come up with the idea for the duology?

CB: When “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide” was published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact 21 years ago, it generated some lively reader response, in part because it didn’t have the kind of John W. Campbell-style ending (a clear-cut human victory over aliens) that many Analog readers may have been prone to expect. A couple of readers’ assumptions about what might happen after the novelette were so far off from what I had in mind that it got me thinking I should tell the tale of what really did happen next. It took a long time to get there, though.

For quite a while, this was a single long novel that I could never entirely get right. Eventually, when I started thinking about submitting it to smaller publishers, the need to limit the word count made me consider splitting it into two books, and I finally realized it had been two distinct stories crammed together all along, which was probably why various agents and editors had found it lacking in clear focus. Splitting it at the logical breaking point left the first part too short, which gave me the opportunity to flesh out some important parts I’d rushed through before, deepening my exploration of the alien culture featured in Arachne’s Crime before moving on to the larger-scale, more cosmic adventure of Arachne’s Exile.

eS: How does this series interlock with Only Superhuman? Are they a part of the same over-arching reality or separate unto themselves?

CB: The Arachne books, Only Superhuman, the stories in Among the Wild Cybers (excepting “No Dominion”), and the other two Troubleshooter stories (“The Stuff that Dreams Are Made Of” from Footprints in the Stars and “Conventional Powers” in Analog) are all part of the same continuity. It’s always been the default continuity where I put everything that I don’t have a reason to put elsewhere, so it hasn’t really had a clear defining theme, though it’s now largely coalesced around the Troubleshooter sequence (basically everything taking place in the Sol system before the mid-22nd century) and the interstellar-era stories that all connect at least tenuously to the Arachne duology, which is why I’ve decided to name it the Arachne/Troubleshooter Universe. However, there are some Troubleshooter connections in Arachne due to shared worldbuilding; a few of the novel’s characters come from the Strider (asteroid dweller) civilization of the Troubleshooter stories, and one supporting character is the granddaughter of a lead character from Only Superhuman. There are also some themes and ideas introduced in one of the Troubleshooter stories that come into play in Arachne’s Exile.

Basically, this duology is the linchpin that connects to everything else published in my primary universe to date and thereby gives it the unifying element it lacked before, as well as painting a larger picture of the galaxy that puts the rest in context and gives me a foundation for future storytelling. There are some stories I’ve wanted to write for years but didn’t feel I could move forward until I’d gotten Arachne published to lay the foundations.

eS: Though you are known for your media tie-in work, you have quite a few works of your own creation. Can you tell us about some of your other works?

CB: The Troubleshooter series beginning with Only Superhuman is a hard science fiction superhero series set in the Asteroid Belt in the late 21st and early 22nd century, the wild and woolly frontier era where the lack of unified government and law enforcement creates a void filled by the Troubleshooter Corps, a non-governmental group of transhuman peacekeepers who embrace the trappings of superheroes to earn the trust of the highly nationalist Striders in a way that a more conventional paramilitary force could not. My fellow author Glenn Hauman describes it as “The Expanse with superheroes,” which is a good elevator pitch, though the concept predates The Expanse. I’ve also done three Troubleshooter short stories, including two prequels and one sequel to the novel, and I’m working on a couple of other projects in the series as time permits.

The other stories in Among the Wild Cybers are in a mix of settings from the interplanetary era to the age of FTL expansion across the galaxy. If there’s a unifying theme, it’s the exploration of a basically optimistic future where seemingly intractable problems still arise even when everyone involved is trying to do the right thing, and improvement is won through hard work and hard choices.

Beyond the Arachne/Troubleshooter Universe, my other ongoing original creation is the “Hub” series of comedy SF stories published in Analog over the past decade and collected in two books from Mystique Press, Hub Space: Tales from the Greater Galaxy and Crimes of the Hub.

eS: What authors do you like to read for your own personal enjoyment? And why?

CB: These days I tend to read a lot of comic book collections from the library. I’m particularly fond of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, written by Ryan North, and Ms. Marvel, written by G. Willow Wilson. In prose, I’ve enjoyed the Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan, the memoirs of a naturalist investigating the biology of dragons in an alternate world paralleling the 19th-century age of British exploration.

eS: What advice would you give aspiring authors?

CB: It’s a cliché to say “don’t quit your day job,” but it’s true. I’ve managed to squeak by as a full-time writer thanks to my Star Trek work, but only with a modest lifestyle and little in the way of savings, and it’s become harder in recent years as that work has become less regular. If you aspire to authorship for material reasons rather than the love of the craft, then you’re in the wrong line of work. Only a very few authors get a lot of money out of it.

But if you love writing, then keep at it. Don’t be disheartened by rejection, because it’s a learning opportunity, an incentive to raise your game. It took me five years of submitting stories before I improved enough to make my first sale. And that’s the other thing: Never assume your work is perfect or the criticisms of it are unfair. There’s always room to improve and learn from others. So listen to the critiques you get. Assume they’re meant to help you do better, because they are.

eS: What upcoming projects would you like to tell us about?

CB: All I really have lined up in prose at the moment, besides the Arachne duology, is Star Trek: The Original Series — The Higher Frontier, which is due out in March 2020. It’s the first time in many years that I’ve gotten to return to the post-Star Trek: The Motion Picture time frame I previously explored in Ex Machina, Mere Anarchy: The Darkness Drops Again, and portions of Department of Temporal Investigations: Forgotten History.

Beyond that, I have an ongoing gig writing game campaigns for the Star Trek Adventures role-playing game. All my campaigns to date have been published, but I have several more in the outline stage.

eS: What do you do for fun?

CB: Mainly what I’ve been doing for recreation the past year or so is watching a lot of Japanese tokusatsu (live-action superhero/monster) shows, mainly Super Sentai (the franchise Power Rangers is adapted from) and its sister series Kamen Rider. For all their silly, toy-based monsters and weapons and formulaic fight scenes, they often have strikingly sophisticated writing, rich characters, impressive production values and cinematography, and terrific music, and I quite enjoy them.


Christopher L. Bennett

Christopher L. Bennett is a lifelong resident of Cincinnati, Ohio, with a B.S. in Physics and a B.A. in History from the University of Cincinnati. A fan of science and science fiction since age five, he has spent the past two decades selling original short fiction to magazines such as Analog Science Fiction and Fact (home of his “Hub” series of comedy adventures), BuzzyMag, and Galaxy’s Edge. Since 2003, he has been one of Pocket Books’ most prolific and popular authors of Star Trek tie-in fiction, including the epic Next Generation prequel The Buried Age, the Enterprise — Rise of the Federation series, and the Original Series prequel The Captain’s Oath. He has also written two Marvel Comics novels, X-Men: Watchers on the Walls and Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder. His original novel Only Superhuman, perhaps the first hard science fiction superhero novel, was voted Library Journal‘s SF/Fantasy Debut of the Month for October 2012. He has three collections reprinting his original short fiction, Among the Wild Cybers: Tales Beyond the Superhuman from eSpec Books (containing an original Only Superhuman prequel novelette) and Hub Space: Tales from the Greater Galaxy and Crimes of the Hub from Mystique Press. 

STATE OF THE ‘SPEC – APOCALYPSE EDITION


Well, folks, like everyone else we are hunkered down and riding out the tidal wave caused by this sh*t storm.

We are working steadily on the books we would have launched at Balticon, normally our biggest convention of the year. It is so surreal…this is the first time in seventeen years we will not be at Balticon, which we consider our home show. It will be the first time in fifteen years we haven’t had our annual launch party there. I can honestly say that one event has become the focal point of my year, prepping the books, making the food. And sadly, this isn’t the only event lost this year. If I had the time, I would be feeling adrift right now. 

Of course, I don’t, as I work in healthcare. But we aren’t going to go there.

I wanted you all to know that life goes on despite the chaos and the uncertainty. Here are some things we’ve already accomplished this year:

We have re-released books 2 and 3 in James Chambers’s Corpse Fauna Series: Tears of Blood and The Dead in Their Masses. The fourth and final book in the series, Eyes of the Dead, is due out in October of this year. Here is a guest post he wrote for Speculative Chic.


We have re-released Megan Mackie’s books Saint Code: The Lost and The Finder of the Lucky Devil. We have one more book to re-release, The Saint of Liars, then we are free to focus on her two new titles, The Devil’s Day and Saint Code: Constable. All of these books take place in an alternate, futuristic Chicago we’ve coined cyber-magical Chicago. If you aren’t familiar with Megan, here is a guest post she wrote for Speculative Chic.)

 


We released Michelle D. Sonnier’s novella, Death’s Embrace, which is a prequel to her debut novel, The Clockwork Witch. (Don’t worry, Michelle is nearly done with the sequel, An Unceasing Hunger.)


Our next re-release is Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn: A Steampunk Faerie Tale, written by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Day Al-Mohamed. This is a steampunk retelling of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Here is a guest post that Danielle wrote for Speculative Chic.

Proof-BabaAli

What We Are Working On Now

Despite how everything has gone topsy-turvy, we are still hard at work on some pretty amazing books. 

First and foremost, we have a nearly complete manuscript for David Sherman’s military science fiction novel To Hell and Regroup, the long-awaited conclusion to his 18th Race trilogy, which also includes Issue In Doubt and In All Directions. Due to health concerns, the final volume is being co-written with Keith R.A. DeCandido.

In conjunction with the above release, we are also working on a new novel by Christopher L. Bennett, Arachne’s Crime, the first book in a brand-new duology, to be followed by Arachne’s Exile.

Danielle Ackley-McPhail is hard at work on Build-A-Book Workshop, a new volume in the Literary Handyman series. This book focuses on the elements that go into professional book design, not how to use book-design software or artistically design a book. She is also working on her first science fiction novel: Daire’s Devils.

And finally, editors Danielle Ackley-McPhail and John L. French are currently working on the upcoming anthology Horns and Halos, tales of devils and angels.

Please stay tuned for more information, and possibly check out some of the above links for great fiction from our authors. Given the need for social distancing and sheltering at home, we have put all of our ebooks on sale for only $0.99 for both eSpec Books titles and Paper Phoenix Press titles.

Not sure if our books are for you? You can still help us out! All of these links are Amazon Associate links, so we receive a portion of your sale no matter what you buy, with absolutely no additional cost to you.

Not a fan of Amazon? We have a link for that! You can order copies of all of our books via our eSpec Books Square Store and we will ship direct as long as the post office is active.

NEW RELEASE – BABA ALI AND THE CLOCKWORK DJINN


Well… not quite released yet, but coming real soon! Releasing in April through eSpec Books’ reprint imprint Paper Phoenix Press, Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Day Al-Mohamed. There is a pre-order link available, and the book is currently available on audiobook.

Proof-BabaAli

Come, Best Beloved, and sit you by my feet. I shall tell you a tale such as sister Scheherazade could have scarce imagined…

In the Nejd there is nothing at all…except secrets. A band of thieves wishes such secrets to remain hidden.

In England, far from his desert home, Ali bin-Massoud serves as apprentice to the famed Charles Babbage. One night a mysterious box is delivered by a clockwork falcon and Ali’s world is never the same again. Heartache, danger, and thieves mark his journey as Ali is summoned home at the death of his father.

It will take faith, knowledge, and yes, love to realize his destiny, and more than a little skill with steam-driven technology. Can he unravel the mystery of the puzzle box and the clockwork djinn before it is too late? An ancient legacy and Ali’s very life depend on his success.

Hear you the tale of Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn.

“Rich with steampunk, magic, and an enchanting setting, this story casts a spell and won’t let go until the very last page!” —Maria V. Snyder, New York Times Bestselling Author

“Readers of steampunk and Middle Eastern-inspired fantasy alike will adore this lush foray into a world seldom explored by the genre. Buckle up for a wild ride across the deserts of your imagination!” —Tiffany Trent, award-winning author of The Unnaturalists

 “A charming retelling of the famous classic […] Whether you are a fan of Steampunk, of exotic fairytales, or just of good writing, this story should delight.” —L. Jagi Lamplighter, award-winning author

“Beautifully evocative of the fairy tale tradition in parts that the modern, steampunk nature of the tale is completely encapsulated in a wonderful adventure.” —Luke’s Reviews


Kickstarter DMcPhailAward-winning author, editor, and publisher Danielle Ackley-McPhail has worked both sides of the publishing industry for longer than she cares to admit. In 2014 she joined forces with husband Mike McPhail and friend Greg Schauer to form her own publishing house, eSpec Books.

Her published works include six novels, Yesterday’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Memories, Today’s Promise, The Halfling’s Court, The Redcaps’ Queen, and Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, written with Day Al-Mohamed. She is also the author of the solo collections Eternal Wanderings, A Legacy of Stars, Consigned to the Sea, Flash in the Can, Transcendence, Between Darkness and Light, and the non-fiction writers’ guides, The Literary Handyman and The Literary Handyman: Build-A-Book Workshop

She is the senior editor of the Bad-Ass Faeries anthology series, Gaslight & Grimm, Side of Good/Side of Evil, After Punk, Footprints in the Stars, In an Iron Cage, as well as many others. Her short stories are included in numerous other anthologies and collections.

In addition to her literary acclaim, she crafts and sells original costume horns under the moniker The Hornie Lady, and homemade flavor-infused candied ginger under the brand of Ginger KICK! at literary conventions, on commission, and wholesale.

Danielle lives in New Jersey with husband and fellow writer, Mike McPhail and three extremely spoiled cats.

To learn more about her work, visit www.sidhenadaire.com or www.especbooks.com.

DayDay Al-Mohamed is an award-winning filmmaker, author, and disability policy executive. She is a host on Idobi Radio’s Geek Girl Riot (https://idobi.com/show/geek-girl-riot/) with an audience of more than 80,000 listeners, and her most recent novella, The Labyrinth’s Archivist, was published July 2019. Her recent publications are available in Daily Science Fiction, Apex Magazine, and GrayHaven Comics’ anti-bullying issue “You Are Not Alone.”

She is an active member of Women in Film and Video and a graduate of the VONA/Voices Writing Workshop.  Her most recent film is screening both nationally and internationally: The Invalid Corps (https://invalidcorpsfilm.com). However, she is most proud of being invited to teach a workshop on storytelling at the White House in February 2016.

Day is a disability policy executive with more than fifteen years of experience in both the public and private sector. She is currently a Senior Policy Advisor with the Federal government. She has also worked as a lobbyist and political analyst. For more information on work in disability policy, please check out: www.DayinWashington.com.

Day presents often on the representation of disability in media, most recently at the American Bar Association, SXSW, and New York ComiCon. A proud member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, she lives in Washington DC with her wife, N.R. Brown and guide dog, Gamma. She can be found online at www.DayAlMohamed.com and @DayAlMohamed.

eSPEC EXCERPTS – BABA ALI AND THE CLOCKWORK DJINN


Our campaign is one week in and nearly 300% funded. I can’t tell you how excited Day and I are to bring this book back to the fans. It has always been one of our most popular titles as authors. With three weeks to go, we are hoping we might add illustrations this time around as the book just cries out for visuals to go with the rich language and fairytale esthetic. Currently, we are just $190 away from adding our first two illustrations. For those not familiar with the book, we thought it would be nice to share an excerpt. We hope you enjoy. And if you are curious about the campaign for Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, please do click the link. If you are particularly moved, please consider sharing this excerpt or the link with the world. We would be quite grateful for the boost.  


BabaAliandtheClockworkDjinn
The cover of the previous edition, artwork by Autumn Frederickson

An Excerpt from Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Day Al-Mohamed

The moon lit his way as he scurried down to the oasis. His first instinct was to fill his goatskin and flee back toward Wadi Al-Nejd before the night grew any older, but as he knelt beside the pool, he could not control his gaze. At first, it merely darted toward the dune and back again. His eyes locked upon the slope a while longer, his mind furiously working on the puzzle of how the dune hid a cavern. He longed to go in, to explore. To know for once and certain that this was the place he sought.

The next he knew, Ali stood where the lead thief’s footprints still shaped the sands, between the rock outcropping and the arta bush with the twisted trunk, his hand toying with one of the robust red blossoms from the branch in his hands as his teeth worried his lower lip.

He should not do it. Allah knew he should not do it.

“Open, Sesame.”

The words were but a whisper across his lips, barely spoken before the sands again separated to reveal the rock outcrop. His eyes widened as next the stone facing slowly slid beneath the desert. Ali forgot once more to breathe. He had not believed it would work. He had been sure the sun had baked his brain. But there it was: the secret cavern, spilling its steady light upon the oasis.

The blossom snapped off in Ali’s tightened grip. He barely noticed as he crept into the cave. As he passed the entrance he noted two divots in the chamber floor that mirrored where he’d stood outside. Ali stopped and turned toward the oasis. It would be best to not betray his presence. “Close, Sesame,” he murmured, recalling the leader’s words; hoping they would work from the inside.

And the earth swallowed Ali whole.

His first impulse was to pound upon the rock, to order it open once more. Instead, he turned and allowed his gaze to sweep the cavern. He could see no sign of the guardians his father’s letter had warned about. Perhaps they had been released by his grandfather’s passing, for they were not here. Still, Ali’s hand crept down to rest upon his satchel, which contained the puzzle box, the travel diary, and his father’s letter. Reassured, he took in the wonders of the cave. The first thing he noticed was the camelids standing in ranks against the far wall, their curved brass flanks dully gleaming. He gasped as he realized these were the ‘ships of the desert’ mentioned in his grandfather’s diary. The ache to explore their inner workings was so strong it was almost physical.

Knowing he could not, Ali dragged his gaze away to examine the rest of the treasures. What he saw dazzled his eyes. Without a doubt, this was Nader Shah’s treasure. A jewel-encrusted platform stood in the center of the cavern. Twelve pillars—each capped by two peacocks with fanned tails—supported a canopy, the underside of which was covered in rubies and diamonds, emerald and pearls. The whole of it rested on four gold feet. Ali shivered in awe at that splendor alone. He had heard of the fabled Peacock Throne, but it had not occurred to him that it would be the centerpiece of his family’s sacred charge. Closest to the platform rested elegant urns filled with chalices and golden platters, some plain, others likewise encrusted with gems. Stacked around these were chests made of precious metals and rare wood. Ali marveled at the finely carved cinnabar and ivory that filled them. Part of him had scarcely believed he would find the treasure of Nader Shah hidden in the heart of the Rub-Al Khali. It was evident that part of him had been wrong.

On the fringes of the shah’s treasure, the thieves had piled canvas sacks and ceramic jars brimming with more pedestrian blessings: common-day coins and costly spices, aromatic perfumes and sparkling jewels, bolts of silk and casks of fine tea. There, shoved to the sides, blanketed in dust, he spied bundles of glass, copper, and brass piping that set his artificer’s heart tripping. The things Ali could make with such supplies! He closed his eyes and turned from the sight, lest avarice take root in his soul. If he was meant for such wealth, Allah would provide.

In the corner beyond the camelids, Ali noticed a workbench the likes of which he’d only seen in his dreams. This, more than even the shah’s treasure let him know that he had found the secret place his father had been searching for.

Charcoal sketches similar to those in Al-Jazari’s book were pinned to a board that leaned against the cavern wall, their black marks softened by a thick layer of dust. Half-finished inventions resembling sketches from his grandfather’s diary gathered dust on the work surface. He sighed, knowing he dare touch nothing, lest he betray himself in some way to the thieves.

His fingers hovered above delicate tools and sturdy spanners his meager coin could never afford. Even these were coated in fine dust and sand, as if long without use, though surely the camelids required maintenance. Glancing more closely, Ali could discern initials engraved on the handles. Were these his grandfather’s tools? They looked to have been well-used at one time, but obviously, that time was long past.

With all his heart, he vowed to reclaim his family’s legacy.

Beside the workbench stood a vat of oil and two barrels, one filled with copper gears, the other black tar for fuel. Beyond that, in the shadows, someone had piled a junk heap of scrap metal and defunct parts next to which stood one of the camelids, its body darkened by smoke residue along one side and the torso open on its hinges. He peered within and noticed a bent cog had twisted one of the shafts. A simple enough thing to fix, and yet it was clear by the coating of dust on the camelid’s back that the thieves had neither interest nor skill for such things. Ali resisted the urge to make the repair himself, instead examining the mechanism with a careful eye. Even damaged, the inner workings of the construct enthralled him. The design was similar to some he had seen at Ustad Babbage’s side, but this was more elegant; as much art as engineering. Inside, a compact copper boiler connected to narrow pipes that led from the tank to an intricate assembly of gears, rods, and pistons, two to each side, corresponding to where the legs attached. Another rose through the aperture where the construct’s neck connected to the body. He could not identify what directed the locomotion, but what he did see gave him some understanding of how the smooth, league-spanning stride of the camelid’s walk was achieved. Ali avidly studied the design, storing the knowledge for future use…assuming he ever had enough coin to do more than dream of crafting such complex engineering. Since Kassim had ordered Ali’s return to Wadi Al-Nejd, there had been little opportunity—or coin—for true invention, only the tinkering that supplemented his dwindling reserve. Sighing, he turned away from the workbench, lest he be tempted to touch.

Oh, what Ali would give to linger in this place for the rest of his days, creating magnificent constructs. But no, he had already lingered too long. Even now, his shoulders tightened and he caught himself darting glances around the room.

It was as if eyes were upon him, causing the skin across his back to crawl. Ali turned to examine the cavern in its entirety, rather than just the riches it held. He spied no one, but for the first time, he took note of the cave itself, marveling at the workmanship. This was no natural cavern but had been crafted by human hands. He could almost make out tool marks, likely from some rock-boring construct. The walls were only partially visible for the lattice of steam pipes crisscrossing overhead and down to the floor. Most of them were copper, but intermixed were glass tubes emitting a soft yellow light from no source Ali understood. Those pipes framing the entrance to the cavern were all glass, thick and gleaming, with brass fittings. To either side of them, Ali saw a complex assembly of great-toothed gears in a variety of sizes, interlocked and showing signs of wear. They appeared to operate a pulley system as a massive metallic cable ran up to the ceiling and down into the ground. He recognized elements of the design from The Book of Knowledge. He would have examined these workings more closely as well, only a sudden movement distracted him.

Inside those pipes by the entrance swirled lavender mist too delicate to be mistaken for steam. For a brief instant, Ali would have sworn there was a flutter, as of eyes blinking. Surely he was mistaken…and yet, the sensation of being watched increased.

Trying to ignore it, Ali continued wandering. Repeatedly, he had to remind himself not to touch each new thing he discovered. He told himself he was blessed just to be here in the secret place his grandfather had created and his father had long sought; it was enough to feel surrounded by their spirits, to see such glorious things, to smell the fragrance of the spices and costly perfumes that sweetened the chamber. Almost, Ali believed the lie. Thinking of the thieves, he fought the urge to lash out. This was his family’s responsibility, his family’s charge, his family’s treasure to guard. That last bore remembering. These riches were not his and never would be, but he could not help but wish just once to hold such wealth in his hands, to know, however briefly, what it felt like to be a rich man. No. No good could come of such thoughts.

Ali sighed. The sound echoed in the chamber until he nearly overlooked the softer sigh that followed his own. And then the light brightened and Ali stiffened as a woman’s voice filled the cavern.

“What have you in your hand, Child of Adam?” The voice was like the crackle of a fire, darker notes beneath the light.

Ali spun. He saw no one.

“What have you in your hand?” the voice repeated. Sweeter than a nightingale, the surging power in that voice sent Ali to his knees, fervent supplication to Allah on his lips, though he had no breath to utter them. His gaze fell upon the glass pipes by the entrance where the roiling mist had taken on a darker, violet hue.

“Tell me!” All sweetness and light fled both the woman’s voice and the chamber.

Ali thought desperately. He did not pick up anything. He purposely had not touched even one piece of treasure. No, not even the bent cog. In the darkness, he focused, startled to realize he did, in fact, cup something in his right hand. Slowly, he reached over with his left and ran his fingers across the sturdy anthers of the arta blossom he had plucked from the bush outside the cavern.

He tried to speak and it was as if the desert itself once more filled his throat.

The darkness took on more weight at his continued silence, but the voice did not speak again. Ali frantically coughed and cleared his throat.

“A flower…” His voice sounded harsh and grating to his ear.

A gasp answered him. The longing in that single sound tightened his chest. Light once more flooded the chamber. Before him, the mist swirled in agitation. Following instinct, Ali crept forward, still on his knees, and laid the flower beside the pipes, the small anthers only slightly bent for having been clutched in his hand.

When he looked up, a woman formed out of the swirling mist; perfect in all proportions, but no larger than a ferret, her body cloaked in smoky robes. The glass tube held a djinni. Her solid black gaze locked on the blossom. Here, at last, one of the guardians of which his father wrote, though Ali wondered how well she could guard from within her encasement.

“He planted them for me,” she whispered. “My master planted them for me. It has been so long since I have seen evidence of his gift. Not since his passage into Death’s Garden.”

FROM THE PUBLISHER – BABA ALI AND THE CLOCKWORK DJINN


 

We’re at it again. In the next day or so we will be launching a campaign to fund Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, a unique retelling of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, written by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Day Al-Mohamed. Previously published by Dark Quest Books, the title has been out of print for a number of years, but interest has never seemed to wain. We plan to re-issue the novel under our Paper Phoenix Press imprint. Below is the cover from the previous edition. Sadly, we can’t afford the artist’s price to reuse it, though it was custom art for this book. However, we’re sharing it here because it is lovely and we don’t have anything to replace it with yet (thus the need for funding 😉

We are hoping to raise enough money not only for new custom art but also interior illustrations, which we weren’t able to include the first time around. If we do real well we will also fund a new novella by Michelle D. Sonnier set in the same universe as her novel, The Clockwork Witch… If we do crazy well beyond our wildest imagination we may just do a limited edition numbered hardcover edition…heck…maybe even a handful in full color! Why not? If the funds are there we are more than glad to reach for the moon! Can you help us get there? The campaign isn’t live yet, but please feel free to share the link in this post with your friends if you think they might be interested in Middle Eastern Steampunk or Faerie Tale retellings with a mechanical flare. Once the project goes live, this link will redirect to the active campaign page.

BabaAliandtheClockworkDjinn
The cover for the previous edition, art by Autumn Frederickson.

Come, Best Beloved, and sit you by my feet. I shall tell you a tale such as sister Scheherazade could have scarce imagined…

 In the Nejd there is nothing at all…except secrets. A band of thieves wishes such secrets to remain hidden.

In England, far from his desert home, Ali bin-Massoud serves as apprentice to the famed Charles Babbage. One night a mysterious box is delivered by a clockwork falcon and Ali’s world is never the same again. Heartache, danger, and thieves mark his journey as Ali is summoned home at the death of his father.

It will take faith, knowledge, and yes, love to realize his destiny, and more than a little skill with steam-driven technology. Can he unravel the mystery of the puzzle box and the clockwork djinn before it is too late? An ancient legacy and Ali’s very life depend on his success.

Hear you the tale of Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn.


Praise for Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn

“Rich with steampunk, magic, and an enchanting setting, this story casts a spell and won’t let go until the very last page!” —Maria V. Snyder, New York Times Bestselling Author

“Readers of steampunk and Middle Eastern-inspired fantasy alike will adore this lush foray into a world seldom explored by the genre. Buckle up for a wild ride across the deserts of your imagination!” —Tiffany Trent, award-winning author of The Unnaturalists

 “A charming retelling of the famous classic […] Whether you are a fan of Steampunk, of exotic fairytales, or just of good writing, this story should delight.” —L. Jagi Lamplighter, award-winning author

“Beautifully evocative of the fairy tale tradition in parts that the modern, steampunk nature of the tale is completely encapsulated in a wonderful adventure.” —Luke’s Reviews


Kickstarter DMcPhail

Award-winning author and editor Danielle Ackley-McPhail has worked both sides of the publishing industry for longer than she cares to admit. In 2014 she joined forces with husband Mike McPhail and friend Greg Schauer to form her own publishing house, eSpec Books (www.especbooks.com).

Her published works include six novels, Yesterday’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Memories, Today’s Promise, The Halfling’s Court, The Redcaps’ Queen, and Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, written with Day Al-Mohamed. She is also the author of the solo collections Eternal Wanderings, A Legacy of Stars, Consigned to the Sea, Flash in the Can, Transcendence, Between Darkness and Light, and the non-fiction writers’ guide, The Literary Handyman, and is the senior editor of the Bad-Ass Faeries anthology series, Gaslight & Grimm, Side of Good/Side of Evil, After Punk, and Footprints in the Stars. Her short stories are included in numerous other anthologies and collections.

In addition to her literary acclaim, she crafts and sells original costume horns under the moniker The Hornie Lady Custom Costume Horns, and homemade flavor-infused candied ginger under the brand of Ginger KICK! at literary conventions, on commission, and wholesale.

Danielle lives in New Jersey with husband and fellow writer, Mike McPhail, and three extremely spoiled cats.

To learn more about her work, visit www.sidhenadaire.com or www.especbooks. 

Day

Day Al-Mohamed is an author, filmmaker, and disability policy executive. She is co-author of the Young Adult novel, Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, is a host on Idobi Radio’s Geek Girl Riot with an audience of more than 80,000 listeners, and her most recent novella, , was published July 2019 by Falstaff Books. Her recent publications are available in Daily Science Fiction, Apex, Crossed Genres anthology “Oomph – A Little Super Goes a Long Way,” and GrayHaven Comics’ anti-bullying issue “You Are Not Alone.”  

Her current documentary, “The Invalid Corps” is on the festival circuit. 

She is an active member of Women in Film and Video and a graduate of the VONA/Voices Writing Workshop.  However, she is most proud of being invited to teach a workshop on storytelling at the White House in February 2016.

Day is a disability policy executive with more than fifteen years of experience. She is currently a Senior Policy Advisor with the Federal government. She has also worked as a lobbyist and political analyst on issues relating to Health, Education, Employment, Technology, and International Development. For more information on work in disability policy, please check out: http://www.DayinWashington.com.

Day presents often on the representation of disability in media, most recently at the American Bar Association, SXSW, and New York ComiCon. A proud member of Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 24-01 (5th District Southern Region), she lives in Washington DC with her wife, N.R. Brown and guide dog, Gamma. She can be found online at http://www.DayAlMohamed.com and @DayAlMohamed.

michelle d. sonnierMichelle D. Sonnier is a fiction writer with a specialty in mythic fiction, urban fantasy, dark fantasy, and classic horror. She delights in giving a giggle and a shiver. Her debut novel, The Clockwork Witchreleased through eSpec Books in 2018. Look for upcoming projects from Sam’s Dot Publications and Otter Libris.

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT – MEGAN MACKIE


We at eSpec Books would like to introduce you to our newest author, Megan Mackie. She is the author of the Lucky Devil and Saint Code series, a vibrant world of alternate Chicago where magic and cyberpunk share an uneasy existence with one another. The first title we will be re-releasing of Megan’s is Death and the Crone, a side novel to her Lucky Devil series where she explores the ageless nature of love.


IMG_0161Why should the sexy immortal guy always go for the sixteen-year-old?

Margaret has given up on life. In her late 60s, homeless, and unwanted by society, it seemed a logical thing to go with this rich, handsome stranger back to his expensive apartment. Sure it probably meant her death, but what did she have to lose anyway? But instead of finding her death, Margaret learns that nothing in her savior’s world is what it seems, including herself.

Set in the magical, technologically-advanced Chicago of The Lucky Devil series, this spin-off story is one that both new and existing fans of the series can enjoy.


Other upcoming titles:


IMG_0450

Megan Mackie is a writer, actor, and playwright. She started her writing career as an indie author and had such smashing success in her first year with her inaugural book The Finder of the Lucky Devil, that she made the transition to traditional publishing. She has become a personality at many cons, recognizable by her iconic leather hat and engaging smile. She has recently joined Bard’s Tower, a mobile con bookstore, and has sold her books next to great authors such as Peter David, Melinda Snodgrass, Dan Wells, Claudia Gray, John Jackson Miller, and Jim Butcher, to name a few.

IMG_0449She has written four novels including The Finder of the Lucky Devil, The Saint of Liars, Death and the Crone, and Saint Code: Lost all of which will be re-releasing through eSpec Books. She is also a contributing writer in the role-playing game Legendlore soon to be published by Onyx Path Publishing.

Outside of writing, she likes to play games: board games, RPGs, and video games. She has a regular Pathfinder group who is working their way through Rapanthuk. She lives in Chicago with her husband and children, dog, three cats, and her mother in the apartment upstairs.


COVER REVEAL – SHATTERED DREAMS: THE SHARDIES WAR

Shattered Dreams: The Shardies War

Shattered Dreams: The Shardies War

Will Humanity’s First Contact Prove to Be Its Last?

The opening salvos of a deadly war take mankind’s planetary colonies unaware. Jeaux is lost and the Naval courier Provance barely escapes on a course to the planet Morrow, only to discover the alien forces have given chase.

The fledgling colony of Morrow receives a garbled warning it can scarce believe. Before they can decide what course to take, the crystalline aliens strike with brutal force, nearly wiping all evidence of humanity from the planet. Out of thousands of colonists, a mere scattering survive, unaware of the greater war.

On the planet and among the stars, humanity fights to survive with resources sadly lacking against the aliens’ nearly unfathomable technology and tactics.

In an effort to combat the Shards, military command makes the hard call to adapt captured tech, instancing mortally wounded Marines into cyber weapons, leaving many to wonder…

To Defeat the Enemy, Have We Become Them?


Bud Sparhawk is the author of the novels Distant Seas, Dreams of Earth, and Vixen, as well as two print collections: Sam Boone: Front to Back, and Dancing with Dragons. He has three e-Novels available through Amazon and other channels. 

Bud has been a three-time novella finalist for the Nebula award: Primrose and Thorn (Analog, May 1996), Magic’s Price (Analog, March 2001), and Clay’s Pride (Analog, July/August 2004).  His work has appeared in two Year’s Best anthologies: Year’s Best SF #11 (EOS), David Harwell-Editor) and The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Fourteenth Annual Collection, (St Martins Press, Garner Dozois – Editor.)

His short stories have appeared frequently in Analog Fact/Fiction, less so in Asimov’s, as well as in five Defending the Future and other anthologies, publications and audio books. He has put out several collections of some of his published works in ebook format.  A complete bibliography can be found at: http://budsparhawk.com.

He also writes an occasional blog on the pain of writing at http://budsparhawk.blogspot.com.