TERMINUS is out in the UK/AUS/NZ region NOW

TERMINUS, the next book skewing the dark, messed-up history of death in the medieval world, is out in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand now.

The Black Death has ended, but in a way it never should have. Half of Europe never felt its touch. Now, thirty years later, the wars have just begun. And outside powers are meddling. Two former agents of a multiverse-spanning empire, exiled to Earth, have discovered that someone much too powerful is trying to kill them.


TERMINUS on Netgalley and Edelweiss

Advance reading copies of TERMINUS, the sequel to QUIETUS, are now available on both Netgalley and Edelweiss. Ride with the Italian condottieri into a maelstrom of interdimensional chaos and conspiracy!

If you want to, I mean. But why wouldn’t you?


The jacket copy (with some spoilers for QUIETUS):

“The transdimensional empire, the Unity, has dissolved, its ruling powers forced into exile - but empires don't die easily. The living planarship Ways and Means has come to medieval Earth and ended the Black Death, but it keeps its intentions to itself. Someone is trying to kill its agent Osia, who is suffering through her own exile. Spy-turned-anthropologist Meloku becomes a target, too, when she catches Ways and Means concealing the extent of its meddling. While they fight to survive, Fiametta - an Italian soldier, mercenary, and heretical preacher - raises an army and a religious revolt, aiming to split Europe in half.”

Alternate History Reading and Recommendations

Writing historical fiction has all of the same problems of writing a prequel. For as much as the characters don’t know what’s going to happen, we do. We can’t pretend otherwise. When we browse the science fiction section at a bookstore, we see a dizzying, multi-dimensional array of possibilities. But it’s just as easy to look back and see the past as a set of constraints and settled facts. Somewhere in the back of my mind, history will always just seem a linear sequence of events.

So I'm naturally drawn to alternate history. The “face” of the genre are stories that treat history as a puzzlebox, a set of interlocking pieces seeking a new solution. But alternate histories can also put us in history by robbing us of our certainty about it. By taking away everything we thought we knew of about the shape and fate of their world, the crises of the past become immediate. That's the feeling I'm chasing with my stories. Here are some more alternate histories I've read recently that make me feel the same way:


Jo Walton's Small Change trilogy, starting with 2006's Farthing, is also set in the years around World War II—but Britain has become a fascist ally of the Axis powers. While world history proceeds on the grand stage, through equally grand mechanisms, Farthing zooms in on a murder mystery at an English country retreat. Through this restrained perspective, Walton reveals the fascist undercurrents and sympathies of prewar British society, and delivers a devastating and terrifying new look at history, all wrapped in a tightly-plotted, human-scale story.


Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt (2003) has the widest sweep of any novel here. It starts with the end of civilization in Europe, and carries on for centuries afterward. The Black Death mutated upon reaching Europe, and killed ninety-nine percent of its people rather than “mere” thirty-three. With such a heady premise, you might expect Robinson to focus on it, but, while there is plenty of redrawn history, The Years of Rice and Salt is also an intensely personal story about its two lead characters. It uses the conceit of reincarnation to trace them across continents and centuries. No matter where they are in the time, they’re as uncertain as we are about our place in it. It's easy to feel just as lost.


Having our understanding of the world mediated by 21st century science and culture can be an impediment to perceiving the history as the people who lived through it did. In one of my favorite books of last year, Jeannette Ng's 2017 Under the Pendulum Sun, a pair of Victorian missionaries lose themselves in Arcadia, the land of the fae. The faeries are cunning and terrible and tragic, but they're the mechanism of the plot, not the motive. Theology, Christian apocrypha and mysticism, sin and guilt have a life of their own in the land of the fae. They're as oppressively real there as they are in the minds of the missionaries.

9781447296553the last days of new paris_4_jpg_278_400.jpg

China Miéville's The Last Days of New Paris (2016) interrupts and prolongs World War II with an explosion of the occult and surreal--literally, Surrealist artwork of the early century given life to terrorize and reshape a cordoned-off Paris. Agents of Hell, Surrealist amalgamations, and the ideologies of the wartime era given physical embodiment reshape Paris. All of my favorite post-apocalyptic tropes segue into a story about belief, art, and history. It's the most inventive book I've read this year, and has just about everything I love about Miéville's writing and this genre.

Review Roundup

QUIETUS has been in the wild for a month now, and a number of reviews are in. I'm intensely thrilled to see my novel's name in so many of the places it's appeared. There may have been a tear or two!

Here are some highlights:

From The Guardian:

From Angry Robot Books

From Angry Robot Books

"The US writer burst on to the SF scene this year with a stunning novel about an extraterrestrial who has arrived in 14th-century Italy to study the black death. The juxtaposition of alien and human cultures at the heart of Quietus allows Palmgren to ask a host of knotty philosophical questions, as well as to tell an emotionally affecting story."

From Publishers Weekly:

"Habidah is an appealing, intelligent heroine, and the intricate story effectively tackles big themes such as free will and mortality, but Palmgren’s impeccably built, immersive setting of plague-era Italy is more accessible than the complex elements of the multiverse. Readers looking for something exciting from a promising new voice will find Palmgren’s debut worth their time."

From Paul Di Filippo's review for Locus: 

"Palmgren’s virtues as a writer are evident from page one. First off, he creates a cast of utterly rounded characters, Habidah first and foremost. Her reluctance ever to return to her home is just one of the engaging tidbits about her. These ultra-sophisticated, nearly posthuman Unity folks (they are laced with “demiorganic” implants and ridealong NAIs) are the endpoint essences of thousands of years of culture. (The Unity has been around for fifteen millennia.) Yet their motives and emotions remain relatable. Niccolucio and his fellow natives exhibit a completely believable mentality for this historical 1400s as we know that era. And when you put the two types together, the cognitive dissonance is enchanting.

As for the rich setting: not to spoil anything, I hope, but I can say that over eighty percent of the book takes place on the planet, and thus we are almost reading a historical novel insofar as Palmgren seeks to recreates this period. And indeed, he succeeds with gusto. From the misery and stinks to the faith and art, he conjures up a vivid representation. (A subplot involving the Avignon papacy and Meloku is intriguing.) When the book does shift to a more high-tech venue, the author unleashes a gosh-wow torrent of van-Vogtian superscience and enigmatic strategies."

QUIETUS is available at all the retailers on the left of this page and more. TERMINUS will be out this November.

Interview Roundup

From an interview with DJ at MyLifeMyBooksMyEscape

From an interview with DJ at MyLifeMyBooksMyEscape

I've had the chance to interview with some wonderful people, not only about QUIETUS and its release this month, but also about my life and my writing. Links and highlights!

First up, Sally Janin interviewed me for the Qwillery. A highlight:

"TQ:  In Quietus who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Tristan:  I thought Niccoluccio would be my biggest challenge, as there were so many details about monastic life that I felt I had to get right. The anthropologists, though they come from a different universe, were deliberately given a "modern" perspective, and so I thought their voices would come a little more easily. But Niccoluccio and I turned out to be after broadly the same things in life.

The most challenging character to write for was one of the anthropologists on Habidah's team, Meloku. Meloku is the most alien of Quietus's viewpoint characters. She's been living with an AI companion inside her head for years, embedded in her thoughts, and that's shaped her in all the worst ways you can imagine. She's not cruel, but she is cold in a way that I found difficult to write while maintaining reasons to care about her.

The key to unlocking her turned out to be her anger. She's a very angry person, though she does not acknowledge that. She has fair reason to be angry."

I also interviewed with DJ at MyLifeMyBooksMyEscape:

DJ: Did you have a particular goal when you began writing Quietus? Was there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?

Tristan: I’ve always been entranced by alternate history, but less recently by What-If scenarios, and more by alternate history’s power to make history seem alive. Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt lit a fire under me. It’s easy to look ahead and see an array of possibilities. But when we look back, history starts to seem like just a linear sequence of events. It feels constrained. We can’t pretend that we don’t know the outcomes. Alternate history, speculative history, robs us of that certainty, and helps us understand the choices people made without the benefit of hindsight.

Quietus is not alternate history, or secret history, but it fits on the same shelf. I wanted readers to approach the Black Death without the certainty that hindsight brings. The certainties that Habidah and her anthropologists bring do not help them in the slightest.

I spoke with Elaine Aldred of Strange Alliances via Skype chat, and she transcribed our conversation:

Elaine: Niccolucio, the monk, is a very interesting and appropriate character because of the way he fitted into the developing storyline. I got the sense that Niccolucio may have been the driving force behind the creation of the novel.

Tristan: He popped up first. He actually has a real-life counterpart of brother Gherardo who was also a Carthusian monk. He was the sole survivor of his monastery. He was alone in the monastery for several months during a hard winter with only his dogs for company. Obviously, his life then took a different course to Niccolucio’s, but he immediately stood out to me the moment I read his story and I knew I wanted to include that story in my writing.

Finally, Mary Robinette Kowal was also gracious enough to allow me space on her blog, at her My Favorite Bits column, in which I describe my favorite parts of QUIETUS: 

It’s not just knowing the events of history that spoil things for me, either. It’s our worldview: everything we know and think we know about things like the age of the Earth, astronomy, geology, religion, and more. I can pretend not to know these things, but that’s all it is: a pretense. It’s always there, and it’s always going to be a barrier to understanding a historical novel’s characters and their crises.

I wrote Quietus to foreground that problem. Dr Habidah Shen and her team of extradimensional anthropologists have come, for desperate reasons of their own, to Europe in the 1340s to witness the Black Death. Habidah knows her biases are a problem. She tries to, but can’t, surmount them.

Thank you to everyone who lent me their space to write and speak!