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?

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Announcement - TERMINUS

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Over at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi And Fantasy blog, you can find a reveal I've been sitting on for a while and am tremendously excited about--TERMINUS, the sequel to QUIETUS, will be coming out from Angry Robot Books on November 6 of this year!

The description spoils some of the end of QUIETUS. Fair warning!

Operatives from an alien culture struggle to survive in medieval Italy, in the SF sequel to the astonishing Quietus.

The transdimensional empire, the Unity, has dissolved. Its rulers and agents have been exiled, stranded across a thousand planes of existence. Empires don’t die gladly. The living planarship Ways and Means has ended the Black Death ravaging medieval Europe, but it has bigger plans for Earth. Someone is trying to kill former Unity agent Osia. Spy-turned-anthropologist Meloku becomes a target, too, when she catches the planarship hiding the extent of its meddling. While they fight to survive, Fiametta—Italian soldier, mercenary, and heretical preacher—raises an army and a religious revolt, aiming to split her world in half.

You can preorder it at Barnes & Noble and all of the usual suspects. And if you haven't read QUIETUS, you can do that right now!

QUIETUS Out Now

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On March 1st, QUIETUS released in the UK. Today, the contagion crossed the ocean and washed ashore in North America.

This book has been an intense journey. I've gone from being buried under research, to scribbling a draft during unpaid time in the company break room, to taking it the throes of editing and publication. I'm proud to be able to share it, and grateful for the help, support, and faith of the Angry Robot team.

Some of the release reviews have landed. From Kelly Anderson at Barnes & Nobles's Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog:

"Habidah is a refreshing heroine in a genre that often seems overfilled with one-note examples of “strong women.” Her intellectual curiosity and doggedness are her superpower, strong enough to make those behind a conspiracy consider her a danger, even when she’s only able to track down half the answers. She faces the constant self-doubt, yet never fails to follow through and asks the hard questions when her suspicions are raised—even when doing so is tantamount to a death sentence."

Gary Tognetti, The 1000 Year Plan:

"Intelligent and engaging from the start, carefully conceived as both an intimate character study and a grandly epic adventure. Like its wonderful cover it seems to emerge from the mist, bathed in warm light, while its scale is terrifyingly sublime."

There's more to come. I'll be doing a round of interviews, podcasts, and blog posts, and I'll be sure to collect them here.

You can find QUIETUS at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other retailers--and of course on Angry Robot's e-shop.

 

Updates and Miscellany

Between day-to-day work, preparing for QUIETUS's impending release (two and a half weeks!), and digging into revisions for upcoming project, the past few weeks have kept me busy. I have plenty to share, though, and will have more soon.

Over at Goodreads, you can enter a giveaway to win a free copy of QUIETUS! 15 copies are headed out into the world, for free, and you can get a chance at one just by clicking a button.

I cannot PROMISE that Goodreads will prioritize entries made sooner rather than later, or confirm that that is even how the system works at all, but... you know... it never hurts to enter early.

If you will be at the Emerald City Comic Con, February 28-March 4th, come drop by the Angry Robot booth. You will be able to find me and several other Angry Robot authors there. I'll be attending the Thursday and Friday of the con, and will graciously and magnanimously accept any drinks you offer to buy me.

I will be flying to Seattle for the con. It has been years since I have last flown, but I'm sure things have only improved since then. The experience of air travel must have hit its nadir at some point. Right?

QUIETUS now available on NetGallery

Are you a book reviewer or book-reviewer-adjacent? Librarian? Bookseller? Any and all of the above and more? QUIETUS is now available on NetGallery along with a slew of recently-added titles from Angry Robot Books. Look at all those wonderful covers! 

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There are some delightful words inside them, too. You can find QUIETUS and all of these titles on Angry Robot's NetGallery publisher page, here.

Christmas Comes Only For the Living

Angry Robot all over the world are waking up in unmarked graves this holiday season--or, more often, not waking up. Our robot overlords at Angry Robot Books have decided to afford a chance to live to see the new year, with the catch that only one of us will. And we have to earn that privilege. The Christmas Deathmatch Flash Fiction contest is well underway. While I've already been left in a shallow ditch (a bloody hole in my Christmas vest) after trying to off novelist and Obsidian Games narrative director Carrie Patel with a sentient Baby's First Christmas ornament, you can come read all of our 250 word flash fiction entries on Twitter, under the Christmas Deathmatch hashtag.

Announcement - QUIETUS

It is officially official -- Angry Robot Books, a fantastic UK SF/F/WTF press, will be publishing my debut science fiction novel QUIETUS in March, 2018!

 That's not sunlight.

That's not sunlight.

The official summary from Angry Robot--

A transdimensional anthropologist can’t keep herself from interfering with Earth’s darkest period of history in this brilliant science fiction debut

Niccolucio, a young Florentine Carthusian monk, leads a devout life until the Black Death kills all of his brothers, leaving him alone and filled with doubt. Habidah, an anthropologist from another universe racked by plague, is overwhelmed by the suffering. Unable to maintain her observer neutrality, she saves Niccolucio from the brink of death.

Habidah discovers that neither her home’s plague nor her assignment on Niccolucio’s world are as she’s been led to believe. Suddenly the pair are drawn into a worlds-spanning conspiracy to topple an empire larger than the human imagination can contain.

Come see the full cover reveal (art by the amazing Dominic Harman), a teaser, and some other words at Barnes and Nobles's Science Fiction blog! An excerpt below, and more at the link: 

I’ve always been a very tactile person. My teachers used to scold me for running my hands along everything from waiting-line ropes to dirty walls to buses in parking lots. I love the produce department of grocery stores, one of the last places it’s socially acceptable to touch and squeeze everything.

When I read, and especially when I read history, I’m that child again. I want to reach in and grab it like it’s a snake, to run my hand up and down its scales. I don’t care if it bites. If it bit the people living in those times, those places, then I want to know it.

Science fiction and fantasy let me touch history.

My debut science fiction novel Quietus is full of the kind of history you can reach out and touch. It’s the shriveled, blackened toes poking through the snow. It’s the half-feral pigs staring balefully from medieval alleys. It’s the blood pooled beside the barber’s door. In Quietus, a team of extradimensional anthropologists visits a past recognizably our own as it’s wracked by the Black Death. They’re going to find out that history can only be understood through its sufferings, and that they’re going to get much closer to those sufferings than they realized.

But there’s a lot more to history than feel. Touching something is dangerous. You won’t be bitten by just the alley pigs. There’s a risk of infection, of cross-contamination. You don’t really want to touch those toes in the snow. You don’t know where they’ve been.

More importantly, they don’t know where you’ve been...