Ars Historica is now available for pre-order!

In ye olden days of publishing, short fiction tended to have a half-life of about .17 seconds. If you didn’t read it in the magazine issue where it was published, too bad; the issue went off the shelves, and unless you stumbled across it later or the story was reprinted in a “best of” or single-author collection, you might never see it again.

cover art for ARS HISTORICA by Marie BrennanBut with ebooks, that doesn’t have to happen, because collections are so much easier to do now. I’m pleased to say that Maps to Nowhere has been selling splendidly since it came out last month; next month it will be joined by Ars Historica, which collects my historical fiction and historical fantasy. I have more of these planned, too, but they’ll take a while — I have a wordcount range I’m aiming for in each collection, in order to make them roughly novella-sized, and the other three I’ve got planned all require me to sell another two stories or so (and then wait for those stories’ exclusivity periods to expire).

In the meanwhile, here’s the Table of Contents for Ars Historica, which you can pre-order from a variety of places here!

Table of Contents

Literary cocktails and mocktails

It’s 5 p.m. somewhere, right?

A few days ago the Tome and Tankard blog posted their recipe for the “Lady Trent,” a mojito-like cocktail inspired by the Memoirs of Lady Trent. Our first attempt at making it here at Swan Tower was not entirely successful; it turns out we need to be a lot more conscientious about mixing the honey into the gin before adding other things, lest we wind up with a glob of honey stuck all over with mint leaves. 🙂 But the general shape of the cocktail is a great deal like the “Jimi Hendrix” I asked the internet to help me recreate a while back, so even in less-than-entirely-successful form, I give this one an official thumbs-up.

And for those of you who cannot or do not wish to partake of the booze, I thought I could post the recipe a reader designed years ago for the launch party of A Star Shall Fall. It’s called the Winged Serpent Philter, and it’s made as follows:

  • Blueberry juice
  • Fresh blueberries
  • Lime
  • Lime infused sparkling water
  • Honey
  • Granulated Sugar

In a small bowl, mix two parts water and one part honey. Coat the blueberries (three or four per drink to be served) in the honey water mixture and immediately roll in granulated sugar. Allow to dry. Dip the rim of a martini glass in the honey water mixture and then into granulated sugar to coat the rim. Mix three parts blueberry juice to one part sparking water with a dash of lime juice (all liquids should be chilled). For a sweeter flavor, omit lime juice. Pour into the martini glass. Put three or four sugar coated blueberries on a garnish pick and hang on the rim of the glass. Add a curl of lime peel. Serve promptly.


Spark of Life: David Walton on THE GENIUS PLAGUE

According to gossip, Clive Cussler hated the movie Sahara for exactly the reason I liked it: because the hero, Dirk Pitt, isn’t the suave unflappable type who shrugs off ridiculous action sequences as if they’re all in a day’s work. He pants for breath, whoops in joy when crazy plans work, and generally acts like somebody you would want to know. So I have to applaud this week’s Spark of Life guest, David Walton, for recognizing that it’s vulnerability more than sangfroid that can make us connect with a character.


David says:

cover art for THE GENIUS PLAGUE by David WaltonAction heroes are hardy folks. They run from fist fight to car chase without pause, shrugging off bullet wounds and never stopping for breath. But most of us aren’t action heroes.

In my latest novel, THE GENIUS PLAGUE, Neil Johns is no different than the rest of us. But his life is turned upside-down when his brother becomes the vector for a fungal pandemic that alters the minds of its survivors. Neil runs from crisis to crisis, avoiding those who would intentionally infect him, ducking terrorist bombs, trying to stop a war, and restraining his own father from murderous violence. It’s a breathless sprint, made all the harder by the anguish of watching those he loves succumb to the plague and become his enemies.

I hadn’t planned to write it this way, but at one point in the story, I realized it was all just too much for him. This guy wasn’t James Bond. He’d been eating poorly, he’d barely slept, and he could only keep it up so long. And so in a public hospital cafeteria, Neil breaks down. Once he starts crying, he can’t stop, all the pent-up emotions crashing in on him as soon as he takes a moment to breathe.

James Bond wouldn’t have done that. A traditional action hero would have found something extra-macho (and probably incredibly stupid) to do instead. But Neil is a mathematician, not a Navy Seal. He’s fighting this battle because he cares about his family members, not because he has something to prove. He’s an ordinary person, and ordinary people have limits to how much they can endure.

It was one of those moments when a character becomes real on the page with an authenticity that had nothing to do with the needs of the plot, and as an author, you have to recognize those moments and just go with them. When planning a novel, it’s easy to let the plot rule events, but sometimes the characters know better.

In THE GENIUS PLAGUE, that moment gives Neil a chance to regroup and gather his courage. And he’s going to need all the courage he can get for what’s coming. The plague impacts world politics, tearing governments apart from the inside, and putting control of the US nuclear arsenal in jeopardy. Neil is one of the few who understands what’s happening and has the knowledge to contain it, if he can manage to avoid being infected himself.

It wasn’t much: just a small, unexpected spark of life that pulled Neil off the page and made him more real, but despite its quietness, it turned out to be one of my favorite moments of the book.


From the cover copy:

In this science fiction thriller, brothers are pitted against each other as a pandemic threatens to destabilize world governments by exerting a subtle mind control over survivors.

Neil Johns has just started his dream job as a code breaker in the NSA when his brother, Paul, a mycologist, goes missing on a trip to collect samples in the Amazon jungle. Paul returns with a gap in his memory and a fungal infection that almost kills him. But once he recuperates, he has enhanced communication, memory, and pattern recognition. Meanwhile, something is happening in South America; others, like Paul, have also fallen ill and recovered with abilities they didn’t have before.

But that’s not the only pattern–the survivors, from entire remote Brazilian tribes to American tourists, all seem to be working toward a common, and deadly, goal. Neil soon uncovers a secret and unexplained alliance between governments that have traditionally been enemies. Meanwhile Paul becomes increasingly secretive and erratic.

Paul sees the fungus as the next stage of human evolution, while Neil is convinced that it is driving its human hosts to destruction. Brother must oppose brother on an increasingly fraught international stage, with the stakes: the free will of every human on earth. Can humanity use this force for good, or are we becoming the pawns of an utterly alien intelligence?

David Walton is the author of the international bestseller SUPERPOSITION and its sequel SUPERSYMMETRY. His novel TERMINAL MIND won the 2008 Philip K. Dick Award for the best SF paperback published in the United States for that year. He lives near Philadelphia with his wife and seven children.

an authorial self-indulgence

Back in July, I got an email from a reader in Sweden named Gillis Björk, saying they’d loved the Memoirs of Lady Trent so much, they were inspired to make a carved wooden slipcase for the series, and would I like to see pictures/a video of the crafting process.


In fact, having seen the slipcase . . . I sent Gillis an email, asking how much they would charge to make one for me.

Because seriously, the Memoirs are so damn pretty, with Todd Lockwood’s cover art and the three-piece cases and the deckled edges and so forth. Didn’t they deserve a good house to live in? It was a total self-indulgence, but I thought, hey, if Gillis was willing . . .

Behold the result! (Turn up the volume to hear the narration — it’s quite faint.)

It is even prettier than the original. We went for oak instead of beech, and Gillis got a lot more detailed with the carving of the dragons and so forth. At the end of the video you can see the slipcase on my shelf, with the books inside! And if you want to watch the making of the original version, that’s here:

Complete with accidentally-decapitated dragon and guidelines for avoiding spontaneous combustion. 🙂 These videos make for a fascinating watch if you enjoy seeing crafters do their thing; since I know bugger-all about woodworking and carpentry, they were hugely educational to me. And my endless thanks to Gillis for the lovely result!

In Better News

I recently signed up for an email service called “In Better News” (formerly, I think, “Kittens and Kindness”). Every day it sends an email with three pieces of news concerning people doing good deeds in the world, at various levels: everything from Coca-Cola giving men permission to break into one of their warehouses and take bottled water to help hurricane victims to a six-year-old girl setting up a lemonade stand with the goal of eliminating lunch debt at her school. Then, after those, you get three links to things involving cute animals.

It’s basically these tikkun olam posts, delivered to your inbox every day. With bonus cute animals.

Share with us your better news, however great or small. Your efforts to repair the world, one brick at a time, building a wall whose purpose is not to exclude but to shelter others from the storm. Donations, volunteering, random acts of kindness, alterations in your life that make you a better neighbor and friend. Anything to lift the spirit.

Remember Stanislav Petrov

Thirty-four years ago today, Stanislav Petrov saved the world.

As we struggle through the mire of war, as we wade ever deeper into the morass of armed conflict around the world, let’s take a moment to honor the guy who kept his head and prevented nuclear retaliation. He passed away in May of this year, but his memory should live on.