Event Horizon meets Independence Day: Announcing Exordia, Seth Dickinson’s Sci-Fi Debut

Tor.com Publishing is proud to announce that it has acquired Seth Dickinson’s science fiction debut Exordia, a gonzo space opera and alien techno-thriller where Event Horizon meets Annihilation. In the tradition of Crichton, a small team of civilians, soldiers, and scientists investigates the unknowable. The world—and the universe—may be on the line.

The deal was negotiated for World English rights by Jennifer Jackson of the Donald Maass Literary Agency.

As Seth put it himself:

Co-editor Diana M. Pho had this to say:

“I’ve been a huge fan of Seth since The Traitor Baru Cormorant, and I’m jumping at the prospect of working with him on this innovative new turn in his writing career. Exordia is the hard science fiction thriller I’ve been craving: a horror-tinged and meaty exploration of high concept technology that also poses deep metaphysical questions about the human connections we choose to forge. And of course, all of this done in a way that only Seth Dickinson can achieve!”

And from co-editor Ruoxi Chen:

The Traitor Baru Cormorant murdered me emotionally and then Exordia resurrected me in a burst of necromantic scifi glory. It’s got remorseless aliens, spy vs. spy hijinks, mysterious spaceships that transform explorers in horrifying ways, and best frenemies (shamelessly stealing that from Seth) with a wonderfully rich, complicated relationship that (of course) may affect the whole universe. Exordia is a fast-moving, finely tuned, whip-smart space opera that remembers its heart is on Earth. It’ll make you laugh even as it’s reorienting your understanding of how the world works. I can’t wait for readers to see this new side of Seth’s unmistakable writing.”

Exordia will be available in hardcover from Tor.com Publishing in 2020. Read on for a small taste of what readers can expect!


 

What do you do when you meet an alien in Central Park?

It coils up in the sunlight, fanged and beautiful, eating the turtles who live on the rocks. It tears them in half and plucks the meat from their shells, and all the while it hisses a quiet song. Anna stares at it in delight.

What do you do?

Anna knows what to do. She daydreamed a plan while she was on jury duty, waiting to explain that she is unsuitable for juries, because she makes decisions too quickly and far too finally. What will I do when I see an alien. First she’ll take a picture. Then she’ll sidle up to one of Central Park’s other inhabitants, a Spandex Jogger or a Finance Ballsack or perhaps a woman with an infinitely hostile pursedog. She’ll say check out that costume, which will keep bystanders confused and passive, since nobody wants to look like a rube. While they’re busy taking pictures, Anna will walk right up to the entity and introduce herself. Bam! Anna Rekani seizes the history books as ambassador for Earth!

What could she say after that? Probably she would beg them to invade: it’s the only way she can imagine forgiveness for her Argentina-sized debt.

It’s the 24th of June, a warm day, a day so nice that Anna wants to argue with it, out of sheer contrarian fury. Anna’s just been fired for disrupting the company culture. This happens a lot. Because of her background as Kurdish war orphan, corporate hiring committees who want to satisfy their Commitment to Diversity in one affordable package see Anna as a real gem (a conflict diamond, specifically). So they hire her, onboard her, photograph her, put her on the pamphlets and the website and their customer-facing diversity campaign, and only then realize that Ciwannaz Rekani comes with a few items of defect:

1) She has an honesty problem, in that she’s too honest, like a German,

2) She does a lot of disruption, but not in the cool post-Uber sense: repeatedly and egregiously she will say, this is stupid, you are stupid, and I refuse to do it until you convince me otherwise,

3) She has probably actually shot people (sometimes this comes out during the company paintball trip). What if Anna reads your No, Anna, What The Fuck email and pulls a Glock in the bathroom? That came up in an HR complaint once. I feel like Anna might Glock me in the bathroom.

Fuck you, Glock hater. Fuck you, New York City. Fuck you, world.

This brings Anna to Central Park, where she can jog angry circuits without stoplights or gym memberships. The problem, she’s beginning to think, is that she doesn’t actually want a job. She doesn’t care about anything that matters to anyone else. For a few minutes as a child Anna held the power of life and death in her sweaty hands, and she did not refuse to wield it.

She wants that back. That’s her filthy secret. That’s why she loves stories so much. Adolescent fantasy, fuck, she earned that life. The world made her a promise! If you carry heavy grief, if you’re real fucking tragic, if you grimace and refuse to speak your pain, then one day, one day, you’ll be offered a chance to redeem yourself. Suffering is debt and the universe owes you.

Right?

Wrong, of course, of course, a real adult would know that. Congratulations on your mythically awful childhood, but it’s nothing to anyone here except a reason to dump you and tell your friends you need therapy. Keep your temper down, your credit score up, drink with the crew on Saturday, play office politics but say you don’t care. A necessity which Anna hates, because she can’t help it, she treats every gossipy oh Rich said you weren’t a great fit for the position rumor as an actual fight-or-flight situation: her brain firmly believes that she’s seven years old again, that Rich is coming at her with an assault rifle, all she’s got is a rock, and her entire race is being gassed and rounded up for execution like a second fucking al-Anfal, all because the fucking Americans told the Iraqi Kurds to rebel and then didn’t show up for the rebellion! The American general even gave Saddam Hussein permission to fly his attack helicopters! What kind of limp-dicked Tinder-quality mixed messaging is that?

Anyway. They tell Anna these things. You make people uneasy in the office, Anna. Seek therapy, Anna. You’re fired, Anna. You’re fired. You’re fired.

Anna runs and runs in circles round the Park. She shoulder-checks a Korean photographer who’s shooting a model in a bikini and antlers, hops off the path to stumble down a stone slope, growls back stupid angry tears, because she has a date with Roman tonight and she knows she’s not going to have the patience she needs for him, and then, and then—

She sees it. There it is, on the rocks, in the pond, in the sunlight.

The alien.

 

She’s sunning herself on the rocks. Belly up, stirring the pondwater with her hands.

So vivid, so fuck-you-I’m-real undeniable that she short-circuits all forms of critical thought and really if you consider it Anna is the perfect woman for this situation: she’ll accept anything, everything, at face value, and then she’ll start finding a way to survive it.

Behold the visitor. Her long muscular tail drifts down into the water, lashing idly, like a cat who cannot get at a bird. The whole beast is sheathed in arrowhead scales, shiny black and fine as fingernail. Pretty much a naga, which is a snake-centaur for those who don’t traffic in imaginary beasts: serpent from the waist down, scaly person from the waist up, slim and kind of ripped and Anna goes for she because of the gloves. Look at the way her arms shade, satin black at the shoulders, silver-white at the fingertips. Yeah. Like gloves.

Instead of a head, the alien grows eight vipers. Snakes as long as her arms and as graceful as a bouquet of swan necks.

One of the alien’s snake heads whips out and bites a turtle right on its beaky face. The poor critter falls over paralyzed and the alien scoops it up in her hands, grunts, and rips its bottom shell off. Anna stares in consternation. The poor turtle! With a delighted hiss the alien jabs three heads into the turtle gore and eats it like a bowl of meat. She has enormous hinged fangs, green-white in each milky mouth: except where silver metal gleams, cybernetic and cold.

Anna whips out her phone and takes a picture.

One of the alien’s heads snaps right around to her, like she just farted at a party.

“Wait one damned moment,” the alien says, in a voice like Cate Blanchett speaking Kurdish—it is absolutely Kurdish, regal and precise, “you can see me?”

“Fuck yeah I can,” Anna boasts. “You’re busted. Do you come in peace? How long have you been here? Where are you from? Are there more of you?”

“Aren’t you afraid?” One of her snake heads jabs at Anna, accusing. “Don’t you feel a malignant sense of absolute and infectious horror?”

“Nah,” Anna says, switching over to video. “Say hi to the internet.”

“This is all I need,” the alien sighs. Two of her heads stay fixed on Anna, two of them circle around as wary sentries, the other four lash and rip and eat the hell out of the turtle in a spew of gore. “I need to consider what this means. Enjoy convincing anyone I’m real.”

And she ignores Anna for the next six minutes, eating two more turtles, before she slithers into the water and disappears. “Wait!” Anna shouts, “come back! You’re the coolest thing to ever happen!”

The alien does not surface from the pond.

Anna’s phone, of course, records not a serpent-headed alien but a faintly intimidating mid-forties black woman in a neat grey pantsuit, kneeling on the rocks, eating low-fat yogurt from a little cup. The turtles don’t even make an appearance. As if she ate their pictures too.

Anna has (god knows her exasperated teachers told her this enough) zero capacity for self-doubt. It was an alien. It was real.

It will come back.

 

When she gets back to her tiny roach-infested apartment in Sunset Park, way down on the piss-yellow R train, the alien is coiled up in her kitchen, dying.

Eight feet of scales and slow rippling muscle bleeding spurts of brilliant red blood onto the dingy linoleum. Her flank has been blasted inward, one brutal punch, the scales burnt into black glass like. She plucks at the wound, six fingers all ginger, and hisses in angry pain.

“What the fuck!” Anna shouts, outraged by the alien just bleeding everywhere, contaminating her apartment with Andromeda Strain and whatever the fuck else, “you asshole, it’s going to look like I murdered someone here!”

“I need your help,” the Cate Blanchett Hydra says, and in spite of the wound, she rises up on her tail, a huge black pillar of sinew, flowering up over Anna in the orange light of the bad bulb. She is so awesome in silhouette that Anna gets a frisson, a chill, like at the climax of a Nightwish song (never tell anyone that she listens to Nightwish, and dreams of being in a story like a song).

Then the alien falls flat on her stomach and her heads tangle up, nipping and mewling.

Obviously Anna can’t call an ambulance and turn this over to the government. No one in elected office seems even faintly trustworthy, and anyway, maybe the government shot her in the first place. “Hold still,” Anna orders, ripping her one clean sheet out of the closet. “I’m going to, uh, stop that bleeding, I’ve got some pretty good ointment, cutting edge human technology — “

“Water,” the alien groans, eight heads bleating behind the synthetic Kurdish voice, “water, cold water.”

Anna pours tapwater into a mason jar. The alien swats it out of her hand. “The water trough!” the alien shouts. “I need cold water for a heat sink. Fix your water trough!”

The water what — oh shit! The cold water handle in Anna’s shower has been snapped clean off. The alien must have Hulked it while trying to turn it on, her landlord’s going to kill her, but fine, fine, Anna knows how to improvise. She runs back to the kitchen and tries to grab the alien by the shoulders.

“No!” snake Galadriel protests, flailing her heads, “I’ll bite you.”

“I’m trying to help you!”

“I’m in ssovosis, it’s reflex aggression, I can’t stop myself.”

So Anna hauls the ten-billion-pound alien into her bathroom by the tail, smearing blood across everything. While the hydra coils herself up and pours into the tub, Anna fixes a wrench on the broken handle and opens it up. The tub swells up with paint-bright red water, drifting scales, fused chips of flesh, speckled extraterrestrial gore, and soapy knots of Anna’s own hair.

“Don’t panic,” the alien commands, imperiously. “You will have a strange experience now.”

“This is actually already pretty strange,” Anna says, for the sake of clarity.

“I need to use the way of knives,” the alien says. “Brace for ontopathology.”

And the world turns sideways. Suddenly Anna is clinging to the wall of an enormous cliff face, the wall of her bathroom now a floor, and oh god if she falls it’s down down down sliding along the curve of a vertical world and then out into space

But look, Anna, look. Something’s happening. The alien’s body gleams with inner light: radiance shines out through the scales, through her sixteen eyes, through the gaping wound. Bright. Brighter. Anna can feel herself transected by the light, scalpeled into components, slit open and —

All the water in the tub flashes to steam, Anna recoils burnt and yelling and the world pops back into its normal up and down. “Ah,” the alien sighs, touching her flank, where the wound has now cauterized into an ugly seared crater. “I think I saved myself.”

Fuck!” Anna yelps, splashing cold water on her face.

“Put some ointment on it.” The alien pulls loose a half-broken scale. “I’m told that helps.”

Anna writes her superintendent a text ordering him to call the cops if she doesn’t text again in ten minutes, then doesn’t send it, because she doesn’t really care. She comes back to kneel by the tub.

“So,” she says, opening diplomatic relations with another world. “What the fuck?”

citation

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