A few of my favorite scifi and fantasy romances that will transport you to another world.
Looking for a book that transports you to a realm both familiar and strange, which you can truly lose yourself in for a few hours? Come take a look at a few of my favorite scifi and fantasy romances that will transport you to another world.
From the dark desperation of Orc Mountain to the weird and wonderful hookup of a moth fae and a succubae, here are five books that will open your eyes and your mind:
For my stop, I thought I’d offer a short story entitled “Three Little Words.” For those who have read Snowburn, this takes place about a week after the end of Snowburn and shortly before the beginning of Snowburn’s sequel, Throwing Fire.
I hope you enjoy!
I haven’t seen much of Ape lately. He’s probably been lying low, avoiding his sister’s wrath. Ape’s part in the run that brought Kez and me together, but also nearly killed her, came out afterwards. He may not have known the real purpose of the run, or who was behind it. But he was quick to volunteer his sister to take the fall. And Kez, being Kez, offered up her own flesh for his without a second thought. She’s a martyr when it comes to her family, my kitten. But she also holds a grudge. So she hasn’t had much to say to Ape since the run, and what she’s had to say, he hasn’t wanted to hear. Particularly since part of the post-mortem instructions that Old Man Tyng left us included an edict that Ape make an honest woman of his daughter. And Kez has insisted that Ape follow through.
So it’s a surprise when Ape pulls up a stool on the far side of the counter where I’m chopping tomallos for breakfast. He sits down, rests his elbows on the counter and puts his head in his hands.
“Early for you,” I remark. Kez’s crew are pretty dedicated night-owls.
Ape groans and looks up at me. I reassess. It’s not early for him, it’s late. Without another word, I toss a couple of handfuls of the tomallos into the grinder with an egg and a cup of cocomilk. Hand him a beaker of the resulting pink froth. He tilts his head back and downs it in one.
“Uh-huh. You’d better get some newskin on your neck before the girls notice,” I say, nodding at the red marks on his throat, revealed when his head was thrown back. Suck marks that I know Chiara did not put on him, since she’s still in Roysten, doing the meet-and-greet thing with the DeSal team.
He sinks on the stool, puts his head in one hand and closes the other around the side of his neck. Groans.
“Anyone we know?” I don’t really care who Ape spent the night with. What I care about is whether it’s someone who will tell Kez’s crew. Immature idiocy aside, Ape seems to really love Chiara. And she definitely loves him, although I have no idea why. Throwing that away over a drunk one-nighter seems like a waste.
“I don’t even know if it was a he or a she,” Ape mutters.
“Where’d you wake up?”
“Alley behind Bounce.”
The club Kez’s crew frequents. Could easily be someone we know. I shrug. It’s Ape’s problem in the end. I’ll tell Kez, so she’s forewarned. But Kez won’t tell Chiara. My kitten keeps secrets like no one I’ve ever known.
Ape rubs his hands over his red-blond crew cut. “I screwed up.”
I nod and keep chopping. If he’s looking for sympathy, he’s looking in the wrong place.
“How do you do it?” he asks.
I glance up at him. He’s asking me for relationship advice? “Do what?”
“Make Kez . . . you know.”
Happy? Sex. Lots and lots of sex. And trust. Trust doesn’t hurt. “Three words.”
“I’ve told Chi those three words already.” Ape shakes his head.
I doubt it. “I. Am. Sorry.”
Didn’t think so. “Works on all women. In all situations. As long as you mean it.”
Ape rubs his hands over his head again. He’d better not have lice, rubbing his head that close to my food.
“Watch,” I tell him.
I put everything down, wipe off my hands and walk over to the bathroom door. I tap open the door and beckon to Kez, who is standing at the sink, rubbing sealer over her teeth. Her implants are still new, so they need to be sealed every day. She looks at me in the mirror, lifts an eyebrow.
I wave two fingers at her.
She wipes the foam off her mouth and comes to me. Into my arms, the way she always does. I hug her as she looks up at me. Those big blue eyes full of trust and love and a little mischief, since we’re both only wearing bathrobes.
“I’m sorry,” I tell her.
“For what?” she asks.
“Interruptin’ you.” When she lifts an eyebrow, I say. “I just need a kiss.”
She beams. Goes up on her toes, wraps her arms around my neck, and gives me a deep, enthusiastic kiss. I kiss her back. Give her a little tongue and enjoy the sharp peppermint taste of her mouth. When she finally drops back onto her heels, I smile at her. Help her re-fasten her bathrobe.
“I’ll be out in a minute. I’m almost done,” she says. She scoots back into the bathroom, without even a glance at her brother.
I stroll back to the counter, pick up the knife and another tomallo and start chopping.
“It was the kiss,” Ape grumps.
“Followin’ those three words with a kiss doesn’t hurt,” I admit. “You think there’s anythin’ she wouldn’t forgive me right now?”
Ape hangs his head. “No.”
“Give it a try. You can practice on your sister. As long as you skip the kissin’ bit.” Kissing Kez is my job.
“I already told her I didn’t know about Tyng—” Ape begins huffily.
He is as thick as a thermobrick. I hold up the knife. “Three words,” I admonish.
Ape’s puffy face darkens. “Get off my back.”
I drive the knife into the counter a centimeter from his pinky finger.
“You asked me for advice,” I growl at him. “I’m the one who holds your sister when she wakes up screamin’ from the nightmares that run gave her. So don’t tell me what you did and didn’t know. I told you how to fix it. You don’t like my advice, ask someone else.”
Ape eases slowly back from the knife. Swallows. “Uh, okay.”
I yank the knife out of the pseudowood. Wipe it off before I start chopping again.
Ape slides off the stool. Towards the bathroom. Just before the door, he turns back. “Snow?”
I glance up. Gauge his expression. Nod before I go back to chopping.
Kez emerges from the bathroom, passes her brother without acknowledgement and joins me behind the counter. She wraps her arm around my waist. Leans into me. “Can I interrupt you now?”
“Uh-huh.” I put down the knife and turn to kiss her.
When we come up for air, she asks, “What were you and Ape talking about?”
“Dead puppies?” she asks mischievously.
“Nope. Three words.”
Both brows rise. “You and Ape were talking about those three words? Why?”
“Don’t think we’re talkin’ about the same three words.” I chuckle.
“What words were you talking about?”
“What I said to you when I opened the door.”
“You . . . uh.” Her brow furrows as she tries to remember. “You said you were sorry.”
Kez rolls her eyes at the now-closed bathroom door. “You’d have more luck teaching the rabbits to fly than you would getting Ape to say he’s sorry.”
“Better get them some itty bitty flight suits, then.”
“Seriously?” She wrinkles her chin and shrugs. “Well, we’ll see.”
“He already managed it once. First time’s the hardest.”
“He did?” She looks up at me, eyes searching my face. “He told you he was sorry? Really?”
“Wow. Well, stranger things have happened.”
“Yeah, I accepted his apology.” Turns out, those three words work on men, too.
Kez chuckles. “That is stranger.” She goes up on tip-toe and kisses my cheek before she turns to the counter. Surveys the huge mound of chopped tomallos. “Jeez, how many are we feeding?”
“Those are just for me. Get your own.”
She laughs. Bumps me with her hip. When I pass her a bowl, she starts cracking pagia eggs into it while I get on with the spicy salsa I like with our morning omelet.
Hale’s life isn’t all bunnies and roses. Before he met Kez, he earned the name “Butcher of Tje Dhos.” Here’s a second interview with Hale Hauser, during his incarceration on Henji, five years before Snowburn:
Today there’s a new whitecoat. Tall, slender, hair the good brown of real dirt cropped close around the ears. Long, blunt fingers. Black pants and flat shoes beneath the shapeless white coat. Can’t tell if it’s a man or woman. I lift my head and take a deep breath. Nothing. No perfume. No body odor. Nothing. So much nothing the whitecoat must be wearing a scent-masque. Androgynous. Deliberately androgynous. I’d wonder why, but I’ve stopped wondering anything about the whitecoats.
The whitecoat sits down in the interrogation chair across from where I’m strapped to an autodog slab that’s monitoring my vitals, and can pump a trank into me if I get unruly. The whitecoat pulls a hover table close to the chair and sets a clear glaz bubble on top. Probably a holopane. I can’t see it from where I’m lying, but the other whitecoats vidded their interrogations, so this one probably will, too.
I look up at the ceiling while the whitecoat gets situated. Not much to see. Cool white lights. Black bubble of the AEye. Not sure why the whitecoat needs to vid the interrogation when the AEye is getting it all, but I don’t understand half of what the whitecoats do. In the far corner, near the door, there’s a metal grid. I look away before the whitecoat catches me staring. That’s an air duct. There are a lot of them throughout the Pan. The Orbital doesn’t have any atmosphere, so without the recycled air, we’d all be dead. And that’s my way out of this metal and permacrete coffin. So no staring at it. Nothing that tips off this new whitecoat or the ever-watchful A-Eye.
“May I have your name and identification number for the record?” The whitecoat asks. Light, pleasant voice. Could be a low alto or high tenor. Bland Uni. No recognizable accent.
“You don’t know who I am, Doc? Maybe you’re in the wrong place.”
The whitecoat’s thin lips twitch. “I don’t think so, Sargent Hauser . . .”
“I was dishonorably discharged, Doc. I’m sure that’s in my file, too. It’s just Mister now, or M. if you’re a Colonial.” It was M. on Paggen where I grew up, but the military still uses the old Earth forms, so Mister sounds natural to me. “Stop fucking around and ask whatever questions they sent you with today.”
The whitecoat sits back in the chair, crosses his/her forearms in front of him/her. Not knowing whether the whitecoat’s a man or a woman is messing with my head. I decide it’s a man and stop letting it fuck with me.
“What if I have some old questions for you, M. Hauser?”
I shrug as much as the bindings allow. “Then ask ‘em. Ain’t like I haven’t heard them before.”
“Let’s start with Tje Dhos then. What was your mission?”
“Urban pacification,” I say, same answer I’ve given every time the whitecoats have asked me. “Gather intel on the insurrection. Identify the leaders. Eliminate them.”
“Who was your primary target?”
“I had forty-six targets, Doc, take your pick.”
“And did you eliminate all forty-six?”
“You know I didn’t. Last I heard, Watch Yastanov was still alive.”
The whitecoat leans forward and does something to the holopane that I can’t see. “That’s incorrect. Watch Yastanov was eliminated on fourteen-ten-sixteen. How does that make you feel, M. Hauser?”
I shrug, but it actually bites deep. Sangakara accepted the TYE so Watch and Gabe and Britta could escape. Rhittle died and I went down to buy them time. What was that all for if they got Watch anyway? Nothing. Nothing, nothing, lots of nothing. Just like this androgynous whitecoat smells like nothing. It was all for nothing . . .
I breathe deep, glance at the metal grill, and slow my damn heart rate, which must be pinging away on the whitecoat’s holopane like a jackhammer. Doesn’t matter if it was for nothing. It’s over and done with. All I gotta focus on is the now. Surviving this place. Breaking it open and getting on with my life away from the parade of whitecoats and their fucking questions.
The whitecoat fiddles with the holopane, licks his lips and sits back. “Does it make you angry that M. Yastanov has been eliminated? Do you feel that your struggle was fruitless, M. Hauser?”
I grin at the whitecoat, just to piss him off. “Past is past, Doc. Don’t much matter how I feel about it.”
“On the contrary, how you feel about it matters a great deal. And please call me Perry.”
“Okay, Perry, you wanna know how I feel? I feel fucking tired of these same stupid questions over and over. I did what I did. I failed in my mission. I gave information to the enemy and helped them hold off my own fucking guys for seven months. I killed two men I’d trained with. I knew their names and their numbers and their kids’ faces and what kind of beer they liked and I still killed them. And I would do it all again. Any other questions?”
Perry smiles thinly. “A few.”
“Fire away. Pretty sure they’ll hold my cell open for me.”
Perry gives a very small snort. So he’s got a sense of humor somewhere under that white coat. “Did you understand, when you did all of that, that this would be the consequence of your actions?”
“Actually, I figured I’d die fighting.” Incarceration never entered my mind, particularly after I found out that G.D.F. put a million credit bounty on my head. But it wouldn’t have mattered. There were no good choices. No way out of the steaming shitpile the Company buried me under by sending my squad against Sangakara and his rebels. That metal grille represents the first real opportunity for escape I’ve had in a standard year. “Or the Company would kill me when they caught me.”
“G.D.F. doesn’t sanction murder, M. Hauser,” Perry says primly. Then he folds those thin lips together, realizing what he’s said.
“Sure they do,” I scoff. “That’s what every one of my missions was. You can sugar-coat it any way you want, Perry, but as the person who pulled the trigger or stuck the knife in, lemme tell you, it was murder.” I let my own lips, a lot fuller than Perry’s, pull back from my teeth. “Sanctioned. Authorized. Whatever. I’m a Company killer, and the forty-five I killed on Tje Dhos weren’t my first murders. They weren’t even my first hundred murders. How’s that make you feel, Perry?”
Perry swallows, but answers evenly. “My feelings on the subject are irrelevant.”
“Yeah? Don’t bother you, bein’ this close to me? You feel sick, don’t you? ‘Cause that’s the reaction of every sane, civilized cit to someone like me. You’ll leave here and take a shower. Wash the contamination off. I’m a sin-eater, Perry. For you and every other cit that benefits from this steady white light, clean air to breathe, plenty of water to drink and food to eat. You have all those things because of what the Company is doing on Tje Dhos. What they sent me to do. Each of those sanctioned, authorized murders was so you can have plenty of light and air and food and water. So you can keep vidding the crazy traitor and makin’ your notes and doin’ your job and never fucking look up, Perry. Don’t lift your fucking head, sheep. Because if you do, you might realize that all these things you take for granted come at a price. And that price is the health and sanity of all those poor fuckers on Tje Dhos working thirty-six hour shifts in the atmosphere mines. You know what the life expectancy of an atmosphere miner is, Perry? Six years. How’d you like to be handed a six-year death sentence? How’d that make you feel?”
“Ain’t important,” I interject. “Yeah, you said. You know what, Perry? I think you’re full of shit. I think your feelings are just as important as mine. I think the feelings of every one they’ve sent in here are important, and that’s why you’re the sixth sheep in eleven days. The others won’t interview me again, will they?”
Perry fiddles with the holopane, not meeting my eyes. He doesn’t answer.
“You gonna pump me full of meds, Perry? Try an’ make me a happy man? That’s what that lady doc did when she started feeling too much. Some of those hallucinations were worth the hang-over, lemme tell you. So if you’re gonna give me that shit when this is over, let’s pick up the pace, man.”
Perry shakes his head. “I don’t agree with pharmaceutical aids to therapy. I’d rather you just tell me how you felt.”
“Therapy,” I snort. “That what this is? I gotta figure that strapping your patient down ain’t a usual therapeutic method.” I let that grind into him for a minute. “You wanna know how I felt? I felt like shit. From the moment I realized what my mission really was. You think I enlisted so I could kill a bunch of overworked miners? You think I went through six months of basic and three months of drop and five months of q-course and two weeks of hell on S.E.E.R., just so I could pull the trigger on some poor fucker who wants to live longer than six years? That sound heroic to you, Perry?”
“There was an important military objective—”
“Yeah, make sure the mines kept producing on schedule. I was there, Perry. I know exactly what we were doin’. An’ sure, keeping the juice flowing so you an’ everyone else who can afford not to live on Tje Dhos or Phogath or Trident can keep enjoyin’ your way of life, that’s important. But you go and tell that to a bunch of scared, doomed miners an’ then tell me how you feel.”
“The risks of atmosphere mining are regrettable, but workers are handsomely compensated for taking those risks.”
I nod. “Sure. Like that really means anythin’ to a family that’s just lost a father or mother.”
“Mmm, interesting that you would mention that. Isn’t that the truth behind your sudden civic consciousness, M. Hauser? The loss of your parents when you were a child?”
Perry ain’t the first whitecoat to point this out, so if he thinks it’s gonna lead to some big therapeutic break-through, he’s gonna be disappointed. “You think I grew a conscience because I saw myself in all those orphaned miner kids? Sure, you wanna think that, go ahead.”
“I want to understand what you think, M. Hauser. What’s important here is that you realize the basis for your childish actions.”
I smile. So this is what he wants. And it’s why he’s vidding me. He thinks he’s gonna get some big confession. The Big Bad Butcher of Tje Dhos admits he was motivated by his boyhood trauma. That’d make a nice flash. Fuckers.
“Yeah, you want me to confess and say I’m sorry for all the nice cits watching?”
“No one is watching.”
“That’s bullshit.” I nod at the A-Eye. “It don’t take bein’ orphaned myself to know that what the Company is doin’ on Tje Dhos is wrong, Doc. Anyone can see it.”
“Not everyone takes it on themselves to address the situation with violence. Millions of people empathize with the plight of Dhosians without murdering their former colleagues, M. Hauser. Can you see the distinction?”
“Sure, I can see it. Makes me sick. If those millions picked up a rock and threw it at a G.D.F. Xec, or, fuck, if they’re all pacifists, just stopped buying Ukale, this shit would be over tomorrow. Instead they eat their Ukale, enjoy their light and air and heat, and don’t raise their damn heads. Just like you, Doc. You vid that. Send that to the flashes. See what happens.”
“M. Hauser.” Perry sighs. “Our focus here is on you. On helping you understand the consequences of your actions and moving beyond them to a healthier place.”
I laugh. I can’t help it. “Doc, you’re wasting your time.”
Perry crosses his arms in front of him again. “Maybe that’s all for today.”
“Yeah, sure, same time tomorrow, huh?”
Perry nods and begins packing up his bubble, and that’s when I see his hands shaking. I don’t think I’ll be seeing Perry again. I haven’t broken him like I broke the lady doc who gave me those fine meds. But he hasn’t gotten what he came for, and maybe he’s realized he ain’t ever gonna. ‘Least not before I break out of this shithole.
On that happy thought, I lie back against the padded slab with a smile and wait for the guards to come and get me.
Enjoy this insight into Hale’s character? Take a look at Snowburn.
It catches at my modified senses. Jerks my brain onto high alert. My mind’s been idling as I move along the familiar path through the spaceport. Turning over possibilities: what I want for dinner, what I can find for entertainment afterwards. There’s Maier’s poker game, but the idea of sitting in his claustrophobic cube, filling my lungs with the stink of the punters’ anxiety while I fleece ‘em, ain’t doing anything for me. Still, I’ve got three days to kill before my next flight. Maybe it’s time to hit the Delta.
Small, deliberate movement in my peripheral vision wipes all those thoughts from my brain.
I hyperfocus. A woman. On her own. No visible weapons. No obvious modifications. My brain slows down a fraction at the lack of threat and takes in small details. A flash of pale skin through ripped fishnets as she draws up her knee. She props a well-worn boot against the plaz fence separating the restricted area of the docks from the rest of the spaceport. The jet wash off a launching Starflare blows white-blonde rat-tails a few shades darker than her skin around her shoulders as she turns her head to look at me.
I’ve seen that pale skin, those long rat-tails, before.