Gollancz is thrilled to announce that in Autumn 2018 we will be publishing a completely new novel from Sunday Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson. We can now officially reveal the title of that novel as…
Brandon’s own website had been raising many questions amongst fans after he announced they he would not be published The Apocalypse Guard next year and is instead 67% done with a ‘mystery project’.
In his recent tour across the US and the UK for the release of Oathbringer, the third book in his hugely popular Stormlight Archive series, Brandon has been reading from the opening chapter of this mystery project. Which we can confirm is Skyward, a story described as How to Train Your Dragon meets Top Gun with starfighters.
Brandon’s official description of it reads:
‘Defeated, crushed, and driven almost to extinction, the remnants of the human race are trapped on a planet that is constantly attacked by mysterious alien starfighters. Spensa, a teenage girl living amongst these last humans, longs to be a pilot and join the fight. When she discovers the wreckage of an ancient ship, she realizes this dream might be possible …assuming she can repair the ship, navigate flight school, and (perhaps most importantly) persuade the strange machine to help her. Because this ship, it appears, has a soul.’
Below is an uncorrected first draft of the opening chapter of Skyward, corrections and alterations may be made in the final version that will appear in print. Click here to preorder your copy of Skyward and we hope you enjoy.
Mother always said that climbing to the surface of the planet required a person with a special mix of bravery and stupidity. She deliberately said that where father could hear her, which meant it took an extra-special combination of bravery and stupidity for him to grin, then take his five-year-old daughter with him next time.
Of course, even at five, I was completely grown up and utterly capable. I was sure of this as I hiked through the rubbled cavern after Father, passing lines and lines of pointed rocks on the ground—what was that funny name they had? A lot of them were broken from the bombings or meteorite impacts—things I’d often felt from down below as a rattling of the dishware or the trembling of the light fixtures.
I glanced at the rocks, and I imagined them as the broken bodies of my enemies, their bones shattered, their trembling arms reaching toward the sky in a useless gesture of total and utter defeat.
I was a very weird little girl.
I carried a molten globe, which provided an angry red glow for light—making the shadows seem to quiver and shake as I ran after Father. He looked back and smiled, and he had the best smile. So confident and sure, like he never worried about what people said about him. Never worried that he was weird or didn’t fit in.
Of course, why should he? Everyone liked him. Like, everyone. Even people who hated things like ice cream and playing swords—even stupid whiny little Rodge McCaffrey—even they knew that Father was awesome.
He took me by the arm and pointed upward. “Next part is a little tricky, Spensa,” he said. “Let me lift you.”
“I can do it,” I said immediately, and shook off his arm as he tried to lift me. I was grown up. I’d even packed my own backpack, and had left my doll (named Destroyer, naturally) at home. Dolls were for babies, even if you’d fashioned your own mock power armor for them out of string and broken ceramics.
I had brought my toy fighter ship, of course. I wasn’t crazy. What if we ended up getting caught in a Krell attack, and they bombed our retreat, so we had to live out the rest of our lives as wasteland survivors, devoid of society or civilization? A girl needs her toy starfighter with her, just in case.
I handed my backpack to father and looked up at the crack in the stones. There was…something about that hole up there. A light that didn’t seem natural, wholly unlike the soft red magma glow of our home cavern of Igneous.
The surface…the sky! I grinned and started climbing up a steep slope that was part rubble, part rock formation. My hands slipped and scraped a rock, but I didn’t cry. The daughters of starfighter pilots did not cry.
The crack wasn’t that high up, but it looked like a hundred feet away to my eyes. I hated being so small. Any day now, I was going to grow tall like my father. Then, for once, I wouldn’t be the smallest kid around. I’d be tall, and I’d laugh at them from up so high, they’d be forced to admit how great I was.
I growled softly as I reached the top of a rock. The next knob I needed to get to was just out of reach. I eyed it. Then I jumped, determined. Like a good Defiant girl, I had the heart of a stardragon.
And…the body of a five-year-old. So I missed by a good two feet.
A strong hand seized me from behind before I could fall too far. Father chuckled, holding me by the back of my jumpsuit—which I’d painted with markers to look like his flight suit, with a safety pin in the place where he wore his pilot’s pin. He pulled me onto the rock beside him, then reached out with his right hand and activated his lightline.
He wore the device as a metal band like a bracelet—but once he engaged it by tapping thumb and little finger, the band glowed with a bright molten light. He touched a stone up above, and when he drew his hand back, it left a thick line of light—like a glowing rope—attached to the rock. He wrapped the other end around me so it fit snugly under my arms.
I always thought lightlines should be hot and burn to the touch, but they were instead just warm. Like a hug.
“Okay, Spensa,” he said. “Try it again.”
“I don’t need this,” I said, plucking at the safety rope.
“Humor a frightened father.”
“Frightened? You aren’t frightened of anything. You fight the Krell.”
He laughed. “I’d rather face a hundred Krell ships than your mother on the day I bring you home with a broken arm, little one.”
“I’m not little,” I snapped. “And if I break my arm, you can leave me here until I heal. I’ll fight the beasts of the caverns and become feral and wear their skins and—”
“Climb,” he said, still grinning. “You can fight the beasts of the caverns another time, though I think the only ones you’d find have long tails and buck teeth.”
I had to admit, the lightline was helpful; I could pull against it to brace myself, and if I fell, I’d only go a few feet. I was brave…but it still felt nice. We reached the crack, and father pushed me up first. I grabbed the lip and scrambled out of the caverns for the first time in my life.
It was so open. I gaped, standing there, looking up at…at nothing. Just…just…upness. No ceiling. No walls. I’d imagined it as a really, really big cavern. But it wasn’t that at all.
My father heaved himself up after me, then dusted the dirt from his flight suit, his silvery pilot’s pin twinkling. He always had to be ready in case of a Krell attack. I glanced at him, then back up at the sky. And grinned widely.
I glared at him.
“Sorry,” he said with a chuckle. “Wrong word. It’s just that a lot of people find the sky intimidating, Spensa. The first time they see it, they think it’s wrong.”
“It’s beautiful,” I whispered. “There’s so much of it.”
He knelt beside me. The sky was darker than I’d assumed, but I guess that was the rubble belt. I’d been taught about it in lessons, while I worked—with the other kids—testing screws on machine parts. Our planet, Detritus, was protected and hidden by a huge veil of broken refuse that was way up high, even outside the air, in space.
It was leftover from some great space battle from a long time ago. And there were tons of layers of it, the junk all rotating, churning, colliding. I could see it as a black haze, up really high. Pieces frequently fell down and smashed into the ground, which was part of why it was so dangerous up here.
The Krell were the other danger, of course. The alien starfighters came down through the debris sometimes to bomb the surface and search for humans. Father’s job, with the others of his flight, was to destroy any ships that located us, to keep them from reporting back. There were so many Krell, they could completely wipe us out if they knew for certain we were here. Only by hiding, and destroying the enemy squadrons that got too close, could we keep surviving.
Everyone whispered that we were in trouble. That enemy flights were coming more often, perhaps because of the suspicious disappearance of their scouting ships. I wasn’t worried though, because Father would fight them all off. I just hoped some would still be left for me to fight when I got my own ship.
A bit of something flashed in the sky, and I hoped to see a Krell ship, but it was just a bit of debris making a streak of light in the sky. It didn’t fall down near us, which was disappointing.
The landscape was full of craters and broken chunks of rock. I kicked at the dusty ground, which puffed beneath my foot. The place was mostly just blue-grey gravel and dust, shone on by some filtered light from behind the rubble belt. The sun was hidden back there, I knew, like a huge, enormous version of the magma globe I used for light.
“Where’s Alta Base?” I said Father. “Is that it?” I pointed toward some suspicious rocks. “It’s that. I want to go see the starfighters.”
Father leaned down and turned me about ninety degrees, then pointed. “There.”
“Where? I can’t see it?”
“That’s the point, Spensa. But children aren’t allowed in the hangar. You know that. I’ll take you when you’re old enough.”
“I’m going to have my own ship,” I said. “I’m going to fly it just like you. And then nobody will be able to make fun of me, because I’ll be famous.”
“Is that…is that why you want to be a pilot?”
“They can’t say you’re too small when you’re a pilot,” I said. “Nobody will think I’m weird, and I won’t get into trouble for fighting, because my job will be fighting. They won’t call me names, and everyone will love me.” Like they love you.
That made my father hug me, for some stupid reason, even though I was just saying the truth. But I hugged him back, because parents like stuff like that. Besides, it did feel good to have someone to hold. Maybe I shouldn’t have left Destroyer behind.
Father’s breath caught, and I thought he might be crying or something, but it wasn’t that. “Spensa!” he said, turning me. “Look!” He pointed toward the sky. Again I was struck by it.
Father was pointing at something specific. I squinted, noting that a section of the dark debris field was lighter. No…it was missing? A hole in the sky?
In that moment, I looked out into infinity. I found myself trembling, like a billion meteors had hit nearby.
“What are those lights?” I whispered.
“Stars,” he said. “We used to live out there. I fly up near the debris, but I’ve almost never seen through it. There are too many layers. Once in a while you get a glimpse though.”
There was an awe in his voice as he said it. A tone I didn’t think I’d ever heard from him before.
“Is that…is that why you fly?” I asked. Father didn’t seem to care about the praise everyone gave him. Strangely, he seemed embarrassed by it, and talked about just wanting to get back into his ship. Wasn’t the way everyone treated you the point of becoming a pilot? Stupid Rodge McCaffrey said it was.
Father drew my attention back to the hole in the sky. “Drink it in,” he whispered. “Our real home. That’s where we belong, not in those caverns. The kids who make fun of you, they’re trapped on this rock. Their heads are heads of rock, their hearts set upon rock. Be different. Set your sights on something higher. Something more grand.”
The debris shifted, and the hole shrank, until all I could see was a single star. Brighter than the others.
“Claim the stars, Spensa,” he said.
The debris finally covered up the hole. Near to it, another piece of debris fell, burning brightly in the sky.
Then another one fell. Then dozens.
Father gasped, and reached for his personal radio—a super advanced piece of technology that was given only to pilots. He lifted the blocky device to his mouth, but sound started coming out of it before he could speak.
“Large Krell breach sighted,” the voice came through the radio. “Emergency. An extremely large group of Krell have breached the debris field. All fighters report in.” There was a pause. “Stars help us. They’re heading right for Alta Base. They’ve found us.”
Father lowered his radio, then looked at me. “Let’s get you back.”
“They need you! You’ve got to go fight!”
“I have to get you to—”
“I can get back myself. It was a straight trip through the cavern, except that last turn. I’ll get home.”
He glanced back toward the debris. A sign that the Krell had blasted a path through for their starfighters. The radio crackled again—I got a chill listening to it. Hearing the radio was a rare treat, usually limited to sitting in a cavern square and listening to broadcasts with hundreds of others.
“Chaser!” a new voice said over the radio. “Chaser, you there?”
“Mongrel?” Father said, flipping a switch. “I’m up on the surface.”
“On the surface? Did you hear the call?”
“Hot rocks, this is a big one,” Mongrel said. “I’m heading into the elevator. You’re not going to beat me into the sky, are you?” The man sounded eager, maybe a little too excited, to be heading into battle. I liked him immediately.
Father debated only a moment longer before pulling off his bracelet lightline and stuffing it into my hands. “Promise you’ll go back straight away.”
He raised his radio. “Flight command, this is Chaser. I’m running for Alta Base. I can probably join the first flight.”
He dashed across the dusty ground in the direction he’d pointed out earlier. He stopped, however, and turned back toward me. He pulled off his pin and tossed it, like a glittering fragment of light itself, to me.
Then he was off, running—occasionally sliding down a slope—to reach the hidden base. I, of course, immediately broke my promise. I climbed back into the crack, to make him think I was obeying, but hid there and watched until I saw the starfighters leave a section of rock below and streak toward the sky. I squinted, and picked out the dark Krell ships swarming down.
Finally—showing a rare bout of good judgment—I decided I’d better do what Father had told me. I used the lightline to lower myself back down into the cavern, where I recovered my backpack and headed off down the tunnels. I figured if I hurried, I could get back in time to listen to the broadcast of the fight, with the announcer explaining what was happening.
I was wrong though, as the hike was longer than I remembered, and I did manage to get lost. So I was wandering down there—imagining the glory of the awesome battle happening above—when my father famously broke ranks and fled from the enemy. His own flight shot him down in retribution. By the time I got back, the battle had been won, and my father was gone.
And I’d been branded the daughter of a coward
© Brandon Sanderson, Skyward, 2018
Click here to preorder your copy of Skyward.