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5 Star Wars Books To Read Now That You’ve Seen ‘The Force Awakens’

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Ph: Film Frame © 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Right Reserved..

Star Wars: Before the Awakening


Star Wars: Before the Awakening focuses on the lives of Star Wars: The Force Awakens lead characters Rey, Finn and Poe before the events of the movie. Presented in three sections, each tells the interesting and mysterious origins of the now-beloved characters. Find out how Rey got her staff, why Finn is a Stormtrooper and where Poe learned to fly so well.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens


This is the official novelization of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Set years after Return of the Jedi, this stunning new action-packed adventure rockets us back into the world of Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, C-3PO, R2-D2, and Luke Skywalker, while introducing a host of exciting new characters.

Darth Vader may have been redeemed and the Emperor vanquished, but peace can be fleeting, and evil does not easily relent. Yet the simple belief in good can still empower ordinary individuals to rise and meet the greatest challenges.

 Star Wars: Lost Stars


This thrilling Young Adult novel gives readers a macro view of some of the most important events in the Star Wars universe, from the rise of the Rebellion to the fall of the Empire. Readers will experience these major moments through the eyes of two childhood friends — Ciena Ree and Thane Kyrell — who have grown up to become an Imperial officer and a Rebel pilot. Now on opposite sides of the war, will these two old friends reunite, or will duty tear them — and the galaxy — apart?

Star Wars: Lost Stars also includes all-new post-Star Wars: Return of the Jedi content, as well as hints and clues about the Star Wars: The Force Awakens, making this a must-read for all Star Wars fans.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary


The definitive guide to the characters, droids, aliens, and creatures of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Beautiful photography and never-before-read text names and explains all the details of costumes, weapons and accessories.

The book also includes three exclusive, specially commissioned cutaway models produced by Industrial Light & Magic model maker John Goodson.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Incredible Cross-Sections


See the vehicles of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in unparalleled detail with this newest addition to the Star Wars Incredible Cross Sections series. Twelve enormous artworks bring the new craft to life, showing all of the weapons, engines, and technology, while engaging text explains each vehicle’s backstory and key features.

Read Chapter 1 of ‘The Extra Yard’ by Mike Lupica


There are few books that accurately capture the grit, realism, competition and overall chaos of youth sports. But bestselling author Mike Lupica’s Home Team series of novels is promising to become one of the best examples of believable and entertaining sports fiction.

The second novel in the series, The Extra Yard, tackles football as we learn more about Teddy as his friendship with Jack, Cassie and Gus continues off the baseball field and onto the football field. Here’s the gist:

the-extra-yard-9781481410007_hrLast spring Teddy’s life changed for the better. He started working out, shaping up, and even earned a spot on the Walton baseball team, and with the team he went all the way to the Little League World Series. But the best things to come out of that season were his friendships with Jack, Cassie, and Gus, and the confidence to finally try out for the sport he really loves—football. So when eighth grade begins, Teddy couldn’t be more psyched.

Until his mom drops a bomb: his father—who left them a long time ago—is back in Walton and back in their lives. And Teddy isn’t happy about it. As a former star football player at the school, Teddy’s dad is thrilled to find out his son is going out for the team, but Teddy begins to wonder if his father only cares about him now because he’s putting on the helmet. Can Teddy find a way to go the extra yard for the team and for himself, or is the distance between him and his father too much to overcome?

Sound good? Scroll down to listen to the audio version of the first chapter from The Extra Yard. Keep scrolling to find the printed excerpt of Chapter 1.


Listen to Chapter 1 of The Extra Yard


The Extra Yard

Chapter 1

Teddy Madden felt better about himself than he ever had before. Even though he was scared out of his mind.

He was starting eighth grade next week, but he wasn’t scared about starting another year in school. He was actually excited about that.

He was scared about football.

In two days he had tryouts for the Walton Wildcats, a new football team for the best kids his age, even though he had never played a game of organized football before.

He kept telling himself he was in the best shape of his life. In the past he’d joked that he had no shape, other than maybe a blob. He had a good attitude about sports for the first time. That was thanks to his friend Jack Callahan.

It was Jack who’d nominated himself last spring to become Teddy’s personal trainer. Jack basically told Teddy he was going to get in shape or else.

Teddy hated the workouts at first. But slowly he came to like them, and then love them. Mostly he loved the way they made him feel good about himself. Before then, he just figured self-esteem was for somebody else’s self. Not anymore. Teddy felt good, and not just about being in this kind of shape. He and Jack weren’t just teammates. They were friends.

They were boys.

Teddy thought of himself as a whole new kid: Teddy Madden 2.0. So maybe it figured he would have new friends, too, like Jack and Gus Morales and Cassie Bennett. Cassie was the star of girls’ sports in Walton the way Jack was for boys’.

Once Teddy started to get himself into shape, a lot of things began to happen, both in sports and in his life. For one thing, he ended up the catcher on the Walton baseball team, the Rays, which had made it all the way to the United States final of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

Everybody on the team would always think they would have won the final if Jack had been able to pitch. But the Rays needed him in the semifinal, where he’d pitched a one-hitter in beating a team from Toledo. In the final the Rays fell behind 7–1. They came all the way back to tie, before losing in the bottom of the last inning to a pretty great team from Las Vegas.

Because of the way they had come back, though, they left Williamsport feeling as if they’d won something. Teddy was pretty sure that in Walton, people who’d watched their games on ESPN would always remember the near no-hitter Jack had pitched, and that big comeback against Las Vegas.

“The more you play,” Jack said when they got home, “you find out there’s more than one way to keep score in sports.”

That baseball season had started with the old Teddy, the out-of-shape and overweight Teddy. He was a blob-shaped spectator. But he had ended up in Williamsport, hitting a two-run double to tie Vegas at 7–7. It was the kind of hit you always dreamed about hitting, in the big game, on national television. Teddy Madden had gotten that hit. Even if it wasn’t enough to win that game for his team, he’d still gotten that hit.

By then, nobody was calling him by his old nickname: Teddy Bear.

On the baseball field behind Walton Middle School, one that Jack and Teddy were now using to play football, Jack said to Teddy, “We’re going to need a new nickname for you.”

It was just the two of them on a Thursday morning, the end of the last week before school. They threw Teddy’s new football around on a field that was so close to his house it was almost like an extension of his backyard.

They took a quick break after going at it hard for an hour, sat on the grass, and drank Gatorade out of the bottles they’d brought. Teddy knew their rest period wouldn’t last long. It never did with Jack Callahan.

“The one nickname I had before was more than enough,” Teddy said. “You know how big my mom is on gluten-free food? My plan is to be nickname free.”

Jack acted as if he hadn’t even heard him. “How about Teddy the Tiger?”

“You make me sound like I should be telling you to eat your cereal,” Teddy said. “And really? A tiger on a team called the Wildcats?”

“Excellent point,” Jack said. He thought for a moment, frowning. “How about Terrible Ted?”

“Would I have to carry one of the Steelers’ Terrible Towels?”

“This might turn out to be harder than I thought.”

“You’re not hearing me,” Teddy said. “I don’t want a nickname. And by the way? You seem to be surviving without a nickname, except when Gus calls you Star.”

“Which I hate.”

“The way I hated Teddy Bear!” Teddy said. “It always made me feel like I was the class mascot, not just the class clown.”

“I never thought you were either one,” Jack said. “I always thought there was a warrior waiting to break out.”

“A warrior?” Teddy said. “Are we getting ready to play football games, or video games? What do you think this is, Call of Duty?”

“Little bit,” Jack said.

“Still don’t know why you thought of me that way,” Teddy said “A would-be warrior.”

“I’m very observant,” Jack said.

“So you can probably use those powers of observation to see how nervous I am about the day after tomorrow.”

“You’re going to make the team.”

“You say.”

“I know,” Jack said.

“What if I start dropping passes all over the place?”

“You don’t drop them when I throw them to you here, you’re not going to drop them at Holzman.”

Holzman Field was the field where the Wildcats would play their home games, in a brand-new elite league for their part of the country called All-American Football. The kids who didn’t make the Wildcats would play on Walton’s Pop Warner team.

“I wish I was as confident in me as you are,” Teddy said.

“But even if I don’t make the Wildcats, at least I know I’ll get to play Pop Warner.”

Jack said, “You know that nickname you just said you hated? Let’s not turn back into that guy now.”

He casually reached over with his right fist. Teddy knuckle-bumped him.

“Okay?” Jack said.

“I’m still nervous.”

“There’s a good nervous in sports,” Jack said. “I feel it all the time.”

“You don’t show it.”

Jack laughed. “Clearly you’re not as observant as I am.”

“How do you tell the difference between nerves and choking?”

Jack shrugged. “No clue,” he said. “Choking’s not in my vocab. And it’s not gonna be in yours.”

As good as Jack was in sports, he was even better as a friend.

Teddy didn’t care that Gus and Jack had been friends longer, or that Jack and Cassie were as close as a boy and girl could be without being boyfriend and girlfriend, at least not yet. When it came to Jack, Teddy just knew the most important thing you could know:

He could count on Jack.

And Jack knew he could count on Teddy.

Maybe it was because they’d been through so much together in a year. Teddy had been there for Jack when he’d briefly quit the baseball team, back when Jack was still blaming himself for the death of his older brother, Brad, in a dirt-bike accident, even though it wasn’t Jack’s fault at all.

But even while that was going on, and as much pain as Jack was in, it was Jack who stepped up one day at gym class and told the other guys to stop picking on Teddy because of his weight. Then he hadn’t just helped Teddy to get into really good shape, he’d also helped Teddy find the confidence to face down his fears. And there were a lot of them at the time: fear of sports, fear of making friends, even a fear of heights.

Jack was also the first person Teddy had ever opened up to about his fear of being different from most of the kids he knew because he’d grown up without his dad around. His parents had divorced when Teddy was barely four years old, and his father moved all the way across the country to Oregon. Teddy saw him once a year, if that.

It was why Teddy had always made jokes like some kind of shield. In the process he had also kept other kids from getting close to him. At least until Jack had come along. He hadn’t given Teddy much of a choice. They were going to be boys, Teddy just had to deal with it.

Now here they were, just the two of them, halftime in another one of their workouts. Sometimes Gus would join them. But he couldn’t today: he had a doctor’s appointment for his school physical. Jack and Teddy were planning to meet up with Gus and Cassie later and figure out how they wanted to spend one of their last days of summer vacation.

There was no real plan. They didn’t need one, and that was one of the best parts of summer. It was practically a rule that you had nowhere you really needed to be until the first day of school. Or the first day of football practice.

Provided you made the team, of course.

This year Teddy couldn’t separate the start of school and the start of football in his head. He’d been marking time from the end of baseball—and the parade down Main Street in Walton the mayor had organized for them when they’d gotten home from Williamsport—until football tryouts at Holzman.

Even with his great spring and summer in baseball, from the time he’d started working out with Jack, his dream was to be a football player.

In two days he would officially get his chance.

Football was why he had pushed himself to get into shape. Football was Teddy’s goal. Jack said you needed to set goals for yourself in sports. He was sure Teddy would be the starter for the Wildcats at tight end.

He told him that again now.

“How about I just make the team first?” Teddy said.

“You’re going to make the team, you’re going to start, you’re going to be one of my primary receivers.”

“Have you been out in the sun too long today?” Teddy said. “Are you starting to feel light-headed?”

Jack shrugged. “Make your little jokes,” he said. “My parents just say I’m highly motivated.”

“Or maybe just dehydrated?” Teddy said.

“You want to have that attitude?” Jack said, picking up the ball and jumping to his feet.

“Go long, sucker.”

Teddy tossed his Gatorade bottle aside. “I can do that,” he said.

Running came easily to Teddy now, after all the laps he and Jack had been running on the track. Jack had even gotten Teddy doing his interval training: sprinting, then slowing down to a jog, then sprinting even harder than before.

When they’d finished the first time, Teddy had said to Jack, “I used to think intervals were just the time between snacks.”

But in the late morning, the sun already high in the sky, Teddy ran as hard as he could, from rightfield toward left. He knew it was impossible to outrun Jack Callahan’s right arm. So he just put his head down, trusting Jack would let him know when he should turn back for the ball.

“Now!” he heard Jack yell.

Teddy turned back and looked up at the same time, saw the ball in the air, another perfect spiral. He reached for it, secured it with his big hands—“mitts,” Jack called them—and then pulled the ball tight to his chest.

Teddy kept running with the ball until he reached the fence in the left-field corner. In that moment he just wanted to keep going, run through the fence or try to jump over it. The feeling he had, he wanted that feeling to last, he wanted to imagine the green grass out here stretching out in front of him forever. You always heard the announcers on television talking about receivers “running in space.” That was what Teddy felt then. Like he was the one running in space.

Or just floating through it.

From the across the field Jack shouted, “Are you planning on coming back anytime soon?”

“If I come back,” Teddy shouted back, “I know what you’re going to say.”


“Go long again.”

“Exactly!” Jack said.

When Teddy got back to him, he said to Jack, “You went a lot easier on me when you felt sorry for me.”

“No way,” Jack said. “You didn’t need me to do that, because you were too busy feeling sorry for yourself.”

“Excellent point.”

The truth was, and they both knew it, they were both feeling pretty sorry for themselves when they first became friends, even though they didn’t know that was what they were doing at the time. There was the day when Jack just got tired of the other guys picking on Teddy, how funny the other guys thought it was when Teddy ended up on the floor during a game of dodgeball. Jack went over and helped Teddy up, in more ways than one.

But around the same time, Teddy helped Jack get up too and stop blaming himself for his brother’s accident. Teddy finally helped convince Jack that Brad Callahan, as reckless as he was, with dirt bikes and everything else, was an accident waiting to happen. Jack didn’t need anybody to pick on him, because he was doing way too good a job beating himself up.

“I found out the hard way,” Jack liked to say now. “It’s not about getting knocked down, it’s how you get back up.”

He and Teddy had done that.


Jack threw Teddy another deep ball, telling him to angle toward the infield this time, like he was running a deep post pattern. On this one, Teddy had to slow down a little to catch the ball in stride.

“Arm getting a little tired there,” he said.

“We’ll see how tired I look the next time I knock you over with a short pass,” Jack said.

That was the thing about Jack. As cool a kid as he was, he was cocky, too. He just managed to do a good job hiding it from people. But it was always there.

“I take it back!” Teddy said, laughing. “Please don’t hurt me!”

Teddy knew the drill with Jack Callahan: you were never just throwing the ball around. There was a purpose to everything he did. To him, this was a real practice. So they ran some short slants, the ones Jack was sure would be in their playbook this season. Jack practiced taking a one-step drop after being snapped the ball by an imaginary center, straightening up, hitting Teddy in the gut with passes that sometimes knocked the wind out of him.

They alternated those with quick outs. Then Jack told Teddy to go deep again. When they decided to stop for good, they stretched out on their backs in the outfield grass, both out of breath.

They were silent for a while, feeling the sun on their faces, until Jack said, “How much taller are you than when you started seventh grade?”

“My mom says four inches. Maybe five.”

“You, my friend, are going to be a matchup nightmare. You’re built like a tight end, but you’re as fast as a wide receiver.”

“How about we find out if I can catch like this at the tryouts before you send me to the Hall of Fame in Canton?” Teddy said. “Did it ever occur to you that maybe I’m not ready for this? It’s not like I made the baseball team. I just turned out to be an emergency catcher after Scott Sutter got hurt.”

Jack propped his head up in his hand and looked at him. “Blah, blah, blah,” he said. “When the old Teddy starts talking, I can’t hear a word.”

Teddy nodded. “Old habits.”

“Forget about old habits, or the old Teddy. You can do this. We can do it together.”

“We’re a team now.”

“Just like baseball,” Jack said. “I pitch, you catch.”

Jack said he’d wait while Teddy dropped the ball off at his house, and then they’d call Gus and Cassie and meet them at Cassie’s. Teddy ran the short distance to his house, the ball under his arm again. He smiled as he ran, knowing he should feel tired, but not feeling tired at all.

He just felt happy.

At least he did until he got to his back porch, looked up, and saw his father standing there.

“Hey, champ,” David Madden said.


Boys’ Life Fiction: ‘The Chase’ by Todd Strasser


Fiction by Todd Strasser | Illustrations by Michal Lisowski


“Will you look at that,” Daggoo muttered.

“What is it?” Elijah asked.

The big sailor with the dyed yellow hair and flame tattoos rising from his eyebrows didn’t answer. Instead, he quietly crept toward the bow of the chase boat.

Fifty yards away, a creature floated on the blue ocean surface as if napping while it absorbed the sun’s heat through the black hide of its back. The span of its black wings was at least 12 feet.

In the bow, Daggoo silently wrapped a large, rough hand around the grip of the tag pole. “Get us closer,” he hissed.

Elijah had never operated a chase boat. Back on Earth, anything this large was strictly autonomous. Otherwise, there was far too much likelihood of accidents.

“But —” he began to protest.

“Do it!” Daggoo snapped impatiently.

“It’s a terrafin. No one’s ever tagged one before.”

His heart beating its way up into his throat, Elijah stepped uncertainly behind the controls. Back on the ship, he’d heard talk of terrafins, rare and mysterious creatures only recently discovered here on Cretacea.

He placed one hand on the cold steel wheel and the other on the thruster lever. As he gradually nudged the lever forward, a humming sound came from the engine compartment and the boat began to slowly creep ahead.

Daggoo frowned, then nodded sharply, signaling that he wanted to go faster. Elijah pressed the thruster harder. Suddenly, the engine’s hum became an angry whine and the chase boat lurched forward. Daggoo stumbled backward, just managing to catch himself before he fell.

Elijah quickly yanked on the thruster. The chase boat shuddered, and the next thing he knew, they were starting to reverse! He pushed the lever forward again. This time the engine coughed and stalled.

A small cloud of white smoke rose from the engine compartment. The chase boat drifted silently on the ocean’s surface. Daggoo glared at Elijah, and then at the spot where the beast had been. All that remained was a circle of ever-widening ripples.

“Way to go, greenhorn,” the big sailor snarled angrily.

Elijah knew it wasn’t his fault. You couldn’t expect someone who’d never driven anything to know how to operate a chase boat. Nonetheless, he felt bad and wished his parents had never sent him to this planet to begin with.

His father said it would be an exciting vacation with Uncle Ahab, the captain of the Essex, a research vessel studying the migratory habits of large seagoing creatures.

But now Elijah decided that as soon as they got back to the ship, he would tell his uncle that he wanted to go home.

A few moments later, Elijah sat on the bench seat and held tight while Daggoo stood at the controls, steering the chase boat toward the Essex.

The exotic sensation of wind and spray was in Elijah’s face as the boat splashed over the waves. It was a far cry from the protected, quiet world of his domed city back home.

Too bad. Cretacea might have been an infinitely more beautiful and interesting planet than gray, arid, environmentally devastated Earth, but it wasn’t for him.

Then, out of the corner of his eye, Elijah thought he saw something leap into the air and splash back into the sea. He turned just in time to see the terrafin’s long rope-thin tail disappear below the surface. Elijah glanced back at Daggoo, but the sailor’s eyes were fixed on the Essex in the distance.

When the beast leapt a second time, Elijah quickly pointed. Daggoo swiveled his head and, an instant later, cut the engine. Riding the ghost of momentum, the chase boat drifted forward.

chb4CeWas Daggoo thinking about trying again? Elijah looked up into the big sailor’s eyes and saw uncertainty, as if he was debating whether another attempt would be a waste of time.

Elijah tried to tell himself that he didn’t care whether they tried for the beast or not. But it didn’t feel right.

His father had always said that quitting was never the answer. Deep inside, he wanted another chance. Not because he felt he needed to prove anything to Daggoo, but because it was the right thing to do.

He stood up and gestured silently for Daggoo to get the tag pole. The big sailor rolled his eyes doubtfully, but proceeded to the bow.

A moment later, Elijah was once more at the controls. A hundred yards away, the terrafin had again settled quietly on the surface. In the bow, Daggoo turned to Elijah and gave him a curious scowl as if wondering what the boy planned to do.

“Hold on,” Elijah warned and pushed the thruster forward.

When the chase boat jumped ahead, Daggoo had to grab a rail to steady himself. It must have seemed to him that Elijah thought he could speed straight up to the beast without spooking it. But just as the big sailor angrily swiveled around to yell at him, Elijah cut the engine and let the boat glide.

An instant later, the chase boat was slipping silently ahead, getting closer and closer to the unsuspecting beast.

Daggoo blinked with astonishment, then again kneeled down in the bow, gripping the tag pole tightly.

They glided nearer. … Suddenly Daggoo heaved the pole forward, harmlessly pinning the positioning and data storage tag to the base of the small dorsal fin near the terrafin’s tail.

With a splash, the startled creature vanished into the deep blue depths, leaving a swirl of froth on the smooth surface of the ocean. But no matter where it went, the marine scientists aboard the Essex would now be able to track it, and learn about its feeding and migratory habits.

Standing in the bow with his hands on his hips, Daggoo turned to Elijah, a smile slowly working its way into his lips. With an approving nod, he said, “Good work. Take us back to the ship, sailor.”

Elijah returned the smile and pressed the thruster lever forward.

“Aye aye, Sir.”


About author Todd Strasser

Todd Strasser is an award-winning author of more than 140 books for tweens and teens. his latest is The Beast of Cretacea, a futuristic reimagining of Moby Dick. Here’s more about The Beast of Cretacea:

BookCoverWhen seventeen-year-old Ishmael wakes up from stasis aboard the Pequod, he is amazed by how different this planet is from the dirty, dying, Shroud-covered Earth he left behind. But Ishmael isn’t on Cretacea to marvel at the fresh air, sunshine, and endless blue ocean. He’s here to work, risking his life to hunt down great ocean-dwelling beasts to harvest and send back to the resource-depleted Earth.

Even though easy prey abounds, time and again the chase boat crews are ordered to ignore it in order to pursue the elusive Great Terrafin. It’s rumored that the ship’s captain, Ahab, lost his leg to the beast years ago, and that he’s now consumed by revenge. But there may be more to Captain Ahab’s obsession. Dark secrets and dangerous exploits swirl around the pursuit of the beast, and Ishmael must do his best to survive—if he can.

Author Max Brallier Talks New Monster Novel ‘The Last Kids On Earth’

LastKidsOnEarth jkt.indd

Bestselling author Max Brallier (Eerie Elementary and Galactic Hot Dogs) is at it again with The Last Kids On Earth, a thrilling post-apocalyptic graphic novel that’s as funny as it is spooky.

Last Kids on Earth jacket art hi-res[1]Told in a mixture of text and black-and-white illustration, this book tells the tale of the monster apocalypse as 13 year old Jack Sullivan does his best to survive in the new world. If you’re a fan of comic books, videogames, monsters and zombies, this book is for you.

The Last Kids On Earth opens with Jack living in his tree house, which he has armed with catapults and a moat, not to mention videogames and an endless supply of Oreos and Mountain Dew scavenged from abandoned stores. But Jack alone is no match for the hoards of Zombies and Winged Wretches and Vine Thingies, and especially not for the eerily intelligent monster known only as Blarg.

So Jack builds a team: his dorky best friend, Quint; the reformed middle school bully, Dirk; Jack’s loyal pet monster, Rover; and his crush, June. With their help, Jack will try to to slay Blarg, and achieve the ultimate Feat of Apocalyptic Success.

I got the chance to chat with author Max Brallier about the new series (yes, there will be more books in this saga) earlier this week. Scroll down to see what he had to say about monsters, videogames and more.


5 Questions With Author Max Brallier

What can you tell us about The Last Kids On Earth?

I sometimes describe it as The Walking Dead with giant monsters and zero adults. It’s about a barely heroic hero, Jack Sullivan, and his band of buddies, who appear to be the only people still alive after the Monster Apocalypse.
So basically, there are zombies and humungo, scary monsters everywhere. Jack has a tree house, which he arms to the teeth with catapults, zip-lines, rocket launchers, and all that good stuff – and an endless supply of snacks and soda scavenged from abandoned stores and houses.

One particularly big and particularly foul monster named Blarg is hunting Jack – so Jack’s trying to say alive while searching for his missing love, June del Toro (who barely even know he exists). Also, there are pet monsters, videogame-style achievements, weapons of power, and all that good stuff.

And it’s told in a really perfect mix of text and illustration. The illustrations and diagrams are done by monster master Doug Holgate, and they’re absolutely killer. It’s funny, scary, adventure-packed and full of over-the-top action. That’s what I can tell you about the Last Kids on Earth.

Most of your writing has that geeky, fantastical vibe to it. Is this book the same?

Definitely! Jack and his best friend Quint are huge movie, TV, superhero geeks – and they can’t stop referencing things that they love. There’s one scene where they’re about to be crushed and devoured by a “zombie ball” – and all they can talk about is how much it’s like Indiana Jones and how cool that is.

Early on, Jack describes his tree fort as “better-defended than Fort Knox, Stark Tower, and the X-Mansion combined.” So yeah, definitely a geeky, fantastical vibe.

What made you want to write about monsters?

I’m trying to think if I’ve written any fiction that wasn’t about monsters – and, man, I think the answer is no. I’ve just always loved monsters – particularly big ones. But I’ve always felt like big, giant monsters are something that work best in film. So that’s part of the reason I wanted this book to have lots of illustrations – I wanted the reader to actually see these big brutes. And when I realized just how well Doug Holgate draws monsters – I just started adding more and more and more beasties.
Also, I’ve written a lot about zombies in the past – so I wanted to do that in a different way, here. In this book, the zombies are more of an annoyance – like dangerous pests. The real threats are the big monsters: Blarg, Winged Wretches, Dozers, and other giant wicked brutes.

Halloween is coming up, what’s the scare level from 1-10?

Oh boy. About an 8, maybe? My top three goals for this book were adventure, fun, and funny – the scares and the horror came fourth. I was really inspired by movie monsters like the Graboids in Tremors and the Rancor in Return of the Jedi. With those monsters, it’s less about “Oh no! So scary! Need to shut my eyes!” and more about “Oh man, that thing is freaky looking! How is our hero going to destroy it?!?”
So that’s really how I approached it: create a world full of deadly, man-eating monsters – and see how our heroes survive.

What’s up next for you?

I’m busy! It’s a rare thing for a writer to be really, really busy – so I’m partly busy just being really thankful for being that busy. The next entry in my Galactic Hot Dogs series comes out Spring, 2016 – and I’m in the process of writing the third book in that series. I’m having a blast putting Cosmoe and his crew in all sorts of horrible situations and watching them trying to get out.
I just finished writing The Last Kids on Earth #2, and Doug Holgate is now diving into the illustrations. I’ve seen a few early sketches and they’re amazing – big monsters doing big monster things.

I write the Eerie Elementary series under the penname Jack Chabert, and I’ve got a bunch more of those coming. The third book in the series comes out in January, 2016. And then I’ve got three more to write! Those are an absolute blast.

Besides that? Playing videogames, riding my bike around the city and trying not to die while doing it, and doing some traveling.


Read Chapter One of The Last Kids On Earth

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John Flanagan Gives the Scoop On Ranger’s Apprentice: The Early Years


Ranger’s Apprentice fans rejoice! Bestselling author John Flanagan is returning to the world of Ranger’s Apprentice with a new prequel series, Ranger’s Apprentice: The Early Years. It brings readers to a time before Will was an apprentice, and lays the groundwork for the epic battles that are brewing when Ranger’s Apprentice starts.

In the first book in this new series, The Tournament at Gorlan (in stores now), readers will discover the beginnings of one of the original series’ best characters — Will’s bristly, sarcastically funny mentor, Halt. Not yet a Ranger himself, young Halt bands together with Ranger Crowley to take on a scheming Baron who is out to dismantle the Ranger’s Corps, oust the current king, and take the throne for himself.

Earlier this week, I got the chance to chat with John Flanagan about his new series. So, scroll down to see what he had to say.


51Gw8rBavrL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_-1What can you tell us about The Tournament at Gorlan?

It’s set fifteen to twenty years before The Ruins of Gorlan (Book 1 in the Ranger’s Apprentice series) and it describes how Halt and Crowley first met, then revived the Ranger Corps. In the process, they came into conflict with Morgarath, who was trying to usurp the throne. Lots of action. Lots of humour. Lots of excitement.

Had you always planned on writing an origin story for Ranger’s Apprentice?

No. But over the past few years, I’ve been asked about how Halt and Crowley met and reformed the corps, and who their mentor was. Those questions gave me the idea. It’s been great developing the growing relationship between Halt and Crowley. They’re a great pair – Halt is dour and serious, Crowley is always joking and whistling.

The Tournament at Gorlan seems to come full circle with the first Ranger’s Apprentice book. What else can fans of that series look forward to?

Meeting a young King Duncan — a young Halt and Crowley of course. Meeting a dozen new rangers, who form the core of the new corps, if you like. And, most important, meeting Pritchard, a ranger who taught both Halt and Crowley their skills.

Will there be more book in this series?

At least another book, taking us up to the Battle of Hackham Heath, when Morgarath is defeated and driven back into the mountains. And maybe a third book, expanding on some of the stories that I’ve hinted at — the battle with a witch that’s mentioned in The Sorcerer in the North, the story of the giant Crowley defeated and chained to a millstone, and Halt’s mission to steal horses from the Temujai. Maybe three or four long short stories.

What’s the status with the next Brotherband book?

I’ve just delivered the sixth Brotherband book, set in a strange new land to the west that bears a strong resemblance to the USA. That should come out in mid-2016.


Read Chapter One of The Tournament At Gorlan

[gview file=”http://bookzone.boyslife.org/files/2015/10/Pages-from-9780399163616_RA_1Tourname_TX.pdf-Adobe-Acrobat-Pro.pdf-Adobe-Acrobat-Pro.pdf” height=”800px”]

Read an Exclusive Excerpt From Gary Paulsen’s ‘This Side of Wild’


Bestselling author Gary Paulsen (Hatchet, Brian’s Winter) has brand-new book out this week: This Side of Wild: Mutts, Mares, and Laughing Dinosaurs. It’s a collection of this-side-of-wild-9781481451505_lgtrue stories about his relationship with animals, highlighting their compassion, intellect, intuition, and sense of adventure.

Paulsen is an adventurer who competed in two Iditarods, survived the Minnesota wilderness, and climbed the Bighorns. None of this would have been possible without his truest companion: his animals. Sled dogs rescued him in Alaska, a sickened poodle guarded his well-being, and a horse led him across a desert. Through his interactions with dogs, horses, birds, and more, Gary has been struck with the belief that animals know more than we may fathom.

Does the book sound interesting? Read an exclusive excerpt from Chapter 2 of This Side of Wild below:


He closed his eyes and fought a cough, then opened them but did not look at me. Instead he softened his gaze and passed his eyes over Gretchen, then out the window, out and out, not looking at anything in particular except perhaps a far time and place that didn’t exist any longer.

“I have been training animals for a long time,” he said at length. “Fifty, sixty years. Dogs for hunting, for working stock, for companions; horses for work and show or just to gentle them. Trained almost every kind of animal that walks or crawls except cats. Not a way to train a cat—they got no give to them. All take. Even trained or half trained a couple of snakes for a fat man who came through El Paso making a movie about snakes. And I know in the end that they all, even the snakes, trained me as well. Think of it—when a rattler sets to buzzing, what’s he doing? A kind of talking, a warning—he’s training you, teaching you to get away.”

stock-illustration-34178930-animal-face-ui-flat-designHe reached now and ran one of Gretchen’s soft ears through his gnarled, bent fingers, like silk through barbwire. “And I never saw it until I started with Gretchen. Got her to sit one day. The same day, she looked a long time at me and at a piece of cookie”—and here she perked up, ears more alert with the word “cookie”—“in my hand, and she saw the cookie and my eyes and then she sat. Clean and down. As much as if she’d said, ‘I’ll sit and then you give me that piece of cookie,’ and she did and I did and it was the first time I knew I had been wrong all along. I never trained one animal. Not once . . .”

“They trained you.”

He nodded. “I always got what I wanted, what I needed, or almost always, but it was all working backward and I didn’t know it, didn’t see it until Gretchen showed me how to see, how to know, how to learn.”

Gretchen sat looking at him, into his eyes, as he talked, clearly loving him but more, too, something more. She heard more, felt more in some way, and I realized with a start that she was listening to every word, every single word.

And more—much more—she understood some of them.

stock-illustration-44008996-animal-face-flat-iconHe had seen my look, and his smile widened and he nodded. “That’s why she wants a conversation. When she hears a word she knows, she feels like she’s more a part of it.”

“How many does she know?”

“I’m not sure. I tried keeping track of them at first and got up to seven hundred or seven hundred and fifty before I lost the thread of it. I think she’s way past a thousand now—a thousand words she recognizes and places with some object or place or thought. And she’s learning more all the time, just stacking them up. But there’s more, too.”

I looked at her, thought I was maybe seeing some of kind of a freak—no, miracle. Some kind of miracle. “What could be more than this?”

“She has learned how to understand people in some way that goes with the language. So that you can actually talk to her, or almost talk to her. Watch her. Watch her reaction when you say something she knows and likes. Say the word c.o.o.k.i.e.” (He spelled it.)

stock-illustration-31348010-animal-ui-flat-design“Cookie,” I said, and there it was; she perked at the word, and (I swear it) seemed to add to it, to almost nod.

Winnike saw it as well and smiled. “She knows the word, of course, and that was the alerting part of it, but that second little bit was because she likes it, wants to eat one.” He stood and went to the cabinet over the sink, took a vanilla cookie from a jar, and gave it to her. She ate it with two small, delicate bites, then nodded again and with a half grimace added a toothy look.

“She’s smiling,” Winnike said. “She picked it up from a little girl who came to visit who kept smiling at her. Now, say something she won’t like, wouldn’t think of eating. . . .”

“Gretchen,” I said. “Would you like some broccoli?”

And here she shook her head in a negative manner, studying me the whole time.

“Now another thing she might like to eat . . .”

“Steak,” I said, “smothered in gravy.”

She alerted, nodded, then smiled, and he gave her a cookie.

stock-illustration-43476006-sheep-face-flat-iconWe went back and forth that way for a time—pork chops and spinach, chicken and grapefruit, beef stroganoff and eggplant—and she was right, dead right every time. She would shake her head in a negative way when she didn’t like it, nod in a positive way when she did.

“She knows,” I said, taking a sip of my coffee; somehow cold it was more palatable than it had been hot. Cold and sticky sweet. Like Kool-Aid from the devil. “She knows all the words. How is that . . . ? Is that even possible?”

He shook his head. “It’s not that. I doubt even all humans would know all the words. It’s the other thing, the thing that surprised me and led me away from my former life. What I thought I knew my whole life . . .”

“What was that?”

“She ‘reads’ people. . . .”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“I’m not sure I do, either. But I think she can tell by voice or posture or smell or some thought wave, or something, when a person is saying a food she wouldn’t want to eat, or when he says something she would like. . . .”

“But how could she know . . . me? We’ve never met. How would she know anything about me, about my speech or posture or smell? How could she know anything about me?”

He nodded. “I understand and agree with your thinking, or how I believe you’re thinking. But the thing is, it’s not just you. I’ve had other people in here, old people, young people, children barely old enough to understand what I mean, and they’re all the same. She reads them all. . . .”

“She’s reading their minds?” I shook my head. “You think she’s actually reading their minds?”

stock-illustration-43476002-animal-face-iconHe hesitated, sighed, rolled another cigarette, and poured more coffee—in my cup as well as in his—before I could stop him. I wouldn’t be able to sleep for the rest of my life. “No. Yes. Maybe. God, I don’t know. But I have seen it and know what I’ve seen. The only way I think I can understand it, or feel that I know what she’s doing, is I have to think in some kind of way that I don’t really believe in—spirits and vapor clouds or thought beams or some of that other kind of wild stuff. Thing is, thing is, I’m just an old cowboy who took to training animals and don’t know how that other kind of thing works. Do you?”

I shook my head briefly, then thought of the school I was going to with blast patterns and radioactive winds and radiation lobes and flash damage with melted people who were turned into instantaneous shadows on concrete. He could not know any of this, would probably not understand it any better than I understood what I was seeing with Gretchen. “No, not really.”

“Is it”—he sighed—“would it be something you might like to learn, to know?”

I looked at Gretchen. She looked up at me, waiting, waiting, waiting for, for what?

For me?

For me.

“Yes. On the weekends when I’m not at school. I can come each weekend, if that’s all right?”

He nodded, and so it was that I came to talk to Gretchen and listen to Gretchen, and Gretchen kept me from going insane—or something like it.

stock-illustration-27798787-crocodile-face-flat-icon-design-animal-icons-seriesThe thing was, I didn’t know what I was seeing or hearing. I decided to take a notebook and simply write down words or subjects she liked or disliked and see if there was a pattern.


“Broccoli”—head shake negative.

“Steak”—head moved in nod.



“Butter” in negative tone—positive.

“Spinach” in positive tone—negative.

Here—and almost in a regular rhythm—she would stop for a sip, or a couple of laps of coffee, a tail wag, and (infrequently) the need to go outside and relieve herself, to return quickly, get back up in the chair to look at me quizzically, head cocked, waiting for the next question.

No matter what I tried, I could not confuse her, catch her out. I changed tone of voice, facial expression, gesturing with hands, not gesturing with hands. Always she would give the correct, or what I assumed to be the correct, answer.

“Pork chop” in angry tone—positive.

“Ice cream” in anger—positive.

“Vinegar” in loving tone—negative.

I sat in the chair backward, watching her with a small mirror I found in an amazingly decrepit bathroom, and she never missed.

“Jackrabbit running fast,” my back to Gretchen—positive.

stock-illustration-43474160-animal-face-icon“Bowl of okra,” my back to Gretchen, positive voice—negative response with a small shake of the head and a courteous tail wag.

“Oatmeal, no condiment,” negative tone—positive nod.

Oatmeal, brown sugar and butter on top,” negative tone—positive nod.

And slowly, over three or four or five weekends, it became evident that she was somehow “reading” me, and it was still more evident in another short time that she had begun testing me, seeing what I “knew” or could be taught.

One cold November morning, at least cold for El Paso, I drove down along the river in my old 1951 Buick (army pay then wasn’t what it is now; I made $82.50 a month and was forced to pay 10 percent back in donations to United Fund) that barely ran. I had paid seventy-four dollars for the car, and it was worth that—or nearly.

Inside, the old house was warm—a small potbellied stove in the corner burned a cherry red with mesquite—and Gretchen met me outside as she always did. Mr. Winnike was gone, but he had left a pot of coffee. God, it was so strong. I still remember the bite of that first sip; it was worse even than army coffee, which was nearly brain damaging. I sat at the table, jolted awake by the coffee, petted Gretchen on top of her domed head, got a tail wag and, in as positive a tone as possible, said: “Used motor oil.”

And got no response at all. The first time. Clearly it was something she wouldn’t like to eat—and most of these decision-questions involved food. Or smell. Or noise.

And here nothing.

Then I noticed something.

stock-illustration-27796897-lion-flat-icon-design-animal-icons-seriesIn front of her, on the table, was a small piece of prickly pear cactus, just a corner of a tiny lobe, big enough to have a couple of spines sticking out of it. I hadn’t seen her bring it in, and for moment I thought it must have stuck to her ear and flopped on the table. I reached to brush it off the table, and she stopped me with her nose, looked pointedly at the cactus, and gave a deliberate negative shake of her head, then looked up at me.

“You don’t like cactus?” I said.

Again, a negative shake, then a focused study of my face, waiting.



For what?

Me. A response. I looked at the cactus, saw the needle- sharp spines, and agreed wholeheartedly that I didn’t like that piece of cactus either. I shook my head in a negative.

Bang. She got rid of the cactus—put it by the door—and picked up a small stick. She put it on the table, looked up at me and nodded, waiting, I returned the nod, reached for the stick, thinking she wanted me to throw it, but before I could pick it up, she grabbed it and was out the door.

We were not to play. We were working, studying, thinking.


And so that day passed. Not with me testing her but the opposite. She was finding out what I knew, what I thought, and somewhere in that day, I realized with a kind of shock, or stunned belief, that we were actually “talking.”


I had, as a small child, been raised by my grandmother—a wonderful, all-knowing woman brought up on farms in Norway and later in northern Minnesota. She believed in the old Norse tales of gods and goddesses and spirits of another world, another spirit world that could and often did talk through animals, telling tales of love and hate and joy and music. Sometimes when birds were singing, she would put her hand on my arm and say, “Songs, for you and me, from them; the birds sing for them, for us. . . .”

stock-illustration-45090808-grayhound-dog-face-flat-iconI did not disbelieve it, actually, but simply thought it was something perhaps only old people could know, a code I did not understand yet. Like when it was going to rain or snow or when somebody would be close to death or birth. I was not skeptical so much as blank, unable to understand.

But now it was true for me, and open, and clear. Gretchen was, in her way, a very real way, bringing me into a conversation; she knew many things I liked, and now she was showing me some of the things she liked and disliked. We were very definitely “talking,” and as the afternoon drew on, my level of astonishment grew lower and I accepted it and began to understand what I was really doing:

Having a conversation with a friend.

We had—or rather Gretchen had—found a way to break down the communication barrier and interlock with another species. It was simple, clean, and very elegant—we looked at things, said what we thought of them, and with more depth than I thought possible, we understood each other completely.

It was, in many ways, for me a lifesaving understanding.


This Side of Wild: Mutts, Mares, and Laughing Dinosaurs by Gary Paulsen is in bookstores across the country starting Sept. 29.

Read an Excerpt From the Upcoming Minecraft Novel ‘Quest for Justice’


coverIn 2014, 16-year-old Eagle Scout Sean Fay Wolfe self-published Quest for Justice, book 1 of an epic Minecraft adventure series called the Elementia Chronicles. It quickly became one of the hottest Minecraft books on Amazon, racking up dozens of glowing reviews from readers.

That’s not all. The book also go the attention of big-time publisher HarperCollins who approached Wolfe with an offer to buy and re-publish the book in print. This new version of Quest for Justice hits bookstores July 28. The second book in the trilogy will publish October 27, 2015, with the third to follow on January 26, 2016.

In Quest for Justice, dark forces are at work on the Elementia server, and when new players Stan, Kat and Charlie arrive on the scene, they quickly find themselves in peril. Targeted by more experienced players, the noobs must band together against the king, battle the natural forces of the game, and unravel the mysteries of Elementia in the name of justice.


Read an Excerpt From Quest For Justice

The rain had died down, so they could talk in normal voices again. There was dust in the air now from the explosion, just like the Creeper explosion in the mine on the way to the Adorian Village. But this explosion was much larger, and it had blown a huge fissure in the middle of the road. They were cut off from the other side.

block4“The woods, then?” Stan said in an unnaturally high voice.

They looked at each other. They remembered what Sally had said. The Griefers avoid the main road in case they come across well-armed travelers. Straying off the road would lead them directly into enemy territory.

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous we don’t—” started Charlie, but he was cut off by Kat.

“Don’t kid yourself, Charlie. Stan’s right.” They could tell from her trembling lip that Kat was making a determined effort to keep her cool. “Come on,” she said, and she started into the woods, Rex at her heels, growling in a low tone.

Charlie made a high-pitched squeal, but he forced himself to follow Stan into the forest.

It was dark. Stan could barely make out the neon orange of Kat’s shirt. Every now and then, there was another flash of lightning, and Stan could make out a Spider web, a tree trunk, a Zombie lumbering in the distance.

Suddenly, there was a rustling to Stan’s right. There was something in the underbrush , and it was running straight toward him. “Run!” he yelled, and he started running, hacking branches out of the way with his axe. Kat and Charlie looked confused for a second, but when they heard the rustling they followed suit.

block7Stan burst out of the forest and into the light, now on the other side of the giant crater. Kat burst out right after him, closely followed by Rex and Charlie. Stan whipped out his axe and raised it above his head, Kat drew her sword and dropped in a fighting stance, and Charlie held his pickaxe in trembling hands. Then, the thing that had been chasing them burst into the clearing.

“Are you kidding me? You were scared of this little guy?” laughed Kat as she walked up to the pig and stroked it behind the ears, which it seemed to like. Rex came up to the pig and started sniffing it.

“Honestly, Stan, don’t do that!” said Charlie, his eyes wide, holding his chest. “You almost gave me a heart attack!”

“I’m sorry, all right?” said Stan, but he was smiling. It was a cute little pig. “Kat, get Rex away from that pig. I could use some meat.” At Kat’s command Rex left the pig alone and sat at her feet. “Bye-bye, little guy,” said Stan, and he raised his axe and brought it down on the pig, just as lightning struck.

His axe was countered by a golden sword.

block-2Kat’s jaw dropped, Charlie gave a yelp, and Stan nearly fell back, eyes wide, as he saw the monster that the pig had transformed into upon being struck by lightning.

It was like a player in form, and it had the general color of a pig, but the flesh was rotting off all over its body, and part of its skull was showing through the side of its head. Its ribs stuck out of its stomach. It wore a brown loincloth, and in its hand was a golden sword that was locked against the steel of Stan’s axe. It appeared to Stan to be some king of pig-Zombie hybrid. And it looked mad.

The Pig-Zombie pressed the attack. It swung its sword in complicated patterns and drove Stan backward. Stan tried to counter with his axe, but the attempts were futile. The Pig-Zombie’s golden blade dodged an axe blow and severed the axe’s blade from the handle. Stan’s weapon was destroyed.

Stan danced backward, trying to avoid the sword slices, when a pickaxe flew through the air and embedded itself in the Pig-Zombie’s exposed skull. The attack did no damage whatsoever, but it had the intended effect. The Pig-Zombie turned his attention from Stan and now set its sights on Charlie.

Charlie might have thought through the desperate attack a little better, though. The Pig-Zombie was faster than he anticipated, and Stan watched in horror as the undead warrior rushed in and slashed Charlie’s leg and forehead.

Charlie yelled out in pain, falling to the ground and grabbing his damaged limb and temple. The golden sword rose for the deathblow, but before the inevitable strike, a white blur connected with the Pig-Zombie and it was knocked to the ground.

block5Rex, at Kat’s command, had tackled the Pig-Zombie. There was a moment when the two animals wrestled with each other, attempting to tear out the other’s throat, until Rex was finally overpowered. The dog was thrown to the edge of the crater, where he lay whimpering, unable to get up.

Upon seeing Charlie and her dog in such pain, Kat’s eyes blazed with fury, and she rushed the Pig-Zombie. The iron and golden blades clashed , and the two warriors began to fight. Kat’s skill was incredible, but was matched equally by the Pig-Zombie. And Kat was at an obvious disadvantage. She managed to slash the Pig-Zombie across the stomach once, but all that did was make some of its flesh fall off, not slowing it down in the least.

Stan felt hopeless. His axe was broken, Charlie was on the verge of death, and Kat was beginning to wear out as she fought the Pig-Zombie. It was clear that it would take an incredibly powerful attack to finish off the Pig-Zombie, like an explosion of some sorts, like …


Purchase Quest For Justice on July 28.

Get a Sneak Peek at ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School’


The upcoming Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School won’t be in bookstores until Nov. 3, but we’ve got a sneak peek at the 10th book in Jeff Kinney’s bestselling series today.

What’s it all about? Here’s the synopsis:

Life was better in the old days. Or was it? That’s the question Greg Heffley is asking as his town voluntarily unplugs and goes electronics-free. But modern life has its conveniences, and Greg isn’t cut out for an old-fashioned world.

With tension building inside and outside the Heffley home, will Greg find a way to survive? Or is going “old school” just too hard for a kid like Greg?

Read an Excerpt from Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School

[gview file=”http://bookzone.boyslife.org/files/2015/06/WimpyKid-Book10.pdf” height=”1000″ width=”100%”]

Find out how to order the book here.

‘The Sunjammer’ by Arthur C. Clarke


Since its launch in 1911, Boys’ Life magazine has featured some of the most talented authors of all time, including Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke.

blWhile recently combing through the Boy’s Life archives, I came across an incredible space story written by Arthur C. Clarke. It’s called The Sunjammer, published in the March 1964 issue of Boys’ Life. (This issue also gets my vote for coolest BL cover ever.)

At the time, Clarke was among the most famous authors on Earth, recently establishing his career with instant classics like Childhood’s End, Fall of Moondust and The City And The Stars.

What we have is a terrific example of early space fiction, written in an era when space travel was still mostly fiction. The Sunjammer is the tale of futuristic spaceship pilot John Merton, his trusty ship Diana, and one epic space race. I’ve copied it in below, as it was originally published. Hope you enjoy this blast from the past.

The Sunjammer

By Arthur C. Clarke | Illustrations by Robert McCall

“T minus two minutes,” said the cabin radio. “Please confirm your readiness.”

One by one, the other skippers answered. Merton recognized all the voices—some tense, some calm—for they were the voices of his friends and rivals. On the four inhabited worlds, there were scarcely twenty men who could sail a sun yacht; and they were all here, on the starting line or aboard the escort vessels, orbiting twenty-two thousand miles above the equator.

“Number One, Gossamer—ready to go.”

“Number Two, Santa Maria—all O.K.”

“Number Three, Sunbeam—O.K.”

“Number Four, Woomera—all systems go.”

Merton smiled at that last echo from the early, primitive days of astronautics. But it had become part of the tradition of space; and there were times when a man needed to evoke the shades of those who had gone before him to the stars.

“Number Five, Lebedev—we’re ready.”

“Number Six, Arachne—O.K.”

Now it was his turn, at the end of the line; strange to think that the words he was speaking in this tiny cabin were being heard by at least five billion people.

“Number Seven, Diana—ready to start.”

“One through Seven acknowledged.” The voice from the judge’s launch was impersonal. “Now T minus one minute.”


Merton scarcely heard it; for the last time, he was checking the tension in the rigging. The needles of all the dynamometers were steady; the immense sail was taut, its mirror surface sparkling and glittering gloriously in the sun.

To Merton, floating weightless at the periscope, it seemed to fill the sky. As it well might—for out there were fifty million square feet of sail, linked to his capsule by almost a hundred miles of rigging. All the canvas of all the tea-clippers that had once raced like clouds across the China seas, sewn into one gigantic sheet, could not match the single sail that Diana had spread beneath the sun. Yet it was little more substantial than a soap bubble; that two square miles of aluminized plastic was only a few millionths of an inch thick.

“T minus ten seconds. All recording cameras on.”

Something so huge, yet so frail, was hard for the mind to grasp. And it was harder still to realize that this fragile mirror could tow them free of Earth, merely by the power of the sunlight it would trap.

“. . . five, four, three, two, one, cut!”

Seven knife blades sliced through the seven thin lines tethering the yachts to the mother ships that had assembled and serviced them.

Until this moment, all had been circling Earth together in a rigidly held formation, but now the yachts would begin to disperse, like dandelion seeds drifting before the breeze. And the winner would be the one that first drifted past the moon.


Aboard Diana, nothing seemed to be happening. But Merton knew better; though his body would feel no thrust, the instrument board told him he was now accelerating at almost one-thousandth of a gravity. For a rocket, that figure would have been ludicrous—but this was the first time any solar yacht had attained it. Diana’s design was sound; the vast sail was living up to his calculations. At this rate, two circuits of Earth would build up his speed to escape velocity—then he would head out for the moon, with the full force of the sun behind him.

The full force of the sun. He smiled wryly, remembering all his attempts to explain solar sailing to those lecture audiences back on Earth. That had been the only way he could raise money, in those early days. He might be Chief Designer of Cosmodyne Corporation, with a whole string of successful spaceships to his credit, but his firm had not been exactly enthusiastic about his hobby.

“Hold your hands out to the sun,” he’d said. “What do you feel? Heat, of course. But there’s pressure as well—though you’ve never noticed it, because it’s so tiny. Over the area of your hands, it only comes to about a millionth of an ounce.

“But out in space, even a pressure as small as that can be important—for it’s acting all the time, hour after hour, day after day. Unlike rocket fuel, it’s free and unlimited. If we want to, we can use it; we can build sails to catch the radiation blowing from the sun.”


At that point, he would pull out a few square yards of sail material and toss it toward the audience. The silvery film would coil and twist like smoke, then drift slowly to the ceiling in the hot-air currents.

“You can see how light it is,” he’d continue. “A square mile weighs only a ton, and can collect five pounds of radiation pressure. So it will start moving—and we can let it tow us along, if we attach rigging to it.

“Of course, its acceleration will be tiny—about a thousandth of a G. That doesn’t seem much, but let’s see what it means.

“It means that in the first second, we’ll move about a fifth of an inch. I suppose a healthy snail could do better than that. But after a minute, we’ve covered sixty feet, and will be doing just over a mile an hour. That’s not bad, for something driven by pure sunlight! After an hour, we’re forty miles from our starting point, and will be moving at eighty miles an hour. Please remember that in space there’s no friction, so once you start anything moving, it will keep going forever. You’ll be surprised when I tell you what our thousandth-of-a-G sailing boat will be doing at the end of a day’s run. Almost two thousand miles an hour! If it starts from orbit—as it has to, of course—it can reach escape velocity in a couple of days. And all without burning a single drop of fuel!”

Well, he’d convinced them, and in the end he’d even convinced Cosmodyne. Over the last twenty years, a new sport had come into being. It had been called the sport of billionaires, and that was true—but it was beginning to pay for itself in terms of publicity and television coverage. The prestige of four continents and two worlds was riding on this race, and it had the biggest audience in history.


Diana had made a good start; time to take a look at the opposition. Moving very gently. Though there were shock absorbers between the control capsule and the delicate rigging, he was determined to run no risks. Merton stationed himself at the periscope.

There they were, looking like strange silver flowers planted in the dark fields of space. The nearest, South America’s Santa Maria, was only fifty miles away; it bore a resemblance to a boy’s kite—but a kite more than a mile on its side. Farther away, the University of Astrograd’s Lebedev looked like a Maltese cross; the sails that formed the four arms could apparently be tilted for steering purposes. In contrast, the Federation of Australasia’s Woomera was a simple parachute, four miles in circumference. General Spacecraft’s Arachne, as its name suggested, looked like a spiderweb—and had been built on the same principles, by robot shuttles spiraling out from a central point. Eurospace Corporation’s Gossamer was an identical design, on a slightly smaller scale. And the Republic of Mar’s Sunbeam was a flat ring, with a half-mile-wide hole in the center, spinning slowly so that centrifugal force gave it stiffness. That was an old idea, but no one had ever made it work. Merton was fairly sure that the colonials would be in trouble when they started to turn.

That would not be for another six hours, when the yachts had moved along the first quarter of their slow and stately twenty-four-hour orbit. Here at the beginning of the race, they were all heading directly away from the sun—running, as it were, before the solar wind. One had to make the most of this lap, before the boats swung round to the other side of Earth and then started to head back into the sun.

Time for the first check, Merton told himself, while he had no navigational worries. With the periscope, he made a careful examination of the sail, concentrating on the points where the rigging was attached to it. The shroud lines—narrow bands of unsilvered plastic film—would have been completely invisible had they not been coated with fluorescent paint. Now they were taut lines of colored light, dwindling away for hundreds of yards toward that gigantic sail. Each had its own electric windlass, not much bigger than a game fisherman’s reel. The little windlasses were continually turning, playing lines in or out, as the autopilot kept the sail trimmed at the correct angle to the sun.

The play of sunlight on the great flexible mirror was beautiful to watch. It was undulating in slow, stately oscillations, sending multiple images of the sun marching across the heavens, until they faded away at the edges of the sail. Such leisurely vibrations were to be expected in this vast and flimsy structure; they were usually quite harmless, but Merton watched them carefully. Sometimes they could build up to the catastrophic undulations known as the wriggles, which could tear a sail to pieces.

When he was satisfied that everything was shipshape, he swept the periscope around the sky, rechecking the positions of his rivals. It was as he had hoped; the weeding-out process had begun, as the less efficient boats fell astern. But the real test would come when they passed into the shadow of Earth; then maneuverability would count as much as speed.


It seemed a strange thing to do, now that the race had just started, but it might be a good idea to get some sleep. The two-man crews on the other boats could take it in turns, but Merton had no one to relieve him. He must rely on his physical resources—like that other solitary seaman Joshua Slocum, in his tiny Spray. The American skipper had sailed Spray single-handed round the world; he could never have dreamed that, two centuries later, a man would be sailing single-handed from Earth to moon—inspired, at least partly, by his example.

Merton snapped the elastic bands of the cabin seat around his waist and legs, then placed the electrodes of the sleep-inducer on his forehead. He set the timer for three hours, and relaxed.

Very gently, hypnotically, the electronic pulses throbbed in the frontal lobes of his brain. Colored spirals of light expanded beneath his closed eyelids, widening outward to infinity. Then—nothing . . .

The brazen clamor of the alarm dragged him back from his dreamless sleep. He was instantly awake, his eyes scanning the instrument panel. Only two hours had passed—but above the accelerometer, a red light was flashing. Thrust was falling; Diana was losing power.


Merton’s first thought was that something had happened to the sail; perhaps the anti-spin devices had failed and the rigging had become twisted. Swiftly, he checked the meters that showed the tension in the shroud lines. Strange, on one side of the sail they were reading normally—but on the other, the pull was dropping slowly even as he watched.

In sudden understanding, Merton grabbed the periscope, switched to wide-angle vision, and started to scan the edge of the sail. Yes—there was the trouble, and it could have only one cause.

A huge, sharp-edged shadow had begun to slide across the gleaming silver of the sail. Darkness was falling upon Diana, as if a cloud had passed between her and the sun. And in the dark, robbed of the rays that drove her, she would lose all thrust and drift helplessly through space.

But, of course, there were no clouds here, more than twenty thousand miles above Earth. If there was a shadow, it must be made by man.

Merton grinned as he swung the periscope toward the sun, switching in the filters that would allow him to look full into its blazing face without being blinded.

“Maneuver 4a,” he muttered to himself. “We’ll see who can play best at that game.”

It looked as if a giant planet was crossing the face of the sun. A great black disk had bitten deep into its edge. Twenty miles astern, Gossamer was trying to arrange an artificial eclipse—specially for Diana’s benefit.

The maneuver was a perfectly legitimate one; back in the days of ocean racing, skippers had often tried to rob each other of the wind. With any luck, you could leave your rival becalmed, with his sails collapsing around him—and be well ahead before he could undo the damage.

Merton had no intention of being caught so easily. There was plenty of time to take evasive action; things happened very slowly when you were running a solar sailing boat. It would be at least twenty minutes before Gossamer could slide completely across the face of the sun, and leave him in darkness.


Diana’s tiny computer—the size of a matchbox, but the equivalent of a thousand human mathematicians—considered the problem for a full second and then flashed the answer. He’d have to open control panels three and four, until the sail had developed an extra twenty degrees of tilt; then the radiation pressure would blow him out of Gossamer’s dangerous shadow, back into the full blast of the sun. It was a pity to interfere with the autopilot, which had been carefully programmed to give the fastest possible run—but that, after all, was why he was here. This was what made solar yachting a sport, rather than a battle between computers.

Out went control lines one to six, slowly undulating like sleepy snakes as they momentarily lost their tension. Two miles away, the triangular panels began to open lazily, spilling sunlight through the sail. Yet, for a long time, nothing seemed to happen. It was hard to grow accustomed to this slow-motion world, where it took minutes for the effects of any action to become visible to the eye. Then Merton saw that the sail was indeed tipping toward the sun—and that Gossamer’s shadow was sliding harmlessly away, its cone of darkness lost in the deeper night of space.

Long before the shadow had vanished and the disk of the sun had cleared again, he reversed the tilt and brought Diana back on course. Her new momentum would carry her clear of the danger; no need to overdo it, and upset his calculations by side-stepping too far. That was another rule that was hard to learn. The very moment you had started something happening in space, it was already time to think about stopping it.

He reset the alarm, ready for the next natural or man-made emergency; perhaps Gossamer, or one of the other contestants, would try the same trick again. Meanwhile, it was time to eat, though he did not feel particularly hungry. One used little physical energy in space, and it was easy to forget about food. Easy—and dangerous; for when an emergency arose, you might not have the reserves needed to deal with it.

He broke open the first of the meal packets, and inspected it without enthusiasm. The name on the label—spacetasties—was enough to put him off. And he had grave doubts about the promise printed underneath. Guaranteed Crumbless. It had been said that crumbs were a greater danger to space vehicles than meteorites. They could drift into the most unlikely places, causing short circuits, blocking vital jets that were supposed to be hermetically sealed.

Still, the liverwurst went down pleasantly enough; so did the chocolate and the pineapple puree. The plastic coffee bulb was warming on the electric heater when the outside world broke in on his solitude. The radio operator on the Commodore’s launch routed a call to him.

“Dr. Merton? If you can spare the time, Jeremy Blair would like a few words with you.” Blair was one of the more responsible news commentators, and Merton had been on his program many times. He could refuse to be interviewed, of course, but he liked Blair, and at the moment he could certainly not claim to be too busy. “I’ll take it,” he answered.

“Hello, Dr. Merton,” said the commentator immediately. “Glad you can spare a few minutes. And congratulations—you seem to be ahead of the field.”

“Too early in the game to be sure of that,” Merton answered cautiously.

“Tell me, doctor—why did you decide to sail Diana yourself? Just because it’s never been done before?”


“Well, isn’t that a very good reason? But it wasn’t the only one, of course.” He paused, choosing his words carefully. “You know how critically the performance of a sun yacht depends on its mass. A second man, with all his supplies, would mean another five hundred pounds. That could easily be the difference between winning and losing.”

“And you’re quite certain that you can handle Diana alone?”

“Reasonably sure, thanks to the automatic controls I’ve designed. My main job is to supervise and make decisions.”

“But—two square miles of sail! It just doesn’t seem possible for one man to cope with all that!”

Merton laughed. “Why not? Those two square miles produce a maximum pull of just ten pounds. I can exert more force with my little finger.”

“Well, thank you, doctor. And good luck.”

As the commentator signed off, Merton felt a little ashamed of himself. For his answer had been only part of the truth; and he was sure that Blair was shrewd enough to know it.

There was just one reason why he was here, alone in space. For almost forty years he had worked with teams of hundreds or even thousands of men, helping to design the most complex vehicles that the world had ever seen. For the last twenty years he had led one of those teams, and watched his creations go soaring to the stars. (But there were failures that he could never forget, even though the fault had not been his.) He was famous, with a successful career behind him. Yet he had never done anything by himself; always he had been one of an army.

This was his very last chance of individual achievement, and he would share it with no one. There would be no more solar yachting for at least five years, as the period of the quiet sun ended and the cycle of bad weather began, with radiation storms bursting through the solar system. When it was safe again for these frail, unshielded craft to venture aloft, he would be too old. If, indeed, he was not too old already . . .

He dropped the empty food containers into the waste disposal, and turned once more to the periscope. At first, he could find only five of the other yachts; there was no sign of Woomera. It took him several minutes to locate her—a dim, star-eclipsing phantom, neatly caught in the shadow of Lebedev. He could imagine the frantic efforts the Australasians were making to extricate themselves, and wondered how they had fallen into the trap. It suggested that Lebedev was unusually maneuverable; she would bear watching, though she was too far away to menace Diana at the moment.

* * *

Now Earth had almost vanished. It had waned to a narrow, brilliant bow of light that was moving steadily toward the sun. Dimly outlined within that burning bow was the night side of the planet, with the phosphorescent gleams of great cities showing here and there through gaps in the clouds. The disk of darkness had already blanked out a huge section of the Milky Way; in a few minutes, it would start to encroach upon the sun.

The light was fading. A purple, twilight hue—the glow of many sunsets, thousands of miles below—was falling across the sail, as Diana slipped silently into the shadow of Earth. The sun plummeted below that invisible horizon. Within minutes, it was night.


Merton looked back along the orbit he had traced now a quarter of the way around the world. One by one he saw the brilliant stars of the other yachts wink out, as they joined him in the brief night. It would be an hour before the sun emerged from that enormous black shield, and through all that time they would be completely helpless, coasting without power.

He switched on the external spotlight and started to search the now darkened sail with its beam. Already, the thousands of acres of film were beginning to wrinkle and become flaccid; the shroud lines were slackening, and must be wound in lest they become entangled. But all this was expected; everything was going as planned.

Forty miles astern, Arachne and Santa Maria were not so lucky. Merton learned of their troubles when the radio burst into life on the emergency circuit.

“Number Two, Number Six—this is Control. You are on a collision course. Your orbits will intersect in sixty-five minutes! Do you require assistance?”

There was a long pause while the two skippers digested this bad news. Merton wondered who was to blame; perhaps one yacht had been trying to shadow the other, and had not completed the maneuver before they were both caught in darkness. Now there was nothing that either could do; they were slowly but inexorably converging, unable to change course by a fraction of a degree.

Yet, sixty-five minutes! That would just bring them out into sunlight again, as they emerged from the shadow of Earth. They still had a slim chance, if their sails could snatch enough power to avoid a crash. There must be some frantic calculations going on, aboard Arachne and Santa Maria.

Arachne answered first; her reply was just what Merton had expected.

“Number Six calling Control. We don’t need assistance, thank you. We’ll work this out for ourselves.”

I wonder, thought Merton. But at least it will be interesting to watch. The first real drama of the race was approaching—exactly above the line of midnight on sleeping Earth.

For the next hour, Merton’s own sail kept him too busy to worry about Arachne and Santa Maria. It was hard to keep a good watch on that fifty million square feet of dim plastic out there in the darkness, illuminated only by his narrow spotlight and the rays of the still distant moon. From now on, for almost half his orbit around Earth, he must keep the whole of this immense area edge-on to the sun. During the next twelve or fourteen hours, the sail would be a useless encumbrance; for he would be heading into the sun, and its rays could only drive him backward along his orbit. It was a pity that he could not furl the sail completely, until he was ready to use it again. But no one had yet found a practical way of doing this.

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Far below, there was the first hint of dawn along the edge of Earth. In ten minutes, the sun would emerge from its eclipse; the coasting yachts would come to life again as the blast of radiation struck their sails. That would be the moment of crisis for Arachne and Santa Maria—and, indeed, for all of them.

Merton swung the periscope until he found the two dark shadows drifting against the stars. They were very close together—perhaps less than three miles apart. They might, he decided, just be able to make it . . .

Dawn flashed like an explosion along the rim of Earth, as the sun rose out of the Pacific. The sail and shroud lines glowed a brief crimson, then gold, then blazed with the pure white light of day. The needles of the dynamometers began to lift from their zeros—but only just. Diana was still almost completely weightless, for with the sail pointing toward the sun, her acceleration was now only a few millionths of a gravity.

But Arachne and Santa Maria were crowding on all the sail they could manage, in their desperate attempt to keep apart. Now, while there was less than two miles between them, their glittering plastic clouds were unfurling and expanding with agonizing slowness, as they felt the first delicate push of the sun’s rays. Almost every TV screen on Earth would be mirroring this protracted drama; and even now, at this very last minute, it was impossible to tell what the outcome would be.

The two skippers were stubborn men. Either could have cut his sail, and fallen back to give the other a chance; but neither would do so. Too much prestige, too many millions, too many reputations were at stake. And so, silently and softly as snowflakes falling on a winter night, Arachne and Santa Maria collided.

The square kite crawled almost imperceptibly into the circular spider’s web; the long ribbons of the shroud lines twisted and tangled together with dreamlike slowness. Even aboard Diana, busy with his own rigging, Merton could scarcely tear his eyes away from this silent, long-drawn-out disaster.

For more than ten minutes the billowing, shining clouds continued to merge into one inextricable mass. Then the crew capsules tore loose and went their separate ways, missing each other by hundreds of yards. With a flare of rockets, the safety launches hurried to pick them up.

That leaves five of us, thought Merton. He felt sorry for the skippers who had so thoroughly eliminated each other, only a few hours after the start of the race; but they were young men, and would have another chance.

Within minutes, the five had dropped to four. From the very beginning, Merton had had doubts about the slowly rotating Sunbeam. Now he saw them justified.


The Martian ship had failed to tack properly; her spin had given her too much stability. Her great ring of a sail was turning to face the sun, instead of being edge-on to it. She was being blown back along her course at almost her maximum acceleration.

That was about the most maddening thing that could happen to a skipper—worse even than a collision, for he could blame only himself. But no one would feel much sympathy for the frustrated colonials, as they dwindled slowly astern. They had made too many brash boasts before the race, and what had happened to them was poetic justice.

Yet it would not do to write off Sunbeam completely. With almost half a million miles still to go, she might still pull ahead. Indeed, if there were a few more casualties, she might be the only one to complete the race. It had happened before.

However, the next twelve hours were uneventful, as Earth waxed in the sky from new to full. There was little to do while the fleet drifted around the unpowered half of its orbit, but Merton did not find the time hanging heavily on his hands. He caught a few hours’ sleep, ate two meals, wrote up his log, and became involved in several more radio interviews. Sometimes, though rarely, he talked to the other skippers, exchanging greetings and friendly taunts. But most of the time he was content to float in weightless relaxation, beyond all the cares of Earth, happier than he had been for many years. He was—as far as any man could be in space—master of his own fate, sailing the ship upon which he had lavished so much skill, so much love, that she had become part of his very being.

The next casualty came when they were passing the line between Earth and sun, and were just beginning the powered half of the orbit. Aboard Diana, Merton saw the great sail stiffen as it tilted to catch the rays that drove it. The acceleration began to climb up from the microgravities, though it would be hours yet before it would reach its maximum value.

It would never reach it for Gossamer. The moment when power came on again was always critical, and she failed to survive it.

Blair’s radio commentary, which Merton had left running at low volume, alerted him with the news: “Hello, Gossamer has the wriggles!” He hurried to the periscope, but at first could see nothing wrong with the great circular disk of Gossamer’s sail. It was difficult to study it, as it was almost edge-on to him and so appeared as a thin ellipse; but presently he saw that it was twisting back and forth in slow, irresistible oscillations. Unless the crew could damp out these waves, by properly timed but gentle tugs on the shroud lines, the sail would tear itself to pieces.


They did their best, and after twenty minutes it seemed that they had succeeded. Then, somewhere near the center of the sail, the plastic film began to rip. It was slowly driven outward by the radiation pressure like smoke coiling upward from a fire. Within a quarter of an hour, nothing was left but the delicate tracery of the radial spars that had supported the great web. Once again there was a flare of rockets, as a launch moved in to retrieve the Gossamer’s capsule and her dejected crew.

“Getting rather lonely up here, isn’t it?” said a conversational voice over the ship-to-ship radio.

“Not for you, Dimitri,” retorted Merton. “You’ve still got company back there at the end of the field. I’m the one who’s lonely, up here in front.” It was not an idle boast. By this time Diana was three hundred miles ahead of the next competitor, and his lead should increase still more rapidly in the hours to come.


Aboard Lebedev, Dimitri Markoff gave a good-natured chuckle. He did not sound, Merton thought, at all like a man who had resigned himself to defeat.

“Remember the legend of the tortoise and the hare,” answered the Russian. “A lot can happen in the next quarter-million miles.”

It happened much sooner than that, when they had completed their first orbit of Earth and were passing the starting line again—though thousands of miles higher, thanks to the extra energy the sun’s rays had given them. Merton had taken careful sights on the other yachts, and had fed the figures into the computer. The answer it gave for Woomera was so absurd that he immediately did a recheck.

There was no doubt of it—the Australasians were catching up at a fantastic rate. No solar yacht could possibly have such an acceleration, unless—

A swift look through the periscope gave the answer. Woomera’s rigging, pared back to the very minimum of mass, had given way. It was her sail alone, still maintaining its shape, that was racing up behind him like a handkerchief blown before the wind. Two hours later it fluttered past, less than twenty miles away. But long before that, the Australasians had joined the growing crowd aboard the Commodore’s launch.

So now it was a straight fight between Diana and Lebedev—for though the Martians had not given up, they were a thousand miles astern and no longer counted as a serious threat. For that matter, it was hard to see what Lebedev could do to overtake Diana’s lead. But all the way around the second lap—through eclipse again, and the long, slow drift against the sun—Merton felt a growing unease.

He knew the Russian pilots and designers. They had been trying to win this race for twenty years, and after all, it was only fair that they should, for had not Pyotr Nikolayevich Lebedev been the first man to detect the pressure of sunlight, back at the very beginning of the twentieth century? But they had never succeeded.

And they would never stop trying. Dimitri was up to something—and it would be spectacular.

Aboard the official launch, a thousand miles behind the racing yachts, Commodore van Stratten looked at the radiogram with angry dismay. It had traveled more than a hundred million miles, from the chain of solar observatories swinging high above the blazing surface of the sun, and it brought the worst possible news.

The Commodore—his title, of course, was purely honorary; back on Earth he was Professor of Astrophysics at Harvard—had been half-expecting it. Never before had the race been arranged so late in the season; there had been many delays, they had gambled, and now it seemed they might all lose.

Deep beneath the surface of the sun, enormous forces were gathering. At any moment, the energies of a million hydrogen bombs might burst forth in the awesome explosion known as a solar flare. Climbing at millions of miles an hour, an invisible fireball many times the size of Earth would leap from the sun and head out across space.

The cloud of electrified gas would probably miss Earth completely. But if it did not, it would arrive in just over a day. Spaceships could protect themselves, with their shielding and their powerful magnetic screen. But the lightly built solar yachts, with their paper-thin walls, were defenseless against such a menace. The crews would have to be taken off, and the race abandoned.


John Merton still knew nothing of this as he brought Diana around Earth for the second time. If all went well, this would be the last circuit, both for him and for the Russians. They had spiraled upward by thousands of miles, gaining energy from the sun’s rays. On this lap, they should escape from Earth completely—and head outward on the long run to the moon. It was a straight race now. Sunbeam’s crew had finally withdrawn, exhausted, after battling valiantly with their spinning sail for more than a hundred thousand miles.

Merton did not feel tired; he had eaten and slept well, and Diana was behaving herself admirably. The autopilot, tensioning the rigging like a busy little spider, kept the great sail trimmed to the sun more accurately than any human skipper. Though by this time the two square miles of plastic sheet must have been riddled by hundreds of micrometeorites, the pin-head-sized punctures had produced no falling off to thrust.

He had only two worries. The first was shroud line number eight, which could no longer be adjusted properly. Without any warning, the reel had jammed; even after all these years of astronautical engineering, bearings sometimes seized up in vacuum. He could neither lengthen nor shorten the line, and would have to navigate as best he could with the others. Luckily, the most difficult maneuvers were over. From now on, Diana would have the sun behind her as she sailed straight down the solar wind. And as the old-time sailors often said, it was easy to handle a boat when the wind was blowing over your shoulder.

His other worry was Lebedev, still dogging his heels three hundred miles astern. The Russian yacht had shown remarkable maneuverability thanks to the four great panels that could be tilted around the central sail. All her flip-overs as she rounded Earth had been carried out with superb precision; but to gain maneuverability she must have sacrificed speed. You could not have it both ways. In the long, straight haul ahead, Merton should be able to hold his own. Yet he could not be certain of victory until, three or four days from now, Diana went flashing past the far side of the moon.

And then, in the fiftieth hour of the race, near the end of the second orbit around Earth, Markoff sprang his little surprise.

“Hello, John,” he said casually, over the ship-to-ship circuit. “I’d like you to watch this. It should be interesting.”

Merton drew himself across to the periscope and turned up the magnification to the limit. There in the field of view, a most improbable sight against the background of the stars, was the glittering Maltese cross of Lebedev, very small but very clear. And then, as he watched, the four arms of the cross slowly detached themselves from the central square and went drifting away, with all their spars and rigging, into space.

Markoff had jettisoned all unnecessary mass, now that he was coming up to escape velocity and need no longer plod patiently around Earth, gaining momentum on each circuit. From now on, Lebedev would be almost unsteerable—but that did not matter. All the tricky navigation lay behind her. It was as if an old-time yachtsman had deliberately thrown away his rudder and heavy keel—knowing that the rest of the race would be straight downwind over a calm sea.

“Congratulations, Dimitri,” Merton radioed. “It’s a neat trick. But it’s not good enough—you can’t catch up now.”


“I’ve not finished yet,” the Russian answered. “There’s an old winter’s tale in my country, about a sleigh being chased by wolves. To save himself, the driver has to throw off the passengers one by one. Do you see the analogy?”

Merton did, all too well. On this final lap, Dimitri no longer needed his co-pilot. Lebedev could really be stripped down for action.

“Alexis won’t be very happy about this,” Merton replied. “Besides, it’s against the rules.”

“Alexis isn’t happy, but I’m the captain. He’ll just have to wait around for ten minutes until the Commodore picks him up. And the regulations say nothing about the size of the crew—you should know that.”

Merton did not answer. He was too busy doing some hurried calculations, based on what he knew of Lebedev’s design. By the time he had finished, he knew that the race was still in doubt. Lebedev would be catching up with him at just about the time he hoped to pass the moon.

But the outcome of the race was already being decided, ninety-two million miles away.


On Solar Observatory Three, far inside the orbit of Mercury, the automatic instruments recorded the whole history of the flare. A hundred million square miles of the sun’s surface suddenly exploded in such blue-white fury that, by comparison, the rest of the disk paled to a dull glow. Out of that seething inferno, twisting and turning like a living creature, in the magnetic fields of its own creation, soared the electrified plasma of the great flare. Ahead of it, moving at the speed of light, went the warning flash of ultraviolet and x-rays. That would reach Earth in eight minutes, and was relatively harmless. Not so the charged atoms that were following behind at their leisurely four million miles an hour—and which, in just over a day, would engulf Diana, Lebedev, and their accompanying little fleet in a cloud of lethal radiation.

The Commodore left his decision to the last possible minute. Even when the jet of plasma had been tracked past the orbit of Venus, there was a chance that it might miss Earth. But when it was less than four hours away, and had already been picked up by the moon-based radar network, he knew that there was no hope. All solar sailing was over for the next five or six years until the sun was quiet again.

A great sigh of disappointment swept across the solar system. Diana and Lebedev were halfway between Earth and moon, running neck and neck—and now no one would ever know which was the better boat. The enthusiasts would argue the result for years; history would merely record: race cancelled owing to solar storm.


When John Merton received the order, he felt a bitterness he had not known since childhood. Across the years, sharp and clear, came the memory of his tenth birthday. He had been promised an exact scale model of the famous spaceship Morning Star, and for weeks had been planning how he would assemble it, where he would hang it up in his bedroom. And then, at the last moment, his father had broken the news. “I’m sorry, John—it costs too much money. Maybe next year . . .”

Half a century and a successful lifetime later, he was a heartbroken boy again.

For a moment, he thought of disobeying the Commodore. Suppose he sailed on, ignoring the warning? Even if the race were abandoned, he could make a crossing to the moon that would stand in the record books for generations.

But that would be worse than stupidity. It would be suicide—and a very unpleasant form of suicide. He had seen men die of radiation poisoning, when the magnetic shielding of their ships had failed in deep space. No—nothing was worth that . . .

He felt as sorry for Dimitri Markoff as for himself; they both deserved to win, and now victory would go to neither. No man could argue with the sun in one of its rages, even though he might ride upon its beams to the edge of space.

Only fifty miles astern now, the Commodore’s launch was drawing alongside Lebedev, preparing to take off her skipper. There went the silver sail, as Dimitri—with feeling that he would share—cut the rigging. The tiny capsule would be taken back to Earth, perhaps to be used again—but a sail was spread for one voyage only.

He could press the jettison button now, and save his rescuers a few minutes of time. But he could not do so. He wanted to stay aboard to the very end, on the little boat that had been for so long a part of his dreams and his life. The great sail was spread now at right angles to the sun, exerting its utmost thrust. Long ago it had torn him clear of Earth—and Diana was still gaining speed.

Then, out of nowhere, beyond all doubt or hesitation, he knew what must be done. For the last time, he sat down before the computer that had navigated him halfway to the moon.

When he had finished, he packed the log and his few personal belongings. Clumsily—for he was out of practice, and it was not an easy job to do by oneself—he climbed into the emergency survival suit.

He was just sealing the helmet when the Commodore’s voice called over the radio. “We’ll be alongside in five minutes, Captain. Please cut your sail so we won’t foul it.”

John Merton, first and last skipper of the sun yacht Diana, hesitated for a moment. He looked for the last time around the tiny cabin, with its shining instruments and its neatly arranged controls, now all locked in their final positions. Then he said to the microphone: “I’m abandoning ship. Take your time to pick me up. Diana can look after herself.”

There was no reply from the Commodore, and for that he was grateful. Professor van Stratten would have guessed what was happening—and would know that, in these final moments, he wished to be left alone.

He did not bother to exhaust the airlock, and the rush of escaping gas blew him gently out into space; the thrust he gave her then was his last gift to Diana. She dwindled away from him, sail glittering splendidly in the sunlight that would be hers for centuries to come. Two days from now she would flash past the moon; but the moon, like Earth, could never catch her. Without his mass to slow her down, she would gain two thousand miles an hour in every day of sailing. In a month, she would be traveling faster than any ship that man had ever built.


As the sun’s rays weakened with distance, so her acceleration would fall. But even at the orbit of Mars, she would be gaining a thousand miles an hour in every day. Long before then, she would be moving too swiftly for the sun itself to hold her. Faster than any comet that had ever streaked in from the stars, she would be heading out into the abyss.

The glare of rockets, only a few miles away, caught Merton’s eye. The launch was approaching to pick him up at thousands of times the acceleration that Diana could ever attain. But engines could burn for a few minutes only, before they exhausted their fuel—while Diana would still be gaining speed, driven outward by the sun’s eternal fires, for ages yet to come.

“Goodbye, little ship,” said John Merton. “I wonder what eyes will see you next, how many thousand years from now.”

At last he felt at peace, as the blunt torpedo of the launch nosed up beside him. He would never win the race to the moon; but his would be the first of all man’s ships to set sail on the long journey to the stars.



Get the Scoop On Max Brallier’s Latest Book, ‘Galactic Hot Dogs.’


Author Max Brallier has written more than twenty books, including the pick-your-own-path adventure Can YOU Survive the Zombie Apocalypse? and several interactive max-brallier-75371836_bannerAdventure Time novels. He’s also a game designer for the incredible gaming site Poptropica.

Galactic Hot Dogs, his latest book, is in stores now. It’s the hilariously wacky, epically intergalactic, overwhelmingly unputdownable tale of a boy named Cosmoe and his flying food truck. (Click here for a chance to win a copy.)

Want more? You’re in luck. Max Brallier took some time out of his busy schedule to chat about Galactic Hot Dogs, Star Wars and the Boston Celtics.



What can you tell us about Galactic Hot Dogs?

Galactic Hot Dogs is a little bit Star Wars, a little bit Guardians of the Galaxy, a little bit Captain Underpants, and a whole lot of weirdness. This goofy, funny, action-packed space story follows the adventures Cosmoe the Earth-Boy and the crew of the Neon Wiener, a flying food truck that sells funky hot dogs and weird alien milkshakes.

The action starts when Cosmoe and his two best buddies stumble upon a long-lost spaceship full of zombie space pirates, where they discover a long-lost map that leads to something called The Ultimate Evil. Now, they’re on the run from a massive squad of bounty hunters and an entire evil army! As they flee across the galaxy, they battle evil robots, wrestle giant mutant worms, stumble into the galaxy’s strangest videogame, and more —all while on the hunt for the mysterious Ultimate Evil. 


It’s a one-of-a-kind story. How did you come up with the idea?

It really came to me super easily – I just slammed together the three ultimate loves of my life: action-packed space adventure, mouth-watering hot dogs, and goofy humor! I came up with a really fun crew of silly best friends and then threw them into a past-faced, really exciting, really funny adventure. At least, I think it’s exciting and funny – but I may be biased.


What makes writing for kids so fun?

No joke, it’s just like writing for myself. I don’t know what adults like and I don’t what they want. I would have a horrible time ever trying to write a serious book for adults. Writing for kids and teens is just fun — it’s all about tapping into my inner child. And that’s not hard — I’m basically a kid. When I’m not writing, I’m busy playing videogames, collecting action figures, and rooting way too hard for my favorite sports teams.

I was a constant daydreamer as a kid. Sitting in class, sitting on the bus, laying in bed, goofing around at summer camp — I was always daydreaming. And when daydreaming, I was usually imagining myself in the middle of some crazy, bonkers adventure with my best friends. By the way, that adventure usually involved either Indiana Jones or Wolverine or both. So when I’m writing, I just do the same thing: I shut my eyes and I just think, man, what would be really funny? What would be a really great action scene? What would two best buddies say to each other if they were staring down a giant spider beast? I just think about what I would want to read — and I do my best to write it!


What are some of your favorite kid/young adult books?

My favorite series of all time is either Jeff Smith’s BONE series or Herge’s Tintin series. I’m really into AMULET right now — I’ve totally fallen in love with the world Kazu Kabushi has created. Of all the recent, fantastic YA books out there, I think The Maze Runner is probably my favorite — I loved the mystery behind the dystopia and it had me flipping pages like a mad man. I think maybe the best American writing of all time can be found in Bill Watterson’s Calvin & Hobbes. I always enjoy Big Nate, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Timmy Failure — and I’m always inspired by their brilliant, hilarious storytelling.


What can we expect next from the Galactic Hot Dogs series?

Book 2 is being released LIVE at GalacticHotDogs.com, so you can follow along with the adventure there. I can’t tell you TOO much, that would be spoiling the fun — but here’s a little peak: it involves a freaky space circus that’s full of giganto monsters, robotic clowns, and all sorts of strange, mysterious characters. Also, action and jokes. Tons of action and jokes.


What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

In no particular order, videogames (I’m addicted to Destiny right now), ping-pong, riding my bike, the Boston Celtics, reading, movies movies movies, collecting 1980s action figures, Frisbee, Pittsburgh sports, oversleeping, exploring big cities and new places, chocolate, milkshakes, chilling out.


Finally, finish this sentence: “He woke up falling from the sky…

and he realized with sudden horror: skydiving is a very poor choice of hobby for a narcoleptic.”