ZENN SCARLETT is the first novel in a Young Adult science fiction series. It’s part of a two book deal I signed recently with Strange Chemistry, the shiny new Young Adult SF&F imprint of Angry Robot Books, an award-winning genre publisher that most visitors to this site will already be well aware of. Honestly, after checking out the books/authors that Strange Chemistry editor Amanda Rutter has lined up, I couldn’t be more excited to be part of their first-year stable of novelists. Well, I could be more excited but it wouldn’t be attractive.
So, who is this Zenn Scarlett and what’s her dealeo? Zenn is a bright, determined, occasionally just-a-little-too-smart-for-her-own-good 17-year-old girl training hard to become an exoveterinarian specializing in the treatment of exotic alien life forms, mostly large (as in big-as-a-battleship) and often dangerous (as in venomous, carnivorous, ill-tempered, human-squashingly-clumsy or all of the above).
Ever since she was old enough to understand there was such a thing as an exoveterinarian, Zenn knew she would someday become an exovet like her mother. So it’s fortunate the Martian clinic run by her uncle is one of the most respected exovet training schools in the loose alliance of planets known as the Local Systems Accord. But the clinic has seen better days. And so, for that matter, has Mars. Ever since Earth closed its borders, the scattered colonies on Mars have grown increasingly desperate as they struggle to scratch a living from the hostile planet. And in the past few years, enrollment at the ancient Ciscan Cloister exovet school has basically dropped off a cliff. Now, in fact, Zenn is the cloister’s only remaining student.
Zenn has no time to be lonely, though; it’s her novice year, and she has her hands more than full working with everything from whalehounds the size of a hay barn to a baby Kiran Sunkiller, a colossal floating creature that will grow up to carry a whole sky-city on its back! But the most fascinating creature of all is the gargantuan Lithohippus Indra, the fabled “stonehorse,” the only animal ever to evolve the ability to tunnel through the very fabric of space-time. Able to transport a starliner across mind-boggling distances in the blink of an infra-red-sensing eye, Indra are the key to all interstellar travel. And while Indra-powered ships brought the dozen inhabited planets of the Accord together, lately this vital link has been threatened. Every now and then, without warning, an Indra ship, and everyone on it, disappears in mid-journey, never to be seen again, and no one knows why…
Zenn tries to keep her mind on her studies instead of these matters of intergalactic intrigue, but strange things are also happening around the Ciscan cloister clinic. It starts when she begins experiencing an inexplicable mental connection with some of the animals. She believes in science, though, and she tells herself there’s no such thing as telepathy, but she can’t deny that the feeling is real — and growing stronger and more disorienting every day.
As if that wasn’t enough, local towner kid Liam Tucker is acting annoyingly… friendly lately. Liam isn’t that bad. He makes an effort to understand the cloister’s work, the alien animals they treat, Zenn’s dedication to helping those animals. But Zenn has a rule about precisely this kind of thing. Friends, parents, the people you care about? They have a way of leaving, or dying, or disappointing you in ways you haven’t even imagined yet. So… no friends. That’s The Rule.
What’s even worse… and potentially life-threatening: the cloister’s animals have started escaping from their supposedly locked enclosures, gentle creatures are turning violent. And suddenly the school is in real danger of being shut down by the xenophobic, alien-hating council in the nearby village of Arsia. If that happens, Zenn knows only too well the grim fate awaiting the animals she loves. She’s got to unravel the baffling events plaguing the cloister, and the strange “linking” interludes she’s sharing with her animals, before someone is hurt or killed, before everything she loves is ripped away from her and her family forever. To solve these mysteries, Zenn will have to put her new exovet skills to work in ways she never imagined, and in the process learn just how powerful compassion and empathy can be.
Zenn Scarlett will catapult the reader into a wildly inventive universe teeming with astonishing creatures — think 200-foot-long swamp sloos and giant single-celled crypto-plasmoids big as a couch. But it’s also a world that feels instantly familiar — think fretting about homework and being continually surprised by the cluelessness of the adults in your family when it comes to understanding the real you.
Ultimately, Zenn’s story is about tolerance and understanding, about looking for the best in others, human and non-human alike. It’s about the things that draw us together instead of what drives us apart, about experiencing a future pulsing with thrills and danger, but also radiant with wonder and awe-inspiring evolutionary marvels.
Zenn Scarlett will hit print and digital download in all English-language territories in early May, 2013, with the second installment to follow the next year. It should be an interesting process, with a flurry of creative decisions to be made on everything from fine-grain story points and last-minute revisions to typography, layout, cover art and marketing platform, capped by a major-city, international book tour via Strange Chemistry’s crimson-and-black Lear Jet 3000-Kestrel with on-board Jacuzzi, expanded-range auxiliary fuel tanks, cool fuselage logo, etc. (OK… lied about the Lear Jet bit.) Anyway, be sure and check back here every now and then for the profoundly interesting (well, to me, at least….) updates. Thanks.