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Historical Research Tips from Beth Cato

August 14, 2017

My friend Beth Cato is visiting my blog again, this time to share some tips on historical research! Her latest book, CALL OF FIRE, comes out on Tuesday. It’s the sequel to her acclaimed novel BREATH OF EARTH, which takes place in an alternate 1906 San Francisco. Both books required an incredible amount of research, and, well… I’ll let you tell her about it herself! She’ll also tell you how to get lost in the New York Public Library, even if you don’t live in New York. Here’s Beth:

My Blood of Earth trilogy has involved extensive, all-consuming levels of research. The first book, Breath of Earth, introduces an alternate history 1906 where the United States and Japan are allied and in the process of dominating mainland Asia. My newly-released second book, Call of Fire, takes my characters from San Francisco and into the Pacific Northwest.

I publish a research bibliography along with each book– which is also available on my website– and have now reached 70 sources, most of those being full books. I live in Arizona, so I can find the obscure books I need at the local library. I prefer paper books for research, as I can add bookmarks and Post-It notes with lists of relevant data. I buy used books as often as possible. Sometimes, though, the titles I want are impossible to find or way too expensive. This is when the internet has come to the rescue.

There are free, legally-available old books available through various sites. Amazon has a number of titles that are free Kindle downloads, though sometimes the formatting can be bizarre. is one of the oldest, most famous free book sites. I have found lots of interesting data through Google Books– but not in books, but in old magazines from the 1910s and 1920s. There are full magazines about real airship science! Look up “Aerial Age Weekly.”

However, I want to giddily share with you my new favorite site, one that proved to be a godsend as I worked on my third book in the series earlier this year.

The New York Public Library has scanned over 144,000 old titles and has them available on (Seriously, go there now: I won’t take
offense if you leave. This thing is glorious.)

What sets this site apart if the level of accessibility they have built in. You can flip through a book right on the screen, or choose among 10 download format options. You can grab a book in mobi (Kindle format) or epub (for Nook), or PDF, or full text. What I love about this is that I can conveniently read a book on the Kindle app on my iPad, and if I see a relevant bit of info I want to keep, I can search for it in the text version and easily copy/paste it into the doc files I use for worldbuilding. Mind you, the text files can be garbled sometimes, but the basic meaning still comes across. Many books are available there in multiple editions.

I’m sorry/not sorry if you now lose hours exploring the New York Public Library archive. It’s a wonderful place to procrastinate and work, all at the same time. Just like you might in any good library.


CallofFire_500x332At the end of Breath of Earth, Ingrid Carmichael had barely survived the earthquake that devastated San Francisco and almost crippled her with an influx of geomantic energy. With her friends Cy, Lee, and Fenris, she flees north, keenly aware that they are being pursued by Ambassador Blum, a cunning and dangerous woman who wants to use Ingrid’s abilities as the magical means to a devastating end.

Ingrid’s goals are simple: avoid capture that would cause her to be used as a weapon by the combined forces of the United States and Japan in their war against China, and find out more about the god-like powers she inherited from her estranged father. Most of all, she must avoid seismically active places. She doesn’t know what an intake of power will do to her body– or what damage she may unwillingly create.

A brief stopover in Portland turns disastrous when Lee and Fenris are kidnapped. To find and save her friends, Ingrid must ally with one of the most powerful and mysterious figures in the world: Ambassador Theodore Roosevelt.

Their journey together takes them north to Seattle, where Mount Rainier looms over the city. And Ingrid is all too aware that she may prove to be the fuse to alight both the long-dormant volcano…and a war that will sweep the world.

BethCato-steampunk-headshot100x150Nebula-nominated Beth Cato is the author of the Clockwork Dagger duology and the new Blood of Earth Trilogy from Harper Voyager. Her newest novel is CALL OF FIRE. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cat. Follow her at and on Twitter at @BethCato.



Choosing a narrator

July 25, 2017

All my books have audio versions available, which is a delight to me, since I love listening to audio books.  So far, however, I’ve had no input on who the reader is or any aspect of the performance.  For my new book coming in October, THE GENIUS PLAGUE, however, I’ve had the privilege of being consulted both on who will read the book and on various aspects of the performance.  The narrator will be Nick Thurston, a talented reader with a very pleasant voice that I think fits well with the main character of the book.  They start recording next week, and I can’t wait to hear it!


June 15, 2017

The publishing process is a long one, but it’s moving forward on schedule for THE GENIUS PLAGUE. We’re in the copyediting process right now, which addresses the details of punctuation and grammar and the consistency of details to make sure everything is perfect. (It’s amazing what an eye for detail copyeditors have!) Advance review copies are going out to garner reviews and recommendations and build a buzz. Over the coming months, the final version of the book will be locked down, the cover design and text finalized, and the book will go to the printers! Then, finally, on October 3 (with great fanfare), THE GENIUS PLAGUE will appear in bookstores around the country and be available for sale online in print, ebook, and audiobook formats.  I hope you will all find that it’s worth the wait.



April 8, 2017

THE GENIUS PLAGUE doesn’t come out until October, but I’ve just finished writing a new novel (yes, another one!), and I’m excited about it, so I’m going to talk about it anyway, even though it will be a while before it comes out.  (The traditional publishing business is slow.)  THREE LAWS LETHAL is a novel about self-driving cars, machine learning algorithms, and the development of artificial intelligence.  It’s a very near-future science fiction story, drawing from the latest technological advancements in machine learning algorithms, and exploring the promise of self-driving cars and the related legal and ethical issues.  It grapples with the meaning of consciousness and intelligence, and is my attempt to give serious consideration to the question of intelligent artificial life from both a technological and philosophical perspective.  How could it actually occur?  And how might our current technology lead there?

THREE LAWS LETHAL is a science fiction thriller about the life-and-death choices smart machines will make in our very near future.  It follows two rival entrepreneurs developing fleets of self-driving cars.  As they compete to dominate the market, their personal enmity pushes them to attack each other’s reputations, hack each other’s cars, and develop ever more sophisticated algorithms to keep their customers safe.  The result?  Intelligent computers that excel at using all available data to determine which humans should live, and which should die.


Cover reveal for THE GENIUS PLAGUE!

March 25, 2017

The cover for THE GENIUS PLAGUE has just been released to the world!  The art is by Eric Nyquist, who did the covers for Jeff Vandermeer’s ANNIHILATION series.  So why is there a giant mushroom with a map of the continents on it?  Read on…

Screenshot 2017-03-24 at 11.43.38 PM

What if the pandemic you thought would kill you made you more intelligent instead?  In the Amazon basin of South America, a disease is spreading.  It kills some, but to the many who survive, it grants astonishing powers of communication, memory, and pattern recognition.  But the miracle hides a sinister secret: it is the survival mechanism of a fungal organism, manipulating those it infects into serving its purposes.

THE GENIUS PLAGUE is a science fiction thriller about two brothers, one convinced the fungal host is the next stage of human evolution, and the other committed to its destruction.  As the pandemic sweeps the world, they must answer a crucial question: Is the human race the master in this symbiotic relationship?  Or are we becoming the pawns of a subtly dominating and utterly alien intelligence?

“What’s Your New Book About?”

February 18, 2017

I haven’t said a whole lot yet about my new book, THE GENIUS PLAGUE, which is coming out on October 3. My publisher’s marketing department asked me to list the major topics or themes that this book covers, so they know how to market it. This is what I told them. THE GENIUS PLAGUE is about:
– A pandemic that sweeps from country to country and into the US
– Alzheimer’s and issues of failing memory and elder care
– Medical experimentation and ethics
– Cryptography and code breaking
– The US intelligence community, particularly the NSA
– War and military technology, including computer technology
– Threat of nuclear disaster
– Linguistics, particularly the unique language traits found in isolated South American indigenous tribes

Chasing Shadows

December 15, 2016

51lrmahsf1lThe story list for the new Chasing Shadows anthology from Tor Books reads like a Who’s Who of award-winning, bestselling science fiction authors… and somehow I’ve got a story in there, too.  It’s a bit of a rush to share a table of contents with David Brin, Neal Stephenson, Vernor Vinge, William Gibson, Robert J. Sawyer, Gregory Benford, Damon Knight, Robert Silverberg, Bruce Sterling, and quite a few more.  There must be dozens of Hugo and Nebula awards represented by this list, and tens of millions of books sold.  It should be an incredible read.  The hardback goes on sale on January 10, but of course you can preorder the book any time!

The theme of the anthology is our increasingly transparent society, where cameras are smaller, surveillance cheaper, and our lives are more and more public on social media.  Where is it leading?  The dawn of Big Brother?  Or a billion little brothers, all spying on each other?  How will our society change?  This collection of stories and essays is the answer to this question, as envisioned by some of the best science fiction authors in the field.  Check it out!