Teaser extract from J. M. McDermott's NIRVANA GATES

Nirvana Gates is a new novella set in the ongoing Fathomless Abyss series. With this one, J. M. McDermott expands this growing shared-world collective created by Phil Athans, J.M. McDermott, Mike Resnick, Brad R.Torgersen, Jay Lake, Mel Odom, and Cat Rambo.

So that potential readers could learn more about this shared-world collective, I invited a few of its creators to tell us more about it:


The Fathomless Abyss is an experiment in group-self-publishing.

Philip Athans, author and series editor: With the “E-book Revolution” in full force, authors, publishers, and readers alike are starting to not only question the previous generations’ definitions of what a book is, how much it should cost, who gets paid what and when, and so on, but a lot of us are starting to venture into the uncharted waters of the future of publishing. This whole thing is a bit of a flyer—an experiment in how a group of creative people can work together to develop something that would be in equal parts too ambitious (too many personalities and too much up-front money) and too small-scale (novellas in the 20,000-30,000 word range as opposed to novels of 90,000 or more words) for “traditional” publishers.

J.M. McDermott, author: He puts the words “traditional” in quotation marks. Look, Phil ran one of the largest publishing houses in fantasy fiction for years, as managing editor of Wizards of the Coast’s fiction line. This is a very traditional project, indeed, though it is part of a different set of traditions. The word “Indie” used to mean something about hand-stapled, un-conglomerated, original, and experimental works that the mainstream media delivery mechanisms couldn’t handle well with existing systems. We’re following the traditions of the Indie houses, experimenting and iterating. The only difference, now, is that we are delivering electrons instead of photocopied ’zines, or hand-stapled chapbooks, furtively left on coffee shop tables, hoping someone else will catch the story, catch the idea. Unfortunately, it’s easier than ever to play into this tradition—no walking around and hand-selling to record stores and coffee houses that have seen it all, heard it all—and we’re simply not the DIY people of ten and twenty years ago. But, we’re putting out quality product in an innovative way, attempting to do more than what the major categories of markets permit with their marketing budget and sales force and distribution networks. We are traditional publishing. It’s a tradition even older than what we call publishing. We’re hustlers of fiction. We’re hustling.

Athans: We started with the germ of an idea that I’d been mulling over for years: A (literally) bottomless pit opens up to reveal whole cultures clinging to the sides of it, people of various sorts making their way in this hostile environment. When I ran that past “the collective,” the germ started multiplying and mutating as files and notes were passed through cyberspace, ending up as the first draft of a world “bible” that got us started with short stories. Those stories were collected in Tales From the Fathomless Abyss, the first release in the series.

Cat Rambo, author: I find writing in this world weirdly freely because the premise is so wacky that I can do anything. While things have to have resonance, some underlying sense of meaning, you can still go in directions that you couldn't in fiction tending harder to the realist tradition.

McDermott: Everywhere in the world, all the time, there are these weird situations where people just go missing. Sometimes the body is found. Sometimes the person is found. Sometimes there’s just a puff of wind carrying a name searchers shout a while and then it’s as gone as the person. Where do they go? Where do all these people go?

Sometimes people disappear, and there isn’t a trace in this world. It isn’t rational to say it, but maybe there is more to this world and life of ours than what is merely rational. There is an abyss. People fall in sometimes, from all over. People get stuck and don’t come back out. And, if they do make it, their visions of an underworld—fae, inferno, yomi-no-kuni—are interpreted away as dream visions or theologies or near death experiences.

The abyss is a near death experience.

Athans: I acted as the series editor as well as one of the authors, so when it came time to start scheduling novellas, I put my money (or, more accurately, time) where my mouth is and volunteered to kick it off. That novella is Devils of the Endless Deep. After some negotiations and reconfiguring of schedules, and so on, J.M. McDermott got to the finish line next with Nirvana Gates, and I’ve only just received the first draft of A Seed on the Wind by Cat Rambo, which will be up for sale in October.

Rambo: I’ve been enjoying seeing what other people come up with and how we play off each other’s creations. It’s experimental in so many senses of the world, from writing to collaborative process to new publishing model.

McDermott: I’ll ride along until it’s not fun anymore. It’s been lots of fun, so far. It’s always nice to work out in indie publishing and have a fantastic cover and editor, right away. I’m waiting to decide what I will write next until after I read Cat Rambo’s novella. Her short story was strong, and I incorporated it into my own novella. What’s been really fun, for me, has been looking for ways to play with someone else’s toys. It’s been a huge challenge, but it’s also been huge fun. Publishing explodes and flowers and explodes again. I’m not too concerned about that. I just keep writing what interests me, and so far this project has really interested me.

Athans: I can’t wait to see where the rest of the authors, Mel Odom, Mike Resnick & Brad R. Torgersen, and Jay Lake take us next, but the potential for exploration in this wild fantasy setting, as it is with this just as wild post-apocalyptic publishing business, is truly fathomless.

Here's the blurb for Nirvana Gates:

She was born there, in the Smog, every day breathing more smoke than air. She was strange, even in a bottomless hell full of creatures from a million worlds. She was doomed to a life of servitude. She was lonely. She was worried about her dying father. She was suspicious of her lying mother. She was scared. She was getting angry.

And she wanted answers.

The Fathomless Abyss can open any time and anywhere, and things fall in, or crawl in, from a million worlds across a million years. Deep in the bottomless expanse of this impossible world lies a doorway to truth, or an entrance to an even worse hell.

Join ground-breaking fantasist J.M. McDermott, author of Last Dragon and the Dogsland Trilogy for a trip deep into the nightmare of self, and the burning desire for redemption.


One of them finished his tea. He put on small goggles over his eyes to peer down at me.

“What a filthy, ashy thing,” he said. “Its family keep chickens up there in the Smog, I understand?”

“We are ashegglers. My father keeps the chickens. My mother and I…” The pain in my leg silenced me. The guard had pinched me again with a metal glove over my wound. It reopened. I was bleeding again. My blood was tinged with black and green, but it was red like anyone’s. I didn’t deserve to be treated this way.

I bowed my head and waited for them to decide.

“Why do you think it did what it did to our brother?”

“It is Tabagie.”

“It was inside the house.”

“It hurt no guards to enter as a guest.”

“It was a thief.”

“It struck the house first, then our brother.”

“Thieves do not strike down houses.”

“The weapon was something special and rare.”

“No, there must be something else. Look at it. It would speak to us?”

I would before, but now I will not.

“It would speak to us?”

I kept my eyes down.

Let the guard strike me, then. Let them beat me down to a pulp.


Let them kill me.

“Our brother was known for his good relations with the Tabagie. He was kind. This is what happens. Tabagie kills him. It cannot be blamed for its actions. It is Tabagie.”

“It is.”

“It was in a gold master’s house.”


“It does what is in nature for Tabagie. Evil, sick, twisted…”

“No, it has reason. It has mind. It is smart to wear a mask in the Smog, sew it tight.”

“Spiders build gossamer webs of beauty and grace. They have no more mind than the flies they devour.”

“If a beast bites your brother, you kill it.”

“But if it has a brain, if it is no beast…?”

“Kill it.”

“No, speak with it. Learn what happened. Witness reports are confused. We knew our brother. He had…”

“Do not speak ill of the dead.”

“I speak truth in deliberations. Our brother had…”

“Do not say it.”

“There were no younglings kneeling at his forge. When the time for mates came, he would dance with none. Such a noble man, yet he had…”

I turned to the guard. “Must I stand here and listen to this?” I whispered.

The guard said nothing to me. He was a human with pale skin and blond hair. I was larger than this man. I was probably stronger than him. I could try to escape, even with my leg.

Maybe they wouldn’t come after me while they are too busy deliberating my fate.

“We know our brother is dead. Tabagie must know their place. Set an example. We should throw it over the edge.”

“It went over the side already, but did not die. Cut off its head.”

“Too messy. Stinky Tabagie blood hard to wash off the stone. Throw it over the side again. This time, if it is saved, it is fate.”

“Sell it to slavers. It is big, strong. Fetch a good price, and it goes away down the side.”

“Our brother is dead. It must die. Over the side, or the killing stone.”

“Let us decide later. Take it away.”

“It will die.

“Later it will die. Let it go back for now. We must ponder.”

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