The Widening Gyre Cover

Eight hundred years ago, the Zhen Empire discovered a broken human colony ship drifting in the fringes of their space. The Zhen gave the humans a place to live and folded them into their Empire as a client state. But it hasn’t been easy. Not all Zhen were eager to welcome another species into their Empire, and humans have faced persecution. For hundreds of years, human languages and history were outlawed subjects, as the Zhen tried to mold humans into their image. Earth and the cultures it nourished for millennia are forgotten, little more than legends.

One of the first humans to be allowed to serve in the Zhen military, Tajen Hunt became a war hero at the Battle of Elkari, the only human to be named an official Hero of the Empire. He was given command of a task force, and sent to do the Empire’s bidding in their war with the enigmatic Tabrans. But when he failed in a crucial mission, causing the deaths of millions of people, he resigned in disgrace and faded into life on the fringes as a lone independent pilot.

When Tajen discovers his brother, Daav, has been killed by agents of the Empire, he, his niece, and their newly-hired crew set out to finish his brother’s quest: to find Earth, the legendary homeworld of humanity. What they discover will shatter 800 years of peace in the Empire, and start a war that could be the end of the human race.

Purchase it here from Amazon.

An extract from the book

Slipspace is a funny thing. It makes interstellar journeys possible by vastly cutting down the time it takes to get from one star to another, but the jump isn’t instantaneous. It can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few months. The time in transit depends on several factors – distance is only one of them. Anyway, over the three weeks we were in transit from Kintar to Zhen:da, I got to know the crew. It was late in ship-night, and my new crew and I were chatting over the remains of our meal. There had been a few Zhen in earlier, and we’d waited for a table for over an hour as one of the Zhen groups sat around talking after having paid their bill, so we were taking our time in clearing out.

“Wait a minute,” drawled Liam, as he draped himself over his chair. “Are you seriously claiming that Kelvaki music is actually tolerable?” He shook his head sadly. “I hate to say it, Captain, but no true Scotsman could ever actually believe that.” He raised his glass, and my gaze locked for a moment on his bare bicep before I self-consciously forced myself to meet his eyes.

‘No true Scotsman’ was one of Liam’s favorite expressions. Like me, the tall, dark-haired man was an enthusiast of ancient Scottish heritage, which included a love of whisky, ancient music, and ridiculous hyperbole. He didn’t have the ancient Scots accent, of course, but apparently he’d learned it from old movies, and from time to time he’d drop into faking it. I, as a habitual imitator of accents, had picked it up, much to the annoyance of Takeshi.

“You can’t hold me as a ‘true Scotsman’, Liam. I was born on another planet, after all. As were you.”

“Yes, but the blood runs true, my friend,” he said in his affected brogue. “The blood runs true.”

“Aye, that i’does.”

“Gods of my ancestors,” Takeshi cried, and turned to Katherine.

“Now there are two of them! What were you thinking?” Katherine winked at her brother. “Hey, how was I to know these two idiots would bond so fast?”

Takeshi shoved his messy hair out of his eyes and turned to Ben imploringly. “Ben, surely you can stop them?”

“I could,” Ben said in his deep voice, pausing to take a sip of his whisky, “but I think they’re funny as hell.”

“You can’t stop me, old man!” Liam cried, pointing at Ben in challenge.

“The fact that I don’t get up and give you a good beating should not be taken as evidence that I am unable to do so,” Ben replied. I smiled at him. Despite the foot I’d put in my mouth when we first met, Ben and I had been friendly on the trip so far, and as we’d be living together for a while, I wanted to stay on his good side. The others continued talking as I pulled out my slate and began to call up information. I fell into a work trance until I felt pressure on my shoulder. I glanced left and nearly bumped Liam in the head when he leaned over to look at my screen. “What’s that?” he asked. Normally, I’d be irritated at someone getting in my space like that, but I’d already realized I had an issue with Liam. The man was just too cute, and too engaging, for me to get irritated by a little shoulder touching.

I was going to have to be very careful with this one.

“I’m looking over the specs for the ship, and comparing them to the service records my dad left behind,” I said. “Figuring out what needs to be done to get her spaceworthy. She’s been sitting in dry dock for years.”

“You don’t think your brother’s done it already?”

I snorted. “Daav’s a history professor, not a spacer. I’d be surprised if he even knows where the reactor is.”


FLAME TREE PRESS is the new fiction imprint of Flame Tree Publishing. Launching in 2018 the list brings together brilliant new authors and the more established; the award winners, and exciting, original voices.


Born in the San Francisco bay area and raised in Napa, California, Michael R. Johnston grew up steeped in everything Science Fiction and Fantasy from Asimov to Zelazny, as well as endless terrible SF TV shows he still has a slightly embarrassed fondness for.

Faced with the choice between moving back in with his parents and continuing school, or paying his rent, he took “a year” off from college. He spent time as a court process server, a retail sales associate, a sandwich maker, and a data entry tech, before finding himself in a management role. A decade later, burnt out from his job in political research and facing 30, he decided he’d had enough and returned to college, graduating with honors from California State University, Sacramento.

In fall 2006, he became a high school English teacher, a job he likens to herding a swarm of angry bees. It’s the best job he’s ever had.

In 2013, he attended the 17th Viable Paradise Science Fiction Writing Workshop. The experience of having his story critiqued by other writers, some of them professionals he’d been reading for years, helped him realize he could write professionally, and introduced him to some of his best friends.

He currently lives in Sacramento, California, with his wife and daughter. When he’s not writing or teaching, he spends time with his family, plays video games and tabletop RPGs (often with family), and reads.

He blogs at, and can be found on Twitter @MREJohnston.

Michael R Johnston Author Picture

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