In a war-ravaged future, Western America is a wasteland swarming with ravenous, cybernetic insects. Its few human survivors reside within computer-generated realities, unaware of their fate. 
 
Matthew Galbraith is an artificial intelligence from NorMec. Sent by the Cylebs in the east, he must search an ever-changing virtual world for a way to save his family and their home. But to learn the secrets of the past, he must first survive a living nightmare where even his soul can be rewritten.

 
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Story Notes: 
 
As I said in my notes for The Lies of the Sage, when I had reached a cliffhanger with about a hundred pages in my original draft to go, I decided to end it on a “To be continued.” I did this for two reasons. First of all, I was working full time, so this would have meant at least another year of rewriting and editing, if not more. Second, George R. R. Martin had made continuing novels popular again with A Song of Ice and Fire (known more popularly by the title of its first novel, A Game of Thrones,) so I decided to go the serialized route. 
 
I also had another unfinished, untitled novel which I had been working on for over a decade that dealt with many of the same themes: creation, psychology, religion, art, cause and effect, and cybernetic insects. I did not want to write a second novel and have it be said that I was just rehashing the first one, so I began to play with ways that I could incorporate it into the series. The original story had nothing to do with virtual reality. The monks and their Children were the results of biological engineering, and they truly were trying to rebuild the world.  
 
Bringing the novel into Debris of Shadows also solved another nasty problem with the original story: Asher had started out as the main protagonist, but he had become dark and vindictive to the point that it was impossible for readers to identify with him. His character had to be reined in a great amount. Another character had been written to be the morally ambiguous hero of the novel – a special ops agent who had escaped from a military installation. Her part was rewritten for Matthew to continue his adventures, which gave it more purpose. 
 
I planned to go back and forth between Matthew’s adventures in WesMec and the continuing adventures of Sigma, Zero, 0800, Alyanna, her daughter, and General Jaeger back in NorMec, but this proved far too unwieldy. I decided instead to focus on the story in WesMec, and save the rest for later. 
 
At 134.5+k words, this is my longest novel to date. My first draft was about 90k, a little more than Lies of the Sage. But as I worked on the second draft, the story kept growing. I spent about eighteen weeks unemployed this year, during which my days were spent writing and rewriting. After I went back to work in June, I spent the next four months editing and polishing on my morning commute. 
 
The hierarchy of monks owe more than a nod to Clive Barker, whose angels and devils all seem to have flesh that is mutilated and perverse. Also, I’ve always been fascinated by the subconscious mind, and stories in which characters physically explore it. I love books and films where reality is questioned. Throw in an interest in Simulism (the theory that we are living in a computer simulation which can be changed without our realizing it) and a fascination with causes and unforeseen effects, and you can see where the influences for this novel came from. 
 
A multitude of short background stories reside within the novel. They are a hodgepodge of stories that people have relayed to me over the years, some life experiences of my own, and figments of my imagination. But I guess that’s the way almost every writer works. I threw in a few nightmares that I’ve had as well – especially the plant-woman haunting the catacombs. Who knows, maybe she represents my vegetable aversion. 
 
As far as other real-life influences go, Abbot Dinah is based on a few bad bosses I've had the misfortune to deal with over the years, ones who for some reason seemed to deliberately want certain employees to fail. (I actually did have one frantically roll her eyes and go into a bizarre, enraged giggling fit when I attempted to be positive and told her that rising to the challenges of the job sounded like fun.) 
 
There were many pop-culture references in the first draft which, while my research told me that I was in the clear, I edited down to descriptions just to be on the safe side. Stephen King may be able to write stories where cyborgs dressed like Doctor Doom wield lightsabers and lob exploding Golden Snitches at their enemies, but his publisher has a much larger legal team than I do. The graphic novel that Roger steals from the library is the incomparable Maus by Art Spiegelman. (The fictional title Shitty Couplings actually refers to cheap EMT couplings that have been my bane on construction jobs, and not sex.) The video games mentioned are Pong and the first DOOM, and Tish's favorite book is, of course, Fred Gipson's classic novel Old Yeller
 
As for the remaining 100 or so pages from The Lies of the Sage, they will make their appearance in the final, yet unnamed third book of the series, along with the aforementioned new material I had written for The Forgotten Cathedral. I thank you for your interest, and hope you enjoy. 
 
P.S. Saint Dominic of Silos is, among other things, the patron saint for protection against insects. 
 
P.P.S. A special shout-out to my friends Masha and Waldo for your help with Russian and Spanish words and phrases (respectively.) Any mistakes or mistranslations are purely mine.