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Interview: Brian Trent on “Death on the Nefertem Express”

Tell us a bit about “Death on the Nefertem Express.”

A luxury train on another world must keep ahead of the deadly sunrise, treating its passengers to a thrilling and luxurious experience. When the train is sabotaged—and with just thirty minutes to spare before dawn breaks—it falls to space pirate Jolene Fort (“never convicted”) to solve the mystery.

Some readers may recall Miss Fort from my Galaxy’s Edge story “Breaking News Involving Space Pirates.”  She is part of an ongoing, planet-hopping series in which she finds herself embroiled in various mysteries… usually as an unwilling participant. Incidentally, “Breaking News Involving Space Pirates” will be republished later this year in the Cosmic Corsairs anthology from Baen Books.

“Death on the Nefertem Express” tells another Jolene Fort adventure, as she races against the clock to figure out who the saboteur is, why they would commit such a crime, and how to rescue the crew and passengers before it’s too late.


Ten Thousand ThundersWhat was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

It’s remarkable what several bottles of wine on a train can do for you.

As a kid, I grew up on a steady diet of mystery fiction. My mother was an aficionado of Daphne Du Maurier and Agatha Christie, which resulted in my exposure to both luminaries. Appetite whetted, I took on Poe’s Dupin stories. In one summer I tore through a Sherlock Holmes collection, and that autumn discovered a paperback of Father Brown mysteries. In my teenage years I moved on from “gentleman detectives” to the hardboiled variants of Raymond Chandler.

Then, with these nutrients swimming in my blood, I became a science fiction writer. Underlying both genres is a shared block of DNA, after all: the logical extrapolation from available facts. Much of my writing is fed by this taproot. My novel Ten Thousand Thunders is a sci-fi mystery, as is “The Memorybox Vultures” (published in F&SF in Sept/Oct 2018). I enjoy combining the genres, and created my Jolene Fort series to that end.

In 2019, I found myself on one of Connecticut’s only remaining steam trains. It was a far cry from the nation-hopping Orient Express, as Connecticut is a small state, and the train didn’t even complete a circle: its route was akin to the narrative topography of Mad Max: Fury Road: heading to one destination, hitting the brakes, and shifting into reverse. Nonetheless, there was wine. The trip was touted as a sunset, wine-sampling expedition. About a half hour into the journey, we got to experience that sunset. The light hit the western windows. The passengers were ablaze in red and gold. The train seemed to be burning. “Death on the Nefertem Express” was born in that moment, and I spent the rest of the trip entertaining myself with the idea and characters you’ll meet in its pages.


Can you tell us anything about your writing process for “Death on the Nefertem Express?”

I researched trains, tanks, and an array of heavy-duty vehicles to design the Nefertem Express. I also investigated the old-timey luxury trains of yesteryear. I wanted to create the ultimate expression of that opulent, absurd, and haughtily grandiose style (this is a train that contains a swimming pool and smoking lounge, after all.) It’s another reason why I enjoy writing Jolene Fort, because she comes at these scenarios as a pragmatic outsider, forced to interact with bizarre specimens of humanity. One of the tropes of mystery fiction is the eccentric cast; I used that to showcase the indulgences of this future society… a society which should be plenty recognizable to us today.


Weird World War IIIWhat are you working on now?

Would you believe, bronzepunk? I’m on an alternate history kick right now. The sequel to Ten Thousand Thunders is coming, too. And I’m busy with a new novel. Later this year, I’ll have some new stories in F&SF, and in October my speculative Cold War thriller “Shadow Rook Red” will be featured in the Weird World War III anthology from Baen Books. As always, readers can see the newest news on


“Death on the Nefertem Express” appears in the March/April 2020 issue of F&SF.

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