Jo Boone is the author of the Combined Service novels, which feature highly unlikely things like FTL travel, resurrections, and sentient octopods. Her main goal in writing the Combined Service stories is to cram as many fun things into each book as she can. Jo lives in North Carolina with her saucy teenage daughter and a dog whose breed will forever remain a mystery.

Find out more about Jo at

The Magnetar by Jo Boone

A second chance… at life.

When a natural disaster destroys Charlie's planet, she almost survives the carnage, dying just a few minutes before a rescue crew would have saved her.

When she wakes up again, a number of surprises await her, not the least of which is that she's been brought back to life. In addition to that unlikely event, she's also been taken to another planet and drafted into the Combined Service, a service composed of all the allied races—octopods, gu'ul, avians, and the upstart humans, who the others aren't sure they can trust.

Being drafted does serve one purpose, though: it allows her to get off the planet on which she finds herself, giving her the only chance she has to get back to the planet of her birth, where she hopes to find her missing family. When she's offered the chance to serve aboard the Magnetar, the first jointly operated cruiser of the Combined Service, she seizes the chance.

But the Magnetar is on a dangerous mission: to return an octopod terrorist, Praetori, to the home world of the octopods. No one has ever successfully held an octopod captive, and the only thing found of the last ship that tried—the Roggewein—were tiny pieces.

Will Charlie and the Magnetar see the prisoner transfer to its successful conclusion, or will they suffer the same unexplained and disastrous fate as the Roggewein?



  • "I hate gushing in my reviews because I worry people won't take them seriously, but Magnetar deserves all the gushing. I laughed and cried and reread the awesome parts. The worldbuilding is detailed and believable. The aliens are fascinating, and the supporting characters feel real. I devoured Magnetar in too short a time and had a massive book hangover afterward. Charlie is a wonderful main character, and her adventures appear to be just starting. I look forward to book 2! I read Magnetar in KU but bought it to reread."

    – Dr Susan, Internet Reviewer
  • "I LOVED THIS BOOK. I'm a sucker for great worldbuilding, fun aliens, and character-driven sci-fi, so this checks all my boxes."

    – Ashley, Internet Reviewer
  • "This book is a refreshing entry into the sci fi world. The story holds your interest. The characters are amazing and unique and I feel transported into an imaginative universe. Excellent read!"

    – Marcus and Kim, Internet Reviewer



Chapter One


On the Edge of Terran Deep Space

The debris field was not very large. The metal and ceramic composite of the wrecked ship's hull were twisted, cracked, and shattered—dispersed in the vast emptiness of space through a volume of just a few hundred kilometers. Some of the wall panels for lighting and environmental controls still glowed faintly. Others, badly crushed or mangled, simply drifted dark and cold through space or sparked across malfunctioning circuits. Interior objects—furnishings, display panels, small tools—winked like dim fireflies with the reflected light of their backdrop of stars.

In the center of the field was all that remained of the deep-space-going ship: an interior compartment, sealed off when the catastrophe struck. Inside, by design, were all the elements needed for survival, including communications systems whose messages, limited to the speed of light, would take millennia to reach anyone who might be listening for them.

Foolishness, all of it. This far out, alone, not expected to arrive home for months, Praetori knew he could not expect rescue. If searchers ever came, it would take yet more months, and the odds of their finding him were ridiculously, absurdly low. All he could expect was to linger for a time, perhaps years if he were very clever, if there were no further disasters… and if he did not give in to despair. At the end of it, he would die, slowly, floating in his seawater compartment, drifting forever through space.

But despair had not claimed him yet. So Praetori treated his wounds, manipulating the first aid kit with his three undamaged arms, then prepared a few prawns from the aquaculture columns for his meal. After that, he set to work making what repairs he could. After all, if the Great Kraken was watching over him and supported his cause, then nothing was impossible.

* * *

On Fortuna

Her name was Charlie, and, at first, that would be all she would remember. She would never have any clear memory of the day the world shifted beneath her feet, heaving up and then falling away, burying her with so many others in mud and rubble. She would never remember the nine days spent trapped in a pocket of air under the corner of a ruined building, with water dripping slowly down her face, so that when her thirst became desperate all she had to do was lift her chin a little. The gritty and foul-tasting water kept Charlie alive. She would struggle for some time afterward with remembering the events of the months and weeks that preceded that day. Some of her confusion resulted, unsurprisingly, from trauma—but only some.

But all of that came later. First came the nine days, buried, cold and suffering, fading in and out of consciousness, wondering if rescue would ever come—and not knowing, never remembering, that in the end it came just moments too late.

* * *

On the Edge of Terran Deep Space

Whether or not the Great Kraken was watching, only the Great Kraken would know, but someone else was watching: the far more mundane and workaday deep-space sentries of the Terran Fleet. Patrol boat TF48-350 was cruising at a languid zero-point-two cee through its designated observation point. The young spacer manning scans pinged the sensor array on station there, downloading the data it had accumulated since the last patrol came through. He began gathering observations of his own. When he was finished, the patrol boat would begin accelerating again to faster-than-light velocities on its way to its next observation, moving like a security guard through a building, pausing briefly to check each door.

It was third shift, so most of the crew was sleeping; Scans was drinking coffee and watching his displays—he had twelve different ones running right now, depicting different regions of space and different distances within those regions—as the information from the various sensors was integrated and translated into a set of three-dimensional images. Scans scrolled through them, zooming in and out, looking for anything interesting, unexpected, or troubling. The images in the direction of Earth and her colonies were the most interesting; he could zoom in on those with a high level of detail. With the tap of a pictograph, he could overlay stylized images of ship traffic in the regions of the various space stations and occupied worlds, with different icons for projected traffic and confirmed traffic, current as of their departure date.

Further out, beyond the edges of Terran space, there was a lot less to see. Stars and planets, asteroid belts and pulsars and distant nebulae and galaxies, but these did not change much with each pass. Scans was young yet, but this was his second tour through this bit of the frontier under Lieutenant Ibori's command, and he felt very worldly and wise.

And very surprised when something out of the ordinary did, in fact, appear.

He zoomed in on the strange readings, tapping at his display so that it would render what he was seeing in as much visual detail as possible. He scrutinized the image for several seconds, rotating his display to view it from every angle available to him.

Behind him, the chief of the boat said, "Prepare to accelerate. Gravitic drive engages in—"

"Chief!" Scans called over his shoulder, without taking his eyes off the wreckage—he was sure it was wreckage; the spectrometry data ruled out the possibility that it was anything naturally occurring, but it was in too many pieces to be an intact vehicle of any kind—"I've got something!"

* * *

On Fortuna

Charlie would never remember the day that she died.

The search-and-rescue volunteers had been digging for an hour. They had pulled half a dozen bodies—and parts of at least a dozen more—from the rubble of the grim disaster that had been one of humanity's oldest colonies. But they still had not reached the one faintly beating heart that their instruments had picked up, deep in the rubble.

No one yet knew what could have happened to cause the massive geologic destabilization of an entire planet, but whatever it had been, it had created oceans where continents had been, and raised up steep and jagged new islands where oceans had covered the surface. No city still stood on a world that had been home to three billion humans and a smattering of other species; no orchard or field had survived the massive earthquakes, sudden volcanos, and catastrophic tsunamis that had struck the whole face of the planet, leaving in their wake a chill, shadowy, gritty atmosphere that the rescuers could only breathe through damp and sweaty filters, and, even that, not for very long.

"I bet the ghouls wouldn't have any trouble breathing this muck," one of the searchers complained, rocking back on his heels and rubbing a filthy hand across his brow, leaving a wet gray smudge above his eyebrows.

"They sent some teams," his companion said, still doggedly digging with a short-handled shovel. "Didn't you see them yesterday?"

The first man looked at him sharply, wide-eyed with alarm.

"Oh yeah. No respirators for them. Their whole world's atmosphere is just like this. Whaddya think? Maybe they caused this somehow so they can take it over and make it a ghoul colony?"

The first rescuer shuddered, images of the gray-skinned, gaunt and cadaverous gu'ul rising like nightmares in his mind's eye. It was more terrifying to him than the rows and rows of plastic-covered corpses laid out on the mud flat just downslope; more frightening than the possibility that this planet was not yet done consuming the people who walked on its unstable crust. He shook it off.

"That's something I hope I never see," he said fervently. He gestured toward the ground, changing the subject. "We close yet?"

"I think so. Don't think it's going to matter, though," said the second rescuer, picking up their sonar and wiping its display with his gloved thumb. He succeeded only in further obscuring the screen with smears of fresh mud. "Lost the signal a couple of minutes ago."

"Damn," the first rescuer said. "Be awful nice to get a win right now."


They set to work again, digging carefully but industriously. The wet mud fought them, sliding into the hole almost as fast as they could enlarge it. Even so, they really had been close: within ten minutes, they had opened up a pocket in the wreckage, where two corners of a wall had trapped a quantity of air—and a person, who had probably been the source of the faint heartbeat they had been trying to reach.

They began, gently, to pull the body out. It was a female, young, covered like all the rest in mud and blood and worse, and they laid her out sadly in the nearest clear space.

"Nine days," one of them commented. "She made it nine days, and we missed by just a few minutes."

The other simply nodded, too weary and disheartened even to speak. He pulled off his gloves and let them dangle while he extracted a kit from one of his pockets, trying to keep it clean. He knelt in the mud and clumsily uncapped a vial; a swab popped out from inside it, and he rubbed it along the inside of her cheek before recapping it. Then he took another vial—this one with a tiny blade inside—and collected a sample from one of her fingernails. Fifteen minutes sooner. Just fifteen minutes, and they'd be calling for triage and a stretcher instead of preparing to take her down to the rows of bodies on the mud flat below. He handed the vials to his partner, for labeling and tagging, and took the third piece of the kit—a small vial that would tag her earlobe for future identification of the body—when he was distracted by a noisy commotion behind him.

"Up here! Think we've got one!"

The two rescuers turned to look down the slope of wreckage; a gray-haired, heavyset fellow in a relatively clean coverall was struggling upward toward them, just visible through the blowing ash and murk. He held out a monitoring device of some kind in one hand, and a tablet with a heavy-duty casing in the other.

"Hurry! Hurry!" Shouting through the respirator face mask was difficult—breathing through the respirator face mask was difficult—but he was managing it.

Behind him came a team of four men and women, also in relatively clean coveralls, hauling what looked like a clear, smoky gray coffin mounted on air-cushion floaters—but the floater mount was having trouble with the mucky and unstable surface. When it crossed a solid bit of wreckage, it popped up and threatened to escape them; when it crossed soft mud, it threatened to sink in. The rescuers watched, uncertain quite what to do, as the odd group struggled toward them.

* * * * *