Read an Excerpt From Grace Curtis’ Floating Hotel

We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Floating Hotel , a cozy science fiction novel by Grace Curtis, out from DAW on March 19.

Welcome to the Grand Abeona Hotel: home of the finest food, the sweetest service, and the very best views the galaxy has to offer. All year round it moves from planet to planet, system to system, pampering guests across the furthest reaches of the milky way. The last word in sub-orbital luxury—and an absolute magnet for intrigue. Intrigues such as: Why are there love poems in the lobby inbox? How many Imperial spies are currently on board? What is the true purpose of the Problem Solver’s conference? And perhaps most pertinently—who is driving the ship?

Each guest has a secret, every member of staff a universe unto themselves. At the center of these interweaving lives and interlocking mysteries stands Carl, one time stowaway, longtime manager, devoted caretaker to the hotel. It’s the love of his life and the only place he’s ever called home. But as forces beyond Carl’s comprehension converge on the Abeona, he has to face one final question: when is it time to let go?


was twelve years old the first time he laid eyes on the Grand Abeona Hotel. It was ghostly as a daytime moon, hovering low between columns of twisting, griddled rock, above a crevasse darkly spiderwebbed with cables and crawlers and great nodding anvils. He took it at first for an apparition, because it looked so much like those patches of shimmering air that appeared sometimes in his vision after he’d been punched. And he had been punched—twice, in fact, against the side of the face, because the first one hadn’t knocked him down. Once the dealer of the punch had slunk away in search of other victims, Carl crawled out to the back steps and pressed his temple against the cool metal railing, watching the stars spin around. Whenever he moved his pupils, the aberrations would move as well, so that he could never look at them dead on. But the Abeona stayed; she did not shift away from his gaze. That was how Carl knew that what he saw was real.

Once he realized that, he remembered that there’d been stories going around about some ritzy hotel ship coming into orbit, a divine visitation from the inner systems, there to prey upon the scant handful of genuine tycoons who lived in (and owned) the planet’s single city. He had heard these rumors and thought that they were probably true. But part of him still had not believed. Not until he saw the Abeona floating there.

Hoxxes was an imperial mining colony, an unhappy place that looked from orbit like a pumice stone, populated by displaced people whose brief lives were made bearable with substances that shortened them. Many dwelled there but nobody was really at home. In a few decades the whole planet would be unlivable, harvested by its occupants into a poisonous oblivion. Things had been easier in Carl’s grandparents’ time. But as the Emperor grew older his paranoia swelled, and the pace of production swelled with it, and the churn of war swallowed cheap material faster than the soil could provide.

Things, never good, were getting steadily worse.

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Floating Hotel

Floating Hotel

Grace Curtis

As grim as life was on Hoxxes, Carl’s decision to leave was mostly about his family—though the less said of them, the better.

Afterward, when people asked why he’d run away to join the hotel, Carl would shrug and say, with the muted smile that became his trademark: “It was love at first sight.”

There was a pull-out drawer in the kitchen where Carl’s guardians kept their loose change. He picked it clean and shrugged into an overlarge padded miner’s coat, turning up the cuffs to retain the use of his hands. With his pockets jingling, he sprinted down the shadowed alleys, between looming high-rises set into cliffsides of rust-colored rock, until he came to the departure station for the city-bound suspended tram. One by one he slotted the coins into the machine, trying hard to keep his hands from shaking. Half a kilo of metal transformed into a single plastic ticket that unlocked a stuttering twin door. The tram swept high above the pits, circular caverns spiraled with walkways, each descending level swarming with machinery and life. And in the sky, still unmoving, still there even after he knuckled his eyes, was the hotel.

Carl found the departing shuttle easily enough. It was in the airbay in the center of the city, guarded by a chauffeur in a crisp tuxedo who rang a brass bell and called in a melodic, undulating voice: “All aboard the Grand Abeona! Customers queue here!”

A length of red carpet rolled down from the entrance hatch and onto the concrete road, held snug to the steps by a set of gold clasps. The luxury was an intrusion into dull reality; a lolling tongue from a red-lipped mouth, a flavor of things to come. The sight sent a shiver through Carl’s heart.

A curious crowd circled the shuttle entrance like a flock of birds. “Move along now,” the chauffeur called, spreading his arms to shoo them back. “Make way for guests, please. Make way.”

Carl ducked beneath the man’s elbow and beelined for the guest queue, where a woman in a fur coat and peacock-swirl hat was struggling to lug her luggage trunk up the steps.

“’Scuse me, ma’am,” said Carl. “May I give you a hand?”

She looked down at him, this eager and malnourished boy practically swimming in his own jacket, the presence of a bruise already making itself known in the corner of one cheek. A lesser person might have kicked him, or yelled that they were being robbed. Instead she said, “Well, aren’t you just a perfect little gentleman. Go on, then. Grab it underneath. Mind you don’t trap your fingers.”

Inside the shuttle, the drone of the city fell away into a velvet hush. Carl drank everything in: plump cushions on every seat, each crowned with a complimentary mint; a faint rose-petal smell in the pressurized air; the sweet prerecorded warbling of a string quartet. They hadn’t even left the atmosphere yet, and already Carl felt like he was in a different universe. He found an unobtrusive spot on the back wall and stood there, willing himself not to be noticed.

Bodies moved busily up and down the aisle. The chauffeur said, “Gentlefolk, to your seats, please.” And the gentlefolk sat.

Quietly as he could, Carl placed a hand on the back of the nearest chair, his fingers sinking deep into the covering. A low rumble sounded somewhere beneath his boots. Everything was trembling, even the walls, even the plush seat. One of the passengers was sipping coffee from a patterned saucer; Carl watched the liquid ripple, waiting for it to upend into the man’s lap as they soared into the air.

Then the humming stopped.

“Thank you,” said the chauffeur. “We have arrived.”

There was a lengthy hiss and a clunk as the docking tube attached on the other side; a light pinged green, and the hatch swung open.

The guests stood, and Carl fell in with them, lifting extraneous luggage—“Let me get that for you, sir.” “Thank you, lad.”—trotting through the disembarkation hall and into the reception.

And there he stopped.

They all did.

Stopped, simply to marvel.

There is a level of wealth above wealth, a level of luxury that surpasses the common idea of luxury, which is all about holograms and loudspeakers and moving images, gilded statues and subservient bots. There is an idea that rises beyond those ideas. It is called “class.”

Class, the story goes, cannot be purchased. This is not strictly true. Money is an integral piece of the puzzle. The difference is that, in the case of class, money is a means to an end. It is not the end itself.

The Grand Abeona Hotel was an analog paradise, a place where the walls distinguished themselves not only by fine papering, but by the complete absence of screens. The restaurant menu was displayed on a sort of mechanical abacus, and when the options updated, they twirled about of their own volition, click-clacking as the correct letters slid into place. Music was live and performed throughout the day. Important documents were sealed in tubes and sucked through a network of hydraulic glass pipes.

The crowning glory was the feature known as the Galactic Diorama. It was a disc-shaped display in the middle of the lobby showing a model of the current solar system, each planet spinning on an independent axis around the central sun—and called “galactic” because it could supposedly be altered to display every occupied system in the Milky Way. Stored in the artist’s cupboard on the ground floor were over a thousand hand-painted stars, planets, moons, gas giants, attachable rings, asteroids and other celestial detritus. And, of course, there was the Abeona herself, moving freely between them all on a magnetized mobile that was programmed to reflect the present coordinates of the ship.

Not for the Abeona were the sharply curled edges of a gilt pedestal, the bone-bruising hardness of a veined marble floor, sallow gold and lace trim. It was built from warm blocks of color, fan lights up the walls, varnished wood paneling, armchairs waiting to eat you up, bristling potted plants as high as the arches, and all of it arranged carefully, with a painter’s eye. The hotel was not designed by committee. It was the work of singular vision. It looked like something somebody loved.

Carl’s mind was young; the shape of reality was still something loose and malleable to him. Taking in the sight of the entrance hall for the first time, he sincerely believed that he was dreaming. His eyes rose to the ceiling, searching for shoals of shimmering fish that he thought might be circling the chandelier. His ears listened keenly for the rustling of angels’ wingtips.

A polite murmur brought him back to himself. He was standing in the path of the crowd, and moved, apologizing, slipping further in, then further still, past the reception, up the curving steps, a waterfall of color. He padded from hall to hall, following his ears, or his nose. Listened to the wandering notes of a saxophone from the raised stage. Watched people in the pool from the windowed gym, hexagons of quivering light cast through the speckless water, inhaling the scent of chalk and chlorine. A sudden squeak as a foot pivoted on the tiles.

He rode up and down the elevators, enjoying with distinct pleasure the husky woman’s voice that sounded with each parting of the doors: First floor. Third floor. Seventh floor. Mind your step. He walked boldly up to the bar and asked if he could have one of the nuts from the little bowl. The bartender laughed, told him to wait, and whispered something in her colleague’s ear. A minute later he was handed a bowl of oysters, garnished in butter and parsley, with a side of buttered bread. He picked it clean and had to be stopped from trying to eat the shells.

Midnight found Carl sitting cross-legged on the floor of the cocktail bar, staring at the domed glass wall. This was the top floor of the hotel, a miniature planetarium, smelling tartly of lime and gin and warm with sophisticated laughter. The evening was winding down. Behind him, servers drifted between the high tables, slotting salt-crusted glasses between their fingertips, flat wrists balancing stacked plates. Carl was trying valiantly to stay awake. He didn’t know what would become of him once the night was over.

Someone placed a mug by his side and vanished before he could turn to thank them. He warmed his face in the steam for a moment, and then sipped it, tasting chocolate richer than molten gold and almost as hot. A bite of cinnamon, a twist of orange. Heaven.

He became aware of a presence at his side. A woman, ageless, severely beautiful, perfectly composed—mother-of-pearl hair over a creaseless suit. She smiled down at him.

“Have you had fun, Carl?” Her voice was husky.

He blinked himself awake. “You know me?”

“I’m the manager. It is my business to know everyone.”

Self-conscious now, he retreated deeper into his jacket. “Yes, Miss Manager, I’ve had fun.”

“Call me Nina.”

“Yes, Miss Nina.”

They admired the stars.

Carl licked the chocolate from his upper lip and asked, “Are you going to send me back?”

He was already resigned to it, perhaps even a little relieved. Like a condemned man who thinks, Let’s get the pain over with.

But the manager shook her head. “Haven’t you noticed?”

“Noticed what, ma’am?”

“These are different stars. That shape there…” she pointed a single perfect fingernail at a certain point of light “… is the dwarf planet Rahel. We can’t send you back. You’re six billion miles from home.”

Carl said, “Oh.”

He looked at Rahel, squinting into the bluish light, wondering how many dwarves lived down there.

“Miss Nina?”


“What happens now?”

“Hmm.” A curl of ivory came loose from her hair. She tucked it back under her ear, thoughtful. “That’s up to you, Carl. If you want, we can send you home once we’ve completed our tour of the system. Or…”

He looked up at her.

“… Or you can stay,” she said. “If that’s what you want. We can always use a few more helping hands.”

Quietly, he said, “I’d like to stay, please.”

Nina nodded. “Very well.”

It was October 2, 2774.

Excerpted from Floating Hotel (DAW, March 2024), copyright © 2024 by Grace Curtis.

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