A retired commando and a beautiful sniper have just made humanity’s greatest discovery. All they have to do now is survive.


Archaeology professor Logan Shines-at-Night has left the daring life of an airborne commando behind him in the deserts of North Africa . . . or so he thinks, until a shadowy government agency asks him to assess a sensitive find uncovered during a military operation.

Hours later, Logan finds himself inside a top-secret complex, where researchers believe they’ve discovered a rip in the fabric of the universe with another world just beyond.

When drone reconnaissance reveals that the next world appears livable—for the right people—Logan suits up beside a Special Operations team and steps across universes carrying a rifle, a rucksack, and the hopes of a nation for the first time in years.

Beyond the rift lie the Stonelands, and a wealth of material critical to advancing America’s theoretical weapons program. Logan’s team soon finds the canyons and valleys of the Stonelands to be a labyrinth of murder at the hands of terrors long faded to legend, as well as home to an inhuman army hell-bent on stopping the new incursion.

Joseph Malik’s STONELANDS is a cross-worlds thriller about the will to fight. To believe. To hope.

More aesthetics on my Pinterest.


Stonelands is a portal fantasy about modern-day Special Operations Forces (SOF) exploring the world from Dragon’s Trail and The New Magic. It’s epic fantasy for people who read Brad Thor novels.

As military stories go, Stonelands is as modern as it gets: it has a disabled Blackfeet main character, a female sniper, a gay lovestory, and a subplot about war crimes and accountability in Black Ops that’s so close to true that I had to change a bunch of stuff. It’s also, at its heart, a story about identity and intersectionality issues in SOF, addressing sexism, racism, ageism, ableism, and resource exploitation under the guise of nation-building. It approaches it all from the angle of a new generation of SOF leadership at odds with the conservative old guard; that particular crossroads happens to be where I got my mail for most of my Army career.

Most of all, though: if you wanted to stage a series of Special Operations missions to explore a fantasy world through a portal found on U.S. soil, Stonelands is exactly what it would look like. The chain of command, task organization, policies, procedures, logistics and support requirements, cover stories, legal complications, mission design, personnel selection, tradecraft, briefings, team dynamics, paperwork hassles—everything—is exactly the way it would look and function. These procedural points, right down to the moments of bureaucratic inertia, are integral to the plot. I wrote it from a 41-page Concept of Operations (CONOP) that I knocked together in a SCIF on a Top-Secret system, laying out how SOF would explore a fantasy world. (I had to send parts of the CONOP to the Pentagon for review. That was fun. In point of fact, I had to upload the entire manuscript one of our Top-Secret networks, and then nuke it from my laptop and flash drive while I awaited declassification and security review.)

Stonelands is the first book of the next series in the Falconsrealm Chronicles, of which The Outworlders series is the first trilogy.


Stonelands is more mature than anything I’ve done before. It harkens back to Dragon’s Trail’s writing style, leaning stylistically on thriller greats like Stephen Hunter, Eric van Lustbader, and Trevanian. There’s quite a bit of James Clavell in the stand-off distance from the worldbuilding, as well. If you’re familiar with Shogun, you’ll see the same sort of bewilderment and awe in the protagonists. The violence is much more graphic; there’s less of the Deadpool-style cartoon violence and way more splattering of organs, machine-gunning, and terrifying death at the hands of alien horrors. There are a couple of Easter eggs for fans of The Outworlders, but otherwise, it’s new characters in a new corner of the world, and is a new series altogether. As the Stonelands series evolves, a diaspora of contemporary Special Operations Forces (SOF) operators–SEALs, Special Forces, Rangers–take on roles throughout the eastern edge of the fantasy world from The Outworlders.

The sex is also far more graphic than anything I’ve done before. You’re welcome.

What made Stonelands such a kick in the ass to write is that the characters approach the fantasy world through a distinctly non-fantasy lens: they don’t see Dokkalfar and dragons; they see dark-skinned aliens and alien lizard-monsters that, to them, resemble dragons. They beat their brains in looking for rational explanations for the magic they witness–and in some cases, they just shrug it off because they have work to do and they’re sure someone will explain it to them, later. The upshot of this is that Stonelands shows that Science Fiction and Fantasy can simply be a matter of perception.


Stonelands started off as a wild hair brought about by some of my early ride-or-die fans, a few of whom had apparently glommed onto a conspiracy theory that I was involved in a Black Ops program that explores other universes. To them, this explained how I know how to swordfight, speak Elvish, use celestial navigation on alien planets, beat the crap out of a knight in armor without mussing up my suit jacket, and so on; all the stuff I was demonstrating at cons as I built my early readership. I got some really weird emails, and was once cornered at a fantasy con by a strident reader demanding to know where the portal was.

Wouldn’t it be fun, I thought back then, to make the next series about a SOF unit exploring Falconsrealm, or points east? Say, the Eastern Freehold, an area I had already developed, and mentioned, but hadn’t used, yet?

This turned into a short thought exercise in international conflict theory, and as I sketched it out, it turned into a story about identity, as well as a deeper study of intersectionality issues in modern-day SOF, something I see every day and have never seen addressed in military fiction, especially the glut of modern military thrillers with their obsequious, relax-and-breathe-through-your-nose hero worship of SOF. We’re just people. We’re a hell of a lot more like the crew of The Orville than the guys in The Unit.


I talked about this in a previous post and a little earlier in this one, but it bears repeating:

Because Stonelands deals with modern-day SOF tactics, techniques, and procedures, as well as military capabilities, intelligence tradecraft, and DoD policies–and given my (ahem) work history–it went through security review at the Pentagon.

I spent most of my career in a quiet, weird corner of Special Operations that most of the U.S. Army doesn’t even know exists. (“We do that?” was the most common question I’m asked when I’d tell other soldiers what my team did. “Are you hiring?” was the second.)

This is important because I have seen, firsthand, everything you’d need to clandestinely explore another world. I shit you not. As mentioned above, I wrote a full, 41-page CONOP and I used it as my initial outline. Excerpts from it, redacted by the Pentagon, U.S. Special Operations, and/or the Defense Intelligence Agency, appear in the manuscript. This is the first page of the CONOP, which makes an early appearance in the manuscript:

Cleared for release. No, seriously.

I casually asked my unit’s Security Officer if I’d be allowed to publish a novel laying out exactly how we would pull off a mission like this, and he lost his shit. This is why the manuscript went to the Pentagon.

Stonelands takes the technothriller elements of Dragon’s Trail and The New Magic and volleys them right back at a contemporary military story. It also takes the suspension of disbelief I built in Dragon’s Trail and The New Magic and launches it into the realm of total plausibility and We-Can-Neither-Confirm-Nor-Deny. You will walk away from Stonelands either wondering if it’s happening right now, or wondering why it isn’t.

In the meantime, the DoD has reached out to us with an offer to consult on any technical or classification issues on the screenplay or film. And that was super-nice of them.


I walked backwards into this whole thing one fateful Wednesday night. I was talking about Stonelands with our graphic designer, batting around cover concepts, while she and her husband were over here for Pizza Night–she’s one of my wife’s yoga students; this is a very small town. It turns out her husband runs a VFX company, and has not only worked with the likes of Ridley Scott and Marvel, but he had a Ryan Reynolds project coming up. As a bonus, he loves my other books. We started talking; he talked to his people; they talked to my people; we have a deal. This is how I managed to get a film option on a book that’s not even out, yet. It’s been mentioned on some writing boards that I may be the first indie author to ink a film option on an unsold/unreleased book, and do so with a production team with their creds.

The lesson here is to always be cool to people. First off, being cool to people gives them hope, and costs you nothing. Second, you never know who the fuck you’re talking to.


Stonelands is not out, yet. It’s still a manuscript, and it’s still under submission. Which puts Team Malik in a unique spot, because the book is unpublished, but it’s currently being turned into a screenplay by an A-list production team. Given how long it’s been out on submission, it is theoretically possible that Stonelands could get greenlit as a film before the book ever comes out. That would shake a few people up.I started writing Stonelands in late 2019.

Stonelands has been under submission since 2022, with at least one publisher still holding it and not committing. Yes, it’s been on a desk for two years. (There’s a reason they call it “submission.” Assume the position.) Time and again, publishers passed while lauding the writing and the story, because they felt there was no market for the concept. We’re resubmitting with this deal in hand in the hopes that it changes their minds on that last part.

None of this means Stonelands will necessarily be made into a movie; VFX Films has purchased the right to create a screenplay and a sizzle reel, which they’ll shop to people they’ve worked with before. Maybe 500 books a year get optioned at this level; maybe 5 eventually get greenlit. But those one-in-a-hundred odds beat the hell out of the one-in-a-billion odds it had previously.

Meanwhile, I’m back to working on Coin of the Realm, the finale to The Outworlders. I’m aiming to have it out before Worldcon in Seattle. I’ve been having some fairly significant health issues, and the past couple of years since retirement from the Army have been near-daily doctor’s visits for one thing or another. There’s a lot to patch up, but I’m slowly getting better. But, I haven’t had a lot of writing time.

I’ve been reinstated on Twitter, but I’m mostly on BlueSky now, when I’m on social media at all. Find me there at jmalikauthor.bsky.social .

That’s all the news from here. Let’s see what the year brings.