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Author's note:

This is the fourth version of this story. I originally wrote it as a novella to be included in the anthology Warmasters, published by Baen Books in 2002. After the hardcover edition appeared in May of that year, I decided that the story would be improved by adding a penultimate episode just before the existing ending. That episode was included in the version that was reissued in the mass market edition of Warmasters, which came out in February 2004.

In 2005, when I sat down to write the final novel in the Belisarius series, The Dance of Time, my original intention was to include "Islands" as an appendix to the novel, since the story serves in some respects as a bridge between the fifth volume (The Tide of Victory) and the last one. But my co-author Dave Drake convinced me that it would be better if I wove the various episodes of "Islands" into The Dance of Time as one of the subplots. So, I did so, polishing and slightly expanding the existing story. (In the novel subplot, I also continued the later adventures of Calopodius and Anna. But those events are not integral to this story, which stands on its own, so they're not included here.)

So that was the third version—and this is the fourth, which is the reassembly of the story as a stand-alone novella for this anthology, which I did by using the later and improved version I wrote for the novel.

When all is said and done, I still think the same thing I thought when I first wrote the story. It's probably the best piece of short fiction I've ever written—certainly in some respects—and it's one of the best things I've ever written in any length. The fact that the story can handle being shaped and re-shaped so often is simply a reflection of that. The one thing all good stories have in common is that they are very, very tough.


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