Pulitzer nominee Sid Balman Jr. to release the third and final novel in his acclaimed “Seventh Flag” series

Pulitzer-nominated war and national security correspondent Sid Balman, Jr. – currently a writer in residence at Sul Ross State University – is releasing a harrowing follow-up to his award-winning novels “Seventh Flag” and “Murmuration.” The third and final book in the series, “Algorithms” will be published on Aug. 1, 2023, with SparkPress.

The final novel in the acclaimed Seventh Flag Trilogy thrusts readers 30 years into a dystopic future of regional fiefdoms, marauding scavengers, and the quest for ultimate power, the algorithms of everything, secretly pilfered from an undersea Internet cable, stored on hard drives, and implanted in the last surviving blue whale. The iconic and unlikely heroine of the American West, Ademar Zarkan, now a 70-year-old woman, leads the Free People of West Texas in an alliance with Native Americans and the indigenous people of northern Mexico to retrieve the hard drives and to rescue her clairvoyant granddaughter from the radicalized Sisterhood and its merciless leader, Mother. Haunting and prophetic, Algorithms is a story of violent extremism, resilience, family, and, above all, the interconnectedness of humankind and the natural world.


Sid Balman Jr. | Aug. 1, 2023 | Spark Press | Fiction 

Paperback | ISBN 978-1-68463-208-4 | $17.95 

Ebook | $9.95

About The Author

A Pulitzer-nominated national security correspondent and Writer in Residence at Sul Ross State University, Sid Balman Jr. has covered wars in the Persian Gulf, Somalia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosovo, and has traveled extensively with two American presidents and four secretaries of state on overseas diplomatic missions. After leaving daily journalism, he helped found a news syndicate focused on the interests of women and girls, served as the communications chief for the largest consortium of U.S. international development organizations, led two progressive campaigning companies, and launched a new division at a large international development firm centered on violent radicalism and other security issues on behalf of governments. In addition to his current position as Writer In Residence at Sul Ross State University, Balman remains a working journalist and magazine contributor. A fourth-generation Texan, as well as a climber, surfer, paddler, and benefactor to Smith College, Balman lives in Alpine, TX, and has two children and a dog. You can find out more about him at: https://www.sidbalman.com/

Follow Sid Balman Jr. on social media: 

Facebook: @SeventhFlagNovels | Twitter: @seventhflag 

In an interview, Sid Balman Jr. can discuss:

  • The concept of a “Terra-Algorithm,” a term he minted to capture the notion of a connection between humankind and the natural world that is the beating heart of his novel.
  • How his books mirror culture in the United States, from World War II to 30 years in the future, and portrays the paths that have led to turmoil in the great “American experiment. He weaves the lives of diverse characters – indigenous people, Muslims, Jews, Christians, Americans, and Somalis – into a tapestry of what nationality looks like in the 21st Century.
  • His focus on indigenous characters, their resilience and insoluble connection to the natural world that imbues them with the traditions to survive an apocalypse, and the research with Tarahumara and Lakota Sioux that went into their character development in “Algorithms.”
  • What the  “American Dream” could look like 30 years in the future.
  • How his novel addresses culture wars in American society and issues of climate change.
  • Ending the “Seventh Flag” trilogy and what he plans to do next in his career.
  • Working during the Bush and Clinton administrations in the 90s and covering international politics, diplomacy, national security and wars in Somalia, Iraq and the Balkans, plus how these experiences inspired his novel series.
  • Using his expertise in understanding national security and violent radicalization to weave an electrifying plot while painting a complicated and nuanced picture of gender, race, class and political power in a globalized political environment.
  • Deep analysis based on a lifetime of research and reporting on the inner workings of domestic white supremacist groups and international extremist organizations.

An Interview with

Sid Balman Jr.

Before we dive into “Algorithms,” can you give us some background on your first two novels, “Seventh Flag” and “Murmuration” and how they tie into the storyline and characters in your new book? Do people need to read “Seventh Flag” and “Murmuration” before cracking open “Algorithms”? 

I wrote each book so that they stand alone, with enough background on the previous stories and characters to fill in the blanks. The stories are linear, beginning during World War II and ending 30 years in the future after a series of cataclysmic natural and man-made disasters – the Fall of Civilization as we know it.

Tell us about the title of “Algorithms.” What does it symbolize?

How many times have you purchased something, say a pair of Nike sneakers, and the next day an ad for Nike appears on your Instagram feed? Digital algorithms, small bits of computer code that match behavior with potential conversion, lurk behind the scenes and permeate every part of our lives. The antithesis of that is the “Terra-Algorithm,” a term I came up with to explain the insoluble connection between humankind and the natural world. Indigenous cultures have thrived for eons because of it, and in a post-apocalyptic landscape it will be the key to survival. It is a convincing argument for optimism, and if there is a preeminent theme in this novel, that is it.

How do you incorporate your personal experiences working as a journalist covering international politics and national security into your novels?

Past is prologue and radicalized despots, whether they be Somali warlords, Balkan strongmen, or delusional presidents, slither into the weak joints of society to their advantage, and the disadvantage of their people. Readers of “Algorithms” will recognize many familiar characters who represent the worst of these qualities.

Tell us about the role of indigenous characters in your novels. What research went into the development of these characters?

The primary focus of this part of my research was the Lakota Sioux in South Dakota and the Tarahumara who call themselves the Raramuri, the “running people” of northern Mexico. I had originally titled this novel “The Last Gun,” and envisioned a futuristic shoot ‘em out western set in a dystopic future. But as I came to know these people, (some say the Tarahumare are direct descendents of the “first humans”) the foundation of my novel shifted to how their eternal resilience and connection to nature equipped them uniquely to survive what I call “the Fall” of civilization as we know it. A close friend of mine, half indigenous and half Irish, who had extensive experience with those native cultures, became a trusted muse and guide along the path that led to “Algorithms.” She will be joining me at some of my signings during the upcoming book tour.

What is the butterfly effect, and how does it play a part in your latest novel?

I’ll let the novel speak for itself here:

“It made sense to the young girl, who had experienced that profound linkage in her psychic connection to 52 Blue, but she didn’t have the term: Terra-Algorithm. There is another term that applies to the phenomenon of the Raramuri and the unique purpose they — and other Indigenous people, like White Eagle’s Origin Tribes of the Mountain West — have in the universe. Mathematicians who study chaos theory, which seeks to explain connections between seemingly random occurrences, refer to it as the butterfly effect. Meteorologist Edward Lorenz coined the term in the 1960s, reasoning that small changes in atmospheric conditions could have dramatic impacts on weather thousands of miles away, like carbon emissions in China triggering a chain of events that over time melt polar ice. It is as if there is a linear relationship between a small gust of air from the wing of a butterfly and something else on the other side of the world. As if a giant blue whale deep in the Pacific Ocean leaps from the water and a twelve-year-old redheaded girl in West Texas dreams about it. Or a grotesque contest in a makeshift New Mexico bull ring is countered in the calculus of the earth by a peaceful, centuries-old game of Ralajipame. That is why the Raramuri endure. They are the counterweight on the other end of the existential teeter-totter that maintains balance in the universe.”

Why is so much of the Seventh Flag Trilogy set in Texas and the Southwest?

In my view, no place in the United States embodies the essence and the failures of the great American experiment. It is iconic, and iconic, recognizable and universal themes are what I felt I needed to resonate with all audiences across the ideological spectrum. Blend in the diversity of America – Muslim cowboys, female football players, and teenage sharpshooters for example – and the whole notion of iconic turns on its head, shaking the reader into a new, potentially unsettling reality. While the series ranges all over the world, its beating heart resides in the grandeur of Far West Texas.

How is the American Dream illustrated in your writing, and how is that depiction different from others?

It is hard to imagine anyone who still believes in an “American Dream,” at least as it was envisioned by the framers of our Constitution, after the events of the past few years. It remains to be seen whether the resiliency of that document will survive a world our founders never could have foreseen. That is why I essentially tear it up in “Algorithms,” and present what might succeed it.

How does “Algorithms” address culture wars in American society?

Culture wars are in many ways a product of the editorial pages of such publications as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, a convenient catch-phrase, like “woke culture” meant to signify something that is almost inexplicable. To me, it is simply the profound radicalism of people on both sides of the political equation who feel they have been marginalized, disenfranchised, and disrespected. In “Algorithms,” the front line of that concept is epitomized in the conflict between the Sisterhood, led by a sinister, complex figure who leads a cult of women warriors and calls herself simply Mother, and the Free People of West Texas, led by Ademar Zarkan, now a 70-year-old Muslim-American woman who has been the central protagonist in all three novels. It comes down to the iconic fight between good and evil, decency and cruelty, freedom and captivity, as both sides battle for the digital holy grail, the algorithms stored on hard drives and embedded under the fin of the world’s last remaining blue whale; and the survival of humankind.

How does “Algorithms” explore interconnectedness of humankind and the natural world?

Again, I’ll let the novel speak for itself:

“Crossing the Great Plains and high desert on horseback in August is a hard mistress. But they are committed to her and determined to make the union work. They have no choice. One gift in the dowry of their epic journey, and one of the few plusses of the Fall, is the reversal of climate change in the absence of carbon emissions. The skies were never bluer, the streams are crystal clear and potable, game is plentiful, and violent weather, except for afternoon rainstorms, is almost nonexistent. Even the buffalo, restricted to federal reserves and largely protected from hunters in the year preceding the apocalypse, roam the High Plains in numbers not seen since before white settlers with their long rifles decimated them for skins, leaving the noble behemoths nothing but decaying corpses for coyotes and vultures. This was one of the many indignities heaped on the Indigenous people, who relied on bison meat to sustain them over long winters and thick coats to hold off the bone-cold wind. Beyond sustenance and warmth, the bison is a symbol of abundance, hope, bravery, kindness, strength, and respect for the American Indian, none more so than the scarce and mythic white buffalo. Legend has it that the white buffalo spirit walks a sacred path, knowing the planet is a holy space and a living creature. The Indigenous people of Alaska and Arctic lands, the Eskimos, hold the whale in similar esteem. And without being able to articulate it, Arwen tapped into the same connection with 52 Blue. This entire natural equation, this inexplicable calculus of the universe, is the essence of the Terra-Algorithm.

That is why White Eagle holds up his hand to halt the expeditionary force one day’s ride from the Platte River in southern Nebraska when a lone white buffalo crests a nearby hill, his massive body nearly blocking the entire waning sun and casting a long shadow that almost touches the forehooves of his horse. He dismounts, kneels, and recites a prayer generations of his predecessors have chanted for this creature.

“O great spirit whose voice I hear in the winds, whose breath gives life to the world, hear me. I come to you as one of your many children. I am small and weak. I need your strength and your wisdom. May I walk in beauty. May my eyes ever behold the purple sunset. Make my hands respect the things you have made, and my ears sharp to hear your voice. Make me wise so I may know the things you have taught your children, the lessons that you have hidden in every leaf and rock. Make me strong, not to be superior to my brothers, but to fight my greatest enemy: myself. Make me ever ready to come to you with straight eyes, so that when life fades as with the fading sunset, my spirit will come to you without shame.”

Are any of the characters in “Algorithms” based on real people?

All of the characters are mosaics of people who I have encountered in my life. The closest to an exact match, and it’s still far from it, are the two families of ranchers in West Texas: the Laws and the Zarkans. 

Some novelists plan out all the details in a series before they even finish the first book. Others write as they go. What was your approach?

I’m very meticulous about mapping out the book before I write a single word. I spend months on research, construct detailed character profiles, outline every chapter and even build storyboards that incorporate images and maps. As a former wire service reporter – a classic ink-stained wretch – I write very fast once I start, being careful not to write and edit at the same time. That said, and one of the most interesting aspects of my process, is not being too fixed on my story process and allowing the characters and narrative to grow organically within the tale. For me, that’s where the magic is.

You’ve now written nonfiction journalistic works as well as fiction. Do you prefer one over the other? What are the unique challenges of each?

I’m asked this frequently. Fiction is journalism, I just get to make up the story and all the quotes. In all seriousness, I’m an old-school reporter who believes that journalism must be the most accurate representation of the truth as one perceives it based on a moment in time. My fiction is a metaphor for the truth perceived through the rear-view mirror.

This is the last book in the series – are you going to miss spending time with your characters? What’s next for you?

I have spent almost every day of the past five years living with my characters, and I will miss them, although what they taught me about life, about writing, is forever embedded in my soul. But it’s time to move on. I have already begun thinking and researching my next novel, a fictional story that closely resembles the tragic mass shooting of kids and teachers at an elementary school in rural Texas, and the journey of an elderly artist who is commissioned to paint a commemorative mural.

Advance Praise for Sid Balman Jr. and “Algorithms”

“In Algorithms, Balman paints a vivid picture of an all-too believable – and terrifying – future: a post-apocalyptic western that is equal parts Cormac McCarthy and Larry McMurtry. Fans of the Laws and Zarkan family – several generations of which have been the protagonists throughout the Seventh Flag Trilogy – will enjoy this satisfying and entirely unexpected conclusion to the series. His research with the resilient indigenous people of Mexico and North America, who play a central role in this book that they have been denied in history, lends an authenticity to what may be his main point: the survival of humankind rests on its indelible link with nature. In his vivid, descriptive prose, Balman captures the unique beauty of far West Texas as only one who has lived there could. Pulling no punches, this novel serves as a warning of where the radicalism the author explores throughout this series ultimately could lead.”

— Jill Gibson, editor Los Alamos National Laboratory National Security Science Magazine

“The third installment in the Seventh Flag trilogy, Algorithms, perfectly combines the excitement of a post-apocalyptic thriller with a poignant coming-of-age story featuring an engaging heroine facing a very different “American Dream.”  Indeed, a page-turner … an important read for any citizen concerned about the reality of where our culture wars and politics are taking American society.” 

— Laura Payne, PhD, dean of the Jimmy D. Case College of Literature, Arts, and Social Sciences Sul Ross State University 

“Sid Balman’s Algorithms is a thrilling climax to his cross-generational west Texas saga. In the dystopian future, his tale of a technological and societal collapse is stunning, and, unfortunately – not-implausible. The resilience of his heroes and the natural communities, gives me some hope for our current times.” 

— Chris Wolz, CEO Forum One

“Big questions, grand themes, and prophetic warnings: all these characterize Algorithms. Another first-rate novel by Sid Balman, Jr.” 

                  — Robert Zorn, Award-Winning Author of Cemetery John: The Undiscovered Mastermind of the Lindbergh Kidnapping

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