by Louis B. Shalako
Ark One is returning to Earth after a failed colonization attempt. Due to the fact that they have an unanticipated 20,000 cryo-frozen colonists aboard, as well as livestock embryos, tools, implements, and supplies, they don’t have enough reaction mass for a conventional return.
Astrogator Dooley Peeters has planned a low-speed, long duration course, intercepting the predicted position of the solar system in about 12,000 years. The slower you go, the less fuel you burn. The crew is put into emergency cold-storage, and individuals are only awakened for routine maintenance duties and careful checking of the navigation programs.
Dooley has decided to use ‘mass-braking,’ or ‘gravitational braking,’ which is described by him as, “Passing a Nascar driver on the outside, beating him into the apex of the turn, and then using his brakes to slow you down.” The ‘Ice Queen,’ Captain Sandra Jensen, cuts through the consensus-building process and plays a hunch.
“Just do it,” she says, in spite of or perhaps because of a strong sexual tension that exists between them.
Poor old Dooley is really suffering. He fell head over heels for her, love at first sight, when attending a recruitment or job fair. But since she’s the superior officer, she can’t fraternize with Dooley, and as a subordinate, he’s totally at a loss for what to do about it.
Since Ark One has no way to replenish her reaction mass tanks, any fuel savings, as little a tenth of one percent, may save their lives. Anything is better than jettisoning 20,000 colonists into space and making a conventional, faster-than-light return.
The original mission was conceived as a way to save humanity. That’s because of climactic collapse, and a financial/economic crisis, which has doomed the remnants of the human race to mass migrations of peoples, wars, famine, and endemic disease.
Society has gone back to the dark ages. What is surprising is that they don’t go back to living in caves, or swinging on tree branches. After 12,000 years, they have risen again to various levels. The Kitchi-lao have water power, telescopes, and walled cities. They are experimenting with hot-air balloons for military purposes. The Pentapolis are nominally democratic city states. The cultures are uniquely human achievements. There are no aliens as such in this book. Just like present-day Earth, various peoples are at different levels of social development. I’ve simply constructed a different reality for the characters. The Kirtele are sedentary farmers, but they are also literate sedentary farmers, with a rich heritage of story-telling, songs, and political oratory. No one in the book is truly evil, or truly faultless. There are no ‘Conan-the-Barbarians’ in the book, bulging with muscles and traipsing around in S & M garb.
The Kitchi-lao Empire is just that—an empire. The Pentapolis is made up of five city-states who have banded together and outlawed war amongst themselves, and they have a ‘chair,’ instead of a president. The Kulutawas are pastoral herders, with a loose political structure; the Mittaini have a hereditary constitutional monarchy. The lakes tribes and plains tribes are tribes, the Kirtele Nation is a republic. The Spy Guild and The Brethren are world-wide organizations. The Brethren in particular are interesting due to their attempts to preserve and understand the old knowledge, and prepare for the second coming, presumably.
This is all very impressive—I’m certainly impressed—but it’s actually a very simple book. Kjarl is a horse-catcher when he isn’t busy farming. He hires Akim because Akim can read and write better than he can. Brother Raffin ministers to his flock in a loving and caring way. Talmotek of the Pentapolis goes to war to cement his hold on The Chair, and found a dynasty. Helios II knows war will come with the Pentapolis and he prepares the Empire accordingly. Mittaini Prince Nodrakis just wants to look at the cosmos through a telescope and ask, “Why?”
His mentor Tsernalik’s radical theory challenges the assumptions of religious revelation of his time and place. Princes Kvetchen and Uttaris lead their armies into the field. Everyone gets sucked into a war that is continental in scope, centering largely on the Mississipi and Ohio river valleys.
And when Ark One’s shuttle lands in the middle of a battlefield, the entire course of future history goes out the window. Simply put, I have sci-fi on one hand and fantasy—without the magic—on the other. That way all the characters in the book seem to follow a consistent set of rules. As usual with me, the genre and the plot are really just vehicles and stages for very real and very human relationships.
As a writer, I don’t much like magic for some reason, and I don’t much like heroes who can fly through the air, unless it’s presented in some ‘credible,’ believable fashion.
But if you don’t believe in magic, you shouldn’t try to write it, in my opinion. I suppose lots of people believe in their books, and for a so-far unsuccessful author, the very act of writing books is a kind of fantasy escape. We believe that we can change the future, if only our own.
Fantasies are just that, an escape from reality. The notion of the collapse of modern society, and a return to some form of barbarism, is a little too real. In the book there is a distinctly male-dominated society, and I suspect a lot of readers would object to that on misunderstanding; or philosophical grounds. In that sense, it’s not a fantasy, ‘femmes fatale’ such as Zenobia of Palmyra; or Cleopatra, or Queen Elizabeth I notwithstanding.
This book combines the best elements of fantasy with the best of science fiction, in a winning package, and it’s nice and short, which saves money on paper and ink.
My first few books were all funny. In this one I really tried to get serious and write a book that no one would have to be ashamed of—not the writer, the editor, the publisher, the seller, and not least of all, the final purchaser. I remembered that when I liked a book, I put it on the shelf and planned on reading it again, over and over in fact. I still had a lot of those books when I got flooded out a few years ago. In a sense they were irreplaceable.
In a noted opinion on the subject of fantasy, which you can view on the Science Fiction Writer’s Association of America’s website, author Poul Anderson says that a lot of fantasies fall down on historical grounds, and often even on simple, practical grounds.
Sword wounds get infected, and that sort of thing—you don’t just bind it up with a hanky. You are going to die.