Lawrence Schoen: Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard

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Lawrence Schoen Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard
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    Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard
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    Tor Books
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    Фантастика и фэнтези / на английском языке
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Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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An historian who speaks with the dead is ensnared by the past. A child who feels no pain and who should not exist sees the future. Between them are truths that will shake worlds. In a distant future, no remnants of human beings remain, but their successors thrive throughout the galaxy. These are the offspring of humanity's genius-animals uplifted into walking, talking, sentient beings. The Fant are one such species: anthropomorphic elephants ostracized by other races, and long ago exiled to the rainy ghetto world of Barsk. There, they develop medicines upon which all species now depend. The most coveted of these drugs is koph, which allows a small number of users to interact with the recently deceased and learn their secrets. To break the Fant's control of koph, an offworld shadow group attempts to force the Fant to surrender their knowledge. Jorl, a Fant Speaker with the dead, is compelled to question his deceased best friend, who years ago mysteriously committed suicide. In so doing, Jorl unearths a secret the powers-that-be would prefer to keep buried forever. Meanwhile, his dead friend's son, a physically challenged young Fant named Pizlo, is driven by disturbing visions to take his first unsteady steps toward an uncertain future.

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Lawrence M. Schoen

Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard

For Sol, Neal, and Ghang, you gave me no choice but to invent nefshons


The creation of any book takes significant time, but the origin of Barsk goes back almost thirty years. This pretty much guarantees that I will forget to express my appreciation to one or more people who helped to make this book possible, so the first acknowledgment has to be both generic and anonymous. I know you remember who you are and what you did and why I am grateful, and I trust you will vigorously remind me of this when next we meet.

All of this began with a random comment made to a student at New College during the fall semester of 1987, my first term as a college professor. The ink was still wet on my doctorate, and I was living on campus in the dorms. The student, Watts Martin, was editor of Mythagoras, a magazine of anthropomorphic fiction and artwork. I wrote two chapters for him, and the rainy world of the Fant was born. Thanks, Watts.

I wasn’t a good enough writer to actually craft the book that I wanted to write (though I tried). Eventually, I set it a drawer pending the day when I had the necessary skills. Years passed, and in 2010 I climbed the mountain and attended Walter Jon Williams’s Taos Toolbox, where he and Nancy Kress generously showed me many things I didn’t know that I didn’t know. Anything compelling in this novel’s plotting or clever in its clarity of language stems from their instruction. I am forever in their debt.

When the book sold (on the strength of an outline and sample chapters), I went in search of an agent, which led me to John Silbersack, whose experience and vision will surely be shaping my career for years to come. Thank you, John.

At that point I had to finish the book. I brought in a group of friends and colleagues who helped me to “break” the novel. This involved the death of some characters, the creation of new characters, wild changes to arcs and subplots, and all five of Kübler-Ross’s stages of grief. It was both intense and essential, and Tim W. Burke, Oz Drummond, Greg Frost, Catherine M. Petrini, and Fran Wilde have my infinite appreciation for their generosity of time, spirit, and insight. Oz and Fran, it should be noted, showed up in custom-made T-shirts proclaiming “WTF Otters?” a truly perplexing display of love that I will never forget.

I also benefited from the patient critique of my long-suffering workshop, the Eastern Court of NobleFusion: Tim Burke, Arthur (Buck) Dorrance, Barbara Hill, and Catherine M. Petrini. And when all their work was done, Laurel Amberdine and Paula Billig stepped up as beta readers to catch the majority of particularly stupid errors before I sent the finished manuscript to my editor.

Speaking of whom, the only reason you’re seeing this book is because of Marco Palmieri. He pursued the idea of this novel, saw in it the promise that had burned in me for more than two decades. He encouraged me to write it, deftly worked around my massive ego to address issues that needed attention, championed its nicheless nature, and never ceased encouraging and supporting the story. Barsk has no greater friend, and I cannot imagine having a better editor for this book. Thank you, Marco, you are a mensch!

A lot of this novel is about the past, as the dedication hints at. But my present and my future belong to my wife, Valerie. A word like “acknowledgment” doesn’t begin to cover how she inspires me to create worlds and characters and stories for her entertainment, just so I can see that look in her eyes. What greater reward could any author ask for?


These limits only I place upon you,

that never shall a Speaker summon a Speaker,

that never shall a Speaker summon the living,

that never shall a Speaker summon herself.

By these laws abide.

As for the rest, may your conscience be your guide.

— Margda, “The Speakers’ Edict”


RÜSUL traveled to meet his death. The current had carried him away from his home island as if it understood his purpose. He lost sight of the archipelago before dusk, as much a function of the falling rain as the southerly wind that pushed him onward. In the days since, the sun had risen and set unseen, a slightly brighter spot that eased itself across the overcast sky. Nor had it cleared at night to permit a glimpse of the heavens. The clouds changed color as the rain ebbed and flowed, and the wind drove him across the water of its own accord toward an unvisited destination. Rüsul didn’t care. He had no need to hurry. He could feel the increasing proximity in his bones and that was enough. More than enough. An aged Fant on a raft alone and at sea, the wind filling his makeshift sail and carrying him toward the last bit of land he would ever stand upon. His father and mother had each left in the same manner, and their parents before them. That’s how it had been, going back generation upon generation to the very founding of Barsk.

He’d felt it coming on all season. His every perception called out to him, less clairaudience than common sense. It was part of the way of things. One felt the change in pressure that signaled the nearness of a lull in a storm. One smelled the sweetness of tevketl long before the berries actually ripened so as not to miss their brief span for picking. And one knew when it was time to die. Rüsul could no more fail to recognize his coming death than he could be surprised by a pause in the rain or sour berries.

The certainty came to him one morning. He’d never been the type to awaken easily, always struggling to cross that daily border between slumber and the responsibilities of the wide awake world. But that day he had opened his eyes and known. Death had announced itself, named a time and place, and left him instantly alert. Rüsul had risen and gone about his day with a wistful smile, a bit sad that his time was ending but also relieved to know for sure. That knowledge signaled the start of the final rite of passage for every Fant.

His assistant had seen the change in him at the workshop that day, acknowledging it with a simple question. “You know?”

Rüsul had smiled. “I do. The last lesson I need to learn. No sadness from you, Yeft. It’s long overdue. Besides, I know you’ve wanted my tools since the day you ended your apprenticeship.”

The younger Fant ignored the barb and instead asked, “Is there anything I can do to help? Do you have enough time for everything?”

Rüsul had been thinking it through since breakfast. Time enough to complete the game board and pieces he’d promised to his elder daughter’s husband after drinking too much beer on the night of their Bonding. Time enough to finish the lintel for the great window in his son’s new home. And time also to build a stout raft and gather together the supplies he would need for the voyage. He had no goodbyes to say. Yeft had seen the knowledge on his face as much because they’d worked side by side for thirty years as because it had been so fresh. The rest of his loved ones would realize what had happened after he’d left. None would come seeking him. Until the day they each woke to their own invitations, they wouldn’t even know where to look.

* * *

HE’D been on the open water for five days, seated comfortably enough at the front third of a raft, his back against the short mast that held the only sail. A tarpaulin covered a jumbled pile that occupied most of the other two-thirds. Beneath it lay jugs of fresh water and beer to quench his thirst, assorted fresh fruit to enjoy before it spoiled, and dried fruit for after if the wind died or the current slowed and delayed his journey. There was grain and salt for making cold porridge, and an assortment of succulent leaves as much for dessert as for late night snacking. Rüsul had also packed a scattering of various soft woods and, despite his promise, held onto his favorite knife. At the last moment he’d been unable to part with it, though of course he wouldn’t need it when he reached his death.

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