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In a dinosaur-ruled world, saurian scientist Afsan the Far-Seer struggles to overcome his new blindness with the help of a doctor who treats the mind as well as the body, while Afsan's mate, Novato, dreams of journeying to the stars. Original.
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Robert J. Sawyer has been called “the dean of Canadian science fiction” by The Ottawa Citizen.
He is one of only seven writers in history—and the only Canadian—to win all three of the world’s top awards for best science-fiction novel of the year: the Hugo (which he won in 2003 for Hominids), the Nebula (which he won in 1995 for The Terminal Experiment), and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (which he won in 2005 for Mindscan).
In total, Rob has authored over 18 science-fiction novels and won forty-one national and international awards for his fiction, including a record-setting ten Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Awards (“Auroras”) and the Toronto Public Library Celebrates Reading Award, one of Canada’s most significant literary honors. In 2008, he received his tenth Hugo Award nomination for his novel Rollback.
His novels have been translated into 14 languages. They are top-ten national mainstream bestsellers in Canada and have hit number one on the Locus bestsellers’ list.
Born in Ottawa in 1960, Rob grew up in Toronto and now lives in Mississauga (just west of Toronto), with poet Carolyn Clink, his wife of twenty-four years.
He was the first science-fiction writer to have a website, and that site now contains more than one million words of material.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Afsan couldn't see the sun, but he felt its noontime heat beating down. With his left hand he held the harness attached to Gork, his large monitor lizard. They were moving over paving stones, Afsan's toeclaws making heavy clicks against them, Gork's footfalls echoing that sound with a softer ticking. Afsan heard metal-rimmed wheels rolling over the roadway, approaching from the right.
Afsan had been blind for twenty kilodays. Det-Yenalb, the Master of the Faith, had pierced Afsan's eyeballs with a ceremonial obsidian dagger. The priest had rotated the blade in each socket, gouging out the empty sacks. Afsan didn't like thinking about that long-ago day. He'd been convicted of heresy, and the blinding had been performed in Capital City's Central Square in front of over a hundred people, a mob packed with as little as three paces between each of its members.
The city had changed since then. The landquake of kiloday 7110 had destroyed many roads and buildings, and the replacements were often different from the originals. The growth and redevelopment of the city had left their marks, too. Still, Afsan always knew where he was in relation to the Central Square. Even now, having to walk through it made him anxious. But today's journey would take him nowhere near---
Suddenly Afsan felt his middle toeclaw catch on something---a loose paving stone?---and he found himself pitching forward, his tail lifting off the ground.
Gork let out a loud hiss as Afsan, desperately trying to right himself, yanked hard on the lizard's harness.
From ahead, a shout: "Watch out!"
Another voice, a different passerby: "He's going to be crushed!"
A loud roar---a hornface?---dead ahead.
Afsan's chest scraped across the pavement.
The sound of cracking leather.
The hornface again.
A snap from his shoulder.
A jab of pain.
His muzzle smashing into the ground.
Blood in his mouth.
Two curving teeth knocked loose.
And then, an explosion within his head as something heavy kicked into it.
His head whipped sideways. His neck felt like it was going to snap.
A scream from the roadside.
More teeth knocked out.
Afsan was unable to breathe through one nostril. He felt as if that whole side of his upper muzzle had been crushed.
Afsan let out a moan.
A stranger's voice: "Are you all right?"
Afsan tried to lift his head. Agony. His shoulder blade was a knife, slicing into his neck. His head was slick with blood.
The high-pitched voice of a youngster: "It's Sal-Afsan!"
Another voice. "By the Face of God, it is."
And a third voice: "Oh, my God. His head---Sal-Afsan, are you all right?"
More running sounds, toeclaws sparking against paving stones.
"You ran right over him!"
"He stumbled in front of my chariot. I tried to stop."
Chariot. The wheels he'd heard. The hornface must have been drawing it. The kick to his head---a hornface's forefoot. Afsan tried to speak, but couldn't. He felt blood coursing out of him.
"The left side of his face is smashed," said the youngster. "And look---there's something funny about his shoulder."
Another voice. "Dislocated, I'm sure."
"Is he dead?" called a new voice.
"No. Not yet, anyway. Look at his skull!"
Afsan tried to speak again, but all he managed was a low hiss.
"Someone get a healer!"
"No, it would take too long to fetch a doctor; we've got to take him to one."
"The palace surgery isn't far," said one of the voices. "Surely Sal-Afsan would be a patient of the imperial healer, what's his name..."
"Mondark," said another voice. "Dar-Mondark."
"Take him in your chariot," shouted a voice.
"Someone will have to help me," said the charioteer. "He's too heavy for me to lift on my own."
Silence, except for Afsan's labored breathing and, nearby, Gork's confused hissing.
"For God's sake, people, someone help me! I can't do this alone."
An incredulous voice. "To touch another..."
"He'll die if he doesn't get medical help. Come on."
A new voice, from farther away. "Make room for me to pass. I'm just back from a hunt. I suspect I can touch him without difficulty."
Shuffling feet. Afsan moaned again.
The charioteer's voice now, close to his earhole: "We're going to touch you, Sal-Afsan. Try not to react."
Even in agony, even with a broken skull and dislocated shoulder, instinct still reigned. Afsan flinched as hands touched him. Fingerclaws popped from their sheaths.
"Careful of his shoulder---"
Afsan howled in pain.
"Sorry. He's pretty heavy."
Afsan felt his head being pulled out of the thickening puddle of blood. He was lifted up and placed facedown in the back of the chariot.
"What about his lizard?" said the charioteer.
"I'll take him," said the youngster who had first identified Afsan. "I know where the palace surgery is."
The charioteer shouted, "Latark!" His hornface began to gallop along the road, Afsan's head bouncing up and down, the sound of metal wheels over the stones drowning out his moans.
After an eternity, the chariot arrived outside Dar-Mondark's surgery, a typical adobe building just south of the palace. Afsan could hear the charioteer disembark and the sound of his fingerclaws clicking against the signaling plate set into the doorjamb. The door swung open on squeaky hinges, and Afsan heard Mondark's voice. "Yes?"
"I'm Gar-Reestee," said the charioteer. "I've got Sal-Afsan with me. He's hurt."
Afsan heard Mondark's heavy footfalls as the healer hurried to the chariot. "God," he said. "How did this happen?"
"He tripped and fell into the roadway. My hornface kicked him in the head before I could stop my chariot."
"Those are massive wounds." Mondark leaned closer, his voice reassuring. "Afsan, you're going to be all right."
The charioteer's voice, incredulous: "Healer, your muzzle---"
"Shush," said Mondark. "Help me bring him inside. Afsan, we're going to pick you up."
Once again, Afsan was carried. He felt cold in the side of his head. After several moments, he was placed face down on a marble tabletop. Mondark had treated Afsan kilodays ago on a similar table after Afsan had plummeted to the ground from the top of a thunderbeast's neck. The surgery chamber, Afsan knew, was heated by a cast-iron stove burning coal. He also knew that the roof above the table was made largely of glass, letting in outside light, illuminating the patient.
"Thank you, Gar-Reestee, for bringing Afsan in," said Mondark. "I will do everything I can for him, but you must leave. The physical contact for treating his injuries is something you shouldn't see."
The charioteer's voice was full of sorrow. "Good Sal-Afsan, I'm terribly sorry. It was an accident."
Afsan tried to nod, but daggers of pain stabbed through his muzzle.
The charioteer left. Mondark went to work.
Captain Var-Keenir stopped pacing the deck of the sailing ship Dasheter and tipped his muzzle up to the lookout bucket, high atop the foremast. Old Biltog was up there, his red leather cap and the green skin of his head and shoulders stark against the purple sky. Keenir's tail swished in sadness. He'd seen it happen before on long voyages, and lookout officers, who spent inordinate amounts of time in the sun, were particularly susceptible to it. Biltog was hallucinating. Why, Land---the single known continent---was half a world away.
"Land ho!" called Biltog again, his green arm extended toward the northeast. The red sail attached to the foremast snapped in the wind. Two Quintaglios moved to the starboard side of the vessel to see what Biltog was pointing at.
Keenir looked up again. The sun, brilliant and white, was climbing in front of them. Behind, covering half the sky between zenith and rear horizon, was the Face of God, its leading edge illuminated, the rest of its vast bulk in shadow. Also visible were three moons, wan shapes in the sun's glare. But along the northeastern horizon there was nothing but waves touching sky.
Near Keenir was a ramp leading below. Kee-Toroca, a young Quintaglio male, came up it. He moved closer to Keenir than Keenir was comfortable with and said, "Did I hear a shout of 'land ho'?"
Keenir had known the young savant all his life; indeed, Toroca had taken his praenomen syllable in honor of him. "You've sharp hearing indeed, to have heard that below deck," he said in his gravelly voice. "Yes, Biltog shouted it, but, well, I think he's had too much sun. There can't be any land out here."
"Ah, but undiscovered land is exactly what we're looking for."
Keenir clicked his teeth. "Aye, the final stage of the Geological Survey. But I don't expect to find any, and doubt very much we have now."
Toroca was carrying the brass far-seer his mother, Novato, had given to his father, Afsan, the day after he had been conceived. It glinted in the fierce sun, its green patina counterpointed by purple reflections of the sky above. Toroca scanned the horizon once with his unaided eye.
Or was there something?
He brought the far-seer to his face and slid the tube's components apart until the horizon was in focus. There was a slight brown line dividing the waves and the sky.
Keenir could see it, too, now. Biltog's greater height had let him spot the land sooner than those on deck.
"Will you look at that?" said Toroca softly, passing the far-seer to the captain.
"An unknown country," said Keenir, head shaking in disbelief. Then, rotating on his heel, he shouted, "Starboard ho! Turn the ship!"
A space ark.
Wab-Novato leaned back on her muscular tail, placed her hands firmly on her slender hips, and looked up at the vast blue structure protruding from the cliff face.
She'd spent most of the last two kilodays here in Fra'toolar province, studying this alien spaceship, trying to fathom its mysteries. But figuring out this ship was like tracking a wingfinger: you could follow the footprints in the sand, fooling yourself that you were getting closer to a tasty meal, but just when you thought you had your quarry within reach, it would take to the air, leaving you far behind. There were almost no gears or levers or springs used in this ship's construction, no pumps or wheels, nothing that Quintaglios were familiar with.
It had seemed like a Godsend, this ship of space. The Quintaglio world, innermost of fourteen moons, was doomed: within a few hundred kilodays it would be torn apart by the stress of its orbit around the giant, banded planet called the Face of God. Twenty kilodays ago, when Afsan had figured out that their moon was doomed, no Quintaglio had ever flown and the idea of traversing the void between worlds was the stuff of the wildest fantasy stories. But now the government was devoted to the exodus, the project Novato herself was in charge of.
Before this ship had been found, the Quintaglios had been making good progress on their own: after studying wingfingers and the long-extinct creatures known as birds, Novato had built the first glider, the Tak-Saleed. In the two kilodays since, more efficient gliders had been developed. Perhaps she'd been a fool to turn over that line of research to someone else, although back then this ark had seemed to be a shortcut to the stars. But despite the best efforts of her team, no one yet had a clue as to how the ship operated.
The cliff it was embedded in was more than a hundred paces tall, showing the best uninterrupted sequences of sedimentary rock on all of Land. Toroca had uncovered the ship while studying these layers, looking for fossils. He found lots of them above a certain point---the lowest chalk stratum, known as the Bookmark layer---but none below. It had been as if the Bookmark indicated the point of the divine creation of life. But most scholars now agreed that it was instead the arrival point, marking where transplanted lifeforms had first been released by other arks onto this world.
But this ark had crashed, its five-eyed crewmembers killed, its cargo of plants and animals never released. The ark had been buried in sediment that later turned to rock, but it had not been crushed: the blue material of the ship's hull was harder than diamond and impervious to corrosion. The part now projecting out of the cliff had been exposed by blasting, and, big though it seemed, it was only a tiny fraction of the total ship.
It was noon. The purple sky was shot through with silvery-white clouds. To Novato's left were choppy waves---the world-spanning body of water. In front of her, running along the edge of the cliff, was a narrow strip of beach, crabs scuttling amongst the rocks. Leading up the cliff face to the blue ark were webs of climbing ropes left over from the early excavations as well as scaffolding made of adabaja wood, added later to make getting up to the ark easier. Oil lamp in hand, Novato began climbing the rickety stairs of the scaffolding.
As she ascended, she could see, far overhead, the green forms of several Quintaglios working with picks at the sides of the giant ark. Others, Novato knew, were likewise hacking away at the rock on top of the ship. To date, only one entrance to the ship had been found, and passage through it was hampered because its outer door was jammed partway shut. Miners had been working steadily at uncovering more of the ship in hopes of finding another way in. So far they had failed, but as they exposed more of the ship's roof, they had found that much of it was covered with black hexagonal cells. No one knew what the black honeycomb was for, but Novato had noticed one startling thing: rather than heating up in the sunlight, as dark objects normally did, these cells remained cool, as if---Novato couldn't fathom the mechanism involved---as if the heat falling on them were somehow conducted into the ship.
At last, Novato reached the top of the stairs. She crossed the wooden platform leading to the ship's half-closed door. That door led into a tiny chamber, the far wall of which contained another door. The chamber itself was completely empty, except for some grillwork on the walls.
This double-doored room was the subject of much debate. Some thought it was an animal trap. Bait might have been used to lure prey into the outer chamber, then the outside door would have been closed quickly and the inner door not opened until the animal within had asphyxiated or starved to death. Certainly no hunter would catch food that way, but the bodies of the ship's crew were so bizarre that one could scarcely imagine them actively pursuing food.
Others suggested the double-doored room served almost exactly the opposite function: a safety feature to prevent any of the animals aboard the ship from escaping---it was, after all, an ark---while crewmembers were disembarking.
Novato doubted both theories. She was certain there was another, more elegant explanation, but no matter how hard she contemplated it, the answer remained elusive.
Oh, well, she thought. Just one of many things about this ship I don't understand.
As she had countless times before, Novato squeezed through the half-closed door with her lamp, entering the vast ark, looking for a miracle to help save her people.
Afsan's recovery was remarkable. His shoulder had been easy enough to reposition, but getting the broken pieces of his skull to line up properly had been difficult and pain...
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Book Description Ace, 1994. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P110441000177
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Book Description Ace, 1994. Mass Market Paperback. Condition: New. First Ed - may be Reissue. Ships with Tracking Number! INTERNATIONAL WORLDWIDE Shipping available. Buy with confidence, excellent customer service!. Seller Inventory # 0441000177n