Thursday, October 20, 2011

Alternate History

This is the first few pages of an alternate beginning to Gardens of the Sun, some 20,000 words which I ditched because a) it set up the dichotomy at the heart of the novel a little too clunkily and b) because I decided it would be better to tell the story of the long road to peace from the point of view of the characters who'd been dragged into events leading up to war in The Quiet War. Might publish it as part of an ebook collection one day.

Everywhere Karyl Mezhidov went, people were talking about war. One day, he stopped at a little oasis close to the Palatine Linea, in the south-east of the sub-saturnian hemisphere of Dione, and discovered that an extended family from Paris had taken up residence. Refugees.

Karyl would have wished them luck and moved right on, to another oasis or shelter, or to one of his caches of supplies, but he’d been out prospecting a long time, he was low on food and fuel, and besides, they seemed like nice people and it would have been rude to have turned down their offer of hospitality. So after he’d plugged his rolligon into the oasis’s grid, replenished its food maker with yeast base, and fixed a minor problem with the suspension of the rear off-side wheel, he spent a little time working up the details of a trade for some of the phosphates he’d extracted from a drift in exchange for the family’s hospitality, so neither side would have to short out on kudos. And when that was sorted out to everyone’s satisfaction, he sat down for the evening meal with the family and a woman who, like him, was passing through on her way to somewhere else.

They all sat around a rug spread by the stream that ran around the circumference of the oasis, in the shade of pines and firs, the oasis’s chandelier of sunlamps dimming down to twilight, and the tent’s big panes beginning to polarize; although the sun at Saturn delivered only four per cent of the insolation on Earth’s surface, and at this high southern latitude hung low even at noon, it was becoming brighter than the darkening interior. The oasis sat in a neat round crater with a slumped rim, so there was a good view across a cratered swale to a flat-topped hill, the edge of Adstratus Crater, that rose above the close, curved horizon against the black sky. The view kept drawing Karyl’s attention as he told his hosts a little about his prospecting work, and they told him the latest news from Paris, the increasing paranoia, the peace wardens who had been armed with pistols and were enforcing a raft of new regulations and zealously searching out dissenters. Because its mayor was at the forefront of opposition to the presence of ships from Earth in the Saturn System, everyone was convinced that Paris was going to be hit hard when the war began, and many citizens were leaving for settlements where they had family connections, or for untenanted oases like this one, planning to sit things out as best they could.

‘No one and no place will be safe anywhere on any of the moons,’ Shizuko, the family’s other guest, said scornfully. ‘Sure, they’ll go for the cities first. But when they have the cities under control, they’ll go after the big settlements, and then everyone else. Moving here, you’re just putting off the inevitable.’

Shizuko was a serious and intense young woman with a tall crest of red hair and bright yellow eyes. She disagreed loudly and volubly with almost everything the family said, and clearly thought that Karyl was a possible ally. Smiling at him now, saying that even gypsies like him wouldn’t be safe, asking him what he would do when the inevitable happened.

Everywhere he went, people were always asking him for his opinion about the war. Truth was, he didn’t have an opinion. Oh, he knew that it was inevitable. Ships of the Brazilian and European joint expedition had been in orbit around Mimas for months, the Pacific Community had set up a camp on Phoebe, at the outer edge of the Saturn System, and although there were all kinds of diplomatic discussions, although many cities had claimed neutrality, it was clear that the three great powers wanted to take control of the entire Saturn System. But if it was inevitable, then there wasn’t anything that could be done to stop it, and as far as he was concerned, he didn’t see why it should change things. Why would anyone be interested in what he did?

So he shrugged and said that he hoped he’d be able to keep on working.

‘Do you really think they’ll let you or anyone else wander around? They’ll round you up,’ Shizuko said. The lamps set amongst the bowls of food spread on the rug put bright sparks in her yellow eyes as she looked at everyone around her. ‘All of you. Probably lock you up inside Paris, along with everyone else. If they don’t H-bomb the city first, that is, or drop a rock on it. If they do that, they’ll lock you up in a camp instead, or truck you off to Mimas or Rhea or Tethys. They’ll turn the entire system into a prison camp, no exceptions. So rather than trying to pretend that the war doesn’t have anything to do with you, you should be doing something about it, right now.’

‘We have already done something,’ David, the eldest family member said. ‘We have moved here.’

People lounging around the rug laughed, but Shizuko wasn’t going to be put off. She was one of those tedious people who went everywhere with an agenda at the forefront of their minds.

‘They already control the sky. Their ships are faster than our ships, they are armed with real weapons, and they are crammed with soldiers. Soon they’ll control the cities too. And then everything else. Despite what your mayor says, there’s nothing we can do about that - I see some of you are surprised to hear that hear that I agree with you, but it’s perfectly obvious. We can’t win this war, but we can win the peace. There aren’t many of them, and they are far from home. History teaches us that occupation of one country by another always ends in the defeat or retreat of the occupier. There are things we can do to hasten that,’ Shizuko said, and launched into a brief and efficient lecture about preparing for life after war, and strategies for making the lives of the invaders from Earth as uncomfortable as possible.

There was an embarrassed silence when she had finished. At last, David said, ‘Clearly you have your way, and we have ours.’

‘Trying to hide out here won’t work.’

‘We are not trying to hide. We are here. We make no secret of it to you or to anyone else.’

‘It doesn’t matter. They’ll come for you any way. They’ll take you away.’

‘No,’ David said. ‘We will resist them. Not like you, by sabotage, attacks on their soldiers, assassination, and so on. But by nonviolence. You shake your head. You think no doubt that it is no more than pacifism. It is not. It is a means of persuasion, just as violence is a means of persuasion. But instead of using force and causing suffering to defeat the enemy, we will use our minds, and win over the enemy by love.’

He was short, with a fringe of white hair around a liver-spotted pate, and a considerable belly spilling into the lap of his shorts. Clearly one of the original settlers, one of the people who had fled the Moon a hundred years ago, when Earth had made it clear that the Lunar refuges would be closed and their populations forcibly repatriated. Like Karyl’s grandfather, who had told him many stories of those hard times. The last time Karyl had exchanged messages with Rainbow Bridge, he’d been told that everyone was sitting tight and hoping for the best. Even though there was a ship from Earth in orbit around Callisto and it was obvious that what was going to happen here was going to happen there, too. He wondered now what it must be like to have lived so long that you found yourself caught up in the same kind of situation all over again. Clearly, it hadn’t caused David to lose hope. He spoke quietly but forcefully, and the people around him clearly agreed because they were nodding and smiling. He was not only an unreconstructed human being, with his pot belly and thatch of chest hair and crooked toe nails, he was also an old-fashioned patriarch -- a rarity in the patchwork of matriarchal societies of the Saturn System.

‘I’m sorry to hear it, because they’ll kill you,’ Shizuko said.

‘We are prepared for that,’ a woman nursing a baby said, with a sharp look that Shizuko met with a smile.

‘People will die, no doubt,’ David said. ‘But in the end, nonviolence is stronger than violence.’

Shizuko laughed and said that they had their way and she and her friends had hers, they’d see who would be more successful. ‘I know that you didn’t try nonviolence on your mayor, or if you did you had no luck.’

‘He isn’t our enemy,’ David said.

And there it was again, the divide between generations. Most of the pioneers and their children and grandchildren wanted nothing to do with war, and weren’t willing to fight against the enemy. But their great-grandchildren, the rising generation of Outers, were more aggressive because they believed that they had more to lose. They’d already been struggling to overcome the resistance of the older generations to expansion further outwards, to the moons of Uranus and Neptune and beyond. And now they wanted to confront the enemy head on, because the enemy wanted to put an end their dream of expansion before it had begun. For a hundred years, the Outer System had been more or less left alone as Earth recovered from the catastrophe of the Overturn: ecological crashes and climate change ten times worse than anthropogenic global warming, and wars and famines too. But now the three great powers of Earth had done much of the great work of reclamation and reconstruction they had turned their attention outwards, to the little utopian principalities of
the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Wanted to bring them under control before they spread into the outer dark, and changed themselves so radically that they would become, in effect, another human species. One with greater powers than unreconstructed humans, angels or devils who wouldn’t ever be bound by the laws of old Earth.

Karyl had heard the same arguments over and again ever since the first ship from Earth had arrived in the Saturn System, and nothing had changed. One side argued for the higher moral ground, whether it was pacifism or nonviolent resistance, citing the success of Gandhi, the fall of the Soviet empire, the Arab Spring, and so on; the other believed that the anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon had been right to assert that human beings were born perfectible, but would never be perfect, that violence was an indelible part of human nature that couldn’t be edited out without destroying all those qualities - fearless exploration, insatiable curiosity, creativity - necessary to the human spirit. And so the Outers were divided amongst themselves, and couldn’t agree what to do about the enemy, and so nothing was done. It was depressing, really, and so unnecessary. Even if the Outers did spread outward, and radically change themselves, it would have nothing to do with Earth. And if the great powers of Earth wanted access to the scientific knowledge that the Outers had preserved and accumulated in the last century, there was surely a way of trading it. Everything could be traded for everything else, after all. Karyl had tried out these arguments long before, on a woman he’d slept with while staying over in the garden habitat of the Jones-Truex-Bakaleinikoff clan, and she’d told him that the three great powers weren’t really going to war against the Outers - no, the Outers were the prize that Earth’s great powers were squabbling over amongst themselves. Once one looked liked winning the prize the others had to join in.

Whatever. Everyone around the rug argued amongst themselves and the chandelier and the moonscape dimmed down, and red and green and blue fireflies winked under the dark boughs of the firs and pines, and Karyl drank too much of the pine-sap mead that was being passed around, and when he woke early the next morning he had a bad headache that the traditional cure of breathing pure oxygen didn’t quite flush away. He was hoping to drive off without any fuss, but Shizuko came into the garage as he was performing some final checks on his rolligon. She was getting ready to leave too, she said, and asked him where he was heading next.

‘Oh, down the Palantine Linea, perhaps. Out in that direction, somewhere or other.’

Karyl was wary because it was clear that the woman was a member of the resistance, although it wasn’t called the resistance, but ‘our thing’ or ‘this thing of ours’. They were everywhere, trotting out their agenda, looking for recruits, asking favours.

Shizuko laughed. ‘It’s all right. I don’t intend to follow you. You have your prospecting, and I have business of my own. And I’m not going to try to recruit you. You’re from Callisto after all, and I hear that they’re a pretty conservative lot in the Jupiter System. Still, I have to admit that someone like you would be very useful. You gypsies know Dione like no one else, you have all kinds of hideaways and caches . . .’

She was standing close, with one hand on his arm, smiling down at him, her gaze warm and more golden, in the bright light of the garage, than yellow. Karyl felt a definite attraction to her, and wondered if she trying to seduce him, if she was wearing a pheromone or a hypnotic. Not that she’d need any biochemical help. It had been a long time since Karyl had slept with anyone, he’d been spending a lot of time out in the country these days, avoiding as much as possible all the nonsense about war. And she was quite a woman too, powerful and confident . . .

Shizuko laughed again, and broke the spell, and said again that she wouldn’t try to persuade him, but perhaps he could think hard about things. ‘And when it comes, as it will, when things change, as they will, remember that we need your help.’

‘What will you do?’

Shizuko’s gaze grew darkly serious. ‘I’ll fight them in any way I can.’

‘Well, I hope it doesn’t come to it.’

‘It will. It’s happening right now. Coming straight towards us. Can’t you feel it?’

Her grip had tightened on his arm and her face was close to his and he could feel her heat and was breathing in her spice. Then she stepped back and the spell was broken. She looked around at the bare walls of the garage and then lifted her tunic to reveal a small plastic tool tucked into the waistband of her shorts. A 9mm recoilless pistol made by a manufactory in Paris, Shizuko said. The same kind of weapon carried by the peace wardens there.

Karyl felt a cold shock cleave through him. He’d never seen a pistol before. It was like being confronted with a truly wild and deadly animal.

Shizuko told him that it shot explosive rounds. One was more than enough to kill a person. If they tried to capture her, she said, she would kill as many of them as she could and then kill herself, it was better to die free than live in chains.

So she was crazy, Karyl thought. Driven crazy by thinking about the war all the time, or already crazy and refusing to take her meds. Or just an extreme example of the way people thought, here. That was the difference between people from Saturn System and people like him. They thought themselves more radical, were more Adventurous. They though that people like him were reactionaries, clinging to old ways whose usefulness had long ended. But he liked his life. The life he had made.

He told Shizuko to take care, and she laughed and told him that she knew how to take care of herself because she had thought long and hard about it, she hoped he’d do the same.

He climbed into his rolligon, feeling a big surge of fear because he had to turn his back on the crazy woman and her venomous little tool, and managed to seal it up, and sat, quivering, in the big seat at the front of its bubble for a few minutes, until he’d calmed down. Then he started the rolligon up and drove through the inner doors and they closed behind him and the air was pumped out and the outer doors opened and he drove out into Dione’s late afternoon.

He should have felt elated at having escaped, free again to go anywhere he wanted without anyone telling him what he should do, but his bad feeling clung to him. He couldn’t help wondering what Shizuko had been doing down in the garage. Maybe just checking over her rolligon. Or maybe sticking a transponder on his. She had said that he would be useful, that he must know all kinds of hiding places. Maybe she wanted to see where he went so that she could make use of his places. Find his caches. Maybe she wanted to follow him . . .

Crazy thoughts feeding on each other like a knot of snakes. But she was crazy, so it was probably a good precaution to try to think like her, to figure out if she wanted something from him, what it was.

Still, he felt a touch of guilt and foolishness when he turned off the road, and cut east in a half-circle that took him back towards the oasis. It was late afternoon, and the sun hung low at the horizon, behind the rolligon, which chased its long shadow across smooth dusty ground where the small and large bowls of rimless craters were so brimful with blackness that they looked like holes punched through reality, with only the faintest gleam on their sunward crescents lending them any indication of dimension. Saturn, almost full, was bisected by the eastern horizon, like a fat man trying to get out of a pool, the narrow bright curve of the rings aimed almost straight up.

Four kilometers from the oasis, Karyl parked the rolligon and had the AI run a full scan on every radio channel and failed to find the beep of a transponder, then climbed into his pressure suit and clambered out of the lock and loped on a little way until the green gleam of the oasis appeared like a star on the curve of the horizon. He stood still and watched it for a little while, using the magnifying feature of his helmet’s faceplate. It was neatly fitted into the crater, the top of its coping wall level with the slumped rim, the polygonal elements of its hemispherical tent blankly shining with sunlight. Farm tubes packed with green plants under bright lights were half-sunk into the lobate apron off to one side, where ejecta melted by the heat of the impact that had formed the crater had settled and refrozen. Nothing moved out there: no sign of Shizuko’s rolligon. Maybe she had already left, heading west as she’d told him. Or maybe she was still trying to convert the family to her cause, or was working to pay off the debt of hospitality.

So at last, feeling angry now as well as foolish at the way the war had infected him with stupid paranoid thoughts, Karyl walked back to the rolligon and got in and turned it around and drove off out across Dione.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Science Fiction That Isn't Science Fiction (12)

The wind that blew in their faces was cold, yet somehow stale. They were looking from a high terrace and there was a great landscape spread out below them.
Low down and near the horizon hung a great red sun, far bigger than our sun. Digory felt at once that it was also older than ours: a sun near the end of its life, weary of looking down upon that world. To the left of the sun, and higher up, there was a single star, big and bright. Those were the only two things to be seen in the dark sky; they made a dismal group. And on the earth in every direction, as far as the eye could reach, there spread a vast city in which there was no living thing to be seen.
C.S. Lewis The Magician's Nephew

Sunday, October 16, 2011


They fell silent once more, staring out of the black window, but they found only each other's faces in there and turned away.
Karin Fossum, Calling Out For You
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