Monday, January 28, 2019

War of the Maps

I started work on the new novel on January 1st 2018, and a year and a week later turned in the final draft to my agent. Although, of course, there will be changes yet to come in the process of turning it into a book, it has reached its proper shape and feel. Here's a short extract from somewhere near the start:

By the time he reached the beginnings of the forest the cloud had burned away and mirrorlight was hot on his back and his coiled hair. This was the northern edge of the high plain, frayed by steep valleys that wound between knife-edged ridges. He followed the course of a dry stream down one such valley, tall conifers he could not name rising on either side. Ribbons of sand and gravel. Boulders thatched with glass moss that spun tiny rainbows from mirrorlight. A grassy clearing thick with saplings where one of the big trees had fallen. The windless air heavy with heat and the buzzing song of some kind of insect, flavoured with a clean medicinal scent. Now and then the lucidor halted the warhorse and turned in the creaking saddle to look behind him. A lawkeeper fleeing retribution. A trespasser in this strange country, far from his desert homeland.
The forest was scarred by tracts of dead trees; the valley sides were cut by erosion gullies and long rockslides. The climate of the entire map was changing, altering its weather, disfiguring its land. The heartland of the Free State endured long summer droughts now, and its winters were colder and wetter. And while most mirrors dimmed each winter, as they always had, some were permanently dimmer than they once had been, and one, at the tail of the Sandday arc, had in the last century shrunk to a faint red spark. Some said that the creator gods had stinted when making the world; others that the world’s slow dying was part of their design. Yet still people were born and met and married and died to make room for the next generation, and life went on, somehow. Perhaps the creator gods had made people better than they had known.
Many of their relics had likewise outlasted their passing. Once, the lucidor rode past a roofless circle of pillars rising out of scrub trees on a bluff above the dry stream. Once, he stopped to study with his spyglass a tall column that stood at the prow of a high ridge, decorated with carvings of some forgotten skirmish of the Heroic Age when godlings, autonomous shards of the creator gods, had walked new-made maps clad in the bodies of men and women, and left behind monuments and temples and even entire cities, and rumours of places where time stretched from seconds to centuries between one footfall and the next, or where the unwary could be thrown into the sky or transported instantly to a map halfway around the world or to the bottom of the World Ocean. Places where rocks floated in the air. Places where the sick were healed. Places where the words of godlings still echoed and could drive the unwary mad or grant certain adepts disciplined by years of meditation a pure and everlasting instant of ultimate enlightenment. How to measure the significance of this last assignment against any of that? The lucidor thought of an ant crawling over a child’s balloon. Not even close.
Remfrey He had once told him that people busied themselves with habit and ritual to avoid thinking about the awful truth – that they were no more than discarded toys in an abandoned house, created to serve a whim of gods who had moved on long ago, and only those who accepted that their world and their lives were a cosmic joke and laughed at it and found new games to play could be truly free. Not that Remfrey He believed that, of course. He did not really believe in anything, apart from the singularity of his genius. No, he had been having fun, the only kind of fun he could have after his arrest, by challenging and trying to undermine the lucidor’s beliefs. A game he had continued to play long after he had been sentenced and exiled. Smuggling out notes commenting on disasters and crimes. Asking disingenuously, after the death of the lucidor’s wife, if the lucidor still believed that his little life had any kind of meaning or structure.
Well, he still believed in the principles that had shaped his life. He still held that to be true. That was why he was here. Remfrey He would be amused by his persistence, no doubt, but it was all he had now. All he knew.
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