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.
Lawrence M. Schoen writes:
Barsk is an anthropomorphic SF novel set in the far future. As an elevator pitch, think Dune meets The Sixth Sense, with elephants. Its themes explore prophecy, intolerance, friendship, conspiracy, loyalty, and a drug that allows one to speak with the dead.
As I originally wrote this book, this was the opening to chapter two. But wiser heads prevailed and even though Rüsul is not the book’s main character (not even close), he is a good place to start.
There’s a gravitas to that opening line. It’s perhaps the best hook I’ve ever written. It promises drama and emotion, destiny and agency, and then immediately slips away into building the scenario, laying down the groundwork for a story in which the weather is at least as important as life and death.
The character is resolved to an action, his death, but he’s not in any hurry. He’s set off to embrace it, and the journey will take as long as it takes. Establishing that as his motivation in the first paragraph, I was naturally obligated to thwart it, and do so with the rest of the chapter. All too quickly we discover that events have been set in motion with the express purpose of interfering with the time honored tradition of an old man (or at least, an old elephant) sailing away to his death. And if echoes of the myth of a place where all elephants go when it’s time to die are starting to stir in your mind, well, let’s just say that the book’s subtitle was no accident.
Much of the book is told from the point of view of a historian (who is also the protagonist), a chronicler with a specialty of studying the prophecies of a founder of the planet’s society. This allowed me to play with the frisson that results when exploring the past explicitly involves predictions of the future, as well as that classic physics problem of the effect observing a thing has on the thing itself. Along the way I had the opportunity to invent a new type of subatomic particle, define how memory really works, make an argument for a new type of immortality, play out some teachable father-son moments, play games with telepathy, obsession, righteousness, free will, and a really disturbing child who worked very hard to steal the entire novel away from me.
After more than twenty years writing and selling stories and novels, five published books from small presses, nominations for the Campbell, the Hugo, and the Nebula, Barsk is far and away the best thing I’ve ever written. I hope you enjoy it.
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About the author:
Lawrence M. Schoen holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology, has been nominated for the Campbell, Hugo, and Nebula awards, is a world authority on the Klingon language, operates the small press Paper Golem, and is a practicing hypnotherapist specializing in authors’ issues.
His previous science fiction includes many light and humorous adventures of a space-faring stage hypnotist and his alien animal companion. His most recent book, Barsk, takes a very different tone, exploring issues of prophecy, intolerance, friendship, conspiracy, and loyalty, and redefines the continua between life and death. He lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with his wife and their dog.
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