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Far Horizons: All New Tales From the Greatest Worlds of Science Fiction
Far Horizons All New Tales From the Greatest Worlds of Science Fiction 26
Then, finally, these strange island realms gave way to familiar territory: for now Asia was in sight, the shores of Khitai. Trajan made landfall there, exchanged gifts with the Khitaian sovereign, and acquired from him those Khitaian experts in the arts of printing and gunpowder-making and the manufacture of fine porcelains whose skills, brought back by him to Roma, gave such impetus to this new era of prosperity and growth that we call the Renaissance.
He went on to India and Arabia afterward, loading his ships with treasure there as well, and down one side of Africa and up the other. It was the same route as all our previous far voyages, but done this time in reverse.
Trajan knew once he had rounded Africa’s southernmost cape that the spanning of the globe had been achieved, and he hastened onward toward Europa, coming first to Lusitania’s southwestern tip, then coasting along southern Hispania until he returned with his five ships and their surviving crew to the mouth of the River Baetis and, soon after, to the starting point at Sevilla. “These are mariners who surely merit an eternal fame,” he concluded, “more justly than the Argonauts of old who sailed with Jason in search of the golden fleece. For these our wonderful vessels, sailing southwards through the Ocean Sea toward the Antarctic Pole, and then turning west, followed that course so long that, passing round, we came into the east, and thence again into the west, not by sailing back, but by proceeding constantly forward: so compassing about the globe of the world, until we marvelously regained our native land of Hispania, and the port from which we departed, Sevilla.”
There was one curious postscript. Trajan had made an entry in his journal for each day of the voyage. By his reckoning, the date of his return to Sevilla was the ninth day of Januarius in 2282; but when he went ashore, he was told that the day was Januarius 10. By sailing continuously westward around the world, they had lost a day somewhere. This remained a mystery until the astronomer Macrobius of Alexandria pointed out that the time of sunrise varies by four minutes for each degree of longitude, and so the variation for a complete global circuit of three hundred sixty degrees would be 1,440 minutes, or one full day. It was the clearest proof, if anyone had dared to doubt Trajan’s word, that the fleet had sailed entirely around the world to reach the strange new isles of that unknown sea. And by so doing had unlocked a treasure chest of wonders that the great Emperor would fully exploit in the two decades of absolute power that remained to him before his death at the age of eighty.
And did I, having gained access at last to the key document of the reign of Trajan VII, set immediately about the task of finishing my account of his extraordinary life?
No. No. And this is why.
Within four days of my finishing my reading of the journal, and while my head was still throbbing with all I had discovered therein, a messenger came from Italia with news that the Emperor Lodovicus Augustus had died in Roma of an apoplexy, and his son the Caesar Demetrius had succeeded to the throne as Demetrius II Augustus.
It happened that I was with the Caesar when this message arrived. He showed neither grief over his father’s passing nor jubilation over his own ascent to the highest power. He simply smiled a small smile, the merest quirking of the corner of his mouth, and said to me, “Well, Draco, it looks as if we must pack for another trip, and so soon after our last one, too.”
I had not wanted to believe—none of us did—that Demetrius would ever become Emperor. We had all hoped that Lodovicus would find some way around the necessity of it: would discover, perhaps, some hitherto unknown illegitimate son, dwelling in Babylon or Londin all these years, who could be brought forth and given preference. It was Lodovicus, after all, who had cared so little to witness the antics of his son and heir that he had packed Demetrius off to Sicilia these three years past and forbidden him to set foot on the mainland, though he would be free to indulge whatever whim he fancied in his island exile.
But that exile now was ended. And in that same instant also was ended all the Caesar’s scheme to beautify Sicilia.
It was as though those plans had never been. “You will sit among my high ministers, Draco,” the new Emperor told me. “I will make you Consul, I think, in my first year. I will have the other Consulship myself. And you will also have the portfolio of the Ministry of Public Works; for the capital beyond all doubt is in need of beautification. I have a design for a new palace for myself in mind, and then perhaps we can do something about improving the shabby old Capitol, and there are some interesting foreign gods, I think, who would appreciate having temples erected in their honor, and then—”
If I had been Trajan Draco, I would perhaps have assassinated our crazy Demetrius in that moment and taken the throne for myself, both for the Empire’s sake and my own. But I am only Tiberius Ulpius Draco, not Trajan of the same cognomen, and Demetrius has become Emperor and you know the rest.
And as for my book on Trajan the Dragon: well, perhaps I will complete it someday, when the Emperor has run short of projects for me to design. But I doubt that he ever will, and even if he does, I am not sure that it is a book I still want to give to the public, now that I have read Trajan’s journal of the circumnavigation. If I were to tell the story of my ancestor’s towering achievement, would I dare to tell the whole of it? I think not. And so I feel only relief at allowing my incomplete draft of the book to gather dust in its box. It was my aim, in this research of mine, to discover the inner nature of my great royal kinsman the Dragon; but I delved too deeply, it seems, and came to know him a little too well.
THE HYPERION CANTOS
The Fall of Hyperion (1990)
The Rise of Endymion (1997)
The four Hyperion books cover more than thirteen centuries in time, tens of thousands of light-years in space, more than three thousand pages of the reader’s time, the rise and fall of at least two major interstellar civilizations, and more ideas than the author could shake an epistemological stick at. They are, in other words, space opera.
As the reviewer for the New York Times said of the last book in the series, “Yet The Rise of Endymion, like its three predecessors, is also a full-blooded action novel, replete with personal combats and battles in space that are distinguished from the formulaic space opera by the magnitude of what is at stake—which is nothing less than the salvation of the human soul.”
The salvation of the human soul—in the sense of finding the essence of what makes and keeps us human—is indeed the binding theme through all of these space battles, dark ages, new societies, and the coming of a new messiah.
Hyperion introduces us to seven pilgrims crossing the WorldWeb of the Hegemony of Man on their way to the Valley of the Time Tombs on the planet Hyperion. In true Chaucerian form, six of the pilgrims (one doesn’t survive long enough) tell each other their personal stories and reasons for coming on the pilgrimage as they cross The Sea of Grass and other obstacles to reach the Shrike—the fabled killing creature of the Time Tombs, part machine, part time-traveling god, part avenging angel, and all sharp thorns, spikes, claws, and teeth. The idea is that one of the pilgrims will have his or her request granted by the Shrike; the others will die. Through their stories we learn of the TechnoCore—a hidden and manipulative group of Autonomous Intelligences escaped from human control—of the destroyed (or perhaps just kidnapped) Old Earth; of the fake war between the Hegemony and the space-adapted, human-evolved Ousters; and of one Jesuit’s discovery—and rejection—of a cross-shaped symbiote called the cruciform which can bring about physical resurrection. The story ends with the pilgrims’ arrival at the Valley of the Time Tombs.
The Fall of Hyperion picks up exactly where Hyperion left off but utilizes totally different narrative techniques and structures to pursue John Keats’s themes of individuals—and species—not happily surrendering their place in the scheme of things when evolution tells them it is time to go. The pilgrims from the first book find that their fates are not as simple as they had t
hought: the Time Tombs open, mysterious messages and messengers from the future show that the struggle for the human soul continues on for many centuries, the Shrike wreaks havoc but does not kill all, nor does it grant requests, and the complex interstellar society of the Hegemony of Man with its WorldWeb farcaster system is kicked apart like an ant hill by interstellar war—although whether the war is between Hegemony and Ousters, or Humanity and the TechnoCore, is not clear. Of the pilgrims, one named Brawne Lamia is pregnant by her lover—the John Keats cybrid created by the Core—and it is rumored that her child will be The One Who Teaches, humanity’s next Messiah. Another, soldier Fedmahn Kassad, travels to the future to meet his fate in combat with the Shrike. A third, Sol Weintraub, has stopped his daughter from aging backward to nonexistence, but now has to travel with her through a Time Tomb to their own complicated part in the mosaic of the future. The fourth pilgrim, the Hegemony Consul, takes an ancient spacecraft whose Al is inhabited with the essence of the dead John Keats cybrid and returns to explore the ruins of the Hegemony. The fifth pilgrim, a priest, dies and is reborn through the cruciform as the Jesuit whose tale he told—now the pope of a reborn Catholic Church. The final living pilgrim—the seven-hundred-year-old poet, Martin Silenus, who has been telling all this tale—remains as obscene and crotchety as ever.
Endymion opens 274 years after the Fall of the Farcasters. Things have gone to hell—which is usually the case in so-called Dark Ages between empires—but the Pax, the civilmilitary arm of the reinvigorated Catholic Church, now extends its dominion to most of the former worlds of the Hegemony. The Church—and the Pax—control its citizens through its monopoly of resurrection. Unknown to most, the Church has entered into a Faustian bargain with the now-hidden TechnoCore and utilizes the cruciform symbiotes to bring its followers back to life and into obedience. Suddenly, an eleven-year-old messiah-to-be named Aenea appears on the scene. Aenea is Brawne Lamia’s daughter, and she has fled across almost three centuries through the Time Tombs only to find the Pax authorities searching for her, and with both the Church and the Core acting on an absolute need to destroy her. The still alive, still obscene, still cranky poet, Martin Silenus, assigns a young soldier and escaped murderer—Raul Endymion—to rescue the girl and to transport her wherever she wants to go on the now-dead Consul’s returned ship. Most of Endymion is a massive chase across human space with the Pax in close pursuit, as Raul, Aenea, and the blue android A. Bettik run for their lives and perhaps the future of humanity. Created by the Core, unleashed by the Church, is a female monstrosity named Rhadamanth Nemes who makes the killing-creature Shrike look like a Sunday-school teacher. At the end of Endymion, Raul, Aenea, and a wounded A. Bettik make it to Old Earth—not destroyed after all, just transported to the Lesser Magellanic Clouds by aliens known only as the Lions and Tigers and Bears. Our trio settles in at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West while young Aenea trains to be an architect.
The Rise of Endymion picks up four years after the events of Endymion. Aenea, now sixteen, knows that she must return to Pax-dominated space to carry out her role as The One Who Teaches. Raul, her protector and friend, has no wish to go. The idea of martyrdom—especially his beloved Aenea’s martyrdom—appalls him. Aenea sends Raul “ahead” by farcaster, but actually his few weeks of traveling allow Aenea to age five years, thanks to the miracle of time dilation and time-debt during Raul’s interstellar travels in the old Consul’s ship. When they meet again, Aenea is a woman and well along in her role of The One Who Teaches. The Pax is still after her. The Church still needs her dead. The creature Nemes has now been joined by three equally impossibly powerful and destructive siblings. And amidst all this, on the mountaintop-and-cloud world of T’ien Shan, Aenea and Raul become lovers. This makes Raul, our narrator through the two books, even less happy at the thought of his beloved’s becoming the messiah so many have predicted. Raul is not the smartest character in these books, but he is absolutely loyal, absolutely in love, and he is smart enough to know the fate of most messiahs.
The Rise of Endymion ends with tragedy, torture, death, and separation, followed—not miraculously but inevitably—by great enlightenment and the reunion of Raul and Aenea. The Pax has murdered her—thus unwittingly bringing about their own downfall through Aenea’s Shared Moment, wherein every human being on every world glimpses the truth behind the Pax, the Church, the cruciform, and the parasitic TechnoCore—but during her “absent five years” while Raul was traveling, she had come ahead in time with the help of the Shrike to spend one year, eleven months, one week, and six hours with Raul on Old Earth. Earth has been emptied, cleansed, renewed, and returned to its proper place in the solar system by the Lions and Tigers and Bears.
Martin Silenus, the poet and constant character through all the books, dies shortly after Raul and Aenea are wed. Some of the poet’s final words were to the Consul’s ship, which has also come through a thousand years and four fat books—“See you in hell, Ship.”
As The Rise of Endymion ends, the still-mysterious Shrike stands vigil over Martin Silenus’s grave on Old Earth; thanks to Aenea’s sacrifice, humanity has been freed to “learn the language of the dead” by tapping into the empathic fabric underlying the universe—and also by now being able to free-cast, that is, personally teleport anywhere; and Raul and Aenea fly off on their ancient hawking mat to celebrate their honeymoon on the empty, virginal Old Earth—“…our new playground, our ancient world…our new world…our first and future and finest world.”
ORPHANS OF THE HELIX
by Dan Simmons
The great spinship translated down from Hawking space into the red-and-white double light of a close binary. While the 684,300 people of the Amoiete Spectrum Helix dreamt on in deep cryogenic sleep, the five AIs in charge of the ship conferred. They had encountered an unusual phenomenon and while four of the five had agreed it important enough to bring the huge spinship out of C-plus Hawking space, there was a lively debate—continuing for several microseconds—about what to do next.
The spinship itself looked beautiful in the distant light of the two stars, white and red light bathing its kilometer-long skin, the starlight flashing on the three thousand environmental deep-sleep pods, the groups of thirty pods on each of the one hundred spin hubs spinning past so quickly that the swing arms were like the blur of great, overlapping fan blades, while the three thousand pods themselves appeared to be a single, flashing gem blazing with red and white light. The Aeneans had adapted the ship so that the hubs of the spinwheels along the long, central shaft of the ship were slanted—the first thirty spin arms angled back, the second hub angling its longer thirty-pod arms forward, so that the deep-sleep pods themselves passed between each other with only microseconds of separation, coalescing into a solid blur that made the ship under full spin resemble exactly what its name implied—Helix. An observer watching from some hundreds of kilometers away would see what looked to be a rotating human double DNA helix catching the light from the paired suns.
All five of the AIs decided that it would be best to call in the spin pods. First the great hubs changed their orientation until the gleaming helix became a series of three thousand slowing carbon-carbon spin arms, each with an ovoid pod visible at its tip through the slowing blur of speed. Then the pod arms stopped and retracted against the long ship, each deep-sleep pod fitting into a concave nesting cusp in the hull like an egg being set carefully into a container.
The Helix, no longer resembling its name now so much as a long, slender arrow with command centers at the bulbous, triangular head, and the Hawking drive and larger fusion engines bulking at the stern, morphed eight layers of covering over the nested spin arms and pods. All of the AIs voted to decelerate toward the G8 white star under a conservative four hundred gravities and to extend the containment field to class twenty. There was no visible threat in either system of the binary, but the red giant in the more distant system was—as it should be—expelling vast amounts of dust and stell
ar debris. The AI who took the greatest pride in its navigational skills and caution warned that the entry trajectory toward the G8 star should steer very clear of the L1 Roche lobe point because of the massive heliosphere shock waves there, and all five AIs began charting a deceleration course into the G8 system that would avoid the worst of the heliosphere turmoil. The radiation shock waves there could be dealt with easily using even a class-three containment field, but with 684,300 human souls aboard and under their care, none of the AIs would take the slightest chance.
Their next decision was unanimous and inevitable. Given the reason for the deviation and deceleration into the G8 system, they would have to awaken humans. Saigy?, AI in charge of personnel lists, duty rosters, psychology profiles, and who had made it its business to meet and know each of the 684,300 men, women, and children, took several seconds to review the list before deciding on the nine people to awaken.
Dem Lia awoke with none of the dull hangover feel of the old-fashioned cryogenic fugue units. She felt rested and fit as she sat up in her deep-sleep crèche, the unit arm offering her the traditional glass of orange juice.
“Emergency?” she said, her voice no more thick or dull than it would have been after a good night’s sleep.
“Nothing threatening the ship or the mission,” said Saigyō, the AI. “An anomaly of interest. An old radio transmission from a system which may be a possible source of resupply. There are no problems whatsoever with ship function or life support. Everyone is well. The ship is in no danger.”
“How far are we from the last system we checked?” said Dem Lia, finishing her orange juice and donning her shipsuit with its emerald green stripe on the left arm and turban. Her people had traditionally worn desert robes, each robe the color of the Amoiete Spectrum that the different families had chosen to honor, but robes were impractical for spinship travel where zero g was a frequent environment.