A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Sunday, January 24, 2010

In the Lion's Mouth

Fair Yuts'ga
An excerpt from In the Lion's Mouth, a sketch of the world of Yuts'ga, whose name derives from the Cantonese for "Second Earth." 

There is an introductory poem, followed by the sketch:

VII A Role, in the Hay

Fair Yuts’ga, whose star once spied from Earth
In nameless twinkle, whose seas once swam
With proto-life prolific, joined in metazoic joy,
Her skies well-crossed by many streams, convulsed
At times by strife to seize them, have now in gentle peace
Reposed these slumb’rous years, to dream… of what? 
Here, too, a crucial bottleneck where messages import
Must criss and cross their way along the stars,
A place where proper hands may stay or hasten
Intelligence sore-needed elsewhere by the foe. 
And so have Shadows dimmed Fair Yuts’ga
In stealth to play the game upon the razor’s edge;
Life sweetly-tasted 'long the borderlands of death. 
They circle, gath’ring ever closer, one upon another
Until the shades envelop all in that fatal commonwealth
In which we all find membership.  Ah, Yuts’ga!
Frontier no more, her ancient Commonwealth forgot,
Her star-crossed skies now routes to other worlds,
An incubator once, now into the grave be hurled!

Yuts’ga was known once as Second Earth; but that was in the Commonwealth’s palmy days, when the relationship had resonance and comparisons to Terra were made openly with pride.  She bulked larger than the Homeworld, tugged a bit more than bones and muscles liked, and spun more slowly, so that all-night parties never quite lasted all night.  She owned a moon, too, which they called Djut Long Dji, which meant “second moon” in some ancient tongue of Terra; but their grandchildren’s grandchildren wondered why it was called “second” if there was only one and the name eventually collapsed into Tchudlon. 

She was a large moon as such things go, and it was a rare thing for a small planet to have a large moon; but she was not so large as Luna, and so was less of a pestle to Yuts’ga’s mortar.  The seas were stirred by moderate tides; life was ground; but not so finely as on Earth. 

Still, life was life.  It was more than the prokaryote pseudolife that was the fruit of most worlds’ groanings; more than the lichens that had graced the downy cheeks of Dao Chetty.  Her vast world-sea was called the Wriggling Ocean because there were – by the gods! – worms burrowing in the ooze.  (And ooze it was, and not mere mud.)  Who knew what might next be found? 

The answer, as it turned out, was nothing; and as world after barren world followed no one cared any more.  Worms?  They vanished under the bioload of the terraforming arks.  An easy job, the old captains said.  Yuts’ga had done half their work already.  They stroked the world and coaxed her and quickened her with fish and insects and sullen crocodiles, with pine trees and waving grasses and fragrant rhododendrons.  They remembered to save a few of those ur-worms, and studied them closely and found them much like Terran acoels; but they did not let them get in the way of things.  There was work to do!  A galaxy to conquer! 

Much later, the world was called Tikantam, which meant “the farthest extremity of any point of the compass produced in space,” or “the sensible horizon,” because her star was the farthest of the Commonwealth suns that could be picked out by eye from Terra.  But it was not too long afterward that men ceased to care what could or could not be seen from Terra.  There were convulsions, wars, cleansings.  Some say the worlds themselves shrugged off the men that lived upon them.  In the end, as epigones reconnected their ancestors’ bones, hoping that they might live again, the older name was rediscovered and she became Yuts’ga once more. 

Somewhere along the way, they lost the worms. 

from In the Lion's Mouth, ©2010 Michael F. Flynn

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