Book Review: Portrait of a Novel, by Michael Gorra, Is a Fascinating Look at Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady

9780871406705.jpgBuy from Amazon.com, Amazon UK, iTunes Store.

I’ve long been obsessed by Henry James. I’ve read all of his fiction, and much of his non-fiction as well, in the Library of America editions (Amazon.com, Amazon UK). I’ve read a half-dozen biographies of James, and the James family, and many of books about James’ work.

So Michael Gorra’s Portrait of a Novel interested me right off the bat, even though I waited for the book to come out in paperback. Gorra set out to tell the story of The Portrait of a Lady, one of James’ finest novels, weaving a narrative talking about the novel, about Henry James’ life, especially when writing The Portrait, and about the times in which it was written and set.

The result is fascinating. While Gorra’s critical discussion of the novel would be enough for a book, the way he manages to tell the story of much of Henry James’ life through its relationship with The Portrait of a Lady is impressive. This isn’t a full biography of James; the book opens with some background information about James’ early years, then moves on to show James at work on The Portrait. Throughout, you get a picture of what Henry James was doing in the novel, and how it related to his experiences.

Gorra takes a Sainte-Beuvian approach, and rightly so. Not all of James’ works reflect experiences he had in his life, but many did. For example, Isabel Archer is partly based on Henry’s cousin, Minny Temple, who died aged 24 of consumption, in 1870. Isabel Archer is not diseased, but she does have the Emersonian independence that Temple had.

Gorra bases much of his discussion of James and women on the interesting biography of James, A Private Life of Henry James, by Lyndall Gordon (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), looking at James’ relationship with Temple, but also his later relations with Constance Fenimore Woolson, who James met around the time he was writing The Portrait.

Gorra goes beyond strict biography, giving insight into the way James published his work – with The Portrait of a Lady, and earlier novels, they were published as serials, which impacted the way they were constructed. He also looks closely at James’ later years, when he was revising his favorite works for the New York Edition, and discusses the changes he made to The Portrait, many of which gave much better insight into the characters and their motivations.

Gorra adroitly sums up the message of The Portrait of a Lady:

“She [Isabel Archer] learns that Her own life has been determined by things that happen before she was thought of, a past of which she was ignorant and that she only understands when it’s already too late.”

This book is not a full biography of the fascinating life of Henry James; if you want that, the best bet is still to go back to Leon Edel’s pioneering work (available used in a one-volume reduction of the original five volumes (Amazon.com, Amazon UK). Or check out this fascinating biography of the James family – one of the rare families to have two geniuses as siblings, William and Henry: House of Wits, by Paul Fisher (Amazon.com, Amazon UK).

And go back and read The Portrait of a Lady in the original version (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) or the later version, revised for the New York Edition (Amazon.com, Amazon UK). Or watch the movie with Nicole Kidman, who portrays Isabel Archer quite well (Amazon.com, Amazon UK).

IMG_0566.JPG
Lamb House, in Rye, where Henry James lived from 1898-1816.

Book Review: The Annotated Emerson

When reading any text from the 19th century, it is hard to put oneself in the appropriate context, making it difficult to fully appreciate or even understand what the author is saying. When reading fiction, this lack of context means that, for example, imagining two people sitting in a parlor talking, the reader may not realize that, at the time, this could mean that they were cold (if it were winter), or very hot (if it were summer). That women were very uncomfortable in their corsets, and men in their stiff collars. Or that there were social issues that regulated how members of the opposite sex could meet and converse, and that these subtle contextual elements had a subconscious presence in the minds of contemporary readers.

With non-fiction – a term not used at the time – such as Emerson’s essays, the context covers a very broad political, social and religious spectrum. Words have meanings beyond their simple dictionary definitions (their connotations), and we readers, more than 150 years after the fact, are unaware of these.

On an extreme level, you can look back at Shakespeare’s works. Very few readers of Hamlet, King Lear or Much Ado about Nothing (do you know what “nothing” meant in Elizabethan slang?) would approach these texts without notes, and even those notes and annotations – along with definitions of words whose meanings were different at the time – cannot fully put the reader in the context of these works.

Scholar Jeffrey Cramer has published several volumes of Henry David Thoreau’s works annotated (such as this Walden), and I had long wondered why no one had done the same for Emerson.

Well, now we have such a volume, The Annotated Emerson, by David Mikics. This large book – 9.7 x 9.3 inches, on heavy paper – takes a selection of Emerson’s works and adds notes. Some of these notes merely define words, or explain their usage in Emerson’s time; some explain who certain people mentioned in Emerson’s essays are; and others make links with different works by Emerson, either essays, lectures, or even journal entries.

This is not an exhaustive work; it does not annotate all of Emerson’s essays, nor even a specific collection of them. Rather it chooses some of his most famous works, the ones people will be most likely to read. These include Nature, The American Scholar, The Divinity School Address, Self-Reliance, Circles, The Poet, Experience and New England Reformers. Two of his essays from Representative Men – those on Montaigne and Shakespeare, perhaps the two writers that Emerson most appreciated – are included. But there are also political writings: Emerson’s letter to president Martin van Buren about the plight of the Cherokees and his essay on John Brown from 1860, after Brown’s failed raid on Harper’s Ferry. Emerson’s laudatory essay on his friend Henry David Thoreau is included, as are a number of poems. In more than 500 pages, this collection is a fine overview of Emerson’s varied writings, though it contains nothing from his journals.

In addition to the textual notes – it’s worth pointing out the excellent layout, with the notes in the outside margins of the pages – there are dozens of illustrations, many in color, giving more contextual background, and also showing some of the people mentioned in the writings, as well as Emerson himself.

In addition to being a fine text, this is also an attractive book, and its size is more that of a coffee-table book than a collection of essays. (This does make it a trifle harder to read, of course, as it is fairly heavy.)

I can think of no better book for those interested in Emerson to understand more about his writings and his times. Learning more about what Emerson was referring to gives a much richer picture of the extent of his writing, and a better feeling of where he came from.

Book Review: Treasury of the True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dogen’s Shobo Genzo

Buy from Amazon.com | Amazon UK | Amazon FR

Dogen’s Shobogenzo is the most profound and perplexing work of the Zen canon. Written in the 13th century by the founder of the Soto school of Zen, the Shobogenzo is a collection of texts written over a long period of time that examine the concepts and practices of Zen.

This edition is a milestone, representing a complete English translation of the Shobogenzo, in an extremely attractive set of books. The two volumes are, while a bit expensive, very well produced. The paper is thick and opaque, the font is very readable, and the binding will last one or more lifetimes. Volume one has introductory matter about Dogen’s life and the composition of the Shobogenzo, and the first part of the texts (fascicles 1-47). (For a more thorough discussion of Dogen’s life and career, as well as an analysis of his thought, see Eihei Dogen: Mystical Realist, by Hee-Jin Kim.) The second volume contains the remainder of the texts (fascicles 48-95 plus a 96th fascicle not included in the original edition of the Shobogenzo), and an extensive glossary explaining the terms used in the books.

Some of the texts in this collection have been published previously, in Moon in a Dewdrop, Beyond Thinking, and Enlightenment Unfolds. In fact, many readers may find those there volumes sufficient in content, and more agreeable in overall price. (Another useful book is Realizing Genjokoan: The Key to Dogen’s Shobogenzo, by Shohaku Okumura, which is a detailed, and very accessible commentary on this section of the Shobogenzo.)

This glossary in volume two is essential to the reading and study of this work. Readers will need to look up terms to get a better understanding of what they really mean. Often a single word, or a short phrase, may seem obscure when reading, but the glossary goes into detail to explain it better. In addition, the glossary serves as an index, with references to where the terms are used.

But the glossary is a bit problematic. At more than 200 pages, this is a big chunk of the text, and it is, of course, only available in the second volume. If you are reading the first volume, you still need to have this glossary handy, so you’ll need to have both books. I wish that Shambhala had included the glossary as a separate volume – perhaps a paperback – so it could be more easily consulted. Or, if they could provide an e-book version, popping it on an iPad would make reading and consulting it more practical.

This doesn’t detract from the overall work, which is, I must say, an amazing feat of translation that has taken decades. The text is beautifully rendered, and, while just one interpretation, it certainly has the weight of experience both of the translators as translators and as practitioners. This set is a monument to the work of Dogen.

Note: the original two-volume edition is out of print, but there is a one-volume edition (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) that has replaced it. I haven’t seen it, but it apparently has much thinner paper. There’s also a Kindle edition (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) which is great for reading on the go, since the book is so heavy, but the glossary is essentially unusable on the Kindle.

Book Review: The Quotable Thoreau

The Quotable Thoreau
Collected and edited by Jeffrey S. Cramer
552 pages. Princeton University Press, 2011. $20

Buy from Amazon.com | Amazon UK | Amazon FR

Jeffrey Cramer, notable Thoreau scholar and head of the Thoreau Institute, has been publishing some wonderful books for fans of Henry’s writing in recent years. In 2004 he published Walden – A Fully Annotated Edition, in 2007, I to Myself: An Annotated Selection from the Journal of Henry D. Thoreau, and in 2009, The Maine Woods: A Fully Annotated Edition. All of these books take Thoreau’s texts and add annotations and explanations to help the reader better understand the little details.

Cramer’s latest Thoreau collection is The Quotable Thoreau, described as containing “more than 2,000 memorable passages from this iconoclastic American author, social reformer, environmentalist, and self-reliant thinker.” This small hardcover book – roughly the size of a DVD case, or more correctly, a season of Lost – contains a wealth of selections from Thoreau’s varied works. Divided into sections on different topics, such as Beauty, Conservation, Day and Night, Simplicity, Society, and Solitude, each excerpt is from a few words to a few sentences, and contains an attribution specifying which text it is taken from.

Fans of Thoreau will find this an excellent book to keep by their bedsides, to flip through and read nuggets of Thoreauvian wisdom as they please. Those who have never read Thoreau will find a book containing the heart of Henry’s works, in small, easily digestible pieces. (Hopefully, after sampling the appetizers in this book, they’ll go on to the main course of Henry’s full works.)

While any such florilegium of an author’s work is, by necessity, a series of bits and pieces taken out of context, one thing this book does is offer a broader spectrum of Thoreau’s works, and shows how much his writing was all part and parcel of the same set of ideas.

If you’re curious about Thoreau’s writing, this is the ideal book to get to whet your appetite for his larger works, such as Walden. If you’re already a Thoreauvian, you’ll certainly enjoy flipping through this book and finding so many of those sentences and paragraphs that you’ve enjoyed as you’ve read through Henry’s books.

Book Review: Excelsior, You Fathead! The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd

Excelsior, You Fathead! The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd
Eugene B. Bergmann
495 pages. Applause, 2004, $28.

Buy from Amazon.com | Amazon UK | Amazon FR

When I was around 10 or 12 years old – back in the late 60s and early 70s – I discovered Jean Shepherd’s nightly radio show on WOR AM in New York. Every evening at 10:15, Shep would come on the air, following his theme music (Strauss’ Bahn Frei), and talk for 45 minutes. He would just talk – there was no script, though people who knew him have suggested that he spent hours preparing for his shows – seemingly improvising, riffing on current events, his pet peeves, and telling stories. When listening to Shep, it always sounded like he was talking to me; like there was no one else listening to the radio. It was the stories that got me hooked, especially those about him growing up in Hammond, Indiana, a small town near Chicago. Shep talked about his time in the Army, and about the events of his childhood, which occurred between the age of about 7 and 17, events that happened to him and a few of his friends, such as Flick and Schwartz.

Shep and his friends were average kids, with the usual preoccupations of kids that age – my age – and the stories were bittersweet memories of their growing up in the Depression. Some of them were funny, others poignant, but Shep brought to these oft simple stories the true art of the storyteller. He always managed to make them last up until the final theme music, weaving threads and events until his time was up. I would be held in a spell for those 45 minutes, just before I went to sleep, as I entered his world.

I was a real Jean Shepherd fan back then. Not only did I buy his books (two books of stories, In God We Trust – All Others Pay Cash, and Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories and Other Great Disasters), his records (LPs of him reading from the books, or more scripted versions of the stories), and I even took up the instruments that he played on the show: the kazoo and the Jew’s harp.

Shep contributed greatly to my worldview, teaching me the power of stories and how the true storyteller could take control of the listeners’ minds, but also through the seemingly simple profundity of some of his observations.

Over the years, I had forgotten about Jean Shepherd – his stories were still someplace in that mushroom soup of memories that dated back to those pre-teen years, but they didn’t surface often. But recently, thanks to the Internet and a group of fanatics, I’ve been able to rediscover the joys of listening to this great artist.

And now (to finally get to the meat of this review), a new book examines Jean Shepherd, his art, his legacy, and his philosophy: Excelsior, You Fathead! The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd, by Eugene Bergmann. This book, written by a true Shep fan and fanatic, is a compendium of thoughts about Jean Shepherd, his work, his life, and, as the title suggests, his enigma.

Because Shep was an enigma. Having created his own radio genre, he eventually got tired of all the advertising that the radio stations tried to squeeze into his show and left, gave up, walked away from more than two decades of radio. He was a trendsetter – and, in a way, a minor cultural icon in the early days – but he hated trends, and hated following them even more. He was a unique friendly voice, but could be, at times, arrogant and opinionated.

Bergmann’s book is not a biography; instead, it is a collection of chapters that examine different periods of Shep’s life and work. There is no attempt to rationalize the complex relationships he had with his family, nor his personal life, beyond some basic anecdotes. However, this book, with its many excerpts from Shep’s radio shows, gives the best overview of what Shep was like, and what his shows were about. While the book is a bit disjointed, so was its subject.

If you’re familiar with Jean Shepherd, you’ll know why you should buy this book; if not, you may want to buy it to discover one of America’s most unique comic voices (though comic is by far too simplistic a word to describe Shep). And if you want to hear him at work, some 1,500 shows are available for download at the Jean Shepherd Archive, or, to hear a few random shows, check out the Jean Shepherd Podcast, or check out the Brass Figlagee podcast on iTunes.

Book Review: Walden – A Fully Annotated Edition

Walden – A Fully Annotated Edition
Henry David Thoreau; Annotated by Jeffrey S. Cramer
370 pages. Yale University Press, 2004. $30

Buy from Amazon.com | Amazon UK | Amazon FR

The time has come for another annotated edition of Thoreau’s Walden, to replace the aging edition prepared by Thoreau scholar Walter G. Harding. Jeffery S. Cramer, curator of collections at the Thoreau Institute at Walden Woods, has taken on this task, and after many years of work has published this densely annotated text of Walden.

Annotations cover all the areas one would expect: definitions of foreign words, references to people and places mentioned in the text, sources of quotes, even the date of a gentle rain mentioned in one part of the chapter entitled Solitude. Cramer occasionally compares passages in the text with Thoreau’s journal entries and other writings, offering insight into how Thoreau reworked some of his ideas. He is a voluble annotator – the book contains thousands of notes, with 427 for the first (and longest) chapter, Economy, alone. There are some pages where there is no body text at all, to allow for the multiple annotations, yet it is surprising at times to come across pages where he finds nothing to say.While I cannot judge the scholarly value of Cramer’s notes, they are certainly voluminous. If they do not cover all the details, I doubt that another edition with more notes will come along for some time. However, some of the notes make me question the usefulness of the way the notes are presented. For example, on page 81, Thoreau says, “It makes but little difference whether you are committed to a form or the county jail.” Cramer’s note says: “Thoreau was committed to the county jail in July 1846 for nonpayment of taxes.” Really? Do tell… Alas, there is no more about this (famous) incident in Thoreau’s life. Off to the index to see… When I look up jail, it does not refer me to page 81 (suggesting that the index is not quite up to par), but to pages 166 and 308. On the former, I find a better explanation of this incident. It would have been much more useful to find, on page 81, a reference to this note on page 166. Adding notes or references to other notes makes the overall text a bit more cumbrous, but oh so much more complete!

What is perhaps the most important aspect of this book for any die-hard Walden aficionado is its layout. Leaving aside the apocryphal illustrations that appear beneath each chapter title (animals, leaves and berries, even a steam locomotive), what counts most in a book like this is its readability. And the readability depends on the book’s layout. I must say that this is the most disappointing aspect of the book. The canonical text (Thoreau’s text) takes up just over half the total page width. It is presented in slim columns with a thin rule in the form of a box surrounding the text on both sides of a double-page spread. The font is attractive and very readable. At the margins of the canonical text is the annotations, in a smaller, sans serif font, which contrasts well with the main text and is equally readable.

Yet the layout is insufficient for one wishing to read Walden alone, and not focus on the annotations. In an ideal annotated edition of any text, the notes should be in the background enough so the reader can ignore them easily. Here, since the notes cover so much space, this is not possible. With the body text being as slim as it is, the notes look as though the cover half the page. And, with the gutter (the space between the text and the binding at the inside of the pages) being too small, you have to push the book flat to read it comfortably. If you simply let it sit flat on a desk on in your lap, it is difficult to read the words at the center of the book.

It is clearly the density of the annotations that led to this layout. But the publisher had a chance to make a book that was both useful (the annotations) and attractive (the layout); unfortunately, they chose the former. This edition, while fine for reading the notes, is not conducive to a casual, fire-side read of Walden. It is an excellent addition to the library of any Thoreauvian – I’d even say it is an essential book for anyone wishing to better understand Thoreau and Walden – but it is not the edition I would pick up to simply read a chapter or two of the work. (The recent edition by Shambhala, with woodcuts by Michael McCurdy, or the paperback or hardcover Library of America editions, are perhaps best for casual reading.) Nevertheless, this is an invaluable work for a better understanding of this, one of the greatest texts of American literature.


Read more articles in this category: Books

Book Review: The Rest is Noise, by Alex Ross

The Rest is Noise
Alex Ross
640 pages. Farrar, Strauss, Girous, 2007. $30

Buy from Amazon.com | Amazon UK | Amazon FR

“Everything begins in mystique and ends in politics,” said French poet Charles Péguy. This sentence, which begins chapter 11 of The Rest is Noise, may sum up the entire book, and the music of the twentieth century. Alex Ross, music critic for the New Yorker (and blogger: his web site is also called The Rest is Noise ) has written a comprehensive study of classical music after the 19th century, which looks less at the music itself than at the political and social context surrounding composers, as well as their inter-relations. Not that the music doesn’t count, but Ross focuses more on the “why” than the “what”.

Beginning with Richard Strauss conducting Salome in 1906, an event that “illuminated a musical world on the verge of traumatic change,” Ross sketches out the complex history of modern music. In what, at times, is more a series of articles than a single coherent narrative, Ross looks at all the main currents of musical thought and fashion, and gives the reader an excellent understanding of why certain composers wrote the music they did. For music does not exist in a vacuum; it depends on the cultural context of the times. Modernism didn’t just happen overnight, but can be seen as an organic result of what came before. From Wagner to Mahler, the seeds of twentieth-century music had been sprouting before the beginning of the century. Of course, no arbitrary boundary, such as a date, can separate musical styles, and Ross shows just how music evolved around the cusp of the twentieth century.Ross flits around in time and space, grouping composers by location and affinity, sometimes going forward, sometimes moving backwards in time, to give a bird’s-eye-view of the music that was being created. From Germany to France, from the United States to Russia, he looks at the many styles of classical (as well as, briefly, jazz and rock) that grew and morphed into the next style. Yet to this reader, something strange results from this type of analysis. This narrative suggests just how much this music depended on fashions, fads, on the desire, among some composers, to be different for difference’s sake (it “begins in mystique and ends in politics”). While I appreciate much music of this period, I remain perplexed by the respect given to, for example, severe atonal music, which offers no satisfaction to the listener.

Reading Ross, I get the feeling that much of this music was created more as a counterpoint to other, earlier tonal forms of music, and less out of some desire to write music that pleases. With a variety of systems and gimmicks, many composers simply let the music write itself: Schönberg, perhaps, with his twelve-tone series, or Cage, with his embracing of randomness, are two such examples. Reading about the systems and tricks of these and other composers does not make me want to hear what they wrote.

At times, Ross tries to actually describe the music he is discussing. This is strange; reading something like, “The viola offers wide-ranging, rising-and-falling phrases,” or, “the strings play restlessly swirling lines while the brass carve out the whole-tone chords.” He also gives blow-blow descriptions of some works, such as Britten’s Peter Grimes and Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. In a way, this is like describing the color blue to a blind person; there’s no way to give an impression from music through words on a page. And that’s probably the weakest part of this book: even though it’s not intended to make you hear music, you simply want to as you read about all these different composers. Ross has included a playlist at the end of the book, Suggested Listening (unfortunately hidden between the notes and index), and his web site contains excerpts from many works that you can listen to.

Ross’s writing shines when he writes about the few composers who, if pages are any indication, seem to move him most: Sibelius, Shostakovitch and Britten. These three get much deeper treatment than others, with Sibelius especially getting a thirty-page biographical essay. (This could be seen as anachronistic, since Sibelius’s music, while being written in the twentieth century, is certainly rooted in the 19th.) His analysis of music during Nazi Germany, and during the United States in the Cold War period, are especially interesting for their historical information. Yet sometimes it seems that the politics is more important than the music, and, without hearing what’s being discussed, this analysis becomes academic.

At times, it’s not clear how much Ross actually likes the music he’s writing about; he is very detached, and gives few qualitative opinions. But it’s clear that he knows his subject, down to the details, and the interesting juxtapositions of biography and politics make this an extremely interesting read, especially to understand these composers in context. This is a long book, but, at times, I wished it were longer. Ross, on his blog, mentioned how much had to be cut from his manuscript, and it’s a shame that there’s not more. Especially since some composers get short shrift, or are ignored entirely. Charles Ives, perhaps one of America’s most unique composers, gets just a couple of pages, and such names as Vaughan Williams, Walton and Hovhaness barely get a mention. He also manages to totally ignore the vibrant musical culture of twentieth-century Scandinavia, which has seen, since Sibelius, a number of world-class composers.

Nevertheless, this book is a delightful read, and it deserves a place on the shelves of any music-lover who is interested in the history of the twentieth century and how it influenced music. While it’s only words about music, it can help listeners understand the complex relationships between composers and their times. After reading this, it’s time to go out and listen.

Note: on September 23, it was announced that Alex Ross received a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant. Congrats!

Some of My Translations

In addition to being a writer, I’ve worked as a translator from French to English for the past dozen years. While much of my work involved translating technical documents, I have also translated a number of books, and excerpts from books. Here is a list of some of my translations, links to samples, and links to pages on Amazon.com for those books that have been published. (Alas, several of them are out of print…)

Non-Fiction

China in a Mirror, by Roland and Sabrina Michaud. This lovely book combines photographs of today’s China with, on facing pages, pictures of Chinese art that mirrors the photos. I translated the preface to this book, which was written by my friend Cyrille Javary.

Understanding the I Ching, by Cyrille Javary, is a book about the I Ching, its history, and its usage. The book is out of print, but you should be able to find used copies in a number of online bookstores. The link at the beginning of this paragraph takes you to a page about the book with an excerpt from it.

Lebanon, the Phoenician Pearl is a beautiful book of photos and history about Lebanon.

Versailles is a small, color art and history book about the Château de Versailles, as seen through the kings and queens that lived there.

Marrakesh: The Secret of Its Courtyard Houses is a beautiful book about the houses hidden behind the walls of Marrakesh. You will never be able to see most of these houses, but this book looks at the architecture and the history of this style of house.

Arabesques, by Jean-Marc Castéra, is an astounding book about arabesques, the ceramic mosaics traditional in northern Africa and the Middle East. Not only does it present these works of art, but it also shows the mathematic underpinnings of their design.

Paris; ah, gay Paree, as we say. A book that recounts the history of the city of lights, with memorable photos of the architecture that makes Paris so magical.

Fiction

Genia, by Manual Martin, a spiritual thriller, written long before that other best-selling book which codified the genre. Abundant samples are available on the web site.

The Warriors of Silence, by Pierre Bordage. Two sample chapters of this unpublished novel. Pierre Bordage is one of France’s best-selling science fiction authors. I’ve translated other long excerpts of Pierre Bordage’s work for French publishers; I do not have the rights to post them here.

The Story of the Grail, by Chrétien de Troyes. A work-in-progress that I’ll finish one day. You can download several sections of this work in PDF format.

I am always interested in translating books, both fiction and non-fiction, so if you are a publisher, editor or author, feel free to send me an e-mail. I’m especially interested in 19th century French fiction, classics such as Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Alexandre Dumas, Honoré de Balzac and Guy de Maupassant; history; science; science ficton; and mysteries and thrillers.

French Science Fiction by Pierre Bordage

Pierre Bordage is one of France’s best-selling science fiction writers. With more than 20 novels published in just over a decade, his books often touch on the spiritual aspects of society, in a style that combines the best of classic adventure stories with reflection on the future and the present.

Bordage’s books are best-sellers in France, and have been translated in several European countries, but there still remains the difficulty of getting published in English, especially in the United States. This is not a problem that Pierre alone is confronted with; authors of all sorts meet this relative silence from American publishers.While American authors are translated in countries around the world, this globalization of publishing is a one-way street. Non-English speaking authors are rarely translated into English, partly because of a lack of interest among publishers (no one has asked readers if they are interested), and partly because publishers simply don’t want to spend money on translations.

Yet publishing literature in translation is one of the best ways to transmit cultural ideas from one country to another. Could one say that the United States has become insular, culturally as well as politically, in its ignorance of the world around it?

In presenting an English translation of two chapters of Pierre Bordage’s novel The Warriors of Silence, I am tossing a message in a bottle out into the vast sea of the Internet, hoping that an editor or publisher will stumble on this text and be curious enough to want to find out more. I have translated these two chapters from French, with the collaboration of the author, who has reread them and approved the translation.

The Warriors of Silence, or Les Guerriers du Silence, is a best-selling novel in French. It has sold some 25,000 copies in trade paperback (books are rarely sold in hardcover in France) and more than 65,000 in paperback. This novel is the first volume of a trilogy; all three books together, in all formats, have sold more than 225,000 copies. (These sales figures were valid as of May 2005.)

The Warriors of Silence – Chapter 1 and Chapter 2.

Books by Pierre Bordage in French from Amazon FR.

If you are interested in learning more about Pierre Bordage’s work, Contact me.

The Warriors of Silence – Chapter 2

Chapter 2


No one knows how the Scaythes of Hyponeros managed to secure so much influence on the planet Bella Syracusa, the Queen of the Arts.

Or how they infiltrated the entourage of the Ang family, the dynasty that had ruled uninterrupted for 15 standard centuries.

Or how they progressively got hold of key positions within the Empire.

Or how they managed to make themselves indispensable by creating the functions of thought detector and protector.

Or how, feared because of their extraordinary mental abilities, they gradually created a reign of terror.

Who were they?

No one knew anything about Hyponeros, or had even heard of this distant world, so distant that it may only have existed in people’s imaginations. But, it turned out that one of its offspring, Pamynx, was given the supreme dignity of being named Chancellor, an honor which had, up until then, been reserved for the sons of Syracusa’s leading families.

This event took place during the reign of Lord Arghetti Ang.

At the time, few were offended by it. What had become of the proud Syracusans of the days of the conquest? Were they empty shells, shadows, or just puppets of illusion?

Woe to he by whom the offence cometh.

Excerpt from an apocryphal mental text, received during his wanderings by Messaodyne Jhu-Piet, a Syracusan poet of the first post-Ang period. Some scholars think it may have come from stray thoughts of Naia Phytik, of Syracusan origin herself.

Chancellor Pamynx, his face shrouded in the hood of his blue acaba, appeared from the darkness and joined the Lord Ranti Ang and his young protégé Spergus who were awaiting him, with their thought protectors, on the stationary gravitational platform.

“If my lordship would be so kind as to follow me,” said Pamynx, bowing.

“And none too soon,” scolded Ranti Ang. “Are you coming, Spergus?”

With their thought protectors following them like shadows, they stepped into a dark narrow tunnel. They soon came to a heavy wooden door that was incredibly ancient, blocked by thick metallic bars. After a short while, which seemed interminable to Spergus, the bars slid along their rails, which were sealed inside the walls of the tunnel. The damp, close air made Spergus feel ill at ease. He had the unpleasant feeling that the mold in the rank air was penetrating every pore of his skin.

The door opened onto a wide balcony lit by two floating light-bubbles where a small group of men were waiting, their faces hidden behind white masks. Three crossed silver triangles glimmered on the stiff breastplates of their gray uniforms.

Ranti Ang looked at Pamynx with wrath in his eyes.

“You are the high protector of the law, Chancellor! You are therefore aware that Pritivian mercenaries are forbidden to set foot on Syracusa!”

The restrained impatience that pervaded his words showed that he was on the brink of losing control.

“At least do me the honor of answering! Was it really necessary, for the public good, to retain these adventurers?”

“You will understand why they are here in good time, my Lord,” answered Pamynx in a dispassionate tone of voice.

The balcony overhung a huge empty round chamber; in the middle stood a figure, dcensoredd in the folds of a jet-black acaba.

“This place is sinister, my Lord!”

Spergus suppressed a shiver. The spectacle of this ghostly figure, standing as still as a statue on the floor below, dimly lit by underground water lamps, cause venom of anxiety to spread through his young, impressionable mind. The smell of death wafted through the close air.

“Is that one of your students that you have told me about, Chancellor?” asked Ranti Ang.

Pamynx nodded in agreement.

“May I not see his face?”

“Not for the moment, your highness. But this is not out of a lack of respect for you. The hood of his acaba will cover his head during the experiment to prevent our thoughts from focusing on his image, which could weaken his psychic potential.”

“Good gracious! And he really possesses this”¦ this power that you have told me about?”

Pamynx did not reply to Ranti Ang’s mocking disbelief. He removed a tiny ring of golden optalium from within the folds of his acaba and struck it with a rock crystal. A loud ringing sound spread from the ring, much louder than seemed possible from its size. A part of the wall slid away, as if changed by the lingering sound, and let in a flood of harsh light.

Three new figures were seen entering the room: two Pritivian mercenaries and a man whose coarse canvas clothes gave off a stench that was almost that of an animal. His simian face was ashen with fear.

Ranti Ang’s face showed a faint expression of disgust.

“It looks like a Mikat.”

“A Mikat from the satellite Julius, your highness,” confirmed Pamynx. “He was put on the index and declared raskatta. I thought that”¦ for our experiment”¦”

“From what I see, or should I say from what I hear, you are trying to vindicate yourself again, Chancellor!” said Ranti Ang, mockingly. “In fact, don’t you spend most of your time trying to vindicate yourself? For everything”¦ and especially for nothing!”

Spergus’ bright laughter punctuated the Lord of Syracusa’s comments.

“The Kreuzian Church considers that the Mikats are endowed with souls,” argued the Chancellor. “However, the”¦”

Ranti Ang cut him off curtly.

“Unfortunately for you, Sir, I am not Arghetti Ang but his elder son. My father thought he was doing the right thing when he appointed you to this position of great responsibility, and so be it. But if I must respect his choice, as he made me promise, nothing requires me to give my esteem to the beneficiary of his choice! Do be so kind as to not bring the Church of Kreuz into your sordid schemes! After all, isn’t this Mikat one of my subjects? Isn’t it up to me, and me alone, to decide if his life should be sacrificed for the common good?”

Pamynx kept his resentment hidden behind the impassiveness of his face and bowed ceremoniously. His day of revenge would soon come. This perspective helped him remain patient in spite of this constant harassment, these daily humiliations.

While this was going on, the two Pritivian mercenaries dragged the terrified Mikat to within a few feet away of the motionless black acaba.

“Spergus?” Ranti Ang’s voice was suddenly gentler. “Would it please you to know what this Mikat is thinking about, at this very instant?”

“That would”¦ greatly amuse me, my lord,” mumbled the young man.

A vague smile showed on his painted lips. He tried to hide the intense fear that this gloomy vault aroused in him.

Pamynx was annoyed by Spergus’ presence. Lord Ranti Ang thought it was a good idea to have his young protégé present to witness the key experiment that was about to take place. But it was dangerous to bring affective elements into this first public trial, which required a psychically neutral environment.

“Well, what are you waiting for to reveal to our dear Spergus what is going through the Mikat’s mind? If something is going through it, of course! Is it fear that is causing this horrendous stench?”

Pamynx stared at the Mikat, whose greasy black hair was cut in the traditional manner of the Mikatun of Julius: very short, straight on the neck, and shaved on the sides. Under his protruding eyebrows, the poor man’s bulging eyes flitted back and forth around the chamber as though they were following crazy butterflies. From the balcony to the dark threatening figure; from the dark figure to the two Pritivian mercenaries, anonymous behind their white masks.

“His skin is all black!” whispered Spergus.

“That is because he works outdoors each day that Kreuz gives us with his infinite kindness, under the rays of the fire-star Ahkit,” said Ranti Ang.

The disgust that Spergus felt, induced by this creature from another world and another time, welled up within him like nausea. But he could not take his eyes off that thick neck, the strong arms, wide hands, and stubby fingers with their dust-encrusted nails.

Spergus’ wild uncontrolled thoughts perturbed his concentration and interfered with Pamynx’s mental investigation. The two protectors assigned to Spergus’ security turned out to be incapable of holding back the reckless torrents emanating from his mind. The Chancellor decided to not let anything show – it would be the wrong time to cast doubts on the Scaythes’ efficiency.

Pamynx was, like the thought protectors, a Scaythe from Hyponeros, a paritole, and his origin could bring up the question of the constitutional immunity that his high rank was supposed to confer on him. The great Arghetti Ang had had to stifle the wrath of the Syracusan dignitaries to impose him as the Chancellor, and his position was becoming increasingly insecure as time went by, and as the memories of the current ruler’s father faded away.

But for now, Pamynx needed Ranti Ang’s support: this would guarantee the capital needed for the structure of the Great Project; for the fulfillment of the tremendous secret task he had been given by his masters, the Master Embryos of the Hyponeriate. He would soon have a chance to wipe the grin off the Lord of Syracusa’s face.

“We are still waiting, sir. Could it be that you have lost your so-called powers in one of the brothels of Salaun? Yet, you are sexless, are you not”¦?”

Spergus’s mischievous laugh broke out a second time.

“Fear paralyses the Mikat’s mental potential,” the Chancellor finally said. “He is incapable of formulating the slightest coherent thought. I can tell you, however, that he is trying to recall the face and the body of a woman from Mikatun. Probably his own wife”¦”

“What an extraordinary discovery!” chuckled Ranti Ang. “You don’t need to be learned in the sciences of the mind to figure out that he is thinking of his wife!”

“Why do you say that, my Lord?” Spergus asked naively.

The Lord of Syracusa let out a little sarcastic laugh.

“Before Julius was annexed to Syracusa, these animals, the Mikats, did not marry, and the women of the tribe belonged to all the men of the rural communities. For the last two centuries, the law and the church have required them to take just one spouse. This is the first law of the moral-genetic code governing the satellites. That is why, Chancellor, you revealing no wonders by stating that this sub-human is thinking of his wife!”

Impassive, Pamynx ignored Ranti Ang’s mockery and went on: “I also see the faces of some children. Three boys and two girls”¦”

Subjugated by the importance of the people watching him from the balcony, terrorized by the Chancellor’s words, which were the faithful transcription of the few images that were going through his mind, the Mikat let out a scream like a cornered animal and fell on his knees on the cold tiled floor.

“He has a very crude brain,” added Pamynx.

“If his brain were as simple as you are suggesting, what would be the value of this experiment applied to superior intelligences? We don’t have to bother with this muddle of cheap witchcraft to subdue the Mikatun of Julius! Our ancestors have already taken care of that without violating the precepts of our holy Church!”

Suddenly, Pamynx realized how delicate his situation was. Engaged by so many different projects, he had not paid attention to the rumors that suggested that he had fallen into disgrace. He did not need to slip into Ranti Ang’s mind – a sacrilegious action, which could be punished by death – to understand the deadly intentions that his tone of voice implied.

The Chancellor had underestimated the importance of the conspiracy that had been orchestrated against him by Tist of Argolon, the renowned bard of the Syracusan tradition. Even though he had intercepted some thoughts about the underground actions of his Syracusan rival, Pamynx had not deemed it worth his getting involved, thinking that the quality of his relations with the great Arghetti Ang and the length of his service put him above all of these palace schemes. In fact, his behavior was irresponsible, unworthy of a higher-level Scaythe, of a superior transceiver. This carelessness could compromise the Great Project, the universal plan the Master Embryos of Hyponeros had been preparing for centuries. He now realized that he had much less room to maneuver. The future of the entire project now rested on the success of this one experiment.

“Well, sir, this is no time for daydreaming!”

“My students will not be operational right away,” argued the Chancellor. “This demonstration is only designed to show you the current state of their progress. After this is finished, you will realize that the budget allocated to mental research, which has been disparaged by so many of your counselors, has not been squandered. In the future, we will continue our experiments on complex, refined brains and forge ahead until the technique is fully mastered.”

“What has this Mikat done to be put on the index and declared a raskatta?”

Spergus’ airy voice was a striking contrast to the rich metallic sound of the Chancellor’s voice.

“For goodness sake, Chancellor! Answer his question!”

Ranti Ang’s increasing irritation was slowly breaking through the fragile barrier of his mental control. He was having a terrible time complying with the rigorous code of sycophantic emotion, which was followed at the court of Syracusa. Pamynx remained calm and found that his noble interlocutor’s anger gave him a new source of motivation.

“May I please request that you be patient for just a moment, my Lord? The data about raskattas from your territory has been entrusted to the Scaythe Markyat, who is the archiver of justice. It will just take a moment for me to enter into contact with him”¦”

“Hurry up! We would like to return to daylight soon. We feel like rats wallowing in a squalid sewer!”

Heavy greenish eyelids, furrowed with dark veinlets, fell over Pamynx’s uniformly yellow eyes. The hood of his acaba hung on his shoulders, uncovering a deformed face, a long bald head, and rough cracked skin. He looked like one of the monsters from the Osgorite legends, at least the idea that Spergus had of them. A chill went up his spine. The crimson circle of the Round Rouque Moon cut through the haze of his memories. For a brief moment, he was carried away to Osgos, the industrial mother, the largest of Syracusa’s satellites. He was running, naked and free, among the dried grass and the scalding stones of the abandoned gardens, chased by happy, noisy brown shapes that danced in the waves of heat. He breathed in the heavy smells of budding bucanas, and the heady sap of fruit fountains.

Suddenly, he felt cramped in his bodstocking, the Syracusan undergarment, the second skin that covered them from head to foot. His mauve head-cover and its light-band held his hair, his forehead, his cheeks and his chin tightly together. His two braided blond locks of hair, the only extravagance allowed, stuck out under the edge, near his temples, and framed his effeminate face.

Spergus’ skin called out for the fervent caresses of the Round Rouque Moon. Recovering his self-control, he angrily fought off the melancholy that was coming over him. He was not allowed to have regrets: he, the son of humble Osgorite merchants, was treated more considerately than the great courtiers, more than the descendants of the old, illustrious Syracusan families. Even though this preference sometime became a heavy burden; even though he had to put up with the looks and the wounding words of Lady Sibrit, Ranti Ang’s wife; even though he was hardly comfortable among the never-ending schemes and intrigues of the court; even though he was never allowed to go anywhere without his thought protectors, hidden in the red and white acabas of the Royal Protection Corps, those ever-present shadows, silent and intriguing.

He tried to push the nostalgic memories of his youth mercilessly from his mind. He accepted the obligations and the annoyances of the court for the love of his Lord. For the love of the absolute master of the most famous of all the planets of the Naflin Federation, for the love of this century-old man with such delicate features, whose eyes were limpid blue, whose blue-gray locks of hair lay on the shimmering cloth of his hood. For the love of a man who was the living expression of nobility, of grace, of refinement, the cardinal virtues of the Syracusan etiquette and tradition.

The Mikat was convulsitng. The rhythmic banging of his knees on the tiles broke the silence that had become oppressive.

“He is a follower of the religions of the index,” said Pamynx suddenly, turning toward Spergus.

Spergus shuddered in surprise. He could not stand looking into the sharp impenetrable eyes of the Chancellor. He was terrified of the Scaythes’ telepathic powers, and particularly those of Pamynx. An instinctive reflex forced him to turn away, to seek the reassuring presence of his thought protectors.

“Those centers of abomination!” said Ranti Ang. “They should be destroyed once and for all!”

The Lord of Syracusa’s slender fingers, covered with rings of white optalium, were nervously twisting the silvery lock of hair that ran along the black edge of his hood. This tic was a forewarning that he was about to lose his control.

“This Mikat is a member of the Gudurayam heresy,” specified Pamynx. “He adores the effigy of Gudur, a false prophet who was burned on the crucifire three hundred standard years ago. He is venerated now like a martyr.”

“Animals! Stupid fanatics that do not hesitate to sacrifice humans!”

“And where do they hide?” asked Spergus. This information seemed to captivate him.

This question had the unexpected consequence of defusing Ranti Ang’s anger.

“Imagine, my friend, that some of them are found even on Syracusa! In the mountains of Taheu’ing and in Mesgomia, countries that are very difficult to get to and where it is not easy to clear them out. All the same, it is on Julius that the Gudurayam heresy is the most present, though the number of his followers has been greatly reduced since reprisals have been stepped up and crucifires have been used more regularly.”

“Two details, if you will allow me, my Lord,” added the Chancellor. “The first is that the parents of this Mikat were burned on a crucifire during your father, Arghetti Ang’s visit to Julius. The second, more picturesque, is that the person who turned him in is none other than his own wife, the one whose memory he is recalling at this very instant. And all this for the measly sum of one hundred Julian Keulis, the equivalent of a handful of standard units. This insignificant amount of money turned out to be more attractive than the love of her husband!”

The hint of a smile came across Ranti Ang’s face. The Mikat, lying on the floor prostrated, was hit head-on by the force of Pamynx’s words, harrowed by this final, hideous revelation. He stopped trembling. Large tears rolled down his unshaven cheeks.

“But”¦ but he is crying! Do you see, my Lord? He’s crying!”

“Yes, my friend, he is crying!” said Ranti Ang. “He does not, like you or I, have a means of controlling his thoughts. This is how some creatures show their emotions, as unbelievable as that may seem!”

Spergus was leaning over the solid guardrail that ran along the edge of the balcony. His eyes were wide open; he was trying to look more closely at the shiny rivulets which flowed from the Mikat’s eyes.

In response to a discreet sign from the Chancellor, the Scaythe in the black acaba approached the prostrated body. Deep within his hood, Spergus got a quick glance of two flaming red embers, full of energy. Two evil stars in a pitch-black sky.

“We are ready, my Lord.”

“Ready? But for what?”

The Mikat, very worried, picked his head up. Seeing the rough, black cloth coming closer, so close that it was brushing against his skin, his eyes opened wide in terror. His arms and legs shook violently.

“This is a great wonderful deed!” said Ranti Ang ironically. “Don’t tell me that you have prepared this grandiose presentation with the only goal of terrorizing a bumpkin!”

“If my Lord would please have a little bit of patience”¦”

The Chancellor’s mind was infiltrated by a pernicious doubt, a slow poison that he could not keep under check. But he had carefully chosen Harkot, the Scaythe doing the experiment, from a hundred handpicked postulants, all of them gifted with extraordinary mental capacities. He himself had overseen the selected student’s training, had carried out animal testing, and then the tests on the manimals of Getablan. However, he had not yet had the time to start working on complex minds, higher up on the evolutionary scale. There was therefore a chance that this experiment would fail. But Pamynx would not be allowed a single failure. He regretted this haste, which was not his usual way of doing things, but the race between his many critics and his few partisans had made it inevitable.

A plaintive gurgling escaped from the Mikat’s throat. Trickles of drool flowed from the corners of his mouth and dripped onto his slightly protruding chin.

“If you will please now remain totally silent,” said Pamynx softly, noting with relief the first signs of the Scaythe’s mental actions.

The Mikat’s convulsions got progressively further and further apart. His breathing turned into panting, then wheezing. Instinctively, he raised his large hands to his neck. Then, in a desperate jump, he tried to grab hold of the black acaba, but his curled up fingers only grabbed the air. There was a death rattle, a final spasm, and he fell motionless on the floor.

The room was shrouded in mortal silence. It was Spergus, who was still leaning over the guardrail, who broke the silence.

“What”¦ what happened to the Mikat? He’s not moving!”

“He… is… dead,” answered Pamynx, separating his words very carefully in order to highlight their terrible simplicity.

“Dead?”

“Dead, my Lord.”

“How is this possible?”

The Chancellor, who had now recovered his serenity, took a perverse pleasure baiting his listeners’ curiosity. He paused for a long while before answering.

“This Mikat was killed merely by the will of Harkot, our Scaythe experimenter. You have just witnessed the first mental execution, my Lord.”

He said these words with an indifferent tone of voice, as if he was talking about a banal, trivial incident. The Scaythe in the black acaba made a slight bow, to which Ranti Ang answered with a brief nod of his head.

“Do you think you can lead us to believe something that ridiculous, Chancellor?”

“Belief is not allowed in my laboratory, my Lord. I leave that to our holy Church. As a scientist, the only thing that convinces me is certainty. Harkot has just imploded this guinea pig’s brain, so to speak.”

“Do you mean that he can kill from a distance with his thoughts?” said Spergus weakly.

“As long as he is not too far away. At least for now. Interference from other thoughts may reduce, even staunch the efficiency of the mental intentions of death. But let us say that Harkot has effectively, to use your words, killed at a distance, without the help of a weapon. Right now, of course, this process is only effective on very simple types of brains, such as that of this Mikat. However, we have no worries about soon being operational with more evolved brains. And even those that are very highly evolved.”

The Chancellor’s self-confidence had come back to him. In spite of the thought protectors, those black and white wraiths whose job was to maintain psychic screens, he picked up some raw fragments of feelings from Ranti Ang; he did not detect the slightest hint of resentment. The perspectives that had been opened by this extraordinary experiment, which had just been carried out under his eyes, were filling the Lord of Syracusa’s mind completely.

“And do all Scaythes have this ability?”

“Only those who have advanced mental faculties.”

“This”¦ this is witchcraft!” cried Ranti Ang.

He uttered this accusation without any conviction, as if he had already guessed the answer.

“You have nothing to fear from the Muffi of the Kreuzian Church, my Lord. These techniques are, I repeat, scientific; developed by our physicists specialized in the field of subtle waves, and not by some village witch or wizard. Witchcraft is a synonym for obscure, subjective practices. It is the exact opposite of our technology, which remains objective, provable and verifiable. In addition, if you so wish, my Lord, our scientists would be delighted to give you a more detailed explanation of the mental mechanisms used by our students. It is therefore out of the question,” and the Chancellor’s tone of voice here was very firm, “that our holy Church class the future mental killers on the index. It goes without saying that we would not have presented this new technique to you if it was found to go against Kreuzian principles.”

Pamynx was not taking too many risks in betting that the clergy would support him: Barrofill the Twenty-Fourth, the Muffi of the Kreuzian Church, had been informed about what was brewing in the Chancellor’s secret laboratory a long time ago.

“I would like you to tell us more about this technique, sir,” suggested Spergus.

“Oh, I am afraid that this would bore you,” answered Pamynx. He was happy to get a small amount of revenge by being begged to continue.

“Go on, Chancellor, please grant our dear Spergus’ request,” interrupted Ranti Ang, in a wily tone of voice.

Even though he avoided showing it, Pamynx was jubilating. His lack of foresight could have fatal consequences for the realization of the Project, but he had managed to turn the situation around, as could be seen by Ranti Ang’s change of attitude and tone of voice. He had just won what he needed most: time. In addition, he now held the courtier Tist of Argolon and his accomplices in the palm of his hand, and this perspective filled him with boundless joy.

“These techniques come from a forgotten science that dates back thousands of years before Naflin. The only ancient science that ever really examined the potentials of the mind: Inddic science. We have found traces of it on Terra Mater, a very tiny planet in a solar system on the edge of the Milky Way. It also seems, as astonishing as this may be, that Inddic science originated on Terra Mater.

“To sum up briefly, two Scaythe ethnologists learned by accident that the religious hymns of a tribe of Terra Mater, the Amerynes, were sung in an Inddic dialect, even though this vernacular language had not been spoken for six thousand standard years. Our ethnologists went to Terra Mater, where they discovered a strange phenomenon: these hymns seemed to have geo-climactic repercussions on the environment, and they could cause seasonal upheavals, such as sudden blizzards in summer. When they collated their observations, they discovered the unbelievable properties of certain Inddic sounds, which are called uctras or antras.

“Good heavens, get to the point!” exclaimed Ranti Ang who had noticed that Spergus was no longer paying attention. He, too, was in a hurry to escape from the macabre atmosphere of this cellar.

“I’m getting to the point, my Lord. It was necessary to give you some context in order to help you and Master Spergus understand a little bit more clearly. We quickly realized that the Amerynes were using very specific sounds for ritual animal sacrifices or for punishments given to those who broke the law.

“A concrete example: adultery. The guilty party, or both parties together, were tied up in the middle of a sacred circle. Four Amphanes, or Ameryne priests, would sit at the four cardinal points, singing the death chant, a succession of uctras, which would end up causing irreparable brain damage and bring about death in a few minutes. But one of our physicists recently discovered that these same uctras proved to be more effective, more powerful when emitted at a subtle level.”

Spergus was once again paying unflagging attention to the Chancellor’s explanations.

“We based our work on the following theory: the destructive power of the Inddic uctras depends on the quality of the silence in which they are used. Little by little, the Amerynes forgot this basic principle. Instead of internalizing the uctras, they exteriorized them by chanting them, thereby reducing their power.

“One of the essential qualities of the Scaythes of Hyponeros is that they can attain levels of inner silence that no other living creatures can reach. Excited, superficial minds would not be able to use these uctras correctly. However, our students were trained in the greatest of secret, which is what called for the unpleasant but necessary presence of the Pritivian mercenaries, and they have managed to master them by stabilizing calm states of mind. They first tried them out on embryonic brains, then on mammals, then on the manimals of Getablan, and finally on this Mikat. By the way, I beg you to please clear up the concerns of some Kreuzian missionaries from the satellite Getablan. We had to”¦”

“Already having problems with the Church, Chancellor?” said Ranti Ang. “I thought these experiments were kept totally secret! I imagine, in fact, that if the other member states of the Federation learn that you have been using the services of mercenaries from Pritiv, we will lose all credibility during the next Asma on Issigor.”

“The five-year assembly will not take place, as planned, on the planet Issigor.”

“How? And why?”

The Chancellor’s yellow eyes locked on those of Spergus.

“I will explain that to you later, my Lord. In private. May I continue? In order to have enough guinea pigs, we had to promise the missionaries that we would return these manimals unharmed. But”¦”

“A white lie, but a lie, Chancellor!” said Ranti Ang, making fun of the bombastic tone of the people of the church.

“I thought that for the good of”¦”

“Don’t think anymore, if you please! The noble goal of these experiments was to serve science, was it not? And the fact that a few manimals have disappeared as a result of it does not shock my Kreuzian convictions. I will take care of all that with the Muffi Barrofill. Am I not, after all, his appointed protector and personal friend? But are you absolutely sure that no one else has found out about your experiments?”

“Absolutely sure. The only person who could impede us has been banished from Syracusa. By you, my Lord.”

“By me?”

“I am sure that you still remember the trial of Sri Mitsu, the Mustah.”

“Sri Mitsu? What does he have to do with this?”

Even though Ranti Ang was using all the resources of his mental control to let nothing come through, he clearly loathed recalling this memory.

“Quite a bit, my Lord,” answered Pamynx, almost feeling this discomfort – he knew exactly where it was coming from. “Inddic science had come through space and time, and three great masters are still alive: Sri Mitsu is one of them.”

“If this were so, we would have known!” said Ranti Ang. “Sri Mitsu has always refused mental protection: our inquisitors could read his thoughts as easily as they could read a light-book!”

“The exceptional psychic capabilities he had developed by practicing Inddic science exempted him from protection, my Lord. That, and the fact that he belonged to the brotherhood of Smellas, could have proved to have disastrous consequences for our projects. For that reason, and for that reason only, I insisted to you and to his Holiness the Muffi that he be tried in a sensational public forum. The accusations against him, unnatural sexual practices, were just a pretext, as I am sure you understood. He had to be removed. Fortunately, everything went as planned: his aura as a Smella, his influence on the other member states, his overall good reputation, all these things were turned against him during the trial and he was condemned to perpetual banishment.”

“Why have you hidden these true reasons from me, sir? Do you have such little esteem for me?”

Ranti Ang’s voice was bitter. Pamynx refrained from showing the contempt that he had for the Lord of Syracusa. He thought Ranti Ang was superficial, frivolous, fickle, incapable of handling the heritage that had been left to him by the great Arghetti Ang. Behind the scenes, the Chancellor constantly worked for a more expeditious succession than that which was a part of Syracusan tradition.

“I did not wish to overload your already busy schedule, my Lord.”

“Who are the other two masters of this”¦ Inddic science?” asked Spergus. “You said a minute ago that there were three of them and we have only heard one name.”

“Another Syracusan: Sri Alexu, a very discreet man who we never see in the court. But he lives right here, near Venicia. He is not involved in State affairs. He is only known to have two interests: his daughter, a young beauty named Aphykit, and flowers. He is under constant surveillance.”

“And the third one?”

Spergus’ insistence bothered the Chancellor. Had he underestimated the role of the Syracusan Lord’s protégé? Perhaps this disarming naiveté hid some precise calculated intentions.

“Seqoram the Mahdi.”

Ranti Ang gave an exclamation of surprise, an uncalled-for, indecent showing of his emotions, contrary to the code of sycophantic emotion.

“Good Lord! Do you realize what you are saying, Chancellor?”

“Why? What is it? What has he done?”

“The Grand Master of the Absurate Order. But don’t worry yourself, Spergus: we have compromised the Absurate knights and we have made sure to lead them down the wrong paths. And we go over their reports very carefully.”

“Perhaps! However, attacking the Absurate Order is attacking the very foundations of the Naflin Federation!” objected Ranti Ang. “The knighthood has devoted itself to the study of the arts of war for centuries. No lord, however powerful he may be, would have the recklessness to defy it! Have you lost your mind, Chancellor?”

“The Order knows nothing of the weapon that we are preparing, my Lord.”

Pamynx froze suddenly in a solemn attitude.

“My Lord, the time has finally come to carry out your father’s visionary dream. All the conditions are right: the federal army, the Interlice, is under the command of your brother Menati, and this until the next five-year Asma. We will ensure that this takes place on Syracusa and not on Issigor. In accordance with our advice, Menati has managed to bring the senior officers around to our cause with promises of titles and territorial concessions. Pritivian mercenaries are prepared to grant us unequivocal support, because they long to battle with the Absurate Order that their founders, the knights who broke away from the Order, came from. The Kreuzian Church is expanding thanks to the indefatigable activity of missionaries in the farthest corners of the Federation. Its crucifires and mental inquisitors are already a very useful repressive apparatus. There was only one thing we needed, my Lord, and this thing is what you have just seen materialize in front of your eyes.”

He stopped talking and watched the effects of his words on those in front of him. Spergus, his mouth hanging open, his eyes wide, looked like a holographic mannequin from the pre-Naflin museums. The only thing that made him look alive were his two blond locks of hair, swaying lightly in the air. This young and exuberant boy, who was a victim of his curiosity and of Ranti Ang’s feelings, already knew too much. Whatever part he was playing, whether it had two sides or one, he was a danger. His wheel of fate, the rota individua of the Kreuzians, would soon stop turning.

As for the lord of Syracusa, he was rubbing his lips absentmindedly with his right index finger. His blue eyes wandered over to the body of the Mikat and the black acaba of his assassin. Fleeting bright sparkles came from the dozens of ephemeral gems in the long scarlet cape that covered his white bodstocking.

“We must now act very quickly,” said Pamynx. “We must definitively eliminate Sri Mitsu, who, in spite of being in exile, remains dangerous. The Pritivian mercenaries will take care of that. We must also eliminate Sri Alexu and his daughter. They don’t look dangerous but this is probably just to deceive us. You must use your discretionary power, my Lord, to obtain additional credits so we can perfect our technology of mental execution. Then the Absurate Order must be attacked and destroyed, as well as the obsolete relic of the Federation, the final traces of Inddic civilization. In order to ensure that this is so, the Amerynes of Terra Mater should also be reduced to silence.”

“Do you realize, Chancellor, that if this genocide – because you are suggesting genocide – if this got out, we would be under a direct menace from the Absurate knights!” said Ranti Ang. “And it will get out, because the main member states have eyes and ears all around!”

“We need to learn that the Order is no longer an insurmountable obstacle. Our chances of success rest on speed and precision, on the element of surprise. All we need now is your formal agreement, my Lord. It is up to you to now become the first ruler of a post-Naflin empire.”

As he said this, he was thinking that Ranti Ang would never have this privilege. In the fifth stage of the Great Project, the masters of Hyponeros had planned for the Naflin Federation to be broken up and for power to be taken by a wise tyrant, a unifier. A man of a much different caliber than the current lord of Syracusa.

The four Scaythe thought protectors had slackened their watchfulness. The light from their half-closed eyes, coming from within the darkness of their red and white hoods, was less intense. They were violating the first law of the treaty of the Honorable Code of Protection: At all times day and night, I will be a zealous guardian of the mind of my Lord, because he alone has the right to follow the flow of his thoughts.

Pamynx noticed this inattention. He could have slipped for just a second into Ranti Ang’s mind, which was momentarily unscreened. He preferred to wait for his fellow Hyponerians to realize their unforgivable negligence. Today, the Chancellor would ask for no additional heads to fall. The most important ones would soon be rolling at his feet, and this perspective was more than enough to make him happy.

“My Lord, I would like to discuss the next steps of our undertaking,” he said softly, as if he did not want to awaken Ranti Ang from his daydreaming too suddenly. “Young Spergus should be allowed to avoid this tiresome chore. Send him someplace which is more in accordance with the concerns of his young age.”

Without waiting for Ranti Ang to answer and without paying any attention to the deadly look from Spergus, he walked off into the dark underground corridor with a firm step.