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Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard Hardcover – December 29, 2015
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"The Glamourist" by Luanne G. Smith
A spellbinding novel of bloodlines, self-discovery, and redemption by the author of The Vine Witch. | Learn more
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“Weird, wise, and worldly, Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard is a triumph.” ―Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo Award-winning author of Red Planet Blues
“The second you encounter the arboreal uplifted elephants who speak with the dead, you know you're reading a work of singular imaginative power. It's a delight from beginning to end.” ―Walter Jon Williams, Nebula Award-winning author of the Metropolitan series
“A captivating, heartwarming story in a unique and fantastic world... as rich and mysterious as Dune.” ―James L. Cambias, author of A Darkling Sea
“A heartfelt and wonderfully weird book: a space opera about kindness and memory.” ―Max Gladstone, author of the Craft Sequence
“A masterful, onion-layered tale of pariahdom, treachery, and genocide that ultimately reveals the true deathlessness of hope and love.” ―Charles E. Gannon, author of Fire With Fire
“Combines excellent characters and a fascinating world. What really makes it work is how he deftly weaves together startling SFnal ideas with character-based intrigue. You'll really care for these characters, even as you find them believably alien. I found it a compulsive page-turner and immensely enjoyable.” ―Karl Schroeder, author of Lockstep
“Powerful. Grand in scope, yet deeply intimate. Schoen gives anthropomorphism some serious spirituality. It got inside my head in the way that only an exciting new idea can.” ―Howard Tayler, Hugo Award-winning creator of Schlock Mercenary
About the Author
- Item Weight : 1.05 pounds
- Hardcover : 384 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0765377020
- ISBN-13 : 978-0765377029
- Dimensions : 5.94 x 1.24 x 8.69 inches
- Publisher : Tor Books; 1st Edition (December 29, 2015)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,510,499 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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But let's back up a bit. What exactly is it Schoen does in BARSK to bring the Third Law into reader’s minds? First, there are the Fants. Anthropomorphic versions of the African (Lox, after the Latin Loxodonta) and Asian (Eleph, after Elephas) elephants we all know from the circus, the zoo, and National Geographic. Collectively referred to in Barsk as Fants, these futuristic mammals, found solely on the watery world known as Barsk, are recognizably elephantine, with the same big floppy ears and trumpety trunks we all know and love. But there are differences. Rather than the big clodhopper feet they walk upright on, their forelimbs feature toolmaker digits with opposable thumbs. They live in houses and sit on chairs. They make breakfast and dinner. Oh, and they talk. (But not to Pizlo, an albino abomination not expected to live even the six years he already has in BARSK. Like most cultures, the Fants are more scientifically than culturally advanced in some ways).
These far future sapient elephants also read and write and use computers. A beanstalk space elevator lifts their trade goods to orbit, where a galaxy that shuns the furless Fants can make use of their talents without risking contact. A galaxy-wide Compact sets the rules that keep Fants and other mammal species apart. But that’s just the set-up.
What Schoen then has his Fants doing that echoes the Third Law is even more improbable-sounding, at least early on. One of Barsk’s exports is a drug called koph. Koph allows certain individuals to speak to the dead. Although not wholly explained when Schoen first presents it, this process, called Speaking (and its practicioners, of course, are Speakers), involves calling up the particles that made up a person - nefshons - to recreate them as they once were, often within a constructed environment that the Speaker expects will make them comfortable during their unexpected recall. The reconstructed person, by the way, seems physically present. Piss off a Conversant you called into being and he might punch you in the nose. Ouch!
The Speaking process also comes with an 800-year-old Edict and a prophecy. Still looking very magicky and almost primitive, given an agrarian society on a sparsely populated planet. But trust me - and trust Schoen - it’s all scientifically sound in the BARSK Universe. And the story Schoen tells depends on that.
The first part of BARSK introduces a family of sorts: the historian Jorl ben Tral; his lifelong best friend Arlo, whom Jorl can only talk to via his nefshons, the original being some two years passed under circumstances that still puzzle Jorl; and Arlo's now six-year old son Pizlo, a rare albino shunned by all of their society save for his father, his mother Tolta, and Jorl.
This part of the story concerns a group of elderly Fants who each set out to sea alone as they perceive their time of dying at hand and go in search of the island that is every Fant's traditional resting place. We learn quickly, however, that somebody wants these Fants for an unknown purpose, waylaying over two hundred Dying who will never be missed - and in fact they aren't, since the only contact they might be expected to have with the living at that point would be through their nefshons. Via means I won't spoil for you, Pizlo helps Jorl go looking for these victims, whose disappearance seems related to the 800 year old prophecy referred to as The Silence. Did I mention precognition as another element in the BARSK universe? It’s rare, but it’s also real, just like nefshons and uplifted mammals are.
Unraveling this mystery takes up the rest of the novel, introducing several fascinating characters both dead and alive, including a number from other mammal species that, like the Fants, display human-like attributes but, unlike the Fants, are all furred species who shun the hairless Lox and Elephs. Which is one reason they are confined to Barsk, while other species roam the galaxy at will.
Schoen's story develops a bit slowly at first, but once he starts taking us through the logical consequences of the science behind Speaking, things get cracking in a hurry, and the last hundred pages are a joyful ride as, straining then breaking the arbitrary 'laws' of speaking, Jorl gets to the bottom of 800 years of secrets no Fant could ever have imagined. Nor you or I. All credit to Schoen. Now let’s see if he can cook up an equally revelatory sequel, now that all of BARSK's secrets have been revealed. Or have they?
The local star cluster is full of intelligent species that clearly are uplifted mammals from ancient Earth. But how? When? Why are the two elephant species shunned by the others? And finally, where are the humans?
If that doesn’t make you buy the book, consider the science at work. How does memory work? Is it individual or shared? Electrical or chemical? How can certain individuals speak with the dead? Because an elephant never forgets?
Lawrence M. Schoen holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology, with a special focus in psycholinguistics. He spent ten years as a college professor, and has done extensive research in the areas of human memory and language. His background in the study of human behavior and the mind provide a principal metaphor for his fiction. So far as I am aware, however, he does not speak with the dead.
As I read Barsk (the first time) questions kept arising that were all ultimately answered in the end, showing an attention to detail that I thoroughly enjoy. The second time, I saw new layers of subtlety that demonstrated how deeply the author has developed this world, without overwhelming his readers.
Barsk is on my to-gift list, for my friends who enjoy SF and also for those who enjoy thinking while they read. I highly recommend it!
I came away appreciating the story itself, but glowering at the centrally-located elements of convenient MacGuffin throughout.
Unfortunately for the ambition of this book, Barsk presented too small a window for me. I was looking through a keyhole at a zoo, with large animals moving past to unseen destinations. I lingered at my keyhole looking for signs of action, but instead I caught the zookeeper hiding peanuts -
catching only glimpses of what was really going on. Interesting, but not what I was looking for. Some readers might remain content with glimpses of intriguing things, but I was let down by the series of claustrophobic interactions as the central puzzle revealed.
I may read it again to see if my impressions are a bit harsh, because Barsk does have depth enough to merit more consideration.
In all: tightly plotted, but disappointingly narrow. It will surely speak to some.
Top reviews from other countries
Wish I understood why there were 2 types of phant though.
I am a firm believer in the intelligence and consciousness of the animals around us and do not believe that we are being anthropomorphic when we allow then to express their own personalities and emotions. It was a pleasure to read a book that allows the animals to decide their own fate - and with the recent discoveries on genetic snipping tools - it is all one step closer to being science fact.
Lawrence Schoen took his extensive training in psychology and extended that into a thoughtful and very engaging novel which would make a perfect book for young syfy readers as well as any adult reader.
The book asks may penetrating questions of the reader about power, politics, belief, specism, the very nature of us all. I loved it.
Essentially, this is a book about a cast of largely unrelatable characters slowly moving from one unremarkable location to another, with occasional bursts of exposition delivererd in a rushed and unsurprising fashion by one of the protagonists. First time I've debated not finishing a sci fi book in a long time.
If you are interested in modern, exciting science fiction, read "The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet" instead.