Author: Shay Shortt

Full Excerpt: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars

Thanks for joining me yesterday for the unveiling of part three of the To Sleep in a Sea of Stars sneak peek series. Christopher Paolini’s new science fiction novel is coming September 15, 2020. Part one was revealed by Tor.com on Tuesday, and part two was unleashed by The Mary Sue on Wednesday. Now, if you want to read the full excerpt all in one place, here it is!

Cover image for To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher PaoliniCold fear shot through Kira’s gut.

Together, she and Alan scrambled into their clothes. Kira spared a second of thought for her strange dream—everything felt strange at the moment—and then they hurried out of the cabin and rushed over toward Neghar’s quarters.

As they approached, Kira heard hacking: a deep, wet, ripping sound that made her imagine raw flesh going through a shredder. She shuddered.

Neghar was standing in the middle of the hallway with the others gathered around her, doubled over, hands on her knees, coughing so hard Kira could hear her vocal cords fraying. Fizel was next to her, hand on her back. “Keep breathing,” he said. “We’ll get you to sickbay. Jenan! Alan! Grab her arms, help carry her. Quickly now, qu—”

Neghar heaved, and Kira heard a loud, distinct snap from inside the woman’s narrow chest.

Black blood sprayed from Neghar’s mouth, painting the deck in a wide fan.

Marie-Élise shrieked, and several people retched. The fear from Kira’s dream returned, intensified. This was bad. This was dangerous. “We have to go,” she said, and tugged on Alan’s sleeve. But he wasn’t listening.

“Back!” Fizel shouted. “Everyone back! Someone get the Extenuating Circumstances on the horn. Now!”

“Clear the way!” Mendoza bellowed.

More blood sprayed from Neghar’s mouth, and she dropped to one knee. The whites of her eyes were freakishly wide. Her face was crimson, and her throat worked as if she were choking.

“Alan,” said Kira. Too late; he was moving to help Fizel.

She took a step back. Then another. No one noticed; they were all looking at Neghar, trying to figure out what to do while staying out of the way of the blood flying from her mouth.

Kira felt like screaming at them to leave, to run, to escape.

She shook her head and pressed her fists against her mouth, scared blood was going to erupt out of her as well. Her head felt as if it were about to burst, and her skin was crawling with horror: a thousand ants skittering over every centimeter. Her whole body itched with revulsion.

Jenan and Alan tried to lift Neghar back to her feet. She shook her head and gagged. Once. Twice. And then she spat a clot of something onto the deck. It was too dark to be blood. Too liquid to be metal.

Kira dug her fingers into her arm, scrubbing at it as a scream of revulsion threatened to erupt out of her.

Neghar collapsed backwards. Then the clot moved. It twitched like a clump of muscle hit with an electrical current.

People shouted and jumped away. Alan retreated toward Kira, never taking his eyes off the unformed lump.

Kira dry-heaved. She took another step back. Her arm was burning: thin lines of fire squirming across her skin.

She looked down.

Her nails had carved furrows in her flesh, crimson gashes that ended with crumpled strips of skin. And within the furrows, she saw another something twitch.

 Kira fell to the floor, screaming. The pain was all-consuming. That much she was aware of. It was the only thing she was aware of.

She arched her back and thrashed, clawing at the floor, desperate to escape the onslaught of agony. She screamed again; she screamed so hard her voice broke and a slick of hot blood coated her throat.

She couldn’t breathe. The pain was too intense. Her skin was burning, and it felt as if her veins were filled with acid and her flesh was tearing itself from her limbs.

Dark shapes blocked the light overhead as people moved around her. Alan’s face appeared next to her. She thrashed again, and she was on her stomach, her cheek pressed flat against the hard surface.

Her body relaxed for a second, and she took a single, gasping breath before going rigid and loosing a silent howl. The muscles of her face cramped with the force of her rictus, and tears leaked from the corners of her eyes.

Hands turned her over. They gripped her arms and legs, holding them in place. It did nothing to stop the pain.

“Kira!”

She forced her eyes open and, with blurry vision, saw Alan and, behind him, Fizel leaning toward her with a hypo. Farther back, Jenan, Yugo, and Seppo were pinning her legs to the floor, while Ivanova and Marie-Élise helped Neghar away from the clot on the deck.

“Kira! Look at me! Look at me!”

She tried to reply, but all she succeeded in doing was uttering a strangled whimper.

Then Fizel pressed the hypo against her shoulder. Whatever he injected didn’t seem to have any effect. Her heels drummed against the floor, and she felt her head slam against the deck, again and again.

“Jesus, someone help her,” Alan cried.

“Watch out!” shouted Seppo. “That thing on the floor is moving! Shi—”

“Sickbay,” said Fizel. “Get her to sickbay. Now! Pick her up. Pick—”

The walls swam around her as they lifted her. Kira felt like she was being strangled. She tried to inhale, but her muscles were too cramped. Red sparks gathered around the edges of her vision as Alan and the others carried her down the hallway. She felt as if she were floating; everything seemed insubstantial except the pain and her fear.

A jolt as they dropped her onto Fizel’s exam table. Her abdomen relaxed for a second, just long enough for Kira to steal a breath before her muscles locked back up.

“Close the door! Keep that thing out!” A thunk as the sickbay pressure lock engaged.

“What’s happening?” said Alan. “Is—”

“Move!” shouted Fizel. Another hypo pressed against Kira’s neck.

As if in response, the pain tripled, something she wouldn’t have believed possible. A low groan escaped her, and she jerked, unable to control the motion. She could feel foam gathering in her mouth, clogging her throat. She gagged and convulsed.

“Shit. Get me an injector. Other drawer. No, other drawer!”

“Doc—”

“Not now!”

“Doc, she isn’t breathing!”

Equipment clattered, and then fingers forced Kira’s jaw apart, and someone jammed a tube into her mouth, down her throat. She gagged again. A moment later, sweet, precious air poured into her lungs, sweeping aside the curtain darkening her vision.

Alan was hovering over her, his face contorted with worry.

Kira tried to talk. But the only sound she could make was an inarticulate groan.

“You’re going to be okay,” said Alan. “Just hold on. Fizel’s going to help you.” He looked as if he were about to cry.

Kira had never been so afraid. Something was wrong inside her, and it was getting worse.

Run, she thought. Run! Get away from here before—

Dark lines shot across her skin: black lightning bolts that twisted and squirmed as if alive. Then they froze in place, and where each one lay, her skin split and tore, like the carapace of a molting insect.

Kira’s fear overflowed, filling her with a feeling of utter and inescapable doom. If she could have screamed, her cry would have reached the stars.

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars will be published by Tor on September 15, 2020. Can’t wait? Check out interviews, excerpts, wallpapers and more right now!

Excerpt: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars

Kira Navárez dreamed of finding life on new worlds. Now she has awakened a nightmare.

Author photo Christopher Paolini
Christopher Paolini was born in Southern California, and has lived most of his life in Paradise Valley, Montana.

Have you heard? Christopher Paolini, author of Eragon, has a new science fiction novel for adults dropping September 15, 2020! Given that Paolini might be described as the first SFF author of my own generation, I was pretty excited to hear this news from Tor. For those not in the know, Paolini published his first novel in 2003 at the age of 19, and quickly became a publishing phenomenon. His Inheritance Cycle—Eragon and its three sequels—have sold nearly 40 million copies worldwide. It’s been nearly a decade since Inheritance was published, so I’m thrilled to feature the final installment of a teaser excerpt from To Sleep in a Sea of Stars. You can find part one of the excerpt at Tor.com and part two at The Mary Sue. So what is the new novel about? 

According to the publisher, this epic novel follows Kira Navárez, who, during a routine survey mission on an uncolonized planet, finds an alien relic that thrusts her into the wonders and the nightmares of first contact. Epic space battles for the fate of humanity take her to the farthest reaches of the galaxy and, in the process, transform not only her ― but the entire course of history.

One woman. The will to survive. The hope of humanity.

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars

Cover image for To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini“Jesus, someone help her,” Alan cried.

“Watch out!” shouted Seppo. “That thing on the floor is moving! Shi—”

“Sickbay,” said Fizel. “Get her to sickbay. Now! Pick her up. Pick—”

The walls swam around her as they lifted her. Kira felt like she was being strangled. She tried to inhale, but her muscles were too cramped. Red sparks gathered around the edges of her vision as Alan and the others carried her down the hallway. She felt as if she were floating; everything seemed insubstantial except the pain and her fear.

A jolt as they dropped her onto Fizel’s exam table. Her abdomen relaxed for a second, just long enough for Kira to steal a breath before her muscles locked back up.

“Close the door! Keep that thing out!” A thunk as the sickbay pressure lock engaged.

“What’s happening?” said Alan. “Is—”

“Move!” shouted Fizel. Another hypo pressed against Kira’s neck.

As if in response, the pain tripled, something she wouldn’t have believed possible. A low groan escaped her, and she jerked, unable to control the motion. She could feel foam gathering in her mouth, clogging her throat. She gagged and convulsed.

“Shit. Get me an injector. Other drawer. No, other drawer!”

“Doc—”

“Not now!”

“Doc, she isn’t breathing!”

Equipment clattered, and then fingers forced Kira’s jaw apart, and someone jammed a tube into her mouth, down her throat. She gagged again. A moment later, sweet, precious air poured into her lungs, sweeping aside the curtain darkening her vision.

Alan was hovering over her, his face contorted with worry.

Kira tried to talk. But the only sound she could make was an inarticulate groan.

“You’re going to be okay,” said Alan. “Just hold on. Fizel’s going to help you.” He looked as if he were about to cry.

Kira had never been so afraid. Something was wrong inside her, and it was getting worse.

Run, she thought. Run! Get away from here before—

Dark lines shot across her skin: black lightning bolts that twisted and squirmed as if alive. Then they froze in place, and where each one lay, her skin split and tore, like the carapace of a molting insect.

Kira’s fear overflowed, filling her with a feeling of utter and inescapable doom. If she could have screamed, her cry would have reached the stars.

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars will be published by Tor on September 15, 2020. Can’t wait? Check out interviews, excerpts, wallpapers and more right now! Or check back tomorrow for the full excerpt!

China Syndrome

Cover image for China Syndrome by Karl Taro Greenfeld by Karl Taro Greenfeld

ISBN 978-0-06-185153-7

“The season of SARS could be viewed as either an anachronism or a harbinger.”

Over the winter, a new virus emerged, sickening its victims with a severe respiratory illness that manifested with a high fever and a hacking cough. For an unlucky few, the illness degenerated into total respiratory failure as the lungs filled with fluid, and the organs shut down from lack of oxygen. As Lunar New Year approached, the Chinese government continued to insist that the situation was under control, even as cases began to spread. The story is eerily familiar, because we have all been living it. But Karl Taro Greenfeld’s 2006 book China Syndrome is a chronicle not of COVID-19, but of the SARS epidemic caused by a similar novel coronavirus that jumped the species barrier and sickened thousands in 2003 to 2004. At the time, Greenfeld was the managing editor of Time Asia, and based in Hong Kong, the first place outside of mainland China to be affected by the epidemic. The big news story of the year was expected to be the American invasion of Iraq. Instead, Greenfeld and his staff found themselves on the frontlines of reporting on the twenty-first century’s first major epidemic.

Each chapter is headed with the location and date, as well as the number of people estimated to have been infected or dead of SARS. The death rate in these estimates hovers around a chilling ten percent, and also grows in increasing contrast to the Chinese government’s public refusal to adjust their official numbers upward even as people continued to sicken and die. The book is insightful about the cultural conditions that lead to the denial and cover up. Greenfeld highlights the unprecedented transition of power that was occurring in Beijing at the time, as well as the emphasis on saving face and avoiding blame. Particularly telling is the fact that information about a disease outbreak is classified as a state secret in China. It was illegal to disclose this information anywhere but up the reporting line. Greenfeld witnessed a doctor arrested for talking to him about the outbreak, and another doctor that spoke up spent the rest of his life under house arrest. A Hong Kong virologist risked arrest by traveling across the border repeatedly to smuggle samples for his lab, since it was impossible to get any information out of the Chinese Ministry of Health.

Coming in at seventy-three—albeit often short—chapters, China Syndrome does feels somewhat drawn out, especially in the early chapters before the agent of the disease has been identified. As Greenfeld points out, however, the specific agent often isn’t all that important if doctors can treat the disease with existing methods. Investigators were at first highly focused on the possibility of avian influenza, and it is almost halfway through the book before the term “coronavirus” is even mentioned. By comparison, however, it took more than two years for scientists to isolate the agent responsible for the AIDS epidemic. The race for the answer features internal and international rivalries, and more than one false step along the way.

Before you decide to pick this one up, I would issue a warning for a few more graphic parts of the book. It includes descriptions of the conditions market animals live in, and how they are restrained and killed on site at the restaurants that serve them. Greenfeld also describes the liquidation of livestock that occurred once the virus’ host animal was identified and banned from sale. In the medical section, there is a detailed description of intubation that serves to illustrate why the procedure posed such a risk of infection to the healthcare workers who performed it on SARS patients. These don’t form huge swathes of the book, but it is worth knowing they are in there.

There is a definite sense of eerie deja vu in reading this book, from the slowly escalating rumours, and mutters about biological warfare, to the runs on particular kinds of equipment and supplies, to the very timeline and symptoms of the illness itself. Yet perhaps the most eerie part is the unheeded warning that SARS now represents. As Greenfeld details, the Chinese government banned the sale of the animal found to be the reservoir of the virus, and seized and destroyed the existing stock. But the closure of the urban markets where live animals were sold was only temporary, and within months they were back in business, operating much the same as before, with thousands of diverse, defecating, bleeding, doomed animals trapped in close quarters with one another, and the people who sold, butchered, and consumed them. One threat was eliminated, but the conditions for another such zoonotic outbreak remained much as they ever were.

You might also like Pale Rider by Laura Spinney

Chaos Reigning (Consortium Rebellion #3)

Cover image for Chaos Reigning by Jessie Mihalikby Jessie Mihalik

ISBN 978-0-06-280242-2

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this title from the publisher.

“I dared to dream of more.”

With all her siblings out fighting or spying in the war between House von Hasenburg and House Rockhurst, youngest sister Catarina is stuck at home on Earth, serving as a political surrogate for her conniving parents. Protected and beloved by her older siblings, Cat longs to make a more substantial contribution, but her carefully constructed public mask as a vapid socialite means that all she can really do for House von Hasenburg is marry someone who will back them in the war. But then an invitation from House James to a particularly exclusive party offers Cat the chance to find out if House James was responsible for her brother Ferdinand’s kidnapping. But her older sister Bianca is on to her maneuvering, and she insists on sending two mercenaries, Aoife and Alex, to guard Cat’s back. Only, in order to get Alex into the heart of House James, Cat will have to pretend he is her date, not her body guard.

Like Bianca in Aurora Blazing, Cat has a secret, only in addition to being afraid of being used by their ruthless father, she owes her life to illegal genetic modifications that would make her very existence criminal under Royal Consortium law. Despite the efforts of her older siblings to protect her, Cat has had to become a ruthless dissembler, using social power as a pointed weapon. But the events of Chaos Reigning call for Cat to tear down her carefully crafted public façade, and reveal the intelligence and competence she has been hiding. No doubt the really interesting part of her story comes later, when she has irrevocably revealed the truth, and has to carve a new path forward alongside her ambitious best friend, Ying Yamado.

As a love interest, Alex is more in the tradition of Aurora Blazing’s Ian than Polaris Rising’s Marcus. In fact his main weakness might be that he isn’t sufficiently distinguished, and the fact that he and Cat are keeping secrets from one another means that we don’t really get to know him better. The reader actually knows more about him from his side role in Aurora Blazing than Cat does, and that is still precious little to go on in terms of character development. His main appeal is that he is handsome, and that he will back Cat’s manoeuvres even when they are dangerous. Luckily, I’m a bit of a sucker for a fake dating trope, so I put aside my skepticism and went along for the ride, which was slower burn on the romance, and rollicking in the adventure department.

Consortium Rebellion is a trilogy, making this the final installment in the series. Honestly, it seems like it could go for another book, in order to resolve the Syndicate plotline, not to mention the final fate of the faster than light technology that started the war to begin with. I know I would definitely read a team up novel where the von Hasenberg sisters take on the galaxy together! But it seems that instead Jessie Mihalik will return with a new series about intergalactic bounty hunters, due out in 2022.

You might also like Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes

Most Likely

Cover image for most likely by Sarah Watson by Sarah Watson

ISBN 978-0-316-45475-9

“For Logan, this extra work resulted in first-place medals and broken records. For CJ, it barely made her middle of the pack.”

Ava, CJ, Jordan, and Martha have been best friends since the summer before kindergarten, when they met at the Memorial Park playground. Now, as they enter their senior year, the park is scheduled to be torn down and replaced with an office building, and the girls will never get their chance to add their names to the jungle gym where graduates have carved their mark for generations. Now, in addition to the stresses of SATs and college applications, the four friends must fight to save the place where they met, and preserve the playground for the next generation. But what the girls don’t know is that one of them is destined to become the first woman elected President of the United States. This is her origin story.

Most Likely opens on Inauguration Day 2049, as the first woman elected to be President of the United States waits next to her husband, and prepares to take the oath of office. A couple quibbles up front; let’s hope that it doesn’t actually take another thirty years for a woman to be elected president. And let’s hope that she doesn’t feel the need to take her husband’s name for the sake of “tradition” and political expediency. However, in the case of the structure of this book, having the President Elect introduced to us by her husband’s surname preserves the mystery of which of the girls is destined to find herself looking out from The Capitol on a cold January morning in 2049, making it a logical stylistic choice.

Each with their own hopes and dreams for the future, any one of the four young women might actually be destined for America’s highest office. Ava dreams of applying to art school, but doesn’t know how to tell her adoptive mother. She struggles with her depression as she toys with the idea of finally finding her birth mother. CJ desperately wants to go to Stanford, but she just can’t seem to get her SAT score high enough. However, a new volunteer gig at sports program for kids with disabilities might just round out her application. Jordan runs the school paper and dreams of a career in political journalism, but she can’t get the city councillor who is sponsoring the office development that will destroy the park to give her the time of day, let alone a proper interview. Martha is the only one who still lives in the rundown neighbourhood around the park where they met. Perhaps the smartest of them all, she can’t figure out how she is going to pay her way through college, even if she does get into her dream school, MIT.

Most Likely is a book mainly about friendship and how it shapes us, but one that does put a bit more emphasis on the romantic subplot than I might have liked. Because we know the surname the President has taken in the prologue, once we meet the boy with that last name, the reader is watching his romantic choices with a careful eye. Watson has backed herself into the unenviable task of trying to set up a viable potential romance with any one of the four girls, without creating any kind of rivalry for his affections in order to maintain the suspense of her plot. As the end of the book approached, I was rooting for one girl to become President, and a totally different one to get the guy, so I still have to hand it to Watson for managing to end this in a way that left me satisfied.

Pale Rider

Cover image for Pale Rider by Laura Spinneyby Laura Spinney

ISBN 978-1-61039-768-1

“The number of dead could have been as high as 100 million—a number so big and so round it seems to glide past any notion of human suffering without even snagging on it. It’s not possible to imagine the misery contained within that train of zeroes. All we can do is compare it to other trains of zeroes—notably the death tolls of the First and Second World Wars—and by reducing the problem to one of maths, conclude that it might have been the greatest demographic disaster of the twentieth century, possibly of any century.”

The influenza epidemic that began in 1918—which became known as the Spanish Flu—has drawn a lot of interest in recent months as comparisons are made to the current situation with COVID-19. Pale Rider by Laura Spinney was published in 2017, shortly ahead of the flu pandemic’s centenary year. As such, it is quite current, but of course does not directly address our present circumstances. Spinney tracks the influenza’s two year path around the globe, while also providing historical context, history of medicine, and a significant look at recovery and collective memory as it relates to the pandemic. By the numbers, the contemporary estimate of deaths was 20 million, but over the years that has risen to 50-100 million as more records and evidence come to light. Probably about one in three of the then 1.8 billion living people would have become infected, and while most recovered, up to five percent of the sick may have perished.

I selected this title from among a few popular books about the 1918 pandemic as it is noted for its attempt to take a more global approach to understanding the outbreak. Other previous titles have a more North American and European focus, despite the fact that these areas were not the hardest hit. According to Spinney, that dubious honour likely goes to India, though the numbers for China are murky. In addition to addressing the first recorded case, at Camp Funston military base in Kansas, and covering the impact on the Western Front as well as the acquisition of the “Spanish Flu” nomenclature, Spinney goes further afield to dig into the available numbers for places as various as China, Persia, India, Australia, Iceland, and more, resulting in a more complete picture of the global impact.

The structure of the book is circular, and somewhat repetitive. Rather than following a chronological timeline, Spinney takes a locale-by-locale approach that covers the same chronology multiple times in different places. Despite the repetition, this is an effective structure for sinking into each location and getting a full sense of their experience of the pandemic, which had huge regional variations. Australia, for example, experience only the third wave, having effectively kept out the deadly second wave with a maritime blockade. Spinney also covers three major theories about where the flu may have emerged before it surfaced and was recorded in Kansas, but with a careful eye to the contemporary prejudices that may have been shaping these hypotheses, particularly with regard to China. Within the United States, she addresses the tenements of New York, as well as the remote villages of Alaska, and highlights how differences in responses between cities led to vastly different death rates.

In addition to tracking the pandemic, Pale Rider provides and explains historical context about where the development of medical understanding and technology stood when the pandemic began. Notably, the electron microscope was not invented until the 1930s, meaning that while bacteria could be seen on an optical microscope, viruses—which are about twenty times smaller—were still invisible. Spinney briefly traces the evolution of Western medicine in relation to contagious diseases, and in specific locales such as Indian, China, and Persia, she also addresses how this knowledge was interacting with local medical traditions like Ayurveda. In the West, she also briefly chronicles the backlash against traditional doctors for their failure to prevent the outbreak in the first place.

A notable cautionary note that emerges from Pale Rider is the danger of mass gatherings for any purpose. Influenza does not distinguish between a church service and an armistice parade, a wedding or a funeral. Particularly chilling is Spinney’s account of the Spanish city of Zamora, which was among the hardest hit in that country. Zamoran congregations actually swelled as the pandemic raged, and the populace sought solace and prayed for relief. The city had a zealous new bishop who encouraged religious gatherings, called novenas, promoted the adoration of relics, and continued to distribute communion, all activities that send a shiver down the spine of anyone with a current understanding of the germ theory of disease.

In the latter part of the book, Spinney dives into the difficulty of trying to tease apart the inextricable impacts of the one-two punch that was the Great War with a pandemic following close on its heels. Although more people died in the pandemic, the war remains much better remembered, though Spinney suggests that the centenary is changing that, and no doubt the current situation will also contribute to the revival of interest. For those wondering whether they would be up to reading this book at the moment, I found the author’s approach thorough, but largely not grisly, though there are some dark spots. Spinney leans more towards statistics rather than graphic descriptions of the physical suffering of the flu victims.

The Golden Spruce

Cover image for The Golden Spruce by John Vaillantby John Vaillant

ISBN 978-0-393-07557-1

“The golden spruce was one of the few mature Sitka spruce trees still standing at the north end of the Yakoun River, and as such it had become even more of an anomaly than it already was.”

Sometime around the year 1700, a spruce seed took root in the fertile soil of the Yakoun River valley on Haida Gwaii, off the west coast of what would become British Columbia, Canada. The first recorded European contact with the islands would not take place for another seventy-five years. Despite a rare mutation that caused its needles to be yellow rather than green—a flaw that should have impeded its ability to photosynthesize—the tree that became known as K’iid K’iyaas or the golden spruce, grew to be a giant that stood on the banks of the river until 1997, when it was deliberately felled as a protest again the logging industry. In that time, the golden spruce had become a legend amongst the Haida people of Masset, as well as a symbol of the village of Port Clements. In The Golden Spruce, John Vaillant documents the history of tree, the troubled life of the man who destroyed it, and the impact of this act on the community that was its home.

The Golden Spruce is part history of the logging industry, and part post-mortem of the murder of a culturally significant icon of the Haida people. Vaillant beautifully describes the temperate rainforest landscape, writing that “a coastal forest can be an awesome place to behold: huge, holy, and eternal-feeling, like a branched and needled Notre Dame.” The early part of the book is dedicated to the history of the Haida, and the North American logging industry, as well as a brief foray into the fur trade that preceded it. Vaillant treats this all as necessary context before introducing Grant Hadwin, the man who destroyed the tree in the dark hours of January 20, 1997. A former logger and industry consultant, Hadwin had specialized in laying out the logging roads that would enable the companies to haul massive equipment into challenging terrain, and extract the wood once it was felled. In short, he made possible the very destruction he came to oppose. Vaillant interviews several current and former loggers also caught in this cognitive dissonance between love for being in the wilderness, and making a living by pillaging it, representing a variety of positions on the issue.

In the summer of 1987, on a mountainside near McBride, British Columbia—a small town about two hours east of the larger mill town where I grew up—Hadwin had a vision. A doctor Vaillant spoke with, who specializes in this kind of decompensation, called it a “spiritual emergency.” Having already become disillusioned with the practices of the logging industry in the mid-eighties, his failed attempts to advocate for restraint and moderation became unhinged. His employer at the time compared it to the difference between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Following the vision, Hadwin believed “he was not only forgiven for his prior sins but chosen to represent the Creator of all Life and carry a message to the rest of humanity.” However, it would be a decade before this delusion manifested in an act of destruction that shook the country.

Like most of British Columbia, Haida Gwaii is unceded territory; no treaty exists, and no compensation has been made to the Haida people for all that has already been taken from them. On that dark January night, Vaillant describes how another piece of their culture was destroyed: “as far as many Haida are concerned, Hadwin is one more white guy who came out to their islands in order to take something away, only to leave behind yet another imported illness; this time, a new strain of terrorism.” From his Prince Rupert hotel room, before his disappearance, Hadwin admitted he didn’t know the Haida legend when he cut down the tree. As his friend Cora Grey, an Indigenous woman from Hazelton, put it, “he could only see MacMillan Bloedel. He didn’t see no legend about the Haida when he did that.”

For those looking to understand why Hadwin would destroy K’iid K’iyaas and think he was striking a blow against the logging industry, there is little satisfaction to be had in The Golden Spruce. Using all the skills he picked up during his years in the industry, Hadwin destroyed the structural integrity of the tree, ensuring that it would fall the next time the wind blew up. This happened two days after his nighttime expedition. Fortunately, despite the tree’s popularity as a tourist attraction, no one was hurt. The golden spruce trail and view point were on the other side of the Yakoun River. By the time the tree feel, Hadwin had left Haida Gwaii, and returned to Prince Rupert on the mainland. From his hotel room, he issued a press release decrying the hypocrisy of the logging industry, entitled “The Falling of Your ‘Pet Plant,’” which reads as a deranged screed against “university trained professionals” whose “ideas, ethics, denials, part truth, attitudes, etc., appear to be responsible for most of the abominations, towards amateur life on this planet.”

As Vaillant chronicles, Hadwin was charged for the act, and it is here that the story takes an even stranger turn. Believing his life to be in danger if he took a ferry or plane to his court date in Masset, Hadwin took his life into his own hands, and set out from Prince Rupert in a kayak in February 1998, disappearing somewhere on Hecate Strait or Dixon Entrance. His wrecked kayak and much of his equipment—in surprisingly good condition after four months on the Northwest coast—were found on Mary Island in June. Belief that he faked the wreck remains common amongst those who knew him and his outdoors skills, as well as among the people of Haida Gwaii.

With the tree felled, and Hadwin vanished into the wild, the last part of the book becomes about the grief of the community, and the futile efforts of the scientific community to put right the destruction he wrought. The golden spruce was unique and irreplaceable. Although two cuttings of the tree were located in the University of British Columbia Botanical Gardens, they were not thriving. Controversy erupted amongst community members and Haida leadership about whether the return of a cutting should be accepted, and if it should be planted on the site of the felled giant. In the end, although more cuttings were made from the fallen tree, and two were planted in Port Clements, the golden spruce has largely been left to nature, where it has become a nurse log for the surrounding forest. The Golden Spruce is a sad and disturbing story of destruction, ignorance, and waste. According to Vaillant, “left in peace, the golden spruce could have lived until the twenty-sixth century.”

You might also like The Nature Fix by Florence Williams

Race the Sands

Cover image for Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durstby Sarah Beth Durst

ISBN 978006269085

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this title from the publisher.

“Does it truly benefit people to know what their souls will become? What does it matter? Shouldn’t they just be good people because they love their family and they care about the people around them? People should be good because it’s right, not because an augur tells them it’s what they should do.”

After losing her rider in a tragic accident at the Becaran Races, disgraced Trainer Tamra Verlas has been reduced to teaching the children of the wealthy to ride kehoks, the monstrous souls reborn as condemned beasts that are too evil to ever reincarnate as humans, or even lesser beasts. But Tamra needs the money to help her beloved daughter Shalla continue her training with the augurs, the soul readers who guide Becaran society, and try to help its citizens avoid damaging their souls to the point that they are reborn as monsters. But as Shalla’s tuition becomes increasingly expensive, and Tamra’s debts to her sponsor mount, she knows that they only way to avoid having Shalla become a permanent ward of the temple is for her to find and train a rider and racer that can win the Becaran Races. With the prize money, but she will be able to repay her debts, cover her daughter’s tuition, and ensure her future. But the rider and racer team she puts together draws Tamra into the midst of a plot that goes beyond the Becaran Races, threatening the very future of the Becaran Empire.

The fire at the centre of Race the Sands is Tamra, an independent, determined woman, a fierce single mother, and a force of nature on the race track in her younger days, before an injury put an end to her racing career. In the acknowledgement, Sarah Beth Durst reveals that Tamra’s namesake is fantasy author Tamora Pierce, the mentor who made Durst believe she really could become a writer. Similarly, Tamra becomes the mentor to Raia, a seventeen-year-old girl on the run from an arranged marriage that her parents tried to force upon her after she flunked out of augur training. Although Tamra normally despises the sons and daughters of the wealthy as too soft to ever actually win a race, in Raia she sees a fire that she believes she can bend towards victory.

Although the plot centres on Tamra and Raia, another interesting character is Yorbel, who has spent most of his life safe within the augurs’ temple, studying philosophy and ethics. He has only ever met the public in closely controlled one-on-one readings, where citizens may meet with an augur to have their auras read, and the fate of their soul revealed, in the hopes that they will mend their ways. With Yorbel’s character, I appreciated the exploration of what happens when the academy meets reality, and high flying theoretical principles clash with the grey reality of real world choices. Taken from his farmer parents when he was a child, Yorbel has ever since known only the soft and sheltered life of the augur temple, where everything is provided for him. Being sent out into the world on a secret mission by Prince Dar, the Emperor-to-Be of Becar, proves to be a more complicated venture than Yorbel could ever have dreamed of, and his journey is one of the more interesting aspects of Race the Sands.

While the primary characters are intriguing, the secondary characters here are a bit flat. We never so much as learn the name of the rider Tamra lost the previous season, making this person into more a of a tragic backstory than any sort of actual character. Raia’s parents and they man they want her to marry seem flatly villainous, in part because we don’t see enough of them to really understand their characters or motivations. Durst also introduces three other riders who are supposed to be Raia’s friends, but they feature so little it is hard for these characters to feel like more than an afterthought. However, from a character perspective, the book is well worth reading for Tamra alone.

Becaran society, and the very premise of Race the Sands is built on a problematic system of value judgements that cry out to be overthrown. Humans, for example, are at the top of the chain of reincarnation, and animals are lesser creatures for the rebirth of those whose souls were not pure in their previous life. Kehoks are monsters whose physical ugliness and malformation is a visual representation of the evilness of their souls, thus implicitly equating beauty with goodness. The kehok Tamra buys for the races at first seems poised to undermine the idea that the soul of a kehok is irredeemable, but in the end the truth about the black lion only reinforces this structure. While the plot of Race the Sands does call into question some aspects of this problematic system, ultimately tearing down corrupt institutions, I wanted to see Durst go farther, and burn down the ruins of this bankrupt concept.

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