Crucibleby Nancy Kress
Nancy Kress made her reputation in the early 90s with her multiple award-winning novella, "Beggars in Spain," which became the basis for her extremely successful Beggars Trilogy (comprising Beggars in Spain, Beggars and Choosers, and Beggars Ride). Since then she has written over a dozen novels, including the well-received Probability/i>/i>/i>
Nancy Kress made her reputation in the early 90s with her multiple award-winning novella, "Beggars in Spain," which became the basis for her extremely successful Beggars Trilogy (comprising Beggars in Spain, Beggars and Choosers, and Beggars Ride). Since then she has written over a dozen novels, including the well-received Probability Trilogy, culminating in Probability Space, which garnered her the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best SF Novel.
Now comes a brand new science fiction epic.
It began with Crossfire: a far-future novel of planetary colonization and alien first contact. Jake Holman, a man trying to escape a dark past, brought together a diverse group of thousands to settle on a new world. But instead the humans found themselves caught in the crossfire of a galaxy-spanning war between two disparate species: agressive, militaristic humanoids known as Furs and passive, plantlike creatures known as Vines.
Having cast their lots with the peaceful Vines, humanity faces all-out war against the technologically superior Furs. Our only hope? A virus designed by the Vines to remove all aggressiveness from the Furs. Can it spread fast enough to save not only Holman's colony, but the rest of humanity? And at what price to the Furs?
Driven by strong ideas and deep moral questions, and peopled with real-as-life characters, Crucible shows Kress at the top of her form, amply demonstrating why she has been one of science fiction finest authors of the past twenty years.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
Praise for Crossfire:
*"Life-sized characters with personal and cosmic preoccupations, tense and knotty plotting, and Kress's usual abundance of ideas: gripping, challenging work, a reassuring return to top form."--Kirkus Reviews starred review
"A satisfying thought experiment in science and philosophy. . . . Fans of serious SF will enjoy this tale of bravery, travel, adventure, and personal and social crisis."--Publishers Weekly
"In this latest thrilling offering by Kress, world-building and character development are flawlessly executed in a thought-provoking conjunction of passivity and morality."--Romantic Times Book Club
"Kress's aliens are convincing, and her colonists are all fascinating, developed individuals. The New Quakers embody their tenets: truth, simplicity, silence, and conscience. Dr. William Shipley, an aged, overweight, troubled father and New Quaker, is the moral center of the book. Together with colony leader Jake Holman, a troubled exec who bankrolled the colony with embezzled funds, the doctor determines the furure of both alien species and humanity as well. This thought-provoking book is highly recommended for high school libraries and young adult collections in public libraries."-VOYA
"Kress operates up to her usual high standards, and she also makes ethical dilemmas as gripping as laser fights and the results of human-alien conflict rather than depend on which human contacts which alien. Choice stuff."--Booklist
Read an Excerpt
1MIRA CITYThe party was reaching its city-wide crescendo, the speeches would begin soon, and no one could find Alex.Typical, Siddalee Brown thought grumpily as she pushed her way through the crowd in the park. Never where she was supposed to be. Off doing something else--probably a worthy something else, but not here. Not where Alexandra Cutler was supposed to be and Siddalee Brown was supposed to make sure she was. Typical!"Have you seen Alex?" she asked Salah Hadijeh. Salah, dressed in some fantastic white flowing robe--you could never tell about the Arabs, likely to turn up in anything at a party except conventional clothes--only laughed. "Alex? I saw her ten minutes ago, in the Mausoleum. Drunk as a vat bug." He laughed again, swaying, and raised his glass to Siddalee.Huh! Alex didn't drink. But Salah certainly had been, and weren't those Arabs supposed to stay away from alcohol? Against their religion, Siddalee had been told. Not that she cared, but it was just one more sign of everything wrong with the young people today. And Salah's information was useless; Alex certainly wasn't in the Mausoleum, which Siddalee had just finished searching, every single square foot, without finding anyone who'd even seen her boss. And Siddalee certainly wasn't going to search it again.So where to look? She chewed her generous bottom lip, surveying the park, and as she looked the bottom lip pursed more andmore until Siddalee was chewing the inside of a mouth clamped tightly shut.The party was, in Siddalee's opinion, out of control. Practically every table in Mira City had been dragged out into the park for the fiftieth anniversary of the First Landing on Greentrees. Earlier, Siddalee had noticed pitchers of that new alcohol, Blue Lion, that those kids who owned the Chu Corporation were fermenting. That had been bad enough--a fiftieth anniversary should be a solemn celebration, to Siddalee's way of thinking--but by now you couldn't even see the tables. People stood on them and sat around them and probably lay under them, a seething mass of people, at least half of whom looked drunk. The pretty genemod flower beds were all getting trampled. The Chinese kids were setting off those awful things they called firecrackers, and a mixed bunch of Arabs and Cutlers were loudly singing that demeaning song that Siddalee heard everywhere now:"On Greentrees we are For good, but is it good, How would I know, all I know For sure is yooouuuuuu ..."Siddalee had never heard such stupidity celebrated--as if they hadn't all learned to "know" so much from being on Greentrees! And the song had a pretty tune, too ... such a waste. To make it worse, she spied among the Arabs and Cutlers three kids that she knew for sure were New Quakers. Quakers! Acting like that! Their parents certainly didn't know.At least the Quakers wore modest gray coveralls, which was more than you could say for some of the other young ones. Dress on Greentrees offered two usual choices: coveralls, modeled after the ones the First Landing wore (some of them were the ones the First Landing wore; Threadmores lasted nearly forever). Or the more popular "wraps," which had evolved on Greentrees. These were no more than pieces of bright holcum-fiber cloth cut intodifferent shapes and worn tied around the body in whatever configurations happened to strike the wearer as interesting, from voluminous to skimpy. During the cool nights, wraps were worn over the thermal skinsuits that covered everything but hands and head. Days were warm enough that most people just tied their wraps over bare bodies. As fashion, it was both cheap and highly competitive, with much praise going to innovative wrappers, although not from Siddalee.At the far end of the park, against the huge government building that everyone called the Mausoleum, a temporary platform had been built high above the crowd for the speeches. Siddalee saw Jake Holman's wheelchair being pushed up the ramp by a muscular Arab in another of those silly flowing robes. If anyone knew where Alex was, it might be Mr. Holman."Oh!" a girl cried as Siddalee pushed past her. Siddalee had spilled the girl's pitcher of Blue Lion, sending the bright blue liquid foaming down the front of the girl's coverall. "Watch what you're doing, you Furry shit!"It was the worst insult on Greentrees. Siddalee stopped dead, stared at the girl, and realized she knew her. Star Chu, they'd worked on the reservoir project together. Star had cut her glossy straight black hair short and she wore one of those stupid fake-Cheyenne fake tattoos on her left cheek, a cluster of tiny stars, plus that new red lipstick that Chu Corporation had just put on the market along with its alcoholic drinks. But Star wasn't a bad person. She recognized Siddalee and blushed."Oh, sorry, Siddalee, you just startled me.""Have you seen Alex Cutler?"Something strange passed through Star's eyes, but she just shook her head. "No. Sorry.""Thanks." Siddalee left, again chewing on her bottom lip. Star hadn't seemed drunk, or at least there hadn't been any slurring in her accented English. Star was smart and resourceful, Siddalee knew from the reservoir project, as smart as Siddalee herself, which was very smart. So why did she want to get herself up like that andact like she was some sort of painted party girl instead of the responsible citizen of Mira City that she really was?"You're a Puritan, Siddalee," Alex had said to her, more than once. "They're only ten years younger than you are, you know, and fundamentally no different." But Siddalee didn't feel the same age as Star and Salah and their crowds, and she didn't know what a "Puritan" was, and she wasn't about to look it up in the deebees. Old stuff, probably. Useless stuff. Alex wouldn't even know the word if it weren't for Mr. Holman.Where was Alex?Siddalee fought her way through to the quieter area close to the Mausoleum walls. Here the New Quakers sat decorously around their tables, talking softly, trying to ignore the raucous hilarity behind them. Off to one side sat a group of veiled Arab women. Under the veils, Siddalee knew, would be mostly wrinkled, gentle faces; the new generation of Arab girls didn't go veiled and some even had the genetic treatments that meant they would never have the wrinkles of their mothers and grandmothers. Siddalee approved. She had never understood the strict Arab division of sexes, and she was glad it was weakening so much on Greentrees. That was one good thing about her generation, anyway.She reached the steep ramp leading to the speakers' platform and hauled herself up it. No one tried to stop her. On top, Mayor Ashraf Shanti argued timidly with a tech fiddling with the broadcast cubes. Behind them stood the weirdest group of people that Siddalee had ever seen.She expected the New Quaker representative, of course, sober in his gray coverall, waiting his turn to make a brief speech commemorating the First Landing. She also expected the Chinese leader of the dissident city, Hope of Heaven, although only yesterday had Mayor Shanti become certain that the troublemaker (and that's what they all were in Hope of Heaven, don't try to tell Siddalee anything else!) would show for the ceremony. Siddalee even expected the Cheyenne chief. He stood to one side, a fantastic figure in somesort of animal skins trimmed with feathers and beads, a tattoo on his deeply sunburned cheek. Didn't he know how bad that much sun was for him? Did the Cheyenne even take skin-repair genetic supplements?But the weirdest figure by far was the woman who crouched at the very back of the platform, beside Jake Holman's wheelchair. Siddalee looked, and looked again, and thought, It can't be.Alex had told her about Nan Frayne, tales that Alex had heard from Mr. Holman and from Alex's dead aunt, Gail Cutler, who'd been among the First Landers. Siddalee had only half believed the stories. Sometimes Siddalee had even doubted that Nan Frayne existed. Could this person possibly be--"Siddalee," Mr. Holman called in his quavery old voice. "Come here. I want you to meet someone. This is Nan Frayne."Siddalee approached warily. Nan Frayne didn't rise or extend her hand. She looked at Siddalee with such a straight, grim stare that Siddalee felt outraged--what had she done to earn that much dislike? Nothing. Nan Frayne was old, maybe sixty, but looked even older because her skin was so lined, burned, and discolored. Against that skin her pale gray eyes looked startlingly light. She had gray hair, cut very short, and on her wiry body wore a clean new coverall too big for her."Hello," Siddalee said politely--Alex insisted on politeness to everyone--but Nan Frayne didn't so much as answer her. "Mr. Holman, do you know where I can find Alex?"An odd look passed across Mr. Holman's face, the same kind of look that had flitted though Star Chu's eyes. Something was going on here that Siddalee didn't know about. But all Mr. Holman said was, "Isn't Alex supposed to make a speech?"Of course Alex was supposed to make a speech--Alex was the tray-o. Mr. Holman knew that. But Siddalee restrained her irritation. In addition to Alex's insistence on courtesy, Mr. Holman deserved great respect. He was the man who had organized the colony ship to Greentrees fifty years ago, he'd been the CEO of Mira Cityback when the city had been a corporation, and he had led the group that fought off the alien Fur attack all those decades ago. Plus, he was old, over eighty in both Terran years and Greenie years, and Siddalee Brown was not going to snap at him."Yes, sir, she's supposed to speak right after you and ... damn, the mayor's starting!"The tech had fixed the broadcast cubes, which, like so much other nonessential machinery on Greentrees, was falling apart. Then the tech must have left the platform, because Mayor Shanti was starting his speech and the only people left on the stage were the ones who belonged there and Siddalee Brown."Don't worry about Alex," Mr. Holman said quickly. "She'll show up or she won't. Just go sit down and enjoy yourself, Siddalee:"As if she could do that with her boss messing up again! Blushing darkly, Siddalee scurried across the platform, down the ramp, and into the anonymity of the crowd."--for half a century," Mayor Shanti was saying in his unaccented English. The crowd had quieted, mostly, and Siddalee could hear the translators' mechanical voices in the Arabic, Chinese, and Spanish that some of the older people needed. Everyone born on Greentrees, of course, had learned English at school, even the Arab women in the medina. It was the law. "--trials and triumphs no one could have foreseen, but--"Where was Alex? She was supposed to speak third, after the mayor and Mr. Holman. Well, Siddalee had done her best. She dropped heavily to the grass, scowling. A sudden breeze brought the smell of moonflowers, a thick heady fragrance. Probably from plants crushed under some table, Siddalee thought crossly. It would take weeks to restore Mira City's beautiful park. Somewhere to her left another of those annoying "firecrackers" went off, followed by drunken laughter.No one on the platform reacted. And, Siddalee noted suddenly, Nan Frayne was no longer up there. Siddalee hadn't heard or seen the woman follow her down the ramp, but nonetheless she was gone, as stealthy as the sweet-scented wind.
On the other side of Mira City, Alexandra Cutler ran through the deserted streets toward the genetics labs.God, she was out of shape! Fear kept her moving until, winded, she was forced to stop and bend over for a moment, hands on her knees, a middle-aged woman who stayed lean but not fit. Or not fit enough for this anyway, although "this" should not be something anyone on Greentrees had to prepare for. "This" should not be happening.Please let it not be true.Her panting echoed in her ears, unnaturally loud. As soon as she could, she straightened and resumed running.Finally the lab buildings loomed ahead, windowless foamcast structures, many large enough to contain negative-pressure safe labs and plastic-roofed growing beds. A virgin grove of Greentrees' tall narrow trees, their leaves purple from an analog of Terra's photosynthetic rhodomicrobia, grew beside the labs. Although they stood at the edge of Mira City, just before the river swept abruptly west, to Alex the labs were the heart of the city. Here the native flora and fauna of Greentrees were genetically adapted to fit two not always compatible ends: preservation of the native ecology and use by humans who had come from a different planet. Without the labs, humans might have survived on Greentrees, but they would not have flourished. As the tray-o, the Technology Resource Allocation officer, Alex meted out the largest share, by far, of resources to the gene labs. Too large a share, some said. Let them. The labs were key.And someone had the arrogance, the stupidity, the sheer bad taste--to Alex, the three were nearly synonymous--to threaten the labs.The solemn, pretty Chinese girl, Star Chu, had warned Alex just minutes ago. "Alex ... I'm afraid there might be trouble at the gene labs. Soon. Now. I can't say more, but I think you should survey it. Take security with you." And Star had turned away, disappearing fluidly into the crowd, before Alex could question her, could in factdo more than numbly register that Star herself looked like the embodiment of what she had delicately referred to as "trouble": a hardworking, successful part owner of a Greentrees corporation who nonetheless wore fake Cheyenne tattoos on her cheek, used Blue Lion and fizzies, and wore discontent as blatantly as her red lipstick. Yet she'd warned Alex.Alex's father had once told her that he thought the Arabs would cause eventual problems. "Over time the Arabs might find Greentrees a real culture shock. The contrast between the traditions they bring with them and the ways pioneer societies evolve could lead to real factionalism among them, even violence. Watch out especially for their youth, Alex." But the Arabs had settled in seamlessly, developing a sort of semisecular semiassimilated Islam that satisfied everybody, and the Chinese youth had splintered, rebelled, and exploded. Go figure.The lab buildings looked quiet, an unlovely utilitarian series of connected foamcast cubes. Alex, who hadn't taken the time to wait for security, approached cautiously. The front door of Building D stood crazily agape on half its hinges. Someone had lasered it.Alex could remember when no one on Greentrees locked buildings.She took her comlink from a pocket formed by her red-and-green wrap, which she had tied in an elaborate, modest crisscross that didn't impede movement. Guy Davenport, Mira's security chief, answered immediately. "Alex here," she panted. "I'm at the gene labs, the door's been forced open, and there may be trouble.""Don't go in," Guy said. "A detail will be there right away. Do you hear me, Alex, don't go--" She clicked off and entered the building.The corridor was cool and shadowed, a sharp contrast to the sunlight outside. There was no lobby; this was a completely utilitarian structure. Alex walked past closed doors, some with Restricted signs. At the end of the corridor, the door to the animal labs stood open. Something crashed inside, and suddenly the air was thick with shrieking.She sprinted forward. "Stop it! What are you doing here! My God, you can't--" And stopped dead.Two groups of Chinese kids faced off across the room. Cages surrounded them, and half the noise came from a pair of lions, the only predator on Greentrees dangerous to humans. Tree dwelling, the lions had the long sleek bodies of cats but with tentacled forelegs and a powerful prehensile tail to wrap around branches. Like so much else on Greentrees, their skin was purplish blue. Alex knew that the geneticists were trying to modify the lions' genome to make them less aggressive without disrupting Greentrees' food chain. So far this had failed.The female of the experimental breeding pair screamed in her cage. The male stood in the middle of the floor, baring its teeth at the unarmed group of kids huddled against a side wall."Get out of here, Alexandra Cutler," one of the others said. That group stood beside the door Alex had just burst through, their leader armed with a laser gun he should not have been able to obtain.She forced herself to calm. "You're Yat-Shing Wong, aren't you?""Wong Yat-Shing," the boy sneered. "In Hope of Heaven, we've reclaimed true Chinese usage in our naming."Hope of Heaven. Alex's heart sank. Hope of Heaven was the dissident settlement established ten miles downriver from Mira City, and this was some sort of youth war between the Chinese of Hope of Heaven and the Chinese in Mira. Alex couldn't imagine anything more stupid, or more dangerous. The lion growled softly."Mr. Wong, you don't want that animal to hurt anyone."Wong only smiled."Ms. Cutler, it's coming closer!" a captive girl in a brief red wrap said, although the lion wasn't. Alex considered her chances of seizing Wong's gun and shooting the beast; not good."Stay calm," Alex called to the girl. "Yat-Shing, you don't want to be charged with murder. I know you don't:"There had never been a murder on Greentrees, not in fifty years.Wong snarled, "You don't know anything about what we want in Hope of Heaven!"The lion gathered itself to leap.The girl in the red wrap screamed. The three others in her group tried to run toward the door, one of them tripping and sprawling facedown in front of the lion. Alex grabbed for Wong's gun and was easily shoved away. As she fell, pictures of the scene registered on her numbed mind, each preternaturally hard edged and clear:The girl in the red wrap with her hands over her face, long slim hands with rings on each pinkie.The sprawled boy, raising his head from the floor as the lion soared over him toward the girl, his look befuddled as he glimpsed the underbelly of the attacker.The spear arcing through the air and catching the lion in midflight, so that it shivered on the air and then dropped short of the girl, pierced through the soft tissue of its right scent organ and into the brain.A spear?Alex rose slowly and turned her head. If she had expected anything at all, if she'd been able to think of anything, it would have been a Cheyenne brave. There were Cheyenne in Mira for the celebration. The Cheyenne, those southern romantics reviving a primitive lifestyle from an earlier planet, used spears. A Cheyenne might have--oh yes, this made sense--just wandered by and happened to hurl a spear at a deliberately loosed lion deep inside the genetics lab building--Framed in the doorway stood an alien Fur, seven feet high, balanced on its jumping tail, a second spear in its tentacled hand.The room went absolutely silent, even the sobbing rescued girl. Probably half the kids in this room didn't even believe the Furs existed. No more native to Greentrees than were humans, their population was small and their history completely improbable. Almost no one in Mira had ever seen one. The primitive Furs lived far to the south, in the same subcontinent as their enemies the Cheyenne, countless light-years from their space-faring cousins who had sworn to destroy humanity.Alex scrambled to her feet and lunged a second time for Wong'sgun, before he could shoot the Fur. She was too late. Nan Frayne stood beside the Fur, the boy's gun in her hand, his arms laced painfully behind his back to a thonged stick she held casually in her other hand."Nan--""I was with a security detail when they were comlinked," the old woman said. "Old"--not the right word, no. Nan Frayne looked old as boulders looked old, weathered and strong and something not to get crushed by. "You need better security people, Alex."And now Guy's forces came puffing through the door, two men as middle-aged as Alex but much fatter, guns drawn, looking helpless."Security's fine," Alex said crossly, which was stupid because clearly it wasn't. Nan Frayne, the two times she'd met her before, made Alex feel like an idiot."Could have fooled me," Nan said. "Gang stomper?"Alex didn't know what the words meant; Nan was First Landing and they all used Earth words that had slipped out of the language because there was no need for them. Alex didn't answer. Nan said something in a low, growly language to the Fur, who answered her. The kids gaped at the alien. The security men began to yammer at Alex. Yat-Shing Wong, or Wong Yat-Shing, began, "If you think you--" and Nan gave a casual twitch of the stick holding him that made him yelp in pain. Through this babble Nan turned to Alex and spoke as if the rest of the din didn't exist."I was coming to see you anyway. Your mayor wants you. He just got word. There's a ship approaching Greentrees."Alex opened her mouth but no words came. No ship had approached Greentrees for thirty-nine years. There were only two possibilities whose ship it was. Finally she managed, "Is it--""I don't know if it's Karim Mahjoub--or if it's the enemy. You go find out. I've got better things to do."A moment later Alex found herself holding the stick that tethered the furious Wong, and both Nan and the Fur had melted out the door.Copyright © 2004 by Nancy Kress
Meet the Author
Nancy Kress was born and raised in upstate New York, where she spent most of her childhood either reading or playing in the woods. She earned a bachelor's and master's degree in education, as well as an M.A. in English. While she was pregnant with the second of her two sons, she started writing fiction. She had never planned on becoming a writer, but staying at home full-time with infants left her time to experiment.
In 1990 she went full-time as an SF writer. The first thing she wrote in this new status was the novella version of Beggars In Spain, which won both the Hugo and the Nebula Award. She is the author of more than twenty books, including more than a dozen novels of science fiction and fantasy, as well as three story collections, and two books on writing. Of her most recent novels, Probability Space (Tor, 2002) won the John W. Campbell Award for Best SF novel. Her short fiction has appeared in all the usual places, garnering her one Hugo and three Nebula Awards. Her work has been translated into Swedish, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Japanese, Croatian, Lithuanian, Romanian, Greek, Hebrew, and Russian. She is also the monthly "Fiction" columnist for Writer's Digest Magazine and she teaches writing regularly at various places, including Clarion and The Writing Center in Bethesda, Maryland. She currently resides in Rochester, New York.
Nancy Kress was born and raised in upstate New York, where she spent most of her childhood either reading or playing in the woods. She earned a bachelor's and master's degree in education, as well as an M.A. in English. While she was pregnant with the second of her two sons, she started writing fiction. She had never planned on becoming a writer, but staying at home full-time with infants left her time to experiment. In 1990 she went full-time as an SF writer. The first thing she wrote in this new status was the novella version of Beggars In Spain, which won both the Hugo and the Nebula Award. She is the author of more than twenty books, including more than a dozen novels of science fiction and fantasy, as well as three story collections, and two books on writing. Probability Space (Tor, 2002) won the John W. Campbell Award for Best SF novel. Her short fiction has appeared in all the usual places, garnering her one Hugo and three Nebula Awards. Her work has been translated into Swedish, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Japanese, Croatian, Lithuanian, Romanian, Greek, Hebrew, and Russian. She is also the monthly "Fiction" columnist for Writer's Digest Magazine and she teaches writing regularly at various places, including Clarion and The Writing Center in Bethesda, Maryland. She currently resides in Rochester, New York.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Dagum good hard scifi
Almost as good as beggers in spain
Four decades ago Jake Holman and thousands of settlers following him were trapped in the middle of an inter-galaxy war between the militaristic humanoid Furs and the serene flora-like Vines. Jake and his followers supported the Vines against the bellicose Furs though the odds heavily favored the latter. The Vines used a last-hope virus to remove the aggressive tendencies of the Furs.......................... Jake is old and frail, but feels proud of his accomplishments especially the diversity he brought to Greentrees. Still a fierce contention exists between the Chinese in the city Hope of Heaven against the technocrats of Mira City. When the earth ship CRUCIBLE arrives on Greentrees, Captain Julian Martin ruthlessly uses that antagonistic rivalry to further his ambitions to become planetary dictator. He seduces Technology Resources Allocation Officer Alexandra Cutler, a member of the Mira City executive triumvirate, and other key citizens to do his bidding. Off planet the fighting between the Furs and the Vines remains heated. On and off the orb, Jake¿s dream is turning nightmarish.......................... The sequel to CROSSFIRE, CRUCIBLE contains plenty of action and intriguing alien species with deeply developed cultures. The story line moves along two paths, off and on the planet, but also is somewhat difficult to follow because of the complex continuous changes as to what is the core of the tale. Most interesting for those who read the first novel is how much Jake has aged from the swashbuckling hero to an elderly statesman ignored by the next generation as being yesterday¿s news. Fans, as they did with Nancy Kress¿ previous outer space cerebral thriller, will ponder the author¿s concept that society needs to defend the right to live alternate .and minority lifestyles.............................. Harriet Klausner