Earth Made of Glass (Giraut Series #2)

Overview

Welcome to the Thousand Cultures—in which humanity's hundreds of settled worlds are finally coming back together, via the recently invented technology of instantaneous travel. And in which Giraut and Margaret work as professional diplomats, helping to finesse the stresses and strains of so much abrupt new contact among wildly diverse cultures.

Now, however, their task is to bring in the terrifyingly hostile world of Briand, a planet of broiling acid oceans whose only habitable ...

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Overview

Welcome to the Thousand Cultures—in which humanity's hundreds of settled worlds are finally coming back together, via the recently invented technology of instantaneous travel. And in which Giraut and Margaret work as professional diplomats, helping to finesse the stresses and strains of so much abrupt new contact among wildly diverse cultures.

Now, however, their task is to bring in the terrifyingly hostile world of Briand, a planet of broiling acid oceans whose only habitable portions are Greenland-sized subcontinents that project out of the abyssal heat of the planetary surface into it stratosphere.

But Briand's physical hostility is nothing compared to the venom its two human cultures bear toward one another. Into this terrible world come Giraut and Margaret to try to do the right thing by the Cultures, by the inhabitants of Braind, and by one another.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A masterful job."—Publishers Weekly

"First-rate!"—Library Journal

Kirkus Reviews
Sequel to Barnes's far-future A Million Open Doors (1992), set a millennium hence at a time when Earth's scattered colonies, long isolated by the vastness of interstellar distances, are reestablishing contact via the newly invented "springer" or instantaneous transporter. Mysterious spymaster Shan of the Council of Humanity's Office of Special Projects sends expert diplomat/agents Giraut and Margaret Leones to assess the potentially violent situation developing on the remote and only recently recontacted planet Briand. Only Briand's antarctic continent, projecting above the hot, poisonous chemical-soup atmosphere, is habitable, and here, in mutual loathing, suspicion, and disagreement, exist two colonies, one derived from pre-Columbian Maya, the other comprising mystical Tamil poets. Equally problematic, the diplomats' marriage is suffering a meltdown: Giraut rues his vanished swashbuckling youth, while plain-Jane Margaret feels unattractive and unwanted. Can Giraut and Margaret persuade the Tamils and the Maya not to slaughter one another, and patch up their tottering marriage? Despite the top-heavy multiple-culture backdrop, this is an intelligent, well-researched, adroitly handled and absorbing cultural clash with a notably surprising conclusion.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812551617
  • Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
  • Publication date: 3/28/1999
  • Series: Giraut Series , #2
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: REV
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 4.36 (w) x 6.80 (h) x 1.04 (d)

Meet the Author

John Barnes is the award-winning author of Orbital Romance, A Million Open Doors, Mother of Storms, Earth Made of Glass, The Merchants of Souls, Candle, and many other novels. With Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, he wrote the novels Encounter with Tiber and The Return. He lives in Colorado.

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Read an Excerpt

It was hard to believe that Rufeu had been killed nine years ago. As he sat with us over a glass of wine, he barely looked six years old today. "It's honestly getting better," he said. "In this last year I've finally gotten some fine motor control, and as the corpus callosum grows in, I've begun to be able to think more coherently. Still, puberty's a long way away."

The joyous obscenity of his grin made me glad we'd taken the trouble to visit. The travel time was literally nothing—you stepped through the springer, and there you were. But Margaret and I got so few vacations from our work for the Council of Humanity that usually all we wanted to do, during the weeks between assignments, was to go to ground at the home of any tolerant relative, spending our time sleeping and loafing, seeing no one but our families and not going out for anything.

The last time we had been back to Nou Occitan, two stanyears ago, Rufeu still had not been downloaded from his psypyx into his clone-body; instead, I had talked to Johan, who was wearing Rufeu's psypyx, by com every day.

I suppose I felt responsible because I had been there when Rufeu died, on a climbing trip up in Terrbori during the long vacation home that Margaret and I had taken, just after our first mission as full-fledged Council of Humanity diplomats, so the time from his death to the present virtually spanned our careers; he had started on this long journey of his, back to physical adulthood, at the same time we had passed our probation and begun our careers of wandering from one trouble spot to another around the thirty-one settled planets of human space. We had seen sixteen of humanity's twenty-five suns while he had sat in the back of Johan's mind, waiting for his new body to finish growing.

"It must feel like a big hole in your life," Margaret was saying sympathetically.

"That pretty much describes it," he said. "Could have been worse, of course—they say if you die when you're fifty or so, you can still be trying to get everything back off your emblok when you're thirty. Memory only moves so fast and the more of it there is, the slower it moves. As it is, they say I'll be off this thing in less than five stanyears more." He fingered the black knob, no bigger than the nail of his little finger, behind his ear, from which all the copied memories of his first lifetime played back slowly into his child's brain; till he had reincorporated all of them into his brain structure, when he needed to recall something of his first twenty-five years, he had to reach across the interface and pull it in from the emblok. "But really, I'd rather not spend our whole visit talking about my, er, medical problems, eh? I know you don't stay in touch with the old crowd—"

"Just you," I said. "And I kept in contact with Johan while he was wearing your psypyx, because we both thought it was important for you to stay in touch with as many people as possible, but…well, he's always blamed me for Marcabru's death."

Rufeu nodded. He looked like a six-year-old pretending to be grown up. I squelched that thought. He didn't want to talk about his situation, but it was pretty hard not to think about it.

At last he said, "Well, I never blamed you. Marcabru was a depressive drunk. He was going to either kill himself or find someone to do it, and all that drinking made such a mess out of his psypyx recordings that there was no way he could reconstitute."

"I'd been, uh, thinking of asking—" Margaret said, looking pointedly at Rufeu's wine.

"I take scrubbers," he explained, finishing his glass and signalling for another round. "I can get drunk, then come down off it fast and clean. No damage to my tender young brain, as far as they can tell." He raised his glass to us and said, "Atz fis de jovent."

"Atz fis de jovent," we agreed, and drank with him. It could mean "to the death of the young man," but it was more likely he meant another of its senses—"to the end of youth."

"It does get all of us, doesn't it?" I said.

"It does, Giraut. Though I was hoping that an occupation like yours would be different—"

Margaret snorted. "Go ahead, Giraut, tell him about the romantic way you and I spend our time out among the stars."

"Well, there's filling out forms," I said. "And asking questions so you know the answers to fill out the forms. And asking questions so you understand the answers that you need to fill out the forms. And—"

"Stop, stop, I need to retain some romantic illusions about you two. I prefer to imagine you spend all your time standing down local tyrants, rescuing hostages, getting rescued by the CSPs, maybe meeting intriguers and plotters in back alleys—"

"Absolutely," I said. "We tell the local tyrant that he hasn't filled out his permission for despotism form properly, we get the names and com codes of all hostages and fill out the request for rescue forms for them and the CSP—"

Rufeu laughed; not as if things were funny, but more in appreciation for a quick response. That killed the conversation for the moment, so I sat back and looked out over the broad terrace.

Rufeu lived on the east coast of Nou Occitan; I had grown up on the west coast. The cities over here were newer, so they showed some significant Interstellar influence in the architecture—excessive practicality here and there, the occasional spire, arch, window, or door not quite carried to the extreme conclusion that we Occitans had reveled in, before Connect. I liked my very excessive and Extreme hometown, Elinorien, better, but still any Occitan city was a rest for the heart and eyes. Villa Guilhemi was not a bad place at all.

We were on the seaside edge of town, and the restaurant where we had met Rufeu looked across the beach down to Totzmare, the great world-ocean that encircled Wilson, We had been fortunate here, we Occitans, for we had gotten a whole planet to ourselves. Most cultures were jammed together, scores to a planet. But on Wilson, Nou Occitan was the only permanently habitable piece of land large enough for a colony; the two small polar continents, driven by the steep axial tilt of the planet and its slow, twelve-stanyear orbit, alternated between being burning deserts and glacial wastes, and were beyond the possibility of being made permanently habitable.

Hence Nou Occitan was the only culture that looked up to the tiny dot of Arcturus as our sun, its brilliance forever shielded and reddened by the vast amount of fine carbon dust in our upper atmosphere. Beyond the edge of the terrace, the soft white sand sloped down to the dark-green sea, which was gentle today, and warm as it always was in these equatorial waters. Children played in the shallows; further out, a yacht race was in progress, or perhaps it was some elaborate game of tag the sailors were playing.

For the thousandth time I wondered why I had ever left.

"Well," I said, "absent friends and old days."

Margaret looked at me a little strangely, but Rufeu raised his glass, I raised mine, and she joined us in drinking off the rest of the toast.

Of the friends of my jovent, Rufeu probably was the only one I really wanted to be in touch with, or could be. David was a professor now and as dull a pedant as I'd ever seen. Raimbaut had died in a dueling accident not long before I first set off for the stars, and since his personality had not been transferable, his psypyx was still stored in the Hall of Memory, waiting for the improved technology that could bring him back. Marcabru had died unrecorded. Aimeric was now the prime minister of Caledony, a culture on Nansen, six and a half light years away. Excepting Rufeu, all had gone into death, personality storage, or adulthood—the one true grave of youth.

And as for the donzelhas, well, a young Occitan worshipped women, but he avoided knowing them. My last entendedora, Garsenda, had by some twist of fate become Margaret's friend, but she was generally offworld these days, pursuing one business deal or another as head of Nou Occitan's largest trading house, and when she and Margaret visited each other they only rarely invited me.

It wasn't the absent friends, really, that I was drinking to or missing; it was the time of my life when I had thought they were my friends, and that I was theirs, and that that would always matter. So Rufeu and I drank and chatted away the afternoon, talking about times long gone and what had become of people we used to drink and chat with, and Margaret politely sat there and drank along with us. Finally as it turned toward supper time, and the sun began to sink behind the mountains, I shook hands with Rufeu again {he didn't get up—but then if he had, he'd have had to jump down from the chair), and we said we mustn't let it be nine years again, even though for my part, anyway, I didn't care much whether it was another week, or forever.

Neither Margaret nor I spoke as we walked back to the springer station. Villa Guilhemi was very much a provincial town, and it was already settling in for the evening, the few who cared for it going out to sit in the cafés, the rest sitting out on terraces and balconies to enjoy a fine evening. It was so quiet, I could hear Margaret's full skirt rustling, and the light crunch of my boots on the brick street. When we got to the springer station, the first star, Mufrid, was just visible.

"Look," I said, "home."

It was an old in-joke between us. Just as Mufrid, the sun of her home planet of Nansen, was the brightest star in Wilson's sky, Arcturus was the brightest star in Nansen's sky, and thus we could always "see each other's house."

We put our card into the springer and stepped through into the bright sunlight of the Elinorien town square. Elinorien was a full fifth of a radian west of Villa Guilhemi, and it would be more than an hour before the sun set here. Still we said nothing; I wished I knew, offhand, whether this was because we were leading up to a fight, or because we were comfortably enjoying each other's company. Lately it could be either.

I stole a glance sideways at Margaret. She was not beautiful by anyone's standards, even mine, but I had grown to like the way she looked—to crave it the way an addict wants his drug, I thought sometimes. Her almost-white hair was cut short; her forehead and mouth were what most people would call too wide; her body square, muscular, and squatty; breasts small and not firm; buttocks large and saggy. More than ten years of experience had taught me that hers was the only body I really wanted to touch, but at moments like this—as I noticed so many of my fellow Occitans glancing at her once and then dismissing her—I could still, sometimes, wish that she could turn a head other than mine.

I was quite sure that telling her I wished she were better-looking would not have been a good way to start a conversation. Especially not now; there had been…oh, almost a stanyear of fighting about I-didn't-know-what, then making up, then fighting again. She seemed angry half the time and sorry for me the rest of it, but whatever the matter might be, even when she tried to explain it, neither of us was able to put it into words.

As we entered my parents' house, the sun was still shining brightly, and I blinked for a moment as we came into the darkened vestibule. My father would be out in the garden tending his tomatoes and grape vines, and probably hadn't noticed our departure any more than he would our return; my mother had had an engagement with some friends and was staying somewhere in Noupeitau overnight, so there was no one to say hello or ask how the trip had been.

Margaret went into the bathroom. I went into the guest room, where we were staying, to sponge off and freshen up for the evening, whatever that might turn out to be (most likely, a game of chess with my father, or a walk down to the beach with Margaret, or some lute practice—I had been neglecting that badly).

I cleaned up, changed shirts, washed my face, and swallowed an alcohol scrubber to get the last of the afternoon's wine out of my system. I combed through my hair again and looked into the mirror at the emerging monk spot on top of my head.

"Sinking into melancholy again?" Margaret asked, coming up and putting her arms around me.

I dropped an arm around her wide, strong shoulders and leaned a little against her. "Ja, you could say that. Trop de tristejoi."

"Semper valors," she said, hugging back. "It's funny how hard vacations are on you; you get so tired of work, but after a few days away from it you sink into this."

"I suppose I miss the jovent more here," I said. "Even though it's in your culture that I left it."

She stiffened; I had said the wrong thing again. My going to Caledony had led to two things, besides my personal end of adolescence: Margaret became the most important person in my life, and my life became the work did for the Council of Humanity and the Office of Special Projects.

But now and then—well, every day—my thoughts would begin to turn to my old jovent days, and though 1 was too old for it now, and anyway the old jovent life was gone and no one in Nou Occitan did it anymore…I wished I hadn't had to leave the party so early. I wished I were back. I wished a lot of stupid things. And Margaret had been with me for so long that by now she knew every stupid thing I wished, whether I voiced them or not.

"Sorry," I said.

"Sorry you said it, you mean. You still think it."

"I can't help that."

"You could try." She wrenched out of the one-armed hug I had been giving her and was through the door before I could think of anything else to say. I heard her stamping down the hallway.

I knew that Margaret and I would be trying to make it up within an hour or less. Lately, though, I often had the feeling that a day would come when making it up would no longer seem worth the effort. And what then? I sat on the end of the bed, feeling sorrier and sorrier for myself.

I heard the swift thudding of Margaret's feet in the hallway. She threw the door open, smiling as if she had it in mind to tease me. "Hey, husband, are you still pitying yourself?"

"Uh, not for any longer than I can help. What—"

"It's Shan. We've got another assignment."

She was gone down the hall again, forcing me to run after her to my parents' parlor, where the image of Shan, twice life size, looked patiently from the screen toward us.

"Aha, Giraut, there you are," he said. A slight twitch at the corner of his mouth told me I must look disarrayed. It happens when you allow your personal grooming to be interrupted by fits of melancholy. "I hope that neither of you has any pressing commitments more than four standays from now?"

"None really," I said. The Dark was going to fall soon—the time when Terraust's forests and ranges would burn, and Wilson's sky would be darkened with the fine soot that chilled the world every six stanyears. I had enjoyed the Darks I could remember, when everyone in Nou Occitan stayed home and did creative work or held long parties with friends. But there would be other Darks, and besides, right now I had far too much time to think, anyway.

"Well, then," Shan said. "I have a thoroughly bad situation. If we succeed I suppose it will be a feather in all our caps and you will be in line for some promotions and commendations, but that is because no one expects us to succeed. Is that intriguing enough to make you interested in taking the job?"

Margaret made that flapping noise with her lips that sounded like a disgusted horse. "You know perfectly well that all we're doing here on leave is sitting around getting on each other's nerves and bickering. This is a job for the Office of Special Projects, isn't it?"

Shan grinned with something that might have been the glint of battle, or just his usual appreciation for Margaret's cut-the-crap approach. "Right. You're both secretly activated as of now in your appointments with the Office of Special Projects. As always your cover story will be that you're there on Council of Humanity business—as far as the Council, or any outsiders, are concerned, you're going to be cultural envoys again, which is something you are both experienced and effective at. It should be a good cover for you, because, in this particular case, the ability to roam about freely—or at all—is going to be critical. You're going to just about the worst trouble spot the Council has to deal with, and I'm not even going to pretend that you're likely to like it. In addition to two impossible local populations and a lot of complicated politics, you're going to be coping with high gravity, intense humid heat, foul air, and way too much shortwave ultraviolet. Not a bad looking place on postcards but that's all the closer I'd ever want to get to it. Have I scared you off yet?"

Margaret said, "You want us to go to Briand, don't you? Of course we will."

I felt a cold chill even before Shan slowly nodded yes. "I thought you'd guess it from that description. And I can't tell you how grateful I am that you accepted the job. Yes, it's Briand. Right now I have several of the OSP's field agents there, and we need more, as even a casual scan of the news would tell you. Unofficially, let me add, it's far worse than what the news depicts."

We made the arrangements quickly—shipping our personal effects from Wilson, and our furniture and warm-weather clothes from storage on Earth, to Briand in forty-five standays, setting up our appointment at the training school on Earth, for the rapid orientation we had to have first; and arranging concierge services for all the myriad of weird small things that always crop up in jumping tens of light years.

After that, there wasn't much left to talk about, and Shan rang off. Margaret got on the com to send a fast letter to her mother in Caledony and tell her we wouldn't have a chance to jump over for another visit on this vacation. I went back to my parents' guest room, stretched, and set about finishing my toilet. The hair finally wouldn't lie down till I put some antistatic on the comb, and then it took all the more effort to fluff it properly, and no matter what, that little hairless patch on top, like a death's-head surfacing from a sea of hair, could not be made to disappear or fit in.

But I was cheerful as I worked on this, and I could hear Margaret's fingers clattering away on the keys quickly and forcefully, not because we were in a hurry but just because she too had a lot of extra energy. All it took to banish depression, fighting, bad sex, and the tendency to drink a lot, in either of us, was a call from Shan with a job. It had been that way for some stanyears now, and I still had no sense of whether that was a blessing or a curse.

Neither of us knew much about Shan. Though I had known him for a decade of stanyears, I didn't even know if "Shan" was his given name, family name, patronym, matrenym, clan, generated name, or what. He had no other name I was ever made aware of. As I had advanced in both- my covert and overt positions, I had found myself at more formal receptions and on more platforms with him, and become steadily more aware both of how little I knew him, and how far-reaching his political power really was.

But even though I listened ever more closely for clues to his origin—or just to his full name—always it was the same. "Ambassador Shan." "Envoy Shan." "Minister Shan." Once, in a blistering hot graveyard on the beach of a salt-saturated sea, local officials had called him "Colonel-Commander Shan," but that culture had had no army for more than three hundred stanyears, and out of the seventeen cultures on that planet that had had armies, not one had ever had any such rank. I knew because I had checked.

So I knew Shan the same way that everyone did, as far as I could tell: not at all. And probably I knew almost everyone who knew him, across all the human-settled worlds.

The Council of Humanity's diplomatic service embraces a small bureaucracy on Earth, not more than four hundred people in all, plus the ambassadors to the Thousand Cultures (of which there are actually 1228), plus the Embassy staff—and each staff might be at most ten people, with three being much more typical. The Council Special Police, the military muscle behind Council decrees, number just twelve thousand. So the whole personnel roster of the Council of Humanity, from the three secretaries-general down to the lowliest private, is probably not as large as the population of most culture capitals.

The Office of Special Projects, within which Shan was not only my senior colleague but also my direct supervisor, never had more than a thousand personnel, and almost all of them also held jobs with the Council of Humanity.

Yet within either of those very small circles, no one I knew, who knew Shan, knew anything about him. It may have been no more than that he was very private, I suppose. Whatever the reason, despite the way in which he utterly shaped my life, I can't say I really know a thing about him, even if years later I could instantly remember his appearance down to his particular way of twitching an eyebrow or the slight pursing of one side of his thin lips that always meant he was looking forward to surprising some deserving toszet with bad news.

I was reasonably sure he liked me, and Margaret as well. Since we had entrusted our whole existences to him, that mattered.

Copyright © 1998 by John Barnes

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