Heart of Gold

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Overview

A national bestselling author. A story that has captured readers' hearts.

Sharon Shinn's gripping tale of a planet divided by class, power, and emotion-and the two lovers who dare to act on a forbidden desire that will shake their worlds to the ground.

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Overview

A national bestselling author. A story that has captured readers' hearts.

Sharon Shinn's gripping tale of a planet divided by class, power, and emotion-and the two lovers who dare to act on a forbidden desire that will shake their worlds to the ground.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Melinda Helfer
Sharon Shinn's Heart of Gold is more proof that Ms. Shinn is one of the most intriguing voices in speculative fiction. This time she turns her discerning eye to the difficulties of mixing two races of opposite cultures. An uneasy peace between Gulden and Indigo is shattered by series of terrorist attacks. Avoiding an even greater disaster, however, will require an unlikely alliance between a truth-seeking scientist and an exotic outcast. Clever plotting, subtle characterization and just plain good writing will keep readers fascinated from first page to last.
Romantic Times
Midwest Book Review
Extraordinary. Science fiction of the highest caliber.
Romantic Times
One of the most intriguing voices in speculative fiction today.
Science Fiction Weekly
...a novel that will appeal to readers who enjoy unconventional romances and strong women protagonists.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Though Shinn's earlier Archangel received considerable praise, this flimsy attempt at crossing romance with SF in an imaginary society that reverses customary gender roles results in a hybrid as sterile and ungainly as a mule. Downright mulish (when not irritatingly mawkish) is Shinn's heroine, Kitrini Candachi, of the blue-skinned indigo matriarchal aristocracy that dominates part of Shinn's ill-defined alien planet. Kit stubbornly loves Jex, the imprisoned terrorist son of king Chay Zanlan, ruler of the planet's lordly male chauvinist "gulden" (or golden-hued) race. Shinn's third race, the albinos, silently do most of the menial labor, conveniently freeing Kit and Nolan Adelpho, a sensitive blueskin scientist, to trade angsty episodes of self-doubt and recrimination. Jex's love-'em-and-leave-'em attitude hurls Kit into interminable fits of weeping that seriously impede Shinn's attempt to draw her as a feminist reformer able to cure both major races of the errors of their traditional ways. Unceremoniously dumped by Jex, Kit falls into Nolan's arms while he foils ludicrously villainous attempts by blue and gold leaders to kill off each other's population with race-specific, bioengineered plagues. Blobs of fuzzy sociopolitical preaching clot what little narrative nudges Shinn's two story lines along, while her characters, indigo and gulden alike, seem equally cardboardy--and downright colorless despite their hues. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
KLIATT
Indigos are blue-hued and black-tressed, and the Higher Hundred families set social, political, and economic mores. Indigo society is matriarchal; men may only own land through marriage. In contrast, the gulden are seen as golden-hued, blonde-headed wildmen who rule their women with an iron hand. In their society, even a boy is not recognized as a person until he reaches the age of 12; women and girls are chattel. Nolan and Kit are both Higher Hundred indigos. He is a medical scientist, she was raised with the gulden and is the mistress of the gulden leader's son. They are thrown together when Nolan learns that his boss has made a virus to annihilate the gulden. Not only must they learn to work together, but they must also teach the leaders of their planet to work together to save them all. A tightly woven SF story with touches of romance, intrigue, and fantasy. The ending begs for a sequel. My only disappointment was the depiction of Kit on the cover. She is described as having almost indigo or blue-black skin. On the cover, the woman is a dark-haired anglo wearing a blue dress in a blue room. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2000, Berkley/Ace, 359p, 23cm, 99-35453, $14.95. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Sherry S. Hoy; Libn., Tuscarora Jr. H.S., Mifflintown, PA, July 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 4)
VOYA - Voya Reviews
In the time since the matriarchal indigo society and the patriarchal gulden society started dividing up the planet, the indigos have encircled the guldens. Women in the gulden society are neither seen nor heard. Men in the indigo society are educated but know that once married, they will give up their careers and move onto the estates of their wives. The blue-skinned indigos regard themselves as superior to their golden-hued neighbors. The two cultures have reached a crisis point--Jex Zanlan, son of the gulden leader, has been arrested for bombing an indigo medical center in protest of the proposed annexation of gulden lands. Nolan, a high-caste indigo man, dreads the day when he will have to give up his career to move back to the estates of his fiancée. He works in a lab with guldmen and albinos, and he has specialized in developing vaccines for gulden diseases. Kit, a high-caste indigo woman raised among the guldens by her anthropologist father, shocks her family by carrying on an affair with Jex. Nolan's confidence in the superiority of the indigo race is shaken when he discovers that his boss has helped to develop a disease that will wipe out the guldens. Knowing of her relationship with Jex, Nolan kidnaps Kit in an attempt to save the gulden race. The love story in this book is balanced by deft examinations of prejudice, intolerance, and equality. This book is difficult to put down and will appeal to fantasy readers as well as fans of an intriguing love story. VOYA CODES: 3Q 4P S A/YA (Readable without serious defects; Broad general YA appeal; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 2000, Ace, Ages 16 to Adult, 359p, $14.95 Trade pb. Reviewer:Betsy Fraser
Library Journal
On a planet torn apart by racial, sexual, and societal prejudices, two members of the elite blueskin caste find themselves drawn into a battle for true justice and equality while struggling with their own innate assumptions about love and honor. Shinn's latest novel explores the complex struggles of decent people caught in a web of deceit and treachery as they discover the common ground that underlies superficial differences. The author of The Alleluia Files crafts an elegant and suspenseful tale that belongs in most sf collections. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780441008216
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 4/3/2001
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 5.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Read an Excerpt



Chapter One


Nolan was nearly an hour late by the time he arrived at the Central Government Activities Complex, and even here his way was blocked. Throngs of tourists, lines of determined security guards, and pockets of news reporters clustered in front of every entrance to the huge red granite building that dominated the city skyline. Trying to be polite about it, Nolan edged his way past blueskin security forces, gulden spectators, and journalists of both races. This was one of the rare mornings he had to show an I.D. to enter the building.

    "Name?" the guard questioned while he fumbled for his badge.

    "Nolan Adelpho."

    The guard checked a clipboard. "Adelpho. Indigo male," he muttered, marking off something on his sheet. "Reason for admittance to the Complex?"

    Finally. In his left trouser pocket. Nolan pulled out his badge and handed it over. "I work at the Biolab."

    The guard scrutinized the I.D., examined Nolan's face to make sure it matched, and waved him inside. Even the interior corridors were crowded, and the elevator was crammed with both indigo and gulden individuals. Nolan felt a sense of relief when he was finally able to disembark on the fourteenth floor—which, by eerie contrast, at first appeared totally deserted. Still, even the empty halls seemed electric with anticipation, and faint laughter floated to him from three rooms away.

    "Hello?" he called out, trying to guess where everyone was.

    "Here," someone shouted. "Melina's room."

    He made hisway through a maze of closed offices, open labs, and storage closets to the long, narrow room where Melina worked. About twenty people were pressed against the window, heads craned down to see the street below. As in the elevator, the company here was mixed—five indigo men, five indigo women, six gulden men, and a trio of albinos. The indigo presented a range of skin tones from the darkest navy to the palest sky blue, though they all had black hair of a similar rough texture. The gulden, on the other hand, were almost uniformly the same deep gold hue, though they sported a variety of hair color that was amazing to Nolan—blond, red, orange, brown, silver, and bronze. The whitemen, who kept to themselves at the far end of the window, were harder to distinguish one from the other. Even after working with three of them for five years, Nolan sometimes had trouble telling them apart.

    Only Pakt turned to greet Nolan when he walked in the door. "You're earlier than I thought you'd be," he said with a grin. "I'd figured you couldn't make it for another hour."

    "I was beginning to think that myself. The Centrifuge was so crowded that people were sharing ringcars with strangers. And once I got off at the gate, all the trolleys were packed. It was quicker to walk, so I did. What's going on?"

    Pakt gestured at the window with one broad, golden palm. He was a big man, muscular, heavy-boned, and powerful; his tarnished-copper hair was long and a little wild but beginning to show gray. He radiated competence, self-confidence, health, and zest; and he was the first gulden man Nolan had ever spoken to in a real conversation. It had been quite a shock. Blueskin men were much more reserved than this.

    "We're expecting Chay Zanlan to arrive any minute," Pakt said. "All the fools have lined up to gawk from the sidelines. You'd think there'd never been a gulden man set foot in the city before."

    "Chay Zanlan never has, has he?" asked Melina, briefly mining away from the window. "Not that I remember."

    "Yes, he came to Jex's graduation from City College," said Colt, another gulden. "But that was ten years ago or more."

    "And the spectacle was just as grand," Pakt added. "You don't remember it because you were living on your mama's farm, learning the finer points of cruelty, bigotry, and the subjugation of men."

    Melina favored him with one bright, impudent glance. "And learning them well," she said before turning her attention back to the parade below. She was a high-caste blueskin with incredibly fine cobalt skin and the blackest imaginable hair, which she kept trimmed so close to the scalp that the shape of her skull showed through. In her mid-twenties, she was the youngest engineer in the lab—and the most outrageous. Pakt, her supervisor, constantly needled her about her patrician background, and she would enthusiastically enter verbal battle with him at a moment's notice. Everyone adored her, Pakt included.

    "So is he actually here?" Nolan asked, stepping forward and pushing between Melina and Colt to look out the window. All he could see were mobs of security forces and throngs of people pressing against a yellow cordon. "I don't think I'd recognize him if I saw him."

    "Can't tell one gulden from another," Colt said lazily. Like Pakt, he was a strongly built guldman, though younger, slimmer, and more athletic. His hair was a metallic yellow, shoulder length, and always carefully groomed. Nolan liked him, but Colt made him just a little nervous. As if some day Colt's sardonic calm would explode into ferocity over some insult so slight Nolan would not be able to reconstruct it.

    "Well, Chay Zanlan's got bright red hair, and yours is a sickly blond, so that's how I tell you two apart," Melina answered instantly. "Otherwise, you know, you're dead ringers."

    "Chay Zanlan also has a more regal bearing than our friend Colt," Pakt said, earning a sideways smile from the other guldman.

    "At any rate, Chay Zanlan appears to be nowhere on the streets," Melina said. "When is he supposed to arrive, anyway?"

    Others at the window offered their guesses. "By now, I thought."

    "I heard noon."

    "He probably came in last night, but they kept it a secret."

    "Well, how much longer can we stand here looking out the window and wondering?" Melina asked.

    "No longer, I hope," drawled a new voice from the doorway, and in one convulsive movement, they all turned to face the speaker. Cerisa Daylen stood there unsmiling, her long black hair pulled back severely from her aristocratic face, her long thin fingers upping against her crossed arms. Every inch of her bespoke her Higher Hundred heritage, from her rich blueskin tone to her contemptuous expression. She was head of the lab, the most gifted biologist of their century, and every one of them hated her without reservation.

    "Time to go back to work," Pakt said in a pleasant voice, and everyone except Melina sidled for the door. Cerisa stepped to one side to allow them room to pass, but she kept her reproving gaze on Pakt. The guldman smiled back at her, unimpressed.

    "It's a special event," he said. "Everyone wants to see."

    "There's a plague killing children in the albino slums," she answered without inflection. "I'd say that's a little more important than watching Chay Zanlan disrupt an entire city."

    "Indeed it is," Pakt answered. "And we're all working on it. And we'll let you know the instant we discover anything worth reporting."

    If Cerisa made a reply to that, Nolan didn't hear it, having escaped far enough to shut out the sound of voices. He was inside his own lab in moments, a pristine, orderly environment that smelled of chemicals, books, and electronics.

    Technically, the job of isolating the albino virus would fall to Hiram, one of the other blueskin researchers, but all of them would try their hand at it until someone came up with a vaccine or a cure. That had been Cerisa Daylen's great breakthrough, twenty years ago: a cure for a virulent disease that had scarred, damaged, or killed indigo and albino children for decades. Mysteriously, the corrigio plague had had no effect on the gulden race, not even in milder symptoms. Cerisa Daylen had made her name on that discovery, but it was only one of many of her contributions to medical research. She had concocted a variety of antibiotics to combat a wide array of major and minor illnesses, she had led the battle for universal and mandatory inoculations against specific diseases—and she had fought for the continued funding and operation of the Biolab.

    Nolan had first come across her work in the journals he studied back in-country, when he was still convincing his mother that he wanted to become a biologist. He had read everything he could find about Cerisa Daylen, studied her experiments, replicated them as best he could in the inferior conditions of his homemade lab. When his scientific test scores outpulled those of every student in every upper school in-country, male and female, his mother reluctantly agreed to let him study medical research at Inrhio State University. Upon graduation, he applied in secret to Cerisa Daylen, asking for admittance into her talented group of researchers. As far as he knew, no one who had not attended City College had ever been chosen for such an exalted position.

    He had been shocked when he received her letter. "Come to me no later than next month. We have a lab ready for you and work piled up. If your mother objects, I will persuade her." He had made no mention of his mother in his letter of application, but Cerisa Daylen, of course, was bone and offspring of that select, unyielding, tradition-bound indigo matriarchy. She would know without being told how reluctant any woman would be to send her son off to such questionable work in the city.

    Indeed, Nolan was positive that only the fact that Cerisa was a Higher Hundred indigo woman permitted him to be at the Biolab today. Had she been a mid-caste woman or even a high-caste man, his mother would have refused to allow him to go. Had the lab been run by a gulden of any rank or gender, the move would have been out of the question.

    So Cerisa Daylen had been his heroine, until he actually met her. Then, like everyone else who worked for her, he hated her, resented her, rebelled against her, and learned from her every single day.

    In the past five years, she had allowed Nolan to develop his own area of expertise, which was, rather unexpectedly, the gulden immune system. He had first become intrigued by it when studying Cerisa Daylen's papers on the corrigio plague which only affected the white and blue races. Why not the gulden? What was different about their bodies and their blood? There were hundreds of other diseases to which they were susceptible; why not this one?

    He had conducted thousands of experiments to answer just these questions, and he had been the one to discover two potent antibiotics that shut down ill-natured bacteria that favored the elderly gulden. To date it was his proudest accomplishment.

    Though he had not shared the news with his mother. Indiscriminately saving the lives of guldmen would not be something she considered a particular mark of achievement. In any case, she was merely counting the days till he came back to Inrhio and married his fiancée, Leesa, when all the world, as far as she was concerned, would be back in its proper orbit and continuing on its preordained course.

    But that would not be for some time yet. Not today, at any rate. Nolan shut himself into his office, flicked on his computer, and began the new day's chores.


During lunch hour, most of them crammed back into Melina's office to watch the street theater again. As far as they could tell, Chay Zanlan had not yet arrived, or else the crowds on the street were hanging around hoping for a glimpse of him when he reemerged.

    "So why exactly is he here?" Melina asked, directing the question at Pakt. She, Nolan, Colt, Pakt, and a blueskin woman named Varella were sitting around her desk, sharing food and idle conversation. The others kept watch at the window.

    "To visit his son, Jex, who is in jail," Pakt said, stating the obvious with exaggerated patience. They all knew Jex Zanlan was in jail. He had been arrested three months ago after setting off a bomb that had destroyed a medical compound near the West Two gate of the Centrifuge.

    "And a damn good thing Jex Zanlan is in jail," Melina retorted. "But does Chay Zanlan expect to negotiate his release with Ariana Bayless?"

    "Ultimately," Pakt said. "But I think Mayor Bayless and her council will make him sweat it out a little longer."

    "Why would she ever release him?" Varella asked. She was a paler, frailer version of Melina, not as smart, not as beautiful, not as lively. But likable nonetheless, Nolan always thought. "This gives her more leverage over Chay Zanlan than she's ever had, and she's within her rights to keep him. I mean, he did try to blow up the building."

    "Exactly. So if she gives him up, she'll be able to expect a powerful return gift from Chay," Pakt said.

    "And any number of gifts spring to mind," Colt added. "Foremost being rights to the Carbonnier Extension."

    "But not far behind is her desire to add a new ring to the Centrifuge," Pakt said. "Chay could make her a gift of the construction stone, since it's quarried in Geldricht. For that, Ariana Bayless just might release Jex Zanlan."

    Melina was shaking her head. "I will never understand politics," she said. "How you can balance lives against commerce will always elude me. I could never make such a bargain."

    "Fortunately, Ariana Bayless is not so squeamish," Pakt said dryly. "Chay, I am sure, is counting on it."

    "You keep calling him `Chay,'" Varella said a little irritably. "Do you actually know him?"

    Colt was grinning. "It's a gulden habit," he said. "We have a very personal stake in our leader. We like to feel we could walk up to him any day and have a serious conversation with him, man to man."

    Melina gave Varella a significant look. "Not woman to man, you'll notice."

    Colt gave an exaggerated shrug and spoke in an arrogant tone that was meant to annoy. "No gulden woman, no matter how schooled, would ever know as much as her husband, her brother, or her father."

    "Whereas my husband, brother, and father, all sitting together in one room, pooling their limited intellectual resources, would never have the ability to make a worthwhile decision in Inrhio," Melina said loftily.

    Pakt sent an amused sideways glance at Nolan. "Poor emasculated fools," he said. "Letting their women cut them off at the balls."

    Nolan smiled back a little uncertainly. He was clearly the outsider in this group, the only member of the team who did not come from a racial or sexual power base. In Inrhio, women controlled the wealth, the land, the succession—everything. Inheritances passed through the hands of the mother; she chose who her daughters would marry and bargained with her neighboring matriarchs for brides for her sons.

    In Geldricht, though, it was the men who had absolute power. The women were, as far as Nolan had been able to observe, shamefully abused and degraded. He could not imagine what honor accrued to a man who beat his wife or mistreated his children. Among the indigo, although the matriarchy controlled the pattern of life, men were cherished and valued. And children were considered a treasure past price.

    "Not emasculated," Nolan said gallantly, "gratefully admitted to a wide circle of fascinating and elegant women."

    The women cooed and clapped their hands; the men were loudly derisive. Melina patted him on the shoulder. "Does Leesa know what a sweet boy you are? Does she appreciate you?"

    Colt pointed at Nolan. "What's to appreciate? He's exactly as he was bred to be by you and all the rest of you women. He's no different from any other downtrodden blueskin man I've ever met."

    "Well, if you think that, you haven't met that many indigo boys," Varella murmured, and Melina added a heartfelt "so true." Varella added, "Nolan is sweet, you know. A lot of the blueskins back in-country are—agreeable, let's say—but there's something special about Nolan. He means it when he says things like that."

    "No one could mean it," Colt informed her.

    Nolan turned to Pakt. "This happens to me all the time. People talk about me when I'm sitting right here."

    "Doesn't happen to me," Pakt said with a grin. "I guess I'm a little harder to overlook."

    "Harder to like," Melina said.

    "But then, you don't much like any man," Pakt responded, "no matter what his color or attitude."

    Melina laughed. For the past six months, she had been living with a female lover, a jahla girl, as the indigo called it. Varella, Nolan, and the other blueskins had treated the news with the mild, courteous interest they showed in the rotating love lives of all their fellow workers, but the guldmen had been repelled and outraged. Melina and Colt had had a huge fight about it, in fact, a screaming match that had made stupefied coworkers come running down the halls in time to see Melina hit Colt in the chest with her balled-up fist. To which Colt had replied with a slap across her face that sent her stumbling four feet back into the wall. Pakt had dashed between them before either could strike again, muscling Colt back toward the door, holding Melina off with one imperious hand.

    "You—will—not," he had stated in the dead-cold fury they had all learned to fear, "move—or speak—either one of you!—until I say you may. Nolan! Clear everyone out of here. Shut the door behind you. You two. Sit. I said sit."

    And that was all any of the rest of them had been privileged to witness, though they milled about in the halls for the next half hour, whispering over what they had overheard.

    It still astonished Nolan that anyone could care one way or the other if one woman chose to love another. Among the indigo, jahla girls were common; even married women often preferred the company of a jahla partner, relying on their husbands only for financial advantages, social connections, biological contributions to pregnancy, and, sometimes, companionship.

    On the other hand, Nolan was revolted at the male homosexuality he had heard of among the guldmen. The only proper object of love for a man or a woman, or so he had learned from the cradle, was a woman. For a man to love another man was unthinkable, gruesome, actually sickening. He did not know any homosexual guldmen, of course; he did not think he would be able to force himself to look such a man in the face.

    He might work up the nerve to ask Pakt about it some day. Pakt was the most broad-minded person Nolan had ever come across, male, female, blue, gold, or white. If Pakt could not explain society to him, no one could, for Pakt understood everything and everyone.

    Pakt had calmed down Colt and Melina on that violent day, though it had been weeks before the two were reconciled enough to speak civilly to each other. Even now there was an edge between them much of the time, a pointed banter that was not nearly as playful as the teasing that Pakt and Melina tossed to each other. Yes, Nolan was sure of it, one day Colt would explode, and there would be no telling how far that destructive blast would blow them all.

    "I like men," Melina was saying now to Pakt. "Not you and Colt, of course, but some men. Nolan."

    "Hiram," Colt said with a sneer. Hiram was a small, nervous, and apologetic light-skinned indigo; he was difficult even for the other blueskins to love.

    "I can tolerate Hiram," Melina said calmly. "There are men I like better. And I don't only like indigo men, though I have to admit they make more sense to me than you two wild creatures."

    Colt leaned forward. "Because we're real men, and you can't make us fit into your dainty little patterns," he breathed.

    "Colt," she said coolly, "have no fear. No one in the world would be fool enough to try to make you over. So relax. You are safe from me."

    The others laughed. Colt drew back, looking annoyed. Before anyone else could speak, there was a shout from across the room.

    "Look! There he is! There he is!"

    The five of them bounded to their feet and ran to the window. A phalanx of bodies was exiting from the building and onto the street. It appeared to be a tight, human wall of security around one central figure, and it was difficult to make out anything of the ruler from this elevation and angle. Nolan got an impression of height and mass—a big man, this Chay Zanlan, bigger than Pakt, with thick shoulders and broad thighs—topped by a crown of fiery red hair. The gulden ruler was dressed in bright colors, as were his attendants, and their loose tunics snapped gaily around them as they strode by.

    Moments later, a second cadre of officials emerged. This time, they were all blueskins, dressed in black and white and wearing their formal clan colors in sashes and shawls. Ariana Bayless was in the center of the group, taller than all the other women and most of the men, her blue-black hair glinting like mica in the afternoon sun. She was speaking to one woman as she walked, reaching a hand out to another woman who offered her a briefcase, and gesturing impatiently to a man who trailed behind her, obviously trying to snare her attention. Newsman, Nolan thought. Asking how the conference went.

    "Well, things appear to be going smoothly enough," Nolan commented.

    Only Pakt appeared to have overheard, for the guldman raised an eyebrow at him. "They haven't killed each other yet; at any rate," he said. "But there's a lot of room left for trouble."

    "What do you mean?"

    "How would you feel if you were negotiating for your sister's life with Cerisa Daylen? Because Ariana Bayless comes from the same mold, and it's not a friendly one."

    "If she gave her word," Nolan said slowly. He had not previously considered this; he'd had no cause to picture himself feinting with either the head of the Biolab or the mayor of the city. "She would honor it."

    Pakt was nodding. "To the letter," he said.

    "Well, then," Nolan said, and shrugged. He turned back to the window, but the crowd had dispersed; there was nothing left to see.


That turned out to be the last of the excitement for the day. Even the trip home on the Centrifuge that night was less eventful. As always, there was a big crowd at the North Zero gate, the stop closest to both the Complex and the entertainment district. Unlike this morning, however, commuters were not sharing ringcars with strangers, so the line moved slowly. Nolan had a long wait on the inside of the gate and stared unseeingly at the vast, curved walls of the Centrifuge unfolding to either side of him.

    Finally, a ringcar pulled up before him, and its driver left the vehicle. Nolan climbed into the small, spherical cocoon, all metal and glass on the outside, merely a bench and a set of hand controls inside. He pulled the rudder to the left, and the car glided into the entry lane, the middle of the three traffic levels. As soon as the lane above him cleared out, he pulled the rudder back and angled upward, increasing his speed with a squeeze of his hand. The great stone hallway of the Centrifuge unrolled before him, honey yellow, filled with a bee's hive of scurrying shapes, curving to the left in a continuous unbroken circle. The gates flashed by on his right, and he skimmed along in the highest lane until he reached his own. Then he dropped to the middle level, pulled up at the gate, and exited onto the street. From there, he took a slow, lumbering bus to his own neighborhood.

    It was the fashionable district for indigo bachelors. Nearly everyone on the bus was dressed in clothes remarkably similar to Nolan's, and they all lived in apartment buildings that he easily could have mistaken for his own. A few miles away were the expensive multistory houses where the Higher Hundred families lived when they were in the city, but for an unmarried blueskin man, this was the only acceptable place to live.

    There was a small pile of mail awaiting Nolan outside the door to his apartment. Bills; a letter from his mother; the fashion magazine he subscribed to, though he rarely read it. And a note from Leesa. He opened that first.

    As he read, he absently toyed with the medallion he wore, a disk stamped with Leesa's clan device, which she had given him the day they became engaged. Her handwriting was large, looped, and lazy. Every time he read it, he imagined her speaking in her usual languid, unimpassioned tones, and he automatically slowed the pace at which he consumed her words.

    "Nolan: Is it as hot in the city as it is in-country? Today Bettahelia and I did nothing but sit on the porch drinking lemonade and watching the wind move the grass in the field. We didn't even speak more than five sentences to each other, and she was with me the entire day. I think her visit has gone on too long, but I've been too fatigued to tell her so. Maybe she will leave by the end of the week.

    "Did I tell you I have business in the city in two weeks? Some boring investment trouble that mother wants me to see to personally. As long as I have to make the trip, though, I may as well stay a few days. With you, of course, unless there's some sly bachelor reason you don't want me in your quarters. Or if you can't bother to clean them, then I'll stay in a hotel. But of course I'd rather be with you.

    "Corzehia is planning to be in the city for the rest of the summer, so I'm going to write her, as well. She's having some big party that I think we can go to. Otherwise, you'll have to think of entertainments for me. I'll try to be easy to amuse.

    "I'll let you know when I'm to arrive. Put your lips to the paper right under my signature—that's where I've left you a kiss. "Analeesa"

    Nolan read the letter a second time, then dutifully pressed his mouth to Leesa's name. She wrote him at least once a week, letters much like this one, with little information, light humor, and easy affection. He wrote her back at least as often, though sometimes he was at a loss as to what to say. She cared very little about his job, though she always assured him she was pleased to hear how well he was doing, When he had formulated the gulden antibiotics and had reported Cerisa's praise, Leesa had sent him a finely embroidered shirt as a celebratory gift. And yet, he could scarcely give her a day-by-day account of his activities at the lab; she could not possibly understand his pursuit and attack of cells and tissues. So news about the lab was minimal.

    And he did not have much to tell her about his social life. A few times a week, he played curfball with men in the neighboring building, and sometimes they met to play cards or go for dinner. Now and then he lingered in the city after dosing hours to attend the theater with Hiram or Melina. These events he could mention to Leesa, but he could hardly recount a stroke-by-stroke description of his curfball game or an item-by-item dissection of his meal. And she had no interest in the theater, so he rarely bothered to give her long reviews of these nights.

    And he had never mentioned the fact that he had, more than once, gone with his fellow employees to Pakt's house for a meal and a convivial evening. It would not have occurred to Leesa that there were any circumstances under which an indigo man would have social dealings with a guldman—would walk into his house, sit at his table, eat his food. She could scarcely comprehend the fact that Nolan worked in harmony with half a dozen gulden men, and she had literally refused to acknowledge that a guldman could be his superior in the workplace. She would have disbelieved him if he had told her he had gone to Pakt's house for dinner and enjoyed himself very much.

    Before he had come to the city, Nolan would have been just as shocked to think he could have enjoyed such an event. Before he had come to the city, Nolan had seen maybe a dozen gulden in his life, and he had always had to restrain himself from staring. It was not polite to gawk at someone strange, inferior, and unfortunate, his mother had drilled into him. The courteous thing to do would be to act as if you did not notice such a person's defects, did not realize that his gold skin and fair hair doomed him to a life of misery and worthlessness. Treat any gulden you encounter (though there were not many in-country and almost none in the lush lands where the Higher Hundred had their estates) with the cheerful compassion you would give to a mute child, an injured dog, a feebleminded old man. And never let him realize how terribly sorry you feel for him.

    His mother, of course, was widely considered to be the most broad-minded of women. Most of the other indigo matriarchs—and their spouses—could not bring themselves to speak of the gulden with such tolerance. Although the ultimate gilder insult was used sparingly, virtually every other term of opprobrium was casually applied to members of the gulden race. A guldman was a thing to sometimes fear, always revile, and certainly avoid.

    So when Nolan came to the city, he was astonished. Not only did gulden walk the city streets as if they had every right to be there, they ate in blueskin restaurants and patronized blueskin shops, and no one questioned them as long as they had the cash to pay their way. They could be found in any profession, though they tended toward the more scientific and mechanical pursuits; they were engineers, chemists, architects. They were also lawyers, restaurateurs, political appointees—in short, they were everywhere.

    The albinos, too, were far more visible than they had ever been in Inrhio. In-country, the whitefolk routinely held menial positions—gardener, nursemaid, chauffeur—although the very high-caste indigo preferred to hire low-caste blueskins for those positions if they could. Nolan's mother had often said a good albino housekeeper was worth any salary she wished to charge, and she would trust an albino man with any job around the house. But she had warned her children against trying to make friends with the whitefolk. They were trustworthy, but they were still foreign.

    But in the city it was a different story. The albinos kept mostly to themselves in small enclaves in the northern and western edges of the city. Here, however, they were not just domestic helpers but acute businessmen, running affluent shops that catered to the whims of guldmen and blueskins alike. They led tidy, quiet lives and mingled freely with the other two races, causing no dissension.

    Unlike the gulden, who—it seemed to Nolan—caused dissension everywhere. Sudden violence seemed to swirl around the gulden like a windswept aureole of danger. One man would kill another, suddenly, for no reason, in the middle of the street in the middle of the day. And, Nolan couldn't count how many news stories he had heard of gulden children slaughtered in the women's ghetto on the west edge of town. It was always some gulden male on a rampage, come to the city specifically for the purpose of hunting down this particular woman and her hapless clutch of children.

    Ariana Bayless had decided long ago that gulden crimes against gulden residents should be judged and punished by peers. So the city officials did little to curtail these acts of violence. Gulden men and gulden ways; that was no business of indigo lawmakers.

    None of it made any sense to Nolan. But he did not have to understand the gulden. He merely had to coexist with them, as civilly as possible, until his abbreviated life in the city was done. And then he would return in-country, marry Leesa, and live the life he had been destined for. And that, he was very sure, was a life that would hold no surprises.

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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2002

    I couldn't stand to read it!

    This book was a major disappointment. I love Sharon Shinn's books, but this one really dragged, and it was hard to connect with the characters. I could barely stand to finish it, even though it had a good message behind it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2002

    So cool!

    I thought it was a wonderful book! Romance, love btrayal, the plot was wonderful. Except it could use a lil more romance, being a romantic and all here. But anyways, it was awesome. Good buy! I lent it to my friend, and she keeps complimenting me on how she is so thankful of lending her the book, cuz she thinks it's so good, even though she's at the begginning.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2001

    Great, but save some money too...

    Buy the mass market paperbook version of this very engaging story. It is cheaper, includes everything, and the cover is more realistic -- the main characters are indeed blue-skinned. It is a book about race and cultural conflicts, about justification for bigotry and hatred, and about the ability to become yourself while helping others. I think that Nolan and Kit are heroic characters we'd all do well to emulate.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 6, 2000

    Pure science fiction

    Sharon Shinn writes very well. I say pure science fiction because this is not fantasy but more strictly defined in that she sets up a premise which, although not real, could be possible somewhere and then she sticks to the premise. This is usually called the momentary suspension of disbelief. The rest of the book is developed within this structure and examines its consequences. To me it is most interesting when those are social consequences. The vehicle is interaction between two races, the Indigo and the Gulden, who dominate a major continent and who are immediately distinguishable on sight by skin color. The Indigo long ago drove the Gulden away from the fertile inland country across long desolate stretches of country to the relatively infertile seashore, so there is some physical isolation. The Indigo is an extreme matriachal society while the Gulden is an extreme and violent patriachal society. This is a novel of racial strife and rebellion against entrenched hierarchy but poses other social questions, as good science fiction often does, about topics such as gender discrimination, homosexuality, tolerance and even why does one love someone. Not a deep study but this was a good read. I plan to read her other books as well.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2000

    HEART OF GOLD

    This was an entertaining, fluid and thoughtful read. Perhaps it was not quite as wonderful as Shinn¿s best, the SAMARIA TRILOGY, but it is enjoyable and all the more so because it speculates on serious issues without hitting you over the head with them. The heroine, Kitrini Candachi, certainly has her moments of stubbornness and high emotion, but she¿s also a fish out of water in her high caste family and facing a politically tumultuous time. She¿s an Indigo, and her family belongs to a snobbish social register type group known as The Higher Hundred which appears very rigid in its devotion to matriarchy and genteel racism. Political power, property and family names pass through the mother, men are expected to get married, while lesbianism before marriage is tolerated, and little boys are not thought to be quite as good as little girls at math or science, or not necessarily to need skills in such disciplines when they grow up. However, Kitrini¿s also the daughter of Anton Solvano, a controversial anthropologist who has lived among the Gulden, the discriminated against and oppressed race. And the Gulden are fiercely patriarchal. Though they have their own territory centered around Gulden mountain, most of the society is dominated by the Indigo who still oppress the Gulden though perhaps not as much as they used to. Twenty years earlier a Gulden man was put to death when one of his race touched an Indigo woman, and now thirteen Gulden/Indigo marriages have happened in one year alone. This rising fortune of the Gulden troubles certain Indigo notables, who unfortunately also happen to include biologists. A third race, the Albinos, is not discussed much, but it seems clear that the menial and unappealing work goes mostly to the Gulden. Cultural differences abound. Speaking dialects of Gulden servants change depending on whether they are working in an Indigo home or talking to each other. And an explosive high society row complements the acts of civil terrorism promoted by the leading Gulden activist, Jex Zanlan, who is Kitrini¿s lover. In a nice touch, Shinn¿s Indigo women characters manage to keep their femininity in spite of the obvious power reversal implicit in matriarchy. The plot is not so much an excuse for romance as it is for watching the opposing social forces that Shinn has set up collide, and that in turn gives her the opportunity to meditate on the true meaning of love. Kitrini¿s apparently debased relationship with Jex seems to stem from a passionate and troubled love affair strangled by political and ethical issues of which she is all too aware. But Kitrini is hardly omniscient. And Shinn leaves a lot of questions about Kitrini, Jex, and about her later love interest, the heroic Indigo biologist, Nolan, unanswered.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent science fiction

    In a galaxy far from this planet, lies a world similar in many respects to that of earth. On one of that planet¿s continents live three sentient races. The Blueskins range in color from sky blue to Navy, the different shades representing that person¿s place in the caste system. The Gulden are golden in color. Finally, the Whiteskins are albinos. The Blueskins dominate the planet feeling culturally and intellectually superior to the other races. They also are larger in population and control much of the available landmass. <P>However, unrest and rebellion are brewing with a Gulden warrior, Jex Zarlon, who serves as the symbol of the coming revolution. Jailed for bombing a city building, he is the rallying point of his people in their quest for equality and racial parity. However, extreme conservative forces within the Blueskin government conspire to keep the status quo, entering into a conspiracy that will achieve their goal. When scientist Nolan Adolphe discovers what his own people are planning for an unsuspecting race, he does everything possible to stop and expose the planned holocaust. <P>After reading HEART OF GOLD, the audience will compare Sharon Shinn¿s highly developed imaginary world with South Africa¿s apartheid system and the de jure segregated South United States. This extraordinary work is indeed science fiction of the highest caliber but it is also an allegory that condemns prejudice and intolerance. The characters are well-drawn and extremely complex beings that constantly question their place in the established world order. Ms. Shinn scores big time with this triumphant piece and shows how high science fiction can soar when a creative author writes it. <P>Harriet Klausner

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    Posted July 20, 2009

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    Posted February 6, 2009

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    Posted October 22, 2010

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    Posted September 12, 2009

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