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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781632061867
Publisher: Restless Books
Publication date: 07/17/2018
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 825,524
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

About the Author:

Yoss (José Miguel Sánchez Gómez). Havana, Cuba, 1969. Stature: 170 cm. Weight: 75 kg. Right-handed. Atheist. Doesn’t enjoy eating avocadoes or cucumbers. Teetotaler. Doesn’t drink coffee, and doesn’t smoke either. Likes spicy food. Biologist, black belt, and an aficionado of pumping iron, speleology, and military history. Dances salsa, merengue, and rock'n'roll. Hates reggaeton. Prefers rock and classical music. Plays the harmonica. Has been the lead singer of a heavy metal band, Tenaz, since 2008. Full-time novelist, essayist, columnist, humorist, raconteur of scientific facts, and chronicler of realist, sci-fi, and fantasy narratives. Considered the foremost Cuban author and one of the leading Latin American authors of these latter two genres. Has published over 30 works, and his writing has appeared in nearly a dozen anthologies. Condomnauts is his third book of science fiction to appear in English, after A Planet for Rent and Super Extra Grande

About the Translator:

When he isn’t translating, David Frye teaches Latin American culture and society at the University of Michigan. Translations include First New Chronicle and Good Government by Guaman Poma de Ayala (Peru, 1615); The Mangy Parrot by José Joaquín Fernandez de Lizardi (Mexico, 1816), for which he received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship; Writing across Cultures: Narrative Transculturation in Latin America by Ángel Rama (Uruguay, 1982), and several Cuban and Spanish novels and poems.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

THE SKYSCAPE SPLAYED ACROSS the holoscreens turns from pitch black to navy blue to baby blue to milky white. I glance at the instruments and punch in a landing course correction. The numbers on the altimeter fall precipitously, and at last the dense ammonia clouds open up to give me a view of the ground below.

Right on target. It would have been easier to let the satellite feedback positioning system take over, but I like to pilot old-school: one man with his skill and intuition, controlling a machine with its sensors and thrusters. And thanks, but no AIs.

Flying solo like this is one of the special perks I get now and then on my job as a Contact Specialist, or "condomnaut," as we're usually called. Social relations — playing well with others — was never my strong point, and on a small hyperjump frigate like the Antoni Gaudí you don't exactly get a lot of me time.

My little two-seater traces an elegant curve, coming in low to cruise over the desolate gray basalt landscape of Discovery Valley. Slowly, steadily, I drop speed on the approach and at last bring the shuttle to a smooth stop with millimetric precision, level with the ground, a prudent five hundred meters from the Alien vessel. Even at this distance, though, I'm entirely in its shade.

"Good job, Dralgol." I whisper my congratulations to the thrumming shuttle, enjoying my privacy and keeping the helmet mic flicked off as long as possible.

The antigrav launch is the smallest of four shuttles we keep on our Catalan frigate. Its official name is the Drag d'Algol, but I prefer my nickname for it, Dralgol. It's a comfortable but sporty little speedster, perfect for planetary scouting, even a short orbital trip. I like to use it when I'm going to make Contact, while letting the frigate hang back prudently in orbit. The ship wouldn't have any problem landing — its 1,200-meter hull is aerodynamically streamlined — but best not to risk our only ticket off this forsaken planet.

Like the rest of the crew, I've examined the Alien ship from every angle our teleguided holocameras could record over the three days of inactive waiting prescribed by the Protocol for First Contact. But even so, I have to say: it's very impressive from up close.

Not because it has a strange profile or an unusual design. Just the opposite. Its design is perfectly ordinary for an interstellar vehicle, human or otherwise: perfectly spherical, matte surface. But what floors me is its size. The only word I can think of is: gigantic.

It doesn't look like a vehicle created by sentient creatures so much as a part of the natural rock-strewn, canyon-laced landscape where it has come to rest. Like some enormous metallic carbuncle that has come to fill the floor of a valley as inhospitable as the rest of the planet's red topography.

Space is full of the weirdest formations, after all. I've seen things that most geologists only dream of — or have nightmares about. Planetologists, I mean. It's hard to avoid being anthropocentric, even now.

But the thing is, it isn't really sitting on the valley floor.

It's hovering just above it.

And if there's one thing you'll never see a natural magma extrusion do, it's break the universal law of gravity. In Rubble City we had a saying: If it's green like a guanabana, and sweet like a guanabana, and prickly like a guanabana, it's a guanabana. Not that any of us had ever seen a real guanabana fruit, except on commercials, much less eaten one.

So, it's artificial.

And as soon as I admit this to myself, some odd mental calculus automatically makes it look even bigger.

Not even the Qhigarians' ramshackle worldships are anywhere near as big as this. Not to mention, spherical shapes aren't exactly a Qhigarian thing. As far as I know, no explorers from the Nu Barsa habitat (or any other human, I'd bet my hide) has ever come across a race in all their travels that constructs spaceships as huge as this.

Also huge: our stroke of luck when we saw it in motion. If we'd only seen it sitting here, still as a rock, like it is now, we'd probably have taken it for a natural feature of the valley.

That's how enormous it is.

The next big thing may be whatever comes now, on this remote planet in Radian 1234, Quadrant 31.

It's funny how the ancients, as sharp as they were about some matters, believed blindly that their convoluted historical star charts, with their constellations and their ecliptics and their Arabic names for stars, would be around forever. It never occurred to them that the arrangement of the night sky that their astronomers were familiar with only made sense when you viewed space from the vantage point of Earth. Of course, those ancient astronomers never imagined the Galactic Community.

Paradoxically, a few Alien races prefer our allegory-rich human names for them. Such as the Algolese, the race from the fifth planet around the great star Algol in Perseus. Now, that may be because their real name is unpronounceable — unless you use ultrasounds in your everyday speech, that is. Likewise, the Arctians, the natives of the ninth world orbiting the red giant Arcturus in the constellation Boötes, gladly adopted the semi-affectionate shortened form of the name that our old poetic Earthly system assigned them, because it had never before occurred to them that their race needed any sort of distinguishing name at all. They had always been just plain "us"!

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio ...

For example: this planet, which we've even gone to the trouble of officially naming Hopeful Encounter, orbits a red star in the northern hemisphere that's concealed from view on Earth, as it turns out, behind bright Vega.

Until yesterday it was just like a trillion other planets in the galaxy: completely unknown to Earth's ancient astronomers. And moreover — according to the restless Qhigarians who were the first to map this sector of the galaxy (and so many others), many centuries ago — absolutely unfit for supporting oxygen-based life forms. One more ball of stone, one of a gazillion desolate naked rockscapes. No dangerous chemicals to worry about, for sure, but no water or interesting minerals, either. So not only had it never been explored by human ships, it wasn't likely to get explored anytime soon.

Well, nobody said everything in space had to be interesting.

And it probably would have stayed on that list for thousands of years, if sheer luck hadn't intervened.

Hell of a drug, luck.

Even after our umpteenth hyperspace jump on this trade exploration journey left us right on the edge of the system's gravitational sphere of influence, given that it had no resources we'd be interested in — no radioactive elements, rare metals, water, or free oxygen showing up on the spectra of any of its eight planets — we most likely wouldn't have even bothered to stow our six jump antennas.

We would've just used the gravity of the system's primary to recharge our gravitic batteries for the next hyperjump. And then — see ya later, system.

I've often thought that having a simple way to travel faster than the speed of light has done more to hamper than to facilitate the detailed exploration of the trillions of worlds in the galaxy. It's like trying to learn about every nook and cranny in a territory by flying over it in a supersonic plane.

The hyperengine we all use — Qhigarians, humans, Algolese, Furasgans, Arctians, basically all the thousands of races that now make up the Galactic Community — is an ancient Taraplin design. That mythical species, whose name in their own (lamentably forgotten) tongue meant "Wise Creators," disappeared from the galaxy so many eons ago that not even their faithful heirs, the Qhigarians (which means "Unworthy Pupils," of course) remember what they looked like.

Nor is there any clear explanation for why or how the alleged Taraplins disappeared — though many Qhigarians believe (or pretend they believe; never can tell with those crooks) that over the course of the millennia their beloved teachers accumulated so much power and wisdom that they simply transcended their mere physical state and became gods.

Luckily, before they Transcended, or died out, or disappeared, the Taraplins were generous and far-sighted enough to bequeath to their protégés, the Qhigarians, a stock of a few quadrillion engines, in three sizes or classes.

The hyperjump procedure is as simple as can be. All you have to do is set the coordinates for your destination and make sure that the entire hull of your ship is inside an imaginary polyhedron (specifically, an octahedron with eight identical triangular sides) drawn from the endpoints of the six long, thin antennas, which you must fully deploy in order to generate the field. When the antennas are energized, a microsingularity is generated in the space between them on which surrounding space tends to converge; but hyperspace cannot be squeezed flat, so the ship has no choice but to pop out of our three-dimensional space into an equidistant hyperspace — from which, when the energy impulse is turned off, it emerges once more into the regular cosmos, like no big deal. But suddenly you're many lightyears away.

Simple, right? In practice, at least. Yes, the Taraplins were geniuses.

In fact, to the mortification of millions of human and Alien brainiacs, nobody's been able to figure out the specific physical principle behind the ancient and incredibly effective devices that allow us to maintain faster-than-light travel across the galaxy. Try to open one and it dissolves in seconds, as if eaten by some powerful acid.

So we're forced to buy each and every one of our hyperengines from the Taraplins' savvy heirs, the Qhigarians, who are the only ones who know how to activate them. Though to be fair, they sell them and turn them on for an astoundingly low price, considering how greedy the Unworthy Pupils are in all their other business dealings.

As magical as it is as a transport system, hyperjumping also has its limitations. The most aggravating is that you can hardly ever jump straight to where you want to go. The routes through hyperspace, for reasons that not even the Qhigarians are able (or willing) to explain, appear to shift around all the time. Sometimes the same journey that took you just five jumps of a hundred lightyears apiece in one direction will force you to take six, seven, eight, up to twenty jumps of barely thirty lightyears each on the way back.

The Qhigarians don't try to explain hyperjumping; they just believe in it. And in selling tons of hyperengines. But scientists, whether human or Alien, aren't generally very big in the faith department. That's why there are as many theories about how hyperjumping works as there are races in the Galactic Community.

The Furasgans, for example, believe that the Wise Creators set down a limited number of roads through hyperspace, along which the ships run like trains on rails. Except that these rails are constantly moving and reorganizing. Hmm.

Kigran rorquals maintain that on every hyperjump, the ship and the crew are annihilated, and what returns to our universe is a quantum copy. Yeah, and so?

Some Algolese and human physicists think superstrings are tangled up in the whole affair. Excellent.

Arctians argue that a hyperjump simply leaves the ship in place while the universe moves around it.

Of course, there are those who claim it's a little of both.

While others say they've got it all backward.

But the hypothesis that, for my money, wins the cake for audacity, originality, and paranoia, is the one I heard Jaume Verdaguer, a young Catalan physicist, expounding one afternoon. Supersmart and crazy as a loon, but the sweetest and friendliest guy you'll ever meet. He and I lived together in a blissful romance years ago.

Jaume and a handful of equally young colleagues, unorthodox fans of conspiracy theories all, simply don't believe that any "real" physics are involved in hyperjumping. Using Occam's razor, they came up with the idea that the brilliant, extinct Taraplins never existed. Moreover, they posit that Taraplin hyperengines are a massive con job being pulled by their Unworthy Pupils. Hyperjumping, they think, isn't an intrinsic physical property of space at all, but a mere mental function. Something the Qhigarians themselves are doing, no less! Like an extension of their strange colonial telepathy, which is undeterred by distance.

Therefore, they think, how hard or easy a hyperjump is at any particular moment depends only on how many worldships, full of Qhigarians concentrating their mental powers, there are in that sector of the galaxy at the time. That's also why it's impossible to leap beyond the Milky Way to regions where none of their thousands of worldships have yet gone.

Personally, I find the idea kind of charming. But as a scientific theory, I'm afraid it'll never be very popular. Believing it would mean, to start with, granting the nomadic, pacifist Qhigarians nearly limitless intelligence and mental power — enough to teleport thousands of ships a second! It's a scary thought.

Besides, if they're such a powerful race, why would they need to keep such a complicated con job going among thousands of races in the Galactic Community?

As it is, hypernavigation is less a science (though that's how the Space Academies teach it) than a sort of intuitive gift, which some people have and some will never learn no matter how hard they try. Like the skill for Contact that we condomnauts have, for example.

Maybe that's why I'm drawn to Gisela, the hypernavigator on the Antoni Gaudí. Sheer affinity between two souls who both have valuable and relatively rare talents.

Though hypernavigators are a bit more common, to be honest.

It's platonic between us, of course. With my old trauma, she and I could never ...

So who cares if she's a skinny freckleface with basically nothing attractive about her, other than an exuberant head of disheveled red hair that cascades almost to her waist. Who cares if she picked that muscle-bound putz Jordi Barceló, the ship's third officer, to be her partner. Jordi, who has an even nastier temper than his cat, Antares. But, man — those muscles.

Better not to think about it right now.

The fact of the matter is, whether it was Gisela's talents or the sheer randomness of galactic routemaking, three days ago we jumped to this unmapped system in Radian 1234, Quadrant 31, almost dead on the galaxy's ecliptic plane, and we would have jumped away almost immediately. Except that Amaya, our methodical sensor technician, glanced at the hypergraph and noticed that something had recently entered the system and hadn't left. Some enormous something. Because, as our disconcerted Amaya explained to us, it had to be incredibly huge for her to detect it at such a distance.

As soon as we discovered this monster our priorities naturally changed. Screw recharging the gravitic hyperjump batteries and all the other drudge-work!

This was a really big deal. Maybe even the biggest deal in the past fifty years of human history, the biggest thing since the day when, thanks to Quim Molá's cleverness and lack of scruples, we got those first twenty-five hyperengines from the Qhigarians and reached the stars.

The first reaction on board the Gaudí was total celebration. As we had suspected from the beginning, it had to be some sort of Alien spaceship. Then we got scared, just thinking about how powerful its antigrav generators would have to be to lift its massive bulk off the ground. And we scared ourselves even more by trying to picture what sort of beings could build a ship as huge as this — especially since our brilliant Amaya couldn't get her usually superexact biometer to resolve even roughly where they were located inside the immense ship.

In the end, of course, ambition and excitement erased our fears. Nobody had ever heard of such an enormous spherical structure, so maybe we'd hit the jackpot, found what every known intelligent species (a tasteful way to say: any species with commercial ambitions) in the Milky Way, Alien or human, has always been looking for: an extragalactic species. From the Andromeda Galaxy, or the Triangulum Galaxy, or at least one of the Magellanic Clouds.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Condomnauts"
by .
Copyright © 2013 José Miguel Sánchez Gómez.
Excerpted by permission of Restless Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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