But only one of the pureblood R'il'nai still lives—Lai, an embittered survivor who mourns his lost human love but still feels bound to honor his race's responsibility to the Confederation. Two others possess the potential to change his and the Confederation's future—Snowy, a young slave dancer who is frightened of his odd powers, and Marna, a healer who survived a planet-wide epidemic on her home world.
All have their own individual loyalties which put them in conflict with one another, but the only way they can reach a future which will benefit all is to work together.
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)|
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By Sue Ann Bowling
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Sue Ann Bowling
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The living sculpture could no longer control its body, even to blink its eyes or turn them away from the horror in the mirror ... No, Flick thought. His eyes. My eyes. I am still I. I am he. He could still hear and feel-if only he could stop hearing, and feeling, and even seeing! His master's body stepped behind his own in the mirror, and the ice and silver eyes of his sculptor's reflection traveled lazily over his distorted body. Zhaim was a handsome creature-oh, yes, with black hair braided into an elaborate crest above the smooth, bronze face, and a body that might have been designed by a far saner sculptor than the owner who had made a distorted mockery of his own body. Flick hated his owner with a passion that verged on madness, but while Zhaim had no qualms about invading Flick's mind, he never seemed aware of his young slave's hatred. Unaware or uncaring? Flick felt despair sting his unblinking eyes. What did it matter if a statue loathed its creator?
The R'il'noid sculptor walked around his latest artwork, and Flick fought desperately to move, to scream out his hatred-
"Snowy, Snowy! Wake up!"
For a moment Snowy was lost, trapped in confusion between the horror of Flick's emotions and awareness of his own identity. Then the feel of Flame's arms around him, and the concern and caring he picked up from Timi and Amber, and most of all the fact that he could move his own body to burrow closer into Flame's embrace brought him back to himself. "Nightmare," he muttered. "Sorry to wake you all up."
Behind him, he could hear Timi yawn. "You do less of that than most of us," Amber reassured him. "Go back to sleep. We've got a busy day tomorrow."
"Right," he mumbled. "G'night." He readjusted his position against Flame, and closed his eyes. He felt the physical comfort of his friends, bodies jumbled together like a pile of puppies. What had happened was no nightmare, and he knew it. His sensitivity to the thoughts of others, though it had increased greatly in the last year or so, was under at least crude control. His ability to share emotions had also increased-but that was something he could not block without constant, conscious effort. When he slept, those blocks went down. And he was most sensitive to those he cared about. Like Flick.
He owed Flick. Without the older boy's encouragement, he would never have started dancing with Flame, back in the days when he was a ten-year-old catamite and she a slave-bred concubine of the same age. That had led to a blessed respite from the worst of the abuse and more, to a realization on the part of their owner at the time that they were worth more together than separate. Later they had integrated Timi and Amber, both captives, into their dancing group. For the first time in his life, Snowy had friends he had some hope of keeping with him. For that matter, it was the first time he had had a market value high enough that he had some hope of surviving into adulthood.
Sure, he was good looking, with his bronze skin, snow-white hair, and golden eyes. So was Timi, with his black silk skin, matching, loosely curled hair and flame-amber eyes. And the two girls-Flame with her copper hair and alabaster complexion, and Amber with blond hair, blue eyes, and creamy-tan skin-set them off beautifully. But attractive young pleasure slaves were easy to find, here on Central. It was the dancing, and the increased value that gave the group, that had kept them together for over two years now.
Flick-the first real friend Snowy had found since being sold away from his mother-had been sold even before Snowy and Flame had fully developed their teamwork. Snowy forced himself to lie quietly, not wanting to disturb the others again. He didn't know how to control the linkage between himself and Flick, and he didn't dare ask the Masters who might know. His odd talents weren't supposed to exist in a slave. He wasn't supposed to exist-his mother had made that clear enough. He'd be killed without mercy if the Masters even suspected his abilities. He couldn't even discuss the situation with his friends-he trusted them, but he did not trust their ability to keep their thoughts shielded from the Master, and he didn't trust the Master at all.
It wasn't the first time he had shared Flick's emotions, and distance seemed no barrier. He was pretty sure it was daytime where Flick was and night here, yet he had experienced everything Flick had felt. Snowy cared about his dancing partners, even more than he had dared care about Flick. Would he share their pain, as he now shared Flick's, if they were sold apart?
He suppressed a shudder, and forced his mind away from that path. Flick's situation was the immediate problem, and not entirely because he knew he would continue to share Flick's agony. He owed Flick whatever help he could give. But what help was that?
He chewed on his lip, sharply aware of the chill darkness around him and the hardness of the floor beneath his body. Sharing a single covering with the other three, though, was definitely preferable to sharing a warm, soft bed with their Master. It didn't bother him or Flame, both slave-bred, nearly as much as it bothered Timi or Amber, but they were all happier in their corner of the slave quarters than in the Master's bed.
So what could he do about the situation with Flick? Maybe nothing-but just maybe ...
He didn't dare leave anything Zhaim could read in Flick's mind. He remembered something Zhaim had once said, while showing off his living sculptures to a visitor. "I am not Lai's property, and I do not agree with his soft-headed treatment of Human slaves as people! As the last of the pure R'il'nai, he deserves respect. But his ideas are outdated. When I, as the ranking crossbred, take his place, the Jarnian Confederation will be run as it should be, for the benefit of R'il'noids such as us. I left the Enclave because my father refused to grant me the artistic freedom I needed. He is not welcome here. But he can hardly refuse me the mental privacy he grants even to slaves!" Clearly Zhaim never even thought of granting mental privacy to slaves.
Snowy took a deep breath and released his blocks against sensing emotions. He hadn't actually tried to tap into a specific person's feelings before, and it took a certain amount of awkward fumbling before he could ignore the sensations of his three friends. Once he reached Flick he had to brace himself against the intensity of the older boy's agony and hatred, even worse than they had seemed before. He couldn't leave Flick like this!
He hated going into another mind, even to read thoughts or emotions. It left him feeling sick, as if he'd been swimming in garbage. Actually affecting another's thoughts or emotions was even worse. He'd done it-twice to save his own life, and once to save Timi's-but those experiences had left scars that were still painful. And the only way he could see to help Flick was to go into his friend's emotions deeper than anything he had tried before. He didn't think that what he had in mind would be reversible, either.
Clamping his teeth on his lip, Snowy tried to build an image of what he intended in his mind. No words; Zhaim might be able to detect those. Only emotions. What remained of Flick's personality to be separated entirely from bodily sensations, and sent dreaming. Not of the last few months, or even the last few years, but of the time before his capture, when he had been part of a group rebelling against an unjust and arbitrary planetary government. Only the body left tied to physical sensations, so that changes in heart rate and breathing would convince Zhaim that his captive still felt his manipulations. A shallow smokescreen of the mental reactions Zhaim would expect. But no way of returning from the dream. When he had the emotional message complete, Snowy tried to transmit it to Flick, with a sense of question.
The response was immediate, overwhelming, and positive.
Snowy hesitated an instant longer. It wouldn't work if Zhaim went deeply into Flick's mind, but he rarely did that, not any more. Snowy was a slave himself; there was no possible way he could get Flick away from Zhaim physically. And Flick hadn't really understood that he was being offered a choice; his response had been more of "if only this were possible." What frightened Snowy most, though, was his mother's remembered warning. Could the interference with Flick's emotional state, if Zhaim ever recognized it, be traced back to Snowy?
But the alternative was leaving Flick in his current state of suffering.
Carefully, Snowy went deeper into Flick's emotions. He knew what he wanted to do, and he was pretty sure it was possible, but he was working by trial and error. Several times he had to back up, realizing he had made a wrong step, but finally he had the configuration he was after. He attuned himself to Flick's changed emotions for a moment. Not peaceful, no, but hopeful, excited, looking forward to a better world. A world that would never come, now, for Flick-but Flick didn't know that, and never would. I still owe you, he thought, if there's anything I can ever do. Then he made the last move of his scheme, cutting himself loose permanently from Flick's emotions. The hatred dropped away as he felt his own body around him again.
Not all of the pain dropped away, though. His lower lip was throbbing, and he tasted blood. A quick inspection confirmed that he had bitten it through. Again. Hastily he opened to his friends' emotions, confirming that they were all asleep. And with his head buried against Flame's shoulder, the injured lip wasn't likely to be on any of the monitors. Guiltily he reached for the damaged tissues, and began Healing the injury.
* * *
Flick's situation and the minor annoyance of his own bitten lip were by no means the only things Snowy had to worry about. The following day was more than just "busy." Master Kuril had guests that evening he was determined to impress, and the dancing group was a large part of his entertainment. Not just as dancers, either-he had made it clear that he expected them to entertain his guests in more-personal-ways after the dancing.
"I think-Ow!-he's losing interest in us," Snowy commented after the guests had left, while Davy, the overseer of Kuril's slaves, was massaging his sore muscles. His scalp hurt, too-there were times when his hip-length hair had him envying the kitchen slaves, who were kept hairless to protect the Master's food.
"Sorry," Davy said absently, his hands continuing to knead the boy's shoulders. "But you'd all be a lot stiffer tomorrow without this."
Snowy sighed and tried to relax muscles that still wanted to knot with tension. "I know. Davy, you're the best overseer we've ever had. You won't get in trouble for this, will you?"
"Not 'til he trades in about fifty pounds of fat for muscle and quits thinking he can get away with things that'd strain even a fit body. He needs me too much. I don't know how you kids got off as easy as you did. I saw some of the roughing up those guests gave you."
Snowy didn't have to be reminded of that. His ability to Heal his own injuries, and to some extent those of his friends, had allowed him to take care of the worst damage. But quite aside from the care he had to take not to be suspected of doing anything unusual, Healing took energy-lots of energy-and while he had eaten everything he'd had a chance to that evening, he had been ravenous and shaking by the time Davy arrived.
"They weren't all bad," Timi giggled drunkenly.
Timi, admitting that any slave user on Central was less than an ogre? Snowy turned his head slightly so that he could see his friend. He'd already scanned Timi enough to know that his only serious problem was from the level of alcohol in his blood, and he suspected that Timi had cooperated fully in that particular bit of abuse. As far as he could remember, he had seen Timi with only one of Kuril's guests, a slender but fit-looking man whose hair, skin and eyes were all the same shade of golden brown. Snowy had found himself dealing with three at once, and he had barely managed to protect himself without revealing his talents.
"Who'd you get, Timi?" he asked.
"Guy called Derik," Timi caroled happily. "D'you believe it? Saw I didn't like it and he just had me rubbing his back 'n talkin'. 'N shared freshments." He hiccupped.
"Obviously," Davy said sourly. "I hope you remembered how to do a back rub properly."
Davy had drilled them all on that, Snowy thought. One more skill that increased their chances of survival. He'd been too busy himself to pay much attention to Timi's partner, but if Kuril was losing interest as fast as Snowy suspected, they'd likely be sold soon. He turned his head a little farther, and rolled his eyes up to where he could see Davy. "Know anything about him?" he asked, knowing that the overseers, slave and free, had a loose communication network.
"Don't like his overseer," Davy replied. "Derik Tarlian himself-well, he's way above our Master. High R'il'noid-Inner Council level, half brother to Lai himself, and supposed to be a top esper. Number two to Zhaim, I think. Overseer complains he spoils his slaves-but that overseer sure doesn't. Doesn't let Derik know half of what goes on in the slave quarters, either."
Davy wouldn't name someone he disapproved of, Snowy had observed. The fact that he used Derik Tarlian's name without hesitation, while refusing to name either the overseer or his own owner, told Snowy more than his explicit comments had. And if the overseer was really hiding what went on in the slave quarters, Derik Tarlian was probably not in the habit of probing unwilling minds. Snowy had tried to avoid owners who might suspect his abilities in the past, but he had a fair degree of confidence in his own ability to project an image of a normal slave mind. Owners completely lacking in esper talents certainly existed-most Human slaves had Human owners-but they rarely had the credit to buy a group as expensive as theirs. And if this Derik did not try a deep probe ... He looked back at Timi. "What did you talk about?" he asked.
"Dancin'," Timi yawned. The slur in his voice was increasing. "An' music, 'n food. Wanted t' know who did our cho.. chor-uh-'rangements. Tol'm you did." His eyes closed, and he began to snore gently.
Snowy chewed on his lip. Timi was hypersensitive to esper probes and hated them. Unlikely this Derik had probed him. Maybe it would be safe enough. Kuril was far from the worst owner he'd ever had-Colo Kenarian, who'd owned him briefly even before he'd met Flick, had been far worse, and from what he'd learned from Flick, even Colo was not the worst possible. But if Kuril was going to sell them, this guy might be worth encouraging. Carefully. Staying open to the R'il'noid's emotions might give Snowy the information he needed to act in a way that would attract the man, and without alerting Derik that there was anything unusual about Snowy. If Derik visited again, Snowy decided, he would check the man out himself. Davy's attitude toward Derik's overseer bothered him a little, but overseers could sometimes be maneuvered into getting rid of themselves. And it was owners, not overseers, who generally had the final decision on buying or selling a slave. Yes, he decided as his muscles finally relaxed under Davy's manipulations, bad overseer or not, this guy looked like he might be a better owner than Kuril. Snowy hoped Derik would come again before Kuril sold them.
Excerpted from Homecoming by Sue Ann Bowling Copyright © 2010 by Sue Ann Bowling. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
"Homecoming." What a nice surprise. I had just gotten back from the cabin. You know, boat, moose, bears. You betcha. My wife handed me a book. "Read this, Sue Ann Bowling wrote it. You know, the woman you met in the airport." I politely started to put "Homecoming" on that ever-increasing pile of Books-to-be-Read. "No, read it now, its Science Fiction, we need you to read it and write a review, nobody else we know reads this stuff." Caught. The weak part of the book is the first few pages. We science fiction readers have learned to expect a galactic gun battle, or at least a couple of dangerous alien macro-beasts, on page one. Nope. Sue Ann has put more depth into this book. "Homecoming" really didn't take off until the horse race on page 24. Horse race? In a Sci-fi book? Yup, couple of alien cross-breeds and a telepathic slave, racing horses. Would have made a dandy first page. The strong part is that I couldn't put "Homecoming" down. This is book isn't William Gibson, but is it closer to his level of writing than it is to the utopian drivel, and to the testosterone-based battle star writings that plague science fiction. This book works. It is plausible, fun, and uses excellent science. It may be a snapshot of a possible future. While arguably safe to hand to your little sister, "Homecoming" explores the fragile edge of human/alien sexuality, cruelty, and compassion. The hero, initially a young male slave, journeys through discovery, freedom, education, responsibility and leadership. Much as we all have done. If you have ever had an extra-sensory experience, this book will fold you into its pages, and not let you out until the dog says it's time for bed. There are the usual star jumps: I found myself stranded with the author on a primitive planet where the DNA helix spiraled in both directions, leaving half of the bio fauna indigestible. New concept. Cool. I learned that planets that are too aggressive never survive long enough to achieve space travel. Cool again, another new concept; which is why-we-read-science-fiction in the first place: It broadens our thinking. Bowling's strong academic background in geophysics comes through charmingly. Homecoming is an easy read, but a deep read. I am surprised that this depth of writing came from a writer with this young a mind. Alaska John, P.E.
This novel was recommended to me by a friend. Later, it was also recommended by the owner of the independent book store where I shop (when I'm not buying at B&N). I wasn't looking forward to reading it because sci fi is not my thing ... at least as far as literature is concerned. Movies are okay, but not books. The book was a pleasant surprise. It was difficult, as it is with almost any book, to get into the world of the novel. But, once that was accomplished, the book was an easy and a very pleasant read. The issues raised in the novel and the problems facing the characters are both original and familiar. There were times when I tried to connect the characters to others I had encountered in other works. Although there were some similarities to characters I had met before, the characters in this book are unique. "Homecoming" has a satisfying, but not unexpected, conclusion. But, it calls for a sequel. There are too many unresolved issues that beg amplification. Perhaps the most pressing, in this reader's mind, is the issue of slavery and how to successfully end it. Anyone who knows about the period of Reconstruction in the U.S. knows that our country didn't do that very well. I am sharing this book with all my friends. I would recommend that you do the same.
The only reason I am not giving this book five stars is because the opening is a bit muddy. The MC is dreaming/experiencing the torture of a friend by another person whose sadistic glee is clearly visible on his face in the mirror. I didn't know whose head I was in, and even on a second, slower read of the book, still found this confusing. Many people would give up at that point and not read on. *Don't.* While there *are* multiple POV's, once past the first chapter, chapter-and-a-half or so, after that the viewpoints are easy to identify and the storytelling is compelling. The characters are well drawn, for the most part (the one villain needs a little love/redeeming qualities, IMO), the action is exciting, and the moral dilemmas are captivating. I loved this book and am bumping the sequel to the top of my TBR list.
Homecoming follows the story of several characters of different origins. Some of these characters are slaves, some prominent leaders. The book follows the stories of these characters, the choices they make, and the fears they face. All of this takes place many thousands of years after our current time, when an alien race, the R'il'nians, the R'il'noids, and Humans coexist. Intelligent life has spread throughout the galaxy, spanning many planets. The fate of the Confederation, a coalition of many of the planets, is uncertain, as it needs a proper heir for leadership. The current heir is corrupt, unloving, and unkind, and Lai, the father of this heir comes to understand this and the need for a better solution. The R'il'nians and the R'il'noids also have a few special powers that I won't spoil here, but they add a good element to the story. The Good: One thing about the universe of Homecoming that I really enjoyed was the universe. The author thought it out well and made it very real. The R'il'nians were an alien race who were overcome by a plague called Kharfun. This almost completely obliterated the race. Through crossbreeding with humans, they were able to sustain their race. However, the relationships formed with the two races also led to the acceptance by many of slavery. As I read the book and understood the well-realized universe envisioned by the author, I was impressed. This aspect of the book is what captured my interest the most. The Bad: The author clearly defines the characters within the book. There is no doubt as to their personality traits, as described by the narrative. So what makes this bad? Despite the good descriptions of the characters, the dialogue between them lacked the same differentiating impact. When every character speaks, I couldn't help but feel like they all spoke in the same manner. Yes, they are different characters, but the demeanor and personality shown in the dialogue made it feel like everyone was the same. If not for the narrative explaining the characters so well, I would have had a very hard time reading this book, because everyone would have seemed like the same person. The Ugly: All fictional books need a good story. While Homecoming's story has a lot of potential, it fails to deliver. The whole time I read the book, I kept trying to figure out its focus. What was the story the author was trying to tell? Throughout the book, the focus seems to shift. And just when I felt that I understood where it was going, the focus changes. I didn't even understand who the main character in the story was until the very end. And even then, the ending leaves nothing conclusive to help you feel as if this was where everything was leading. It's unfortunate, because with such a well-realized universe, the potential for a very interesting story is there. Instead, a bunch of things happen, and you walk away from the book not completely sure why they mattered. Overall, I did like reading the book and understanding the universe. Was it a page-turner? No. Was I motivated to finish the book? Yes. But not for the reason I should have been motivated. My interest in the story didn't move me to complete it, but rather my wanting to move on to a new story did.
As humans explored the worlds, often new and different races were discovered. During one of those explorations they discovered the Maungs, who have the ability to wipe out the entire human race. It is here that they also meet the R'il'nai, a race of beings with powers and abilities that help to save them from extinction. As the years move on humans have hybridized with the R'il'nai and have continued their spread across the galaxy. Sue Ann Bowling has put together an amazing world, well written and believable. She has come up with a group of characters, each unique and either eminently likable, or on the other end of the spectrum, rather hateful. In Homecoming she highlights the frailties' and strengths of a race that has no equal, and yet with all their intelligence and abilities they are near extinction. Set as protectors of humans, they themselves are almost annihilated by a disease that has very little impact on the human population. Because of their abilities some of the hybrids have allowed slavery, and as in most other cultures it becomes a brutal and unending process of life for those that are owned. The master is all and the slave is considered a lower life form. While many are trying to change the process and outlaw slavery, there are those that resist. Many, like Snowy have found ways to make themselves worth more, in order to protect themselves and their friends. Homecoming is a wonderful blend of both old and new, putting together human and alien in a fight for life.
What if human and alien DNA were mixed long ago, and human-alien hybrids spread out to conquer the galaxy? What if those aliens had extra-sensory perception and super-human powers perfectly complementing human ingenuity? And what if their symbiotic relationships were thrown into chaos by a virus that almost wiped out the whole of the R'il'nai? This the background to Sue Ann Bowling's Homecoming, a fascinating coming-of-age sci-fi novel where a human slave lives a dream-come-true and discovers his long-lost birthright, just as his father despairs of ever healing his heritage. Homecoming starts within the slave-holding human and alien communities of the Confederated Planets. The time coincides with George Washington's birth-hence slaves I suppose-though that's not relevant to the tale. The novel's background is detailed and complex, but soon the slave Snowy has his name changed yet again, and heads to boarding school as a free son under the name of Roi. An exciting mix of Tom Brown's schooldays and Hogwarts ensues, with student bullies, arrogant teachers, and a few select friends helping Roi survive in spite of his physical problems. The science of ESP, the rules of conservation applied to telekinesis, the energy required for the impossible-it all begins to make the sort of sense that delights and keeps the reader intrigued. Meanwhile there's a DNA testing program taking place that analyzes percentages of R'il'nain to human genes without noting which sequences are which, and a good father wonders how he can produce a bad son, while the child who doesn't know him grows up so well. This novel's characters may have complex backgrounds, but by the end of the tale they've all become dear to the reader. The questions they face are as relevant here and now as to their distant lives-duty, love, freedom, honor, security, fatherhood-and the detailed world they inhabit is almost real. What if human-alien hybrids return to earth one day? Will Sue Ann Bowling address that possibility too? If she does, I'd like to read the book. Though I took a while to get into this novel, that was probably my fault and my timing more than the author's; I found it a really rewarding and intriguing read. Disclosure: I received a print copy of Homecoming from Jason Gloye of Bohlson PR in exchange for an honest review.
This book is an excellent read, from start to finish. I did find the first couple of pages a struggle, as characters are introduced rapidfire, but once one has got one's head around them the story is a pleasure. Sue Ann has created a very believable civilisation, and characters who are fantastically wrought. Any sane person reading this book will land on the side of the main character and passionately hate his nemesis. Deep issues are tackled with dignity, not limited to the sociological, ethical and psychological minefields, and although scientific fact is in the fore, it does not distract from the storyline. I would recommend this book to anyone, and I long for the next in the series!