A fact-finding mission has crash-landed on a harsh world, leaving entomologist Francis Lostwax and physicist Burne Newman marooned. The scientists are rescued by a mysterious society whose inhabitants are wholly incapable of murder, assault, rape, or any other form of aggression. Protected by a river made of liquid hate, the descendants of Quetzalia’s original human colonists have devised a strange techno-religion that has in turn engendered a culture of total pacifism.
While Burne undertakes to rid the planet of the savage and menacing brain-eaters that flourish beyond the utopia’s walls, Francis cultivates his romantic feelings for Tez Yon, the Quetzalian surgeon who saved his life. But the entomologist’s obsession with Tez’s soul leads him down a dark and twisted path, in time confronting him with a terrible dilemma. Should he murder the woman he loves to save a society he abhors?
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The Wine of Violence
A Science Fiction Fable
By James Morrow
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1981 James Morrow
All rights reserved.
Nothing in Francis Lostwax's past experience had prepared him for the sudden disappearance of his native planet.
He was an ardent disciple of natural law. When Francis dropped a fresh ripe mamula, he believed it would fall downward and in no other direction. When he collected a newborn gorgathon from its nest and took it to the laboratory, every particle of his faith told him the mother would follow with rage and stabbing mandibles.
It happened at noon, Nearth Equatorial Time, during the final fifty million kilometers of their return from Arete. He was sitting in his cabin, feeling all plump and dozy after a heavy lunch. Before his eyes, the bland chunks of the Malnovian Asteroid Belt floated like croutons. Boring, he thought. Boring as spacefood. He dialed his holovision monitor into the close-up mode, bypassing the belt. There, that's much better—home.
Viewed from space, Nearth's smooth cyan clouds made her Queen of the Solar System. One would never guess that their undersides were dingy and stinking. The planet approached at velocity-factor one: as per the flight plan, they would get there by coasting, having consumed the last of their fuel yesterday. Leaning forward, Francis punched his cushion till it got fat, then repositioned it under his rump and sat down in front of the monitor, ready to indulge a fine homesickness.
Now he saw it, now he didn't. Nearth was gone. In her place loomed an endless gloating night.
The terror that came cut him loose from everything. He was as lost as his planet. "Good God!" he said out loud, though the truth was he believed in no gods, good or otherwise.
Quivering, Francis sprang from the cushion and dragged his steel boots through the phony magnetic gravity. A back tubeway brought him to Darwin's control deck, where, centerstage, Burne Newman fidgeted near one face of the main monitor. The Malnovian Asteroid Belt orbited as if nothing had happened.
Under less awful circumstances Francis loved watching the great cubic monitor, with its stirring displays of imprisoned suns. Darwin's was a Sozyo Model 3560, which meant the holojector was mounted in the ceiling instead of the floor or wall. Sozyo made 4-D equipment. The image had height, width, depth, and a fourth D that eluded precise definition. It was called Presence. Somehow, you felt that the subject was there in the room with you. You could seemingly walk up to it, savor its fragrance, finger its texture, rub a few eons' grime off its contours. Francis felt the Malnovian Belt's Presence, and he reeled with total loathing.
Burne snorted, acknowledging that Francis, too, had Presence. Good old Burne. Smooth, nervy Burne. Burne would explain all of this.
Francis clunked forward. The floor of the control deck was a huge disk, immaculately metallic. "There's been a war!" he croaked. "Nearth has disintegrated!"
Burne regarded him with half-closed eyes. Saying nothing, he went to close-up, got a jolt. Nearth was just as gone, the starless night just as endless, as in Francis's cabin.
But Burne's voice was resonant with calm. "Hell—something's blocking our view, that's all." He reversed the zoom. Slowly the night congealed into a single object, a black globe that made a hole in the sky. It floated in moonless silence. "God's magic mousetrap!"
"What is it?" asked Francis. He exhaled in gratitude: it wasn't the end of the world.
"Carlotta!" Burne whistled in delight. "Carlotta the ghost!" He socked a relay on the intercom panel, sending his voice to a dozen places at once. "Kappie! Luther! Fire up your monitors and zoom! Go to two thousand millimeters and you'll see pretty Carlotta like she's never been seen before!"
Francis knew about Carlotta. For years, several of the more dissident astronomy journals had been lending their support to theories of an uncharted body somewhere in the Malnovian Belt—an Atlantis among asteroids, too small to disturb its neighbors and too large to be uninteresting. But so far only one telescope-bespectacled scientist had ever reported seeing the thing with her own three eyes. This was Dr. Carlotta V. Quippet. In a convulsion of vanity, Dr. Carlotta V. Quippet had named it after herself.
She couldn't decide whether to call her discovery a planet, a planetoid, an asteroid, an escaped moon, or a stable comet. Francis called it trouble. "We're not going to collide, are we?"
"We'll graze it." Burne sidled toward the nearest computer terminal with annoying nonchalance. For the last six days, their L-17 had spewed out plastic rectangles stamped with a cybernetic subtongue few could fathom. He grabbed the stack and shuffled. "Which is to say we'll miss the troposphere by fifty kilometers."
"Better tell them to get their hens off the roof," said Francis, grinning. But he was not happy. He wanted Nearth, not this dismal world that hovered before his eyes like a scoop of poison ice cream.
The far wall undid itself and Kappie McKack appeared, working her way across the flypaper floor with an ease Francis envied. She was a tall woman, bright and sly, with crisp features on a thin face. Francis enjoyed her young voice.
"Didn't anybody get the coordinates? Don't you dwartches think of anything?" Kappie flipped through the printouts, took the electrostylus from her mouth (there was always an electrostylus in her mouth), and recorded Carlotta's location on a scrap of flimsy. "We've got to publish this—become famous. We should contact Nearth right now!"
"You'll never get a message through all that radiation," said Burne, eyelids on a snide descent.
Kappie gave him a let's-try-anyway look and sprinted, slow-motion, to the keyboard. XM-2 TO DR. ALBERT THORNE, she typed, GALILEO INSTITUTE, PLANET NEARTH.
XM-2 was the name of their scientific party: X for exploratory, M for mission, and 2 because the first time they'd gone to Arete they hadn't come back dead. The name was a lie: Francis had about as much desire to explore the solar system as he did to eat glass. He was a biologist, an insect authority (Ph.D. dissertation: Gall Midge Ecological Strategies), not an adventurer. The gratifying thing about insects was that you could study them indoors.
A plastic rectangle shot up like toast, and Kappie caught it in midair, "TRANSMISSION TO PLANET NEARTH SCATTERED BY MALNOVIAN BELT RADIATION," she quoted merrily. "I told you it wouldn't work." Turning to avoid Burne's eyelids, she studied the gypsy planet. "It's just like all the disreputable theories say, isn't it? A dark cloudcover, soaking up the sun—the perfect camouflage. But now your secret is out, Carlotta."
Eyes flashing, Kappie began improvising myths. Here, she explained, lived the Marduks, a lost race that spoke in music and thought in smells. This was the legendary Garden Planet, teeming with a fabulous herb that, ingested, enabled you to reverse the one decision in your life you most regretted.
"If only our main engines were fueled, Carlotta, we'd land on you and find out!"
Land—the thought made Francis flinch. Watching the homely little planet, he tried mightily to feel all the marvelous, exciting things Kappie felt. He knew he had a romantic bone, but right now it refused to sing. Disgusted, he hobbled to the edge of the monitor, found the switch, nudged it. Carlotta and the rest of the universe vaporized, clearing the way for Francis's reflection: nascent potbelly, elfin face, small thirty-seven-year-old eyes, curly hair.
"I'm worried." There was a new voice on deck. Two generations ahead of his shipmates, Luther Gorst was aging well. He slogged to the terminal without breaking stride, and his breathing did not accelerate. "That damn asteroid may capture us."
Burne explained that they would clear Carlotta by over fifty kilometers, "just enough to get some terrific snapshots."
"Even a hundred kilometers won't necessarily keep her gravity at bay." Luther was doing his listen-to-me-I'm-old bit. "If we're sucked to the surface you'll really get some terrific snapshots." Snatching a mamula-shaped mug, he lifted it toward Darwin's coffee urn, a squat device anachronistically overgrown with nineteenth-century filigree.
"Unlikely," said Burne. "It's a puny body, like Dr. Lostwax. You saw it."
Francis laughed without enjoyment.
"I also saw an atmosphere." Luther poured coffee. "What do you think holds those clouds in place, rubber cement? I tell you, this object is dense. Probably some sort of esoteric fusion at the core."
Burne massaged his beard. "God's holy fastball! Carlotta spends her days turning gold into lead! Let's just hope that gravity isn't as heavy as it used to be...."
Francis could feel his intestines kinking.
Two standard days later it became excruciatingly clear that gravity was as heavy as it used to be. "We're pinned, gentlemen," Kappie moaned. "Pinned like one of Francis's moths."
Luther switched on the retros, the only engines that were still fueled, and the computerized alchemy began. Cesium vapor poofed into ions. Speed braked, fall broken, Darwin started to orbit Carlotta fewer than ninety minutes before the fibrous atmosphere would have reduced them to lumps of ash.
The retros were banked, the monitors were revived, and the scientists milled lethargically around the control deck, each mired in a private gloom.
Eventually Luther said, "Think of something, Burne. Get us free. You've pulled bigger rabbits out of smaller hats."
"I have a suggestion," Francis offered in the frail voice of a patient asking a neurosurgeon to go for a hopeless tumor. "We've still got cesium vapor in the retros, right? If we fired those engines, and then gave them some moral support from the chemthruster, we might be able to bust out of here."
Despite his best efforts, condescension crept into Burne's reply. "Yes, we could do that. But how do you propose we steer afterwards? You want to stand on the hull and blow on the solar panels?" He began to circle the monitor, occasionally extending his palm and binding it to the glass with static electricity. On the screen, Carlotta's equator rolled by, sheathed in seamless fog. "Besides, we need the chemthruster for the landing."
"The landing?" Francis knotted up. "What landing?"
"Friends, I've concluded that our best move is to decelerate again, touch down, and pray for good news—cesium and oxygen and fresh fruit and friendly natives."
"But you've never been there."
"The alternative, as I see it, is extreme and painful hunger. I've been there."
Francis had known all along that Burne would end up managing this crisis. Burne was tough. Burne practiced archeology, the most inconvenient of the sciences. He slept under stars and got local inhabitants to do things they'd rather not. Once when Burne was looking for shards of civilization on an icy outer moon, the life-sustaining thermal-pump at his chin froze inside his normally impervious pressure suit. Resourceful Burne bit through his own tongue, spat warm blood upon the motor, and got it working again. Still in his early thirties, the man already had a modest reputation as the sort of interplanetary soldier of fortune whose life would one day be turned into a stupendously inaccurate kinepic.
Luther, by contrast, was an introvert, a crusty eccentric who in the name of sociological research had once tried getting a government grant to become a hermit. Now past seventy, the self-contained chemist asked little of the world beyond silence and matter. If all the human race were to blow away one afternoon, Luther would go study some exotic crystal and flourish; if all the exotic crystals were to blow away one afternoon, Luther would die of loneliness.
Kappie, the group's prodigy-in-residence, had turned twenty-three last week. Her calling was anthropology, an ambition that, like Burne's, carried her to inhospitable out-reaches and taught her to take the dark side of nature in stride. In one year alone, Kappie had published three papers, two textbooks, and The Kindred Beast, a work of pop anthropology she was beginning to regret.
Francis, for his part, had managed to work up a pornographic crush on Kappie during the second half of the voyage.
Within the hour Burne began a photography project, launching dozens of transmitter cameras that, before succumbing to friction, provided massive visual evidence of vegetation and animal migrations. (Oh, God, let the beasts be edible!) But the corker came when Luther read the first spectroprints and noticed sparse but indisputable deposits of pollucite, a cesium-rich mineral. (Cesium!) Francis cheered, and his innards unwound.
Sensorprobes, leaping from Darwin's sides at the flick of a relay, beamed back further reasons for calling the planet benign. Carlotta's temperatures, air pressures, radiation levels, and water supplies were all sympathetic to human survival. Its bacteria were garden-variety and loath to enter into pathogenic relationships with higher organisms.
A few minutes after Darwin started its third sweep around Carlotta, the scientists saw the clouds yield to a ragged hole nearly a thousand kilometers across. The landscape below was a patchwork of ice, snow, and frozen earth. It all looked blessedly solid. Slats of emerald sun broke from the west, spanned the hole, vanished. Down there it was morning.
Burne lunged for the chemthruster controls. Above his head, a dozen scopes glowed with flat and open terrain, a pilot's dream. "To your cabins, chums!" he said. "We're going sightseeing."
As Francis plodded down the tubeway, the idea of being marooned on Carlotta brought tears, hot tears cooled only slightly by his admission that home was not a place where he had known great happiness.
Like everyone else's forefathers and foremothers, Francis's forefathers and foremothers had come to Planet Nearth on the great space ark Eden Two. It was the major adventure of the twenty-first century, a chance to bury the calamity that was Earth and begin afresh. Everybody wanted to go.
The goal was an elderly star, UW Canis Majoris, so named because it rounded out a constellation that, viewed from Earth, looked to generous imaginations like a Great Dog. The best evidence said UWCM had many satellites, at least one of which could abide Homo sapiens, and it was agreed that, once reached, this promised planet would receive the unimaginative name of New Earth. By the time Eden Two got there, etymology and lazy tongues had collapsed New Earth into Nearth.
The voyagers, like the destination, were picked for tolerance. No one could sign up who was convinced that his age, gender, race, or scheme for salvation had anything to recommend it over anyone else's age, gender, race, or scheme for salvation. The precaution paid off. While Eden Two sought its sun, benevolence ruled within. Passengers who believed in rationality and social planning were actively forgiving of those who believed in séances and ESP; passengers who believed in séances and ESP were boundlessly eager to learn from those who believed in Boyle's law and the Doppler effect. Pairing across racial lines progressed reliably—from the acceptable to the faddish to the invisibly commonplace—until, six generations later, everyone had turned the color of coffee with two creams.
When Nearth had been found and tamed, though, a different ethic emerged, a fact skirted over in the history books but taught to Francis by his anarchist, misfit father. As opposed to Eden Two, with its highly rationed resources, the new homeland bulged with the sort of free-for-the-grabbing bounty that invites greed, envy, exploitation, profiteering, and politics.
People found ever more ingenious ways to hate each other. If the venerable irritants of gender and nationality no longer worked, very well, now they'd have segregation by temperament. On one side of civilization stood the Affectives—romantics who declined to distinguish intuition from truth. Their foes were the Rationalists—guardians of intellect, debunkers of illusion, bursters of bubbles. When the Rationalists held political office, enormous sums were spent on industry and technology, and the orphanage down the street went without a new wing. When the Affectives held political office, everyone went out on the lawn and talked to God, and the orphanage down the street went without a new wing. "Smugness kills all Utopias," Francis's father used to tell his son.
Like other monuments to science, the Galileo Institute naturally found itself in the Rationalist camp, though many members labored to demonstrate an appreciation for art and, by extension, a distaste for things worldly. Kappie was planning a novel. Francis had published a paper called "The Spirituality of Beanlice." Luther owned a harp.
Fewer than five years following the inauguration of Nearth, a teen-age girl was lynched for saying something funny to the leader of a superior-consciousness cult. Shortly thereafter, the planet's very first jail went up. Its bars were of a new metal called crysanium, mined in unconscionable misery and sold at unprecedented profit.
Excerpted from The Wine of Violence by James Morrow. Copyright © 1981 James Morrow. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Read this as a teen when I belonged to a SciFi Book Club. Really made an impression then on how we respond to anger and use violence. I highly recommend this book!
Morrow has used natural ingredients and created an alien. Brain-eaters from a mirror planet, Nearth, have all the traits and physics of normalicy, but aren't. The suspense and terror kept me on the edge of my seat.