The Vindication of Man is the epic and mind-blowing continuation of John C. Wright's visionary space opera series surpasses all expectation.
Menelaus Montrose, having renewed his enmity with his immortal adversary, Ximen del Azarchel, awaits the return of the posthuman princess Rania, their shared lost love. Rania brings with her the judgment of the Dominions ruling the known cosmos, which will determine the fate of humanity, once and for all. Vindication or destruction? And if it is somehow both, what manner of future awaits them?
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About the Author
JOHN C. WRIGHT is an attorney turned SF and fantasy writer. He has published short fiction in Asimov’s SF and elsewhere, and wrote the Chronicles of Chaos, The Golden Age, and The War of Dreaming series. His novel Orphans of Chaos was a finalist for the Nebula Award in 2005.
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The Vindication of Man
By John C. Wright
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2016 John C. Wright
All rights reserved.
The Sound of Her Voice
1. A Bad Call
As he woke in his selective fashion, layer by layer, the central node version of Menelaus Montrose wondered if he had made a bad call.
Was he losing his nerve? Was he losing his mind?
Just to check, Montrose called a forum of his ulterior and inferior minds, including archived templates, remote units, and singles. The consensus mind briefly formed and ran through some twelve billion quotient-seconds of self-calculations, including that branch of specialized cliometry reserved for coordinate minds predicting their own behaviors over the long term.
Both the superhuman and subhuman versions of himself returned the answer that, yes, he was losing his grip.
"But why?" Montrose called out across the many channels linking his mind spaces together. "I am just the same as I always was!"
2. His House
Where the Mediterranean once had been was now a mountain range. What had once been the land between the Nile and the Congo was now an inland sea called Tethys. The southern continent was called Pannotia, and the northern Baltica. Millennia ago, when this northern coastline of Baltica had been inch by inch submerging into the Atlantic, Montrose had bought this tract of land on speculation, since the long-term tectonic plate movements planned by Tellus foretold that this land would rise once more above the sea in the seventeen thousand years before the return of Rania. And he grew and built a house here, relieved, for once, that he had no need to lock himself into a hidden and heavily armed subterranean tomb.
Years passed, and the land sank, and more passed, and it rose again. Hills to either side of him first breached the waves, forming an island chain, and the uplands rose, forming a peninsula, and now his land was in the midst of an isthmus reaching between the mountains of Cambria the plateau of Normandy. The hills and uplands of what had once been the English Channel pushed their green and pine-clad heads into the icy air, all save, ironically, the acres where he'd placed the main house.
So at the moment, he was somewhere under the waters of a loch, which was under an ice layer, in the middle of a diamond-walled mansion so old that it had been on the surface when last he checked, and so smart that it simply adapted to the changing environment, and replanted the hedge mazes surrounding the main house with sea plants and corals.
The diamond mansion had both roots striking down to subcrustal information cables and branches reaching up through the lake water to thrust naked twigs above the ice layer. These antennae grew or shrank as needed. They could receive and send signals to convenient orbitals or towers sixty thousand miles high, reaching from anchors affixed beneath the mantle to geostationary points in orbit. Through these antennae he could reach other versions of himself, in other stages and conditions of awareness, seated elsewhere.
3. His Hierarchy
At his cry of despair, somewhere in the depths of the logic diamond core of the planet, two of the Archangel-level supermontroses, beings of intelligence in the ten thousand range, exchanged information signals corresponding to wry glances, or prodding the inside of one's cheek with a tongue.
Meanwhile, a hypersupermonstrose, who existed intermittently at the Potentate level in the eight hundred thousand intelligence range, was like a looming statue in the background of the shared Montrosian thoughtspace. He sent a brief, sardonic message to the forum: "Oh, surely so. Poxing pustules on my peck! We's just as human as ever. Rania is almost here! Nothing else matters!"
But it was the singles, of intelligence between two or one thousand, some of whom occupied human-formed bodies in near-Earth orbit, or on the upper or lower levels of the vast space elevators rising by the dozen from Terra's recently formed unbroken equatorial mountain range, or bodies larger than whales swimming in the sea, or in the flooded tunnels running through the mantle of the Earth, who answered back, "You need a priest. You need confessing. Something gnawing at your gut, and you ain't man enough to face up to it."
"Why do you say that?" the central Montrose, still half-awake, demanded.
"What do you feel guilty about?" came the message from the consensus forum of Montrose-minds.
That particular central Montrose, who was in the act of waking up, his attention divided between the smarter versions and the simpler, suddenly halted the waking process.
Montrose said to himselves, "Guilty about what?"
No doubt it would have been quicker to wake the Potentate level version of himself, but such extraordinary minds used up extraordinary amounts of energy and infrastructure rather quickly. Unless he wanted to go out into the current world and work for a living — or beg or steal — to get the resources to support him and his infrastructure, it was better if the giant slept.
He was also haunted by the memory of a particular high-energy version of Montrose who once had been admiral of the Black Fleet, back in the old days, during the coming of Cahetel. He had slain himself, or let himself be slain, which was much the same thing. Whatever else had been in his memory and experience, thoughts, visions, dream, ambitions, ideas, everything from that slain version was gone. Montrose often put the lost section of his life from his mind, but it just as often returned, like a tongue that cannot help but seek out the hole left by a missing tooth. It was as if a stroke had left a blank spot in his mind.
"And what if the smarter version of me sees something I cannot poxing stand to see? Is he going to commit suicide also? And take me with him?"
They answered back, "Rania wouldn't like that."
Another version looked at the calendar. "Why am I waking up now? What has happened?"
It was the Sixty-Ninth Millennium. A thousand years before her return. The last tiny sliver of time. A negligible amount of time. A hiccough. He could do it standing on his head. One more nap, and she was here.
So why did he keep waking himself up?
The Potentate Montrose, buried in a matrix of black murk somewhere near the core of the self-aware world, renting part of the Tellurian Mind, answered softly, "Psychological weakness."
"You're poxing me."
"No pox. You were beaten by your mommy as a boy, and this made you strangle on apron strings from then to now. You are afraid of women; afraid you cannot be the boss, play the man, take command. You think Rania is too good for you."
Montrose said, "That ain't the reason. I don't buy it."
"You should buy what I sell. I am a far piece smarter than you, after all," said the Potentate Montrose.
The two Archangel Montroses, far less in intellect than the Potentate, but immensely smarter than the waking version who tossed and mumbled in his coffin egg and served as the mental phylum's central node, both said in slightly different wording, "But all our sins and fears and neurotic little twitches we built up over the years, they, too, get all big when we get all big. The black spot on a balloon expands when the balloon swells up, don't it?"
Central Montrose said, "I should be able to throw the clock out the window, shoot the rooster, turn over, stuff my head under the pillow, and go back to sleep. But I am tossing and turning. I thought things were ... I dunno ... settled."
"What's keeping you up?"
"I am just worried about whether I made a bad call, that's all. You know."
They did. He was worried whether the price he paid for that tiny little seventeen-and-a-half-thousand-year nap was too high.
4. While He Slept
He and Blackie had a deal. No more meddling in history, no more duels, no more nothing until she got back. They had not technically shaken hands on it, but Blackie had agreed! It had been so close, so soon, less than eighteen millennia! A pittance!
Dark ages followed bright in rapid succession. Twice more the aliens visited mankind with their horrid, irresistible power, scattering men to the stars. Dying and failing and sometimes prevailing, the pantropicly altered men of many new subspecies on the terraformed worlds now used the techniques pioneered by Montrose to create Pellucid, to stir their nickel-iron cores to life as Potentates; and those, in turn, took their fire giants, ice giants, and gas giant worlds within reach and, using the techniques pioneered by Del Azarchel, woke Powers to awareness; and those Powers, urged on in messages never heard by mortals by the dark agencies of Hyades, built Dyson clouds and Dyson spheres and macroscale structures in rings and hemispheres about their stars, gods beyond gods, self-aware arrays large as solar systems, called Principalities.
The chords and notes of the symphony of history changed, but the two great themes never ceased to clash: the urge for liberty, with each man free to calculate his own destiny and selecting his own place within the scheme of prediction, forever fought the need for unity, conformity, and, above all, predictability, without which long-term trade with Hyades was impossible.
The enmities between the Powers, who warped and bent the currents of predictive history to their dark will, were carried on in those children that so far surpassed them, as the gods in legend overtowered the titans: the Principalities of Tau Ceti, Proxima, Altair, and 61 Cyngi. A greater plateau of intellect, immeasurable, indescribable, unimaginable to biological life, was achieved, but not peace.
But Montrose, seeing that these convulsions and conflicts would not diminish the ability of civilization to decelerate and receive his approaching wife in her strange, huge, lonely vessel, kept his ageless vigil and slept through it all.
Throughout, Blackie seemed not to be doing anything sinister. What was he waiting for? What was he up to?
The nagging fear would not leave Montrose that his bargain with Blackie had been a mistake, and it all was going to explode in his face.
5. Duel to the Self-Destruction
But one of the remote Montroses, a man no smarter than Montrose had been back when he was only Mr. Hyde, a mere posthuman with an intelligence of four hundred, broke into the conversation path with a priority signal. "Worrying about Blackie is a fine hobby to keep a body busy while we wait. Beats whittling. But that is not the reason you keep waking yourself up."
"So what's the reason?" snapped Central Montrose.
Posthuman Montrose said, "We are still crippled by the limits of our own mental architecture. It don't scale up. The superbrains, the bigger they get, the easier they get to go crazy, easier to divaricate, easier to split into a zillion stray thought-chains, each squabbling like snakes in a mason jar. That is why Jupiter killed his bad ol' self, and don't fool yourself none thinking otherwise. Lookit here, smarty-pants Montroses."
An image came over the channel. Posthuman Montrose was dressed in a dark cloak and a wide-brimmed sombrero, standing near a grove of peach trees adorned with roses rather than peach blossoms. He was peering to where two men in armor stood in the near distance.
These were two more Montroses, both semiposthuman, each equal in body and mind, wearing the armor of duelists, each carrying the cubit-long iron tube of a Krupp dueling pistol.
They stood in a field of some species of bright red clover and pink grass Montrose did not recognize, some weed imported from another world, which should not have been able to grow on Earth. Behind them was a row of tall banners and standards of orange and gold whose meaning Montrose did not recognize, but a helpful familiarization file explained that these were privacy flags, attempting to emit encryption to ban the attention of media, gossips, and historians.
"I am here to kill myself?" Montrose muttered. "This is not a good sign."
The judge was dressed in the distinctive garb of a Penitent, barefoot in a white robe and conical purple hood of unlikely height, with a rope for a belt.
The men of the planet Penance were similar in build and look to Rosicrucians, since they were all descended from the sons of Cazi who had aided Montrose in stealing his starship, the Emancipation, back from Blackie, star-faring toward what was an uninhabited planet when they set out, but arrived to find a starving colony of Swans and Men from Albino and Dust, dropped there by the inhuman indifference of the Fourth Sweep. The ancestors of the Penitents half saved and half conquered these survivors and built a mighty civilization where men were free and secure.
The world had worked and woken to self-awareness in record time and launched a gigantic treasure ship back to Sol to prove the point of what a free world could build, arriving in the Fifty-Sixth Millennium.
Ah! Montrose grinned at the memory, because the ship, christened the Prestor John, had been outfitted at his suggestion as a huge fraud, crewed only by female astronauts prettier than their Fox Maiden ancestors and pretending to be from the lost and legendary colony at Houristan, the paradise of women. For once, events worked out as Montrose's secret calculations of cliometry predicted, and as the Guild grew fearful of an imaginary empire beyond their boundaries, and ashamed of the example, so the interstellar slave trade waned and was abolished in many ports of call.
The recollection warmed him like an ember in a pipe. After a trick like that, fooling even the Archangels and Potentates and Powers, what need had Montrose had to stay awake and look after things?
A familiarization file helpfully explained that a domed city called Penitentiary still rested on a mountain in Asia on Earth, holding the environment and oxygen-charged atmosphere of that remote world, and proud and wealthy descendants of the ship's crew dwelled like their ancestors, and their daughters eagerly sought in marriage or for pageants and displays or events of less worthy sorts. By tradition, they hid their wealth, and walked abroad in humble garments, and were hated and envied nonetheless. Small wonder the duelists selected a man from that race to be their judge of honor.
The two Seconds assisting in the duel shocked him to see.
One was the rotund form of Mickey the Witch, whom all reports and all common sense said should have been dead countless centuries and millennia ago. His face was round and full of mirth, and his eyes were small and twinkled with cunning.
He was dressed in robes resplendent and lavish to the point of absurdity. Silks as black as raven's wing and scarlet like the cardinal's were trimmed with ermine whiter than the snowy owl. There were nine yards of cloth just in the sweeping sleeves whose hems trailed on the grass. His shoes had pointed toes so extravagantly long and tall Montrose wondered that they had impaled no passersby. And all this was adorned in gems and gewgaws and inscribed with trigrams and psalms and mystic circles and astrological signs from a dozen bogus systems of occultism. The tree of the cabala along the spine of his flowing alb was enhanced with sigils from the Monument. Most absurd of all was his hat, which was a cone a cubit high, with jeweled chinstrap and ceremonial earflap, tassels, scarves, homunculus mouth, blinking eyes, and brim of glittering moonstones.
The other Second was a girl, which was a shocking breach of tradition. Her body was perhaps eighteen, but from her stance and glance and tilt of her head, her mind was years younger. Her eyes were wide and wrapped in dreams, her lips pouty and pretty and ready for kisses, but her hair was an astonishing wilderness of purple that glowed with phosphorescence. She was naked except for a semitransparent, semiluminous garment flung casually over one shoulder that flowed and floated around her shapely limbs. It was a blue-gray material that seethed like a live thing, glinting with sparks of motion, like a nest of invisibly tiny numberless flying insects whose legs were so entangled to each other that the whole formed long, elegant sheets and pleats and folds.
He did not recognize her, but from the electromagnetic echoes around her head, his instruments detected that she had the directional sense of a migratory bird. She was a Sylph, a member of a race of airborne nomads so long dead that even Montrose's advanced brain ached with fatigue when counting the ages gone.
"Who the plagued roup is that?" Central Montrose shouted.
Posthuman Montrose, standing at the edge of the red field in a black hat and poncho, said, "You are an idiot."
An Archangel Montrose said, "That is Trey."
"Trey Soaring Azurine, the Sylph. You met her the day you discovered Rania had ripped the diamond star out of orbit, and was lost to you for thirty-three thousand nine hundred years times two plus change; and that same day, Blackie put his handprint on the moon. She went into slumber, one of your first customers ever, just to follow you through time and see what happened, how it all turns out."
"And why is Mickey here?" asked Central Montrose.
"For the wedding," said Potentate Montrose, looming like a sphinx above the thoughtscape, this mind too deep and rapid to apprehend. "For love."
"What wedding?" asked Central Montrose.
Excerpted from The Vindication of Man by John C. Wright. Copyright © 2016 John C. Wright. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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Table of Contents
Part Eight: The Vast Desolations of Heaven,
One: The Sound of Her Voice,
Two: The Vindicatrix,
Three: The Hour of Her Advent,
Part Nine: Ancient Starships Shall Return,
One: Aardwolf Star in the Constellation of the Dragon,
Two: Deceleration Carnival,
Three: The Street Which Sneaks Up On the Sphinx,
Four: The Palace of Future History,
Five: The Chamber of the Black Hexagon,
Six: Lords of the Stability,
Seven: The Ambitions of the Imperator,
Part Ten: The Seven Daughters of Atlas,
One: The Eye of the North,
Two: Farewell to Torment,
Three: Cradle of the Stars,
Four: The Beehive Cluster,
Five: The Wreck of the Vast Desolations of Heaven,
Appendix A: Pedigree of Earths by Diaspora,
Appendix B: Posthumans,
Appendix C: Earths of the Empyrean Polity of Man,
Tor Books by John C. Wright,
About the Author,
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Wildly imaginative, cutting edge stuff in the tradition of Stross, Vinge, and Niven.