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The Lampworks Lamplighter

SF & Fantasy News & Reviews

In this issue

A Short Excerpt from Sellenria II

The writing of Sellenria II is moving along. It takes up the story of how Stenn's ancestor Jonan came to be on Sellenria and explores how events can be surprisingly different than the legends told centuries later. Here, Perrhen is telling of the legends of even more ancient figures in the Kir Leth civilization.

"Gleomere was Polnedra's greatest creation. In some tales, that was literally true, in that she shaped him to be beautiful, and admirable, and quick, and intelligent, and then imbued him with a portion of her own creative spirit. Others tell of how he was her student, trained by her to one day succeed her as leader of the Kir Leth. It depends on whether one considers Polnedra to be literally divine or only figuratively. In either case, Gleomere desired to surpass his creator and grew restive and resentful living in her shadow.

"One story that illustrates their rivalry involves the Oomlies. One day, Polnedra was feeling both creative and whimsical. She breathed on a seed, which she then planted in a grove deep in the woods. Eighteen years passed eighteen times - Polnedra is very patient and subtle - as the seed grew into a tree. Polnedra visited the grove from time to time to encourage and guide the tree, for she had the knowledge to influence living things to grow as she desired. When it bore fruit, she planted the seeds in expanding circles around the mother tree, so they could exchange, hmm, codes of life? I do not know this word in your tongue."

"Pollen? Spores?" suggested Jonan, who had never had a deep interest in biological systems.

"Spores, then. They exchanged spores, sometimes with Polnedra’s selection and encouragement, sometimes with deeper changes to bring about the results that she wanted.

"As the trees matured, they began to fulfill her purpose. The roots drew water from the ground and split it into components, two light and one heavier. I do not know these words either ..."

"Hydrogen and oxygen? She made plants that electrolyzed water?"

"Just so. The trees released the ox-y-gen - that is the heavier part, correct? - into the air, which at that time had been depleted for reasons forgotten today. It may be that she had been so successful in creating abundant life that she had used more ox-y-gen than was wise. She is called the Child God for at times having more enthusiasm than caution, and this may have been one of those times.

"The other part of the water - the hy-dro-gen - the trees stored in their yellow fruit, which soon bulged and swelled and tugged upwards at the end of their branches. Polnedra later found more efficient storage methods, which resulted in the candle trees and the lamp oil trees, but this was new and delightful at the time.

"Gleomere found this grove of trees one day. He admired them, but with a touch of envy that he hadn't thought of them first. He decided to cause some mischief to confound or delay Polnedra's project so that he could make his own mechanism to do the job even better. So he took the guise of a Lind Leth hunting guide to conduct parties of adventurers into the forests and contrived to come upon this grove seemingly by chance. The hunters were amazed by the fruits and harvested a great number of them. They examined them and then began to play games with them, letting them float away and then recapturing them. Then, since the hunters were slow to discover this, Gleomere just happened to toss one into their campfire, where it exploded in a ball of flame.

"The results were predictable. The hunters joyously detonated the yellow fruits they had gathered, watching them bloom in rising flames in the night sky. They tossed them at each other, a game that turned deadly when several throws came too close. Sobered, they returned home the next morning, carrying as many of the fruits as they could.

"Lyr Leth studied them. The seventh Leth was still among us at the time, ardent followers of Gleomere. They made clever machines powered by the gas inside, then weapons to defend themselves from those who wanted to take those machines for themselves. They needed more hydrogen-filled fruits to power their creations, so they invaded the land where the mother trees grew. They carried off as many fruits as they could and cuttings from trees to establish their own farms. When those who lived on those lands resisted, they were cut down with the beautiful new weapons.

"Polnedra saw this and was not pleased. She could not be certain this was Gleomere's work since he had worked quietly through the agency of others. She suspected, however. She thought long about her response - she was patient, as I have said. She made some changes to the mother trees and then sent the new-made spores from them out into the world to all the other mother trees. We call this Persuasion, the spreading of a change to the life code into the wild to influence others of the species.

"The mother trees still produced hydrogen as they released oxygen. But now their fruits filled quickly with the hydrogen and broke away before they could be harvested. They floated through the sky, out of the reach of those who would harvest them. They grew long tendrils to hang onto the upper branches of the forest and mouths to ingest food to sustain them. They became the creatures we know as the Oomlies today."

Jonan startled at that description. "I saw some of those near the Lake of Reflections! Cruising through the treetops stuffing leaves into their mouths. I thought then that they were animals, but you say they were fruits? Which are they?"

"Hmm. Cannot they be both? So these Oomlies sailed through the forests, grazing on the treetops. They would find mother trees and fill themselves with hydrogen from their buds. Thus they sustained themselves and took away the hydrogen that powered the machines and the weapons. When these could no longer be used, people fell back on the bounty that Polnedra provided and remembered her teachings of peace.

"Whether Polnedra planned the next development or it was a happy circumstance, none can say for sure. But people discovered that they could tame the Oomlies and get them to carry riders through the air. At first this was simply fun and exciting, but soon this became a way of travel and of commerce. Convoys of Oomlies carried goods and people through the air between their settlements. Oomlies became too important to hunt for their hydrogen, so people protected them.

"Gleomere saw people's love of flying and decided that this was a thing he could use. He invented machines that could fly faster and more reliably than the Oomlies. The machines had no minds of their own and did not need to be persuaded to take a particular journey. They would do tasks that an Oomlie would refuse. They used hydrogen both for lifting power and for propulsion, so they could carry more, farther and faster. They could attach to the same buds on mother trees that the Oomlies did, and suckle the hydrogen meant to supply the Oomlies. Oomlies began to suffer without sufficient hydrogen, unable to lift their bodies to forage in the trees.

"This coincided with the time of Sellen, who gave his name to our world, and Rhea, who gave her name to the moon in our sky. They were leaders of two great kingdoms of legend. This is another story, and a long one, the two who shared such bonds and divisions, two halves of the same soul. These two fell into conflict, with Gleomere supporting Sellen and Polnedra supporting Rhea. Sellen marched on Rhea to seize her plantations of mother trees. Squadrons of machines met squadrons of Oomlies in the air to fight for the gas that gave them both motion. For a time they held their own, but the machines were harder to injure than the Oomlies, and began to take a toll on their numbers. Back and back Rhea’s forces were pushed by Sellen’s.

"The machines had one weakness that Rhea counted on to turn the tide. They used up their hydrogen, while the Oomlies only used it for buoyancy. That limited the range of the flying machines. Rhea hoped that her forces could hold them back long enough for them to run out of hydrogen and be forced to turn back or crash. Already many of them were sputtering and drifting, and a few went down.

"But the flying machines broke through to Rhea's plantations of mother trees and dropped down to refill. All seemed lost.

"Then a remarkable thing happened. As the refueled machines took to the air again, they began to have trouble. Their tanks began to leak. Hydrogen began to escape from their bladders. The lucky ones crashed and their crews were captured. Many burst into flames as the gas came in contact with sparks from the controls and weapons on board. Before long the entire fleet was in flaming wreckage across the ground.

"Polnedra had tinkered with the life code of the mother trees in Rhea’s forests. Along with the hydrogen, they mixed a powerful corrosive gas that ate through the metal containers of the air ships. It didn’t affect the Oomlies, who weren’t made of metal. In the days following the defeat of the air fleet, Rhea’s Oomlies streamed out across Sellen’s kingdom, sowing clouds of spores that Persuaded all mother trees to produce the corrosive gas to mix with their hydrogen. Soon, all of Sellen’s machines were rendered useless.

"This was only one skirmish of the great war between Rhea and Sellen, but it was a decisive one. It was an ending of an age. After that destruction, my people chose new leaders and new ways. Machines and made things fell from favor in the next age. And our worlds turn around each other once every forty days, Sellen and Rhea facing each other in the darkness, unable to come together and unable to exist alone. And that’s how our world Sellen-Rhea, Sellenria, came to be known.

Amazon's Best of Science Fiction and Fantasy
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Midwinter Knots

A new short story in the world of Knots. Escher and Emeline have brought a tree into the house to decorate, and Trefoil the cat must investigate, of course. There's something not quite right about this tree - they've brought trouble into the house along with it. It's up to Trefoil to guard the house against the mayhem that ensues. If he doesn't get put outside first.

Free download from StoryOrigin


What reviewers have said:
Knots is a compelling story filled with unexpected characters, plot twists, literal location twists, mystery and redemption.
It's rare to find a story that defies convention/formulae and confidently goes where it needs to go.
Loved the book and the writing style such as the excerpts from the archives that connects back to the story (or maybe even to real world events).
Buy on amazon


It came as a shock to archaeologist Stenn Gremm to find that his ancestor had been a warlock.
What reviewers have said:
This book delighted on so many levels. It's smart, insightful, and wise. The many passages I highlighted are to remind myself how to be a better person.
... this story bolstered my faith that someone can still write decent sci-fi.
This story contains all you expect from SciFi: alien creatures, epic battles, and strange worlds; but even more it's a story about the best in people, whether human or otherwise.
Buy on amazon

What we're reading

River of Stars

Guy Gavriel Kay

After being blown away by Under Heaven, reviewed last month, I had to immediately dive into the second book of the series. This is not quite a sequel; the characters of the first book have passed into legend, forming the backdrop for this tale several hundred years later. The first book told the story of the beginning of the fall of the Tong Dynasty. This one tells the end of the fall of the Sung Dynasty. While the first was more heroic, this one is more elegiac. Ren Daiyan is an outlaw who rises to army general convinced that he can reclaim lost territories from the horsemen tribes to the north. Lin Shan is the best poet of the generation when women don't write poetry, and an archaelogist, and increasingly a favorite of the emporer for her unorthodox views. (Being a favorite at court is not necessarily the safest thing to be.) They each try to save what they can from history's river in lives that often intersect but seldom run together.
Buy on amazon

Otherland: River of Blue Fire

Tad Williams

This is the second book of four in the Otherland series. (Otherland: City of Golden Shadow was reviewed last month.) The story has moved on from the "What the heck is going on?" stage to an almost-entirely virtual world struggle against the masters of the titanic simulation. Eight explorers have penetrated, and then become stranded in, the private worlds of the most powerful people on the planet. That it has purposes more sinister than a debauched playground for the rich has become clear, but the explorers struggle to peel away the layers to find the truth. At times, the progress becomes the procession through Dante's cirles of Hell, as the explorers fight through an entomologist's simulation at 1/1000 scale, a dystopian Oz, H.G. Well's martian invasion, and much more. None of the explorers had ever been before in Real Life, so they must establish a working trust based on their wildly different online identities. Highly recommended if you like a highly immersive and highly bizarre journey.
Buy on amazon

Doomsday Book

Connie Willis

Kirvin Engle is a historian, sent back in time to study the Dark Ages. But something has gone wrong and things are not as predicted. Despite extensive medical prep, Kirvin is immediately stricken with a deadly disease and is fighting for her life in the year 1320 while in the modern world, a strange pandemic takes hold that can't possibly be connected to an event over 700 years in the past. Or can it? Note: despite being written in the early 1990s, this book contains detailed and realistic descriptions of a pandemic in the 2050s that has remarkable and haunting parallels with today.
Buy on amazon

Dragon Pearl

Yoon Ha Lee

A YA adventure in a universe peopled by creatures out of Korean legends: fox spirits, dragons, tigers, and ghosts. Min is a fox spirit who runs away on a space freighter to find her lost brother and clear his name. Her family had blended in by not using their magical powers, but to get into the Space Forces, she has to impersonate someone older. As the lie escalates, more cleverness and more magic are required. She learns that she's a good gi (energy flow) engineer, but can use some practice in trusting the right people.
Buy on amazon

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