Paul Park has written an extraordinary, challenging, and disturbing novel about a human colony on a distant alien world, the planet Celestis. The native humanoid population is subjugated by the human colonists, but many of the Aboriginals undergo medical procedures involving surgery and drugs to make them look and think more like humans. As support from home wanes, the "improved" Aboriginals launch a rebellion against the colonists. Simon, a political functionary from Earth, and Katharine, the altered daughter of a successful native merchant, are taken hostage by the rebels. Simon falls in love with Katharine, but, cut off from a supply of the medication she needs to maintain her humanlike state, her suppressed alien nature begins to reemerge. As she discovers her true self, hidden vistas of expanded alien perception are revealed in a stunning exploration of the limits of humanity.
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|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
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About the Author
Paul Park is the author of Celestis.
PAUL PARK is the author of A Princess of Roumania, and numerous other novels. He published his first novel in the 1980s and swiftly attracted notice as one of the finest authors on the "humanist" wing of American SF. His powerful, densely written narratives of religious and existential crisis on worlds at once exotic and familiar won him comparisons with Gene Wolfe and Brian Aldiss at their best. He lives in North Adams, Massachusetts.
Read an Excerpt
By Paul Park
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 1995 Paul Park
All rights reserved.
1aImages from Home
She had been a guest of the family for a few days while she recuperated from a last round of treatments. She was fine. But in bed she was supposed to cover her mouth and throat with saturated gauze.
She had laid out the score for the sonata on the quilt. She sat cross-legged above it, trying to see some pattern in the clumps of notes, perhaps the hint of a landscape or a face. Something to help her; in her lap she had some postcards from England. Lake Windermere, Durham Cathedral, Trafalgar Square. Also a program — an actual program and not a photostat — from a John Bock performance of the Emperor Concerto at the Royal Albert Hall. A long time ago now; who could say how long? The date on it had no meaning. But surely Bock had died and gone to heaven.
Cries and laughter rose up from below the windows of her room. They were playing an early game of croquet on the lawn. She sat rocking slightly on the quilt. She closed her eyes and raised the program to her lips, inhaling the faint fragrance of the world.
Another photograph lay on the sheet. She put the program down and stretched out her hand. She turned it over. It was a portrait of herself, taken a few years before. She was in makeup for a play at Ursuline, where she had gone to school.
She propped the photograph against a pillow. And then she began to strip away the gauze from her cheek, testing with a troubled hand the softness of her skin over her artificial jaw.
"Well, in any case you'll have nice weather," said the consul from where he stood by the window. His tone seemed to suggest that it might rain.
Certain aphasics, unable to understand what is said to them, nevertheless can carry on whole conversations based on other clues. Simon, after eighteen months of practice, had developed part of the same sensitivity to gesture and to voice. Seated at his desk, fingering the red, white, and blue striped necktie he was already starting to regret, he thought about the little things.
The consul smiled. "I envy you," he said. "It sounds like a fun party." But the small waggle of his fingers seemed to indicate a different sentiment.
"Then why not take my place? Sir, the invitation is in your name. It's you they wanted all along — I barely know them."
The Fourth of July was a state holiday. The staff of the consulate had all stayed home. Simon's office had not been vacuumed since Friday; by Monday, a chalklike dust had covered all the surfaces. Now, on Tuesday, the consul's shoes brought up ridges of white dust as he walked across the carpet. "I'd love to," he said. "I'd really love to." Then he frowned. "But I have work to do." With his right toe he chafed the side of his left heel, leaving a small mark.
"Please, sir, I scarcely know them. If you'd really like to go, I think I can hold on here." Simon put his hand proprietarily on top of a stack of folders on his desk: purple, red, and orange, a spectrum of descending urgency.
The consul's face assumed a pained expression, as if it hurt him to be taken literally. Standing beside the desk, he reached his hand out for the orange folder. "No, no, my boy," he said. "You go. Please. Enjoy yourself. There'll be some ... important people there."
Already distracted, he let his voice die away as he perused the first item in the folder. It was an oil lease that Simon was preparing for Extz (9) Petrolion, highly complex, but also highly futile. No one had heard from the company for more than two years.
As he read, the consul moved his lips. Simon turned his face away. "It's just that information on the offshore pipe," he said.
He watched the dust-cloth curtains stirring gently in the open window. The venetian blind threw strips of darkness back into the room, which faded as a cloud passed over the sun.
The ceiling fan above his head raised the corners of the papers on his desk. Simon got to his feet and walked over to the window. He peered through the slats of the blind down into the white street. Behind him, the consul had curled into an armchair with the folder in his hand, mouthing the words of the dead lease.
"I'd just as rather be excused," admitted Simon finally. "I don't get on with them at all, to tell the truth. They'll be at their worst on a day like this. They'll be dead drunk by three o'clock, and I'll be stuck between some fat engineer and some red-faced widow who'll be telling me how hard it is to find a proper cook."
"I see you checked the guest list," murmured the consul without looking up. "I know just whom you mean."
"I didn't have to. I was there last year. I don't have to go again; they dislike me already. They're racist, for a start. And then I had to go and admit that I didn't know their song, their 'Star-Spangled Banner' song. I'd never heard the tune."
"That's what we call 'expatriotism,'" said the consul, marking his place momentarily with his forefinger. "You must admit it must have irritated them to meet someone who had actually been to North America. It must have worried them. None of them has."
"I don't blame them. I was stupid to have brought it up. I just don't want to see them again."
A small wind rattled the slats of the venetian blind. Simon found the cord and pulled it sharply; the blind clattered upward and vanished into a slot at the top of the window frame. He pushed his hand out through the layers of white gauze until he touched the open air, and then he moved his arm to one side, clearing a two-foot gap. Unimpeded, the light beat down upon his cheeks and face, and thrust its way into the room. Behind him a stray paper left his desk and kited down onto the floor.
"Nevertheless," came the soft voice of the consul, "it is likely to be cooler in the hills."
The consulate stood in a neighborhood of flat-roofed whitewashed houses not far from the port. Simon studied the expanse of rooftops, then looked down into the street. A man had come to the doorway of the house opposite, a stooped, attenuated form swathed in white robes. Hesitating, looking both ways, he stepped into the dust, dragging a small sledge down the ramp. Simon watched him labor up the street, his back bent, his head wrapped in strips of cloth.
"It's the way they treat them, that's what I can't stand," he said after a pause. "They work them to death in their mines and their damned fields, and all they talk about is how lazy they are, and how stupid, and how much they drink. I just can't stand it after a while."
He let go of the curtain and turned back into the room. "You exaggerate," replied the consul, raising his eyebrows without looking up from the folder. "Besides, there'll be some natives there. I think I read about it."
"Only their special pets. You'll see."
The consul had come to the end of the lease. He raised his head and studied Simon for a while without speaking. Then he shrugged. "Where is the invitation?" he asked. "Do I have it?"
"It's in there."
It was the fourth piece of paper in the folder. The consul held it up. "You're wrong," he said. "Junius Styreme will be attending, and his daughter. Weren't you telling me about her? She'll be performing a musical interlude — Beethoven's Piano Sonata no. 31, Opus 110. It seems a strange choice of music for a barbecue."
He lowered the invitation and looked at Simon over the top of it. "I've heard her play," he said. "She is not brilliant, except when you consider what she is. The amazing part is that she plays at all. Still, with all-new knucklebones ..." He paused.
"It's the only reason I might go," conceded Simon, and the consul smiled.
He was a small, thin, arch, unmarried man. Expressions flitted quickly over his thin face: smiles without gladness, frowns without anger. "Don't think of it as a favor to me," he said, shifting in his chair. "Still less as a favor to yourself. You understand — nine-tenths of what we do here is for show. Especially now. The people in that sector are scared stiff. If sometimes they seem a bit intolerant, well, that's probably the reason."
"You mean the attack on Gundabook."
"Of course. Over the past few years twenty percent of the landowners in that area have sold their holdings and moved east. Jonathan Goldstone made a packet by buying up all that land for next to nothing, but that's not why he's doing it. He's doing it to demonstrate he's not afraid. That kind of courage deserves our support, regardless of what you or I might think of him personally. Or, I suppose, politically."
Simon listened for a while to the hum of the fan. "I suppose you're right," he sighed.
"Yes, and is it that much to ask, really, for one of us to drive up in the Rolls with the flags flying, and eat some fried chicken, and listen to a bit of Beethoven? It might give people the illusion of security. It's all we're really good for now that communications are so poor. This," he gestured toward the folder in his lap, "this is all nonsense."
It was impossible to tell, either from his tone or from the motion of his hand, if he was serious or not. Simon said, "If that's true, sir, wouldn't you want to take care of it yourself? I mean, if it's so important." But then he had to smile when his employer burst out laughing — a strange quick pantomime of mirth.
The consul's next face was a sadder one. Abstracted, furrow-browed, he sat staring at the medallion in the carpet, not looking up as Simon walked past him to sit down again behind his desk.
Many of the older colonists were drunks, and Simon often found himself sniffing the air around them as they spoke, as he tried to follow the false starts of their conversation. He suspected in his employer, however, a subtler, more private vice, a medication that didn't hinder precise speech or clear thinking, but attacked instead the will to move. Ever since Saturday, when the relay station had forwarded the video chip from New Manchester, the consul had not changed his clothes. He had slept on the couch in his office and eaten his meals at his desk. Yet during that time he had done no work, taken no calls. He had spent his time pacing the floor, or reading novels, or staring out the window. Calm moods succeeded anxious ones. In his office with the door closed, he had played the chip over and over.
"The car will be here at eleven," he said. He got to his feet. Standing in the middle of the carpet, he leafed through the orange folder to the end before replacing it on the desk. "There's one more thing," he said, touching the snowstorm paperweight on Simon's blotter. "You will be careful, won't you? I've given you a local driver, one who knows that area. He went to school up there. He's going to pass through Gundabook on the way, but don't get out. Don't stop. It's just to show the flag."
He was standing in front of Simon's desk, fiddling with the paperweight, flipping it idly in his hand. There was a dark stain upon the shoulder of his gray suit. Simon studied it. "What do you mean?" he asked. "What's the danger?"
The consul shrugged. The stain moved up a few inches and then subsided. "This is between us," he said. "Though some of it you know. Gundabook was burned by a group called the NLC, the National Liberation Coalition. But did you ever stop to think what coalition means?"
"No. Neither did I. But I received some information from the mayor's office. Someone claims to have seen demon tribesmen among the terrorists. Witnesses. What would you say to that?"
He held up the paperweight, so that snow fell softly over the Houses of Parliament. "What would you say?" he asked.
"I'd say I'd heard rumors. Then I'd say they'd been extinct for twenty years."
"Yes. Well, there is that." The consul smiled, then frowned. "And yet there's evidence. Photographic evidence." He paused. "You won't mention this at Goldstone, will you?"
"Of course not."
"You won't mention any of this. We've been abandoned — you understand that."
He spoke with uncharacteristic intensity, accompanied by a rare moment of eye contact. "You weren't born here. But I've seen things more trivial than this, and they had air force cruisers over Shreveport within six months standard time. Demons in the Territory — I told them about it. I described it."
He held up the paperweight. "Tell me," he said after a pause. "Does it ever really snow like this in London?"
Simon shook his head. "Not much."
The consul returned the paperweight to the desk, placing it on a corner of the blotter with exaggerated care. "You know what I'm talking about," he said.
"Sir, not entirely. I —" Distressed, Simon interrupted himself. The consul's face had closed momentarily into a pinched, aggrieved expression. In all the months that he had worked there, Simon had never seen it.
"There are five million Aboriginals under our jurisdiction here," said the consul. "Seventeen thousand of us. Morale is quite important."
"I see that."
"Anything that we could do, it would be helpful."
"I'm telling you so that you can see the urgency. So that you can act appropriately to reassure the people you meet this afternoon. Besides that, it's in confidence."
"You heard rumors. Perhaps I may have dropped a few hints myself."
The consul fished in the baggy left-hand pocket of his suit and brought out a sealed envelope. "Take this to Jonathan Goldstone. Give it to him the moment you arrive. Don't tell him it's from me. Tell him we received it here."
He laid the envelope on the blotter. Then he took from the same pocket a piece of paper creased into quarters, crumpled and bent. Again, with exaggerated care, he laid it next to the envelope in front of Simon.
"It's Gundabook," he said. "Reverend Jamieson was taking pictures of a little league game directly before the attack. This was the last in the roll."
Simon unfolded the stiff paper and spread it out. He ran his fingernail along the row of hooded figures. They were facing toward the camera. Some had automatic weapons. Some had raised their fists.
"It's posed," he said.
"Of course. The camera was found abandoned at the scene."
In the photograph the Gundabook Youth Center was already on fire. Black smoke hid most of the facade. The terrorists had pulled out some of the bodies of their victims and arranged them on the lawn. Seven hooded Aboriginals stood in a row above and behind them, along the base of a pile of furniture which had been dragged out from the building. Two wore sweatshirts from the University of Shreveport.
"That one is Harriet Oimu," said the consul, indicating the central figure in the line. "All the others are still unidentified."
"What about the man?"
A human being stood apart on the top step. He was hooded like the others. He held the end of what might have been a chain in his right hand.
"Judas Iscariot," said the consul, his eyes glittering with abrupt moisture. "He has a cross on his lapel."
Even among the grains of the enlargement it was visible, pinned over the man's heart. The chain was less easy to make out. Perhaps the man had moved his hand. Or perhaps there was just a blemish in the print, and the mind required a clue to explain his connection to the demons. The adversaries. Seven feet tall at least, they rose from behind a debris of broken chairs. There were two of them, and one stood in front, showing its long, powerful naked legs. Its eloquent arms, its graceful hands were held out in a supplicating gesture.
Simon had studied the language at the Institute for Foreign Cultures at the Warburg. But he didn't recognize this paradigm.
"What does it say?" asked the consul.
"I don't know."
The consul sniffed. "I felt sure you'd tell me something. The governor said no one is supposed to see this. But I told him you had a right to know. Because you're going into danger. You have the right to be prepared."
"I don't recognize the shape. It's difficult in just a photograph."
The demon's face appeared in profile — earless, mouth-less, sharp, unnatural. Its hairless and misshapen head was packed with alien brains. Just to see it, even in a picture, brought Simon a feeling of excitement, of inadequacy.
Of course the Aboriginals in the picture were alien too. But it was a long time since he had thought of them that way. The ones he knew, servants, and the prosperous folk he saw at parties and receptions, had been assimilated too completely. They were beaten down. Tamed. But this was the real thing, what he was looking for, perhaps, when he came out from Earth.
"Homo Celestis," he said.
Excerpted from Celestis by Paul Park. Copyright © 1995 Paul Park. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Amazing! This story is great! Continue really soon! Oh, the suspence, Yikes! <br> <p> ~Dawn&star
:D I likez it!
Waits for Jetstar
"Now Outpaw, what's the number one rule in a fight, do you know?" She asks with a twinkle in her eye.
Lolz. I roleplay Spiritsnow :3 lolz what evs)) "Okay..." she meowed. (LOL! FOR THE HEADING MY BRAIN WANTED ME TO PUT WOLFWISP XD))