Please welcome new guest post from Oliver Sparrow to Moonbeams over Atlanta!
Dark Sun, Bright Moon.
How do you place a reader in a completely new world? Historical fiction tends to work out from a familiar situation – a love story, a war – and bring in the oddities a step at a time. Science fiction generally talks to an audience which is steeped in the tropes of the genre, and builds out from those: the star ship, the post-apocalyptic society. What do you do, though, when virtually nothing is familiar to the reader?
Dark Sun, Bright Moon is set in a time and place about which even anthropologists know very little: a thousand years ago, in the utterly isolated Andes. The first popular landmark, the Incas, is five hundred years in the future. The people who live there have been isolated for ten thousand years, having – so far as we can see from their remains – neither cultural nor commercial contact with anyone beyond their eyrie amongst the crag and deserts of the region.
Isolated societies develop their own views of the universe, of human origins and meaning. Even filtered through five hundred years of slow massacre, religious indoctrination and forcible relocation, the Andean perspective remains a strange one to the rest of us. Individual humans are pinched off from a community pool of existence. They matter little, and return to that pool on death. All that matters – practically, ethically – is the maintenance of harmony within the community. Why this is so is down to the Andean metaphysic.
Our little world is a membrane, a space that is continually re-created, instant by instant, by vastly greater and more potent neighbouring universes. All of this is driven by a titanic unwinding of a domain of utter crystalline perfection into a shapeless zone of utter chaos. One of our neighbouring universes harbours the creative principle, a teeming myriad of potential, inhabited by odd sentiences that have nothing to do with conventional deities. The other is a repository of information, the consequences of all that has been. Is this domain which tasks the creative universe endlessly to remake us. This slow process is what creates time, and prevents the realm of perfection from annihilating itself into the zone of formless chaos. Information streams which lack harmony – coherence – lead to poor reconstruction of the society from which they came. Ill health and worsening social relations follow. Individual disharmony has the potential to destroy any community from which it stems.
Human societies are, then, a potent source of information, and they create streams of it on which sentiences can grow. These are the apus, which – now crowned as Christian saints – still inhabit the peaks and lakes of the Andes. Apus actively manage their communities for harmony. However, they may become greedy and so roboticise their villages, ultimately destroying them. Apus are connected by what the West would call ley lines, and so such parasitism can spread. As the book opens, just such an infestation is spreading.
Well, so much for the plot engine. How does one convey this in approachable text? As is said of the mating of hedgehogs, slowly and with care. As ever, the writer has three things to establish: the mise en scène, the plot engine and a narrative with which to grip the reader. All of that has to be done quickly, then enriched by iteration. We open, therefore, with a sacrifice on a pyramid, located in a desert complex that comprises a modest mountain range of these. A group of elderly people make an arduous pilgrimage in order to have their throats cut at dawn, and are happy for the privilege. The pyramid complex is, however, the home to a major apu which survives through such deaths. It manages a complex priesthood which ensures this flow. In the next chapter, we learn that this ancient apu is also under threat from the parasite. It may be subsumed, or its flow of pilgrim-fodder may be choked off.
The book is in three sections. The first of these tracks the catastrophic consequences of this confrontation, and in parallel brings a broad familiarity with the cosmology. The second introduces the main plot and characters. It follows the ascent of a naïve girl to her pivotal role in the resolution of the parasite’s threat. Those who recruit and use her are, however, overcome the third section, which follows the chaotic events leading to the settlement of Cuzco. The first section is a series of squibs, therefore, but the second and third sections rest on a coherent narrative drive.
The Dark Sun, Bright Moon web site is at http://www.DarkSunBrightMoon.com
Title: Dark Sun, Bright Moon
Author: Oliver Sparrow
Chapter 1: A Small Sacrifice at Pachacamac
A priest knelt before her, a feather from his head-dress tickling her face. His musky odour of old incense and stale blood was rank, even here on the windy summit of the pyramid. Four other priests held her body tipped slightly forwards, and the pressure that this put on her tired old joints hurt far more than the fine, cold bite of the knife at her neck. Quick blood ran thick down her chin and splashed into the waiting bowl. Then the flow weakened, the strength went out of her and she died, content.
Seven elderly pilgrims had set out for Pachacamac, following their familiar river down to the coast and then trudging North through the desert sands. Two of the very oldest of them needed to be carried in litters, but most were able to walk with no more than a stick to help them in the sand. Lesser members of the community had been delegated to carry what was necessary. These would return home. The elderly would not.
The better-regarded families of the town were expected to die as was proper, sacrificed at the Pachacamac shrine for the betterment of the community. Such was to be their last contribution of ayni, of the reciprocity that assured communal harmony and health. It was also their guarantee of a smooth return to the community’s soul, to the deep, impersonal structure from which they had sprung at birth.
The Pachacamac complex appeared to them quite suddenly from amongst the coastal dunes. They paused to marvel at its mountain range of pyramids, its teeming myriad of ancient and holy shrines.
Over the millennia, one particular pyramid had come to process all of the pilgrims who came from their valley. They were duly welcomed, and guards resplendent in bronze and shining leather took them safely to its precinct.
They had been expected. The priests were kind, welcoming them with food and drink, helping the infirm, leading them all by easy stages up to the second-but-last tier in their great, ancient pyramid. The full extent of the meandering ancient shrine unveiled itself like a revelation as they climbed. Then, as whatever had been mixed with their meal took its effect, they were wrapped up snug in blankets and set to doze in the late evening sun, propped together against the warm, rough walls of the mud-brick pyramid. Their dreams were vivid, extraordinary, full of weight and meaning.
The group was woken before dawn, all of them muzzily happy, shriven of all their past cares, benignly numb. Reassuring priests helped them gently up the stairs to the very top tier. In the predawn light, the stepped pyramids of Pachacamac stood sacred and aloof in an ocean of mist.
Each pilgrim approached their death with confidence. A quick little discomfort would take them back to the very heart of the community from which they had been born. They had been separated from it by the act of birth, each sudden individual scattered about like little seed potatoes. Now, ripe and fruitful, they were about to return home, safely gathered back into the community store. It was to be a completion, a circle fully joined. Hundreds of conch horns brayed out across Pachacamac as the dawn sun glittered over the distant mountains. Seven elderly lives drained silently away as the mist below turned pink.
“Dark Sun, Bright Moon describes people isolated in the Andes, without the least notion of outsiders. They evolve an understanding of the universe that is complementary to our own but a great deal wider. The book explores events of a thousand years ago, events which fit with what we know of the region’s history,” says Sparrow.
In the Andes of a thousand years ago, the Huari empire is sick. Its communities are being eaten from within by a plague, a contagion that is not of the body but of something far deeper, a plague that has taken their collective spirit. Rooting out this parasite is a task that is laid upon Q’ilyasisa, a young woman from an obscure little village on the forgotten borders of the Huari empire.
This impossible mission is imposed on her by a vast mind, a sentience that has ambitions to shape all human life. Her response to this entails confrontations on sacrificial pyramids, long journeys through the Amazonian jungle and the establishment of not just one but two new empires. Her legacy shapes future Andean civilization for the next four hundred years, until the arrival of the Spanish.
Dark Sun, Bright Moon takes the reader on a fascinating adventure that includes human sacrifice, communities eaten from within, a vast mind blazing under the mud of Lake Titicaca, and the rise and fall of empires cruel and kind.
About the Author:
Oliver Sparrow was born in the Bahamas, raised in Africa and educated at Oxford to post-doctorate level, as a biologist with a strong line in computer science. He spent the majority of his working life with Shell, the oil company, which took him into the Peruvian jungle for the first time. He was a director at the Royal Institute for International Affairs, Chatham House for five years. He has started numerous companies, one of them in Peru, which mines for gold. This organisation funded a program of photographing the more accessible parts of Peru, and the results can be seen at http://www.all-peru.info. Oliver knows modern Peru very well, and has visited all of the physical sites that are described in his book Dark Sun, Bright Moon.
To learn more, go to http://www.darksunbrightmoon.com/