The Sixth Sense meets Planet of the Apes in a moving science fiction novel set so far in the future, humanity is gone and forgotten in Lawrence M. Schoen's Barsk: The Elephant's Graveyard
A historian who speaks with the dead is ensnared by the past. A child who feels no pain and who should not exist sees the future. Between them are truths that will shake worlds.
In a distant future, no remnants of human beings remain, but their successors thrive throughout the galaxy. These are the offspring of humanity's genius-animals uplifted into walking, talking, sentient beings. The Fant are one such species: anthropomorphic elephants ostracized by other races and long ago exiled to the rainy ghetto world of Barsk. There, they develop medicines upon which all species now depend. The most coveted of these drugs is koph, which allows a small number of users to interact with the recently deceased and learn their secrets. To break the Fant's control of koph, an offworld shadow group attempts to force the Fant to surrender their knowledge.
Jorl, a Fant Speaker with the dead, is compelled to question his deceased best friend, who years ago mysteriously committed suicide. In so doing, Jorl unearths a secret the powers that be would prefer to keep buried forever. Meanwhile, his dead friend's son, a physically challenged young Fant named Pizlo, is driven by disturbing visions to take his first unsteady steps toward an uncertain future.
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Wonderful on so many levels.
Although I will say that as a sci-fi book, which bits that take place in space, there's little to no tech discussed at all. You could call it sci-fantasy, but aside from precognitives, telepaths, and the idea that you can summon the dead by way of calling on their memories, there's nothing Fantastical about it either. The book feels more like a mystery and a political thriller, and the closest thing I can think of to it would be "The End of All Things" by Scalzi.
The voice-actor's best is perhaps with Senator Bish, getting the tone of voice right. Or perhaps Magda's. Both were complex, tonally.
The characters are lovely, most of them unpleasant, but still lovely. By the end I adored one of the characters, and hope to more of him with the author's writing. The prose is a welcoming, slow tide that sweeps you along on a pleasant river. The setting is enjoyable, although we only get one deep look at the rich culture of Barsk, at the race of fonts, despite the galaxy being filled with so many races. That's alright, as the plot is so heavily tied in with fonts, their culture, history and the resource on their planet. The fact every race seems to be prejudiced against the font strained my suspension of disbelief, but it comes up in the end that there's a real and legitimate reason for this that satisfied me.
Honestly I can't find anything negative to say about this book, beyond that I don't have more of it already.
A MUST-HAVE audiobook!
I love listening to Audio Books on my daily commute, and frequently re-listen to favorites. I have read the BOOK version, and was chomping at the bit for BARSK to come out as an audiobook!
The main character Jorl is my favorite, but Pizlo is growing on me.
J. G. Hertzler's voice is a joy to listen to, and his vocal interpretations of how some of the characters sound is AMAZING! He has brought this book to life, and given me a new appreciation of this tale.
Jorl's conversation with his late father is particularly moving.
At the heart of the very best Science Fiction lies social commentary. In Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard, Lawrence M. Schoen crafts a far-future post-human civilization which examines many of prejudices that exist in our world today. Difficult topics such as suicide, genocide, the afterlife, social taboos and prejudices, both social and physical, have been woven into this tale of 'raised mammals' fighting to possess koph, a drug which allows users to speak to the dead. The problem is that koph is native to the planet Barsk, where the Fant, a race of despised, evolved-elephants have been exiled because they are so 'different'. Yet even this ostracized race has internal prejudices that further divide them. This is truly a though-provoking read, filled with twists and an ending which caught me off guard. I sincerely hope Lawrence Shoen is hard at work on a sequel because I want to find out what happens next! If this isn't worthy of a HUGO award, nothing is!
- Michael James Oetting