In the distant future, humans have left their home world long ago and created a magnificent civilisation among the stars. But even interstellar realms risk stagnation, decline and fall. Trade routes are becoming less frequented, ships are being repaired far beyond their expected lifespan, and few new ones are being built. The worlds become isolated and begin to view each other as enemies. A handful of dissidents search for the forgotten traces that can lead to the origin, history and rebirth of the empire.
Robert Toth is an illustrator, classical archaeologist and writer. He was born in Sweden and later settled in Cyprus. Gradalis is his first novel.
Science fiction novel, 286 pages, English language version.
Aprox. 16 / 12 $
I like this type of sci-fi. Big universe with some Foundation vibes, and also a bit subtle almost with a hint of the “Guide” in between. Looking forward to a sequel.
This is an exciting science fiction novel with a philosophical touch set in an exotic Byzantine universe. Now I’m waiting for the sequel.
Read part of the first chapter
Ramses tried to look unconcerned, but was annoyed by the lackeys’ flickering, evasive glances. They sneaked around the table, spider-like in their black suits. Nimble fingers balanced silver plates, cutlery, off-white porcelain and beautifully tinkling crystal glass. Occasionally they touched his arm, the touch seeming almost electric. He didn’t like it when they got too close, but he didn’t move a muscle, staring straight ahead.
The three men had served Rameses on several occasions; unfortunately, he did not know their names, let alone their habits or customs. Despite their very tangible physical presence, they seemed infinitely distant, a world of conventions and rules separating them. In his eyes, the waiters were mere shadows, simulacra, forever shackled to this table, and probably they were disregarding him in the same way. The seams of the tailored suits creaked as the men bowed after their work was done. Then they left, to court someone else.
Ramses peered out the window as he sipped his bitter drink. The tavern where he was finishing his meal was next to an ancient city park surrounded by mighty elms. The crowns glowed like lighthouses with their golden, autumn frosty leaves. An ancient statue, a bronze king, loomed between the trees. The colossus had fallen from its high stone foundation and bore the marks of savage beating. The blows had partially worn away the moss-green patina, exposing a fresh shiny metal core that sparkled intensely in the evening light. Magma surged from the ruler’s belly.
The sun was setting beyond the horizon, split by the city’s sharp saw-toothed silhouette. Darkness was descending. Many a philosopher argued that this was the original state of the universe, all suns destined sooner or later to extinguish and die, until there were none left. The laws of nature strove for equilibrium, an equilibrium that had been broken at some point in the beginning of time. The appearance of life was but a parenthesis, a temporary interruption of eternity, night would soon triumph again. Light was the result of a faulty equation, a mistake, a trembling flare that flared up quickly only to vanish just as quickly, leaving only a dazzling aberration on the retina.
The realisation of the fragility of the universe filled a few believers with a mixture of fearful curiosity and a desire to break free from the predetermined. They fully realised that their time among the living was short and that the world was as fleeting as it was infinite. A wondrous power of action could at best emanate from this tension between spirit and matter. The force could take different forms, according to the mind of the practitioner, a struggle against time, against the laws of nature, darkness, stupidity or injustice.
Too few realised that the endless contradictions of existence were at the very core of our being. The fire burned less and less in the hearts of men; we condemned ourselves to an existence of boredom and, at best, complacency. We praised with mixed feelings those few people who managed to keep the glow going and were able to light up the darkness; they gave us art, architecture, science and other marvellous things, invaluable to us, whose souls had prematurely gone out or had never been lit.
On this gloomy autumn evening, Ramses was abruptly reminded of our inner wretchedness and its thousand-faceted expressions. He was pitted against the wall, despite his education and insights, and he did not know which side to take or what weapons to wield.
The stream of people, who all day tirelessly passed through the park, slowly began to thin out. Soon the elms were alone with the macabre corpse of a king at their roots.
Ramses stared out the window without focusing his eyes, his thoughts elsewhere. Then someone stepped into his world, a shadow detached itself from the trunks of the trees; a pale woman’s face spotted him from the other side of the glass. Cold autumn winds tore at the wraith’s dark hair. She hesitated, but finally entered the restaurant. Perhaps she had been standing there all along, watching him, following his thoughts.
Many people had come to the pub to escape the boredom of autumn. There were no vacant tables, the saloon was full; the air was saturated with tobacco smoke and the screams of drunken men. Ramses caught her eye and nodded towards the empty chair in front of him. A scent of rain and dampness hit him as he returned the newcomer’s icy handshake.
She said her name was Iria and wanted something strong to drink. Her skin was pale, white as marble, almost translucent. She wore a worn, black leather jacket and dark trousers. On her feet she wore heavy boots. The monotonous clothes and the bold look revealed a person who was always on the move, who did not stay long in one place.
“What attracts you to Tychia? Is it your first visit?” were his polite and predictable questions, designed to start a conversation.
She remained silent.
“Are you here on business?”
“I’m meeting a friend.”
She swept her entire glass with a habitual hand movement. For a moment Rameses thought Iria was going to throw the empty goblet into the crackling fireplace next door, but she stopped herself, or he imagined the whole thing. Behind the cool facade lurked intangible thoughts he might never share. His eyes were unstoppable, living their own life, staring unfettered, following her every move, registering the slightest change in her face. The stranger’s hands were graceful, his fingers long and unadorned. How would they look if they were adorned with rings of platinum or gold? He pictured her in a crimson velvet dress, with her hair up, and a sparkling link around her white neck. In his mind, a princess loomed. She was beautiful, but seemed cold and perplexed, like a wanderer who has seen too much, experienced too much, lived too long. He waved the images away and continued the conversation with faltering questions, like an inexperienced youth:
“Are you from the colonies?”
“No, I’m from the City.”
“I’m a navigator, my ship is my home,” she replied briefly, glancing out the window. There was no doubt where she was directing her attention. The king of days gone by stared at them with dead eyes, wind howling through the hollow flared metal body.
“Why do you think the monument has been toppled?” asked Iria suddenly, meeting Rameses’ gaze.
“I don’t know. I’m a stranger here too? None of my business.
“Is it beneath you?”
Her tone was unexpected, provocative, but he continued the conversation, now on her terms.
“The deed is not directed against the old king, he is long forgotten. No one remembers his deeds, no one remembers his era.”
“So it is something else the vandals want to say.”
“There are people who want to erase the past, they are afraid of history. The voices of the past frighten them.”
“Our world is still rich in memories, we must be careful about our heritage.”
“The offenders belong to society’s outcasts, they have no jobs, no responsibilities. They have no knowledge, no cultural education. They do not understand, do not realise the consequences of their actions.”
“Then we must enlighten them, her voice grew harsher; do you think they’ll settle for a statue? No, they will smash everything. What happens when they go after the libraries, the museums, and the temples? The work of our ancestors will be forgotten, turned into mute shards in the earth, and without our memories, tales, myths, laws, and teachings, our souls will be as naked as those of animals.
“What can we do? We live in a fallen world.”
“Either we rise, or we die with it.”