Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard, by Lawrence M. Schoen

Silly subtitle aside, this is a wonderfully original piece of fantasy-like science fiction. One of my favorite experiences in reading is to be dumped unceremoniously into a world that looks very little like our own and then to piece out a comprehensive understanding of that world's society, culture, and history. Schoen does a fantastic job of dropping us into his world and then slowly unraveling bits of it until we become immersed in it ourselves, unaware that something we knew nothing of fifty pages ago now seems familiar. The expressive qualities of elephant ears and trunks become just another descriptor of mood. All the characters are anthropomorphized mammals, and a very select few of these beings are able to ingest a drug that lets them call upon the personalities/souls/ghosts of the dead and converse with them. This is a world of prophecy and telepathy, but also one of science and politics.

My only complaint with the writing is that some plot twists are a mite predictable, and there's a bit too much telling rather than showing. It's very difficult to explain a vast and complicated social system, or history, or religion, and the best writers are able to do so without seeming like they are doing so. Schoen doesn't quite manage this, making some sections a bit on the pedantic side. Otherwise, it's a fantastic story, a fully realized world that is a pleasure to delve into. I look forward to more inventive work by this author.


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