A heretic priest launches an expedition into the unexplored regions of the frontier forest world of Evergreen, in search of the fabled City of God. A young man seeks his mother's killer amidst a rough and tumble camp of off-world lumberjacks. A woman is torn between love for her husband and lust for her stepson. A guilt-wracked man finds himself recruited by a colonial rebellion despite his desire to withdraw into narcotic dreams. An exobiologist studies primate-like creatures she believes have the capability to evolve into the first extraterrestrial sentient species. All the while the vegetal consciousness that is Evergreen contemplates the human colony, which it sees as a fungal incursion.
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As their personal conflicts unfold, and secrets are revealed, the expedition discovers the ruins of an ancient village, and evidence that a Neanderthal-like intelligence once existed on this world. The mystery of what happened to that species is revealed when Evergreen=s root crown awareness determines to wipe out the encroaching humans. A battle between man and planetary ecosystem ensues, with highly motile, prehensile vines the primary force of Evergreen=s will.
Evergreen is a science fiction adventure, told from varied viewpoints and rich in supporting characters. It will take you on quests for revenge and redemption, and a journey through the vividly detailed milieu of boisterous timber jockeys, magnificent unmapped vistas, uncouth frontier towns, into the heart of an awareness so alien it defies common notions of Aintelligent life..
“Dr. Nikira needs rest. Can’t this wait, Vincent?”
“No, it can’t. You’ll see, Jimi. This is mega. It’s hugando.”
Nikira and Jimiyu made their way into the abbey’s study, and Vincent shut the door behind them.
“Sit down, Doctor,” Jimiyu insisted, gesturing toward a comfortable chair. Nikira didn’t argue. He dropped into the chair as Vincent retrieved a case he’d placed on the table.
“All right, Vincent, what is it that’s provoked you so?”
“This,” he said, opening the case. “This is it.” He pulled out a rather unsightly chunk of wood about the size of a man’s hand, three or four inches thick. One side was fairly flat, but the other appeared to be an uneven tangle of shorn roots, covered with a thin veneer of an amber-colored resin.
Nikira took it from him. “What is it, exactly?”
“It’s an ancient artifact. It was just chance that I heard about it,” said Vincent, the words rushing out of his mouth. “I scanned it last week, then bought it. I got some experts to analyze, ruminize, and speculize--you know, run some tests. Look at it, Doctor. Look at it.”
Indeed, Nikira examined the object intently. Jimiyu saw the spark of interest in his eyes fan to flames the moment he saw what was carved into the flat side of the wood. It looked to Jimiyu like a rendering of tree--one whose limbs were alive with movement. He wasn’t sure why, but it seemed familiar.
“It looks like . . .” Nikira hesitated, staring at the carving, almost as if he didn’t believe what he was about to say, “it looks like the Tree of Life.”
“I knew it!” exclaimed Vincent. “I knew it. I remembered it from your book--the picture in your book.”
“Yes, yes,” Nikira replied, still preoccupied with studying the artifact, “that illustration was part of a pictographic representation discovered among the relics of Sumeria.”
“It’s very interesting,” Jimiyu interposed, “but Dr. Nikira needs to get something to eat now, and then--”
“Where was this found?” asked Nikira, ignoring Jimiyu’s concern.
“That’s the best part,” Vincent gushed, a convulsive smile entrenched on his face. “It was found off-world. It came from another world, Doctor--another world.”
Vincent could hardly contain himself waiting for Nikira’s reaction.
Jimiyu was slow to realize the significance. His attention was directed at his friend.
The gaze which Nikira focused on Vincent Boorman would have been frightful to Jimiyu if he hadn’t noticed the creases in the exhausted man’s face pulling taut, and the fatigue in his eyes evolving into wonder--a metamorphosis in mere seconds.
“And scan this,” Vincent continued unabated, “they measured its isotopes or something. What did they call it? I don’t tally that stuff--mass spectrometry or whatever. They say it’s more than 45,000 years old. Zapper huh?”
Nikira stood, still holding the artifact. Vincent beamed from ear to ear. “I don’t understand,” Jimiyu said. “What does it mean?”
Nikira seemed as if he were still in a state of rapture, so Vincent replied, “Don’t you tally this, Jimi? It could mean that Dr. Nikira’s hypothesis is true.”
“Cidade de Deus,” Nikira mumbled as if to himself. Then, focusing on Vincent, he said, “I must go there, see for myself.”
“Already cycling, Doctor. I knew you’d want to go, to find more evidence, so I’ve got my people setting it up. Even with all the credit I’ve got to spread around, it’ll take some time to secure space on the next outbound ship and arrange everything.”
“You would finance such an expedition?” Nikira asked, making no attempt to conceal the hopefulness in his voice.
“In for an artifact, in for a little anarchy and adventure,” Vincent quipped. “Besides, what better output for the billions my father left me?”
It was all moving too fast for Jimiyu. What were they talking about? Leaving Earth? Mounting an expedition to another world?
Nikira ran his hand across his balding head and stared up at the ornate crucifix mounted on the wall. “God has shamed me,” he said. “Rewarding me even as my faith began to lapse. Though I’m no longer worthy, he beckons me.”
Nikira turned and Jimiyu saw a different man standing there. Different and yet the same—standing taller, more like the astute, confident man he had known so many years ago.
Nikira looked again at the artifact, cupping it in his hands as if it were as fragile as crystal, and not something that had survived millennia. “On what planet was this found?” he asked.
“One of those colonial worlds halfway across the galaxy,” Vincent responded. “They call it Evergreen.”
* * * * *
“I’ve seen you around, Doc,” Ramos said, “but I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in here.” “Please, just call me Amanda. No, you’re right. This is my first time, though I’ve heard about the place.”
“Surprised that didn’t keep you away,” he said with a chuckle.
“Oh, I figured I’d see what it was all about. Even the most monastic recluse needs a little human interaction once in a while.”
“Is that what you are? A monk?” It was the one introduced as “Gash.”
“Actually, I’m an exobiologist. I just live like a monk.” Amanda smiled, but Gash didn’t react. “I’m camped north of Vaughn’s Valley. I’ve been studying a community of ursu--squats you call them.”
“Really?” Ramos seemed surprised. “Just you, by yourself, living with the squats? Sounds dangerous.”
“They’re not dangerous, I assure you.”
“It’s pretty far from civilization though. You like living out there?”
“There are times I prefer the simplicity of nature to the complexities of human society. Civilization’s not always what it pretends to be.”
“Not much civilization around here anyway,” spoke up Cayenne. “Woodville’s about as raw as a town comes.”
“To Woodville,” Ramos said, lifting his mug, “and its lack of civilization.”
Amanda joined them as they touched mugs in a toast.
Ramos wiped his lips with the back of his hand. “Well, I hope some of the shenanigans of our uncivilized men haven’t shocked you, Doc--I mean, Amanda. They can be a pretty raunchy bunch when it comes time to cut loose. You have to understand their situation--how hard they work.”
Amanda waved off his disclaimer. “It doesn’t bother me. Men aren’t all that complicated. Not anymore than your garden-variety houseplant.” She noticed Cayenne laughed at this. “They drink as much as their stems will hold, and then point themselves in whatever direction the sunshine is warmest.” Even Gash smiled.
“So too are the tree spirits like men,” Ford stated in a quasi-mystical tone. “The tree spirits eat and drink. They dance and sing the songs of the forest primeval. Listen. Can you hear them?” Ford cocked his head as if listening. “The tree spirits think, they hunt, they kill. At least I think they do,” he said, his tone changing from earnest to frivolous. “I think they think. At least I used to think so. They sure as hell drink, but do they actually dance? There’s a thought worth thinking about.”
Ramos tapped his finger against his head twice as if to let Amanda know he doubted Ford’s lucidity.
* * * * *
“She’s heard enough of your tall tales, Ford,” Ramos said. “So, uh, Amanda, how long have you been on Evergreen?”
“Only about four months,” Amanda replied. “What about you?”
“I’m one of the old-timers. Not like Ford of course. He was born here. But I’ve been here eight years. I came to work here when they were just starting the logging operation. I was one of the first timber jocks—got sawdust in my blood now. Of course that’s not what I set out to do. I mean I didn’t leave Earth just to become a TJ.”
“Why did you leave Earth?”
Amanda saw Ramos going back in his mind, reminiscing.
“I was young, dumb, full of fanciful ideas about outer space. I dreamed of adventures that would take me to alien cities, and into the arms of seductive green-skinned women. So I quit punching cattle and took the first outbound ship I could find. Of course the joke was on me, because there aren’t any alien cities, and all the women I’ve found are the same color as they are on Earth. Who would have thought that in all the galaxy we wouldn’t find a single intelligent creature?”
“Just because they haven’t found none yet, doesn’t mean there ain’t any intelligent aliens anywhere,” Cayenne said as if she still had hopes of such a discovery. “Look at what they found on Mars.”
“It was an intriguing find all right,” said Amanda. “From what I hear, the jury’s still out on whether the builders of those hives were intelligent or just instinctual.” Gash returned to his seat and picked up his drink. He’d overheard enough of their conversation to comment.
“Speaking on behalf of the one known intelligent species in the cosmos,” he said, raising his mug in mock toast, “I say here’s to something better.”
He followed through with another drink of his beer. Amanda wasn’t sure how to respond, so she continued with her previous thought. “Cayenne’s right though. Man has only discovered a dozen or so inhabitable planets. It’s still possible we may encounter an intelligence somewhere, sometime.”
“I don’t know,” said Ramos, sitting back in his chair. “Got my doubts about that.”
“Well, take the ursu for instance. They show signs of intelligence.”
“The what? Oh, you mean the squats?”
“Yes. They use crude tools, they have a loose tribal system, they build shelters--”
“Birds and beavers build shelters too,” Gash countered, “some pretty fancy. That doesn’t make them intelligent.”
“Actually, the nests of the ursu are quite similar in some ways to the lodges beavers build. As for intelligence, there are many ways it can be defined, many factors to consider. Just as there were many factors which resulted in man’s own ascent into intellectual awareness. Standing upright and walking on two legs was actually the first evolutionary step between ape and Homo sapiens. The ursu are in that transition stage--sometimes walking on two legs, sometimes on all fours. In ten thousand years or even a thousand, who knows how they will evolve.”
“By which time no one will care,” Gash muttered.
* * * * *
“Down here!” It was Max. “I’ve found something down here!”
The four of them scuttled through the darkness, past a couple of twists and turns, before they found him. He held his light up high, as if to get a better look at something. What it was, Filamena saw, was another painting on the cave wall. She was no expert, but this one seemed more elaborate, more detailed than the other. Many of the outlined figures had been filled in, though still with little detail, and there were various shades of the red coloring. Even the proportions were more accurate.
“Incredible,” said Amanda.
Luis just stared, but Filamena knew by his reaction he agreed with Amanda’s assessment. Filamena, too, found the scene depicted across the cave wall startling. She didn’t need anyone to interpret it for her. The dramatic imagery made it obvious what was happening. In its center was a group of the hairy creatures. They brandished clubs and threw stones. One of the clubs they held appeared to be on fire. All around them, surrounding them, were trees--trees with long branches snaking out, moving towards the creatures. One tree limb was shown grabbing hold of one of the creatures. Within the leaves and boughs were depictions of angry eyes that made it seem as if the trees themselves were alive.
Her first thought was that it must be a fantasy--a nightmare some creature had paid homage to on a cave wall. It must have been a terrible dream she thought. It certainly couldn’t have been real. Because what it showed was Amanda’s ursu fighting against the forest itself.
If a World Could Speak
“The creation and exploration of alien worlds is at the core of science fiction, and Bruce Golden's new novel EVERGREEN shines proudly at the core of that core!
If you can imagine Ursula Le Guin channeling H. Rider Haggard, you'll have the barest conception of this stirring book, which centers around a mysterious artifact and the people in its thrall.
Reminiscent of the work of Robert Silverberg, this planetary romance
will introduce lucky readers to a world both magical and spooky,
yet ultimately as tangible as your own backyard.”
Paul Di Filippo, Hugo & Nebula Award finalist
The Future Fire
Though he began working on Evergreen years before the current explosion of public awareness of global warming and environmental issues generally took root, Bruce Golden’s foray into the forests of an alien world seems very timely. Yes, there is an underlying environmental theme, but the book is never preachy or pedagogical; despite the fantastic milieu he’s created for the planet Evergreen, this is a true character story. It’s told from several viewpoints, all the while exploring the emotional bents of revenge, redemption, and obsession.
If you’re looking for lots of futuristic advanced technology, this probably isn’t the book for you. Evergreen is still a frontier planet where many forms of technology are limited by solar activity and the planet’s magnetic field. Solar power is the colonists only form of energy other than muscle and sweat. The colony was initially built on the backs of its indentured lumberjacks, though “the company” that owns the planetary mineral rights has begun setting up mining operations.
A man known by the name of Gash is one of these timber jockeys. He’s got a past he’s trying to forget, and he makes use of the local narcotic to ease his pain—until he’s recruited by the colonists to join their insurrection against the company. This rebellion, led by a colorful “pirate” of a saloon owner, is only one of several storylines that crisscross and eventually converge for an almost surrealistic climax.
The novel unfolds when an ancient artifact is discovered on Evergreen, a heretic priest back on Earth becomes convinced it’s the link that will prove his theory about the existence of an extraterrestrial “City of God.” Dr. Nikira forms an expedition to Evergreen that includes renowned archaeology professor Luis Escobedo, his wife, Filamena, and his estranged son, Maximo. Unknown to the professor, his wife has recently put an end to a brief but passionate affair with Maximo, her stepson. She chastises herself for the weakness that led her to the affair, and is now determined to stay true to her husband. However, when Maximo unexpectedly joins the expedition, she must deal with the constant temptation of his presence.
Traveling aboard the same ship that will take them to Evergreen is Eamon, a young man wracked by both guilt and a need for vengeance. After years of searching, Eamon believes he’s finally tracked down the man responsible for his mother’s death. He intends to find the man and kill him. In order to do so, he has contracted himself to join the timber jockey workforce, which is made up mostly of debtors and convicts. Though the lessons he learns along the way may be a bit obvious, I still found the naivety of his character appealing.
At this future point of man’s exploration of space, several inhabitable planets have been discovered, but, as yet, not a single intelligent species outside of mankind has been found. However, an exobiologist studying a primate species on Evergreen believes these “ursu” may be only thousands of years away from evolving into a sort of primitive intelligence. She’ll discover these creatures have a past as well as a future.
I found the ursu to be one of the most interesting facets of the book. Once their entire story was told, it seemed to me, from a thematic point of view, that they represented primitive man on Earth. While the potential of the ursu’s intelligence is debatable, another intelligence on Evergreen is not. This one’s not so readily visible. I won’t give it away, but this is the literary centerpiece that connects the various character pieces of this tale, and brings them together at the end.
As for the relevant issue of the environment, it’s not something Golden slaps you across the face with. No character ever broaches it—there’s no editorializing. But, by the end of the book, questions have been raised in the reader’s mind: Should mankind be allowed to do whatever it wants with whatever planet it encounters? Should we be able to do whatever we wants with planet Earth?
One of the best aspects of this book is the way Golden sets up each and every payoff. The foreshadowing is subtle, but it builds dramatically and informatively. We get a little piece here, a tidbit there, until the entirety of it unfolds. One obvious example comes with the character of Gash, who experiences mental flashbacks from the thing that haunts him. Each time he flashes back, we get a little bit more of what actually happened—what led him to Evergreen.
Evergreen has everything you look for in a great science fiction read. Believably tormented characters, unique world-building, realistic dialogue, adventure, exploration, alien lifeforms, conflict, resolution, and topical content... by the time the book ended, I only wished it were longer. I wanted more of this alien world, and wanted to know what happened to these characters next—at least those who survived to the final page.
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