MK Wren's Shadow of the Swan

Enjoy the second part of MK Wren's new ebook, offered exclusively by Boing Boing

Two weeks ago, we shared an exclusive deal on the first book in MK Wren's acclaimed Phoenix Legacy trilogy. Now, Boing Boing and Diversion Books are pleased to offer Shadow of the Swan -- the second installment of this beloved futuristic space opera -- for $2.98. That's 50% off the regular $5.99 price. Not a bad deal, especially for a classic that has earned raves and comparisons to Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. Read more below for an excerpt from the opening of Shadow of the Swan. — Cory Doctorow

"Shadow of the Swan (The Phoenix Legacy #2)" by M.K. Wren on Ganxy

Shadow of the Swan

GAUNTLET

PHOENIX MEMFILES: DEPT HUMAN SCIENCES: BASIC SCHOOL

(HS/BS)

SUBFILE: LECTURE. BASIC SCHOOL 1 FEBUAR 3252

GUEST LECTURER: RICHARD LAMB

SUBJECT: POST-DISASTERS HISTORY:

WARS OF CONFEDERATION (2876–2903)

DOC LOC #819/219–1253/1812–1648–123252

The "Sudafrikan Union" was the Holy Confederation's term. The name the Minister-Keffe Tsane Valstaad used is translated as the "Tsanian Empire." (Or, as some historiolinguists prefer, "Commonwealth.") It was not an alliance put together in the face of the threat of the Confederation, which even the Allienza Salvador was, although it predated the initiation of the Wars. The Sudafrikan Union was forged in a series of wars comparable to Even Pilgram's, and Tsane Valstaad was the third in a dynasty of rulers who held his diverse and scattered subjects in thrall of a centralized, imperialistic government that should have appealed to Lord Patric Eyre Ballarat. Certainly it impressed him in a tactical sense during the seven-year Sudafrikan campaign, the most difficult and most costly of the Wars.

Tsane himself was a fascinating man. ("Tsane" was a surname -- his family name -- despite its placement; "Valstaad" was actually his forename.) Had his domains been a little more advanced historically and technologically, Tsane might easily have taken Ballarat's role in history as the first conqueror of an entire world. As it was, Sudafrika had advanced little past the Iron Age, although it made great strides after its initial contacts with the Holy Confederation in its period of expansion by trade; the Tsanians were apt learners and excellent imitators. Still, they didn't have facilities for any kind of heavy manufacturing. Tsane sought to offset that disadvantage while Ballarat was still occupied with conquering the rest of Terra by stockpiling weapons and machines of war, most of which were actually produced in Conta Austrail, but reached him through covert and circuitous channels. Tsane also fortified his territories and trained his armed forces during this preparatory period, and beyond that instilled in his subjects a patriotic fervor that can only arise when people are fighting for their homeland. Further, Tsane, like Ballarat, recognized the efficacy of religion as a motivating force and in essence prepared to cross swords with Bishop Almbert as well as with Ballarat. His was also a holy war, although a battle to preserve, rather than to disseminate, a religion. Oddly enough, the religion sanctioned by the Minister-Keffe and imposed two generations earlier on his subjects was also based, like Mezionism, on Pre-Disasters Christianity, although it had changed almost beyond recognition in its evolution.

Tsane's preparations for his encounter with Ballarat included learning his enemy's language, which I think gives us a measure of the man. I've always been intrigued with the accounts of his first personal meeting with Ballarat, which occurred after the Battle of Capeton, where Ballarat's forces made their first landfall in Sudafrika. Tsane sent a messenger to Ballarat in bivouac asking for a meeting under truce. In an open plain, where every movement could be observed by both sides, Tsane's soldiers erected an open-sided tent luxuriously fitted with carpets of animal skins, furniture of carved ebony embellished with gold, tables laden with wines, fruits, and epicurean viands in serving pieces of silver and gold, the servants in attendance all comely young women decked in silk and jewels. Tsane allowed none of his soldiers within the agreed-upon three-hundred-meter neutral area, although he accepted the ten-man "honor guard" Ballarat brought with him. Tsane entered the neutral area entirely alone, except for the two leashed leopards flanking him. He was an exceptionally tall man, and he dressed himself on this occasion in flowing robes of red silk edged in gold embroidery, with a leopard skin draped over one shoulder, and a plumed crown adding to his imposing height. An impressive sight, no doubt, and his leopard "guards" must have been particularly astonishing, since the animals were thought at that time to be extinct.

Ballarat and Tsane met in those exotic surroundings in the wake of the first battle of what both knew would be a desperately fought campaign and played a game of chess.

It sounds like the fancy of a romantically inclined historian, except that the event was so well documented; there are even photograms of that fateful game, but they're all rather fuzzy since they were taken from outside the neutral zone. Tsane informed his guest upon his arrival in the tent that his sole purpose was to meet the famed Lord Ballarat and to play a game of chess with him. Ballarat was apparently amused at this and willingly acquiesced, even offering to play by Tsane's rules. (Slight differences in the rules of this venerable game developed in different parts of Terra during the isolation of the Second Dark Age, although the basic principles changed remarkably little.) Tsane, however, insisted that a host must always accede to his guest's rules, and so the game was played. It lasted for three and a half hours and ended in a draw. No doubt both men found it enlightening.

It has always seemed strange to me that Ballarat and Tsane didn't become friends, which has happened more than once in history between commanders of opposing forces. I think Tsane could have regarded Ballarat as a friend; certainly we have ample evidence that he held him in high esteem. But Ballarat couldn't regard Tsane as a friend, and not because they were at war. The real reason was far less rational. It was because of Tsane's race. He was negroid, as were all his subjects. The caucasian population that had once inhabited Sudafrika had been entirely absorbed by the negroid, leaving almost no trace of their existence. The opposite was true in Conta Austrail, where the native aborigine population was absorbed by the more numerous caucasian intruders. Ballarat grew up in a essentially caucasian world, and there is ample evidence in his writings and responses to other racial groups that he harbored a deep-seated bias against noncaucasians that was particularly virulent when it came to negroids. Unfortunately, he wasn't alone in that among the Lords of the Holy Confederation, and it was only in the later years of the PanTerran Confederation that the racial barriers Ballarat raised finally gave way.

I should put in a good word for Almbert here. The Bishop did not share Ballarat's aversion for other races, perhaps convinced that all of them were potential converts and therefore worthy of consideration.

Ballarat's next attempt at a landfall at Dares Salma was a disaster, the first of many. His second-in-command, Lord Aram Barth Andrasy, attempting a simultaneous invasion at Luanda, was also roundly defeated. But Ballarat had a firm foothold in the south in Capeton, plus a navy strong enough to blockade every Tsanian port. He also had Sahrafrika in thrall. However, the vast overland distances involved, through desert and jungle, delayed the arrival of supporting forces from the north for months, so that Tsane could concentrate on fending off the assault from the south as well as protecting his flanks. Ballarat made good use of his airships, but their range was short, and Tsane's holds were well fortified and armed with heavy artillery that made air assaults very costly. Ballarat maintained the southern front while continuing to nibble at the eastern and western coasts, and finally Andrasy was successful in another assault at Luanda and drove the Tsanians inland along a strip a thousand kilometers long. This was the Holy Confederation's first major victory in the Sudafrikan campaign, but it cost Lord Aram Andrasy his life. Ballarat was personally grieved at the loss, and it had lasting adverse effects for him in Conta Austrail; Andrasy had become almost as much a hero there as Ballarat himself.

Ballarat took time from the Sudafrikan battlefields to return to Sidny for Andrasy's funeral, where he gave a moving eulogy, and if he had been wise he would have stayed longer, or at least made himself more aware of the changing temper of the Lords. The Sudafrikan campaign was in its second year and proving extremely costly. As one influential Lord complained, "It empties our coffers and brings nothing in; it takes the lives of our young men by the tens of thousands and offers no salve for our grief."

Ballarat did take time to assemble the Directorate and the Council to assure them that Sudafrika would bring something into their coffers and salve their grief, but he didn't stay long enough to see how effective his assurances were, nor to notice how ineffective his brother Hugh was as VisChairman. (Bryan, incidentally, after the Quador disaster, retired to the House's Estate in Ballarat to tend its business affairs.) Perhaps the Holy Confederation had simply, after more than twenty years, grown tired of war, and its Lords were satisfied to reap the tribute of the domains already subdued and leave one part of the planet unconquered.

Patric Ballarat, of course, would not be satisfied with that, and his imperial ambition was bolstered now with personal frustration and grief. He wanted vengeance, as well as victory, and he returned to Sudafrika determined to have it.

In the end, of course, he did have both, but not before another five years had passed, and not before his armies suffered nearly a million casualties. Tsane's casualties can only be estimated, but it's doubtful they were any less appalling. The monetary cost of the campaign came very close to literally emptying the Holy Confederation's coffers. Ballarat saw in Sudafrika's plentiful resources the means for financial recovery, and he was right, but the immediate fiscal strain on the Holy Confederation's Lords, who had so quickly grown accustomed to overflowing coffers, had a strong influence on their thinking and future reactions.

It should be noted that Ballarat was not immoderate in his vengeance. Any reprisals against the Tsanians that occurred were carried out in defiance of his orders. Once conquered, Sudafrika was treated exactly like the other defeated domains. The ceremonies of surrender took place in Tsane's palace in his capital of Pratoria, which Ballarat had occupied and where Tsane was a prisoner, but treated with the respect due an emperor, conquered or not. Before the actual signing of the surrender, Ballarat invited Tsane to meet with him, and the two of them sat down together in a garden pavilion. And played a game of chess. The second game also ended in a draw.


"Shadow of the Swan (The Phoenix Legacy #2)" by M.K. Wren on Ganxy


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Shadow of the Swan: The Phoenix Legacy II

Published 11:31 am Thu, May 8, 2014

About the Author

I write books. My latest is a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). More books: Rapture of the Nerds (a novel, with Charlie Stross); With a Little Help (short stories); and The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (novella and nonfic). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.

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