by Adam Casalino
October 2, 1965
Robert Asher was on hold. Easy listening music, meant to sooth the caller, was playing on the other end. The rumba sounded like it was coming through a crushed cigarette box. Asher was not one for rumba music, or dancing for that matter. He didn’t like waiting on the phone either. Leaning out of the phone booth, he looked up and down the train platform. He checked his watch. Almost out of time. The rumba music played on.
Finally a voice spoke through the phone.
“This is Mr. Hargrave’s office, may I asked who’s calling?”
“My name is Robert Asher,” he said. “I need to talk to Hargrave immediately.”
“What is this in regards to?” the woman asked.
“I’m working for him,” Asher said. “Is he around? It’s urgent.”
“Mr. Hargrave is in a meeting right now, can I take a message?”
“No, not really.”
A ball of fire bloomed out of the wall several yards away. The train station shook with the force of the explosion. Asher picked himself up, hung up the phone, and started walking. Panicked voices came from everywhere. Smoke rapidly filled the station. Asher covered his nose and mouth and searched for a way out. A crowd formed around him, the same idea on their minds.
People pushed each other to get to the exit doors. Grown men laid waste to anyone who got in their way. Nobody touched Asher. A sandy-haired man brushed passed him, knocking down a woman in from of him. Asher stopped to help her up.
“What’s the big idea, jerk!” she yelled at the man. Her eyes met Asher’s and she smiled apologetically. “Thanks.”
“Don’t worry about–”
The ground shuddered. There was a sound like girders being twisted into pretzels. Fire burst from the tracks behind them, tossing a train car into the air. It slid across the platform, plowing through pedestrians. Asher picked up the woman and ran for the doors. He didn’t stop to open them.
Pointing his shoulders forward, he jumped through the glass. He cleared the steps of the station and landed on the sidewalk. Carefully, he let go of the woman, setting her on her feet. They both looked back at what was left of the train station. Fire lapped at the mangled doors; bodies hung from the train car like Christmas lights.
“What the hell is going on?” the woman said.
“You don’t wanna know.”
I found myself on the precipice of a tall mountain. Beneath me I could see a great expanse of land. I could see cities, mountains, and myriad villages dotted throughout. But I saw no foliage. No green of any kind.
As I watched the Sun and Moon cycle over this landscape, the ground began to shake. A great hole opened up in the middle of the world and out emerged a great beast. The beast had the shape and size of a dragon, one of the long forgotten legends of our time, but it was made of sand.
The creature soared above the land, spreading its tawny winds out. They spanned the width of my vision, encompassing the whole world. I knew the dragon was my enemy. It looked at me with burning eyes.
I spoke to the sand dragon, commanding it to cease threatening this world. It croaked like a booming thunder, peals of lightning arcing from its teeth. I extended my hand and there appeared a sword. I was lifted from the ground and flew at the monster like an arrow.
My sword cut the dragon deep, but the sand coalesced to fill each wound. It snapped its jaws at me, I narrowly escaping each time. My sword sung as I slashed at my foe, the sound of its metal passing through it like waves.
The longer we fought, the more tired it became. I knew sooner of later, the dragon would be defeated. Grabbing me in its claws, it climbed. We got closer and closer to the yellow ball of the sun. When the world was merely a speck, he let me go. I fell rapidly toward the earth, powerless to stop my descent.
Above me I saw the dragon open its jaws. A torrent of sand came crashing down after me. Before I ever hit the ground, I was swallowed up in the cascade.
I felt myself hit the earth, but all was dark. I was enveloped in choking sand, the roars of the dragon still in my ears.
Sometimes the fish aren’t biting. Blame it on dumb luck, blame it on the fact that I forgot to get bait, either way, you need to find an alternate source of food. But out in the sea, there are no pubs. So a dwarf has to improvise!
I heard it once said that the little things that attach themselves to the boat are called barnacles. Not sure why. They are nasty little warts that won’t come off without a chisel. But I knew they were fish-like things. So I figured they were edible.
It took a while to pry some of the buggers off, but I had at least a handful. Very ugly. My fishing partner, Yammic, refused to partake. I wasn’t able to start a fire and cook them, so I ate them aw natural. At least I think that means raw.
I was fine for the rest of the day. Then night came and I wanted to die. It felt like a smith’s fire was raging in my innards. My burps literally set candles alight. Stumbling out of the rooms I rent above the Pork and Sizzle, I went looking for a healer.
There are all sorts of healers in New Augury, most of them are terrible. The ones that didn’t want to stick me with pins wanted to cut me open. I doubt many of them met a dwarf. But I heard about one particular healer that specialized in herbal remedies, good for the guts.
The problem was he lived at the top of the Crystal Tower.
I made my way, stumbling like a drunkard, to the tower. I had no trouble getting in, the guards eager to get away from my stench. The steps to the healer’s rooms curved, around and around. Around and around. Around and… *hic* I’m getting dizzy again just thinking about.
But I soldiered on, desperate to get help. I finally reached the top of the toward and found the healer’s door. I banged on it a good while until he opened it. But it was too late. Whatever was left in my stomach came pouring out. Onto the healer.
After that I felt invincible. Maybe healers really do help.
I haven’t done one of these posts in a while, mostly because I’ve been reading this long ass book! Leviathan Wakes is an action, science fiction novel by James S. A. Corey, who is apparently not a real person. It’s the name shared by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. Plenty of writers collab to make a book; these guys merged their names together in an unholy amalgam. Whatever.
What can I say about Leviathan Wakes? You should read this book. It is amazing. It combines elements of a murder mystery and hard-boiled detective fiction with action-packed space battles. Plus there’s vomiting zombies. I’m not even joking.
The story follows a duel narrative style. We follow the journey of two protagonists and their investigations at the start of interplanetary war. Abraham and Franck probably each wrote for one of the characters. I’d like to talk to the one who wrote Miller because he’s just great.
Leviathan Wakes creates a realistic version of the future. Mars is colonized (old news) and humanity has pushed out to the asteroid belt. Belters have lived on the fringes of our Solar system for generations, to the point where they’re lives and experiences differ so much from people on Earth and Mars, that sociopolitical circumstances have bred the conditions for war. Which, as I see it, will definitely happen should we colonize space.
But before you think this is some dry, tedious exploration of interplanetary politics, think again. It is hella exciting. From the very beginning you’re pulled into a sinister mystery and watch as a terrible war blooms around you. You’ll either root for Holden, the uncompromising captain, or sympathize with the burned out, grizzled detective Miller. I literally cheered when he did something that would shock most, but it had to be done.
The book’s not perfect (none are). There were about three times where I thought the book could have ended satisfactorily, but it kept going. Although I love a long book and never want a story to end, it felt like it was dragging. I think the last few chapters were tacked on to set up the future books in the series, rather than end this narrative. They feel anti-climatic after the events prior.
All in all its a book every sci-fi fan needs to read. It has just about everything you want in a novel. And plenty you’re not expecting.
TL:DR: read Leviathan Wakes
by Adam Casalino
Robert Asher was thrown off the back of the truck. They didn’t even have the decency to stop. He sat in the snow as the vehicle rumbled away at top speed. It took the corner down the mountain a bit too hard and nearly flipped. The driver didn’t care. He just wanted to get away as quickly as possible.
Slowly, Asher stood to his feet. He knew going back down the mountain was useless. They’d find him eventually and bring him back. Of all his clients, they were by far the worse. Pushy. Uncooperative. Plus, they refused to pay. But Asher had little say in the matter; he had been kidnapped after all.
Asher pushed through the snowdrifts toward a shape in the distance. The snow had piled up on either side of the road, trees casting shadows like long fingers. The sun, which had been hidden by clouds all day, was now giving up and setting. Only until he was a stone’s throw away could he see what was waiting for him at the end of the road.
His clients did a poor job of describing it. It looked like someone had taken several houses and stitched them together. Lopsided and asymmetrical, the building was a contradiction of physics. Spires poked through the roof; medieval battlements clung to the eaves. Asher wondered at the kind of mind that could conceive of such a monstrosity. It wasn’t sane, that was certain.
Asher mounted the steps, instantly feeling small and powerless before the mansion. The front door had iron rings for handles. He lifted one and let it drop like a knocker, vaguely hoping someone would answer. The noise reverberated through the air until it faded harmlessly into the wind. Gripping one of the rings with both hands, Asher pulled. Inch by inch, the door opened.
Snow blew in after him as he entered. Asher left the door ajar. In the crack of light he searched his pack. His clients declined to offer him supplies, but were considerate enough to leave him the ones he brought. Asher took out his electric lantern and turned it on. Thankfully, it survived the trip and a small glow illuminated a portion of the room.
Asher took in the entry hall. A stone floor, covered in threadbare carpet, stretched on for a hundred yards. Paintings lined the walls, shrouded in darkness. He looked at one. It was a landscape, perhaps of the surrounding region. European mountains loomed over a valley town.
Picking his way through the shattered remains of a chandelier, he reached the end of the room. There was a staircase leading to the upper floors. A door nearby was ajar, leading to the rest of the ground floor. Looking them over, he considered his options. He decided to start in the basement.
Fish have been a staple of dwarf cuisine… well not for a long time. We’re a people of the earth, give us a break. It took centuries for us to try anything other than potatoes. But once we discovered the rich bounty of the water, we were hooked. I remembered the great cookers of Dungbar mountain. They would do amazing things with fish; a few were arrested for it.
So I wasn’t so surprised to find this city by the sea to have a thriving fish market. New Augury, they tell me, was built on top of an old fishing village. The founding wizards welcomed some of the locals to stick around, who provide them with a constant supply of food. In return, the fisherman could live and operate out of the town. Good deal, cuz these mages know how to do little beyond casting spells.
My first day here I met Angus Fullbrow, a burly-handed bloke who lives near the docks. Although he is more dwarfish than human, he’s got a good knack for catching fish. When he discovered my appreciate for fishy foods, he invented me to the local fish fry. It’s an event where natives of the area get around and cook fish in large vats of lard (the piggeries are also a thriving business).
Frying fish is a remarkable kind of technique. Angus noticed my fascination with how the flour-covered fish popped and fizzled. He took it upon himself to teach me how to do it myself. “There’s a trick to it, Peter,” he said. “You gotta get the right among of breading on the kipper and toss it in like so.” With a flick of the wrist he tossed a handful of fish into the pot.
And he let me try. I picked a nice trout and generously covered it in the flour. But I’m afraid my tossing skills with fish leave much to be desired. The fish smacked the side of the vat, knocking bubbling oil across the field. The empty vat rolled, knocking down the other pots of frying fish. People were running in all directions, shielding their faces from the fiery ooze.
Angus was none too pleased. On the bright side, my trout managed to land in a large puddle of oil and crisped up nicely.
So all in all, not a bad time.
My dreams have been troubled of late. They lack the gray, simple tableaus that I usually see. I cannot be sure of the cause. Perhaps it is this city. Such a large collection of adapts in one place might be creating an instability in the ether. Magical stimuli is being drawn spontaneously, having adverse effects on my mind on a subconscious level. The fabric between the worlds could be suffering irreparable damage, due to the constant experimentation and exploration.
Or it’s the clam chowder.
I found myself on a mountain of sand overlooking a purple sky. Nebulae were bursting into coronas of gold, green, and autumn. A strong wind swept across the mountain. I was lifted into the air and tossed into a churning ocean. But it was not composed of water, but crystalline worms.
The worms bore me up so I didn’t sink. Slowly they wove in and out among each other. A soft ringing floated from them. By examining closely, I could see the sound was made by their constant movement. I thought they were singing. I could almost make out the words.
I leaned in to hear them better. Somehow I knew they were speaking to me. The noise was so familiar, but just out of reach. In my frustration, I shouted out, “What are you trying to say!?”
The bulk of the crystalline creatures shuddered. What I thought was singing turned into a roar. A wave rose like a mighty hill over me. I was powerless, I could not get away. All my words, my knowledge, were useless against the tide.
I woke, still hearing the sound of the crashing waves.
Is this thing on? That damn scribe told me I can just talk into this crystal and it’ll be recorded, somehow. They want to keep a record of everyone who’s living in this blasted town. Don’t know why they want my opinion. I was brought here against my will, if you really want to know. Not that I had anywhere else to be…
I don’t really know what they want me to talk about. Never dabbled in that bloody magic stuff. Don’t have a taste for it. Few dwarves do. I once heard about a bloke down in Nuforgelund who liked to cast spells. Didn’t go well for him. I think he’s a rabbit now.
Not sure how I make of this New Augury. Too close to the water, if you ask me. Now I’m not scared of boats, like some people, but dwarves are a mountain folk. We like caves and rocks, firm ground under our feet. I’ve tried to find something to do around here. They don’t have bowling, or many good parlor games. So I had to indulge in another pastime… Eating!
There are three public houses of New Augury, at least that I’ve found. The Cat in the Custard has a fine mead. I’ve heard they have an award-winning roasted duck, but I’ve never gotten that far. The mead is fine for me, though I find the purple color is off-putting. Mavis’s Watering Hole is too close to the docks in my opinion. But their baked trout is enough to keep me satisfied. They’re a bit stingy on the beer, though. I’ll have to talk with Mavis about it.
The No-Body Inn is an enigma. It’s at the top of a tower that overlooks the entire city. Don’t know why anyone wants to be that high up when they’re drinking. My first time I almost fell off the balcony! Their specialty drink is called the Flaming Wand. It’s bright red and served with a sparkling stirring stick. A bit ostentatioub if you ask me… is that the right word? I like my drinks simple and bitter.
The shrimp was also stringy.
Does this thing turn off by itself? Aw, forget it, I’ll just leave.