As I have pointed out in previous posts (here and here), really good Pagan-themed or Pagan-friendly science fiction is hard to find. I was thrilled, then, when John Michael Greer* offered me a review copy of his new science fiction novel, Star’s Reach.
Set four hundred years after the collapse of modern civilization (or “the old world,” as it is called), Star’s Reach follows the adventures of Trey sunna Gwen. Training to be a ruinman, Trey is searching an old building for salvage when he stumbles across a hidden room and an ancient radio message — one which points him in the direction of the nearly mythical Star’s Reach. The most famous lost ruin of them all, Star’s Reach was the site where humanity made contact with beings from another world, just as their own world was falling apart around them. In his quest to find Star’s Reach, Trey walks the length and breadth of Meriga, visits the Archives in Melumi, befriends the Last King of Yami, stumbles across a secret society of Rememberers, shares the road with performing elwuses (Elvises) and a mysterious sirk (circus), falls in love, and stands before the Spire in drowned Deesee. As he nears his goal, though, danger closes in — for there are those who have their own reasons for wanting to find the last, great secret of the old world ….
I’ll admit right up front that I totally fell in love with this book. I really had no idea what to expect going in, but I was hooked by the end of the first chapter. Greer has put a lot of time and thought into creating the fictional world of Star’s Reach. He takes the real world as it is now — environmental degradation, economic instability, declining fossil fuel reserves, political polarization, religious fundamentalism — and extrapolates what the (former) United States might look like in four centuries; how language, religion, politics, and technology may have evolved.
The name of our main character for instance; in contemporary English, it would be rendered Trey son of Gwen. In Meriga (America), most of the religious and political power is concentrated in the hands of women. The majority of the Presdens (Presidents) have been women. In the decades following the collapse of the old world, when radiation and chemical and biological poisons polluted the air and water, fertility rates dropped dramatically; descent came to be traced through the maternal rather than the paternal line. Those women who could bear children formed Circles, which evolved to direct the socioeconomic and technological lives of every citizen. Only women who have borne a healthy child before their twentieth year can join Circle, and Priestesses will only bless a marriage after a child has been born.
Star’s Reach is not a dystopian novel. Humanity adapted to the loss of most technologies, to the drought and famine and environmental changes which came with the rise in temperature and the melting of the glaciers. Literacy rates are certainly lower, but children are still educated; people know that the Earth revolves around the Sun and that stars are other suns. Radio is the primary means of communication, and all ruinmen carry radiation detectors (and know how to use them). Alternative energy, such as windmills, are the norm. Technology which can improve peoples’ lives without harming Mam Gaia is welcome; but fossil fuels and other technologies of the past which caused the collapse are considered evil and to be avoided at all costs. The punishment for even attempting their use, for risking the further wrath of Mam Gaia, is severe: burial alive.
Mythology and folklore and history have all evolved and woven together, too. At one point, Trey and his prentice (apprentice) Berry travel north to Troy. Standing atop the last, high tower, Trey looks over the remains of the street grid, stretching off into the distance, and reflects:
Troy was an important town in the old world. […] it’s where the ancients built their cars, and built them by the million. There was even a war fought over it, or so I heard once from a storyteller in Ilanoy. An army from somewhere else in Meriga spent ten years trying to capture it, and they finally did, by some trick or other. The man who thought up the trick was called Dizzy, if I remember right, and after the war was over it took him ten more years to get back home in some town up in Nyork, I forget which one.
Later on, when we were digging in the wrong place in Arksa and spending the rains in Memfis, I heard some other stories about Dizzy. They said that he played one of those brass horns the players use down in Memfis and Sanloo, and that he was one of the best ever, right up there with another player named Sashmo. […] After spending so much time on the roads myself, walking alongside elwuses and traders and puppet-actors and all, it’s just too easy to imagine Dizzy wandering the same way I did, stopping at every village to play his horn and catch coins in an old battered hat as he made his long slow way back home. [pp149-150]
In addition to his exploration of what such a “deindustrial” future might look like, Greer employs an unusual narrative technique. The entire story is told from Trey’s first person point of view, as a journal that he writes after he has arrived at Star’s Reach. As a result, some elements of the story are told out of order, as indicated in the quote above — but this just serves to pull the reader in. Trey will make some allusion to such-and-such a character trying to kill him or such-and-such bit of information that finally led him to Star’s Reach after years of fruitless searching, and the reader will plow ahead, impatient to meet this character and learn what that bit of information was.
Star’s Reach is an excellent example of the kind of literature the modern Pagan/polytheist community can produce. I hope that Greer returns to the world of Star’s Reach again, as there is still so much of it to explore. If not, I will happily read any other fiction he writes — and I hope that other Pagan writers do the same, and publish stories of their own.
* Greer’s A World Full of Gods is must reading for any polytheist.
[Originally published here.]