Spear of Athena: Primitive Heroism in Deneb (Pearson Moore)
Today I have a riveting essay from the author of Deneb— Pearson Moore. In this essay, he talks a little about his main characters and shares some of the wonderful commissioned art.
Kathy Augustine, Hero of Deneb
Illustration by Chris Rallis, Commissioned for Deneb
She’s just a college student, her only ambition to become a track and field coach. But she is more than any sum of intellect and skill. She carries in her heart dreams and visions, courage and resolve that will rewrite history and transform humanity. Her name is Katherine Lois Augustine, and she is the driving force behind the epic science fiction novel Deneb.
Warrior, leader, inspiration to women and men, Kathy Augustine confronts dire circumstance with strength and initiative, bending a hostile world to her will. But there is far more to Kathy Augustine than the tried-and-true vestments of heroic drive. Discovering who she really is and understanding her placement in the world of Deneb will be the work of several novels, the ultimate goal of which is a literal rewriting of human history.
Deneb cover painting by Chris Rallis
The action takes place in a familiar yet foreign environment. The sun burns bright, but the morning sky is a disorienting bluish green and the forest is full of terror and death. Suffering is everywhere. Thousands die, only a few survive, and a woman with a spear, Athena personified, leads them all.
Deneb is the most challenging novel I have attempted. I wanted to create something with a sense of historical depth, with the brooding awareness of destiny that guides epics like A Song of Ice and Fire or the Foundation Trilogy, but in a way that was immediate, with consequences of compelling personal import to every participant—to every reader—of the tale. It is up to those who peruse its pages to determine whether I succeeded in my quest. I am certain, though, that anyone who becomes a participant in this lush world will find ideas that challenge, events that surprise, and characters that evoke the strongest sense of adoration and revulsion.
Kathy Augustine is the embodiment of the foreboding presence of fate I sought to bring to the story. She does things that make sense only from the context of our fear of the strange green-sky environment and its snarling, clawing perils. It’s not that we’ve ever faced such dangers, but our ancestors did, and the fears are programmed into us, part of our DNA—foundational to our identity as human beings.
“Black Wolf of the Currumpaw”
Ernest Thompson Seton, 1893
The wolf is a sign of danger and terror, but it fascinates and compels. The wolf was our nemesis and competitor 3000 generations ago. More often than not, we became the wolf pack’s meal. We stalked the same prey. Like the wolf, we hunted in groups. We were suspicious of each other, and with good reason. But something strange, unimaginable, virtually unthinkable occurred. Geneticists tell us that some 100,000 years ago the wolf began standing with us at the hunt. Within a few thousand years Canis lupus became Canis lupus familiaris: The wolf became humankind’s best friend, the dog.
This transformation contains several truths foundational to the epic story in Deneb. First is the strange truth that all dogs are wolves—they are the same species. If a gray wolf in the wilds of Montana mates with a golden retriever, the result will be half retriever/half wolf puppies, each of whom will be able to sire or give birth to puppies in just over a year. The dog is a wolf, even if it wears a coat of a different color.
Tens of thousands of years ago, wolves and human beings were virtually indistinguishable from each other in their behaviors. Wolves hunted with an eerie intelligence otherwise unknown in the animal world. Humans hunted in precisely the same way—but carried clubs and javelins and knives. We are wolves with spears. And though we wear a coat of a different color these days, and think ourselves erudite and nuanced and evolved, at our deepest selves, we are still wolves. This is the reality I sought to bring to Kathy Augustine and every major character in Deneb.
In her courage and fortitude Kathy attracts and invites. Her animal magnetism is alluring, but at the same time confounding—and terrifying.
Chris Rallis, commissioned for Deneb
(The uncensored work appears in Deneb, Illustrated Edition)
We think at first that Kathy becomes the mirror of our hopes and desires, but she is none of these things. She is her own person, with her own agenda, and she will not yield to our expectations, our feminine hopes, or our masculine fantasies. She is that which is primitive in each of us. It is my greatest hope that every reader-participant will find in Kathy character traits she admires, as well as attitudes she finds abhorrent.
Sometimes we create conceptual pigeonholes that prevent us from understanding the full truth and complexity of a situation. Language itself is limiting in this regard, in that accurate communication requires us to create one-on-one connections between object and symbol. When I tell you that Kathy is primitive, you are likely to bring to our conversation already-formed connections between the word and concrete manifestations of the idea. Perhaps you think of a tribe of Aboriginals in the Amazon rainforest—a ‘primitive’ tribe. Or maybe you visualize someone crude and unrefined, a crass or unsympathetic, almost psychopathic personality. Either of these ways of interpreting the idea of primitive is overly simplistic, though, and detracts from the greater idea I bring to the conversation.
Charles R. Knight, 1920
Imagine, if you will, that you are that hunter 100,000 years ago. You have decided to accept the wolf standing at your side. Why have you done this? Why have you accepted into your personal circle the one who only a few weeks ago was competing with you? Why have you accepted your worst enemy as your closest friend? These are the kinds of questions I hope you will ask when Kathy begins to perform deeds you do not understand, or says things you adore, or commits acts you consider inhuman.
I find our relationship with wolves, and therefore with dogs, useful to the enterprise of expanding reader-participant awareness about the ideas I am trying to communicate. The wolf is enemy, the nexus of fear and foreboding. But the dog is friend; in her capacity as ‘man’s best friend’ she defines for us the qualities we would hope to find in any companion worthy of the title. But wolf is primitive dog. If we love something in the dog, it is because we love something in the wolf. The wolf is primitive. If you like, substitute the word primal, or essential. In an important sense, Kathy is essential. She manifests qualities essential to our humanity.
Three wolves occupy the symbolic plane of my novel: The Wolf of Anguish, the Wolf of Truth, and the Wolf of Fear. Anguish is our reaction to past events we cannot change. Truth is the unwanted reality of our present existence. Fear is the emotion we feel regarding events that may take place in the future. Anguish, truth, and fear represent the human timeline of past, present, and future, and each one of these wolves is the symbolic depiction of feelings we find uncomfortable. But feared wolf is at the same time beloved dog, meaning that the kernel of our love and adoration is to be found amidst anguish, truth, and fear.
Concept by Pearson Moore, Composition by Robin Ludwig, photography by Marcus J. Ranum
The photograph above depicts the three wolves of Deneb. I need to disabuse you of ready expectations. Important characters in Deneb will refer to Kathy Augustine as Pallas Athena. Based on the “Three Wolves” illustration you might ‘put two and two together’ and decide that Kathy is one of the wolves. But if you decide to do this, please remember that the Three Wolves are symbols, and not concrete reality. Kathy Augustine is a flesh-and-blood person, a sophomore at San Francisco University majoring in athletics coaching. Some characters will fall in love with Kathy. They will attribute all manner of perfections to her, and bestow on her great titles and names and symbolic importance. But other characters will despise her. They will deny that she has any connection with the nobilities of the human heart. Not a few characters will make Kathy’s destruction their primary mission.
Deneb is not a simple black-and-white tale of good and evil. Kathy is the lightning rod for those who seek any such story within its pages, because if readers pin all their hopes on her they’re going to end up getting some unexpected, mean surprises—they’re going to get burned, or even fried, by nasty jolts of lightning. Reader-participants have to decide for themselves who Kathy really is, and what she means to them.
“Gadgat Havtan” (Map of Peace Island rendered in the Tasblish language)
Illustration by Pearson Moore
It is only in the last few pages of the novel that most readers will figure out why destiny caused an airplane to fall out of the sky and called ten thousand people from 45,000 years of history together into an arena around a formidable stone altar. The novel confronts the great discomforts and attractions of human civilization, the primal stuff of which wolves and women and men are made.
Leader of the ‘Proud Mariners of Noble Deed and Heroes’ Grace’
Illustration by Chris Rallis, Commissioned for Deneb
If Kathy Augustine is the feminine lightning rod in Deneb, her masculine counterpart is François Darlan. Students of history will recognize François Darlan as Admiral of the French Fleet from 1936 to 1940, and Prime Minister of Vichy France until his assassination in 1942. He is arguably the most controversial figure of the 20th century. A responsible and effective leader, he threw in his lot—meaning all of France—with Adolf Hitler. Winston Churchill detested the man. In fact, although there is no proof to support the contention, many historians believe Churchill masterminded Darlan’s assassination. On the other hand, another Allied leader trusted Darlan so much that he restored him to full power, this time on the Allied side. General Dwight Eisenhower installed François Darlan as military governor and Commander in Chief of French forces in North Africa in November, 1942. Churchill hated Darlan because he gave in to Hitler. Eisenhower, in assessing Darlan’s suitability for leadership, must have weighed heavily the fact that Darlan took great pains to isolate the French Fleet in a place outside of Hitler’s control. The student of World War II can only wonder: Deep in his heart, was Darlan a Nazi, or did he represent the truest, non-fascist yearnings of the French heart?
The François Darlan of Deneb is a fictional creation, but the attribution of his true character is again a matter for reader-participants to decide. The record for the flesh-and-blood François Darlan of history allows one to render either of two opposing conclusions: He was a monster, or he was a saint. In the same way, reader-participants are allowed to decide that the fictional ‘Treachery of Darlan’ (a fictional backstory event unrelated to World War II) renders him an uncivilized heathen, or makes him the greatest hero of the story.
Lascaux Cave Art
Unknown artist, circa 35,000 B.C.
We say that cave art is ‘primitive’. It was created by our Cro-Magnon or Neanderthal ancestors tens of thousands of years ago—smeared on stone walls by cavemen who had not conceived of the planting of crops or the construction of habitations. But look at the underbelly of the horse. Touch it. Follow it with your fingers until you come to the beast’s chest. You find to your amazement that the artist painted the horse in such a way that the underbelly follows the contours of the cave wall. Incredibly, you find this to be true of every figure painted on the wall. The artist used the canvas—the backdrop, the wall of the cave—as a critical part of the composition. Look at the horned beast in front of the horse. ‘Ox head’ you say. No, it’s no ox, because it’s not domesticated. But it’s no head, either. Follow the forward line of the cattle’s figure from snout to mouth to neck and then still lower. There’s another horse down there, but look lower, under the horse. Now follow the figure back, to the second front leg, then to the belly, which again follows the contours of the cave. Look above the large horse, to the crack in the wall that forms the cattle’s back.
You begin to understand, after staring at this masterpiece from 37,000 years ago, that the artist did the same thing you do on lazy, cloudy days. She looked into the sky, to the clouds, and saw figures: a dog, a woman’s face, a lion, a man contorted in a crazy dance. The unimaginative among us look to the heavens and see random congregations of water vapor. You and that long-ago artist find in those clouds the very symphony of life.
Here’s the important thing to realize about those lazy, cloudy days 37,000 years ago: There were no such things. Leisure is a recent invention. The artist of long ago had barely the resources to survive another day. But creating that painting was so important, so crucial to her existence, that she took time away from critical activities in order to create it. To be blunt, she risked her own life in order to create the images on that wall.
Now do you apprehend this much-magnified, multi-faceted idea of that which is primitive, or essential, in the human heart?
If we are to arrive at anything less than a superficial understanding of the truly primitive inside us, we need to demolish our pre-conceptions and open ourselves to broader, deeper definitions of those elements that are essential to our humanity. This is the project of Deneb, an opening of the human heart and intellect, accomplished in the course of an amazing adventure that spans planets and species, relayed by characters whose existence depends on fast wits, clear understanding, and right judgment, whose safety and survival depend on recognizing and embracing the primal and necessary elements of the human soul. At 267,000 words—nearly as long as Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth—Deneb is a true science fiction epic. In exploring the many layers of anguish, truth, and fear, I hope you find in my story something of your hopes and dreams—perhaps a woman’s face, or a man contorted in a crazy dance—the primitive, essential parts of you that are worth risking your life to create. Enjoy the epic, for truly, we have no lazy, cloudy days.
(Disclaimer–all art, pictures, and writing were provided by Pearson Moore with his essay)