The Sapience Convention – social sci fi novel in progress

How’s this project doing?

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It’s on hold while I finish up a few other things that seemed shorter and easier.


What’s it about?

The Sapience Convention is a social sci fi story working through ideas of corruption, colonialism, and animal rights. Lila Nicholson is an interstellar wildlife photographer. Glas Patricio is the undercover drug cop she unwittingly hires as an assistant for an assignment to the planet Kinmun. Ao Ma is a Kinmun native who’s determined to do the right thing, even if it means uprooting everyone she’s ever known. And the alokoa are the adorably fuzzy critters who have no idea of the trouble they and their intoxicating food source are causing for all these humans.


Can I read a little?

Yes. Here’s the first chapter, as it currently stands in December 2013…

“Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Siva. William Siva, that is.”

The small man beamed a smile at her and tugged his jacket straight as he stood up and offered his hand. “I work with the DLC, the Diversity of Life Coalition, that is. Do you know our work?”

“Save the merlings and whatnot? Yes. Listen, I’ve already made all my donations this quarter—“

“Oh dear me, no,” Siva laughed, “although, thank you, of course, if the DLC was a recipient of your largess.”

Lila didn’t think they had been, but she smiled back politely.

“It’s through the generosity of billions of individuals like yourself, across Amer Space, Yevro Space, and even a few dedicated souls in Han Space, that we are to carry out our very important work. Ah-ah,” he said, waggling a finger in front of her nose before she could speak, “it is that very generosity that allows us now to offer you money, rather than ask for it. You are Lila Nicholson, interspatially renowned photographer, and we”—here he inserted an unnecessarily dramatic pause—“would like to hire you.”


“They’re even offering me market rate. I had no idea an environmental group had that sort of budget.”

Sini archeda delicately shaped eyebrow at her. “Didn’t they use to call them greens? And green for money, too. So the greens have got some green.”

“Any other linguistic antiquities you’d like to share?” Lila asked, “Or can I tell you what the job is?”

The other woman rolled her dark eyes. “I’m always appreciative of your work, lovey.” She shifted her weight, unsticking her bare calves from the plasticized covering of the seat. She had a penchant for finding — or recreating — costumes from Old Earth, a side effect of her work in the Amer Archives. Today’s ensemble included high heeled shoes and a skirt with matching jacket in olive tweed which emphasized her blue hair. Lila’s outfit was the same durable pants and pocket-heavy jacket which she wore every day, at home on New Am, or out in the field.

“It’s like this. Remember when I went out to the Fringe last year to shoot the drove of the emulos on Kinmun? The giant bird things?” When Sini nodded, she continued. “There’s another planet in the same system, Kinmun. They have a local species, called alokoa, they want to have some photodocumentation on.” She pulled up a video clip on her smartcom. “Cute little things, aren’t they?” On the screen a maroon colored animal covered in short fur reached out to wrap a six fingered hand around a spray of similarly maroon leaves. The alokoa pushed the leaves into its mouth and chewed solemnly, looking into the distance with round eyes.

“How big is it?” Sini asked. “Handbag size?”

Lila waggled her fingers, shifting from the video clip to text. “Twenty to twenty-five kilos, full grown.”

“Anything else on Kinmun?”

“Oh yes, that’s why they’re hiring me. Someone wants to develop the lowlands where the alokoa live as vacation homes, or something like that. Since it’s out on the Fringe, no one else has had the chance yet. The Diversity of Life people want my photos to use making a case for a presapience designation and raising public sentiment against the development. I think they’re hoping to either pass some local law to protect the alokoa, or just shame the developer into going away.”

“Sounds right up your alley,” Sini said. “Listen, lovey, I have to get back to work. You should come over for dinner, Caspian always like to hear about where you’re off to.”

Sini clicked away in her high heeled shoes, drawing a few appreciative stares. Lila watched her go, then picked up the smartcom again. Time to make a list of the things she needed to take with her.


In the evening, Lila wound her way through the city of New Amsterdam to the tall building where Sini lived with her husband. Caspian met her at the door almost before she pressed the buzzer. “Saw you coming,” he said.

She exchanged a hug for a bottle of Ventian liquor and followed him into the apartment. Inside, one wall was entirely transparent, letting the remnants of the evening light filter in from the building’s atrium.

Sini was in the kitchen area. Her work with Amer Archives had led to a fascination with ancient habits and she wore a ruffled cloth apron over a pale blue skirt and matching top which matched her hair. She glanced from the pot she was stirring to the bottle of amber liquid in Caspian’s hands. “I told you if you mentioned it she’d get you some. She’s such a doll. Lovey, you’re such a doll.” The two women exchanged hugs, and Sini gestured with her spoon. “There’s bowls up there. I’m sure Casp is getting out glasses.”

Soon the three of them sat around the table, looking out into the atrium and its hanging gardens. Caspian pointed out the window, saying, “The rosemary in the soup is from our neighbors there, third level up.”

“There must be someone in my building growing rosemary,” said Lila, “but I’m never home long enough to go and find out who.”

“Where are you off to now?”

“She’s going to Kinmun,” Sini said. “I told you already.”

“Darling, I know you told me, but I want to hear it from Lila.”

“Did she show you a picture of an alokoa yet? They’re adorable.”

Caspian waved Lila’s hand away from her smartcom. “Spare me. Everything you take pictures of is cute or majestic, or at least it is by the time you’re done with it. Tell me about the job.”

“I’ll be working for the Diversity of Life Coalition. You know, the conservation folks. Save the merlings, economic protections for the mandrins, not that they need protecting at this point.”

“What’s the DLC interested in on Kinmun?”

“The alokoa, of course.” Caspian rolled his eyes and Lila continued. “There’s a development group sniffing around, looking to build a high class resort or vacation homes or something. Coincidentally, building a resort would involve cutting down a big swathe of the lush oomba forest, where the alokoa live. So I take pictures of the alokoa being adorable, the DLC runs them around all the media outlets in Known Space, and then public outcry to save the alokoa stops the development.”

“And prompts a lot of sympathetic people to send them donations, I suppose,” said Sini.

“And prompts a lot of sympathetic people to send them donations, undoubtedly.”

“What else is on Kinmun, besides an oomba forest full of alokoa?” asked Caspian. “Anything fun?”

Sini carried the emptied soup bowls into the kitchen and came back with her smartcom. “Let’s see. Only been settled a few generations. Exports and imports are minimal, mainly arts. Known for floral arrangements, apparently, featuring oomba. Lila, did you look at any of this before you said yes to the job?”

Lila shrugged. “The DLC is a pretty well-known group. I had fun when I went to Kimchun, and it’s right next door. It sounds like a reasonable assignment.”

“You never do any advance research. Some day you’re going to waltz in to an assignment and find yourself in a dangerous situation. Then you’ll be sorry. No, you’ll be dead, and I’ll be sorry, because my best friend will be dead.”

“I do advance research,” Lila protested. “And what’s so sinister about flower arrangements?”

“Babe, you’re exaggerating,” said Caspian, taking the smartcom from Sini.

“I just worry about you, sometimes,” Sini said, as Caspian flicked his fingers over the screen.

“Oh, look, caving! They’re still mapping out the cave systems. That sounds fun. I want to go do that.”

Sini took the smartcom back. “You’d go along on most any of her assignments if you could.”

“I miss when I got to travel for work.”

“I don’t,” Sini said.

“Listen,” Caspian said, “I know who should go with you. I know a guy with an interest in photography and in travel. You could take him along as an assistant.”

Lila turned to look at the hanging gardens, now silhouetted against the lighted windows surrounding the atrium. “I don’t need an assistant, Caspian. And they never work out. You know what happened with the last one.”

“This guy is older. More settled. Less flighty. Interested in photography, I think, but not in becoming an artiste. That was the problem with the last one, yes?”

“One of them. Only one of them,” Lila said.

“Give him a try.” He glanced around. “Babe, where’s my smartcom?”

Sini leaned over and patted the breast pocket of his shirt. “I think it’s in here.”

“So it is,” he said, fishing it out.

“You can’t go traveling without me. You need to me too much.”

Lila watched her two friends as they gazed at each other with softened eyes. She’d known Sini first, but Caspian had appeared soon after and it was hard to remember Sini without Caspian. With delicate cheekbones and doe eyes framed by her blue hair, Sini had been a model, and Lila had met her on a photo shoot. Always brash, Sini had approached Lila at the end of the day, saying, “You’re pretty cute. Want to go for drinks somewhere?”

After some blushing and stammering, Lila had found herself at a bar with Sini. The latter ordered two drinks the same blue as her hair, led Lila to a booth, and burst into peals of laughter. When her hilarity had subsided into the occasional giggle, she finally said, “You have to go on another date tomorrow.”

“What are you talking about?” said Lila, who had been staring at her companion with a nervous knot of embarrassment slowly tightening in her stomach.

Sini sat up straight and smoothed her hair away from her face. “I’ll explain. Sorry, of course you don’t know what’s going on. It’s like this, Tikkan, that’s the props guy, has been staring at you the whole shoot. I don’t think you noticed, because you’re staring at us models, or running around gear for Jose. Is he nice to work for? He seems like he might be kind of a jerk.”

Lila gave her a look.

“Sorry, right. Anyway, I told Tikkan he should go talk to you. But he’s shy, so he wouldn’t. And I said, look, it’s easy, you just go up to a girl and say, ‘You’re pretty cute. Want to go for drinks somewhere?’ and then you go have drinks. He said that never works, and I said of course it works, let me show you. And I showed him.”

“And tomorrow he’ll come and use the same line on me again?” Lila asked, trying to summon some memory of who Tikkan was, what he looked like.

“Well, I told him he should. Honestly, I think he might really be too shy. But maybe the next time he thinks a girl is pretty he’ll try it.”

Lila tried to remember if it had been Sini who propositioned Caspian, or the other way around. Either way, it had worked out for Sini and Caspian in ways that it never had for Sini and Lila, or for Tikkan and Lila, for that matter.

“I’ll send you this guy’s contact info,” said Caspian. “His name is Glas. I think you’ll like him, he’s your type.”

“Are you trying to hook me up with an assistant or a boyfriend, Caspian?”

“He’s a friend of mine, and his last job really ground him down,” Caspian said, with an uncharacteristically pleading tone. ”It would do him a lot of good to go with you.”

Lila made a face. “I’m not going to take a charity case.”

“No, no,” Caspian said. “He’s very capable, very practical. You’re my friend, too. Anyway, if I tried to set you up with a bad deal, I’d never hear the end of it from Sini.”

“Okay, fine.” She picked up her smartcom. “Send it over.”


 Can I read a little more?

Not yet, but you can look at the Pinterest board I have for the project and sign up to get an email when I next publish anything. I mean, anything longer than a blogpost. You can get that stuff up in your RSS feed anytime.