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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Gardner James Alan
 

«Radiant», James Gardner

To Bill and Veronica

AUTHOR’S NOTE

Thanks to the usual people: Linda Carson, Richard Curtis, Jennifer Brehl, and Diana Gill. Every writer needs good feedback, and yours has always been great.

Some readers may ask, "Why all the Buddhism? Are you preaching something?" Not at all. First, you’ll see there are schemes afoot in the League of Peoples that are deliberately exploiting differences between Eastern and Western viewpoints. (Yes, that’s vague but I don’t want to give too much away.) Second, I thought it would be fun to confront Festina with a sort of mirror opposite, and "opposite" includes an opposing philosophical outlook. Third, I’m tired of melting-pot futures where all the cultural differences of our present day have been homogenized into some lukewarm vanilla snooze. As far as I can see, the future will continue to contain Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Neo-Pagans, agnostics, atheists, etc., as well as people who invent new belief systems, people who don’t think about religion at all, and people who try to change the subject when conversation turns toward uncomfortable topics.

I’d like the League of Peoples books to reflect that multiplicity. Each story in the series shows a different slice of the universe by presenting a particular character’s "take" on what’s happening. All of the narrators are biased and fallible… but by showing the world from many different viewpoints, I hope to give readers a more varied, better rounded view of a complex future.

One last note: the narrator defines a number of Buddhist terms throughout the text. Most either come from Sanskrit or Pali, two languages used in the Buddha’s day. Loosely speaking, Sanskrit was Northern India’s "highbrow" language while Pali was a related language used by the common people (rather like the relationship between Latin and Italian). The Buddha generally used Pali because he wanted to be understood by the masses. However, the Sanskrit versions are often more familiar to English speakers (e.g., the Sanskrit "karma" as opposed to the Pali "kamma"). My narrator follows the fairly common practice of using Sanskrit for words that have already become part of English (karma, dharma), but Pali for less familiar terms.

CHAPTER 1

Anicca [Pali]: Impermanence. The principle that all things change over time and nothing lasts forever.

 

Seven days after I was born, my mother named me "Ugly Screaming Stink-Girl."

Such birth names were common on my homeworld — a planet called Anicca, first colonized by Earthlings of Bamar extraction. Wisewomen swore if you gave your babies unpleasant names, demons would leave the children alone. In Bamar folktales, demons were always gullible; a name like "Ugly Screaming Stink-Girl" would fool them into thinking the baby was so flawed and worthless, there was no point hurting her. Why bother making her sick or nudging her in front of a speeding skimmer? She was already an Ugly Screaming Stink-Girl.

Years later, when I’d learned the proper chants to protect against demons, I was allowed to choose a new name. It happened during the spring festival: girls and boys, nine years old, giggled with their first taste of adulthood as they officially discarded their baby names. We wrote our awful old names on bright red pieces of paper, then threw the papers into a ceremonial fire.

Bye-bye, Ugly Screaming Stink-Girl. Unless, of course, the name stayed stuck in everyone’s mind.

Most of the other nine-year-olds immediately announced what new names they were taking. Only a few of us couldn’t decide. We tried a succession of different names, switching every few days: trying this, trying that, until we found one that made everyone forget we’d ever been called anything else.

Or until we realized we’d always be Ugly Screaming Stink-Girl, and it was time to stop pretending otherwise. Just pick a name at random and stick with it.

I picked the name Youn Suu. Simple, meaningless, easy to pronounce: like Yune Sue. But it was a label of convenience, nothing more. Like wearing a particular shirt, not because it was comfortable or good-looking, but because it didn’t have obvious rips or stains. I didn’t feel like a Youn Suu, but I didn’t feel like anyone else either. Just a barefoot girl, anonymous.

Part of me still fantasized I’d find a good name — a name that was me — but I tried not to think such thoughts. The Buddha taught that wishful fixations were "unskillful." Wise people lived life as it was, rather than frittering away their energies on pointless daydreams. My actions counted; my name didn’t.

So I became Youn Suu.

Until I left Anicca, people called me Ma Youn Suu… "Ma" being the polite form of address for an undistinguished young female. Women of high prestige and venerable old grannies warranted a better title: the honorific "Daw." But I was sure I’d never be Daw Youn Suu. I’d never win prestige, and I wouldn’t live long enough to become venerable. I’d die young and unimportant, because by the age of nineteen my full name had become Explorer Third Class Ma Youn Suu of the Technocracy’s Outward Fleet.

At least, that’s what it said on the ID chip burned into the base of my spine. In my heart, I was still Ugly Screaming Stink-Girl.

 

My ugliness had a story. My life had no room for other stories — no "How I Won a Trophy" or "My First Real Kiss" — because all my potential for stories came down to "Youn Suu Was Ugly, and Nothing Else Mattered."

Like all stories, the tale of my ugliness had long roots. Longer than I’d been alive. The Bamar are a tropical people, originally from Old Earth’s Southeast Asia. The British called our homeland "Burma," their version of our tribal name. Burma = the Bamar… even though the same region held hundreds of non-Bamar cultures who raged at being left out of that equation.


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