Long after the apocalypse, Earth has repeopled itself.
By Donna Dechen Birdwell
Title: SONG OF ALL SONGS: EARTHCYCLES BOOK ONE
Author: Donna Dechen Birdwell
Publisher: Wide World Home
Genre: Science Fiction
Long after the apocalypse, Earth has repeopled itself. Twice.
Despised by her mother’s people and demeaned by her absent father’s legacy, Meridia has one friend—Damon, an eccentric photologist. When Damon shows Meridia a stone he discovered in an old photo bag purchased from a vagrant peddler, she is transfixed. There’s a woman, she says, a dancing woman. And a song. Can a rock hold a song? Can a song contain worlds? Oblivious of mounting political turmoil, the two set out to find the old peddler, to find out what he knows about the stone, the woman, and the song. But marauding zealots attack and take Damon captive, leaving Meridia alone. Desolate. Terrified. Yet determined to carry on, to pursue the stone’s extraordinary song, even as it lures her into a journey that will transform her world.
The old man picks his way through the darkened hallway of
the columbarium. A scent of burnt wood stains the stale air as he listens for
the chirps and hums and breathy purrs. The three stones in his pocket pulse
warm against his hand, indicating that he’s drawing near to another of their
kind. He passes his hand along the seal of the niche and opens it, smiling at
the bright turquoise that winks at him from among the ashes inside the urn. He
cradles the stone in his hand, relishing the notes it sends coursing through
his body, the longing for home and family. But this isn’t the stone Abél is
looking for. He puts it back into the urn and replaces the urn in its chamber.
With a single syllable, he re-seals the niche.
Humming softly in harmony with some of the stones, in
counterpoint to others, Abél moves on. Day is coming and he knows he must get
well away from the temple grounds before the sun rises. He’s been accused of
theft before. He knows he’s not the thief. A sigh of regret sifts through his
head as he turns toward the space outlined in sepia light. The way out.
A sudden buzzing between his brows draws him up short. The
stones in his pocket quiver and squeal, directing his attention to a chamber to
his left. A purple glow emanates from within it. This one is newly sealed and
easy to open. The urn inside is particularly elaborate—unusual for these
austere days. Is that real gold outlining the figure on its lid? The figure looks
like a tree in flames.
Abél looks back at the cover stone he removed from the niche
and squints hard at the writing on it, trying to make sense of the letters. A
name comes into focus.
“So it’s you,” he mutters. “And this is how they try to own
you?” The little stones resound to the silken clarity of his voice. He lifts
the lid from the urn and is overwhelmed by a steady brilliance. The purple
stone fills the palm of his hand. It’s warm to his touch and resonates with
more colors deep in its core.
He knows this stone. Not long ago, it was his own.
But something is wrong. He places the stone in his pocket
and reaches back inside the urn, digging into the ashes. He digs deeper and
lets the ashes run through his fingers. And then he knows. These are wood ashes.
There are no remains here.
“This one has continued,” Abél whispers. The space between
his eyes pulses and his throat constricts around the unvoiced words. This one
is still among us.
On Hummingbirds and Book Genres
By Donna Dechen Birdwell
Author of Song of All Songs, EarthCycles Book One
“Alone among the world’s ten thousand avian species, only those in the hummingbird family, Trochilidae, can hover in midair. For centuries, nobody knew how they did it. They were considered pure magic.” — Sy Montgomery (The Hummingbirds’ Gift: Wonder, Beauty, and Renewal on Wings)
Our cultural habit of labeling as “magic” anything that lacks a convincing scientific explanation is what I believe accounts for the persistence of the often-unwieldy genre we gloss as “sff”—science fiction/fantasy. Yes, of course we can differentiate the one from the other and a great deal of ink has been spent in the task. But like the positive and negative poles of a magnet, they can’t be separated. The task of assigning particular stories to one pole or the other sometimes constitutes a sticky problem. Is N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy fantasy or science fiction? What about Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness?
When I first noted that reviewers were referring to my novel Song of All Songs as a work of fantasy, I was annoyed. “No,” I wanted to say. “It’s science fiction.” And yet, I was forced to admit that there are elements within it that certainly fall under the rubric of what most people call fantasy. There are stones with remarkable properties. There are people with what appear to be strange powers. Is that magic? It’s only magic if, within the context of the story and its world, there is no scientific explanation.
But…what if the world in which the story takes place is not only post-apocalyptic but also post-science? It’s not that no scientific explanation is possible for what’s going on. It’s only that there’s no science, or at least nothing like the science we have in our pre-apocalyptic world of the 21st Century. In many traditional nonwestern cultures, there is neither “science” nor “magic,” there’s only what is. What works. The world of EarthCycles (so far) is such a world.
I will leave it for my readers to decide. Is Birdwell’s EarthCycles series science fiction or fantasy? You may not want to make up your mind until you’ve read all three books.
When Donna Dechen Birdwell was about ten years old, she became obsessed with the idea that if she was thinking with her brain, she ought to be able to think how it works! She’s been trying to wrap her mind around reality (and how humans experience it) ever since. She made a career out of anthropology—that utterly boundless science of humankind and how we got here—and then sidestepped into Buddhist philosophy and then art and photography and writing stories that tend to fall somewhere in the neighborhood of speculative and/or science fiction. She’s a big fan of Ursula LeGuin and N.K. Jemisin.
In her EarthCycles series, Donna imagines a far, far future world in which pockets of survivors of a global apocalypse have evolved new ways of being human. “Not altogether new,” she says. “More like rearrangements of certain aspects of our inherent human potential.” The first volume of EarthCycles, Song of All Songs, received the 2020 silver medal from Self Publishing Review. The book introduces a mixed-race main character making her unique way through a deeply conflicted world. The second book in the series, Book of All Time, is set for release in August of 2021.
Donna’s first trilogy (Recall Chronicles) is set in a hauntingly familiar 22nd-century world in which nobody grows old, an achievement that turns out to be not nearly so utopian as one might expect. Each volume tells the story of a different character’s experience of that world, but the stories are intertwined and some of the same characters turn up in all the books.
A stand-alone contemporary fiction book, Not Knowing, explores intergenerational PTSD in the life of an archaeologist working in Belize. Donna worked as an ethnologist in Belize for many years, so there’s a lot of her heart in this one.
Before anthropology, Donna worked as a newspaper reporter, and beyond anthropology she studied Buddhist philosophy (and practice) and then became an artist and photographer. Her paintings are done in acrylics on handmade Nepali lokta paper. Her primary photographic interest is in Miksang contemplative photography.
Donna earned her Ph.D. in anthropology from Southern Methodist University in Dallas and previously taught at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas.