From an Aurora Award-winning author, a new sci-fi novel follows three intrepid humans caught up in a conflict that stretches across time and space.
Biologist Julie E. Czerneda's new standalone science fiction novel, To Each This World follows a desperate mission to reconnect with long lost sleeper ships, sent centuries earlier from Earth to settle distant worlds.
A trio of Humans must work with their mysterious alien allies to rescue any descendants they can find on those worlds. Something is out there, determined to claim the cosmos for itself, and only on Earth will Humans be safe.
Or will they?
The challenge isn’t just to communicate with your own kind after generations have passed. It’s to understand what isn’t your kind at all.
And how far will trust take you, when the truth depends on what you are?
About the author
Julie E. Czerneda is a biologist and writer whose science fiction has received international acclaim, awards, and best-selling status. She is the author of the popular "Species Imperative" trilogy, the "Web Shifters" series, the "Trade Pact Universe" trilogy and her new "Stratification" novels. She was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Her stand-alone novel, In the Company of Others, won Canada's Prix Aurora Award and was a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award for Distinguished SF. Julie lives with her husband and two children in the lake country of central Ontario, under skies so clear they could take seeing the Milky Way for granted, but never do. You can find her at www.czerneda.com.
Excerpt: To Each This World (by (author) Julie E. Czerneda)
"See you on the other side."
On the day the message probe reached New Earth-more precisely was intercepted on approach and began its passage through the hands of consecutively more alarmed individuals on the surface-Arbiter Henry m'Yama t'Nowak was on the other side of the planet, weeding his grandfather's vegetables.
A peaceful, long-anticipated afternoon's task, weeding, punctuated by occasional visits from his grandfather, who leaned elbows on the porch rail to survey Henry's progress from beneath bushy, wild eyebrows.
Majick Nowak was the sum of his grandfather's name, which said a great deal, Henry believed, about the man who'd raised him. A first name was a family gift. The type' or t' prefix to the last meant the individual's genome had been added to the Human Diversity Expansion Database. Majick wasn't interested, having the family genealogy in a box in the attic, with little bags of baby teeth donated by successive Tooth Elves dating back, he claimed, to Arrival-when the Sleeper Ship Adamant landed and woke her passengers.
Majick had also refused, when finished school, to pick the aspirational mark' or m' signifying an historical figure from the Origin Earth's Archive to emulate in his life. Farmers on any world aspired not to starve, he'd say, half joking.
Half not, Henry thought, smiling to himself as he stretched. The produce from this garden went straight to his grandfather's kitchen, anything extra to the roadside stand. He did his best to help whenever here.
And didn't mention the unplanted fields and rusting machinery. Like its neighbors, the farm was fading, starved for new blood. As Arbiter, he saw the figures. Birthrates. Demographics. On reaching ten and half million, New Earth had opened the next new region. The Southern Plains would siphon away the young and adventurous for the foreseeable future and there was no preventing it.
Things were, his grandfather would say, what they were. Abandoned farms would be consolidated and put under the care of Alt-Intels, once their work preparing the plains was done. The sentient constructs were efficient and careful of the land, but it wouldn't be part of them. A lifestyle would become history.
They weren't there yet. Henry eased himself down the row, ignoring the complaints from the knees and back he hadn't asked to bend in weeks.
Settled, he drew his fingers along the line of cowering blue-green sprouts. Grass he was sure of-the rest, not so much, but the low, fat plants he'd plucked out had to be weeds. Weren't they?
He focused with renewed confidence. Pluck. Pluck-
"Henry." A hand fell on his shoulder. "Time you took a break."
Henry glanced up at his grandfather, haloed by the sun. He hadn't far to look, Majick being stocky and short. Shorter than his last visit. "Almost done." This row. Twenty more stretched behind him.
"They'll be here tomorrow. Come sit with me." A gnarled hand gripped two bottles by the neck, glass dewed with tempting condensation.
Henry suddenly realized he wasn't only overheated but parched. He gave a grateful nod as he got to his feet.
Staggered a step, and his grandfather reached out to steady him. "Hat," he scolded.
"Forgot," Henry confessed sheepishly, feeling a boy again. He'd been eager to be out in the sun.
Majick shook his head.
They sat on the porch stairs, in welcome shade and comfortable silence, sipping beer. Watched the chickens hunt and pounce between the rows. "Look how hard I worked today. I've callouses," Henry boasted, showing the palm of his right hand.
His grandfather showed his, the skin thick and furrowed. "These are callouses, lad. Those are blisters." A grin. "Another beer?"
"I'll get it."
When Henry returned to the porch, lofty white clouds showed along the horizon. "Thunderstorm tonight?"
"What, no meteorological report to consult? No fancy experts?"
He tipped his bottle to his grandfather's. "I've you." A relief, to shed the tech normally surrounding him, to silence the constant data stream and demands of others. It had been a long three weeks, arbitrating the dispute between Earth Station Niablo and the Kmet.
The Kmet not being Human and Niablo's comptroller choosing to ignore that simple fact had complicated the situation in every possible way.
Fortunately, humanity and the Kmet had achieved a remarkable level of mutual understanding since the Kmet Portal first appeared in orbit, when Henry had been a boy living on this farm with his grandparents. Necessarily so, as the Kmet hadn't left, seeming content to have found company in a universe kmeth described as barren and lonely and dull.
At least, that was the conclusion of the linguists who'd scrambled to interpret an alien's use of Human words, picked up from New Earth broadcasts. That the Kmet came prepared for peaceful conversation calmed a startled Human population and certainly made things easier.
A succession of Arbiters, the Kmet having insisted on a single Human authority, negotiated orbital safety regulations and protocols, crafting the Duality that today governed everything from pilot rotations to communication equipment. The Kmet needed partners to obtain the minerals kmeth required and cleverly gave Humans technology requiring them as well. To obtain those, the Kmet sent Human ships across space through kmeths' Portals; kmeth did not share how those worked.
Beyond that? The Kmet valued certain Human foods, if not art or history, and, while Earth scientists continued to obsessively ponder everything about the Kmet, the aliens seemed disinterested in learning more about Humans or their planet. The Kmet stayed in space, Humans on their world, and the sole interface remained whomever Earth's governments designated as the Arbiter.
Henry'd held the post now for seven years, would-barring calamity-until retirement, and was doing, he hoped, a decent job of it. He'd settled the Niablo dispute-with a great deal of help, freely admitted. The Arbiter's Office had authorization to second any and all expertise, planet-wide, and he hadn't hesitated to use it. As a result, the newly built station would gradually expand its orbit so as to no longer impede the Kmet's view of Earth, a less economical location, according to Niablo. In recognition-or as a gift or possibly retribution, even experts unsure on the finer points-the Kmet offered kmeth's Portal to transit three Niablo freighters to Rogue 58 and back at no charge to deliver spare parts to the mines there and bring back refined metals.
There'd been the usual Kmet clause insisting Humans not loiter, whatever that meant to the aliens. Nothing that breathed willingly lingered on one of the sunless, hostile worlds the Kmet favored for mining.
His grandfather pushed back his hat and squinted at the bright lilac sky. He licked a finger and poked it up, considering a moment. "Yup," he declared. "We'll need to bring in the chickens."
Henry nodded, content to have his universe encompassed by poultry and rain.
After saying goodnight to his grandfather, Henry went out on the porch to enjoy the play of lightning as the storm rolled closer across the plain. He cradled a glass of the fine whiskey he'd brought, feeling the last tension melt from his bones, replaced by the satisfying, if painful, twinge of newly used muscle. The blisters on his palm had responded to cream. He put a hand to the nape of his neck, felt the heat of sunburn, and grinned ruefully. Hat tomorrow or he'd not hear the end of it.
Involuntarily, his fingers swept up through his hair, the tips feeling his scalp for lumps, proving to himself there were none. The neural lace lay beneath bone, riding his brain within its protective meniscus. He should be used to it by now-was, Henry thought, dragging his betraying hand down.
Truth be told, he no longer liked hats and let his hair grow shaggy between trims, having to wind up his nerve to endure anything on his head or anyone touching it; a not uncommon reaction, he'd been assured, the longer he spent away.
That's what they called it, being away, when Henry m'Yama t'Nowak, Majick Nowak's grandson, sunburned and achy, was popped into a can and his mind went-
Arbiter, please respond.
The summons was subvocal, a vibration against his inner ear he heard despite the rumble of thunder, and entirely unwelcome.
Even if it did originate from his Facultative Linked Intelligent Polymorph, the latest Human iteration of Kmet technology, placed within the Arbiter's Office by the other Alt-Intels of New Earth as being the most likely employer to consider weird as wonderful.
And Flip was. A companion, colleague, and friend. Who knew better.
"No," Henry said firmly, closing his eyes. "I told you I wasn't to be bothered, Flip. I'm on vacation." Doctors' orders-
While I regret the necessity to disobey your instructions, Henry, I have an imperative news brief to deliver. A probe has arrived from the Halcyon Class Starship henderson.
Henry found himself on his feet, whiskey dripping from his fingers; somehow he kept hold of the glass. "A sleeper ship?!"
Correct, Henry. One of six such starships to depart the system in the
"Yes, yes. I know." Everyone knew. You learned about the sleeper ship program in school, with its high drama and Human sacrifice. New Earth's first and only attempt to set foot on other worlds, to fulfill the vow made a millennia ago to keep the Human species spreading outward.
A vow grown more compelling with the loss of their original home, for Origin Earth fell silent during their ancestors' journey here; her final messages passed beyond New Earth before the Adamant landed and woke her passengers to listen. No way to know what happened within the preceding 120 years to end the civilization that sent them forth. No way to know if other ships had launched after theirs.
No way to know they weren't alone.
Using the ship's Archive, determined to treat their world better, the descendants' first focus was to improve manufacturing and agriculture methods. Only when confident they'd thrive on New Earth without harming it did they reach for space once more; the Halcyon Project became a shining beacon of how far humanity had come. Would now go-
Fate intervened. A forecast solar storm had rushed the launch from the orbital space dock, overshadowing what was to have been a planet-wide celebration. No time for speeches or vid coverage. Worse, no farewells to loved ones about to be parted forever.
Then the ships were lost-
Apparently not all. "How sure is it?" Henry asked numbly.
The probe has been authenticated as being manufactured by the Higher Than Sky Shipyards, two hundred and six years ago, and the timing of its arrival does align with prediction. The number of amateur astronomers dedicated to watching for such probes is impressive, Henry. Several have claimed to be the first to spot this one.
His grandfather had set up a telescope in the barn loft; Henry's younger self had been politely disinterested. The sleeper ships, if they'd survived the storm, had a maximum sustained velocity of one fifth light speed. Six message probes were to be accelerated to that speed as the final act of each mighty engine, pre-descent to the surface of a new world. One to New Earth, to confirm humanity had its foothold in the stars. Five flung at their sister ships' destinations in a bold, oh-so-Human effort to maintain connection between impossibly far-flung settlements.
Henry remembered wondering what those settlers hoped to gain. It wouldn't be company and couldn't be help.
"A century out, a century home," he murmured. "If any ship made it, that's when we'll know. Damn."
"A children's-I learned it-doesn't matter." He had to wrap his head around the fact, and quickly, that the effort might have succeeded.
Hail arrived as Henry hurried across the porch, kicking up gouts of dust and rattling the old metal roof his grandfather refused to replace. "Flip. The message-was there a message?" For all he knew, the Henderson might have spat her probes if about to collide with an asteroid.
There are forty-seven messages waiting for you, Henry, marked urgent.
He was through the door, running barefoot through the dark kitchen. Curtains billowed in the wind, an open window letting in rain. Henry changed direction. "Ignore my incoming mail. The probe, Flip." Setting his glass on the counter, he leaned over the sink to close and latch the window. "Did it contain a message from the Henderson?"
Yes, Henry. A pause as Flip consulted. A sheet of laminated foil was found in the probe, inscribed with stellar coordinates dated, in Earth terms, ninety-nine years ago.
A message in a bottle. "They made it," Henry whispered to himself, stunned.
There are now eighty-eight, correction, one hundred and thirty-two messages waiting for your attention, Henry, and every one concerns the significance of the probe.
He gripped the edge of the sink. Coruscating raindrops obscured the yard, the porch. There'd be little streams racing between rows in the garden, a torrent in the roadside ditch, and the Arbiter had to gather badly scattered wits before touching that mail queue.
His first thought, clear and chilling: This isn't the world the sleeper ships left: humanity's then-furthest-known outpost, bold and curious.
The probe returned to the Duality, the carefully orchestrated partnership of Human and Kmet. To a Human population who'd spent the past two centuries down a very different path. As for curiosity?
Since the instant of first contact, the defining trait of their species had refocused through that lens, every research project, school subject, and proposed regulation rethought within the context of shared Kmet technology and, yes, kmeth's potential reaction. New Earth prospered, presumably Kmet had by kmeth's own inscrutable measure, and-
The next and crucial thought: No Human on this Earth would board a starship for any reason, let alone agree to sleep for a hundred years on the vague promise of a new world.
Why should they? A Kmet Portal could send them anywhere in an instant.
Including, now, a planet Humans had reached, possibly thrived upon for a century, and of the growing list of voices waiting for the Arbiter's undivided attention, Henry had the sinking feeling most, if not all, were demanding he ask the Kmet to do just that.
The no loitering clause in the Niablo agreement came to mind.
Along with the absolute inability of his predecessors to convince the Kmet that New Earth, lacking starships, had once sent forth a veritable fleet of them.
According to Kmet, Humans were here, not there, as any Kmet was here, not there, and not a single Human had been able to parse a deeper meaning than the obvious. Kmet weren't, in fact, visiting. Though yet to touch the planet's surface, the Kmet considered Earth in some fashion home. Here.
Now, in one battered little spacecraft-if his memory of a museum trip served, the size of the kettle beside him-came proof of Humans there.
Praise for To Each This World
“The search for the 21st-century’s Larry Niven is now officially over. Julie E. Czerneda gives us a galaxy-spanning vision of credible aliens and high-stakes conflict. A wonderful book.” —Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo Award-winning author of Hominids
“To Each This World has everything—compelling worlds, rich history, vivid characters, and more. With a slew of powerhouse novels under her belt, this is Czerneda at her best.” —Brandon Crilly, author of Catalyst
“Czerneda serves up the real stuff—a suspensefully original, sci-tech tale of alien contact, as interstellar humanity seeks a perilous path out of a lethal trap.” —David Brin, author of Earth and Kiln People
“A tale of a fascinating future that’s gripping from the start...between sundered human societies and truly compelling aliens, Czerneda makes first contact fresh again!” —Derek Künsken, author of The House of Styx
“A grand high concept science fiction epic in the classic tradition.” —Eric Choi, Aurora Award-winning author of Just Like Being There
“Julie E. Czerneda has done it again! Aliens, interstellar travel, and deeply rich worlds, To Each This World weaves a tale that is compelling from the first page until the last. This novel is a must read.” —Gerald Brandt, author of the Quantum Empirica
“A startling message from beyond the stars and the diplomat tasked with finding the source. A pilot with an agenda of her own. Fully-realized alien races and a ship that's part habitat/part archeological dig. To Each This World offers all that and more besides, including the rich interpersonal relationships and biological extrapolations that Czerneda is known for.” —Kristine Smith, author of the Jani Kilian series
“A political story wrapped in a gigantic puzzle about communication, biological imperatives, and the dangers of ascribing similar motivations to very disparate species, this novel places three singular, unconventionally thinking individuals at the center of a vast and literally earth-shattering story.” —Library Journal (starred)
"Dense with bizarre aliens and imaginative technology, the intricate worldbuilding sets this apart. Readers seeking substantial science fiction should check this out." —Publishers Weekly
“When I read the concept behind To Each This World, I was immediately intrigued and I am happy to say, I was not disappointed by Czerneda's execution. Not only do the science fiction elements play well together, but her characters also feel natural.” —Game Vortex