Dr. Elder’s exploration of a Stone Age culture through Kara at the beginning of the novel draws the reader in. What Science Fiction novel beings in the Stone Age, after all? The twist reflects upon a readership that expects advanced technology right off the bat, and plays to the strengths of a new kind of Sci-Fi novel. At the same token, Kara is a result of her culture—strong-willed, able to hunt and fend for herself, can defend herself, and willing to do whatever it takes to survive.
In the first chapter alone, Dr. Elder delves into the hierarchy of the Labateen, Kara’s culture and once-tribe. A strict set of rules is set up and adhered to: no Labateen may be allowed to live if he or she is born with a blemish anywhere on their body. It is the mother’s duty to inspect and kill the infant at birth should any such mark be found. Patches of darker or lighter skin are a sign that the goddess Ishtar has taken the infant into her power and that the child will bring despair and famine to the Labateen.
The mark, though, can be easily hidden by Kara’s red hair as it grows, and Kara’s mother takes her time after giving birth dying the infant’s hands and head black in a ritual meant to show the child’s favor with the Labateen god. The act of dying a newborn’s skin shows the alterations humans make to themselves and others as they age, and pairs well with the Stone Age culture and faith. If one can be seen as favored by god, then that child shall surely bring prosperity to her culture.
Other similarities between the Labateen culture and our own are astounding. Where Leah, Kara’s mother, dyed her hands and head at birth, we too alter our children. We baptize them, put clothing on their small frames, remove their umbilical cord, and give them an image they must maintain throughout their lives. If a child is born a woman, she must conform to our society’s beliefs of what a woman is. Should she not, she runs the risk of being shunned. The same is true here—Kara was born with a mark, and Leah knew that one day her daughter would be shaven bald for a right-of-passage ceremony. Because of this, Leah has prepared her daughter by letting her go on hunts and follow tracking expeditions. No one really questions this because Kara is the daughter of a high-ranking official.
As her hair his sheared off, though, the mark becomes visible, and Leah races forth to defend her daughter against the others of the tribe, including Kara’s father. Leah sacrifices everything in order to ensure her daughter’s survival, and her actions mimic those of mothers in our world. The bond readers experience between Leah and Kara in the first chapter alone is stark, raw, and compassionate. Any mother or daughter can understand the other’s actions.
Leah’s sacrifices weren’t in vain; Kara is allowed to live and is thrust from the tribe. She survives as a woman from a hunter-gatherer culture would—by hunting, tracking, and using the skills she has honed over the years to her benefit. Kara avoids her people and dodges detection the majority of the time. Yet, something is amiss, and she senses it when she leaves her shelter to find food after a seven-day period of no captured prey. In fact, there is nothing for her to hunt or scavenge in the immediate vicinity of her cave, so she heads further out in hopes of finding food.
When she comes across a spacecraft, she attempts to attack and kill it, but ultimately fails and is knocked unconscious. Kara’s reaction to the craft’s presence was executed in a fashion befitting a Stone Age woman. Her uncertainty is aptly felt as she approaches the craft and inspects it, then dives in for an assault. Such a reaction resonates with her upbringing, and even hints at her loyalty later in the novel. Though the craft is strange, Kara is willing to fight it to protect not only herself, but the Labateen. Perhaps her actions are not consciously in their defense, but they show her decision to get rid of the alien object rather than attempt to use it to destroy those who outcast her.
I give Child of Destiny four of five stars. The cultures are believable, the characters are deep and well-developed, and the plot is entertaining and keeps the reader guessing. My only concern is the ending; it feels as though Dr. Elder attempted to keep his readers hanging, and by doing so, did not answer enough of the questions he raised. At the same token, I anticipate reading Child of Destiny’s sequel, Pursuing a Legend. Also, don’t miss Deep Thought, another riveting Science Fiction novel by Dr. George H. Elder!
His varied life experiences and education give him a unique and interesting perspective, and he often weaves philosophical insights and pathos into his texts. His books are action-oriented, but they do not have simplistic plots wherein good vs. evil or some other hackneyed approach is used. Instead, Elder employs plot shifts that allow the characters and readers to question the relationships we often take for granted. For example, a hero may do great wrongs while a species once perceived as malicious can be revealed to be honorable and wise. This offers refreshing and exciting perspectives for readers as they delve into Elder’s texts, for one never knows what to expect.
The universe is nearing its inevitable end, everything is being rapidly devoured. The last hope of a dying universe is to awaken the Seeker, a legendary metaphysical being known only through ancient tales. The Seeker has the capacity to link the entire universe; they alone may be able to spark the rebirth of the universe.
Many of those that remain desperately want existence to continue. As the remaining races struggle to survive and fight over saving existence, lofty ideals give way to brutal pragmatism. Missions are sent out in search of the Seeker. One such mission encounters Kara an outcast noblewoman of the Labateen, a Stone-Age warrior culture. Kara is well versed in the Seeker’s litany, beyond what would be considered coincidence –to Kara the litany is simply the ways of God. Will Kara be able to help locate the Seeker?
Those who wish the universe to end in disorder, with no more than a whimper are not willing to sit by as others race to alter the end universe. As these opposing forces mount their defenses, racing to see their goals are achieved one question stands out…
Is Kara the key?
Child of Destiny (The Genesis Continuum trilogy #1) by Dr. George H. Elder
Edited by Julie Tryboski & Illustrated by Randall Drew
THE ANCIENTS BELIEVED THE PURPOSE OF LIFE IS TO EVOLVE SPECIES THAT CAN PERPETUATE THE POSSIBILITY OF CONTINUED EXISTANCE THROUGH THEIR THOUGHTS AND DEEDS — WITH THOUGHT BEING A SEMINAL POWER THAT CAN OVERCOME THE DARK FORCES THAT DRIVE ALL THAT IS TOWARD NOTHINGNESS (“NOTLOH THE OLDER” OF HARKAD PRIME).
CHAPTER 1: ISHTAR’S CHILD
Kara had worked tirelessly piling heavy boulders around her hillside cave’s entrance, leaving a thistle-covered opening on the mound’s top that was barely wide enough for her to squeeze through. Over the years, successive layers of soil and jagged rocks were heaped on the boulders, and the humble shelter could now resist the fiercest storm and harshest winter. Long razor grass, thorny briars, and shrubs flourished on the stout construction, providing Kara’s home with a camouflaged barrier that served well against both four- and two-legged predators. The only drawbacks were meager lighting, invading spiders and centipedes, and the poor ventilation provided by the narrow entrance. Yet these were relatively small prices to pay for security. Moreover, the shelter was adjacent to a spring-fed stream that froze for only part of the winter. Of course, there was a constant need to collect firewood, gather fruits, nuts, and berries, and hunt, but Kara was proficient in these arts. She had to be, for such is an outcast’s lot.
She sat cross-legged on the cave’s floor, bathed in a shaft of sunlight that poured through the entrance. The flint tip of her spear needed sharpening, and she deftly chipped away tiny flecks of stone with a hard rock. Kara’s father had taught her the ancient art of blade-making, not that Torok ever envisioned his daughter would depend on such a skill to sustain a solitary existence. No, he had felt she was destined for great things within the tribe, which was only appropriate for the child of a Labateen chieftain such as Torok. And Kara grew to be a most unusual girl, a precocious child who tagged along behind hunting parties and played violent war games with the tribe’s boys.
By her fifth season Kara’s deftly thrown spear was regularly taking down prey that was nearly as large as she, all of which were proudly dragged back to the great cave. She even learned the old storyteller’s sacred litanies, repeating without error the lengthy and complex tales to the delight of family and friends. Torok was proud of Kara’s intelligence, strength, and courage, and considered her an ideal daughter. Never a man of many words, he once told her, “Blood of my blood, you are a very special child. God has blessed you in many ways and you make my heart proud.” Kara basked in the warmth of his approving smile, and found confidence in the tribe’s universal acknowledgment of her rare talents.
Yet neither Torok nor Kara knew about the awful mark she bore high on her scalp, the one her mother had worked tirelessly to conceal since Kara’s birth. The Labateen were the true Children of God, and only the most perfect in form could be accepted into the tribe. And to all appearances Kara’s long, thick, red hair, green eyes, hazel skin, and lithe athletic body were ideal, the quintessential elements of a Labateen woman. Indeed, all was perfect, except for a dark brown birthmark that hid underneath a luxurious mane of hair.
Leah, her mother, was horrified when she first saw the blight, although there was no one to share her shock in the isolated birthing cave. Her labor was long and difficult, and there were times Leah thought death would be a welcome reprieve. And a lonely, painful demise for mother and child was the inevitable penalty for a failed childbirth. This most sacred process was overseen only by God –- and God alone would dictate if both mother and child survived. But survival was only the first step, for then came the mother’s responsibility of ensuring that the child’s body was perfect in all ways. This was God’s test of a mother’s will to abide by the sacred laws that guided the Labateen for countless generations. These were the same laws Torok was sworn to uphold as the tribe’s Dorma, and thus Leah felt particularly driven to follow the ancient codes.
The birthmark’s grotesquery compelled Leah to contemplate bashing Kara’s tiny head against the jagged walls of the birthing cave, the floor of which was richly littered with tiny bony reminders of Labateen mother who had done their duty. Every Labateen woman knew that allowing an unfit or marked child to live would introduce impurity into what were God’s chosen people. The only right and merciful thing was to end such a star-crossed life swiftly. Leah roughly grabbed her writhing daughter, who still wore the blood and slippery wetness of a new life. She stared into the infant’s eyes, and suddenly her will to follow the old ways evaporated. Perhaps it was the long torment of giving birth, or maybe it was the blood loss, but Leah felt that God was guiding her thoughts and deeds. ‘Yes, God must want this infant to live,’ she thought, ‘And to live for a divine purpose.’
Leah deftly severed the umbilical cord with an obsidian blade and suckled the crying infant. With every passing moment the bond between mother and child grew stronger, as did Leah’s conviction that she was doing God’s work. But Leah’s convictions were the stuff of sacrilege, and that would lead to a dreadful fate for any Labateen. However, it was customary for a new mother to remain away from the tribe for ten suns after giving birth, which was yet another trial to help ensure that only the most able would walk amongst the Labateen. Leah took the time to make dyes from nearby plants and berries, being well versed in the art of marking. Indeed, as the daughter of an Elder and wife of the tribe’s Dorma, Leah was expected to be an exemplary marker and healer.
She carefully dyed her infant’s head, hands, and feet deep black, all signs that the child was one with God’s earth by thought and deed. She repeated the procedure over the coming days until the rich dyes were absorbed by Kara’s skin, hiding any sign of the blemish. When the day came to rejoin the tribe, friends and relatives saw the baby’s markings and she was quickly dubbed “Kara,” meaning, “Companion of God.” Many in the tribe thought it odd that Leah didn’t change Kara’s markings as the child matured, but few dared question a Labateen aristocrat. The query might be seen as an insult, and only blood could assuage such folly. The ploy served well in giving Leah’s daughter time to grow a thick and luxurious mane of dark red locks that hid the sin, at least until the age of ascension.
The spear’s tip was nearly ready, and Kara examined it in detail. A good spear and sharp knife were as essential as stealth, speed, and strength when hunting. Yet the hunt had gone poorly for seven suns, and Kara did not know why. Normally, late spring provided ample game, although one had to be ever watchful for the swift grenlobs that followed the migratory herds. The large, bipedal reptiles were armed with sickle-shaped claws and serrated teeth that turned many hunters into prey. However, a hunting party of Labateen was more than a match for any animal. Even a small party could bring down a tork, a hulking, wooly, four-legged brute with a nasal horn taller than a man. Yet tribal lore aptly described a lone hunter as the personification of a “sad thing,” and Kara was reduced to stalking relatively small rodents and marsupials, with an occasional fish supplementing a meager vegetarian diet.
She preferred hunting in the nude. But it was a chilly morning, so Kara donned a pair of well-worn moccasins and the long rawhide tunic her mother once wore. Although much-patched, the tunic was one of Kara’s prized keepsakes, and as she put it on thoughts of that terrible day wafted anew. The Right of Ascension takes place during the 14th springtime of every Labateen’s life, and the ritual is overseen by the tribe’s Elders. For women, Ascension entails having the head shaved with dull blades, being tattooed with sacred symbols, and silently enduring purification via the excruciatingly slow application of steaming hot water to the clitoris. The unremitting pain often caused visions, and these were a blessing from God if their meaning could be divined.
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