Fiction –literature and cinema – has, over the years, given us a wealth of floating and flying cities – Gulliver’s levitating Laputa, the floating Hawkmen city of Flash Gordon, hovering Mt. Flatten of Rocky and Bullwinkle, and, most recently, the floating Hallelujah Mountains of Avatar. Now joining them is Gkaé Sahrthet’é (“that which could be home”), more briefly and more pronounceably Gysrrt or the Sartine world, where 124,000 islands, or “airlands,” a number of them cities in flight, float across a rose-quartz sky, their Cavorite, spindizzies, Upsidaisium or Unobtainium a dense, erratically magnetic, gravity-defying metal called Ceverabin, and where steam-powered airships with anti-ballast heart stones ply Cevera, the Sky.
The world of Ariel Cinii’s The Family Forge has been painstakingly, obsessively crafted over at least three decades in notebooks, apazines and filk songs (Cinii is likely more familiar to sf convention attendees as fan and filker I Abra Cinii, or Abby), complete with a unique history (it was settled through an interdimensional portal called the Shimmering Door), structure of personal names (matronymic with birthplace appended), weights and measures, peculiarly mixed technology, religion and language (the gerund-based Yal Dawo, heavily endowed with apostrophes, umlauts and circumflexes, and mid-word capitalizations … probably no more difficult than Klingon … and in which, by the way, “Cinii” means the Wind and “I Abra Cinii” is the formal title for an airland’s Sky Watchman). It is a fascinating world, highly idiosyncratic and deeply personal (Cinii occasionally reveals belief in its actual existence – “My story lives on this world, just as I once did”), and clearly too large for a slim 220-page volume, counting a glossary (useful and necessary, much like the one in C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner, to which this reader frequently flipped) and a staggering eight appendices (two more than in The Lord of the Rings, and two of which are songs with their genesis a full 20 years ago). The Family Forge is the opener of what is envisioned to be a multi-volume saga, The Touching Lands Dance.
On such a world, landlubbers (“Drômanss” or Lowsiders) seeking adventure don’t run away to sea, but to a Life at Sky, and, after a prefatory chapter detailing the theft of a piece of revolutionary technology, the story proper indeed begins with two farm boys, the young brothers Rehez Iadless, Vallon Retôb and AdiNa Iadless, Vallon Retôb, signing on aboard the airship Paj’oRa, the titular Flying Forge, introducing both them and the readers to its extended family (the Family of the Forge). Offering a Flying Hardware Emporium and Musical Revue to communities on the ground and airlands alike, the Forge is “a blue wooden lute with a potbelly eight stories deep,” pinion rudders, twin propellers and smokestacks … and much-patched and falling apart. (Despite the loving descriptions of its design and workings, The Family Forge is not an engineering textbook; the anti-gravity thing is kind of a dead giveaway.) At its head are the Rogra, or Captain, the increasingly senile and detached GayuDa the Welder; the first officer, the scheming Baljin Vrieness; and Stayën Rinjaness, GayuDa’s daughter and heir.
On their fourth port of call, the flying island (or Mëssôt) Estiri Thenéä, or Our Lady of the Sky, we meet the priest-psychic Seijan and his student, the JréVan (Seer) Arosdé. (There is a sort of “psychic Internet”, the Great Astral Network, among the “Knowing Community.”) Most significantly, Stayën is shown – and smitten by – an incredible device, a wireless communicator, radio as we would say. (Within communities there are land-lines, but airships and airlands communicate by semaphoric codes of flashing lights, signal flags, sometimes even by megaphone.) She immediately sees its possibilities revolutionizing trade (“Trade is Life”), such as advertising the Forge’s arrival at ports or broadcasting its traveling shows. But, as a Watcher at the Forge’s home base sagely reminds, “’Revolutions’ always cost somebody something.” Equally infatuated with Stayën (she’s a pert redhead with chocolate eyes and a mean right cross), the boys are easily talked by Baljin (who has his own agenda) into stealing a pair of wireless units, ostensibly for her.
Its stolen cargo a secret to all on the steamship but the trio, the Flying Forge is pursued by forces from Our Lady of the Sky into the path of Apash Nal, a world-circling land mass so immense that it has its own weather system, the monstrously destructive Storm Ring, right to their own home base, the Mëssôt Palyé Yoëness, where new tragedy awaits. (It was oddly appropriate to read about the Storm Ring while Hurricane Sandy was walloping the East Coast.) While the story does not end on a cliffhanger, except literally, it is certainly incomplete, with plot threads left dangling for future volumes (already in progress).
All in all, The Family Forge is an engaging story in an imaginatively fresh setting, though the eccentric overuse of accent marks and exceedingly exotic names are initially a hurdle, and it’s easy to get bogged down in the daunting minutiae of Sartine background history and culture, Yal Dawo noun declension, and the rules of the map-based shipboard game of cups and coins Ssaotijye, or Voyages, which may make the novella inaccessible to some, so it may be best to skim or even skip a few of the appendices.
The Family Forge (originally published at WormholeElectric.com) is available in soft-cover from Amazon.com for $9.85.