Human sacrifice, communities eaten from within, a vast mind blazing under the mud of Lake Titicaca; the rise and fall of empires cruel and kind.
Dark Sun, Bright Moon whisks readers back a thousand years to a pristine Andean world, to a habitable space of deserts, peaks and Amazonian jungle. Its societies have evolved for ten thousand years of utter isolation, and have developed their own ways of thinking about life and human worth. A select few have been able to tap a reality that both encloses and generates the entire tangible universe. It is a reality which has its dangers. As the book opens, one such threat is consuming the minds of the dominant Huari empire.
Coping with this crisis destroys one Empire and creates two new ones, one of them destined to shape the Andes until the emergence of the Inca, four hundred years in the future. This unique novel weaves together historical fiction, cultural truths and pure adventure, leading to a climax that reverses much of what we think we know about ourselves.
The author, Oliver Sparrow, has lived in Peru and has travelled and worked extensively in the Andes. He has previously set up a web site that gives extensive coverage of moden Peru.
United Kingdom, September 2014 – Andean societies evolved without external contact for ten thousand years. They became, to our perspective, very strange. Dark Sun, Bright Moon uses their view of the universe to explore the dramatic upheavals that took place a thousand years ago. This is an adventure story set in as authentic a setting as our knowledge permits, but taking the implications of Andean metaphysics to its limits and beyond.
Our reality, our entire universe, is a junior partner that is held between two other, utterly alien domains of existence. Acting together, however, these two generate everything that we know, our tangible reality, our modern science. Our neighbouring domains are, though, larger and more complex than our own universe. They are heavily populated by sentient beings – not gods or spirits, but beings going about their affairs in an utterly different sphere of existence. Some of these are inscrutable, but some are vital to our existence. A number of these beings act upon human communities. An important group of these, the apus, are inevitable companions to any settled society. They tend these societies to promote harmony and tranquillity, but they have an innate capacity to become parasitic. As the book opens, one such apu has become a virulent parasite and has begun to infect the network of its peers. Together, the apus are mining the heart out of the Huari empire, turning its people into automata and killing off entire populations.
Most humans are unable to access the other domains of existence, but a group of adepts – the yachaq’ – are able to do so in limited ways. This is not a religious matter but a technology, a set of skills that can be learned, ideally acquired over a succession of lives. The yachaq’ are detested by the state religions, which do not acknowledge that our world is a lesser partner in existence and instead prefer instead to placate their savage gods with human sacrifice. That such sacrifice allows them to exercise murderous control over subject populations is a bonus for secular rulers, who therefore also tend to suppress the yachaq’.
In the Andes of a thousand years ago, the Huari empire is sick. Its communities are being eaten from within by a plague, a contagion that is not of the body but of something far deeper, a plague that has taken their collective spirit. Rooting out this parasite is a task that is laid upon Q’ilyasisa, a young woman from an obscure little village on the forgotten borders of the Huari empire.
We first encounter Q’ilyasisa when she living in desperate poverty. She is unaware that she is the granddaughter of a powerful yachaq’. When he is killed fighting the parasite, his heritage passes – or should pass – to her. That makes her useful to anyone who can control her. As her talents are developed by other yachaq’, she is seized by an entity from one of the neighbouring domains, shaped as a weapon against the parasite and launched on a series of deadly adventures amongst slavers and torturers.
To get to the seat of the Huari parasite, she must travel through the Amazon jungle to a final confrontation on a sacrificial pyramid. But that is only the start of her career, which sees her shape the destiny of the entire Andean civilisation.
The strange Andean cosmology is a concrete thing, neither magic nor religion but a technology with a logic of its own that drives the story line. Dark Sun, Bright Moon can be read at many levels, but above all it is an adventure story in which credible people undertake rational if desperate acts in the face of extreme threat.
Dark Sun, Bright Moon is a 6 x 9 paperback which consists of around 170,000 words set in 40 chapters. It is illustrated, with over a hundred black and white images and maps. It also has an appendix that offers extensive background material. The author knows modern Peru very well, and has visited all of the physical sites that are described in the book.
“To be honest, speculative historical fiction has become very tired,” says Sparrow. “The tropes have all become commonplace. It makes for lazy writing, evoking familiar scenarios of sword and sorcery, dragons, knights and princesses, werewolves and vampires. You can dress this up as “irony”, but we all know how much easier it is to write about the familiar or the stereotyped than it is to launch something that is new and fresh. You have to explain so much more to the reader, and of course that has its risks. Publishing is under a lot of stress from new technologies, and as a result it has become timid, preferring to repeat past successes rather than to find something new. Visual media have gone much the same way - hundreds of channels to view, but nothing to see on them that has not been endlessly reheated.”
“Well, here’s something new. It’s about a places and a time, a culture and a metaphysic that few people know even existed. When you read Dark Sun, Bright Moon, you enter a world as seen though the eyes of the local people. It’s a view that is still seen dimly, even after the Spanish reduced the native population from eleven million to one, and forced their religion on the survivors.”
Continuing, “A huge amount of research went into this book. Over the years I have been to every location that it describes – well, in this world at least! You can read it at lots of levels, as an adventure story or as something more complex. But this isn’t a supermarket book. People who have read it say that they go back and read it again, and then browse bits of it. The often comment that it’s different for them every time.”
Readers agree, leaving positive reviews. One Amazon reader comments, “Dark Sun, Bright Moon is fully faithful to the geography, history and as much as we know of the anthropology of a thousand years ago. Huari existed, and it did fall with such suddenness that bread was left baking in the oven and tools scattered across the workman’s bench. But did a great mind, blazing under Lake Titicaca, change the nature of the world? Worryingly, there’s even a study in the Appendix to say that it did.”
Oliver Sparrow was born in the Bahamas, raised in Africa and educated at Oxford to post-doctorate level, as a biologist with a strong line in computer science. He spent the majority of his working life with Shell, the oil company, which took him into the Peruvian jungle for the first time. He was a director at the Royal Institute for International Affairs, Chatham House for five years. He is known as a futurist and an adept at scenario planning. He has started numerous companies, one of them in Peru, where it mines for gold.
Orchids have been a central interest since childhood, and Peru is a fine place for them. However, he has trudged much of the Himalayas and the jungles of Oceania in search of them.
This web site is a general utility that Oliver Sparrow uses for file transfers and other applications. You may be looking for the Challenge Network, which is chaired by Oliver Sparrow. You may also be interested in the interactive guide to modern Peru that one of his Peruvian companies, ITG y Asociados s.a.c., has made available. And of course, please see here for Oliver Sparrow's latest novel Dark Sun, Bright Moon.