Literature / Blindfold
is a science fiction novel by Kevin J. Anderson
. Anderson sent the novel to Brian Herbert
as a sample of his work in order to let him collaborate on the post-Frank Herbert Dune
The novel takes place on a planet called Atlas, which has been settled by humans roughly two centuries prior. It's not a very habitable planet with infertile soil and virtually no native lifeforms (meaning all they have to work with is what they brought with them from Earth). Every inch has to be painstakingly reclaimed from the planet. With Earth being roughly 50 years of travel away, the people of Atlas are on their own, although four ships have arrived since the original landing and a fifth one is on the way. Colony life is centered in First Landing, the original arrival site and the location of the Space Elevator
to the orbital platform, as well as the hub of the maglev network. The rest of the colony is split into a number of landholdings, ruled over by hereditary families
, all of them connected to First Landing via maglev lines. A unique local form of bacterium has been used to cultivate a drug known as Veritas
. When ingested, it temporarily allows a person to read other people's minds. The drug is restricted to a special caste of people called Truthsayers
, who are trained from birth to use Veritas in a responsible manner to give instant and final judgment on a suspect's guilt or innocence. The Truthsayer Guild is the pillar of Atlas community, the belief in the infallibility of Truthsayers keeping the colony from descending into anarchy. But what if one of them made a mistake?..
This novel provides examples of:
- Annoying Younger Sibling: Troy's little sister constantly whines about her brother and life in general, mostly focusing on how things affect her personally rather than the family. After Troy's conviction, her main concern is not that her brother is going to an orbital jail for life, but how this might affect her future marriage prospects. It's then pointed out that her being a shrew is likely to have a bigger effect than Troy's conviction.
- Bittersweet Ending: Troy is vindicated and becomes a key member of the restructured Guild. Franz Dokken is forced to flee and is likely going to be murdered by Eli Strone for his sins. The illegal Veritas trade is over. However, Guild Master Tharion is dead, the truth about Kaliana's Miscarriage of Justice is known, and the Platform is destroyed along with the Space Elevator, stranding the people aboard OrbLab 2 in space (until their supplies run out), ending the Truthsayers' supply of Veritas, and ruining the economy of Atlas, not to mention the loss of all those seeds and animal embryos aboard the station. Fortunately, the Earth Dawn is on the way and will arrive within 2 years with fresh settlers and new machinery to revitalize the colony, presumably serving as the Replacement Goldfish for the Platform.
- Bureaucratically Arranged Marriage: It's implied that this is how pairings are done on Atlas, although it's possible it's only an option if one doesn't want (or doesn't have time) to look for a match him/herself. It's also possible that it's also a more institutionalized version of Real Life online matchmaking services.
- Contrived Coincidence: Troy and Kaliana escape from OrbLab 2 and make it to the surface, after being betrayed. They manage to get away and sneak aboard a maglev cargo train without knowing its destination. Along the way, they jump off and start walking without knowing where they are or which direction they're going. Just as they're ready to give up, they encounter a Prospector rover (and there are very few of them left) and hitch a ride to the nearest holding (the driver offers them a choice of Koman or Toth holding, and they go with the latter, as Troy knows he can't go home to Koman). After a weak of working in the quarries, landholder Emilio Toth arrives to the village with his new magistrate, Kaliana's childhood friend. They recognize one another, and Toth takes them to his estate, where Kaliana explains everything. To their surprise, Toth already knows much of that, having been working in secret against Franz Dokken for many years.
- Cool Big Sis: Troy's older sister lover her little brother and constantly defends him from their parents and their annoying youngest sibling. She wants Troy to escape this life of backbreaking labor in the mines to become something better and has always encouraged his love for painting, much to the chagrin of everyone else, who believe that painting is a waste of money.
- Crystal Spires and Togas: The Truthsayers wear white robes (blue for Guild Master Tharion) and spend their days training their mental abilities, not worrying about things like food, which are provided to them. They live in a temple with hydroponic gardens. Averted for everyone else, though. Most people live in squalor and resign themselves to backbreaking labor just to survive.
- Designer Babies: The Truthsayers are a group of people trained from birth with the use of the Veritas drug (literally from birth, as the embryos receive daily doses of Veritas to accustom the organism to the drug. While it is possible for a normal person to use the drug, the results are unpredictable and short-lived. However, not all trainees become Truthsayers, meaning the process is not perfect.
- The secondary purpose of doing this is to keep Truthsayers separate from any familiar relationship with any of the rulers. No Truthsayer knows his or her parentage.
- Additionally, years of Veritas use render Truthsayers sterile, so they can't have any children of their own.
- Dirty Mind-Reading: The Big Bad has sex with his mistress and takes a dose of Veritas in order to read her thoughts during the experience. To his surprise (and anger), he sees that she's fantasizing about having sex with his cook and, in a fit of rage, chokes her to death.
- Earlier, he punishes a young couple for trying to do the same thing with three months of hard labor.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: The setting is vaguely reminiscent of Dune (justified, since Anderson wrote the novel as a sample to convince Brian Herbert to allow him to continue Frank Herbert's work in that 'verse): a harsh world, a unique substance from that world that grants people Psychic Powers, a Feudal Future setting with scheming aristocrats. There are even hints of large creatures that exist (or used to exist) on Atlas, one of which looks like a giant sea serpent. There is also a suspiciously similar scene during a council meeting, where a large tank full of oxygenated liquid is rolled in with a misshapen being in it, except, in this case, it's the Platform "landholder" Kareem Sondheim, who has spent all his life in space and can't survive on the surface.
- The Dragon: Maximilian is Franz Dokken's loyal manservant. He handles much of Dokken's business, while Dokken is on one of his "sojourns". With a Veritas pill, Dokken was able to confirm that Maximilian is absolutely loyal to him and him alone, having zero ambition of his own. After accidentally turning Maximilian into a vegetable with a Mind Rape, Tharion gives Dokken a new manservant, he gives him another, not telling Dokken that the man is a convicted mass murderer named Eli Strone, hoping that Strone sees the wickedness inside Dokken and kill him.
- Earth That Used to Be Better: While not much is known about Earth, the colonists are aware that the political conditions on the homeworld have been steadily getting more repressive over the past several centuries, to the point where the Earth government saw fit to send a warship to bring Atlas under a military rule about a century ago. The Pilgrims, who have arrived after that, claim that a calamity of some sort has struck Earth but don't go into any details. The fifth ship that is on the way implies that things have gotten better.
- Feudal Future: The Atlas colony is divided into (originally) twenty territories ruled by landholders, descended from the highest-ranking officers of the original colony ship, some of which have since been taken over by other landholders. Most people don't live in very nice conditions, while the landholders live in palaces. All territories are connected via a hub at First Landing, where the Truthsayer temple is located along with the Space Elevator.
- Fighting for a Homeland: The Pilgrims, who have come on the fourth ship since the arrival, want a land of their own, but the landholders are resistant to parting with such hard workers. Additionally, most of Atlas is still uninhabitable. It takes time to make land fertile, but the Pilgrims refuse to hear it.
- Franz Dokken has his manservant Maximilian rile up the Pilgrims in the Sardili Holding to destabilize it. This culminates in the riled up Pilgrims murdering Joachim Sardili for fear that he would call solpols on them.
- Great Escape: After Kaliana realizes that she has mistakenly convicted Troy of murder, she goes to Guild Master Tharion, who explains that he can't publicly exonerate Troy, as the entire society of Atlas is supported by the pillar that is the Truthsayer Guild. Should it become known that the Truthsayers are fallible, that pillar will shatter. Instead, he strips Kaliana of her Truthsayer status and embeds her into the investigation team he sends aboard OrbLab 2 to investigate Veritas production. Her primary task is to help break Troy out, with the secret help of Kareem Sondheim, the master of the Platform, and have him start a new life elsewhere on Atlas (he can never return to First Landing or see his family again). Her other task is to attempt to gleam the truth about Veritas smuggling from the people aboard the lab. When Franz Dokken finds out about the escape plan, he also realizes Kaliana's secondary objective and forces Sondheim to try to sabotage the escape attempt and Make It Look Like an Accident (an easy thing to do in space). As Troy and Kaliana are crossing the vacuum between OrbLab 2 and the Platform in spacesuits, several Platform guards try to kill them with an old Plasma Cannon that Sondheim kept from the SkySword. Luckily, the guards miss but assume they have succeeded. Troy and Kaliana manage to maneuver to land on the roof of the descending Space Elevator and make it to the surface. They then sneak aboard a maglev train to take them away from First Landing.
- Some time after that, Tharion helps Eli Strone escape OrbLab 2, killing Kareem Sondheim's protégé in the process. Strone uses his training as an elite guard to kill the overseer and two guards and the codes supplied by Tharion to flee the station and get down to the surface. Tharion then offers Strone to Franz Dokken as a new manservant, hoping that Strone eventually kills the corrupt landholder.
- Human Popsicle: All starships are equipped with cryotubes to allow people to spend most of the journey (50 years) asleep. Dokken keeps one of them in a secret location, using it periodically to "skip forward" to see his plans unfold without taking The Slow Path. He also feels tired, if he waits too long before entering the tube, as it appears to be "recharging" him. This is also what has allowed him to survive for over two centuries and has given him a broad perspective on life in the colony.
- Infodump: The author tries to weave these into the story, where appropriate, such as when Troy is receiving instructions on how Veritas is produced and how it affects the human nervous system.
- Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: Justified, since the Atlas society has regressed technologically since the original landing 231 years ago. Most of the advanced machinery has become useless without the infrastructure to maintain them. Regular guns are still used by the solpols to maintain order, while those aboard the Platform and OrbLab 2 use special ceramic cartridges that break apart when striking metal to avoid Explosive Decompression but can still harm living beings. The SkySword, a warship that arrived a century ago in an attempt to place Atlas under military rule, had more advanced weaponry, including missiles and Plasma Cannons, but those were destroyed (most of them, at least) after the crew's surrender. Laser cutters are used for mining and tree cutting but not as weapons, as they are bulky and require external power sources.
- Knight Templar: Eli Strone is a former elite guard, who deifies the Truthsayers. After leaving the service, he becomes convinced that he can read people himself and see their sins. He then proceeds to commit mass murders of those he believes to be sinners (most people). After getting caught and brought before a Truthsayer, he is eager to show her that all he did was in the pursuit of justice. He is astonished when she declares him guilty and loses all faith in the Truthsayers, becoming convinced that they are corrupt.
- Living Lie Detector: The Truthsayers. Most criminals who are caught tend to confess for a lighter sentence in order to avoid wasting a Truthsayer's time.
- Longevity Treatment: Some of the original colony ship's officers and colonists ended up receiving geriatric treatments that increased their lifespan by many decades, although nearly all of them are dead by the time the novel takes place. Kareem Sondheim was born aboard the ship and has lived in space all his life, using both the treatment and the lower gravity to keep himself alive. Franz Dokken, one of the three original captains, is still alive partly to the treatment and partly thanks to him periodically using a private cryopod to "skip ahead" weeks at a time.
- Magnificent Bastard: Landholder Franz Dokken has a plan to destabilize the colony by weakening the other landholders and the Truthsayer Guild before picking up the pieces and establishing himself as the undisputed ruler of the planet. He plans to do it all by the time the next colony ship arrives in about 5 years. A big part of his plan is sponsoring illegal Veritas trade in other landholdings, while mercilessly crushing it in his own (he doesn't want anyone accidentally reading his mind). Another part involves spreading clones of himself throughout the colony in order to later use them to facilitate the takeover.
- What he doesn't realize is that other landholders like Emilio Toth are well aware of his plans and are working on removing him from power, sickened at his attempts to unravel the delicate Atlas society. Toth is even monitoring Dokken's transmissions with the Earth Dawn and has managed to turn Dokken's long-time ally Kareem Sondheim against him. According to Toth, Dokken's biggest weakness is his pride in the complexity of his own plans, making him think that none of the other landholders could possibly be aware of them.
- Man of Wealth and Taste: Franz Dokken loves high-class luxuries he remembers from Earth, many of which are not yet available on Atlas. He loves wine (especially Chianti), but the kind produced in his holding has a strange aftertaste. He wants to smoke a cigar, but tobacco is not a vital crop, so no one grows it. His greatest pleasure is horseback riding, and he's the only landholder who keeps these animals. Everyone else wonders why he bothers with them, when it's much easier (and faster) to use a methane-powered vehicle.
- Massive Numbered Siblings: It's implied that this trope is not uncommon on Atlas. In fact, after only three weeks in First Landing, Troy is told by his mother that he quickly needs to find himself a wife and start cranking out kids, just like everyone else. This even applies to some landholders. For example, Emilio Toth and his wife have six children, ranging from 4 years old to 20.
- Meaningful Name: The drug Veritas (Latin for "truth"), used to make Living Lie Detectors.
- Mindfire is a deadly mutation of Veritas that fries a person's brain. Unlike Veritas, Mindfire is airborne.
- The warship sent by Earth to take over Atlas was called SkySword. The name should've probably tipped the colonists that it wasn't yet another ship with settlers.
- The Botany Bay was the Prison Ship sent to Atlas from Earth, the name being a metonym for the Australian penal colonies.
- The Earth Dawn is the latest ship to be sent to Atlas, whose purpose appears to be to signal a new beginning for Earth after an unspecified calamity and allow the settlers to start anew. Additionally, the ship is bringing machinery that will prove useful to the struggling colonists.
- A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Read: Truthsayers spend their lives training to accurately read minds in order to determine guilt or innocence. A young Truthsayer named Kalliana is told to read the mind of a murdering sociopath. What she sees in his mind is so disturbing (he's convinced he's carrying out justice), that it affects her in ways she can't imagine. This is in part responsible for her misreading Troy's mind and delivering the verdict "Guilty", even though he is innocent.
- Mind Rape: Near the end of the novel, the head of the Truthsayers does this to The Dragon in order to find the location of the Big Bad. The dragon is left a vegetable.
- The reverse happens near the beginning, when the female protagonist reads the mind of a fanatical killer who's convinced that he was doing what's right. Being in his mind is too much for her, and she suffers from Heroic BSOD after that.
- This is why Veritas is illegal for anyone except for the Truthsayers, as those using it can forcibly extract secrets from others.
- It's never explained how this is possible, as the stated explanation of how Veritas functions (it heightens a person's ability to detect neural impulses) seems to preclude it being used in this manner.
- Miscarriage of Justice: The plot revolves around a man wrongly convicted in a justice system where the use of Living Lie Detectors is supposed to make wrongful convictions impossible.
- It should be noted that only capital crimes are brought before the Truthsayers. Smaller offenses are handled by local Magistrates, some of whom are washed-out Truthsayers.
- Landholder Franz Dokken is known to dispense justice on his own in his own holding, using his friendship with Guild Master Tharion to justify it, much to Tharion's chagrin.
- Mistaken Confession: A mental version. Troy's feelings of guilt over breaking into the office after hours in order to adjust a report is interpreted by Kalliana as admission to the murder of a Veritas smuggler. Normally, Truthsayers are trained to distinguish the different thoughts and feelings, but Kalliana has recently been traumatized by the mind of a crazed killer and the supply of Veritas used by the Truthsayers has been diluted.
- My Country, Right or Wrong: Most solpols assigned to holdings tend to be more loyal to their landholders than the Truthsayer Guild, which they have sworn an oath to. Emilio Toth and Victoria Koman's attack on the Dokken Holding is spearheaded by their loyal solpols, and most of the resistance comes in the form of the solpols loyal to Dokken.
- My God, What Have I Done?: The Pilgrims' reaction after they murder Joachim Sardili, the landholder most sympathetic to their plight.
- My Grandson Myself: Done by the villain, who uses a cryopod to become a Human Popsicle for a few weeks before re-emerging to see how things are progressing.
- This has the side effect of making him sterile, although he has managed to spread clone embryos of himself throughout the colony.
- The villain is actually one of the captains of the original colony ship.
- Oh Crap!: As the leader of the Truthsayers is scanning the Big Bad's mind, discovering all his plots, he finds out that not only is he the Big Bad's clone but that the Veritas capsule he took is laced with Mindfire. He dies a few seconds later.
- Orbital Bombardment: The SkySword, a warship sent by Earth's totalitarian government to take control over Atlas, had missing tubes for bombarding colony from orbit, should the colonists prove to be uncooperative. After being scuttled and turned into the Truthsayer Guild temple, the tubes have been converted into troughs to water plants, while the missiles were destroyed. The leader of the Platform turns out to have kept a few of the missiles and uses them at the end to destroy Dokken's estate from orbit. Unfortunately for him, he warns Dokken before the missiles hit, allowing the Big Bad to enact his own plan and destroy the Platform with the rigged Space Elevator.
- Penal Colony: Criminals sentenced to life without parole are sent to a small orbital lab that grows the Veritas drug. The job is extremely dangerous, due to a small but ever-present chance of mutation into the deadly (and airborne) Mindfire variety, which kills almost instantly. If a mutation is detected, the compartment is automatically vented into space, along with any prisoner working there.
- Plasma Cannon: A number of these were aboard the SkySword, the warship sent by the totalitarian Earth government to conquer Atlas. After the ship's surrender, all of them were, supposedly, destroyed, along with all the advanced weaponry. At least one was kept by Kareem Sondheim, the "landholder" of the Platform. He uses it to try to kill Troy and Kaliana during their Great Escape. Fortunately, the guards he has fire the weapon turn out to have attended the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy. Franz Dokken also has two of these, which his people use to defend the holding against a combined Toth/Koman invasion. The cannons manage to blow up three rover vehicles and vaporize several soldiers. Just then, Michel Van Petersen's team manages to cut power to Dokken Holding, and the cannons become useless.
- Praetorian Guard: The Elite Guards are the best of the solpols (soldier-police), assigned to protect the Truthsayers. They are the only ones allowed to wear the original military uniforms of the SkySword soldiers. All other solpols wear replicas.
- Prison Ship: The second ship to arrive to Atlas after the original colony ship was full of prisoners exiled from Earth. They assimilated into the Atlas society fairly well, and many people can trace their ancestry to a prisoner or two. In fact, many of their descendants are hard workers, hoping to prove their worth to the colony.
- Prospector: A number of prospecting families travel throughout the landholdings and into the untamed territories on old rover vehicles, left over from the original colony ship (the few that are still running), looking for resources to be exploited by the landholders. The rovers are large enough to house at least half a dozen people, although they tend to return to civilization by dark. The roving families are described as "gypsy-like". The one encountered by Troy and Kaliana are run by a matriarch, who serves as the vehicle's driver. She helpfully gives them a ride to the nearest village and doesn't have any problems with them keeping their secrets.
- Replacement Goldfish: Presumably, the Earth Dawn will serve as a new Space Station instead of the destroyed Platform, hopefully setting up a new Space Elevator after she arrives in 2 years.
- Royals Who Actually Do Something: Joachim Sardili frequently goes on yacht trips with his two sons without any servants or guards to visit his distant villages and address their issues. They are master sailors who have no problems sleeping on the hard deck of their yacht or catching fish for their meals. Emilio Toth has a private garden next to his estate. Each year, after harvesting it, he divides the fruit in two and gives the larger portion out to his people, personally driving around on a tractor full of them. Even Franz Dokken will visit his fish farms and other production facilities to address issues. Emilio Toth and Victoria Koman, as well as her adopted son Michel Van Petersen, personally lead a combined attack on the Dokken Holding, Toth ending up with a bullet in his shoulder.
- Schmuck Bait: After being confronted by Tharion, Dokken offers him a Veritas capsule to read his mind. Tharion takes it and reads all of Dokken's secrets, the last of which is the fact that the capsule is poisoned. Whoops. Should have remembered that Dokken had the previous Guild Master poisoned.
- Self-Destruct Mechanism: The SkySword had one that could only be triggered and stopped by her captain (who was so paranoid he didn't give the codes to anyone else). It involved sealing all missile tubes while arming and fueling the missiles. After a countdown, the missiles would be launched without opening the tubes, blowing up the ship. The colonists used this to hold the warship hostage until the crew surrendered.
- Settling the Frontier: Despite the expectations of the original colonists, Atlas turned out to be a primordial world in the early stages of evolution. While the air is breathable, life is still relatively new, to the point where most of the soil is infertile. This also means that fossil fuels have not had time to form, although methane has been found and is used to power vehicles. Fertile land has to be artificially fertilized, in order to allow terrestrial plants to survive there. More and more land is reclaimed every year, but it's still a tiny portion of the planet's surface. The various landholders try to introduce new plant and animal species from the embryos aboard the Platform, but they have to make sure that the appropriate ecological niche is available for them (e.g. a food chain). It's not stated if any other extrasolar colonies exist, although it's heavily implied that Atlas is the only one.
- Space Elevator: The elevator to the space station is located at the center of the colony. It is the only means the colonists have of going to the station and from it. The Big Bad blows it, and the station, up at the end.
- Space Station: The Platform is a space station built even before the original colonists made it to the surface of Atlas out of a portion of the original colony ship. It is located in geosynchronous orbit right above First Landing, connected via a Space Elevator. The colony has no other means of going to or from the Platform.
- There are two other small stations, OrbLab 1 and OrbLab 2, where Veritas is manufactured for the Truthsayers. OrbLab 1 has been abandoned since the outbreak of the deadly Mindfire plague (one of the results of Veritas manufacture), and no one has bothered to try to clear out the infection and get rid of the bodies. Instead, the second station was built with better safeguards. If a Mindfire mutation is triggered in a particular section, it's immediately sealed off and vented into space, including anyone who is in it at the time. For that reason, most of the people working at OrbLab 2 are convicts with life sentences. The only way to and from OrbLab 2 is via sleds that are launched from and to the Platform with limited maneuvering capabilities.
- Stating the Simple Solution: After Michel Van Petersen and his people capture Franz Dokken's hydroelectric plant, which powers all of Atlas, he asks his engineers as to the best way of cutting power off for the entire Dokken Holding. The engineers start proposing destructive solutions that threaten to cut of all power to the entire planet for days or even weeks. Then Troy looks at a control panel and points out that it's easy enough to cut power to a specific holding with a single button. The engineers glare at him, as if he just stole their thunder.
- Telepathy: The Truthsayers use the Veritas drug, which temporarily increases their brains' receptive abilities, allowing them to detect another brain's EM impulses (i.e. read thoughts). Touching is not necessary required, but it helps to clear up the thoughts.
- Terraforming: A long and painstaking process, necessitated by the planet being at an early stage of organic development, with most of the soil being entirely infertile. At least the air is breathable, and the local microorganisms are too different from terrestrial lifeforms to affect them with the bacterium that is used to produce Veritas being a notable exception. After over two hundred years since the landing, the colony is still struggling and will continue to struggle for many more. Luckily, the next ship with settlers from Earth claims to be bringing new machinery to aid in setting the planet. Unfortunately, the Platform is destroyed at the end of the novel, losing all the terrestrial seeds and embryos stored up there, also losing zero-g manufacturing capability and Veritas production.
- They Do: It's heavily implied that Troy and Kaliana will end up together despite their vastly different backgrounds. In the epilogue, it's mentioned that Troy's mother has finally resigned herself to stop expecting grandchildren from Troy (Kaliana, like all Truthsayers, is sterile).
- Viking Funeral: After Joachim Sardili is murdered by the Pilgrims, his two sons decide that neither wants his prized boat. One of them recalls this ancient custom, and they decide it's appropriate for their father. They put his body in the captain's chair, set the boat fabric ablaze, and send the boat out to sea. As the boat approaches the horizon, its methane engine blows up. Attracted by the explosion, three enormous sea serpents surfaced and escorted the boat like pilot fish.
- The War of Earthly Aggression: This almost happened to the Atlas colony. A regime change on Earth resulted in the new government sending a warship to take control of the remove colony. After several decades of traveling, during which the captain of the warship successfully convinced the colonists that they were merely another colony ship, the ship arrives in orbit. One of the delegates sent from Atlas just happened to be the first guy to experiment with Veritas. He shakes the captain's hand and instantly realizes the truth. During the tour of the ship, he gets on the bridge and uses the command codes he learned from the captain to set all missiles to explode in their tubes, if the soldiers don't surrender. The soldiers are forced to join the colonists, while the ship is brought down and turned into the temple for the new Truthsayer caste (the missile tubes are used to water plants).
- We Will Use Manual Labor in the Future: Justified, as much of the machinery broke down before the infrastructure to maintain it was established. As a result, most of the work on Atlas is done by people.
- We Will Use WikiWords in the Future: All guards, cops, and soldiers go by an umbrella term "solpols" (soldier-police).