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Literature / Quintaglio Ascension

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The Quintaglio Ascension Trilogy is a series of science fiction novels written by Canadian author Robert J. Sawyer.

The eponymous Quintaglios are a species of human-like intelligence descended from small tyrannosaurs. Though similar to humans, the Quintaglios are true to their ancestry. They are obligate carnivores that hunt with tooth and claw, are fairly aggressive by nature, and have fierce territorial instincts that often turn out to be a major problem when several Quintaglios must work in a confined space (like, say, a ship).

The most interesting twist is this: contrary to most alien species in Sci-Fi, the Quintaglios do not possess highly advanced technology, and are instead at a level comparable to our Renaissance. As the series progresses, this becomes the key source of drama in the plot.

In the first book in the series, Far-Seer, we meet Afsan, an apprentice astrologer. Every Quintaglio goes on a "pilgrimage" to see "the Face of God". Using his telescope (what the Quintaglios call a Far-Seer, hence the title of the book), he learns that the Face of God is actually a planet and that their world, long believed to be a giant "boat" floating downriver, is actually a moon. Of more dire importance, however, is that their moon is too close to the Face of God, and will eventually break apart into a ring. Afsan's claims attract significant attention from Det-Yenalb, the Quintaglio high priest. The Royal Family descended from the prophet Larsk who discovered The Face of God, rules by divine right, and Afsan's discoveries threaten this rule. Afsan's claim that the world is coming to an end also attracts the attention of an ancient cult known as the Lubalites, who believe Afsan to be their Messiah foretold in the Prophecy of Lubal. Afsan must fight to convince his fellow Quintaglios of the dire truth, as the fate of their civilization hangs in the balance.

Far-Seer won a Homer award upon its initial release and was met with wide critical praise. It was followed by two more books: Fossil Hunter, and Foreigner; Fossil Hunter won yet another Homer award and both were similarly well-received as Far-Seer.

This series provides examples of:

  • Ax-Crazy: Quintaglios in dagamant, the state where they revert to violent, animalistic territoriality.
  • Berserk Button: When their personal space is invaded, Quintaglios enter a stage of animalistic rage known as dagamant.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Afsan regains his vision near the end of Foreigner, but dies shortly after.
  • Blind Seer: Afsan, after having his eyes gouged out by Det-Yenalb for his "blasphemy".
  • Cain and Abel: Dy-Rodlox and Dy-Dybo, respectively.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": A telescope is called a "Far-Seer". Also, Tyrannosaurs, Ceratopsians, Ankylosaurs, Hadrosaurs and Sauropods are referred to as "Blackdeaths", "Hornface", "Armourbacks", "Shovelmouths" and "Thunderbeasts", respectively.
  • Cannot Tell a Lie:
    • Their snouts turn blue whenever they tell lies. Quintaglios that can lie without turning blue are considered to be demonic.
    • In Foreigner, it is confirmed that priests are able to lie. Afsan enlists the help of a priest to help them win against the Others.
  • Colossus Climb: How Afsan brings down a giant sauropod on his first hunt; he shimmies up its neck and bites out its throat.
  • Cosmic Egg: According to the Quintaglio creation myth, God laid the eight eggs of creation at the beginning of time.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: The Quintaglios worship the planet their world (its moon) orbits as "The Face of God". It was discovered by the Prophet Larsk (whose descendants are the imperial rulers of their people), which they make a ritual pilgrimage to view. In some ways it's more like a fantasy Islam, not Christianity: the prophet, the secular rulers staking their claims to power through relation with him, and pilgrimages. However, it has a clergy which seems more like Catholic Christianity, although they are portrayed as pretty corrupt (they are the only Quintaglios able to lie, for instance), not that this hasn't been the case for the Catholic clergy in certain eras. However, they also have the bloodpriests who kill seven out of eight hatchlings to keep the population under control, which has no real counterpart in either religion (although many cultures have practiced infanticide, just usually not ritually). The discovery that the Face of God is merely a planet explicitly parallels Galileo. In addition, there's a religion which exists underground at first which was the dominant one before, worshiping the "Five Original Hunters" with a prophesied savior known as "The One". Both religions worship a Goddess that created all things, sacrificed parts of herself to create the Quintaglios, and has Sacred Scrolls as their scripture.
  • Divine Right of Kings: The Quintaglio royal family bases their legitimacy on being descendants of Larsk, who's believed to be God's prophet.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The entire series is an allegory for our own Age of Enlightenment. More specifically, the Quintaglio religion and their reaction to Afsan's discovery of heliocentrism is meant to parallel the Catholic Church's prosecution of Galileo. In the second and third books, Toroca is essentially Charles Darwin, and Mokleb is their version of Freud.
  • Domesticated Dinosaurs: Some dinosaurs like Shovelmouths, Armourbacks, Hornfaces and Runningbeasts have been domesticated by the Quintaglios for the carriage of goods, mounts, and for combat against rival Quintaglios.
  • Dumb Dinos: The Quintaglios themselves are an aversion, being fully sapient tyrannosaurs.
  • Eats Babies: The Bloodpriests. It's usually accepted as a gruesome but necessary job: since each Quintaglio clutch has eight eggs, if all eight hatchlings survived from each clutch the world would soon be overrun, especially given the constant threat of dagamant in tight quarters. As it eventually turns out, the Bloodpriest culling is what causes the Quintaglios to be trapped by their territoriality to begin with, because of suppressed trauma from this making them hostile towards each other.
  • Eye Scream: Afsan is blinded with an obsidian dagger.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Religion:
    • The main religion worships a planet as "The Face of God", discovered by the Prophet Larsk (whose descendants are the imperial rulers of their people), which they make a ritual pilgrimage to view. In some ways it's more like a fantasy Islam: the prophet, the secular rulers staking their claims to power through relation with him, and pilgrimages.
    • In addition, there's a religion that exists underground at first which was the dominant one before worshiping the "Five Original Hunters" with a prophesied savior known as "The One". Both religions worship a Goddess that created all things, sacrificed parts of herself to create the Quintaglios, and has Sacred Scrolls as their scripture.
  • Freudian Excuse: Sort of, given that the third book features a Quintaglio version of Freud. The entire Quintaglio species has been psychologically scarred due to being traumatized by the traditional culling of the Bloodpriests. Being bred for aggression on top of that has resulted in the exaggeration of the Quintaglios' territorial instincts.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: Len-Lends was deemed too aggressive of a leader by the bloodpriests, so they used the royal family as a breeding experiment to try and usher in a new generation of more docile Quintaglios.
  • Hates Being Touched: A racial trait of Quintaglios, due to their intense territoriality; most strive to maintain a healthy distance between one another, they must warn anyone who must have hands laid on them (such as an injured person being moved), and casual touching as a sign of affection is virtually unheard of.
  • High Priest: Det-Yenalb is the leader of the main Quintaglio religion. He leads the campaign against Afsan, personally putting his eyes out as punishment for blasphemy.
  • Humans Through Alien Eyes: When Novato saw the screens showing the various alien creatures including humans, she saw the humans as strange bipeds, even going as far as referring to them as cousins because there are no mammals on their world.
  • I Lied: In Foreigner, the Other captain says he won't hurt Afsan if Toroca tells them their weakest point. Upon getting the information, he shoots Afsan anyway. When Toroca called him out, the captain chillingly tells him that Quintaglios might not be able to lie, but Others can.
  • Leave Behind a Pistol: More or less how the murderer in Fossil Hunter is brought to justice. In this case, it's a toxic dose of cleaning fluid.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Blackdeaths, aka tyrannosaurs.
  • The Paranoiac: Drawtood from Fossil Hunter. He begins murdering his siblings because of the strangeness of having siblings, a concept foreign to Quintaglios; he had no idea how to truly act around them or what to make of them, and at one point described them as being him but not him. In one scene, he wonders if his sister is wishing him dead, as he does her.
  • Population Control: The Quintaglious have Bloodpriests who ritually kill seven out of eight hatchlings to cull the race and insure their territorial instincts don't overwhelm them with too many people around. Later they are violently purged for it.
  • Prefers Raw Meat: A cultural difference between the Quintaglios and the Others. The Quintaglios hunt with tooth and claw and prefer to eat their prey raw or freshly killed. The Others have firearms and cook their food.
  • Prophecy Twist: Many Lubalites come to believe the Exodus project to be the "great hunt" foretold in the prophecy of Lubal.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Emperor Dybo is jovial, open-minded, even-tempered, and fair, in stark contrast to the rulers before him. These dissimilarities to his predecessors were, in fact, the reason he was chosen for leadership: the Bloodpriests hoped he would help create a less homicidally violent generation of Quintaglios.
  • Recycled IN SPACE!: The age of enlightenment, WITH DINOSAURS!
  • Religion Is Wrong: Afsan proves the object called the Face of God is really the planet which the Quintaglio's world (a moon) orbits. Toroca later also shows that the idea of Quintaglios being directly created by God is wrong too, as he discovers evolution.
  • Rite of Passage: To be considered an adult, Quintaglios must partake in at least one proper hunt and be marked with a tattoo.
  • Sacred Scripture: Both of the main Quintaglio religions base their doctrines on different sets of Sacred Scrolls.
  • Scary Dogmatic Aliens: The Quintaglios themselves, prior to Far-Seer. Later, the Others.
  • Shout-Out: To Moby Dick, via Captain Keenir's obsession with Kal Ta Goot.
  • Shown Their Work: Robert J. Sawyer is a dinosaur enthusiast, and strove for accuracy in the Quintaglio Ascension. Though the Quintaglios themselves stand in a tripod stance, have retractable claws, and can regenerate limbs, this could be attributed to the fact that they were genetically altered by the Jijaki anyway.
  • Starfish Aliens: the Jijaki, which are sapient descendants of the bizarre prehistoric creature called Opabinia.
  • Suicide Attack: Two Quintaglio hang glider pilots make them on Other ships during the battle in Foreigner. One dives her bomb-laden glider into an Other ship, the other crashes, takes hold of a burning ship and steers it into another, detonating its black powder.
  • Terrifying Tyrannosaur: The Blackdeath is a descendant of Tyrannosaurus and is undisputedly the apex predator of the Quintaglio moon, capable of hunting anything within their vicinity and inspiring awe and fear towards everyone. Because it is forbidden to use weapons during a hunt, the Quintaglios cannot hunt a Blackdeath.
  • Trauma Conga Line: The reason for Afsan's continued blindness in the third book despite his eyes regenerating turns out to be due to being wracked by guilt over being chosen by the Bloodpriests over his siblings, his killing Nor-Gampar during dagamant, sadness over the murders of his own children and his guilt over setting up the battle between the Blackdeath and Dybo's siblings. He gets over it thanks to Mokleb's therapy.