by James Patrick Kelly
Nebula Award Winner
Cover illustration by John Picacio; Cover design by Ann Monn
"A powerful cocktail of the strange and the hauntingly familiar"
When the new owner of the planet Morobe's Pea renames the world Walden and imposes Thoreau's pattern of simplicity in living upon its citizens, a few rebel against the new regime, setting themselves on fire to burn down the forests introduced on Walden's surface. Spur-a young firefighter recovering from severe burns suffered while interrupting his brother-in-law's arson attempt-conducts his own research on his world and unleashes a series of unforeseen events by contacting a group of off-planet benevolent meddlers led by a wise child known as the High Gregory. Veteran sf author Kelly brings a unique vision to his story of a utopia gone awry. With an intriguing set of characters and a plot both chilling and charming, this remarkable tale belongs in most sf collections.
Simplicity ain't what it used to be.
The tiny planet of Morobe's Pea has been sold, and the new owner has a few ideas. He has renamed it Walden, and voluntary simplicity is now the rule. It will become a rural paradise for everyone who embraces Thoreau’s philosophy.
But the previous tenants have their own ideas. And they are willing to set themselves on fire to defend them...
"I was in the burn and the fire was after me. All around, Dr. Niss. There was a pukpuk, one of the torches, he grabbed me. I couldn't get away."
"You remembered my name, son." The docbot's top plate glowed with an approving amber light. "So did you die?"
Spur shook his head. "But I was on fire."
"Experience fear vectors unrelated to the burn? Monsters, for instance? Your mom? Dad?"
"Lost loves? Dead friends? Childhood pets?"
Spur was getting used to lying to Dr. Niss, although he worried what it was doing to his soul.
-Library Journal (SF/Fantasy column)
Hugo-winner Kelly (Think like a Dinosaur) mixes hard-edged extrapolation with messy human issues in this thought-provoking SF novel. The inhabitants of Transcendent State, a colony of "true humans," have rejected advanced technology for lives of voluntary simplicity on a world renamed Walden. They are threatened by the pukpuk, survivors of a previous settlement who seek to stop plans to cover the planet with healthy, dense forest by setting fires in the wilderness. Now even Walden's citizens are beginning to question their charter's tenets of simplicity, secretly trading produce and handmade goods for pukpuk tech through a thriving black market. The spark that will ignite Walden's final conflict comes from one of its own, firefighter Prosper "Spur" Leung, when he unwittingly contacts the High Gregory of Kenning, ruler of a distant world. "I make luck," the High Gregory says, turning Spur's commitment to Walden's (and Thoreau's) philosophy of self-reliance and the primacy of nature upside down. Kelly's many-layered story pivots on a set of paradoxes, asking questions about the difference between innocence and willful ignorance, responsibility and balance, and the true essence of nature.
Bored while recovering from burns received in the line of duty, fruit farmer turned fireman Spur decides to contact similarly named people throughout the Thousand Worlds. He reaches a boy on a throne, who says he makes luck and becomes very interested in Spur's world, the small planet Walden, designated a simple--living utopia by the wealthy man who bought it from its mother planet. A few days later, homeward bound from the hospital, a hover stops the train to take Spur aboard. On the aircraft are the boy, a gaggle of other children from other worlds, and their superintendent. The kids are all extraordinary and, as it happens, intent on resolving the warfare on Walden, which consists of the pre-utopian inhabitants setting forest fires to resist the forestation of all the land the Waldenites don't farm. Besides its fireman hero (a reversal of Montag in Fahrenheit 451) and its would-be-utopian setting, the warm humanity and rural sympathies of this affectionate, winsome short novel will make many recall Ray Bradbury at his best.
With his immaculate prose and perfect structural tricks, Kelly's book offers a richly satisfying blend of adventure and philosophy
–SciFi.com ("A" pick)
James Patrick Kelly is one of the masters of science fiction. He imagines futures both high-tech and human, both dizzyingly complicated and determinedly simple, and then sends us to Walden, where simplicity is anything but, and even Henry David Thoreau begins to look disturbingly different"Burn is inventive, moving, and involving. It's James Patrick Kelly at his best, and there's nothing better."