Monday, February 3, 2020

The Gift of the Shaman: Hearing the World

Cape Grace (A Shaman's Tale Book 2) by Nathan Lowell

“Normal doesn’t really apply to people. The statistical distribution of characteristics are sometimes useful for looking at big pictures but are totally useless when dealing with the individual.”

Book 2 of Lowell's Shaman's Tale duology introduces Sarah Krugg, Otto Krugg's daughter, born post-mortem when her mother was killed by a boxfish. The premie newborn may be tainted by the boxfish toxin herself. Thus the slightly-scary, strangely spooky Sarah Krugg comes into the world as the Shaman's Daughter.

Boxfish toxin and other near-death experiences serve as a real-world explanation for the mystical powers of those who possess the true gift (as opposed to the title) of a shaman. After all, as we learned in South Coast, Otto's father had the title, but did not have the true gift until he was stung by a boxfish and recovered. Otto's grandfather began as a rancher, 

'...a sheep farmer from up-country who survived getting gored by a goat and came out of it a changed man.”
Sarah Krugg is thus set up to be more than an ordinary girl. But the post of shaman is defined as "the son of a shaman," or someone who a conclave of other shaman can agree has the gift. And due to pressure, subtle or explicit, from corporate management, no woman, however gifted, will be confirmed as a shaman.

The company planet is unfair to women, right? Except fishing captains are more female than male, likewise plant managers, and so forth. It is only the hereditary position of shaman that is so restricted. That is the mystery to be resolved in this novel, with Sarah's tale winding through it to provide the personal flavor.

With Nathan Lowell's experitise at telling this story, there is much more here than gender inequality. There is a real stretch toward explaining what might be dismissed as "woo woo" in his other Golden Age tales, and a revealing glimpse of Sarah herself, before she signed on to the Lois McKendrick. The duology can be read stand-alone, although for best effect, I recommend reading at least the first two books of the Traders Tales From the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series, Quarter Share and Half Share.

Finally, consider this: If there is something out in the world worth listening too, that gives the gifted shaman his power, how much more might be gained to actually hearing what you are listening for?

Sunday, February 2, 2020

The Son of the Shaman: Listening to the World

South Coast (A Shaman's Tale Book 1) by Nathan Lowell

“Honey, everyone here fishes,” his mother said with a smile. “Even your father. It’s just some of us catch different things."

We met the slightly-scary, strangely spooky Sarah Krugg in Half Share, Book 2 of Lowell's Traders Tales From the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series. In one sense, this is the first volume of Sarah's backstory. More than that, it is the background tale for the whelkies, carved animal figures inlayed with purple-shell hearts, that play such a crucial role in those stories.

The whelkies that Ismael Wang purchases at the flea market (in Quarter Share) on the orbital above St. Cloud speak to him. At various points in the Traders Tales, each whelkie "finds" someone it will help, and Ismael makes it a gift. Shamans on St. Cloud create the whelkies—and by tradition, they are never sold, only given to those they match. The shamans walk the beaches to collect driftwood and purple whelk shells that are carved and combined to form the mystical figurines. And they "listen to the world." 

Otto Krugg is the son of such a shaman. By company rules on St. Cloud, he will be a shaman because he is the son of a shaman, and as such, he is exempt from the requirement to be working for the company by age eighteen, or he will be kicked off-planet. Only Company employees—and shamans—may reside on St. Cloud. But Otto really would rather be a fisherman, like most of his schoolmates. His father Richard, however, insists he must "go into the family business," and learn to listen to the world as he does.

When a business threat derails the fishing community's comfortable way of life, many things will change. Including Otto's future, his parent's, and indeed, that of the entire South Coast of St. Cloud.

There are multiple levels of story here. At its simplest, it is a tale of a community industry under threat, and the clever ways its members find to work together to solve their dilemma. Slightly more nuanced, it is the story of how a father can teach his son to follow in his footsteps when he himself isn't quite sure where he is going. And deeper than that, it shows how the respect of man for his environment can lead beyond mere survival to contentment.

But only if we are listening.