At a large trade tasting of the wines of Bordeaux held in San Francisco yesterday, a friend– the owner of a great chateau in St. Julien– told me he had downloaded and started to read Fourth World Nation, the second book in the trilogy.
“Oh no,” I replied (despite an initial flush of success and gratitude– maybe it was time for a translation into French!). “The series is meant to be read in order– so it’s better to start with Fourth World, and then move on to Fourth World Nation.” Otherwise it would be hard to understand Benn’s abilities, his relationship to Lora, and why they are running away from the Pan-World Electorate.
In going back to Fourth World, my friend would probably be amused by Chapter Eight, in which Dr. Nes Neelin holds a tasting of the Greatest Wines of the Century in the Mellon College dining hall.
Ever since Fourth World Nation came out on Amazon, I’ve been working assiduously on the third novel in the trilogy, in which the setting shifts from Mars back to Earth– in particular, my old stomping grounds of Malaysia and Singapore. With a minimum of spoiler alerts (I won’t even mention its title), here’s an excerpt:
As a young linguistics student at Cambridge University, Wesley Stuart had appeared in numerous collegiate theatrical productions, including some by his favorite playwrights, Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward. Which one was he channeling now? Someone in between, perhaps. Chou Xia-Yu had found his classmate’s talents amusing, and was therefore willing to tolerate his sporadic spoofing of British Peers, or “p-p-pompous p-persons of p-p-privilege,” as Stuart sometimes put it.
How had a charming but harmless thespian, a Bohemian polyglot such as Wes Stuart, ended up as the PWE Superintendent of Singapore? Chou knew very well the final step, having promoted Wes to that position during his time as Leader. Before that, Wes had served for eighteen years as a minister in the British Parliament, a local governing council of the Pan-World Electorate. There was, of course, no longer a distinction drawn between the House of Lords and the House of Commons (nor had there been for almost a hundred years), but the Stuarts had occupied a seat in Lords since the seventeenth century, and on the day Wesley Stuart had staked his claim by strolling ever-so-naturally through the grand entrance to Parliament, no one had thought to object. Even the vehement stand taken by The London Stage, a cultural review published and edited by Wes, against the long-lost traditions of aristocracy— which still glowed in the hearts of many Britons like a warm coal among the morning ashes— had drawn nary a negative comment from his fellow ministers. He may have written and acted as a traitor to his class, but that class now existed only in a dense fog of London nostalgia.
As he closed the front door, Stuart affected a different accent. “Roit this wye, lidees and gents,” he pronounced like a circus barker, with a bow and a broad sweep of his arm. Lora walked slowly past him into the living room, pausing to gawk at two huge bronze Buddhas flanking the entryway.
“Wes, you haven’t lost your touch,” said Chou. He flashed a momentary smile, then cleared his throat pointedly.
“Ah. By that you mean my touch of craziness,” replied Stuart, feigning embarrassment. “Well, you were ever the serious one, Chou. Always getting straight down to business, eh?” He gestured at the furniture crowding his living room, which consisted of a club-style sofa and three leather wingback chairs (“Water buffalo,” he announced proudly) surrounding an ornately-carved Indonesian hardwood kopi table with a tall Chinese vase at its center. Bookshelves overflowing with publications in several different languages lined the walls. Everyone settled into a comfortable seat, but Ari plopped herself down on the edge of the low table, shifting it sideways on the marble floor by a millimeter or two.
Stuart lunged forward and steadied the vase, even though they both knew there was no danger of it tipping over— and besides, it was made of an indestructible polymeric material, the product of multispecies recombinant DNA. “Oi sye, steady on, young pip! That’s from the Ming Dynasty, innit?”
Not bloody likely, not unless the Ming Emperors had access to genetic engineering, thought Stuart with an inward laugh. Ari felt a wave of irony and smiled innocently at her host: she had liked him immediately, sensing his openness, his affection for Chou, and above all, his excellent humor (what Wes himself might have termed his “infinite jest”).