Hi guys! We have J.S. Fields popping in today with the tour for her lesbian sci-fi series Ardulum, we have a brilliant guest post, a great excerpt and a fantastic giveaway where you could win the first two ebooks in the Ardulum series, AND a collectors edition First Don enamel pin, so check out the post and enjoy!❤ ~Pixie~
Ardulum: First Don
The planet that vanishes. The planet that sleeps.
When Ardulum first appeared, the inhabitants brought agriculture, art and interstellar technology to the Neek people before vanishing back into space. Two hundred years later, Neek has joined the Charted Systems, a group of planets bound together through commerce and wormhole routes, where violence is nonexistent and technology has been built around the malleability of cellulose.
When the tramp transport Mercy’s Pledge accidentally stumbles into an armed confrontation between the Charted System sheriffs and an unknown species, the crew learns the high cost of peace—the enslavement and genetic manipulation of the Ardulan people. Now a young Neek, outcast from her world for refusal to worship ancient Ardulans as gods, must reconcile her planet’s religion with the slave child whom she has chosen to protect—a child whose ability to manipulate cellulose is reminiscent of the ancient myths of Ardulum. But protecting the child comes at a cost—the cultural destruction of her world and the deaths of billions of Charted System inhabitants.
Warnings: violence and some gore, speciest behavior
Ardulum: Second Don
The Charted Systems are in pieces. Mercy’s Pledge is destroyed, and her captain dead. With no homes to return to, the remaining crew sets off on a journey to find the mythical planet of Ardulum—a planet where Emn might find her people, and Neek the answers she’s long sought. Finding the planet, however, brings a host of uncomfortable truths about Ardulum’s vision for the galaxy and Neek’s role in a religion that refuses to release her. Neek must balance her planet’s past and the unchecked power of the Ardulans with a budding relationship and a surprising revelation about her own genealogy.
Ardulum: Second Don blends space opera elements and hard science into a story about two women persistently bound to their past and a sentient planet determined to shape their future.
Warnings: violence and some gore, speciest behavior
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Ardulum: Third Don
The planet wakes.
Atalant is torn between two worlds. In uncharted space, head of a sentient planet, the new eld of Ardulum now leads the religion she once rejected. Emn is by her side, but the Mmnnuggl war brewing in the Charted Systems, threatening her homeworld of Neek, cannot be ignored. Atalant must return to the planet that exiled her in order to lead the resistance. She must return home a god, a hypocrite, a liar in gold robes, and decide whether to thrust her unwilling people into the truth of Ardulum, or play the role she has been handed and never see her family, or her world, again.
Warnings: violence and some gore, speciest behavior
Religion in Ardulum
Anyone who thinks that science fiction lacks higher themes has something to sell you, or has clearly never read science fiction. Although the Ardulum series addressed a number of current issues—gender, land use, genetic engineering, etc.—the most overarching theme for me, at least when writing it, was religion.
I was brought up in a religious family. The exact flavor of the religion doesn’t really matter, as it followed the basic formula of weekly (sometimes more) dragging to a service when I would have much rather been sleeping than sitting through some old guy (they were always men) talking about books I didn’t care about.
The funny thing is, though I hated the services, I loved the religion itself. I was active in my community. I headed youth programs in high school. I prayed, and did things ‘right,’ and really felt like I had a place at the table in this religion.
I came out my freshman year of college.
It never occurred to me that who I loved would conflict with what I loved. Imagine my surprise when, that first summer back from college, I was invite to our religious leader’s home (let’s call him Mr. B.) for dinner. I’d often had dinner with Mr. B. and his family, and I had often babysat his son. Mr. B was our youth director, and I looked up to him as leader, and a mentor, and someone I respected.
Imagine my surprise then, when the topic of discussion over pizza spun to verses in scripture that dealt with homosexuality. It took me probably ten minutes to realize what was happening, because I trusted these people so much, and I had given so much to this institution, and to have the person I admired more than perhaps any other sitting across from me at a table, calmly discussing how this one thing about me basically negated everything I’d ever done with my life… it broke me.
I never did find all the pieces.
When the first Ardulum book begins, we meet Neek, a bitter exile from her homeworld for her rejection of the Ardulan religion. She’s lost her parents, her family, her culture, because she said no to a religion that hurt her, and her world. Her rage, and her pain, and her sadness all came from that one moment with Mr. B, and knowing that I could never go back to a service, even those important holiday ones with my family. It came from knowing that I’d lost a world, too, and like Neek, I could choose to go back, but if I did, I’d die. Neek would be shot. I’d probably have killed myself.
But the Ardulum series is about a lot more than hurt. In book two, in particular, and parts of book three, you can see Neek’s (now Atalant’s) hope that maybe there is a way back. Because something you held so dear for so long can’t be just left behind. You can bury it, and pretend it doesn’t exist, but those things that truly matter—they’ll always be a part of you. Atalant’s hope is realized in Emn, and finally, in her own metamorphosis, where she realizes that there isn’t just one way to be a part of Ardulum, or her people, but that to do things differently, sometimes you have to take charge.
I don’t have the powers of Emn or any of Atalant’s awesome ships. I definitely don’t have a sentient, moving planet at my disposal, but I did find my way back to the religion I loved, if not the institution. I wanted that sense of yearning for community to drive Neek/Atalant the same way it drove me, because I think most of us search for some sense of belonging, whether through religion, sports, academic pursuits, or any number of other social group activities.
I know, too, that my experience isn’t unique, especially among those in the queer community. I really hope that Neek’s journey, and the home she eventually finds, gives hope to readers who may still be in exile, or who can’t leave a problematic group. Ardulum is a fun, queer little space opera, but it’s a statement, too—a strong one—about the dangers, and truths, of religion, and those who choose to challenge it.
In the words of Atalant: I hope one day we can meet in the stars, as equals.
“You have to tell her,” Nicholas said. He pushed himself out of a lean and pointed to where Emn’s blood had fallen. She’d been interfacing with the ship all the way through the wormhole and hadn’t noticed Nicholas return to the cockpit. That meant Emn was getting a lecture, one way or the other. Annoyed, she tugged at the fabric across her chest, the sensation something she was still getting used to, and turned to look at Nicholas. She’d have much preferred a lecture from Neek.
Nicholas’s eyebrow rose. “This is the fourth time I’ve seen you bleed from interfacing with the ship. If your physiology is so incompatible with it, then Neek needs to know. We need to find another ship.”
Emn dabbed at her ear with a finger, ensuring the canal was clean, and then straightened the front of her dress. She’d already stopped the bleeding. The blood vessel breaks had been small—only minor capillaries affected—and healing was simple first-don stuff. Except, each time she synced with the ship, the pain was worse. What had started as a light buzzing during her time on the Mmnnuggl flagship Llttrin, during the Crippling War, was now a pressure that thumped between her skull and brain. It was ever-expanding, pulsed behind her eyes, crushed blood vessels, and had her leaking maroon from her ears and nose.
After sitting down against the black paneling, Emn looked at her lap. The dress, which she’d managed to keep mostly clean of blood, was tight in areas she’d not anticipated. It clung to her hips and chest, highlighting the most notable changes since her metamorphosis. It was… Could something be uncomfortable and yet comforting at the same time? She was an adult. There was no denying that, not with something so formfitting. Emn enjoyed the visual reminder of who she had become.
“For me to discuss any of this with Neek, she’d have to actually talk to me. Right after the Crippling War, I thought we had broken through that layer of self-doubt, or whatever makes Neek so rigid around me, but I guess not.” Emn went to pull at the front of her dress again before catching herself.
Nicholas ran his hands through his thick hair and shook his head. “You’re telepathically connected. You don’t have to be in the same room to talk.” Just as he had when she was in first don, Nicholas plopped beside her so she could lean into him. The reminder of their friendship helped ease the thumping in her head. She was forever grateful that Nicholas didn’t seem at all uncomfortable with the changes she’d undergone.
“Do you think it looks all right?” Emn asked, looking down at the front of her dress.
Nicholas snorted. “You look like a woman in a dress, Emn. It fits well. Your chest looks normal, if that’s what you’re asking, although you’ll crease the fabric if you keep pulling at it like that. If you want more specific feedback, there’s a different person you should ask. I know you don’t have a perpetually open connection, but even if she’s closed down, you could still nudge her. It’s good for her.”
Emn returned the half smile, imagining how Neek would react if she just started chatting to her through their link about mundane things, like constellations or cellulose biometals, or if she actually asked about the dress…
As if Neek had been listening, the door abruptly slid open, and the room was filled with the distinctive sound of booted feet. Emn and Nicholas stood up.
Neek took a moment to stretch, reaching her hands up over her head and letting her sixteen fingers, eight per hand, brush the ceiling. This was the only room in the small Mmnnuggl pod where any of them could stand upright, and it was blissful to do so. Stretching pulled the fabric of the flight suit taut against Neek’s chest and Emn let her eyes linger, careful to ensure the image did not leak across their bond. They needed Neek in the cockpit, captaining, not hiding in her room. She didn’t need to know about Emn’s burgeoning…something. Not yet, anyway. Still, Emn followed the tightly braided red-blonde hair to her narrow shoulders and then to her wide hips partially hidden in a baggy flight suit. Neek had her sleeves rolled up to her elbows, and Emn wrinkled her nose without meaning to. The lighting in the pod did not go well with Neek’s olive-brown complexion. Realizing that she had probably stared for a bit too long, Emn walked back to the viewscreen.
“Looks like such a harmless planet from out here,” Neek said as her arms fell to her sides. Currently filling the floor-to-ceiling viewscreen was Risal, its orange algae oceans and brown landmasses looming above them. Risal’s two moons, the red Korin and white Rath, buffered the planet on either side. At their current position, the shadows from the sun overlapped Risal in two intersecting crescents, leaving a thin hourglass shape of lit land. Two cutters were in orbit around Korin, docked next to one another near the moon’s north pole.
Emn knew more than she cared to about those moons. She had no firsthand memories, but being synced to the late Captain Ran’s cutter had given her data on both. Rath was used as an andal plantation, although it was not a very successful one. Korin, in contrast…Korin was likely where she had been born. Emn probably had had siblings there, perhaps other genetic parents as well. They’d be dead, of course, like all the Risalian Ardulans, but that didn’t make the moon any less oppressive.
Her focus was suddenly returned to the cockpit. Confused, Emn blinked, trying to clear her vision, and then realized what was happening. Her thoughts must have leaked. Now, instead of Korin, she was seeing herself through Neek’s eyes, their connection taut. It was strange to see herself from the back—a woman in a knee-length, gray dress with shoulder straps and a flared hipline, tracing a finger over the moon’s image. Her black hair held only hints of the red that shone in her youth, and the moonlight highlighted the dark veins that streaked across her translucent skin. Patterns emerged, if one looked long enough—and Neek was—patterns of geometric shapes bound tightly together, distorted and intersecting. Several words bounded across their link despite Neek’s best efforts to rein them in. One in particular struck Emn as odd.
Except, calling the markings such belied their daunting mythos and marginalized Neek’s history. Emn tossed the word aside, conscious of its relevance but unwilling to call it to Neek’s attention.
J.S. Fields is a scientist who has perhaps spent too much time around organic solvents. She enjoys roller derby, woodturning, making chain mail by hand, and cultivating fungi in the backs of minivans. Nonbinary, but prefers female pronouns. Always up for a Twitter chat.
Fields has lived in Thailand, Ireland, Canada, USA, and spent extensive time in many more places. Her current research takes her to the Peruvian Amazon rainforest each summer, where she traumatizes students with machetes and tangarana ants while looking for rare pigmenting fungi. She lives with her partner and child, and a very fabulous lionhead rabbit named Merlin.