Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard written by Lawrence M. Schoen, is a unique book that utilizes science fiction to address questions about the meaning of humanity. The book is set in a distant future, when humans are no longer alive, and animals have gained the intelligence needed to form their own civilizations and governments throughout the galaxy.
The story’s main protagonists are Fants, which is an uplifted version of an elephant, and they inhabit a planet called Barsk. This planet, and its people, want only to be left in peace to follow their unique rituals and ways of life. The other species of animals look down on Fants for being different due to their hairless bodies and odd customs. The hatred directed towards Fants, and Barsk as a whole, is reminiscent of racial struggles we have had here on Earth for thousands of years. It is this link to human conflict, told through these anthropomorphic beasts, that pulls the reader into the elaborate world that Schoen has built.
One particular Fant, a child named Pizlo, is one of the most interesting characters of the book. Even though he is written to be six years old, he exhibits many adult characteristics. On his home world, he is regarded as an abomination and shunned by his fellow Fant. Pizlo lives a Tarzan-esque life, living in the jungle, searching for bugs, and conversing with nature. The only two Fant who will even acknowledge his presence are his mother Tolta, and his stand-in uncle of sorts, Jorl. Together Jorl and Pizlo are the main characters, and their relationship plays a crucial role in the plot of the book.
Without giving too much away, the plot is full of clever twists and suspense. Schoen did a fantastic job creating entire planets and cultures from scratch, and the reader becomes truly immersed into these worlds. The complexity of constructing an entire universe for your characters to inhabit is not something that many authors try to tackle. Schoen’s great talent is that he is able to create these other worlds, while not losing focus of the small intricacies that make the characters special.
Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard is published by Tor Books, and it is available online and in bookstores everywhere.