Pictured is the protagonist, Sal-Afsan.
|Author||Robert J. Sawyer|
|Cover artist||Thomas Kidd|
|Series||Quintaglio Ascension Trilogy|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Followed by||Fossil Hunter|
Far-Seer is a novel written by Canadian science fiction author, Robert J. Sawyer. It is the first book of the Quintaglio Ascension Trilogy, and is followed by two sequels: Fossil Hunter and Foreigner. The book depicts an Earth-like world on a moon which orbits a gas giant, inhabited by a species of highly evolved, sentient Tyrannosaurs called Quintaglios, among various other creatures from the late cretaceous period, imported to this moon by aliens 65 million years prior to the story. Originally published in 1992 by Ace Science Fiction, it won the Homer award for "Best Novel" during its initial release date. It was reissued in 2004 by Tor Books.
The story begins with the main character, Afsan, looking at the stars and reflecting upon his arrival at Capital city, where he is working as an apprentice under the Court Astrologer, Tak-Saleed. Afsan is but one of many apprentice astrologers Saleed has gone through, each one sent away for reasons unknown.
Later on, Afsan, in a hurry to rendezvous with his mentor, unwittingly stumbles across a confrontation between Saleed and his old creche-mate, the master mariner Var-Keenir. Keenir has brought with him a new invention called a "Far-Seer". He offers it to Saleed in hopes that it would be useful in his work, but the old astrologer, set in his ways, haughtily refuses the offer. Afsan, however, is eager to use the Far Seer to look at The Face of God (a mysterious object which hangs in the sky that the Quintaglios worship). Outraged and offended by the suggestion, Saleed berates Afsan and sends him to the palace Hall of Worship to pay penance for his blasphemy.
After arriving at the hall of worship, Afsan runs into Det-Yenalb, Master of the Faith. The high priest notices Afsan's height and notes that he's old enough that he should have gone on his coming-of-age pilgrimage to see The Face of God. Yenalb recommends that Afsan go on a hunt first, as many are lost during the Pilgrimage and he has yet to earn his hunting tattoo; any Quintaglio who hasn't yet earned one will not be allowed into heaven. Afsan heeds Yenalb's advice and meets with his friend, Prince Dybo, who also has yet to go on his pilgrimage or earn a hunting tattoo. After sharing a cut of Hornface meat with Afsan and some words of encouragement from Pal-Cadool, the palace butcher, Dybo agrees to accompany Afsan on his pilgrimage and earn a hunting tattoo as well.
Before leaving with Dybo, Afsan is summoned by Dybo's mother, Empress Len-Lends. Plainly exposing her claws in Afsan's view, she tells him that he is responsible for Dybo's safe return, or he will face punishment. Visibly shaken by the Empress's threat, Afsan leaves to go on his hunt with Dybo.
Afsan and Dybo arrive at the Hunter's Shrine and join the pack of Jal-Tetex, the imperial hunt leader. During the hunt, they target a massive Thunderbeast, the biggest one ever seen. The pack fights a long and grueling battle against the monstrous sauropod, and Asfan kills it by climbing up its neck and ripping out its throat, jumping away at the last second to avoid getting crushed. Afsan is declared a hero, revered for showing such innate skill on his very first hunt.
After returning from the hunt, Afsan and Dybo board the Dasheter, a sailing vessel which is commanded by none other than Var-Keenir. Keenir's tail is nothing but a stump, having been torn off in an encounter prior to the story with a sea monster he calls Kal-Ta-Goot. Keenir allows Afsan to borrow his Far-Seer, and Afsan uses it to study the heavens and The Face of God.
The Dasheter sails across the ocean, and Afsan's careful observations of the stars have caused him to come to a shocking conclusion- the planets, which once appeared as distant points of light, looked the same as The Face of God, meaning it is merely a natural object, not the face of a deity. Furthermore, moons orbited these planets, and Afsan hypothesis that the Quintaglio's world, which has traditionally been thought of by the Quintaglios as a giant "boat" of land floating down a massive river, is actually a moon, covered by water and orbiting The Face of God.
Afsan relays his discovery to captain Var-Keenir, and tries to convince him to keep sailing east in order to test his hypothesis. Keenir refuses to, stating that it's too much of a risk to sail into uncharted waters. However, Kal-Ta-Goot is spotted heading east, and Keenir, eager for vengeance, orders its pursuit.
After following Kal-Ta-Goot for several weeks, the creature attacks the Dasheter. Several sailors are eaten in the resulting battle, but eventually, Afsan proves his hunting prowess once more, killing the serpent by strangling it with the ship's anchor. Grateful to Afsan for saving his life, Keenir allows Afsan to make a request. Afsan requests that the Dasheter stay on course, and Keenir obliges, much to the chagrin of priest Det-Bleen, and sailor Nor-Gampar. When Det-Bleen confronts Keenir, it is revealed that Keenir is a Lubalite- a member of a cult which was once the dominant religion prior to the prophet Larsk sailing across the ocean and discovering The Face of God.
Not long after, while Afsan is explaining to Dybo why they are continuing to sail east despite having killed Kal-Ta-Goot, the two are approached by Nor-Gampar, who is in full dagamant, the animalistic rage which overtakes Quintaglios when forced into extended contact with each other. Gampar attacks Dybo, and Afsan tries to protect him, and all three are drawn into a dagamant-fueled fight to the death. Afsan manages to kill Gampar, and almost attacks Dybo before the dagamant wears off.
The Dasheter continues to sail onward, eventually landing on the western edge of Land, just as Afsan had predicted it would. While the Dasheter has stopped for maintenance, Afsan and Dybo learn that Len-Lends, the Empress, was killed when an earthquake caused the ceiling of the palace to collapse on her. By inheritance, Prince Dybo is now Emperor Dy-Dybo, ruler of all the land. In view of this, Dybo must return to capital city immediately. Afsan bids him adieu, deciding to take a more leisurely route back to the capital.
During his travels, Afsan decides to meet with Wab-Novato, the inventor of the Far-Seer. Afsan learns that she has also been observing the planets and the moons, and exchange knowledge. Together, they come to the conclusion that the rings surrounding certain planets are made up out of moons which orbit too close to large planets and break apart. This leads to an even more shocking conclusion: their world, which is a moon, is orbiting dangerously close to The Face of God, and will one day crumble into a ring as well. The mental stimulation of sharing their knowledge ignites their passion and culminates with an impulsive act of sexual intercourse between the two. The following morning, Novato gives Afsan one of her Far-Seers, and he leaves to continue his journey back to Capital City to share this knowledge with Emperor Dybo.
Later, Afsan stops at his home-town of Pack Carno. Whilst there, he peeks in the Pack's nursery, and witnesses a shocking event: a male Quintaglio, garbed in a purple robe, chasing and devouring all but one of the hatchlings from an entire clutch of eggs. Afsan learns that this Quintaglio is what is known as a Hal-Pataars; a Bloodpriest. It has been their job since ancient times to control the Quintaglio population by culling all but the single strongest hatchlings from each clutch of eggs. Shaken by the event, he later wonders if the governors of the province- who all bear a resemblance to Len-Lends, the former Empress- were exempted from the culling of the Bloodpriests.
Afsan continues his journey back to Capital city, accompanying a convoy from Pack Carno, and with them, kills a Fangjaw (a large, quadrupedal, saber-toothed theropod) from Runningbeast-back along the way. Eventually, he arrives back in Capital city, only to learn that Tak-Saleed had fallen ill while he was away. Afsan goes to visit his mentor at his sickbed, and tells him what he learned. Saleed confesses that he has known what Afsan knew all along, but kept it secret- he didn't want to risk losing his position, and was just too old to carry on the fight that would inevitably rise from this challenge to the Quintaglio's religion. Saleed knew that it would require an intelligent, youthful Quintaglio to fight this new fight. With his final breath, Saleed tells Afsan that the Quintaglios need to get off their world, and dies.
Meanwhile, word has spread of Afsan's pilgrimage. Afsan is confronted by Gerth-Palsab, a belligerent, illiterate blacksmith, who accuses him of sacrilege. Afsan and Palsab engage in a debate, which draws a large crowd, many of whom are offended by Afsan's assertions, and others who are curious about them. Present in the crowd is a Junior Priest, who tells Det-Yenalb about Afsan's theory. Det-Yenalb, having heard rumours about Keenir, believes that the mariner has poisoned Afsan's mind with Lubalite blasphemy.
When Afsan finally reunites with Dybo, he finds himself surrounded by Yenalb and the palace council. Yenalb tries to convince Afsan that he is mistaken. When he asserts that he isn't, Yenalb whips the council into a frenzy and persuades them into believing that Afsan is a Demon. Dybo, who has remained tactfully silent, saves Afsan from being killed on the spot by the council and orders him to be locked away in the palace basement.
While Afsan is incarcerated, Pal-Cadool arrives to bring him meat. Cadool tells Afsan that Dybo is Emperor by divine right, being the descendant of the prophet Larsk- his theory cannot be made common knowledge or Dybo will have no right to rule. Afsan tells Cadool that the world is doomed, and he pledges himself to his cause. Cadool tells Afsan to trust nobody except those who can make a certain hand gesture; one Afsan has seen performed before by Keenir.
Pal-Cadool meets with Jal-Tetex in secret at the hunter's shrine, where it is revealed that both are Lubalites, like Keenir. Cadool and Tetex both agree that Afsan is The One, a messiah foretold by the prophecy of Lubal. They believe Yenalb will have Afsan executed, and Tetex informs Cadool that Keenir has gone to recruit fellow Lubalites to rescue him.
Meanwhile, Afsan is approached by Yenalb, who tries to coerce Afsan into recanting his claims. As an alternative to execution, he offers Afsan a contract, in which he declares to disavow his theories and acknowledge Larsk as a true prophet, and that he would live safely; in exile, cut off from the rest of the Quintaglios. Afsan is tempted by Yenalb's offer but ultimately refuses. He unsheathes his claws and tears up the document, and Yenalb storms off in a rage.
As punishment for his heresy, Afsan has been brought to a podium in central square for a public discipline. At the request of Dybo, Afsan is not killed. Instead, Yenalb gouges out Afsan's eyes with a ceremonial obsidian dagger, so that he can no longer claim to see the things which blaspheme God. After this, Afsan is released, allowed to live out the rest of his life, but in shame and blindness.
After his blinding, Afsan becomes good friends with Jal-Tetex and Pal-Cadool, who remain by his side and aide him in his blindness. Eventually, the Lubalites arrive, who march into the central square. Afsan, from atop the back of a Shovelmouth, speaks to the Lubalites, telling them of his theories and that the world is doomed. He pleads with them to cast aside their superstition and give themselves over to knowledge, to science and reason. It is only action- not prayer -which will get them off their world and save the Quintaglios.
Afsan's plea is interrupted by Yenalb, atop the back of a Spikefrill and accompanied by the palace guard, who commands the Lubalites to clear out of the square. They refuse, and a fierce battle between the two factions ensues. Afsan is kept safe by the Lubalites during the conflict, and Cadool confronts Yenalb in combat atop the Spikefrill. Yenalb is no match for the butcher and Cadool emerges triumphant by biting off his head, killing him in Afsan's honor. The battle between the Lubalites and the palace guard is interrupted when an earthquake, triggered by the eruption of the nearby Ch'Mar volcanoes, destroys Capital City. Though many are killed in the eruption, many more manage to escape by boarding the Dasheter: among them, Afsan, Cadool, Tetex, Keenir, and Emperor Dybo.
Afsan learns that Novato is on the Dasheter as well- with their eight children, who were spared the culling of the Bloodpriests, since no Bloodpriest would dare kill the offspring of The One. While he is resting on the Dasheter, Dybo confronts Afsan, and apologises for all the terrible things he went through, and for blinding him. Dybo acknowledges the truth of Afsan's theory, tells him that all charges will be lifted and that he will be appointed the Court Astrologer and live in peace in capital city. Afsan asks Dybo to pledge himself to what would come to be known as the Quintaglio Exodus. The story ends with Dybo announcing that the Quintaglios will be going to the stars.
Far-Seer (and the rest of the Quintaglio Ascension) is highly allegorical. The story of Far-Seer parallels Galileo's punishment at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church for his advocation of the theory of heliocentrism. Afsan is a parable to Galileo, whereas Yenalb mirrors the Catholic Church's position. Afsan's trial before the palace council mirrors the 1633 inquisition of Galileo by the church. However, despite his blinding, Afsan's story ends on a more positive note than that of Galileo, who was condemned to house arrest for most of his life. Afsan's discovery of heliocentrism also mirrors that of Copernicus.
Far-Seer has an underlying theme of standing up for the truth in the face of overwhelming opposition, of dedication to a cause no matter what. It champions new, innovative ideas overcoming fundamentalist dogma, of rationality overcoming emotion, of science defeating mysticism. These themes are explored in other books by Robert J. Sawyer.
Literary significance and criticism
Far-Seer met with high critical acclaim, winning the Homer award for "Best Novel" during its original 1992 release. The Toronto Star called it "One of the year's outstanding SF books", and consistently receives four to five star ratings in user reviews on amazon.com. The story has been praised for its creativity, its endearing characters  and its social relevance. Far-Seer has been translated into numerous languages, and is also the only book in the Quintaglio Ascension to have been translated into Japanese.
However, Far-Seer has received some negative criticism. Some reviewers have said that the Quintaglios act too human, while others point out the implausibility of a technological civilisation developing from a nomadic hunting society.
- Science Fiction Writer Robert J. Sawyer: FAR-SEER Index
- Science Fiction Writer Robert J. Sawyer: Writing the Quintaglio Ascension
- Science Fiction Writer Robert J. Sawyer: Themes
- The Toronto Star: "Without question, Far-Seer will be remembered as one of the year's outstanding sf books."
- Amazon.com: Far-Seer: Book One of the Quintaglio Ascension (The Quintaglio Trilogy): Robert J. Sawyer: Books
- Charles de Lint in The Journal of Canadian Content in Speculative Literature: "A cracking good yarn. Here's your chance to get in on the ground floor of a series that promises to deliver something truly different."
- Tom Easton in Analog magazine: "Afsan's world and nature feel quite real. The reader gets involved and cheers him on, and many another writer must say to Sawyer just what one saurian says to a superior: `I cast a shadow in your presence."'
- Crescent Blues Book Views | Robert J. Sawyer: Far-Seer
- SFRA Review: "Exciting, amusing — [but] much more than an adventure tale. Crucial to the plot is Afsan's struggles to find the truth of his own destiny and his questioning of the role of science in countering religious dogma."
- Science Fiction Writer Robert J. Sawyer: Are the Quintaglios Too Human?
- Science Fiction Writer Robert J. Sawyer: Are the Quintaglios Too Clever?