The Sol Majestic is a big-hearted and delightful intergalactic hopepunk adventure for fans of Becky Chambers and The Good Place
"A feast of a book.”—Hugo Award-winning author Seanan McGuire
Kenna, an aspirational teen guru, wanders destitute across the stars as he tries to achieve his parents' ambition to advise the celestial elite.
Everything changes when Kenna wins a free dinner at The Sol Majestic, the galaxy's most renowned restaurant, giving him access to the cosmos's one-percent. His dream is jeopardized, however, when he learns his highly-publicized "free meal" risks putting The Sol Majestic into financial ruin. Kenna and a motley gang of newfound friends—including a teleporting celebrity chef, a trust-fund adrenaline junkie, an inept apprentice, and a brilliant mistress of disguise—must concoct an extravagant scheme to save everything they cherish. In doing so, Kenna may sacrifice his ideals—or learn even greater lessons about wisdom, friendship, and love.
Utterly charming and out of this world, Ferrett Steinmetz's The Sol Majestic will satisfy the appetites of sci-fi aficionados and newcomers alike.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
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|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
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About the Author
FERRETT STEINMETZ is a graduate of both the Clarion Writers' Workshop and Viable Paradise. He was nominated for the Nebula Award in 2012 for his novelette Sauerkraut Station, and for the Compton Crook Award in 2015. He is the author of The Sol Majestic for Tor Books, as well as the 'Mancer trilogy and The Uploaded. He has written for Asimov's Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Shimmer, and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. Ferret lives in Cleveland with his very clever wife, a small black dog of indeterminate origin, and a friendly ghost.
Read an Excerpt
Three Days, Fifteen Hours, Thirty Minutes to Savor Station
You can starve for the next three days, Kenna tells himself, eyeing the bigger kids down in the station lounge. Or you can take a beating.
His gut rumbles as he wills himself to walk down the corrugated steel corridor. There are four of them, well-fed workers' sons hulking with gene-enhanced muscles. They laugh as they push light-balls back and forth at each other on their smartphones, playing some networked game. Their duffel bags rest by their feet.
One of those bags holds Kenna's nutricracker allotment.
There is no more food within a million miles, not until the transport ship docks at Savor Station. Maybe not even then, depending on what ambassadors Mother and Father find to curry favor with.
He tenses his shoulders. This is the worst part: getting their attention.
"I crave your pardon," Kenna says, wincing, hating the way he's defaulted to feeble politeness. Mother's influence.
The four kids turn. The adult passengers also roll over to watch, swaying in Kevlar hammocks above, exhaling puffs of marijuana smoke as they lean in to watch the festivities. The cramped spaces and long boredoms of interstellar transport transform any personal friction into public performance — a constant pressure that's eradicated Kenna's ability to cry.
The biggest kid — of course it's the biggest kid — curtsies mockingly. "M'lord," he says. Everyone laughs.
"You absconded with my food," Kenna insists. "I mandate its safe return."
"Have your valet buy you some new food."
"I have no valet." Kenna has never had a valet. His parents had had one, as children, and they sing him to sleep at night with the tales of his great-grandparents and their hundreds of servants — but Kenna counts himself lucky if he finds a maintenance closet to sleep in. "And I will not pay when the nutriments are rightfully mine."
All four stand up. Kenna finds himself grateful he has nothing left to steal — Father has spent years trading away family heirlooms to survive, and so Kenna has no smartphone, no smartpaper, no duffel bags full of food. Just his bony black body and his reputation as a Philosopher.
Or, rather, his reputation as someone who might become a Philosopher. He's supposed to be guiding galactic leaders to peace, not whining at bullies in a transport ship. Mother derived her Inevitable Philosophy before she was thirteen, Father unlocked his at twelve — and though Kenna meditates daily, hoping to find a belief so Inevitable it guides his every action, he's sixteen and long overdue for inspiration.
He's almost too old for a Wisdom Ceremony. He's let his starving body taint his mind. Though he should leave these low boys to their food and seek out his Inevitable Philosophy, here he is wasting time trying to fill his belly instead of his mind.
"We don't have your food," Big Kid lies, sniggering. His buddies nod in time, like marionettes. "And even if we did, isn't your mother Queen of Saving the Starving Millions? I thought she crooned in advisors' ears to convince real emperors to unlock their granaries. Shouldn't you starve yourself first?"
I do, Kenna almost says, but he knows how that conversation will go. The crowd will excoriate Mother and Father, tell Kenna the Philosophies should have died after they failed.
Father, whose chest is tattooed with his Philosophy — I will lead my people out of darkness — has lectured Kenna on how Philosophies fall into disrepute, then rise like phoenixes. Until Father can bring the wayward leaders back to the fold, regaining the generosity that wise leaders once aspired to through grand Philosophies, the rank and file will mock them for their struggle. There's nothing an empty soul enjoys more than watching enlightened men fail, Father says.
Yet Kenna had so wanted to give these boys the benefit of the doubt. He'd trailed them for a day to ensure he wouldn't accuse the wrong person. He'd watched them wolf down vending machine jerky to satisfy casual hungers, while Kenna had only stayed alive by rationing his duffel bag of bulk-purchased nutricrackers across months of lean journeys.
If Kenna had an Inevitable Philosophy, neither the bullies nor the belly cramps would bother him. If Kenna had an Inevitable Philosophy, he could walk away serene, his actions guided by higher concerns than mere survival. If Kenna had an Inevitable Philosophy, he could persuade these boys of the righteousness of sharing resources in scarce quarters, guiding this grubby ship to the compassionately Inevitable enlightenments that benefited empires.
But he has no Philosophy. And since there's only one way to get his food back, he kicks the kid in the crotch.
Big Kid's eyes crossing is wondrously satisfying — a stunned glare that seems to say, I thought you'd lecture me on how no lie could balk an Inevitable Prince. Terror flows as the other kids realize that no, Kenna is not that kind of prince.
He grabs two duffel bags as the adults above yell down scorn, jeering that a Prince of the Inevitable Philosophies should be concerned about the poor, and Kenna hauls ass down the corridor, hoping the other passengers won't interfere.
Alas, the thieves' terror ebbs as they realize Kenna was not that kind of prince, but neither was he an assassin-prince who could kick their ass with years of martial training. Kenna's a street urchin with credentials, and starved for two days to boot. And so they run him down, and kick him in the ribs, and take their bags back.
"There!" The biggest kid upends his duffel bag to rain down empty wrappers over Kenna's head. "We ate them already, you freak! And you know what? They tasted like shit!"
They did, Kenna thinks, imagining the sumptuous meals Mother told him of, detailing seven-course meals with a fixated lust that could have passed for pornography. His finest dining has been a cup of ramen noodles.
He crawls into a bathroom stall.
Kenna curls up on the toilet seat, holding his bloodied nose to stanch it because of course there's no toilet paper. He watches the stall's timer count down to kick him out in ten minutes. On the graffiti-smeared bathroom screen overhead display, a little graphical spaceship-dot creeps toward Savor Station, with a clock to mark the remaining time: 3:15:23.
There had been a third choice, Kenna realizes, blood trickling down the back of his throat. He could starve for three days, and take a beating.
But he doesn't cry. You can't drink tears.CHAPTER 2
After Sixty Minutes on Savor Station
Kenna sucks on a plastic bead as he follows the eight-year-old girl around Savor Station, trying to work up the nerve to mug her.
She's pudgy, dressed in a little blue uniform, a kid wandering through the crowded hallways like she's in no danger at all. The tracker tag on her wrist makes Kenna think maybe she isn't. She cruises to a stop to watch some cartoon advertisement on the overhead monitors, reaches into an oil-stained bag of meat jerky to chew on it absently. Kenna hates her for the way she can eat without paying attention; put jerky in his mouth, and it would fill his whole world.
He sucks harder on the bead. More saliva. Fools the stomach into thinking something's on the way, which of course it isn't unless he mugs this little girl.
He pushes past tourists consulting overhead maps, edging close enough to grab the bag. He should. He has to.
Kenna hesitates again.
The girl moves on, wandering into the glassine cubicles of merchants' stalls, darting between shoppers' legs. She passes a shop heaped with tubs of fresh fish, flopping as they're released from expensive time-stasis cubes; the salt-ocean smell makes Kenna wipe drool from dry lips even though he's straying dangerously close to the tawdry commerce areas. He steps toward the fish, like a man in a dream — and as he stumbles forward, the security cameras whirr to focus on him. The merchant senses Kenna's stray-cat approach, quietly shifts his body to deny him access.
Could he beg the merchant for scraps? Kenna takes another dazed step forward, reaching out plaintively. The merchant's lips tense as he readies well-worn excuses: if I give scraps to one boy then I will be swarmed by beggars, a purveyor of quality goods cannot be seen surrounded by hobos, I'm sure you understand.
Kenna turns away, knowing exactly what the merchant will say before he utters a word. He's dodged many embarrassments by intuiting potent visions extracted from body language, and Kenna has paid dearly the few times he's ignored his instincts.
Yet he's glad the stalls don't have jobs posted. He'd sell his labor for a fish. Mother and Father would never talk to him again, of course — you don't learn a trade, your Philosophy is your trade. They have left Kenna behind in the common areas while they negotiate meetings with Savor Station's visiting politicians, hunting for an opportunity to lend their wisdom to powerful legislators. But though Kenna tries to remember his parents' lectures on providing insights so profound that leaders will pay to hear them, his growling belly drowns out their voices.
They've been Inevitable for so long they've forgotten how to fear death. They hesitate whenever they lecture him, squinting with the effort of attempting to translate their enlightened experience into Kenna's debased state; the only time he's seen them falter is when they try to explain how they unlocked their Inevitable Philosophy. You find strength in the suffering of others, Mother intones, or Father tells him, Once you realize what's truly at stake, you come to realize how little you matter.
But Kenna's felt his heart stuttering from malnutrition, and once again his nascent Philosophies fall away when survival calls.
The girl ambles on, waving cheerful hellos as she strolls between the stalls; Kenna scans the market for better targets. The other shoppers, maybe? No. They're big. Healthy. His hands shiver from malnutrition. They'd yell for security right away, he'd get jailed, shaming Mother and Father.
He imagines justifying this crime to them. They had food already; I didn't. She didn't need that food; I do. Yet he's already heard them whispering consultations with each other, fretting how all the Princes of old had their Wisdom Ceremony before they were fifteen. Kenna's sixteenth birthday was a month ago, and now Mother and Father's muttered discussions have taken on the panicked hiss of monarchs debating whether Kenna can continue to be the Inevitable Prince if he does not shape his Inevitable Philosophy.
Being arrested might be his final fall from grace.
Kenna should hate them. Instead, he envies their Inevitability. Mother and Father's bottomless compassion gets them up in the morning; their love keeps them moving when Kenna wants to curl up and die. They're waiting in some old politician's lobby, chasing flickering embers of power. Once Father's Inevitable Philosophy convinces the right potentates, he'll lead his people out of darkness.
When Father chants I will lead my people out of darkness!, Kenna can feel the limitless strength bound in those words — yet though Kenna spends hours meditating upon the revolutionary changes that should be made for the benefit of all, the best philosophies Kenna can muster are pleasant platitudes that crumple into guilt whenever Kenna's stomach growls.
Kenna has no people. He has no compassion. He has no Philosophy. All he has is a girl with a bag of meat jerky — a girl skipping into Savor Station's main arteries.
Kenna follows her, chest hitching with self-loathing.
It's more crowded here, his every footstep blocked by bag-toting porters and gawking tourists and miniature forklifts ferrying crates. Though this curved ring is wide enough to hold hundreds of passengers, the space is all elbows and bulkheads, which makes sense; each square inch cost thousands of dinari to build, a sliver of safety constructed in pure vacuum by brute labor.
Kenna creeps closer. The girl babbles at a porter, discussing some show; he sidles up, sliding his fingertips across the bag's tantalizing oiliness.
All he has to do is clench his fingers, and yank, and run.
He imagines the girl's shocked face as he tugs the jerky from her hands, that little-girl shock of discovering that anyone can take anything from you if they're big enough, and he realizes this is what it would take to survive:
He would have to become a bully.
Kenna howls. Startled, the girl drops her jerky, but Kenna does not notice; he's pushing people aside, fleeing. He cannot stop crying, but he can move so fast that no one has time to notice his tears. He wants so badly to throw all this honor aside to stuff his mouth with meat and be happy and shivering ...
... but he is not a thief.
Oh, how he envies thieves.
Do you have to be so dramatic, Kenna? he can hear Mother chiding him. But she's carved away everything that doesn't advance her Philosophies — she's whittled herself down to perfect postures, to primly smoothed robes, to unceasingly polite rules of etiquette.
If he had an Inevitable Philosophy, he would never lose control. But he does not, so he runs.
His legs spasm. Kenna collapses by a long line of people — Savor Station is criss-crossed with lines, lines of people getting passports, lines to get on ships, lines to fill out job applications, lines to —
DO YOU LOVE FOOD? a sign flashes.
The sign itself is written in a flowing, sugary goodness, a message in frosting. It writhes like a dancer pulling veils across herself, highlighting a carved wood booth crammed into a corner.
Wood, Kenna thinks. What madman hauls wood across solar systems to put it in a lobby? He knows vandals; on the transit-ship, this would have been carved to pieces.
Yet even in the elbow-to-ass room of Savor Station, people make space for this little alcove, as if the dark wood booth is an ambassador from some great kingdom. It has a confessional's solemn pall — but the people lined up before it have the expectant looks of lottery contestants, chatting eagerly about their chances and wringing their hands as they fantasize about winning. A stiff pressed linen curtain gives privacy as each new person steps into the booth, muttering well-practiced speeches. The line's end is nowhere in sight.
The sign contorts, bowing, then unfolds into a new set of letters: THE SOL MAJESTIC.
Kenna has no idea what that means, but he longs to be a part of it already.
The sign is whisked away as though by a breeze; smaller words float across the empty space like lotus blossoms drifting across a lake. THE MOST EXCLUSIVE RESTAURANT IN ALL THE GALAXY. ONLY EIGHTEEN TABLES. RESERVATIONS MUST BE MADE TWO YEARS IN ADVANCE.
BUT ONE TABLE IS RESERVED EACH NIGHT, FREE OF CHARGE, FOR THOSE WITH THE LOVE TO SEE IT.
Kenna clambers to his feet.
TELL US WHY YOU LOVE FOOD.
This is insane, this is stupid, this is foolhardy. He should comb the marketplaces again, see if anyone has dropped food on the floor. But Mother and Father will not return from their political sojourn for hours, and this ...
... this ...
Kenna staggers down the line. His legs ache before he reaches its end. He settles behind a rumpled family of middle-aged tourists, who welcome him with a bright-eyed wave and a "Why not?" gleam in their eyes. A group of fashionable Gineer hipsters, their smooth skin taut from gene-treatments, fusses about the delay as they settle behind him.
He settles into his own silence, lets others do the talking. They speak breathlessly about cuisine.
It takes a while before Kenna realizes cuisine means food.
They speak of tenacious ice-eating mosses, planted on asteroids, sent on trips around the sun, retrieved to harvest the bounty for a once-in-a-lifetime salad. They speak of deep-sea creatures evolved at the bottoms of vinegar oceans, so delicate they have to be kept in pressurized containers, released via special mechanisms to explode in your mouth. They speak of artificial meat-fibers spun across rotating tines in cotton-candy strands, a protein that melts on your tongue to saturate your whole mouth with thick umami.
What is umami?
He's never eaten well, but he thought he at least understood the languageof food. Mother spoke of noodle soups and roasted ducklings. These meals sound like exhibits.
They discuss meat. Kenna relaxes; he understands meat, even though all he's ever eaten has been vending machine jerky. But these people discuss blubber, siopao, Silulian black-udder, p'tcha, vacuum flanks, sashimi. They trade the names like chips on bingo cards, brightening when it turns out two people have consumed the same oddity, exchanging indecipherable dialogues on bizarre concepts like flavor profiles and top notes.
Kenna should not be here. But leaving would mark him as a fraud. He has had enough humiliation for the day.
There's enough humiliation for everyone, he's glad to see. As they draw closer to the confessional, people are rejected with an astounding rapidity. You are asked, Kenna is told, to discuss why you love food, though most don't make it past their first sentence. A beautiful actress stumbles out, hands on her broad hips in irritation, to inform the crowd she'd had auditions that lasted longer.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Sol Majestic"
Copyright © 2019 Ferrett Steinmetz.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. Three Days, Fifteen Hours, Thirty Minutes to Savor Station,
2. After Sixty Minutes on Savor Station,
3. After Ninety Minutes at Savor Station,
4. The First Night at Savor Station,
5. The First Morning at Savor Station,
6. Three Hours to Find a Chef,
7. The Third Day at Savor Station,
8. Timeless, Until the Decision,
9. Five Weeks, Three Days Until the Wisdom Ceremony,
10. Five Weeks, Two Days Until the Wisdom Ceremony,
11. Five Weeks, One Day Until the Wisdom Ceremony,
12. One Afternoon Closer to the Wisdom Ceremony,
13. Halting State,
14. Five Weeks Until the Wisdom Ceremony,
15. Four Weeks and Four Days Until the Wisdom Ceremony,
16. Half an Hour Until the Party,
17. Twenty Minutes Until Explosive Decompression,
18. There Is Only Now,
19. Thirty Seconds Until Captain Lizzie,
20. Three Hours Before Kenna Is Released from Jail,
21. Three Weeks Until the Wisdom Ceremony,
22. Three Hours Until the Escargone,
23. A Long, Slow Infinity to Die In,
24. Zero Seconds to Disappointment,
25. Six Weeks in the Escargone,
26. Unknowable Months in the Escargone,
27. The Morning After,
28. Two Weeks and Six Days to the Wisdom Ceremony,
29. Two Weeks and One Day to the Wisdom Ceremony,
30. Two Weeks to the Wisdom Ceremony,
31. Two Hours Until the Wisdom Ceremony,
32. Ninety Minutes Until the Wisdom Ceremony,
33. One Hour Until the Wisdom Ceremony,
34. Fifteen Seconds and/or Eight Minutes Before the Wisdom Ceremony,
36. The Wisdom Ceremony,
37. Five Minutes to Freedom,
Also by Ferrett Steinmetz,
About the Author,