4.25/5 (Very Good)
Doris Piserchia’s A Billion Days of Earth (1976) is a whimsical, disturbing, and stunningly inventive science fiction novel. This is the second and by far the best of her novels I’ve read (A Billion Days of Earth surpasses Doomtime (1981) in virtually every regard). Not only are the characters better drawn but the plot isn’t as easily derailed by repetitious actions. That said, she isn’t always the best at plotting but her imaginative worldscapes and bizarre creatures more than compensate. Doris Piserchia’s oeuvre deserves to be read (and reprinted!). Sadly due to deaths in her family she stopped publishing in 1983…
Brief Plot Summary (limited spoilers)
The year is three million A.D. and humans have evolved to the point where they possess immense physical and technological abilities. Humans (Homo Superior), now called Gods, in the past dabbled with genetics and created various creatures including the ferocious zizzy, which is a pouched bee/cat. The Gods refuse to interact with the denizens of the Earth and occupy themselves by engaging in various leisure activities in the clouds.
However the Gods are not the only sentient creature inhabiting this future earth. Rats have evolved and gained sentience without the assistance of the Gods. The rats call themselves humans. These rat/humans have constructed an immense foundry to supply surrogate metal hands… Occasionally pockets of intelligent rats without metal hands are discovered.
The action takes place in Osfar (the location of the hand foundry) a city in the middle of a desert cut off from its water supply by an earthquake. The main characters are Rik, a brilliant and fearless scientist, and his adopted brother Jak (whom Rik discovered and supplied with hands). The humans are ruled by an inbred “caste” called Fillys who are virtual dictators and control vast amounts of money and live in huge estates.
The inhabitants of this future earth, besides the Gods, are engaged in vicious interspecies strife (the zizzies attack the human/rats and vice-versa).
Into this violent and unusual world comes Sheen an amorphous silver being whose purpose and origins are unknown. Sheen seeps out of the volcanic Valley of the Dead and preys on any species it encounters (besides the advanced Gods) by presenting a victim specific telepathic vision of paradise in order to consume the victim’s ego. Sheen multiples and soon huge swaths of land are devoid of life. For a long time no one is concerned despite Rik’s repeated attempts to notify the authorities…
A parallel story emerges as well — Rik spends his time stealing gadgets from the Gods (humans). On one of these treks Rik and Jak encounter a helpless Goddess who momentarily lost her abilities while secretly giving birthabout to be consumed by a moving hill. Yes, a moving semi-sentient hill!
The two narratives — Sheen’s slow engulfing of all human life and Rik’s interactions with the aloof Gods — intertwine in spectacular fashion.
A Billion Days of Earth is a heady brew of fascinating ideas — semi-sentient moving hills, evolved human/gods uninterested in the world below, sentient rats with metal hands, and of course the amorphous/shape-shifting ego consuming Sheen. The snappy dialogue between Rik and Sheen is a delight to read (and the dialogue between Sheen and any of the creatures it attempts to consume).
My critiques are minor. I wish Rik had a larger role to play (especially his interaction with the Goddess after the incident with the moving hill). His role is minimized because of Piserchia’s unfortunate tendency to introduce a horde of characters throughout the novel which don’t add too much to the narrative. Likewise I’m still unsure of the purpose of the tangential Filly machination subplot…
Highly recommended for all sci-fi fans.
Pick up a copy!