(A bit of context. This blog features regular reviews of books, horticultural products, and interesting related items, under this proviso. All items reviewed will be purchased by the reviewer in advance, at full retail price, in order to prevent any conflict of interest. Information about upcoming releases is greatly appreciated, but receipt of advance copies or samples will be announced well in advance and will not influence the final review. The world has enough Jeff Craigs and Maria Salases as it is.)
The Gardening In Miniature Prop Shop by Janet Calvo
Published: Timber Press, 2017
If the radical expansion of land surface on Earth during the Late Cretaceous had been just a bit slower, we wouldn’t have had a problem. One sentient species derived from dinosaurian ancestors, we could have handled. As it turned out, though, Earth didn’t produce one species of saurianid that developed an advanced civilization before the K-Pg extinction. We got FIVE. One never got much past the level of the Visigoths in the human era, which worked out fine for everybody when the asteroid impact sent them back to Hell, because documentaries on their culture would have been mistaken for videos from the metal band Gwar. The other four, though, cooperated and traded well enough that they all shared the secrets of space travel early on, and they had their own options for escaping the detonation and subsequent acidification of their world. The Chree, derived from early troodontids in east Asia, developed wormhole drives about 500 years before the impact, figured that it was better to leave early and avoid the rush, and promptly hauled themselves to the Andromeda galaxy and appropriated a set of conveniently abandoned Dyson spheres. They discovered the hard way WHY these were abandoned, unfortunately, but that’s a whole different story, as demonstrated by their scattered and blasted remains. The Larkash, troodontids from western North America, went for a standard timewave drive and colony ships, but overshot their original target by a few billion light-years. They never returned to the planet of their birth, but considering what they found on the far side of the universe, they never had the urge to go home. The Chukchuk, descended from South American abelisaurs, combined a passion for cybernetic augmentation with a new religious fervor by converting their bodies with artificial constructs and spread through the galaxy on solar sail “wings”, where they subject any sentients they encounter with wisdom gleaned from the void. Unfortunately for those sentients, that “wisdom” consists of truly horrible puns, so any civilization that detects the approach of a Chukchuk comedy troupe knows to turn off all the lights, turn off the music, and pretend not to be home until they pass by.
The Harkun, though, would be the real menace as far as humanity was concerned. “Transcendentally ecstatic” to a Harkun was often mistaken for “grumpy, hung over, and fitted for a catheter” by any other sentient, and the only way most sentients could achieve what qualified as “grumpy” for a Harkun involved kick-start pipe augers, habanero sauce, botflies, and a copy of the first album by Marcy Playground. Maybe it was because the Harkun evolved from psittacosaurs, early cousins to the horned dinosaurs, or maybe they reached that stage in every civilization’s development when they discover the truth about Santa Claus just a little too early. Either way, if every sentient species in the universe was an expansion of individuals in each species’s society, the Harkun were very happy in their niche as the universe’s software developers, weekly newspaper music critics, and booksellers at science fiction conventions. If the Harkun had a racial dream, it was to yell “GET THE HELL OFF MY LAWN!” right in the face of God.
This crankiness was aggravated by their own method of averting the catastrophe of 65 million years ago. Everyone else saw the oncoming antimatter asteroid, all of the size of a golf ball, and decided to get the hell out of the way. The Harkun saw the universe’s largest bag of illegal fireworks, and saw themselves as a bonfire. Yes, the resultant mess could be seen from the far side of the galaxy, but at least they got to make it. The plan involved two massive stasis shields: one to capture the asteroid and guide it right to a comparable mass of normal matter, and one to speed time twentyfold within the shield. This way, not only could the Harkun conduct the equivalent of throwing a dog turd into a ventilation fan, but they got to watch it in slow motion. This was the real reason why the other sentients on the planet decided to be elsewhere, because there was no talking sense to the Harkun when they had the opportunity to make a mess.
The plan, such as it was, had its good news and its bad news. The good news was that the first stasis shield worked even better than expected. The shield diverted 95 percent of the energy output from the collision of matter and antimatter back out into space, turning Earth for a very short time into an interstellar beacon on a par with at least five local pulsars. The fact that the output was modulated to contain a message, every last Harkun on Earth letting the universe that gave it birth know how it REALLY felt, was obviously just coincidence. Also pure coincidence, of course, was the hole in the shield that “accidentally” took out a Larkash cultural archive in the southern peninsula of the continent and subsequently vaporized a significant amount of sulfur-rich limestone. The bad news was twofold: someone involved with the second shield went through the universal software constant of “if it’s hard to write, it should be hard to understand” and set the shield’s operating system to run subjective time a million times slower inside than outside, and shifted it to ten minutes into the past, so it no longer existed in our reality until the shield turned off. Likewise, while the first shield activated at exactly the right place at the right time, the entire Harkun species was trapped inside the second shield when a practice run on the evacuation went live. Millions of tons of sulfur-rich rock vaporized, blew up into the upper atmosphere, and reacted with water vapor to become sulfuric acid, which chilled the whole planet and killed 75 percent of all species living at the time. That kept the Harkun occupied for five subjective years. The shelter pavillion was perfectly stocked for a hundred years, with all of the food, water, and air the Harkun would need. The entertainment options were to be shipped and installed a lunar month after the dry run, so while all of the essentials were taken care of, for 65 years, “no beer and no TV make Homer something something” became a new Harkun racial imperative.
Which brings us to the human era. All of the possible scenarios for global threats to human civilization hadn’t considered temporal traps full of eight-foot-tall saurians with parrot beaks, tails covered with huge porcupine quills, and personalities like pickled-egg-and-beer farts in a crowded tornado shelter. When the temporal barrier ripped open, the greatest example of cabin fever the universe had ever known was free. Having about a 2000-year edge on technology, the Harkun conquered humanity in a matter of hours, and promptly took out that 65 years of utter boredom on its poor monkey neighbors like a high school algebra teacher assigning homework over spring break. It really was Christmas all over the earth…and humanity was working retail.
The one saving grace that gave humanity a chance came from the Harkun’s incarceration. With no beer and no TV, and the spectacle of matter-antimatter explosion over in a subliminal flash, the Harkun were desperate for stimulation. The entertainment options left outside included weapons, so a typical waking period couldn’t be accented with an impromptu chainsaw duel. Some Harkun discovered random seeds, spores, and mycellae trapped in the shield with them, leading to a wild rush of gardening as social interaction. Before the first year was out, portable garden arrangements were a currency; within five, garden composition became a replacement for trial-by-combat in the Harkun legal system. By the time the shield ripped and the Harkun came rushing across our world, they had perfected miniature gardening techniques seemingly thousands of years ahead of humanity’s, with some being able to supply food for ten at a time. When humanity begged for peace, the Harkun offered to accept a conditional surrender if its greatest and best could best a Harkun in single miniature garden design. Based on the results, humanity should have been a slave race until the sun went supernova.
As with all revolutions, sometimes the parts and pieces were in plain sight. Six weeks beforeHell rode in on a quilled parrot dinosaur, a high school student named Charity Smith purchased, with money hard-won from months of weeding flower beds, a copy of the Janit Calvo book The Gardening In Miniature Prop Shop. When the Harkun invasion finished, Charity remembered this book and its guides on the unique issues with miniature garden construction and focused all of her miniscule free time on it. Days upon days of hard labor fabricating bonsai trays for the invaders gave Charity the chance to study their styles and materials, and Harkun guards never confiscated her book, even under the worst searches for contraband. And she learned. Oh, how she learned. Where guns and bombs had no effect, miniature fences and succulent beds took the war to the invaders.
The story of Charity Smith challenging the bonsai tray manufacturing plant commandant to a broken-pot arrangement duel is required reading for any student today, but it’s hard today to know what a turning point it was for humankind. Charity kept going, ultimately gaining an unconditional surrender from the Harkun with a penjing still preserved and lovingly cared for by the remnants of the Smithsonian Institution. The Harkun finally loaded themselves into a Chree-inspired wormhole generator and left our galaxy, but we never forgot Charity or her mentor, and we remain prepared for the barest chance that the Harkun might return. That’s why you can look up into the sky on a clear night and see Janit Calvo’s face, burned into the moon as a constant reminder of eternal vigilance. (As a test run, the far side of Mercury features the only surviving portrait of Calvo’s dog Kitty.) To see Charity’s portrait, you have to go to Jupiter: every moon in the system has one.