Cover image for The vanished birds : a novel
The vanished birds : a novel
1st ed.
Physical Description:
390 pages ; 25 cm.
Nia Imani is a woman out of place and outside of time. Decades of travel through the stars are condensed into mere months for her, though the years continue to march steadily onward for everyone she has ever known. Her friends and lovers have aged past her, and all she has left is work. Alone and adrift, she lives for only the next paycheck, until the day she meets a mysterious boy, fallen from the sky. A boy, broken by his past. The scarred child does not speak, his only form of communication the beautiful and haunting music he plays from an old wooden flute. Captured by his songs, and their strange, immediate connection, Nia decides to take the boy in. And over years of starlit travel, these two outsiders discover in one another the things they lacked. For him, a home, a place of love and safety. For her, an anchor to the world outside herself. For the both of them, a family. But Nia is not the only one who wants the boy. The past hungers for him, and when it catches up, it threatens to tear this makeshift family apart. --


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A mysterious child lands in the care of a solitary woman, changing both of their lives forever, in this captivating debut of connection across space and time.

"The best of what science fiction can be: a thought-provoking, heartrending story about the choices that define our lives."-- Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

A solitary ship captain, drifting through time.

Nia Imani is a woman out of place. Traveling through the stars condenses decades into mere months for her, though the years continue to march steadily onward for everyone she has ever known. Her friends and lovers have aged past her. She lives only for the next paycheck, until the day she meets a mysterious boy, fallen from the sky.

A mute child, burdened with unimaginable power.

The scarred boy does not speak, his only form of communication the haunting music he plays on an old wooden flute. Captured by his songs and otherworldly nature, Nia decides to take the boy in to live amongst her crew. Soon, these two outsiders discover in each other the things they lack. For him, a home, a place of love and safety. For her, an anchor to the world outside of herself. For both of them, a family. But Nia is not the only one who wants the boy.

A millennia-old woman, poised to burn down the future.

Fumiko Nakajima designed the ships that allowed humanity to flee a dying Earth. One thousand years later, she now regrets what she has done in the name of progress. When chance brings Fumiko, Nia, and the child together, she recognizes the potential of his gifts, and what will happen if the ruling powers discover him. So she sends the pair to the distant corners of space to hide them as she crafts a plan to redeem her old mistakes.

But time is running out. The past hungers for the boy, and when it catches up, it threatens to tear this makeshift family apart.

Author Notes

Simon Jimenez 's short fiction has appeared in Canyon Voices and 100 Word Story's anthology of flash fiction, Nothing Short Of . He received his MFA from Emerson College. This is his first novel.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

In a profound look at humankind's spacefaring future, Jimenez's debut tells of both anguish and love as the result of heart-wrenching decisions. A century from now, aerospace engineer Fumiko believes humans should leave the climate-ravaged Earth, and regretfully chooses her career designing space stations over her lover, Dana, who would rather advocate for trying to save the planet. But Dana's efforts fail, and Earth is abandoned. Fumiko extends her life through periods of suspended animation as humans colonize the galaxy. Nearly 1,000 years later, Ahro, a boy who doesn't speak, crash-lands on a distant farming world. Spaceship captain Nia agrees to take Ahro back to Pelican, a station Fumiko designed. As they travel through "pocket space," where a few months pass for them while years go by in normal space, they grow close and Nia becomes protective of Ahro. When Fumiko learns Ahro has powers that could speed up space travel--abilities sought by Fumiko's employer, the megacorporation Umbai, which is looking for more efficient ways to pillage planets--she offers Nia the opportunity to keep the boy hidden, which Nia accepts, leading to ripples of choices and consequences. This is a mostly progressive future, but classism, unchecked capitalism, and resource exhaustion loom large. This extraordinary science fiction epic, which delves deep into the perils of failing to learn from one's mistakes, is perfect for fans of big ideas and intimate reflections. (Jan.)

Booklist Review

Jiminez's debut depicts a future dominated by vast corporations that, in the wake of Earth's destruction, claim space stations, people, and even whole planets as proprietary resources. Ships travel through Pocket Space, a dimension that allows for vast amounts of distance to be covered but increases the already dramatic effects of relativity so that travelers experience the passing of months instead of years. The overall narrative centers on Captain Nia Imani and her connection to a boy who falls out of the sky on the corporate-resource world of Umbai V. The boy's mysterious origins and possible relevance to the future of space travel draw the attention of the thousand-year-old scientist Fumiko Nakajima as she tries to study the boy's potential while hiding her work from her ruthless Umbai backers. As Nia and a select crew journey across the fringes of corporate space, the competing desires of the captain, her adopted boy, a vast and hungry corporate machine, and an ancient woman who can't even remember the things she has lost will all come to a head. A lyrical and moving narrative of space travel, found families, and lost loves set against an evocative space-opera background.--Nell Keep Copyright 2019 Booklist

Kirkus Review

In this gorgeous debut novel, love becomes a force that can shatter space and time.We first see Nia Imani through the eyes of someone she is always leaving behind: Kaeda, a boy growing up on a backwater planet visited once every 15 years by offworlders who come to collect its harvests. Nia is the captain of a faster-than-light ship that travels through Pocket Space. While Kaeda lives a decade and a half, Nia spends just a few months traveling between various resource-producing worlds like his, shipping goods for the powerful Umbai Company. It's not until a mysterious boy falls out of the sky on Kaeda's planet that Nia begins to form a connection she's not willing to walk away from. The boy doesn't talk, but he's drawn to music, particularly a traditional workers' song from Kaeda's world: Take my day, but give me the night. Kaeda teaches the boy to play the flute, and the music speaks to Nia. But there's something else about the boy, something that draws the attention of Fumiko Nakajima, the woman who designed the massive space stations that anchor this corporate-controlled empire. Something dangerous. Something that could change the universe. Spanning a thousand years, this sweeping novel takes the reader from the drowned cities of Old Earth to the vast reaches of Umbai corporate space but always anchors itself in human connection. Even characters whose lives are glimpsed only in passing, as waypoints along Nia's time-skipping journeys, are fully realized and achingly alive on the page. This powerful, suspenseful story asks us to consider what we'd sacrifice for progressor for the ones we love.The best of what science fiction can be: a thought-provoking, heart-rending story about the choices that define our lives. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

DEBUT In the Fifth Village during Shipment Day, dubha seeds are collected by offworlders. Kaeda is one of the harvesters, and upon meeting Nia Imani, one of the offworlders, he falls in love. Their affair is complicated by Pocket Space, where eight months pass in Nia's world, while 15 years go by in Kaeda's. Just before one of the scheduled collections, the elderly Kaeda finds a mute, undernourished boy who isn't of his planet. Nia agrees to transport the boy back to the authorities. Meanwhile, Fumiko Nakajima, a scientist/engineer, succeeds in designing inhabitable space stations for Earth's residents. Fumiko is also obsessed with solving Pocket Space, and believes the key to resolving it lies within the boy Nia found. As the paths of Nia and the boy intersect with Fumiko's, the story takes on a tone and depth that recalls an N.K. Jemison novel, with a flute playing a crucial role. VERDICT The boy is reminiscent of Amy Bellafonte from Justin Cronin's The Passage, yet the journey itself evokes Bryce Courtenay's The Power of One, creating crossover appeal for readers who enjoy a bit of emotional attachment with their time travel.--Tina Panik, Avon Free P.L., CT



1 Six Harvests He was born with an eleventh finger. A small bead of flesh and bone beside his right pinky. The doctor calmed the worried parents and told them the nub was a harmless thing. "But still," he said, unlacing a small cloth pouch, "a farmer needs only ten fingers to work the dhuba." He coaxed the child to sleep with the smoke of torched herbs, and sliced the nub from the hand with a cauterizing knife. And though the mother knew her baby felt no pain in his medicated sleep, she winced when the flesh was parted, and clutched him to her breast, praying that there would be no memory of the hurt when he woke, while her husband, unable to resist indulging in his hedonism even then, breathed deep the doctor's herb smoke, and was spelled by a vision of the future--­in his dilated pupils his son, a full-­grown man, handsome and powerful, with a big house at the top of the hill. The new governor of the Fifth Village. To commemorate this vision, he had the finger boiled of its flesh, and its bones placed in a corked glass jar, which he shook on wistful days, listening to the clack of good omens as he whispered to his baby, "You are going to run this place one day." The boy burbled in his arms, too young to recognize the small and varied ways life was contriving to keep him put. They called him Kaeda, the old name of this world. Kaeda grew up proud of the scar on his right hand, the shape of it changing over the years. When he was seven, the healed tissue rippled down the side of his palm like a troubled river. He was happy to show the other children the mark when he was asked, and he giggled as they stroked the skin with furrowed brows, at once impressed and unnerved by its texture. Some children called him cursed; those were the children who learned from their parents to distrust the unusual. To them, he shoved his scar under their noses and confronted them with the fact of it, repeating the words of his father: "I'm going to run this place one day!" and through sheer force of will convinced them that the scar on his hand was a lucky thing. He had a natural charisma. The caretakers doted on him, and the other kids played the games he wanted to play, believed what he believed. Everyone but a girl named Jhige, who never missed an opportunity to push back against his wild declarations, matching pride with pride as she countered his wild theories on why the sky was red, and why the smell of the air changed during the day; why everything smelled soft and sweet in the morning and sour as a kiri fruit at dusk. "And your scar isn't special," Jhige shouted. "It just means you were born wrong!" They wrestled in the yellow grass until the caretakers separated them. They fought like dogs most days, but despite the bruises he might nurse on the way home, he always emerged from the fights unbothered, certain that she was only jealous that it was he who was destined for greatness, and not her, though what greatness that was, he did not know, and would not, until the day the offworlders arrived. Before that day, he was only familiar with the stories his parents shared: how every fifteen years the offworlders broke the sky with their cloth-­and-­metal ships and landed in the plains east of the village to collect the harvest of dhuba seeds. His father told him that this special day was called Shipment Day, and that on every Shipment Day, a great party was held for both the offworlders and the farmers. "A party you will never forget," he promised. His mother laughed from the other room. "Unless you drink too much." "The drink is half the fun," his father countered. Kaeda was unable to sleep the night before his first Shipment Day. His mind was too alive with the stories; the new faces he would see, the new hands not stained purple from the dhuba fields. He gazed through his small bedroom window at the black sky littered with stars, with no regard for the late hour, as he imagined what it would be like to leap from light to light. What places there were, on the other side. When his mother came to collect him in the morning he was exhausted, all his energy spent the night before, conjuring these fantasies. He dragged his feet into his sandals and complained loudly as they marched with the other villagers to the plains east of town, begging for rest until his father sighed and carried him on his back, where he drifted in and out, unaware of time or location, only the warm and thick smell of the man's shoulder, like the embers of a dying fire. He slept. And then the sky cracked and he woke up with a shriek and his father laughed and pointed upward and he followed his father's finger up to where, against the slate of red sky, twelve thin green lines arced above the horizon line, the end points gaining in size until, not two minutes later, the giant metallic beasts touched down on the carpet of grass with ground-­shaking thumps, one after another, the vibrations attacking his heart, swollen now as it occurred to him that he had never seen such large creations, nothing as intricate as their cloth wings and the hull panels that gleamed under the sun, or the sonic boom of their hangar doors that dropped onto the dirt like jaws mid-­shout, or the people who emerged from within of every variant shade of skin, some lighter than his, others darker, dressed in clothing that seemed woven out of the stuff of starlight. With a nauseous rush the scope of his world telescoped outward to accommodate the breadth of these awesome quantities. His whole body shivered. And then he pissed himself. His father cursed and lowered him to the ground, cringing at the stain on his back. The offworlders were shown to the banquet cushions in the center of the Fifth Village. Bowls of spirits and plates of dhuban pastries--­long, purple, and flaky--­were served on wide platters. Kaeda could not see the offworlders from where he sat--­a minor disappointment, as he stuffed himself with sweet breads and bowls of juice, feeling warm and content between the motions of his parents' bodies, pleased by the sound of hard snaps when his mother cracked open nuts with her muscular fingers, and the bellow of his father's drunken, joyful laugh. He felt a satisfaction with the world so complete he even smiled at Jhige, who was with her own family on the other end of the long table, and she, startled, returned his smile with a small wave of her own before turning back to her uncle, who was in the midst of another tall tale about the Butcher Beast of the southern forest--­horror stories with which the young would startle themselves awake later that night, and stare into the dark corners of their bedrooms, waiting to be devoured. The adults exploded with laughter. After the banquet, when the hard drinking began, the caretakers and new parents brought the children back to their homes. But Kaeda wasn't finished with the night--­he had yet to meet an offworlder--­so he planned his escape from the group. He told his friend Sado to lie to the caretakers and say that he had run home ahead of them, and before Sado could so much as nod, the boy was gone, hugging the side of the squat buildings, back to the bonfire and the harsh scent of liquor. It was there, at the end of the alley, before the path opened up into the plaza, that he saw her: a woman, alone on a bench, silhouetted by the fire. She held a wooden flute to her lips. Her fingers spidered up and down the length of the instrument, playing music that reminded Kaeda of the sound of wind whistling through a cracked-­open door. He watched her from the shadows. Even sitting down, she seemed tall. She was black-­skinned, her hair shaved to the scalp, and was dressed in an outfit simpler than her friends: a white top with a collar cut down to the chest bone and dark bottoms that hugged the curves of her legs. Each note she played on her flute made the bonfire ahead of them dance, or maybe it was the fire that was influencing the music, or the stars, or all of it, working in concert, together. The song was the night itself. It was in his people's laughter as they danced by the fire, and it was in the smell of fruit and smoke in the air; it was in the light, caught in the beads of sweat on her collarbone. It was everywhere. The woman's breath flumed through the wooden tube, and bellowed heat into his belly, gladly mesmerizing him, until her large eyes shot up and saw him. The music stopped. She spoke with two voices, one in a language he did not understand, and the other his own. It sounded as though she were haunted by her own ghost, she her own distant echo. He was too young to recognize the doubled voice as a quirk of her translator device, believing instead it was a kind of offworlder magic. "Did you like it?" she asked, referring to the music. He nodded. She stood up and approached him. Her shadow was long; it ran past him, into the dark fringe at the end of the alley. There was an instinct in him to run, as though some part of him knew that if he should stay there would be no turning back, but he ignored this instinct and planted himself to the ground, stubbornly so. She crouched before him, eye to eye. Close enough for him to smell the flowered chemistry of her skin. "Take it," her doubled voice said, handing him her flute. Excerpted from The Vanished Birds: A Novel by Simon Jimenez All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.