BOOK #1 of The Verona Trilogy:
Young Adult, Post-Dystopian Fiction
It’s the 24th century and humans, with the help of artificial intelligences (A.I.s), have finally created the perfect post-dystopian society. To make equally perfect citizens for this world, the elders have created History Camps, full sized recreations of cities from Earth’s distant pasts. Here teens live the way their ancestors did, doing the same dirty jobs and experiencing the same degradations. History Camps teach youths not to repeat the mistakes that almost caused the planet to die. But not everything goes to plan.
In this first of a trilogy, we meet three spoiled teens in the year 2347. Hansum almost 17, is good looking and athletic. Shamira, 15, is sassy, independent and an artistic genius. Lincoln, 14, is the smart-aleck. But you don’t have to scratch too far beneath the surface to find his insecurities.
These three “hard cases” refuse the valuable lessons History Camps teach. But when they are kidnapped and taken back in time to 1347 Verona, Italy, they only have two choices; adapt to the harsh medieval ways or die. The dangers are many, their enemies are powerful, and safety is a long way away. It’s hardly the ideal environment to fall in love – but that’s exactly what happens. In an attempt to survive, the trio risks introducing technology from the future. It could save them – or it could change history.
The Lens and the Looker is the first book of The Verona Trilogy. It’s followed by The Bronze and the Brimstone and The Loved and the Lost.
The series takes readers along on the life-changing journey of three 24th century teens. While the three protagonists appear quite immature in the first half of The Lens and the Looker, this is not a series aimed exclusively at young teens. Lory Kaufman says he writes for readers 13 to 113, (and precocious 12-year-olds) This is borne out by the fact that about half the readership of the series is adult.
What many readers say they love about this series is its wonderful mix of science fiction (the future) and historical fiction (the past). While there’s time travel, there are also sword fights, and while there are detailed descriptions of ancient technologies, the story also includes many colorful characters who just happen to be artificial intelligences. There’s allusions to a Romeo and Juliet love story and also characters who have murderous intentions toward the lovers. And the setting? Many readers are praising the accurately described historical setting of 14th century Verona Italy, where much of the story takes place.
Here are a few excerpts from the first novel. We start in the future, in a world in balance, where everything is in place for everyone to reach their potential. But despite all the efforts of Hansum’s teachers and family, he just doesn’t get it.
One of Hansum’s earliest memories was his mother telling him he was just like his name sounded in the old English, handsome. But lately, when teachers and parents commented that 17 was too old to still be going through a rebellious stage, he’d just smile that sincere, enigmatic smile of his, and shrug. Hansum didn’t even argue as the head of his prep college, an old artificial intelligence named Dean Turkenshaw, told him he was being sent to Deep Immersion History Camp.
“Hey, Hard Time H. C. Bring it on!” Hansum challenged.
Dean Turkenshaw squinted his one round eye and his two balloon cheeks puffed out indignantly. Then Hansum watched as the old educator forced himself to calm down, taking a virtual deep breath and then lowering his single eyebrow in a show of sympathetic concern. Hansum lowered his two eyebrows, mirroring the facial expression. The A.I.’s round orb of a head, which was indeed his whole body, was levitating at Hansum’s eye level. With practiced patience, “Old Cyclops,‟ as the students called Turkenshaw behind his orb, began a teacherly pep talk.
“I hope your time at History Camp will help you to see the big picture,” Turkenshaw began. “It’s important for young humans to experience how your ancestors struggled for thousands of years, repeating the same mistakes over and over again. As I’m sure you learned, they almost drove themselves to extinction.”
“He’s so damned earnest,” Hansum thought. “It’s like he‟s going to cry any minute.”
“Extinction,” Turkenshaw repeated, seriously. “Imagine it. And they almost took what was left of the natural world with them. But, son, what we really hope for you, is to gain a true appreciation of how stable and beautiful the world is now, a world that that humans and A.I.s built together. History Camp can give you that valuable insight.”
Hansum nodded slowly and sympathetically. “Okay, Dean. You’re quite right, of course. I promise you, sir, I will try to get the most from this experience.”
Turkenshaw smiled benevolently.
Of course, to Hansum, getting the most out of this experience meant he would do his damndest to drive every single History Camp enactor he met crazy. He knew that, at that very moment, untold numbers of enactors were setting up a scenario that was designed to scare him straight. It would be a fun challenge to disrupt their grand plans. The thought made his smile beam even brighter.
“You seem sincere enough,” the old A.I. said.
“Well, you know what they say, Dean. The secret to success is sincerity. And . . .” Hansum ran a hand through his mop of tousled, dirty-blonde hair. A lock of the long, wavy pompadour fell over his olive colored forehead. “And once you can fake sincerity, you’ve got it made in the shade.”
The dean blinked in surprise. Hansum blinked his cool, hazel eyes too – twice. Then he grinned a big toothy grin. It was unmistakable in its meaning.
“Why, you little con artist,” Dean Turkenshaw growled. Now Hansum was getting the response he wanted. Old Cyclops’ orb zoomed nose to nose with the teen and then he really lost it, yelling, “I will make it my business to inform everyone about your ability to charm the fuzz off a peach. You won’t be able to get away with anything.”
“No probs,” Hansum said lightly, watching the gray, wiry hair, which stuck out from the sides of Turkenshaw, begin to vibrate like a tuning fork.
“Perhaps we can continue this conversation when I return . . . sincerely.” Hansum had cultivated the ability not to sound obsequious, even when he spoke like this. It didn’t matter whether the teacher was human or A.I., Hansum always got to them.
Turkenshaw’s two cheeks puffed out again and his light green orb blushed a blotchy red. “Get out!” the dean shouted. “Go to your dorm. Empty your closet. Collect your things. A History Camp transport is picking you up in an hour.”
So, Hansum is shipped off to History Camp, where he meets two other “hard cases,” Shamira and Lincoln. With the help of Pan, who is a type of very mischievous artificial intelligence known as a “genie,” the three teens horribly disrupt the intricate History Camp plans designed to “scare them straight.” A mysterious History Camp counselor from the future kidnaps them back to 14th-century Verona, and then abandons them.
Deprived of their privileged life, the teens end up working as apprentices for a lens maker, a gruff, reformed drunkard who has a beautiful daughter, Guilietta. Hansum can’t help himself. He falls head over heels in love with her. Here’s a bit from where the two are alone, high up upon Verona’s famous city walls, strolling in the moonlight.
Hansum found it amazing to stand on the wall. With a full moon shining he could look over the countryside to the south for miles. Looking back over the city he could see all the church steeples, towers, tile roofs, smoke of many chimneys wafting up into the air, and even the top courses of the ancient Roman Arena. Guilietta leaned between two parapets and gazed up at the moon. Hansum stepped behind her and put his hands lightly on her arms.
“It‟s a beautiful view,” she said.
“Si, and I have an especially beautiful view.” He saw Guilietta smile. Then a chill breeze came up and she shuddered. “It‟s getting cold,” Hansum added. “We should get going . . .”
Guilietta spun around in Hansum’s arms and kissed him. It took Hansum a few moments to recover from his surprise, but when he did he responded well. They kissed long and hard, and soon Hansum was oblivious to the rest of the universe, his past, present and his future. All that existed for him was an undeniable intensity between the two. Hansum finally came up from his deep well of delicious drowning and looked into Guilietta’s eyes. He could now see in her that instant familiarity which each person instinctively craves.
Being trapped in a dangerous world, the teens now do whatever it takes to survive, including using the universal knowledge of the A.I., Pan, who they’ve snuck in with them. He helps them bring inventions to the past, centuries before they were really invented. This includes the early introduction of the telescope. While it makes their master rich and them secure, it also brings them to the attention to the most powerful man in the region – and his enemies. A ruler from another part of Italy steals one of the telescopes, to learn its magic. But he also kidnaps the beautiful Guilietta. The chase is on, both to save the telescope and the girl. Hansum is on a horse with soldiers from Verona, tracking the notorious Prince Feltrino as he tries to escape.
Hansum clamored up the forested steep hill, his heavy horse crashing through the underbrush.
“Slow down, Master Hansum,” Pan whispered. “You don‟t want to get too far ahead of Lieutenant da Silva. He has a weapon, in case we catch up to Feltrino.”
“I have every intention of catching up with Feltrino,” Hansum replied. “Damn. I should have taken that dead man’s sword.”
“You should have done no such thing,” Pan whispered, speaking angrily for the first time since Hansum had known him. “Sword training at a History Camp in our time is no preparation for here. Prince Feltrino is a trained killer. We’ve seen his handiwork.”
It was hard slogging, going uphill in the virgin forest. Suddenly, Pan shouted in Hansum’s ear.
“Stop! Here’s his trail. See the broken branches? Look, two sets of hoof prints. Get off the horse and let me spectral analyze the decay of those crushed leaves to see how far we’re behind.” A minute later, Pan said, “These plants were trampled 25 to 30 minutes ago. Have da Silva go up the hill another five minutes and move parallel to us. When Feltrino realizes we’re close, he’ll go uphill to hide.”
Hansum related this to da Silva, and then added, “We must be very careful that Guilietta is not harmed.”
“My orders are to retrieve the device that brings images closer, Signor,” the soldier said. “I was told the girl is of no great concern.”
“That damned telescope!” Hansum thought. “That’s all Podesta della Scalla really cares about.” But Hansum realized that he must be pragmatic and not dwell on things he had no control over. He just stared at the man for a moment, then motioned him to move on. Hansum and Pan then continued, slowly, allowing da Silva time to get into position.
“Two sets of tracks indicate Feltrino probably still has Mistress Guilietta,” Pan said, as they started back on the trail. “The 24th-century topographical map I have in my memory is still most probably valid. At the end of this ridge, the ground will still slope downward as we approach the Po River.”
After almost an hour, Pan whispered, “Stop!” The imp then appeared, about quarter size, on the back of the horse’s neck. Peering over its crown, Pan cocked his head and one of his now-longer ears turned into a brass hearing tube. “In the distance, about 500 meters,” he said out loud. “I hear two horses moving away from us. It must be them.” Without hesitation, Hansum slapped the horse’s reins and kicked him to start cantering. “What are you doing?” Pan cried, his image gripping onto the horse’s mane, like he was holding on for dear life, his time-changed red butt bouncing up and down.
“Going after him,” Hansum said through gritted teeth.
“And then what?” Pan challenged, his image continuing to bounce. “What will you do when you catch up?”
Hansum pulled back on the reins. “I’m not saying don’t approach him,” Pan scolded. “Let’s just agree on a plan.” They talked for a minute, Hansum looking anxious.
“Fine,” Hansum finally said. “I’ll try to do what you say. Come on. Let’s not get too far behind.” Pan hid back in his lamp and Hansum continued for about five minutes, making more noise than he needed to. They wanted Feltrino to hear them coming, so he would hide and give the other soldiers time to catch up. But if Feltrino came after Hansum, he was supposed to turn and run.
“Slow down to a walk,” Pan whispered. “I perceive he has stopped, about 300 meters ahead. I can scent the two horses.” A hundred meters more and Pan told Hansum to stop. “I sense slight motion in a thicket 200 meters away, a bit uphill. Now is the time to do what we agreed.”
Hansum gulped. What happened now determined whether Guilietta would remain safe.
Click the following link to read some early reviews of The Lens and the Looker: http://www.lorykaufman.com/?page_id=35