Friday, 19 April 2013

Zenn Scarlett by Christian Schoon

Zenn Scarlett is a bright, determined, occasionally a-little-too-smart-for-her-own-good 17-year-old girl training hard to become an exoveterinarian. That means she’s specialising in the treatment of exotic alien life forms, mostly large and generally dangerous.

Christian Schoon is a freelance writer who has worked for various film, home video and animation studios in Los Angeles, including the Walt Disney Company. Originally hailing from the American Midwest, after moving from LA to a farmstead in Iowa several years ago, he continues to freelance and also now helps rehabilitate wildlife and foster abused and neglected horses. He acquired his amateur-vet knowledge, and much of his inspiration for the Zenn Scarlett series of novels, as he learned about - and received an education from - these remarkable animals.

Today, Christian takes over the blog as part of the Zenn-a-palooza blog tour, arranged by Amanda Rutter of Strange Chemistry books. So, over to Christian...

Zenn Scarlett: A Day in the Life
The day starts early and dark for Zenn, well before the sun clears the canyon wall here in the deep end of the Valles Marinaris. It’s usually the voice of Sister Hild, one of Zenn’s instructors, echoing up to her dorm room from the calefactory entrance that wakes her. Dressing in a patched pair of hand-me-down coveralls, and rolling up the pant legs to avoid tripping, Zenn heads downstairs and out into the cool Martian air, crossing the cloister grounds to the refectory hall and kitchen, where she wolfs down a quick amaranth muffin and a cup of hot, bitter chicory coffee. She has a dim, fading memory of the luxurious, silken taste of real coffee, but since the Rift with Earth, something as rare as coffee is no longer found on Mars; at least, not at the co-op in Arsia City where the cloister barters for supplies. Checking the v-film flickering on the kitchen wall for any last-minute updates from her uncle Otha about the day’s activities, she sets off down one of the packed gravel paths leading to the first task on her roster of early morning chores.

Some mornings, Hamish will scuttle out from between one of the outbuildings to lend her a hand. Well, a claw. An eight-foot-tall insectoid coleopt, Hamish is in his trial period as the cloister sexton, or all-around handyman (bug). He’s amiable enough, and pleasant company for Zenn, but has a maddening habit of being unable to take the initiative or think for himself in most matters. This, Zenn knows, is due to the severely regimented coleopt culture in which he was spawned and raised, but it still rankles her. But, growing up as the only child within the mud-brick walls of the Ciscan Cloister Exovet Clinic and training facility, Zenn is glad to have Hamish as a friend; actually, as her only friend. The xenophobic towners in the nearby village of Arsia City will have nothing to do with the cloister and its “diseased, unclean alien monsters.”

First chore of the day for Zenn is stopping outside the enclosure of their resident whalehound and taking a quick read of the animal’s vital signs. She then records the data for Otha to evaluate later. At the ‘hound’s pen, Zenn greets the 80-foot, eight-legged otter-like creature, who responds to her with his usual snuffling exhalation. She activates the remote sensor-film hanging on the chain link fence and downloads the information to the sleeve-screen stitched to her coveralls. Satisfied at the results, she climbs up the path, and heads over to the cloister’s collection of treatment pools, which now holds a recently arrived mating pair of Tanduan swamp sloos, long as battleships, snake-necked and sleek as prehistoric plesiosaurs. The female sloo raises her tubular, ant-eater-like snout into the air, waving it about to catch Zenn’s scent as she passes.

The rest of the morning is spent in checking off similar items on her list of chores. Grizelda, an ailing, single-celled cryptoplasmoid the size of a small truck, needs her weekly dose of mineral supplements. Ernie the yote, a buffalo-sized scavenger from the plains of Procyon, is due for his distemper booster. And, the highlight of the morning: a visit to the baby Kiran sunkiller floating in the huge interior of the clinic’s main infirmary building. Just a little over 60 feet long now, the sunkiller’s gas-filled manta-ray wings will eventually grow to span a distance of over 1,500 feet, enabling it to carry an entire sky-palace on its broad back. Sunkillers are, of course, considered holy creatures by the Kirans who live out their entire lives in the structures erected on the animals’ backs. Zenn fully appreciates the fact that treating one of these impressive beasts is a once-in-a-lifetime privilege for any exovet, let alone a novice. Accordingly, she spends as much free time as she can spare, which isn’t much, in the infirmary.

After a hastily consumed lunch back at the refectory, Zenn’s afternoon will be filled with books, v-films and memorization as she does her homework in classes like alien physiology, parasitology, planetary ecologies of the Local Systems Accord and other course work. Her evening chores might be interrupted by a chat with Liam Tucker, a towner boy who, uncharacteristically, has shown a sudden interest in Zenn. She finds this both puzzling and annoying. Towners are alien-hating bigots, for the most part, and she’s not sure Liam is really any different. Plus, she’s got end of term tests coming up and can’t afford to be distracted. Especially by a wise-cracking towner boy with a reputation for attracting both trouble and girls. Will her long-standing rule against forming friendships outside the cloister stand up to Liam’s annoying, distracting ways? Only time will tell.

As the sun drops below the western canyon wall, Zenn will sit down, exhausted from evening chores, to a hot supper, prepared alternately by either Otha or Sister Hild. The huge calefactory hall will echo with their voices, perhaps prompting Otha to reminisce about the days when Zenn wasn’t the sole student at the cloister school; a time before the Rift with Earth, when the voices of dozens of novices and acolyte exovet trainees filled the hall. Then, after helping clear the table, Zenn will return to her dormitory room, review the day’s notes and prepare for bed. Katie, her pet rikkaset, will most likely already be curled up on the bed. The little raccoon-like marsupial, deaf since birth but highly intelligent, will sit up long enough to silently sign to Zenn, using her deft, long-fingered paws to say “Sleep now? Friend-Zenn goes to sleep? Katie too.”
You can find out more about Christian Schoon and Zenn Scarlett here, or you can pre-order a copy of the book here.

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