- Four Lords of the Diamond
"The Four Lords of the Diamond" is a series of four
science fiction novels by author Jack L. Chalker. Like much of Chalker's work, the series deals with the effects physical transformations have on a character's personality.
The series takes place for the most part in a solar system with several planets, including four habitable (and inhabited) ones known as the "Warden Diamond". The Diamond was named after Halden Warden, the scout who first discovered it; when later scientific and research teams first approached the system, the four habitable planets were in a rare conjunction with each as the point of a diamond pattern. Each of these planets is named for a mythological figure, Charon,
Lilith, Cerberus, and Medusa, and each novel takes place primarily on one of these four worlds. Each planet is ultimately ruled by a single individual, although their political systems vary. It is from these four lords that the series takes its name.
In the novels, humans have conquered thousands of worlds in a space empire, called "The Confederacy", ruled as a more or less benevolent despotism. Most worlds are populated by genetically standardized, artificially gestated, "civilized" humans who are bred for specific occupations. Crime is rare, although not unknown, on the civilized worlds, but most of the people there are happy and unambitious. The Confederacy also maintains a "frontier" of hundreds of wilder, more recently colonized planets. This allows an outlet for the adventuresome and those who would chafe under the civilized structure, and also serves to stave off the stagnancy which stalks the civilized worlds. In this way, the Confederacy can be seen as analogous to Ancient
Rome. On the frontier humans are born in the old-fashioned manner.
The worlds of the Warden Diamond are part of this frontier, but even more isolated. This is because strange para-organisms which cannot live outside the Diamond quickly infest any matter, organic or artificial, brought to the solar system. Although these Warden organisms are not generally hostile to life, an infected being becomes dependent on their presence in his cells. If a host being leaves the Warden system, the organisms in his body die, destroying him in the process. Therefore, while inhabitants of the Diamond can travel throughout it with impunity, they can never leave. This has the incidental benefit of making the Diamond an ideal prison colony.
Like the English prison colonies in Australia and the Americas during the colonial period, the government in this series does not maintain elaborate incarceration facilities on the colony worlds. Criminals are simply transported there and left to fend for themselves and build what society they may. As such, each world has its own population which is made up primarily of Diamond natives, perhaps the children (or great-grandchildren) of an earlier generation of criminals. As the series opens, it has been about two centuries since the original colonization of the Diamond, and each planet has a population between ten and twenty million.
In addition to preventing escape, the Warden organisms of each of the four planets had a different effect on human colonists. On Lilith, a tropical garden planet with a feudal society, the organism marks any non-living thing anathema. Dead things decompose quickly, and any artificial material from off-world corrodes within days. However, through an exercise of will, certain individuals can force their Warden organisms to communicate with those in the surrounding matter and get them to behave in unnatural ways. This allows the elite to fashion buildings, artifacts, or clothing out of wood and plant matter which does not immediately disintegrate. The most powerful of these can also prevent Lilith's Warden organisms from attacking inorganic material brought from off-world. This power also allows the wielder control over the human body, in particular the ability to cause pain or even to wither another's limbs. Therefore, power over the Warden organisms gives one temporal power in Lilith's feudal society as well.
Cerberus is mostly water-covered, with large, solid, island-like landmasses created from the tops of native tree colonies. On this world, the Warden organisms do not attack inorganic matter, and therefore the planet maintains a level of technological sophistication, although still behind that of the civilized worlds. This also allows Cerberus to act as the galaxy's safety-deposit box; should you steal the Mona Lisa, you can send it to Cerberus. The authorities will never go get it for fear of being trapped in the Diamond, but because the painting is not a living creature, it can be sterilized and leave the system safely. On Cerberus, the organisms act by transferring people's consciousness from body to body in an apparently uncontrolled fashion. When two people sleep in physical proximity, they will sometimes wake up in the other's body. Cerberus society is made up mostly of large
oligopolieswhich control the economy and ultimately answer to the Lord of the planet, called the Chairman.
Charon is the closest inhabited planet to the Warden sun, and as such is difficult for humans to inhabit comfortably. Most of the land is covered by hot and humid rain forests, while the equatorial region is largely arid desert. Through the offices of the Warden organism, a form of magic works on the planet. Those skilled in control of their Warden organisms can somehow convince the organisms in other matter, such as people, that their host is something different from his true form. Because the host, as well as all Charon's inhabitants, are affected by the organism, this illusion will appear to be reality through any method of investigation employed. Furthermore, over time the Warden organisms in the "enchanted" person's body will reshape his true form to match the illusion that the organisms accept, making him truly what he appears.
Finally, Medusa, the farthest inhabited world, is a frozen desert with occasional areas warm enough to support grasslands. However, inhabitants of the world are typically unconcerned by the extremes of population. Their Wardens automatically and uncontrollably transform the human body into the most efficient form for existing conditions. For instance, Medusans are not bothered by cold, but their temperature calibration mediates if they enter a heated area. Similarly, if a Medusan spends extended periods exposed to the elements, he will develop additional body fat and hair for insulation. People even involuntarily change sex when a population imbalance arises. The Medusans live in a highly regulated communist society.
There are further planets in the Warden system, including a gas giant named Momrath, presumably after the mome raths in
Lewis Carroll's poem Jabberwocky, a kind of green pig that has lost its way. Momrath's moons serve as a resource for ore, worked as the Diamond's own prison colony.
When someone is born in the Diamond, or transported from outside, they become host to only the organisms from their planet. And although all Diamond inhabitants have their own Warden colonies, the various flavors of organism do not communicate. That is, a Cerberus resident cannot switch bodies with someone from Lilith, nor will either be affected by Charonese magic, regardless of where they are located. But as noted above, anyone from the Diamond can travel throughout the system, at least as far as Momrath.
It appears to take a few days for the organisms to infect a new resident. Should someone come to the Diamond for the necessary length of time but stay on their ship in interplanetary space, the Warden organisms will still infest them and end their ability to leave. However, the organisms will be in a neutral form, conferring none of the powers or liabilities given to those who settle on a planet.
Events of the Series
The beginning of the first book, an android clone that passed every security measure infiltrates a government facility on a central world and downloads vital defense information. The android manages to escape and transmit the data, but the authorities destroy it after tracking it toward the Warden Diamond. Analysis indicates that the Four Lords have conspired with an alien race to subvert the Confederacy as a prelude to war. The aliens have found a way to take ordinary citizens and program perfect artificial duplicates with their own agenda; moreover, these duplicates can somehow leave the Diamond.
Because of the seriousness of the threat, the government decides to put its best agent on the case. These agents live a playboy lifestyle, their memories erased, until they are called up for a mission.
Through technological advances, the government is able to duplicate the personality of the agent (who remains unnamed through the series) and implant "him" into four brain-dead host bodies. This allows the original agent to remain safely away from the Diamond in a nearby space station while each duplicate has all of his skills and experience. The prime agent can then "download' his counterpart's experiences through a bio-organic tracer which only lets two individuals with the same brain waves share memories. The four hosts are then sent to four different planets in the Warden system and have no choice but to fulfill their assignment of locating and defeating each of the Lords, delaying the expected alien invasion and finding out vital information on the infiltrators.
Each volume of the series primarily follows one of these four duplicates as he lands on his prison planet and begins to both investigate the menace to the civilized worlds and find his position in his new society. As part of the subtext of the series, Chalker explores how each of the four duplicates' divergent experiences change them, their personalities and allegiances varying as they come to terms with their irrevocable citizenship of the Diamond. For instance, the first two chapters of each book (after a prologue) are largely identical as each of the four duplicates wakes on a prison ship headed towards the Diamond, because their experiences have not yet diverged to any great degree. Each duplicate comes to realize the stagnancy and corruption of the Confederacy and question their position as tools of the hierarchy. As the series progresses, the primary agent experiences each of his counterparts' divergent experiences and begins to question his beliefs as well.
On Lilith, the duplicate is placed in the body of space pirate Cal Tremon. Tremon becomes a slave within the system until he realizes his power and is taken in by the upper class for further training. Once they realize the extent of his potential powers, they order his execution; Tremon flees with Ti, a young girl that he has fallen in love with, and takes refuge with a priest, Father Bronz. Tremon eventually discovers he is a pawn in a scheme to destroy a powerful rebel, Sumiko O'Higgins, and meets the Lord of Lilith, Marek Kreegan. Kreegan, a former Confederacy agent, has manipulated the entire situation to his advantage. He and Tremon reach an understanding but Kreegan is inadvertently killed by Tremon, who fulfills his mission and confirms the connection between the invading aliens and the Lords of the Diamond.
On Cerberus, the surrogate is placed in the body of nondescript computer hacker and embezzler Qwin Zhang. Zhang becomes a computer programmer in a syndicate corporation and falls in love with a local hunter-captain, Dylan Kohl. Qwin uses her espionage and computer skills to work her way up in the company and come to the attention of the Lord of Cerberus, crime lord Wagant Laroo. Laroo uses the Cerberus Warden organisms to transfer minds into the robot bodies, but is secretly double-crossing the aliens by requisitioning additional robots and trying to break the control programming. Zhang contacts the Confederacy which provides the computer processing power necessary to break the control codes. Through an elaborate ruse Zhang and Dylan establish control of the robot body that Laroo eventually places himself in, allowing them control over the Lord of Cerberus.
On Charon, the surrogate is placed in the body of administrator-turned-serial killer Park Lacoch. A representative of the Lord of Charon, former Confederacy politician Aeolia Matuze, convinces Park to infiltrate the rebel organization headed by the former Lord of Charon, Tulio Kolil. Kolil refused to aid the aliens and was deposed. Park agrees and is paired with another newcomer, Zala, who has a second personality (Kira) bio-engineered inside of her brain as part of a project to breed anti-Confederacy assassins. Park ends up transmuted into a semi-human changeling at the request of another changeling, Darva, who wants a mate. Park falls in love with Darva and spends some time in the wilds as their animal personalities start to overwhelm them, but end up joining the rebellion. Park learns a degree of magical power, stabilizes himself and Darva, and ends up joining a raid by Kolil on Matuze’s stronghold. Kolil is killed when he can’t bring himself to kill his former wife, but Zara/Kira kills Matuze. Matuze’s Chief of Security, Yatek Morah, temporarily takes command of Charon and may or may not be a representative of the alien invaders.
On Medusa, the surrogate is placed in the body of 14-year old killer Tarin Bul, who avenged the politically-motivated suicide of his father. Medusa is a relatively high-tech society where the citizens are under constant scrutiny by The Monitor Service (TMS) which are the enforcement arm of the Lord, Talant Ypsir. TMS contacts Tarin and instructs him to infiltrate the local resistance, along with his "paired" partner Ching Lu Kor. Tarin agrees but is forced to flee into the wilderness, where the "Savages" have unlocked the true potential of Medusan shape-shifting. Ching and Tarin gain shape-shifting abilities but are captured during an attack on an alien base of operations. Tarin attempts to infiltrate Ypsir's organization but is soon captured. Ching is mind-wiped and changed into a "Goodtime Girl" (basically a mindless slave) and Tarin is similarly mind-wiped and his body forced-shifted into a near-perfect erotic female designed by Ypsir. Tarin's only hope is that the psych in charge of the operation is a secret member of the resistance and has programmed him to kill Ypsir and his two trusted aides if they are ever all together in one spot. All of this is transmitted to the operative, monitoring the situation through the mindlink.
The last 86 pages of the fourth book are told from the operative's point of view. He confronts Yatek Morah, who confirms some of his deductions that the aliens, the Altavar, use the four Diamond planets as a breeding ground but notes the operatives doesn't have the full picture. The operative goes to Momrath and after meeting his three surviving counterparts, represents the Confederacy in negotiations with the Altavar. The aliens refuse to accept any treaty, realizing the humans will eventually betray them. In turn, the Confederacy refuse to accept the Altavar's offer of relinquishing control of all of their space traffic. The Confederacy launches an attack on Medusa, giving the inhabitants enough time to mount a hasty evacuation to the other three planets.
Medusa is destroyed but a massive part-energy/part-matter emerges from the planet and destroys the Confederacy fleet. Morah reveals that the new creature, Coldah, crushed the Altavar millennia before and the aliens grew to revere it. The Coldah merge into planets and make them inhabitable. The Warden organisms are part of the Coldah, and humans have the unique ability to tap into and use their abilities. The released Coldah proceeds into Confederacy space, which along with the loss of the fleet and Altavar raids will keep the Confederacy occupied for some time. The remaining three Coldah are predicted to leave in three centuries, giving the Warden inhabitants time to adapt, master their abilities, rebuild their technology, and go out into the galaxy when the time is right.
In the denouement, the operative travels to Ypsir's orbital satellite now above Charon, asking for the Lord of Medusa's two aides to attend as well. The transformed Tarin is also present and carries out its programming, killing all three of them and leaving the position of Lord open for the operative.
* "Lilith: A Snake In the Grass" (Del Rey 1981, ISBN 0-345-29369-X)
* "Cerberus: A Wolf In the Fold" (Del Rey 1981, ISBN 0-345-31122-1)
* "Charon: A Dragon At the Gate" (Del Rey 1982, ISBN 0-345-29370-3)
* "Medusa: A Tiger By the Tail" (Del Rey 1983, ISBN 0-345-29372-X)
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