Author: Piers Anthony
Original language: English
Publisher: Avon books, 1977
The CLUSTER series of SF adventures is set in a future focused on colonization of distant planets. Sphere Sol is about 100 light years in diameter, centered on the Earth’s sun. Surrounding this sphere are other, similar spheres each centered on another star such as Polaris or Canopus. Colonization is accomplished by: instantaneous teleportation, called matter transmission or mattermission (very expensive); “freezer” ships in which colonists are sent in cryonic preservation at very high speeds (much decay and average 50% loss of colonists occurs during the voyages) and lifeships, slower, safer multigenerational vessels with voyages that run to centuries (during which the travelers regress in technical sophistication.) Because of the difficulty of colonization and the smaller population bases, all spheres suffer spherical regression — the greater the distance from source star to colony, the lower the level of technology that survives. Social organizations regress backward to historical periods of the home planet’s past. Outworld, Sphere Sol’s farthest colony, is populated by paleolithic tribes who hunt with flint spears and make fire. Colonists know about the interstellar empire and the home worlds mattermit government and security personnel to all colony worlds. Every living thing has a Kirlian aura that can be measured. Through transfer, a refinement of mattermission technology, the mind and personality of individuals with high aura can be sent to animate a body physically distant but a hosted aura fades at the rate of about 1 unit per Earth day and higher-Kirlian individuals last longer and thus have more freedom of movement.
As CLUSTER opens, the alien envoy Pnotl of Sphere Knyfh seeks help from Sphere Sol in a shared galactic-level crisis: Galaxy Andromeda has discovered the secret of energy transfer and intends to use it to steal the basic energy of the Milky Way Galaxy. Knyfh offers the secret of aura transfer on the understanding that Sphere Sol will spread the technology to help create a galactic coalition to find and defeat agents of Andromeda. Sol’s highest-Kirlian individual is Flint, a green-skinned native of Outworld, who has a Kirlian aura of 200, an eidetic memory (useful for memorizing the complex equations of Kirlian transfer that he will need to communicate to other spheres). He has extraordinary intelligence, and is highly adaptable. His mission is complicated, however, by the fact that he is pursued everywhere by a very high Kirlian female Andromedan agent and, somehow, the Andromedans are able to detect and trace Kirlian transfers.