A commercial jet on a routine flight crashes in a strange land lacking reference to place or time. The survivors face terrors beyond sense or logic. Among the passengers: a doctor to save them, a woman to lead them, and a mysterious figure to convey them—to science and faith, to destiny and freedom. The crash landing in a place-out-of-time was no accident. The jet was brought here for a reason. For a purpose.
The scenario is familiar. The echoes on sandy shore and the voices in thick forest are full of meaning. Reading the characters’ stories, we feel a longing, almost an aching, and all of these emotions driven by a sense of fear, foreboding, and…desire. This is a place fraught with danger, yet alive with possibilities. It is here we will face our darkest demons, it is in this place we will find our deepest salvation.
I am an unabashed lover of the television series LOST. I have written five books and over one hundred essays—all told some half a million words—on what I believe to be the best show ever created for the small screen. I am also a novelist. For the last year I have been working on an enormous project, a labor geared toward exploring the essential ideas of the best television series of all time, and bringing them into our lives. There is a place inside each of us that is beyond time and place, beyond black and white, beyond truth and fear. LOST showed us such a place. Deneb brings us to that place—to that dreaded land of darkest terror where we find deepest joy and truest self.
It’s a simple adventure story. Time travel, the mixing and corrupting of temporal streams. Characters caught up in a mysterious world full of danger and opportunity. But just like LOST, Deneb is so much more than this.
Her name is Kathy Augustine. She boarded Pacific Airlines Flight 159 in San Francisco at 4:17 p.m. on October 16, 2026, intent on returning to Chicago to enjoy fall break with her parents. She never made it home.
Just like Kate Austen, Kathy Augustine landed in a place where she could start over with a blank slate. She was free to become anyone, to do anything. But what is freedom? We could imagine that after the crash of Pacific Airlines Flight 159 Kathy was ‘free to pursue her dreams’, but what are dreams, if not an idea of personal destiny formed in reaction to the slings and arrows of unhappy life? The dream for Kate Austen was Tom Brennan and a toy DC-3 airplane, but the way she pursued her dream was by running. “You always want to run away, Katie,” Tom said. She had a clean slate. She was free. But even when she was free, she wasn’t. She ran because that’s all she knew.
LOST taught us, through the torturous journeys of Jack Shephard and Kate Austen, that true freedom is no accident or coincidence, and can never revolve around spontaneous acts. There is no spontaneity because we never have a clean slate—we are always slaves to the people we were before. We are slaves to dreams that are beneath the full dignity of our true destiny. Kate finally discovered her real destiny by refusing to run, by standing firm with Jack against the Man in Black and by standing at Claire’s side to raise Aaron. Jack discovered his true destiny by surrendering his attachment to science so that he could hear the call of faith. Jack and Kate became free only when they discovered and honored their deepest and truest connections to each other and to the Source.
Deneb examines this idea of freedom and destiny as two sides of the same coin from the context of human civilization. What does it mean to be a truly free person in a civilized land? There is no black and white here. Deneb presents seven different ways of contemplating the relation between liberty and destiny, science and faith, truth and fear.
You will come to have strong feelings for these characters. You will hate some of them for who they are, what they believe, or the deeds they commit. You will love some of them—in spite of their failures—sometimes for pursuing dreams, sometimes for rising above dreams and becoming connected, for attaining to the full dignity of joyous and responsible destiny. My hope is that you will at first love some characters and hate others, but that by the end of the novel you will despise people you once cherished, and find yourself rooting for players you thought you could only hate. In these strange transformations and juxtapositions, in the twisting of evil twins to become the very agents of civility and humanity, I hope you discover a place that brings you to question your own connection to the world.
In the end, a great television series or a great novel must be about the characters—their trials and fears, their triumphs and failures. We find written in their dreams and discoveries the stuff of our own beliefs and desires. We commiserate with them in wrong choices and defeat, because we’ve been there, too. In a sense, the people on the television screen or on the written page are just as real as we are, because they represent and act on ideas we admire or despise, they experience life in ways consonant with our memories, consistent with our sense of who we are. And when these same characters blaze new trails, give us fascinating concepts to think on, we love them all the more.
Deneb asserts that there are more than one or two legitimate ways to build up a society. The novel presents a wide diversity of thought, some of which I hope every reader finds unacceptable or abhorrent—and some of which I hope every reader loves. Hand in hand with this diversity of expression is a wide variety of interesting characters.
Deneb is an epic tale. The paperback version of the story weighs in at 2.5 pounds—a little over a kilogram. You will not read it in a day. Longer than The Fellowship of the Ring, about the same length as A Game of Thrones, Deneb counts some 150 named characters; three dozen of these could be considered major players in the drama. Drawn from no fewer than eight different societies, each of the major characters is unique in attribute and attitude.
You will have strong feelings about Kathy Augustine, the Enatmar, Tom Keller, and Lady Alma, but for quite different reasons. All four of them will become leaders, but each of them brings unique skills and imperfections to the task of leading women and men.
You will have solid reasons to despise the Enatmar and equally valid reasons for supporting her sworn enemy, the Troku Verdos. At the same time, though, I hope you find yourself questioning the basis for your hatred or love of specific characters.
Kathy and Louis and Tom Keller and Lady Alma and hundreds of others were brought to this place for a reason, for a purpose. What is that reason? Who is Black Widow? The Man of One Eye? Wanderer? Bright Walker? The Wolf of Fear and the Wolf of Truth? The She-Devil? And the biggest mystery of all: Where the hell are they?
As in LOST, there are no coincidences in Deneb. The crash of Pacific Airlines Flight 159 is no accident. The numbers are not random, of course. LOST aficionados and readers of my essays already know that 159 = 108 + 51, with 51 an homage to my favorite LOST character, Kate Austen. My protagonist’s name, Kathy Augustine, is likewise an homage, and so too, Dr. Jake Pastor, whose quick thinking and selfless actions save dozens of lives after the crash.
The mysteries appear on every page; in most cases they are never addressed head-on. You will have to struggle with the characters to make sense of the strange place, to unravel their collective and individual destinies, and to come to grips with the dozens of deep mysteries that unfold all around you in the forest and on the waves. Some of the puzzles will be solved for you. Many times the answer will appear, but its significance is left for you to decide. Some of the deepest enigmas—such as the survivors’ physical location—will remain shrouded in layers of mystery. But Deneb is not fantasy, it is ‘hard’ science fiction: Everything you read is supported by reasonable extrapolation from science. In particular, the survivors’ physical location is a real place that can be pinpointed on readily-available maps. In fact, almost all readers are relatively familiar with the location. But I would guess fewer than one in a thousand, even after extensive research, will be able to figure it out. Deneb is indeed a simple adventure story, and you can read and enjoy it without plunging into the deeper mysteries. But the story has such depth that you will never lack for ideas to consider and enigmas to ponder.
There is probably no more controversial figure in the 20th century than François Darlan, and no greater person of contention in Deneb. Admiral of the French Fleet, he moved the entire French Navy to Algeria, far from French ports, specifically to prevent the Nazis from taking control of what was then the world’s fourth largest fleet. "No French ship will ever come into the hands of the Germans," Darlan told Winston Churchill. But Darlan was openly collaborating with Hitler. Churchill’s distrust led to the Attack on Mers-el-Kébir in July 1940, when the British Navy sunk the entire French Fleet.
But Darlan’s story doesn’t end there. In November 1942, General Dwight Eisenhower appointed Darlan as Commander of French North Africa. This did not sit well with General Charles de Gaulle, who considered Darlan a traitor. On Christmas Eve, early in the afternoon, a French resistance fighter, Fernand Bonnier de La Chapelle, shot Darlan once in the face and once in the chest, just to be sure. Despite many investigations, the assassination was never connected to any of the governments of the time.
Who was François Darlan? Churchill despised him. Eisenhower trusted him. De Gaulle hated him. Was he a French-speaking fascist? A misunderstood man who loved his country? A political opportunist? Or did he represent the best of our humanity, leader of the ‘Proud Mariners of Noble Deed and Heroes’ Grace’ as some characters in Deneb refer to him? As with the real-life François Darlan, historical ambiguity does not translate to personal ambivalence. You will come to love François Darlan, or you will hate him. There is no in-between. Just as in the history of the mid-20th century, some characters in Deneb venerate Darlan as hero, others consider him a traitor to their cause in the story-changing event they refer to as ‘the treachery of Darlan’.
There are no ambiguous characters because the soul cannot but decide. We must love François Darlan, or we must hate him, because we cannot remain neutral or disinterested.
‘I didn’t see that coming,’ we say of a revelation on LOST or a plot twist in a novel. Sometimes we are disoriented to the point of feeling physically shaken, as if John Locke walked right up to us and slapped our face. And it stings. It hurts not only because of the pain and bewilderment it inflicts, but because it seems wrong, it forces us to surrender comfortable ideas and adopt untested, strange ways of thinking. Half of us who watched the final episode of LOST were shocked in precisely this way. ‘I wasted six years of my life!’ many of us shouted, our anger directed squarely at Damon Lindelof and Carleton Cuse. The dearth of answers, the inconclusive ending, the ‘flash sideways’ as purgatory—all of it seemed a personal affront. Until, that is, we picked up the pieces of our shattered selves and tried to make sense of it, just as we were obliged to do after every episode before the finale. Many of us came to love LOST even more after the last episode, precisely because it was an affront, because it forced us to reexamine the way we look at the Island and ourselves.
I hope that Deneb gets under your skin in an intimate, personal way. I hope I catch you off guard and force you into thoughts untested and strange. The great ideas cause discomfort. What is the most natural response upon being slighted or physically attacked? What should we do when John Locke slaps our cheek? Slug him in return? It’s the natural thing to do.
“I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”
What? What uncivilized nonsense is this?
Don’t resist evil. Don’t fight. We’ve been hearing it for two thousand years, but few of us heed the message. Surely he couldn’t mean the words literally? The words are an affront. They shake us to our core.
John Locke confronts us in one of the most offensive attacks on cultural sensibility. Even when every sign indicates the idiocy of faith, Locke trusts. He becomes a caricature: Charlie Brown running to kick Lucy van Pelt’s football. He appears at the top of many ‘most gullible’ lists. But if you google John Locke + LOST + gullible, you will find this bit of cultural affrontery:
“What is gullibility? In what meaningful way do we distinguish it from the virtue we call trust? If trust is a virtue, isn’t it a virtue regardless of what others may choose to do with this trust? If Locke trusts openly, isn’t he freely exercising virtue, to an extent most of us would find unthinkable?”
It is humbling to see these words, drawn from my early LOST essay, “Cultural Musings on the Resurrection of John Locke,” for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Locke was not physically resurrected—at least not in the way I had been imagining. But the words point to a truth about LOST: Much of the show forced us to reconsider our most fundamental beliefs about the human condition. What could be more integral to human identity than not allowing ourselves to be taken advantage of? But in the end, Jack, Protector of the Island, the greatest hero and martyr, tells us, “Turns out he [John Locke] was right about most everything.” LOST asserts Locke’s faith was not gullibility, but the virtue we too seldom revere: trust.
I hope Deneb is an entertaining adventure story clothed in the fascinating wrappings of time travel and mystery and long-foretold destiny. But I hope, too, that it jars you, upsets you, and causes some distress and bewilderment, too.
When we experience something strange and unexpected, like a barefoot, brown-robed friar preaching to the birds or making friends with wolves, we feel unsettled. Our soul is never ambivalent, never undecided. When someone we considered enemy must be accepted as friend, we become disoriented because deep inside, at the core of who we are, our enemy can only be enemy and may not adopt any other relation to us. In the same way, when a beloved character begins doing things we find repulsive, we try to find explanations for his behavior. ‘He had to do it. Circumstance forced him. It was a one-time mistake.’ Or so we think.
My hope is that Deneb will be a bittersweet journey for most readers. As the story description says, “Few will survive. Many will suffer. The stakes are enormous.” You are going to be with these characters for hundreds of pages, dozens of hours. I expect a fair number of you will shed real tears when these people you love face anguish or surrender their lives. Even if you do not weep, you will feel sadness, though often mixed with a peculiar kind of joy, too.
Regardless of where you stand upon learning of the survivors’ mission, Deneb is merely the beginning of an epic adventure that spans millennia and worlds and a dozen cultures. I have already begun work on Volume Two, Troku of Deneb, which I expect to be published sometime in 2015. I doubt that anyone who reads far enough to learn of the Visions of Anguish will have any ambivalence regarding the outcome of the story. With that in mind, I invite every reader to share the story with friends and family, to make the novel a topic at the water cooler and in discussion groups. The greater the interest in the adventure, the more time I will devote to churning out the next volume in the series. The more you insist, the faster I’ll work.
You will find in Deneb a story worth discussing, a story made for sharing, a story that comports nicely with our desire for rich mystery, our appreciation of the nobility of human destiny, and our enjoyment of a good story well told. For whether we land on an island with the survivors of Flight 815, or in a forest with the survivors of Flight 159, we are certain of this great truth: We didn’t crash here by coincidence. We have a purpose, a reason. Each one of us was brought here for a reason. Enjoy your stay in the forest!
June 28, 2013
Deneb, Kindle Edition
Deneb, Paperback Edition
Deneb, Illustrated Edition