Coming Soon: A New Novel by David Pinault
Inspiration for David Pinault’s fiction comes partly from his travels as a scholar and free-lance journalist. Since the early 1980s, he has been to Egypt many times, as a student of Arabic, as a researcher, and as a tour guide on Nile cruise-boats. He and his wife, Dr. Jody Rubin Pinault, were formerly co-directors of Colgate University’s study-tour program in Egypt.
For several years Pinault was a research consultant for the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in California. Currently he is a professor of religious studies at Santa Clara University. Among the courses he teaches is one called “Egyptian Religious Traditions.”
Among the non-fiction articles Pinault has written is an essay entitled “Ready to Be Martyrs: Egyptian Christians Claim Their Ancient Roots,” which was published in the Jesuit magazine America: The National Catholic Weekly. Based on Pinault’s recent travels in Egypt since the onset of the Arab Spring and the Lotus Revolution, this essay describes how Cairo’s Coptic population is struggling to survive and preserve its Christian identity in the face of persecution by Islamist militants.
His book Story-Telling Techniques in the Arabian Nights includes an investigation of Egyptian versions of tales from the Nights. Research for this book led him to library archives in North Africa, where he discovered unpublished Arabic manuscripts of the Nights. He has also published an article in which he translates passages from the Arabic fiction of Naguib Mahfouz, Egypt’s most famous novelist, and examines how Mahfouz uses Akhenaten and other ancient pharaonic figures to comment on contemporary Egyptian society.
Pinault has experience as a volunteer digger at archaeological excavations in the Middle East: at the Temple of the Winged Lions in Petra (Jordan) and at the city built by King Herod in Caesarea Maritima (Israel). His lifelong love of antiquities led him to investigate how present-day Muslim communities in Southeast Asia respond to monuments from Indonesia’s ancient past on the island of Java, including the Buddhist pilgrimage site of Borobudur and the “Winged Garuda Mosque” of Sendang Duwur.
In addition to novels, scholarly books, and journalism, Pinault has also written short stories, a number of which are rooted in settings where he has worked, such as Egypt, Pakistan, and Indonesia. These stories will be published in a forthcoming collection of short fiction, Afghan Buddha Payback: Stories of Adventure, Wonder, and Fear.
Francis Valerian Hammond: the most gifted young Egyptologist of his generation—or a crackpot so unstable that he merits his current residence in the locked ward of a psychiatric facility? Scrawled writings from his cell hint at a lost treasure known as King Solomon’s Wand—an artifact that Hammond claims somehow links the Egyptian prince Khaemwaset, son of pharaoh Ramses the Great, with otherworldly visitors called the Seraphs.
Despised and isolated, Hammond finds his claims laughed off by all his onetime academic colleagues—all except his old friend Ricky Atlas, a grad-school dropout and Egyptological ne’er-do-well now making an odd-job living as a tomb-robber and thief-for-hire serving the pleasure of private collectors.
When an entity calling itself the Corporation hires Ricky to unearth Solomon’s Wand, he finds himself on a hazard-filled quest that propels him from Cairo’s Egyptian Museum to a mountaintop cave in the highlands of Yemen, and from there to Chicago’s Oriental Institute and the deserts of the American Southwest. There he meets Annie Martinez, a free-lance antiquities-hunter who joins Ricky in the attempt to free Francis Hammond, vindicate his claims, and keep one step ahead of the Corporation—while also seeking to learn how Solomon’s Wand may unlock the ancient secret of the Seraphs.David Pinault is a professor of religious studies at Santa Clara University. Cover photograph by David Pinault: statue of Prince Khaemwaset (13th century BC).
Planet Earth, present-day: Horrified by the Taliban-style destruction of ancient Egyptian monuments, a group of neo-pagans known as Old Faith Adherents smuggles pharaonic artifacts to a secret haven. The haven proves to be extraterrestrial. Guided by interstellar wanderers known only as the Seraphs, Earth’s Old Faith pagans establish a pharaonic Egyptian outpost on a desert-wilderness planet they call Nilotica Nova.
21st century, near-future: Earth’s recent Terror-Nuke Wars have devastated our globe’s oil reserves. Gasoline is now 98 dollars a gallon. But a mysteriously-discovered form of space transport--jump-world technology--permits Terrestrials to prospect for resources in other star-systems. Earth’s Interplanetary Ventures Corporation locates a new source of energy that can be pipelined back to our world. But this new energy source is found only on Nilotica Nova, and it is linked to the Egyptian artifacts that were once smuggled from Earth under the guardianship of the Seraphs.
The action begins in the near-future Egypt of the 21st century: Free-lance archaeological extractor Nicky Winter and his olfactory-enhanced K-9 digger-dog Teddy make a living Earthside plundering pharaonic tombs. Nicky prides himself on his cash-minded survival skills. But near-future Egypt is a tough place to work. Its anarchic deserts have been vitrified by suitcase-bomb blasts. Militant factions shoot extractors on sight. And religious fanatics have vandalized the few monuments from Antiquity left standing.
So when the Interplanetary Ventures Corporation offers Earth’s surviving K-9 extraction teams a job hunting for Egyptian artifacts on Nilotica Nova, Nicky and his teammates are glad to accept. But when they arrive, they encounter a series of mysteries, involving the origin and identity of the wanderer-Seraphs, the true nature of the energy resources available on Nilotica, and the significance of the pharaonic artifacts that were smuggled there from Earth.
Nicky and his digger-mates must decide whether to side with the Corporation or with Nilotica’s Old Faith Adherents as energy-extraction operations begin on this last planetary refuge for Egypt’s ancient treasures.More about Crater of Thoth
The setting: a Terror-Nuke-War near-future that is recognizably our own. The desert-wasteland world of Nilotica Nova offers a nightmare version of Egyptology. Taliban-style vandals smash monuments and shoot offworlders on sight. Free-lance tomb-robber Nicky Winter and his digger-dog Teddy must risk sniper fire and roadside bombs to plunder pharaonic burials. And galaxy-spanning businesses such as the Interplanetary Ventures Corporation establish Starbucks and Krispy Kreme outlets on Nilotica while stripping the planet of its energy resources for exploitation Earthside. The Corporation’s extraction activities awaken a race of interstellar wanderers known as the Seraphs, who have taken up residence on Nilotica.
The characters: Cynical and war-hardened, yet feisty and vulnerable. Orphaned by the terror nuke-blast that destroyed his hometown, Nicky Winter trusts no one in his fight for survival in an anarchic cosmos. But in a quest to learn the fate of his cousin Johnnie—an Air-Hog pilot who vanished in a scout-flight over the forbidden desert-world of Nilotica Nova—Nicky will need friends. Among them: fellow treasure-extractor and sometime-rival/sometime-sweetheart Tara Novari; voice-enabled chimera-mutant digger-dog Teddie the runty K-9; and the extraterrestrial Seraphs, whose links with ancient Egypt may unlock the secrets of planet Earth’s past—and its precarious future.
The themes: environmental devastation and the yearning for spiritual experience. These are topical and timely without being narrowly allegorical.
The style: Charge-ahead quick-footed narrative, combined with explorations of speculative concepts linked to: 1.) the possibility of breaking barriers of time to attain spiritual contact with the gods of ancient Egypt; 2.) the possibility of breaking barriers of space to attain contact with extraterrestrial Intelligences.
The author’s credentials: I'm a professor of religious studies at Santa Clara University and teach undergraduate courses on ancient Egyptian religion, Islam, and the religions of the Indian subcontinent (Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.). In addition to short fiction published in magazines such as Realms of Fantasy, Tales of the Talisman, Verdad, and Conte Online, I've written four books on scholarly topics: Story-Telling Techniques in the Arabian Nights (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1992); The Shiites: Ritual and Popular Piety in a Muslim Community (NY: St. Martin’s, 1992), Horse of Karbala: Muslim Devotional Life in India (NY: Palgrave, 2001), and Notes From the Fortune-Telling Parrot: Islam and the Struggle for Religious Pluralism in Pakistan (London: Equinox, 2008).Return to Main Page