[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
Hugo and Nebula Winner

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Notes for the Far-Seer Cover Artist

Copyright © 1991 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.

[Far-Seer Cover Art] Very few authors have control over the covers that appear on the American editions of their books — I certainly don't — but when Far-Seer sold, my friend and fellow writer Garfield Reeves-Stevens suggested I prepare notes for the cover artist and submit them to my editor at Ace, Peter Heck. I did so, and Peter passed them on to the artist assigned to do the Far-Seer cover, Hugo-nominee Tom Kidd.

The response was better than I could have possibly hoped for: Tom, pleased to have such comprehensive material, phoned me from Connecticut to discuss various details, faxed me several rough sketches, and then sent me a photocopy of his final sketch, so that I could make suggestions before he began painting. I liked the finished product so much, I bought the original art from Tom; it hangs in my living room.

Here are the notes I wrote up. If you haven't read Far-Seer, please be advised that they give a lot of the plot away. But if you have read the book, you'll find background information here that appears nowhere else. Enjoy!

QUINTAGLIOS: The Main Characters

Evolutionary History

Although not explicit in the first book in this series, the Quintaglios are descended from Earth's dinosaurs. It's common in current Science Fiction to follow the suggestion of Dr. Dale Russell of the Canadian Museum of Nature and suggest that intelligent dinosaurs evolved from small, big-eyed, slender, bipedal dinosaurs, such as Troodon (formerly known at Stenonychosaurus).

However, this is NOT the model I used for the Quintaglios. Rather, the Quintaglios evolved from dwarf tyrannosaurs. That is, their ancestors had the same basic body plan as a miniature version of Tyrannosaurus rex: massive heads; short, muscular necks; a stooped gait; stocky torsos; relatively small forward-facing eyes; thick, powerful tails. Unlike troodontids, which kill with their clawed feet, all tyrannosaurs, including Quintaglios, kill with their powerful jaws.

Quintaglios vary from tyrannosaurs in several significant ways, however. Tyrannosaurs have tiny arms, with only two clawed fingers. All terrestrial vertebrates on Earth now have or evolved from creatures with five digits on each hand or foot. In the case of the Quintaglios, the development of the third, fourth, and fifth fingers is no longer suppressed. They have well-developed arms with dexterous five-fingered hands (four fingers and an opposable digit). Unlike humans, though, most Quintaglios are left-handed. The fingers terminate in retractable curved claws, which extend reflexively when the Quintaglio is threatened, but also are under individual voluntary control (making it possible to extend or retract them in any combination).

Quintaglio feet are much like tyrannosaur feet: somewhat bird-like, with three splayed, clawed toes, and an additional claw spur coming off the heel.


Quintaglio hide is much tougher than human skin. It is dry and leathery. As humans have lost most body hair, so Quintaglios have lost most scales and scutes (bony processes embedded in the skin), but these may be present in individuals. Quintaglio skin is almost entirely green, although it may be freckled, mottled, or splotched with brown or yellow in some individuals, and with black in old individuals. The skin tone is darker on the back and upper surface of the tail than it is on the belly and lower tail surface.

Facial Features

The Quintaglio head has a high cranial dome and a drawn-out muzzle. The mouth is a simple lipless slit running the length of the muzzle, and the nostrils are near the tip of the muzzle. Teeth are replaced throughout life and consist of only one type: curved, pointed, with fine serrations on the trailing edge. Quintaglio eyes are oval and solid black. Quintaglios have no external ear flaps, but simply have a kidney-shaped earhole on either side of the head. Quintaglios have a small salt-secretion gland beneath the surface of the muzzle, but the aperture for it is simply a very tiny hole — almost a large pore — halfway down the side of the muzzle. Except in an extreme close-up view, it would be all but invisible.


Because the Quintaglio hide is so tough and because they live exclusively in a warm, equatorial climate, Quintaglios do not normally wear clothes or shoes for protection, except in special circumstances. However, most do wear decorative sashes, which cross over from one shoulder to the opposite hip. At the hip, the sash may contain a carrying pouch. Priests conducting services wear flowing robes instead of sashes; when not conducting services, priests wear sashes marked with bands of color. Members of the royal family, including Dybo and his mother Len-Lends, wear blood-red sashes. Most priestly robes are decorated in swirling patterns of brown, yellow, white, and orange, representing the banded cloud patterns of a Jupiter-type planet. Master mariner Var-Keenir wears a special gray sash, about eight inches wide at his shoulder, narrowing to four at the hip. Keenir and other members of the Dasheter crew also sometimes wear red leather caps over the dome of their heads.

Most sashes are made of leather, not cloth. Saleed's sash is blue-green. Afsan's is yellow and brown. Imperial staff wear orange-and-blue sashes.


Adult Quintaglios have a variety of dark purple or black patterns tattooed into the side and top of their heads. Note that Afsan, the main character of the first novel, is a juvenile when the novel begins, and so doesn't have any tattoos at first. Specifically, during the hunt scene, he has no tattoos at all. During the first part of the ocean voyage aboard the sailing ship Dasheter, he has a hunt tattoo. After the ship actually comes to rest beneath the Face of God, he gets a pilgrimage tattoo. During all later scenes — including the battle with the sea-serpent, Kal-ta-goot, he should have both of these tattoos.

The tattoo of the hunt, as described in the first novel, goes above the left earhole. The pilgrimage tattoo also goes on the left side of the head, although its exact position is never specified in that novel.


Like modern crocodiles, Quintaglios continue to grow throughout their lives. There is no one "adult" or "mature" size. Rather, Quintaglios simply get bigger and bigger until they die. A young adult Quintaglio, such as Afsan, might be five-and-a-half feet tall. An old Quintaglio adult, such as Var-Keenir (captain of the sailing ship Dasheter) or Tak-Saleed (the master astrologer), might be close to eight feet tall. (Note: Keenir and Saleed are creche-mates, meaning they are the same age, and, therefore, about the same size.)


In a relaxed "at-ease" posture, Quintaglios lean back on their thick, muscular tails. In a walking posture, the back slopes forward at an angle of almost 45 degrees. When running, the back becomes horizontal, parallel to the ground, and the tail flies up behind, lifted completely off the ground.

Individual Variation

Afsan: about 5'5'' tall, thin but in no way frail.

Dybo: just slightly shorter than Afsan, but quite rolly-polly.

Saleed: close to 8' tall, old and wrinkled, somewhat frail. His skin is mottled with yellow and black age spots.

Keenir: also 8' tall, but much burlier. Most of his tail is gone early in the novel, although it grows back during the course of the action. The regenerating tail growth is yellow, and Keenir must use a cane or otherwise support himself. He has a ragged yellow scar running from the tip of his muzzle to his left earhole.


Most animals on the Quintaglio world evolved from and still strongly resemble dinosaurs or other animals from Earth's Cretaceous period:

  • shovelmouths are hadrosaurs (duckbilled dinosaurs);
  • thunderbeasts are sauropods (brontosaurs);
  • Kal-ta-goot is a long-necked plesiosaur;
  • wingfingers are pterosaurs (flying reptiles, such as Pteranodon);
  • hornfaces are ceratopsians such as Triceratops;
  • spikefrills are also ceratopsians, but modeled after Styracosaurus;
  • armorbacks are ankylosaurs.


The Face of God is a Jupiter-like planet, striped vertically (from the perspective of people on the deck of the sailing ship Dasheter) with bands of beige, yellow, orange, and white cloud. It covers one-quarter of the sky (that is, its widest part extends over 45 degrees of the sky), but goes through phases (from top to bottom). The Face does not have a ring around it.


Also visible in the sky are other moons of this Jupiter-like planet, which will show visible disks or phases in the sky and cast round shadows in a band up the centre of the Face of God. The Quintaglio sun is Vega, a very bright white (not yellow) star. The Quintaglio world is much farther away from it than Earth is from its sun, so Vega appears as not much bigger than an incredibly bright point. The Quintaglio sky is pale violet, not blue.

THE DASHETER: A Sailing Ship

Much of the novels action takes place aboard a large sailing ship, the Dasheter. The ship consists of two diamond-shaped hulls, joined by a short connecting piece. The hulls are each four decks high. The Dasheter has four masts, two on the port side of the fore-hull, two on the starboard side of the aft-hull. Each mast supports one giant red sail. One depicts Larsk's cartouche, an Egyptian style symbol; another shows his name in hieroglyphics; the third shows Larsk's head silhouetted against the swirling Face of God; and the fourth shows the crest of the Pilgrimage Guild.

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