Barsk is a Nebula award nominated novel, and I think it has one of the most interesting backstories so far. But let's come back to that.
Barsk is a story of uplift, which of course reminds one of David Brin's Uplift series. B, ut in this case the sentient species have left mankind long behind--there are no people left. Most of the uplifted species live in an alliance, governed democratically. But the main driver of the story is an advance two of these species has made--the Elephs and Lox (African and Asian elephants, loosely) have invented a drug that can allow certain users to contact deceased people. They do this by way of "nefshons", particles of personality that each person disperses as they live. Schoen does a nice job of explicating this and giving it means to drive the plot through the book.
But back to the drug. It is a byproduct of the isolation of the Elephs--the other species find them ugly and banished them to a gloomy, rainy world. Other species have not been able to reverse engineer it, and they are now more intent on finding the secret. O. ur protagonist, Jorl, is one of those who Speaks to the dead. He and his friend Arlo become the key to the future as developments in the drug threaten society as it is.
There's a lot more to the plot, and it's a pretty interesting one. This is not an action novel--rather, it is driven by the interplay of the science of "nefshons" and the prejudice against the Elephs and Lox.
According to Schoen this novel was 20 years in the making, and it shows--it has much more depth than other Schoen items I have read, though the only things I've read of his are the Buffalito stories. Schoen is much more allegorical in this tale, and though his reasons for prejudice against the honorable Elephs and Lox are superficial they are unfortunately believable. This is a novel to ponder and digest, as opposed to a page turner--it is engaging, but the moral imperatives behind the story are its interesting points. Read this if you want to spend some effort--it is worthwhile, and as far as I am concerned a pretty strong entry, though I know it didn't win and I haven't read the winner yet. 3 stars from me.