Fifth Season Ch 6 & 7

1

Chapter 6

Damaya shows an awareness of geologic instability, and her attention to it disturbs Schaffa. Schaffa tells a story about the origin of the Guardians, including some exposition about how orogene powers work. When Damaya wants to assert her responsibility, Schaffa breaks her hand as a test of her self control. (Remember the trainee in Syenite's chapter, with a bandaged hand?) Schaffa says he loves Damaya.

Chapter 7

Essun continues on the road for a bit. Hoa becomes more of an enigma as Essun considers him. He doesn't seem to act his age. He says nothing of his past. He has no possessions, not even clothes, apart from a bundle of something. He doesn't know what soap is. He looks like no other person Essun has seen. And he seems to know where Essun's daughter is.

Questions

  • What do people make of the relationship between Schaffa and Damaya?
  • There's been a lot of exposition in the past few chapters. Has that been handled well?
  • Are you convinced by the portrayal of Essun as a grieving mother?
  • Random speculation time: who or what is Hoa?

Comments

  • 0

    Several things caught my eye this week. First, I was relieved that we are (apparently) revisiting the same pair of back stories rather than getting endless new ones :)

    Secondly, a "Guardian" is apparently there primarily to guard the world from the orogenes, and only secondarily to guard the orogenes from the world. Also, it seems that the job has taken a heavy mental/emotional toll on him, and it's not yet clear what specifically has caused this.

    I took the love declaration from Schaffa to be a parental-type affirmation, not a romantic one, and one which is deliberately positioned against the pain he has just caused. It would be easy to see it as a calculated statement forming part of her recruitment (kind of like love-bombing used by some cults) but I don't get the impression that Schaffa is motivated in that way.

    I looked up the name Damaya - it's not a mineral name, presumably either because her parents would not know to give her one, or else that she hasn't yet been initiated in some way to get her proper name. Two meanings are available online, both from Indian languages. One suggestion is "blessed", from Sanskrit, the other is "to be tamed" from Pali, a language in which much of the Buddha's discourse was recorded. I'm inclined to think that the second is what NK Jemisin intended, especially as there is a closely related form duddamaya (quite close to Damadama, used by her mother) meaning "difficult to tame".

    I'm still speculating that the boy who has teamed up with Essun is the same as the one in the prologue.

    You ask "There's been a lot of exposition in the past few chapters. Has that been handled well?" I find that difficult to answer. There has been a lot of scattered information about different facets of the world, but so little of it (yet) joins up into a coherent picture. Is the world of the Fulcrum and the school of systematic training something from very-long-ago, or now? Do Damaya and Syenite belong to the same era, or different ones? What (if anything) is the relationship between Damaya, Syenite and Essun? I'm not sure I see this as exposition, which to me implies conferring an overall perspective of meaning to the reader. It seems to me more like little windows being opened up, revealing little glimpses of the whole but as yet no coherence.

  • 1

    I confess that during this slow read, since it’s been a week or so since I last read from this book, it takes me a few pages to remember what’s going on.

    I did like both the profession of love, which I didn’t take to be romantic, either, and the theme of control in Chapter 6. The latter makes me look at societal control, not explicitly mentioned here. The use-castes are definitely systems of control over the populace in general, and the junior orogenes are definitely controlled in the Fulcrum.

    I think am beginning to get a partial view of the world, even if we don’t yet know whether each chapter is in the same timeline. It’s not a complete view, but, unless we are being tricked by the narration, I think it’s beginning to coalesce. I can see a relationship between the empire and the comms, between more and less tectonically stable regions.

    I have a friend and colleague, a fellow caver and an amateur (in all the best senses of the word) geologist, who has a tee-shirt that says, “STOP PLATE TECTONICS!”

  • 1

    Last week, you asked about the questions. While I don't find them necessary (and would totally understand if you don't want to continue with them - they are work), they do really help my appreciation of the text and I like how they steer my thoughts. In previous Slow Reads, this happened a little more organically by reading other people's posts, but in this case I think it's helpful to summarize since you've read the books and most other people haven't.

    On the question of love, I don't think this is even parental love, but more like filial love, or love of an ideal. I think Schaffa is not saying 'i love you' so much as saying 'I love what you are' or 'I love what I do for a living'. It's guidance counselor love or teacher love, not parental or romantic love.

    I'm starting to appreciate the second person narration more because it helps me distinguish the characters, who I continue to struggle to distinguish a little. Hoa is the most interesting character to me so far, and with his introduction (as a person) in this chapter I'm finally seeing something in the book I'm interested in learning more about.

    As for the exposition, yes, there was a fair amount, mostly of the name/jargon type - like we're learning the ranks and departments of an organization. However, the story continues to feel ungrounded to me. There's really no sense of place - no landscapes, no climate, no communities, and near no sense of history (except as it pertains to the Fulcrum) are described. So rather that describing a fantastical world (which I very much enjoy in fantasy) it feels like this is a made-up world that only exists as a backdrop to the events of the story. And that's not something I care for very much. So I guess my feeling is that there really hasn't been nearly enough exposition - or at least not the right kind.

    @RichardAbbott Nice bit of research on the name 'Damaya'. I should think the author would be quite pleased that it meant both of those things. I expect the 'mineral name' isn't gained until one is ether adopted into Fulcrum, or graduates from the training program.

    The theme of control is interesting, and the relationship between the guardian and orogene looks like it has nice potential for complication in the future. It'll be interesting to see how that develops.

  • 1

    I'm somewhat surprised by the interpretations of Schaffa's "I love you" to Damaya. Damaya's been rejected by her community, even by her own family; Schaffa's removed her from all her possible support networks, says he's the only one who cares for her, and yet still breaks her hand.

    I read "I love you" as the controlling statement of an abuser. "I love you, and I'm hurting you for your own good." "I love you, but look what you made me do." It's not clear from what we've seen to determine whether it's a calculated move by Schaffa, whether he's naturally abusive, or whether he genuinely cares but the whole situation is so fucked-up that this is how he shows love.

  • 1

    @NeilNjae said:
    I'm somewhat surprised by the interpretations of Schaffa's "I love you" to Damaya.

    When I said I like the profession of love and the theme of control, I meant I like the profession of love as a portrayal of control, not that I like or approve of the act within the fiction. I’m withholding judgment as to whether there’s any actual love there (whether parental, of a teacher, or toward an ideal) or whether it is entirely a mechanism of control, but it assuredly is at the least a mechanism of control.

  • 0

    @Apocryphal said:
    ...the story continues to feel ungrounded to me. There's really no sense of place - no landscapes, no climate, no communities, and near no sense of history (except as it pertains to the Fulcrum) are described. So rather that describing a fantastical world (which I very much enjoy in fantasy) it feels like this is a made-up world that only exists as a backdrop to the events of the story. And that's not something I care for very much. So I guess my feeling is that there really hasn't been nearly enough exposition - or at least not the right kind.

    This resonates with me. The areas we have seen so far seem to be predominantly inhospitable in one or other ways, eg rocky desert areas. I can't quite see how the economics of this world work. How is food produced? Where does agriculture (either crops or grazing) happen? There was talk of using the kind of village square area in a community for emergency supplies - a bit like a UK allotment for those familiar with the concept - but this surely will not do for normal life?

    So yes, the environment seems to be an incidental backcloth for the interaction of people, and so far I have not got a sense of a feasible world or nation.

  • 0

    @NeilNjae said:
    I'm somewhat surprised by the interpretations of Schaffa's "I love you" to Damaya. Damaya's been rejected by her community, even by her own family; Schaffa's removed her from all her possible support networks, says he's the only one who cares for her, and yet still breaks her hand.

    I guess part of the problem is that even in this world, "I love you" can mean so very many different things, on a whole spectrum from sincere and selfless through to fake or controlling. I don't think we really have enough information about Schaffa to know where he is on that scale, and my impulse is to assume it is an authentic expression of something, rather than just a kind of emotional scam. After all, in the first extract about him we see him exhibiting high levels of intuitive understanding of Damaya and her plight in her parent's home, and taking his side contra her mother's.

    At present (until NK Jemisin proves me wrong again :) ) I am willing to believe that he is at minimum committed to Damaya's well being, tempered by his knowledge that she could potentially be highly destructive and so needs to be "managed" appropriately. I guess one of the reasons that we have collectively spent a long time on this is that the general feel I have so far of the world is that emotional declarations are few and far between. It seems to me a very stiff-upper-lip culture which would make Edwardian England seem positively liberated! So because of that my inclination is to take an out-of-the-blue assertion of love as reflecting something very concrete and pragmatic rather than emotional.

  • 1
    Yes, @RichardAbbott ’s answer captures my thinking as well.
  • 1

    @RichardAbbott said:
    This resonates with me. The areas we have seen so far seem to be predominantly inhospitable in one or other ways, eg rocky desert areas. I can't quite see how the economics of this world work. How is food produced? Where does agriculture (either crops or grazing) happen? There was talk of using the kind of village square area in a community for emergency supplies - a bit like a UK allotment for those familiar with the concept - but this surely will not do for normal life?

    I got the impression that Tirimo was a small but reasonably prosperous farming-based community, a town of around a thousand people. Similarly, Damaya was being held in a barn full of straw, and with room for various animals. The "village green for cropland" is a piece of Stonelore, allowing the comm to have food secure inside its walls.

  • 1
    Compare this to how much we thought we knew about Middle Earth by the time we were 100 pages in. Tolkien made it easy for himself by basically recreating the English countryside in the Shire, which meant he didn’t need to explain things. When someone said it was an ‘old Winyards ‘52’ you knew what he meant. He also populated the early part of the story with ordinary people - millers and gardeners and mushroom farmers. That story had an incredible sense of place.

    In A Wizard of Earthsea, LeGuin, and also in Tombs for that matter, LeGuin starts small and we learn who the characters are and how they fit into their environment.

    But Jemisin doesn’t do that. She starts more in media res, and we haven’t had any flashbacks yet (at least not obviously). So everything we know about the setting is hinted at or dropped in, leaving us to piece things together. Furthermore, the world Jemisin is describing doesn’t have a real world cognate, so it’s not easy to fill in the blanks with familiar structures.

    This is quite a deliberate choice. I suspect that Jemisin wants to focus on the events of the story and not be distracted by the setting. I’ve seen this in other recent fantasy novels I’ve read. But for me, this particular story doesn’t make a lot of sense without the setting being in place. So I find myself asking why all this Orogene business is even necessary? Why does the geology need to be so controlled? What happens if it all stops? The continent splits apart? So what?

    So for me, I’m finding that there aren’t clear stakes. We seem to have sides and forces that are straining against one another, but why? Who benefits? Who pays? Why should we care?

    In the Lord of the Rings we knew the stakes (stop the dark lord) and we knew that Frodo would pay in order to save his beloved Shire, who were were well introduced to.

    In A Wizard of Earthsea we knew the stakes (would GED learn magic) and that the the learning of magic was important because it’s misuse could bring an evil into the world. A world we found we cared about because it was real, and populated with real people.

    In Tombs we knew the stakes (who would win? Ged or the Priest-system on Atuan?) And we knew that the loser would pay, probably with their life, which means we would pay since LeGuin made us care about the characters.

    But so far in this series we have a bunch of entitled characters and a highly discriminatory world in which there are no ordinary people we can identify with. I ask myself ‘what’s at stake and do I care if we lose it’ And I don’t know the answer.

    And in that regard I’m maybe feeling similar to how Clash was feeling during New Sun. For my part in New Sun, I did actually care for the characters (even Severian), but even more than that I loved the setting, which felt rich and well drawn. I wanted to keep exploring it. I also loved the writing. But I didn’t feel that way after my first read - it took two Readings of the first book for me to get it.

    At the moment with Fifth Season, I’m still looking for that hook. I might have found it with Hua, but we’ll see. There’s also a very interesting hint in the upcoming interlude that piques my interest.
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