Fifth Season Ch 14 & 15

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Chapter 14

Syenite and Alabaster are told to wait in Allia. They speculate on the reasons why, and who poisoned Alabaster. Alabaster mentions that no-one's been able known to affect an obelisk in the past three thousand years. Alabaster implies that some node maintainers are orogenes too powerful to be controlled. They are attacked by Edki, a Guardian; he stabs Alabaster with a glass knife and disables Syenite's orogeny. Syenite draws on the obelisk's power, talks to the stone eater inside it, and the chapter ends on a cliffhanger.

Chapter 15

Essun and her gang arrive in Castrima, initially bemused by the lack of walls, consistency, and people. In a huge surprise, Hoa is revaled as a stone eater, and seems to have an antipathy to (and shares an agenda with) a stone eater resident in Castrima. There's discussion of how bad this Season will be. There's no word of Nessun and Jija. Ykka uses orogeny to calm Essun. Essun and the gang decide to stay in Castrima, at least for the moment..

Questions

  • How has the relationship between Syenite and Alabater developed?

  • Why is Syenite able to draw on the obelisk when other orogenes have been unable to?

  • Orogeny seems to be a multi-facted ability. Is this believable?

  • Essun is a woman grieving for her children and angry with her husband. Is the portrayal convincing?

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Comments

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    There seems to have been quite a jump between Syenite's last chapter and this one - long enough for loads of different people to have arrived and taken an interest.

    Regarding their prolonged stay at the port, I guess the economics of Fulcrum life slightly elude me! Do they get a kind of per diem allowance or are they supposed to find the currency themselves? Do they get paid for their work in any way? I seem to recall that the fee for clearing the harbour was to be paid to the Fulcrum, not the orogenes doing the actual work. Maybe I've missed something but I can't get my head round how the world works.

    I also didn't get why the Guardian just attacked to kill with no warning or analysis of the events. Sure we know from one of Damaya's chapters that Guardians are expected to execute uncontrolled or disobedient orogenes, but I don't quite see how that fits here.

    Your questions touch on things which are (so far as I can see) simply there by fiat - Syenite can draw on the obelisk, and orogeny can calm emotions, simply because the plot requires this to happen. I don't think we had any prior expectation that either of these was possible.

    Last week and this week I have been pondering the nature of the book. World-building and systematic coherence is (so we all think) not very important to NK Jemisin. I presume, from what we have seen, that feminist and trans perspectives of various kinds are important. Does this matter? Is it a sufficiently important thing to write about trans characters that other ordinary parts of writing technique can legitimately be overlooked? I don't know the answer to that, but part of me feels that it should be possible to include both.

    (I just realised that I said almost nothing about Essun's chapter - I think that's because it kind of washed over me without leaving much impression)

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    I'm not sure how much I have to say about these, either - Richard covered my thoughts well. I did not get that Hoa and the diamond-toothed woman were stone eaters. Was that mentioned in the chapter (and I missed it) or do you know it from your previous read. Anyway - guess it makes sense to have diamond teeth if you're going to eat stone.

    As a general note, I find it difficult to like the characters in this book. They all seem to be about posturing for dominance, and full of 'how dare you treat me that way's. Maybe most people are like that where Jemisin lives, but somehow I doubt it.

    Still, getting more curious about the setting elements like the stone-eaters and the obelisk.

    By the way, the attack of the guardian on Big Al felt pretty contrived, like it was only there so that Sy would need to try to draw on the obelisk again. And that's the second time we've seen a scene that felt rather forced - the other being the bullying scene earlier in the book.

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    @RichardAbbott said:
    Regarding their prolonged stay at the port, I guess the economics of Fulcrum life slightly elude me! Do they get a kind of per diem allowance or are they supposed to find the currency themselves? Do they get paid for their work in any way? I seem to recall that the fee for clearing the harbour was to be paid to the Fulcrum, not the orogenes doing the actual work. Maybe I've missed something but I can't get my head round how the world works.

    We know they had some way of paying for accommodation on their way to and from Allia, so perhaps they're using those funds. And given they've got telegraphs, I'm sure they've got some way of transferring funds from place to place.

    Last week and this week I have been pondering the nature of the book. World-building and systematic coherence is (so we all think) not very important to NK Jemisin. I presume, from what we have seen, that feminist and trans perspectives of various kinds are important. Does this matter? Is it a sufficiently important thing to write about trans characters that other ordinary parts of writing technique can legitimately be overlooked? I don't know the answer to that, but part of me feels that it should be possible to include both.

    Golden Age SF books are characterised by strong, consistent worldbuilding, sensawunda at the leaps of imagination, and simplistic characters with little personality and inner life. Literary fiction, including magical realism, is more often characterised by strongly drawn, rich, complex characters, evocative and elliptical language, and strange events by fiat.

    In other words, how much of your criticism is about a flaw in the book, and how much is a recognition that the book draws on different, perhaps unfamiliar, literary traditions? I'm not saying you're wrong; I'm asking if the book's value is in something other than what you're used to.

    (I just realised that I said almost nothing about Essun's chapter - I think that's because it kind of washed over me without leaving much impression)

    On this re-read, I'm more conscious that her story so far has been "sad woman walks along road." But things will be more interesting for her soon!

    @Apocryphal said:
    I'm not sure how much I have to say about these, either - Richard covered my thoughts well. I did not get that Hoa and the diamond-toothed woman were stone eaters. Was that mentioned in the chapter (and I missed it) or do you know it from your previous read. Anyway - guess it makes sense to have diamond teeth if you're going to eat stone.

    Perhaps it's my previous read, perhaps it's that I constantly find myself reading a chapter or two ahead. But in any case, the description of the "third woman," in appearance and movement, matches that of the stone eater from the prologue.

    As a general note, I find it difficult to like the characters in this book. They all seem to be about posturing for dominance, and full of 'how dare you treat me that way's. Maybe most people are like that where Jemisin lives, but somehow I doubt it.

    Is that because all the viewpoint characters are orogenes, and therefore victims of prejudice? The orogenes have to assert their humanity, and the non-orogenes are asserting their lack.

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    @NeilNjae said:
    In other words, how much of your criticism is about a flaw in the book, and how much is a recognition that the book draws on different, perhaps unfamiliar, literary traditions? I'm not saying you're wrong; I'm asking if the book's value is in something other than what you're used to.

    Let me expand on this, because I'm sure it comes across as hostile when I really don't mean it to be.

    When reading the literary notes on Brave New World, I was really surprised by how much of a different perspective the notes' author had on the book from what I was expecting. I've also been recently lent a couple of books by Nobel laureates, and those are very different from what I'm used to. One is a sort of magical realism book, where there's little plot to speak of, but it's about the author's perspective on society and culture; the other is all about society and power and capitalism-as-violence and pornography-as-violence, as well as lots of wordplay (which must have been challenging to translate from the German). Both of those books were really hard work for me, mainly because it was a totally different style from what I've read before.

    In other words, in the last six months or so, I've had my eyes opened to some very different styles of literature from what I'm used to, and I think The Fifth Season draws on those styles more than many of the books we've read here.

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    @NeilNjae said:

    @RichardAbbott said:
    Regarding their prolonged stay at the port, I guess the economics of Fulcrum life slightly elude me! Do they get a kind of per diem allowance or are they supposed to find the currency themselves? Do they get paid for their work in any way? I seem to recall that the fee for clearing the harbour was to be paid to the Fulcrum, not the orogenes doing the actual work. Maybe I've missed something but I can't get my head round how the world works.

    We know they had some way of paying for accommodation on their way to and from Allia, so perhaps they're using those funds. And given they've got telegraphs, I'm sure they've got some way of transferring funds from place to place.

    Maybe so, but I hadn't quite got that they had that level of sophistication. The sense I have been left with is of something like a medieval culture though with orogeny as a kind of magic element. However, we keep on having other stuff dropped into us like "universities" and the like. I guess it feels to me as though NK Jemisin will simply include something if the plot demands it, and (to usurp a phrase) retcon the world into acceptance of it.

    Last week and this week I have been pondering the nature of the book. World-building and systematic coherence is (so we all think) not very important to NK Jemisin. I presume, from what we have seen, that feminist and trans perspectives of various kinds are important. Does this matter? Is it a sufficiently important thing to write about trans characters that other ordinary parts of writing technique can legitimately be overlooked? I don't know the answer to that, but part of me feels that it should be possible to include both.

    Golden Age SF books are characterised by strong, consistent worldbuilding, sensawunda at the leaps of imagination, and simplistic characters with little personality and inner life. Literary fiction, including magical realism, is more often characterised by strongly drawn, rich, complex characters, evocative and elliptical language, and strange events by fiat.

    In other words, how much of your criticism is about a flaw in the book, and how much is a recognition that the book draws on different, perhaps unfamiliar, literary traditions? I'm not saying you're wrong; I'm asking if the book's value is in something other than what you're used to.

    (Re your later post, I had not interpreted this as hostile). I'm not sure my comments were criticism, except in the neutral sense of trying to grapple with understanding the book. At the risk of pushing the metaphor too far, I don't feel that I can sess the world.

    I'm comfortable with other literary genres and styles, and indeed that was kind of what I was grappling with - what writing conventions does NK Jemisin consider important and what does she not care about? I'm not really looking for a flaw in the book - every book has such - I'm trying to make sense of what currently feels like a rather arbitrary selection of loosely connected facts. I think SF/F has moved on a lot from "simplistic characters with little personality and inner life" - many of Ursula LeGuin's characters certainly don't fit this, nor indeed the Iain Banks book we are reading in parallel. We are no longer in the days of Heinlein and Asimov!

    @Apocryphal said:
    I'm not sure how much I have to say about these, either - Richard covered my thoughts well. I did not get that Hoa and the diamond-toothed woman were stone eaters. Was that mentioned in the chapter (and I missed it) or do you know it from your previous read. Anyway - guess it makes sense to have diamond teeth if you're going to eat stone.

    Perhaps it's my previous read, perhaps it's that I constantly find myself reading a chapter or two ahead. But in any case, the description of the "third woman," in appearance and movement, matches that of the stone eater from the prologue.

    As an aside, if Essun is Syenite (per @Apocryphal 's theory) then why would Essun not recognise a stone eater when she has previously had such a close encounter with one? I get that NK Jemisin might want to hold back a Big Plot Reveal, but unless Essun has had her memory wiped or something (and I suppose this could indeed be a plot twist just waiting for us) how come she has forgotten so much?

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    Speaking for myself, I don’t think I’m any stranger to literary fiction, though I’m not what I would call a scholarly reader and definitely benefit from reading that kind of analysis. As a club, I don’t think we are strangers to literary writing, either. Recent books with a literary bent have included Sarah Canary and the New Sun, but we’ve also had books by David Mitchell and Hilary Mantel in the past, to name a few.

    My own impression of this book isn’t that it’s too literary, or that it sacrifices setting or concept in favour of characters. I can see that it’s trying to be literary, but feels to me like its not quite succeeding. And I find the characters to be rather flat. So in sense in this book bears more resemblance to classic SF than to literary fiction, IMO.

    If anything, this is a high concept book where unstable tectonics and earth magic is the concept. This concept is mostly being served by the events of the story, and by specific setting elements like ‘the Fulcrum’ and orogeny and geoments. But it’s not being served by the characterization of the characters, which is serving a different theme, that of inclusivity. When the book has events that serve the the inclusivity theme (like the bullying episode), and characterization that serves the tectonic theme (pig-headed orogene contractors butting up against pig-headed local officials as if they were tectonic plates meeting) is when the book feels... forced... to me.

    I would like to contrast this with another fantasy novel which we haven’t read as a club yet, but is also written by a woman of African descent: A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samara. That is a much more literary work, imo.
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    @RichardAbbott said:

    Maybe so, but I hadn't quite got that they had that level of sophistication. The sense I have been left with is of something like a medieval culture though with orogeny as a kind of magic element. However, we keep on having other stuff dropped into us like "universities" and the like. I guess it feels to me as though NK Jemisin will simply include something if the plot demands it, and (to usurp a phrase) retcon the world into acceptance of it.

    There were medieval universities (Karueein, Bologna, Oxford, Cambridge). But we know this world has telegraphs and asphalt roads, even if we've not seen power sources other than muscle (but Syenite makes a reference to a "master geneer, come to repair [Allia's] hydro"). I get an impression of the world being Georgian or Victorian, and we've only really seen the rural parts of it.

    (Re your later post, I had not interpreted this as hostile). I'm not sure my comments were criticism, except in the neutral sense of trying to grapple with understanding the book. At the risk of pushing the metaphor too far, I don't feel that I can sess the world.

    I'm glad! This is the sort of discussion I think the long read should be starting.

    I'm comfortable with other literary genres and styles, and indeed that was kind of what I was grappling with - what writing conventions does NK Jemisin consider important and what does she not care about? I'm not really looking for a flaw in the book - every book has such - I'm trying to make sense of what currently feels like a rather arbitrary selection of loosely connected facts. I think SF/F has moved on a lot from "simplistic characters with little personality and inner life" - many of Ursula LeGuin's characters certainly don't fit this, nor indeed the Iain Banks book we are reading in parallel. We are no longer in the days of Heinlein and Asimov!

    What does Jemisin care about in this book? I think she cares about society and prejudice and the effects of one on the other. I think she cares about family and community, and what will do for, or despite, them. But given that, why does she need to invent a fictional SF-ish world to explore those themes?

    As an aside, if Essun is Syenite (per @Apocryphal 's theory) then why would Essun not recognise a stone eater when she has previously had such a close encounter with one? I get that NK Jemisin might want to hold back a Big Plot Reveal, but unless Essun has had her memory wiped or something (and I suppose this could indeed be a plot twist just waiting for us) how come she has forgotten so much?

    Ykka mentions that there are other stone eaters in Castrima, beyond the one in the welcoming party. Hoa replies, "More than you think." That implies that stone eaters can pass for human, as Hoa did. And it didn't take long for Essun to recognise the stone eater with Ykka when she paid attention to her/it/them.

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    I just realized I have forgotten to keep up my reading in this, what with the new album and Blood Games 4. I will try to catch up!

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    @Apocryphal said:
    Speaking for myself, I don’t think I’m any stranger to literary fiction, though I’m not what I would call a scholarly reader and definitely benefit from reading that kind of analysis.

    Then it seems like I'm revealing my own lack of breadth in my reading, and projecting that onto others. It wouldn't be the first time I've made that mistake!

    If anything, this is a high concept book where unstable tectonics and earth magic is the concept. This concept is mostly being served by the events of the story, and by specific setting elements like ‘the Fulcrum’ and orogeny and geoments. But it’s not being served by the characterization of the characters, which is serving a different theme, that of inclusivity. When the book has events that serve the the inclusivity theme (like the bullying episode), and characterization that serves the tectonic theme (pig-headed orogene contractors butting up against pig-headed local officials as if they were tectonic plates meeting) is when the book feels... forced... to me.

    I think this will be an interesting point to come back to, at the end of the book and the end of the trilogy. How would people's opinions change over time? After all, we're about half way through the first book, so about a sixth of the way through the trilogy.

    I would like to contrast this with another fantasy novel which we haven’t read as a club yet, but is also written by a woman of African descent: A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samara. That is a much more literary work, imo.

    One for the club's queue!

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    I’m not so sure. I feel like my more literary choices have not been that welcome, and people (on the whole) prefer high adventure. Mind you, that opinion was formed in the earlier club years and we have a different mix of people now. But I’m haunted by many comments have made in past years like (as only one example) “I wish Melville would stop telling us all this stuff and get on with the story” that have been made here in the club before. Also, when we used to run polls to pick books, the literary ones got the least votes. I wasn’t expecting Sarah Canary to be as literary, or I probably wouldn’t have picked it.

    But maybe this discussion is best saved for a new thread.
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    I feel bad about not joining in this read. I really enjoyed the trilogy , but only finished it late last year and I'm not ready to read it again.

    I'm not sure it's either about world *or* characters though (although there are strong characters). There are big ideas, an examination of prejudices and the drive of intersecting plots. It's clever. I think a comparison can be made to Iain M. Banks. And at this stage the plot isn't yet revealed, with Essun's plot the slowest moving of the three and Syenite's the most compelling. That was the one that really kept me reading until the whole thing gripped me.

    @Apocryphal if you start another thread I'll contribute.
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    @NeilNjae said:

    @RichardAbbott said:

    Maybe so, but I hadn't quite got that they had that level of sophistication. The sense I have been left with is of something like a medieval culture though with orogeny as a kind of magic element. However, we keep on having other stuff dropped into us like "universities" and the like. I guess it feels to me as though NK Jemisin will simply include something if the plot demands it, and (to usurp a phrase) retcon the world into acceptance of it.

    There were medieval universities (Karueein, Bologna, Oxford, Cambridge). But we know this world has telegraphs and asphalt roads, even if we've not seen power sources other than muscle (but Syenite makes a reference to a "master geneer, come to repair [Allia's] hydro"). I get an impression of the world being Georgian or Victorian, and we've only really seen the rural parts of it.

    Yes indeed there were medieval universities, but they didn't pursue single-study topics like a contemporary "school of mines" or "school of law" or whatever - they aimed to give a deep but general education into the world of the classics. So languages and history, grammar and rhetoric were high up. I don't see them as the analogue for an orogene training centre.

    Yes, there are these things like telegraphs - I have to confess I hadn't remembered when they appeared, but a quick check shows the first mention was early in Damaya's story, when her village headman telegraphed the news of her existence, the message being relayed to Schaffa. But there are only 6 mentions in the entire book, and the impression I get from those six is that they are basically limited to officials like headmen, or at very least to official business.

    I guess part of the problem is that some of the descriptions give the impression that these techno-elements could easily be left over from an earlier cycle, rather than built fresh within this particular cycle. The best single example is the obelisks, which nobody really understands but (as I recall) are believed to be relics from some long-ago time.

    So, asphalt roads. I haven't ever got any sense that people in the "now" of the book are able to build such things... they simply use them if they are conveniently going the right way. Can they even maintain them? It's not clear to me. The prologue says "the streets are paved not with easy-to-replace cobbles, but with a smooth, unbroken, and miraculous substance the locals have dubbed asphalt" and again "no asphalted roads, just grassy slopes bisected by dirt paths" and in one of Syenite's sections we find "a dirtpacked wilderness trail with a bit of aged, cracking asphalt laid along it as a nod to civilisation". All this has built up in my mind the picture that these bits and pieces are old, and no longer understood well enough to be fixed or extended.

    The use of words like "strongbacks" suggests manual labour only, which would struggle to make civilisation-wide achievements (pace the Great Wall of China and other such anomalies). Have we seen any decent tools? Three guys with a few electrical tools and a mechanical digger could do more, and more quickly, than dozens of strongbacks with picks and shovels. Hence my impression that - whatever has gone before by way of advancement - the present society is kind of medieval... but with weird anomalies that seem to be there to serve the plot rather than being inherently "natural".

    I suppose you could say it seems to me a bit like Tekumel - a fairly low-level civilisation based on manual labour and fairly basic edged and ranged weapons, but with a scattering of high-tech gizmos that nobody understands but some people make use of.

    Is this a criticism of the book? At very minimum, it keeps throwing me out of the internal world of the book and thinking things like "no, it surely can't work like that" or "huh? where did that come from?" and such-like things. So you could say that it weakens the book for me, since I particularly like books that I can feel are credible within their own universe, and have a kind of independent life of their own when I'm not reading them! So far, I am not finding the world credible or having an independent life, for all that it is an interesting premise and the potential to be very immersive. In fact (thinking as I write) my problem is that I am just not finding the book immersive in the way that - say - Earthsea, or Narnia, or Player of Games, etc etc are (add in your favourite examples here). Every time I try to get immersed I come across one of these (apparent) anomalies which de-immersifies me again. Does that make sense?

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    edited February 29

    Catching up!

    How has the relationship between Syenite and Alabater developed?
    

    Slowly. Alabaster has consistently revealed that whatever his faults, they are not those of a typical many ringed person, yet Syenite persists in thinking of his as 'one of them'. I thus keep wondering if Syenite is stupid. Alabaster is an evil bastard, based on his continuing to knowingly have coerced sex with Syenite, who thus reasonably hates him, so perhaps the source of her inability to have any understanding of him is defeated by hatred? Both ways this relationship sucks.

    Why is Syenite able to draw on the obelisk when other orogenes have been unable to?
    

    Because plot! - actually this seems snarkier than I meant it to be. Really, there is no way we can know the answer to this yet, but based on other aspects of the book, it's because the plot need this to happen.

    Orogeny seems to be a multi-facted ability. Is this believable?
    

    You keep bringing up 'believable' and I think we have dispensed with this for now.

    Essun is a woman grieving for her children and angry with her husband. Is the portrayal convincing?
    

    She certainly seems to me to be a person grieving for her child and angry with her husband. This I am more certain about than anything else in the book. This is the solid, unchanging ground, the bedrock the book is built on. I am much more certain of this than that this world orbits a sun.

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    @clash_bowley said:
    Catching up!

    How has the relationship between Syenite and Alabater developed?

    Slowly. Alabaster has consistently revealed that whatever his faults, they are not those of a typical many ringed person, yet Syenite persists in thinking of his as 'one of them'. I thus keep wondering if Syenite is stupid. Alabaster is an evil bastard, based on his continuing to knowingly have coerced sex with Syenite, who thus reasonably hates him, so perhaps the source of her inability to have any understanding of him is defeated by hatred? Both ways this relationship sucks.

    Is that what's going on in the relationship? I thought what's happening is that the Fulcrum leadership have told Syenite to have a child by Alabaster, and she decided to go along with that (for her own future prospects). Alabaster is continuing to follow her wishes by having sex with her. Neither of them like it, but the coercion isn't coming from Alabaster.

    It would be a different situation if Syenite became pregnant, asked Alabaster to stop the sex, and he insisted on continuing. But they're not there yet.

    As for Alabaster being "one of them": if he's so anti-establishment, what has he done to bring down or destabilise the Establishment? Even the removal of his Guardian seems to have been overlooked.

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    As an aside, they seem to have been having nightly sex for a very long time. Presumably by now Syenite is either pregnant or has had at least one period? (For her sake, one could hope this to be while in the town rather than camped out along the road).

    If she's not pregnant, they're not doing so well in fulfilling the Fulcrum's wishes and expectations, despite heroic persistence. But we know Alabaster has had children, and if per @Apocryphal Syenite is Essun then she had two children later on. So what's the deal? Or is it all just the demands of the plot as @clash_bowley suggests, and there is no real biological consistency to it.
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    edited February 29

    Is that what's going on in the relationship? I thought what's happening is that the Fulcrum leadership have told Syenite to have a child by Alabaster, and she decided to go along with that (for her own future prospects). Alabaster is continuing to follow her wishes by having sex with her. Neither of them like it, but the coercion isn't coming from Alabaster.

    I never said it was. Doesn't change the fact that it IS coerced. I also don't know why they don't just lie and say they did.

    As for Alabaster being "one of them": if he's so anti-establishment, what has he done to bring down or destabilise the Establishment? Even the removal of his Guardian seems to have been overlooked.

    Who said that was his goal? I said his faults were not typical, so he should not be treated as typical. I have no idea if he is anti-establishment or not. Hate him for what he is, not what he is not.

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    @RichardAbbott said:
    As an aside, they seem to have been having nightly sex for a very long time. Presumably by now Syenite is either pregnant or has had at least one period? (For her sake, one could hope this to be while in the town rather than camped out along the road).

    If she's not pregnant, they're not doing so well in fulfilling the Fulcrum's wishes and expectations, despite heroic persistence. But we know Alabaster has had children, and if per @Apocryphal Syenite is Essun then she had two children later on. So what's the deal? Or is it all just the demands of the plot as @clash_bowley suggests, and there is no real biological consistency to it.

    This is indeed what I have come to accept, @RichardAbbott! I have no more expectations of logic or consistency. It's all magic. :D

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    @NeilNjae I'm guessing you weren't expecting quite so much battle with this series, and I know that can be disheartening - especially when it seems like the members who most liked the book have perhaps dropped out of the discussion, leaving you with the curmudgeons! I just wanted to say that, in spite of the fact it's maybe not what we're all used to, I think the series is so far very much still worth reading and discussing, and I'm glad you've volunteered to do so. The weekly summaries and questions have been great.

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    Ha! Curmudgeon hey!

    But yes, I agree with your don't shoot the messenger comment. And @NeilNjae we certainly do appreciate the effort you're putting in week by week.

    Oddly enough I saw a gushingly over the top homage to NK Jemisin's upcoming book _The City We Became_ (March 24th release) which sounds like a paeon to a fantasy version of contemporary New York.

    The comments again made me wonder if she is celebrated principally for writing "important" books focusing on particular minorities or social groups.
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    @RichardAbbott said:
    As an aside, they seem to have been having nightly sex for a very long time. Presumably by now Syenite is either pregnant or has had at least one period? (For her sake, one could hope this to be while in the town rather than camped out along the road).

    People don't necessarily conceive at the first attempt. And anyway, the journey from Fulcrum to Allia was about two weeks, so they've been together about four weeks or so.

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    @NeilNjae said:

    @RichardAbbott said:
    As an aside, they seem to have been having nightly sex for a very long time. Presumably by now Syenite is either pregnant or has had at least one period? (For her sake, one could hope this to be while in the town rather than camped out along the road).

    People don't necessarily conceive at the first attempt. And anyway, the journey from Fulcrum to Allia was about two weeks, so they've been together about four weeks or so.

    Maybe they're trying for twins! :D

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    A couple of weeks ago I read a list of best books of [insert appropriate period of time]. In three or four sentences about this book, it revealed a spoiler that has kept me from continuing our conversation. I keep thinking, “How can I interact knowing what I know but not knowing the entirety of what I know?” If I had read the whole book, I would know what to avoid and what would be safe to talk about without being spoiler-y myself, which I know some of you here are doing. Thank you for that. As it is I know something but not enough to know how everything fits together, which is all I can think about. I am not happy with the author of that list.

    I am enjoying the book and am not as “curmudgeonly” as some of you about it, so I’ll try to overcome my frustration about that $$&**$# spoiler and step back into the discussion. As I read this book, my response hasn’t been to ask whether such-and-such is realistic or logical but rather what hidden truth is such-and-such revealing, unearthing, if you will.

    I don’t see the boy without a penis and the woman with a penis as mere tokens (although I do think “representation matters”) but as signs that uncover and perhaps subvert (I’m not sure yet) the interplay of the absence and presence of the phallus. Syenite has unearthed an unexpected and hidden phallus by raising the obelisk. It exhibits an interplay of impotence and virility, listing in the air and being cracked / fragmented inside but still containing much power and danger. I have no idea whether Jemisin intended this connection, and I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. The text reveals and hides, and I either find or search in vain, or perhaps both at the same time.

    The art she is producing is not a photorealistic depiction of a world she is building but is an expressionistic depiction of the human spirit, with its dialect of lack and satiation, impotence and virility, and freedom and control (to return to a prior theme).

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    Multiple replies ahead!

    @clash_bowley said:

    Is that what's going on in the relationship? I thought what's happening is that the Fulcrum leadership have told Syenite to have a child by Alabaster, and she decided to go along with that (for her own future prospects). Alabaster is continuing to follow her wishes by having sex with her. Neither of them like it, but the coercion isn't coming from Alabaster.

    I never said it was. Doesn't change the fact that it IS coerced. I also don't know why they don't just lie and say they did.

    Syenite's been "ordered" to have a child. The child is the goal, not the sex. Alabaster offered to refuse his part in the conception, and Syenite declined because she's the one who would take the blame, and the repercussions. I'm sure everyone would be happy with artificial insemination, if it was available.

    @Apocryphal said:
    @NeilNjae I'm guessing you weren't expecting quite so much battle with this series, and I know that can be disheartening - especially when it seems like the members who most liked the book have perhaps dropped out of the discussion, leaving you with the curmudgeons! I just wanted to say that, in spite of the fact it's maybe not what we're all used to, I think the series is so far very much still worth reading and discussing, and I'm glad you've volunteered to do so. The weekly summaries and questions have been great.

    Thanks for the kind words. I'm enjoying the discussions! Everyone's engaging with the book in good faith, the discussions are focussed on the work and not any personal attacks, and no-one seems to be at the point of dropping out of reading. This is pretty much what a healthy discussion should look like. Long may it continue!

    @RichardAbbott said:
    Oddly enough I saw a gushingly over the top homage to NK Jemisin's upcoming book The City We Became (March 24th release) which sounds like a paeon to a fantasy version of contemporary New York.

    The comments again made me wonder if she is celebrated principally for writing "important" books focusing on particular minorities or social groups.

    I read the short story that became the book, and enjoyed it. But yes, perhaps some of her fame is due to her being an outspoken black woman writing in genres dominated by white men.

    @WildCard said:
    A couple of weeks ago I read a list of best books of [insert appropriate period of time]. In three or four sentences about this book, it revealed a spoiler that has kept me from continuing our conversation. I keep thinking, “How can I interact knowing what I know but not knowing the entirety of what I know?”

    @WildCard , if you want to discuss the spoiler privately, I might be able to scope out what else is safe to talk about.

    @WildCard said:
    I don’t see the boy without a penis and the woman with a penis as mere tokens (although I do think “representation matters”) but as signs that uncover and perhaps subvert (I’m not sure yet) the interplay of the absence and presence of the phallus. Syenite has unearthed an unexpected and hidden phallus by raising the obelisk. It exhibits an interplay of impotence and virility, listing in the air and being cracked / fragmented inside but still containing much power and danger. I have no idea whether Jemisin intended this connection, and I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. The text reveals and hides, and I either find or search in vain, or perhaps both at the same time.

    The art she is producing is not a photorealistic depiction of a world she is building but is an expressionistic depiction of the human spirit, with its dialect of lack and satiation, impotence and virility, and freedom and control (to return to a prior theme).

    This is an interesting perspective, and one that I think will be worth coming back to.

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    BTW, I found an article online called "Layered Themes in The Broken Earth" which I am itching to read - but it warns upfront that it contains spoilers and not to read until after having read the series. So I haven't read it and decided not to share it.

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    @Apocryphal said:
    BTW, I found an article online called "Layered Themes in The Broken Earth" which I am itching to read - but it warns upfront that it contains spoilers and not to read until after having read the series. So I haven't read it and decided not to share it.

    A good article, thanks! Yes, it's full of spoilers for the whole trilogy. I've made a note to remind us of it when we get to the final recap.

    And @Apocryphal , thanks for the concern about the nature of the discussions we're having. It's appreciated.

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    @NeilNjae said:

    @Apocryphal said:
    BTW, I found an article online called "Layered Themes in The Broken Earth" which I am itching to read - but it warns upfront that it contains spoilers and not to read until after having read the series. So I haven't read it and decided not to share it.

    A good article, thanks! Yes, it's full of spoilers for the whole trilogy. I've made a note to remind us of it when we get to the final recap.

    I will definitely want to read that when we are finished.

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    I've been pondering over the weekend what we do and don't know. As a group, our vague perceptions of ordinary-history-equivalent range from Medieval to Victorian, which is interesting simply in itself.

    So I wondered what we have and have not seen:

    1) We have seen roads, though @NeilNjae and I differ as to what the current civilisation is or is not able to build and/or repair. At minimum, we have seen no evidence of serous manufacturing capability such as one might need to turn out asphalt in liquid form.

    2) We have not (I think) seen any kind of transportation vehicles. Can anyone remember anything wheeled?

    3) I have no idea what kind of animal of bird life is around, other than the kirkhusa we have briefly met. I think there has been offhand mention that animals in general change behaviour in a season, but I can't remember any nature description other than rocks.

    4) There are ports, but sea traffic is sufficiently dangerous that hardly anyone does it, even coastal hops. The coastal town they went to sort out coral apparently has lost the ability to trade on "heavier-hauling merchant vessels" but apparently it's all short-term because the next tsunami will wipe the port out anyway...

    5) Syenite and Alabaster rode some kind of beast on their journey ("he keeps falling asleep in his saddle during the long days of riding"). Said trip takes "a few weeks" along the high road, roughly half what it would take via "lowroad travel". According to Alabaster it is "several hundred miles" and "fifteen hundred miles". One online estimate I have read suggests that this sort of journey would take between 6 and 12 weeks depending on lots of factors like terrain and such. At any rate, they don't have cars, or trains, or even stagecoaches, so far as I can tell. I've just found a sentence that actually calls their riding beasts "horses" but maybe this is a kind of "translation" of some in-universe term? Why are horses called horses and kirkhusas called kirkhusas?

    6) I can't quite work out about literacy. There are the (in)famous universities, but the dominant way of ensuring information is passed on is via oral lore. There are (apparently) some actual written versions behind the oral stuff, but we have had hints that that can't really be trusted (Alabaster in particular is quite bullish about this). Bizarrely, other uses of recitation, poetry or song seem to be actively discouraged (see the Damaya bullying chapter where she can't believe anyone would use the mode for anything other than lore)

    7) Somehow comms can make antibiotics including penicillin. In our world it took a scientific and industrialised culture under the pressure of world war to turn some folklore about chewing particular plants into a systematically extracted medicine

    8) There doesn't seem to be a currency in the sense of tokens with an agreed value. Syenite and Alabaster swap "two Imperial mother-of-pearls" for accommodation. But in the next sentence the term "money" is used. Maybe "mother-of-pearl" is a type of coin? Like "florin" or "guinea". But it's not clear.

    9) There is occasional mention of "local militias" but I do not remember anything more deadly than a crossbow or knife. Ib don't think we have met gunpowder or similar in any form. There is an Empire, but it seems to have largely lost control of outlying provinces, and frankly one wonders how it ever asserted control

    In short, it's no wonder that we are having trouble mapping onto an Earth-period... there are all kinds of mutually contradictory signals that could put us pretty much anywhere from the ancient world to the second world war. Different elements appear (to the casual eye) to have simply been pulled out of different eras and shoved together. If NK Jemisin has in her mind an overall view of this world's historical or natural science development, she is keeping it very well hidden.

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    @NeilNjae said:

    @RichardAbbott said:
    As an aside, they seem to have been having nightly sex for a very long time. Presumably by now Syenite is either pregnant or has had at least one period? (For her sake, one could hope this to be while in the town rather than camped out along the road).

    People don't necessarily conceive at the first attempt. And anyway, the journey from Fulcrum to Allia was about two weeks, so they've been together about four weeks or so.

    If Alabaster's estimate of fifteen hundred miles is right, then on horseback this would take 2 or 3 months according to information I have seen online, depending on a whole bunch of factors like road surface, terrain etc. But we also know that the terrain is rugged (they deliberately went the shorter high road) and that the road surface is predominantly rough - mostly dirt tracks with occasional bits of left-over asphalt.

    I also noticed on flicking back through that Syenite is late for her period before arriving at Allia (Alabaster has obviously been counting, even if she hasn't) but they have no idea if this is pregnancy, the rigours of the journey, or random variation. But by my reckoning of the time required (always assuming Alabaster's distance comment is accurate) she should have missed two or even three times.

    Maybe this world's horses are super-fast...

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    Don't try to work this all out, @RichardAbbott! It doesn't matter. Take it as it is, and don't try to look behind the curtains. If you think at it too hard, it just falls apart. Just accept it and deal with what the author has given. What you are doing is complaining that the stage scenery looks fake. You are not supposed to be looking hard at the scenery. Look at the actors instead!

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    @RichardAbbott said:
    In short, it's no wonder that we are having trouble mapping onto an Earth-period... there are all kinds of mutually contradictory signals that could put us pretty much anywhere from the ancient world to the second world war. Different elements appear (to the casual eye) to have simply been pulled out of different eras and shoved together. If NK Jemisin has in her mind an overall view of this world's historical or natural science development, she is keeping it very well hidden.

    Thinking about it more, I've come to the conclusion that Jemisin simply doesn't care about the world being objectively coherent. I think she wants a world that has enough verisimilitude to allow the characters to act in meaningful ways, and that's it. There is no "Stillness sourcebook" that describes the world and how it operates; the world is just a stage for the characters to inhabit.

    Which is interesting, as I didn't notice that on the first read through. Perhaps it's time to look more at the characters as the primary elements in the novel, rather than applying our "simulationist gamer" brains to look for the underlying mechanics of the world.

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