Fifth Season Ch 22 & 23

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Chapter 22

Alabaster tells the story of the Season of Teeth. Guardians attack Meov. Alabaster erects a wall around the island and sinks some of the ships. Antimony the stone eater drags Alabaster into the earth. Alabaster makes Syenite promise to keep Coru out of the Guardian's hands. Syenite joins the Clalsu as they attack the remaining Guardian ships. The Clalsu is boarded. Innon is killed by a Guardian, disintegrated. Schaffa tries to persuade Syenite to surrender. Syenite refuses, kills Coru, and calls on the amethyst obelisk for power. She destroys the remaining ships and kills most people in the ships. The first-person narrator is revealed as Hoa.

Chapter 23

Essun goes to see Alabaster. Antimony and Hoa have a stand off. Alabaster is burnt, half-turned to stone, and partially eaten. Alabaster says he created the Yumenes rift, using the obelisks and node maintainers (who are now all dead). He then asks Damaya/Syenite/Essun about a moon.

Questions

  • Alabaster tries to protect Meov by creating a wall. Syenite tries to defend Meov by attacking the Guardians. Are these different actions in character with what we know of these people?
  • Syenite kills her child; Essun is prepared to kill her husband to save her child. Are these two desires consistent in one character?
  • Two more twists in these chapters: Hoa is the narrator, and Alabaster opened the Yumenes rift. Did people see either of these coming?
  • Why would Alabaster be interested in a moon?
  • Why did Alabaster create the Yumenes rift?

Comments

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    Well, hmm, big battle for the end of level boss. Syenite turns warrior, discovers all manner of abilities she never knew she had. Ok.

    I looked back at the prologue and could see how Alabaster fitted, though I don't think it was possible to guess reading forwards.

    Unimpressed by the deliberate deception about Essun when I read it "hips that easily bore two children..." of course she actually has three. I get that NK Jemisin wanted to hide the book's Big Reveal, but to deliberately include false information so we couldn't guess is just meh.

    Consistent? I would have to say no, but the book is not about consistency but about abrupt changes. I can handle it only by keeping on saying to myself, this is really a graphic novel that someone has been foolish enough to put into words. As such, Alabaster and Syenite's battle on the island was magnificent, and would make a glorious series of panels. Truly vivid.

    Hoa the narrator, no didn't see it, have stopped trying to work out stuff like that. Either the author will toss out a reveal or she won't, and I've abandoned any idea of trying to make sense of what's coming.

    Alabaster is now, I think, in a let's just smash everything mood. If the moon can participate in smashing it up then that's cool by him. The prologue tells us that he's already set off a fifth season which will last a few millennia... I guess that's not enough and he'd rather just destroy the globe. Or not... by the end of book 3 we might know one way or the other.
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    So, again I find myself largely in agreement with @RichardAbbott . I also re-read the prologue, and I think that was worth doing. The author was clearly hiding things from us- were this a serious mystery novel, you would argue that it violated the 'fair play principle', but I don't think that really applies, here, so I'm not bothered.

    But I guess as a result, the big reveal to me isn't 'Wow, I didn't see that coming but now that I read it it makes so much sense'. Instead, it's more like "Oh, OK. That seems random, but I'm willing to go with it for now'. So, Hoa is the narrator - unexpected since he only ever referred to himself in the third person (Why? That's probably salmon territory). But anyway, it's no biggie - doesn't really seem important who the narrator is, anyway.

    As for Alabaster, I'm starting to be confused about him. He was introduced to us as an angry superdude maverick to whom the rules only applied when they were useful - a bit like Wolverine. Then morphed into a domestic suck who didn't like when other people did things that were beyond their approved role. Now he's an uber vigilante who would rather destroy the world that... what exactly? A rebel without a cause, I guess, except he's somehow in charge.

    The moon question is the one I think is the most interesting, and I'm continuing to wait (since the first interlude) to see how the question of the moon (specifically it's absence, strongly hinted at in the first interlude) is relevant to the story. I guess we need to read book 2 to find out. I'm trusting the reveal to be scientifically satisfying for now, but I'm really feeling mistrustful of the author at this point so I probably shouldn't let my hopes rise too much.

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    Pretty much in accord with @RichardAbbott and @Apocryphal - I am just reading this as a Graphic Novel for the Blind where everything is in words rather than pictures. It's interesting in places, but it seems rather arbitrary and slapdash in others. I have given up trying to predict anything or judge anything because of the blatant inconsistencies throughout. It is amateurishly bleak. There is not a whiff of comedy relief, not even black comedy, which I love. I have to supply my own black comedy in my brain. An angry novel about angry people by an angry person. Whoop! She should read some Soviet SF to learn how to do bleak right!

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    I don’t take this as the author deceiving the reader to protect the big reveal but as the unreliable narrator.

    Syen killing Corundum is a nod to Toni Morrison’s Beloved, in which the protagonist kills her child rather than let her be taken into slavery. I had forgotten in which of Morrison’s books this had happened, so I skimmed through her The Bluest Eye before finding it in Beloved. Something I had forgotten about The Bluest Eye is that it alternates between different time periods of the protagonist’s life. Jemisin has written an homage to the womanist writers who have shaped her.

    I’m a bit startled at some of the characterizations of Jemisin as an author and as a person in these comments. Is she an angry author? I don’t have a clue. Has she written a fictional analogy for the experience of (some) Black people through this novel? Yes.

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    @WildCard said:
    I don’t take this as the author deceiving the reader to protect the big reveal but as the unreliable narrator.

    Now this is worth considering. Apart from withholding certain facts until dramatically opportune to reveal them, has the narrator been unreliable? I don't know the answer but will watch for other signs of this in the future. I do think it's probably best not to judge the author by her characters, but so much of the work seems 'authorial' that it's hard to do that. Using this work as an homage to another is but one example.

    Syen killing Corundum is a nod to Toni Morrison’s Beloved, in which the protagonist kills her child rather than let her be taken into slavery. I had forgotten in which of Morrison’s books this had happened, so I skimmed through her The Bluest Eye before finding it in Beloved. Something I had forgotten about The Bluest Eye is that it alternates between different time periods of the protagonist’s life. Jemisin has written an homage to the womanist writers who have shaped her.

    Thanks for the insight - it helps to understand things better. I wasn't familiar with the work. Normally I quite like when one work references another, but such things run a risk of backfiring if the audience isn't familiar with the source material. And this also begs the question - did it make as much sense for Syenite to do this as it did for the author? I'm not convinced her child was destined for slavery, nor am I convinced that Syenite was the kind of person who would make such a sacrifice - she strikes me more like someone who wants to jockey for power than make a stand for the innocent.

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    @WildCard said:
    I don’t take this as the author deceiving the reader to protect the big reveal but as the unreliable narrator.
    @Apocryphal said:
    Now this is worth considering. Apart from withholding certain facts until dramatically opportune to reveal them, has the narrator been unreliable? I don't know the answer but will watch for other signs of this in the future. I do think it's probably best not to judge the author by her characters, but so much of the work seems 'authorial' that it's hard to do that. Using this work as an homage to another is but one example.

    To me, the explicit statement that she had two children in the prologue, when actually she had three, is a pretty clear sign of deception. It reads far too much as an attempt to stop the reader guessing that the several women were the same. "Unreliable narrator" surely means choosing to omit things or suggest an explanation other than the real one, rather than making deliberate false statements? All she had to do was soften "two" to "a few" or "several" in the intro, and it would have served much the same purpose.

    @WildCard said:
    Syen killing Corundum is a nod to Toni Morrison’s Beloved, in which the protagonist kills her child rather than let her be taken into slavery...
    @Apocryphal said:
    Thanks for the insight - it helps to understand things better. I wasn't familiar with the work. Normally I quite like when one work references another, but such things run a risk of backfiring if the audience isn't familiar with the source material. And this also begs the question - did it make as much sense for Syenite to do this as it did for the author? I'm not convinced her child was destined for slavery, nor am I convinced that Syenite was the kind of person who would make such a sacrifice - she strikes me more like someone who wants to jockey for power than make a stand for the innocent.

    Like @Apocryphal I don't know the original (in fact, I don't even recognise the author's name), so any such references just went by me. But one can surmise that Schaffa would have taken Corundum either to be raised in The Fulcrum, or to be a node maintainer, and it's a fair guess that at this point Syenite would think of both of those as akin to slavery. But yes, I agree with the further point that Syenite doesn't seem a person who would make stands of principle. It's not clear to me what her principles are. You could probably argue that her upbringing would tend to erode any idea of adhering to principles, other than obedience to the established order. This part of the book could be seen as Alabaster trying to get Syenite to have ideas of her own and act on them, rather than just being a passive victim (and the early parts of the next book follow this theme up). The trouble is, Alabaster doesn't seem to have principles either, so it's a bit of the blind leading the blind. I think this is part of what @clash_bowley means by saying that none of the characters are likeable - I don't have any sense of what they stand for or consider important.

    Back with Corundum, I persist in thinking that his name (basically meaning Abrasive) is important. I don't think Jemisin is into language in a big way, but I do think she chooses names which are meaningful. Is Corundum an abrasive to Syenite (more than the general way in which all children abrade their parents' lives)? Or to the Alabaster-Syenite pairing? If so, then Syenite's killing of Corundum could be a way of her trying to solve her own problems as well as heading off an unpalatable future for the child. This might be reinforced by Alabaster saying (in the next book) that he couldn't forgive Syenite. If the true reason was to protect him for a fate worse than death, then surely Alabaster would be able to forgive. But if it was partly (or even mainly) a way to get rid of an abrasive, then the unforgiveness makes more sense.

    In fact (and I'm just thinking aloud here) that could also make sense of the "two children" assertion, if it is read as Syenite's refusal to acknowledge that Corundum ever was a real child? Except that the statement is not put into Syenite/Essun's mouth, but into the narrator's.

    But stepping back from that cobweb of speculation, I don't get any real sense that Jemisin wants to write a novel where everything is planned out and tied up. In short, I don't think she's bothered about narrative or psychological inconsistencies any more than she's bothered about polymers appearing where there's no petrochemical industry to make them. The whole book doesn't give me the sense that it's planned out in that way - it's vivid, bold, and graphic, and rushes on fast enough that you don't spot the gaps.

  • 1

    @WildCard said:
    Syen killing Corundum is a nod to Toni Morrison’s Beloved, in which the protagonist kills her child rather than let her be taken into slavery. I had forgotten in which of Morrison’s books this had happened, so I skimmed through her The Bluest Eye before finding it in Beloved. Something I had forgotten about The Bluest Eye is that it alternates between different time periods of the protagonist’s life. Jemisin has written an homage to the womanist writers who have shaped her.

    Thanks for these insights. I hadn't made the connection, but it's obvious in hindsight that Jemisin would be drawing on different sources from the presumed-standard white male SF author (and I guess that all of us are white men?).

    @WildCard said:
    I’m a bit startled at some of the characterizations of Jemisin as an author and as a person in these comments. Is she an angry author? I don’t have a clue. Has she written a fictional analogy for the experience of (some) Black people through this novel? Yes.

    ...and I think there's a lot there to be angry about.

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