The Obelisk Gate, chapter 1 & 2

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Chapter 1

This starts with a chunk of exposition about the history of lorists. Nassun gives a gift of a diamond the visiting lorist. The lorist returns it to Jija. Uche sesses the diamond, Jija realises Uche is an orogene, and kills his son in a fit of rage. Nassun returns home, is shocked by the sight of Uche's body, and is comforted by Jija. They prepare to leave Tirimo.

Chapter 2

This chapter is a continutation of the last chapter of The Fifth Season. Alabaster tries to explain to Essun/Syenite what a "moon" is, then asks if she can summon an obelisk. Apparently obelisk-summoning is needed for whatever Alabaster has planned for Essun. Essun goes to ask Ykka for permission to go topside and is roped into the comm's ruling council. Essun goes topside and summons an onyx obelisk (not any of the ones Alabaster or Essun thought it might be) then the topaz (the intended one) as an afterthought. Hoa is unsettled by a pile of ash.

Questions

  • Why does Jemisin want to tell us about the history of lorists?
  • What do people think of introducing the Nassun/Jija storyline in this book?
  • Is Nassun a believable eight-year-old child?
  • Are Jija's actions believable?
  • Lerna fancies Essun. Where do you think the relationship will go?
  • Ykka assembles a council of dissenting voices. What does it say about her character? Is it somewhat idealistic?
  • How long do you think it will be before Ykka gets deposed? Who will do it?
  • What do you think Alabaster is planning for the obelisks? What justification will there be for why Alabaster hasn't done it already by himself?
  • Sweepstake time! Hoa says there are stone eaters in Castrima who are unknown to the humans. Which people are really stone eaters in disguise?
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Comments

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    I got hung up in salmon mode again - Jemisin is clearly trying to introduce more "science words" in this book, eg polymers made an appearance early on. But (if this were a realistic society) I don't see that polymers can exist without a thriving petrochemicals industry. Which we haven't seen. Even the concept of "polymer" requires a way of molecular thinking about the world which is just absent from The Stillness. If this was a historical fiction novel everyone would be shouting about anachronisms... Sorry, it still grates that she doesn't appear to care about the back-story of her world, except insofar as the plot calls for something. (So far as I can tell, the sheets of polymers are worked by stonemasons).

    That aside, the jump back to Nassun/Jija kind of worked as the start of a new book - we are learning what happened in the room before Essun got back home, and at a wild guess the two stories will link up towards the end of this volume.

    I don't think I found Jija's actions very credible - that he would beat one child to death and comfort the other, when they are evidently showing the same "symptoms", seems bizarre. I was more interested in the idea that he thinks that there is a place where Nassun can be "cured" - not just channeled by control, like the Fulcrum, but apparently sorted out completely. At a guess, this is intended to be a parallel to chemical attempts to "cure" non-conventional sexual orientations and choices. But as we discussed in the recap of vol 1, I just don't think Jemisin is interested in credible people or societies, but in shock value and vivid plot twists.

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    @NeilNjae said:

    Chapter 1

    This starts with a chunk of exposition about the history of lorists. Nassun gives a gift of a diamond the visiting lorist. The lorist returns it to Jija. Uche sesses the diamond, Jija realises Uche is an orogene, and kills his son in a fit of rage. Nassun returns home, is shocked by the sight of Uche's body, and is comforted by Jija. They prepare to leave Tirimo.

    Chapter 2

    This chapter is a continutation of the last chapter of The Fifth Season. Alabaster tries to explain to Essun/Syenite what a "moon" is, then asks if she can summon an obelisk. Apparently obelisk-summoning is needed for whatever Alabaster has planned for Essun. Essun goes to ask Ykka for permission to go topside and is roped into the comm's ruling council. Essun goes topside and summons an onyx obelisk (not any of the ones Alabaster or Essun thought it might be) then the topaz (the intended one) as an afterthought. Hoa is unsettled by a pile of ash.

    Questions

    • Why does Jemisin want to tell us about the history of lorists?

    I haven't a clue! I am sure she will tell us when she is ready.

    • What do people think of introducing the Nassun/Jija storyline in this book?

    Curse their sudden but inevitable appearance! I have been waiting. Like the lorist thing.

    • Is Nassun a believable eight-year-old child?

    Sure! All eight year old girls will charm their fathers after their fathers have beaten their little brothers to death. Happens all the time!

    • Are Jija's actions believable?

    Nobody's actions are believable. Why start now? Comic books are not about people acting believably.

    • Lerna fancies Essun. Where do you think the relationship will go?

    He will die horribly or beat their child to death, and she will move on and change her name, killing any babies remaining. That is the pattern so far.

    • Ykka assembles a council of dissenting voices. What does it say about her character? Is it somewhat idealistic?

    It says Ykka is meant to be percieved as sympathetic before she is killed horribly.

    • How long do you think it will be before Ykka gets deposed? Who will do it?

    I have long since stopped trying to figure things like that out. I just eat my popcorn and watch.

    • What do you think Alabaster is planning for the obelisks? What justification will there be for why Alabaster hasn't done it already by himself?

    Since Al is the Tragic But Sympathetic Character, he will do something necessary but awful - which he would have done already but was too busy getting eaten (a pig like that you don't eat all at once!) by his stone eater buddy. So now it's too late for him to do it and he needs the Main Character, so that she is involved and can do what needs to be done.

    • Sweepstake time! Hoa says there are stone eaters in Castrima who are unknown to the humans. Which people are really stone eaters in disguise?

    The survivors - except for Essun. She needs to change her name and survive into the third book.

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    @clash_bowley , please, tell me something you like about these books. What are you getting out of reading them?

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    @NeilNjae said:

    Chapter 1

    This starts with a chunk of exposition about the history of lorists. Nassun gives a gift of a diamond the visiting lorist. The lorist returns it to Jija. Uche sesses the diamond, Jija realises Uche is an orogene, and kills his son in a fit of rage. Nassun returns home, is shocked by the sight of Uche's body, and is comforted by Jija. They prepare to leave Tirimo.

    Chapter 2

    This chapter is a continutation of the last chapter of The Fifth Season. Alabaster tries to explain to Essun/Syenite what a "moon" is, then asks if she can summon an obelisk. Apparently obelisk-summoning is needed for whatever Alabaster has planned for Essun. Essun goes to ask Ykka for permission to go topside and is roped into the comm's ruling council. Essun goes topside and summons an onyx obelisk (not any of the ones Alabaster or Essun thought it might be) then the topaz (the intended one) as an afterthought. Hoa is unsettled by a pile of ash.

    On the matter of chapter 2 - there was a hint in the first interlude of book 1 that the Moon was important to the story ("What is conspicuous by its absence?"). This was followed by a big reveal at the end of the book that the moon is important.

    Now book 2 starts with a continuation of that scene, and Essun asks what a moon is* and Big Al explains it by giving her another word she's never heard of. Then, rather that ask 'Ok, why are you bringing this up?' she lets the subject drop. So now we're being strung along again waiting for the next big reveal. Jemisin clearly likes to play games.

    (*Big Al says that a moon is a 'satellite' which I thought was an odd choice, since we today generally think of satellites as being man-made objects before any other meaning. Anyway, I looked this up and the original usage was in the sense of it being an 'obsequious follower or hired agent', which would be a perfectly normal use in this setting. But apparently here it's not a common word, otherwise Essun would have heard of it.)

    Why does Jemisin want to tell us about the history of lorists?

    Since Jemisin only reveals things like this if they'll be important to the story, I think we can assume that it will be relevant when Essun next meets up with Nassun, who will be a Lorist. She has also set up a conflict between the two - clearly Nassun would rather be with her child-murdering father than her child-murdering mother. (She probably doesn't know her mother also murdered a child, but you know what they say - 'better the devil you know' - the point is, she fears or hates Essun more than her father.)

    What do people think of introducing the Nassun/Jija storyline in this book?

    It's obviously here to set up a future confrontation - probably later in this book - with Nassun.

    Is Nassun a believable eight-year-old child? Are Jija's actions believable?

    Not really, but why start being believable now?

    Lerna fancies Essun. Where do you think the relationship will go?

    Who is Lerna, again? I'm starting to lose track of who is who, since we have more names than characters. In any case, I don't have any thoughts on where the Castrima relationships will go.

    Ykka assembles a council of dissenting voices. What does it say about her character? Is it somewhat idealistic?

    It's obviously idealistic, and fits with the idea we discussed in the last book that these independent leaders are being set up as the idealistic alternatives to an oppressive regime. I suspect that @clash_bowley is also right that she's being set up as a lamb for slaughter. Clearly her own people already resent her.

    How long do you think it will be before Ykka gets deposed? Who will do it?

    No specific predictions, but I guess it will either be her own people (more gut-wrenching) or someone unexpected (more surprising).

    What do you think Alabaster is planning for the obelisks? What justification will there be for why Alabaster hasn't done it already by himself?

    Again, I think @clash_bowley 's cynical answer is the correct one. It gives the main protagonist something to do.

    Sweepstake time! Hoa says there are stone eaters in Castrima who are unknown to the humans. Which people are really stone eaters in disguise?

    I'm not sure it pays to play the sweepstakes with Jemisin. She's already shown that she's willing to break the fair-play principle, which means we can't rely on what she's already revealed to make guesses about what's going to happen. She could easily introduce a new fact to turn things on their head at a critical moment. For example, Stone Eaters are so far a pretty confident and open lot who don't seem to have any reason to disguise themselves. So my guess would be that there are no Stone Eaters in disguise - just Stone Eaters we haven't met, yet. for this reason, I'm trying not to set any expectations - just going along for the ride and enjoying looking out the window.

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    edited April 9

    @NeilNjae said:
    @clash_bowley , please, tell me something you like about these books. What are you getting out of reading them?

    The plot cooks right along. It twists and turns like a roller coaster! Since the characters are disposable, it's all fun! The characters keep popping out new super powers, which is cool! Lots of flashy scenes built on these new powers are sweet! It's like freedom from logic and causality is freedom from gravity. The author is clearly having fun torturing all these poor people! And it's all so unreal and cartoonish it winds up being fun for me too.

    Oh! Yes! Unlike A Game of Thrones, where the author killed anyone I liked, Jemisin keeps everyone unlikable, even the 'sympathetic' characters like Al, so it's all fun to see them all killed off!

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    @Apocryphal said:
    (*Big Al says that a moon is a 'satellite' which I thought was an odd choice, since we today generally think of satellites as being man-made objects before any other meaning. Anyway, I looked this up and the original usage was in the sense of it being an 'obsequious follower or hired agent', which would be a perfectly normal use in this setting. But apparently here it's not a common word, otherwise Essun would have heard of it.)

    I kind of feel this is another science word which is brought in as a veneer. "Satellite" in the astronomical sense can easily mean a natural one as well as an artificial one. However, a pre-telescope world (and I don't recall that we have met a telescope or equivalent) would, I believe, struggle to conceive of bodies going round other bodies. Certainly our experience here in Earth's history was that the Moon was conceived as not essentially different to other planets - they were all wanderers amongst the fixed stars. But it's not clear to me that The Stillness has other sibling planets, or that the people living there know about or care about the heavens.

    Who is Lerna, again? I'm starting to lose track of who is who, since we have more names than characters. In any case, I don't have any thoughts on where the Castrima relationships will go.

    He was the doctor at Essun's home comm, who was first on the scene after she discovered Uche, and was one of the very few people that she had any sort of good relationship with. As to how he got from there to Castrima, it's anyone's guess. So far as we know he is not an orogene, so Ykka's funky "call them all home" message would not have impacted on him. At a guess, we are going to keep on meeting characters from book 1 who manage to somehow get from where they were to wherever Essun is.

    For example, Stone Eaters are so far a pretty confident and open lot who don't seem to have any reason to disguise themselves. So my guess would be that there are no Stone Eaters in disguise - just Stone Eaters we haven't met, yet. for this reason, I'm trying not to set any expectations - just going along for the ride and enjoying looking out the window.

    Hoa is in disguise, and he's the one we have met most and longest. It is easy to think that Antimony's form is The Definitive Stone Eater Look, but I'm not sure that we ave grounds for that. Presumably if Hoa can do his trick of looking convincingly like a human child, then other stone eaters could look like whatever they wanted.

    In passing, I had a moment's entertainment thinking about the mineral names. Like any systematic method of naming, you run into the problem that there are only so many names to pick from. OK, there are a lot of minerals, and one can assume that this world has made a detailed catalogue of them... but even so I'm guessing that at The Fulcrum either there's a lot of head-scratching, or else a lot of duplicates.

    When Damaya chose her name Syenite, she had good reasons in terms of the properties of the mineral in question. So, it seems (and I think this would be totally logical) novices pick whatever they think is a cool name. Bet you there's loads of Amethysts and Beryls, and not nearly so many Cadwaladerites or Plumbogummites! (I have a similar problem with naming the AI personas in my books - it's all very well coming up with a nifty idea for a naming scheme, but it's all too easy to paint yourself into a corner and end up struggling for names as you need more of them).

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    I think I remember seeing plumbogummites in a Fry and Laurie Jeeves and Wooster episode.
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    Does Haribo make plumbogummites? Or is that Trolli?

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    I think it’s Tuppy Glossop, actually.
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    @clash_bowley said:

    @NeilNjae said:
    @clash_bowley , please, tell me something you like about these books. What are you getting out of reading them?

    The plot cooks right along. ....

    Thank you for that! I was wondering why you were reading, and this explains it nicely.

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    @NeilNjae said:

    @clash_bowley said:

    @NeilNjae said:
    @clash_bowley , please, tell me something you like about these books. What are you getting out of reading them?

    The plot cooks right along. ....

    Thank you for that! I was wondering why you were reading, and this explains it nicely.

    Yeah - like I said, once I stopped salmoning, I began to appreciate the madness. :D

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    @RichardAbbott and @Apocryphal - maybe Lerna is a stone eater in disguise (Stone Eaters! Monsters In Disguise!) and that is why he is there in Crystal Hollow - To turn people into stone and eat 'em! - and how he got there so fast - Walked through the stone! :D

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    @clash_bowley said:
    @RichardAbbott and @Apocryphal - maybe Lerna is a stone eater in disguise (Stone Eaters! Monsters In Disguise!) and that is why he is there in Crystal Hollow - To turn people into stone and eat 'em! - and how he got there so fast - Walked through the stone! :D

    You laugh, but this sounds quite plausible in the context of this novel.

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    @Apocryphal said:

    @clash_bowley said:
    @RichardAbbott and @Apocryphal - maybe Lerna is a stone eater in disguise (Stone Eaters! Monsters In Disguise!) and that is why he is there in Crystal Hollow - To turn people into stone and eat 'em! - and how he got there so fast - Walked through the stone! :D

    You laugh, but this sounds quite plausible in the context of this novel.

    Which is why I find it sooo funny! It's whacked as hell, but entirely plausible!

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    @RichardAbbott said:

    [Lerna] was the doctor at Essun's home comm, who was first on the scene after she discovered Uche, and was one of the very few people that she had any sort of good relationship with. As to how he got from there to Castrima, it's anyone's guess. So far as we know he is not an orogene, so Ykka's funky "call them all home" message would not have impacted on him. At a guess, we are going to keep on meeting characters from book 1 who manage to somehow get from where they were to wherever Essun is.

    He says he's not an orogene though he had a close relative who was one, and was killed for it (revealed near the start of The Fifth Season). At the end of The Fifth Season he recounts how he travelled from Tirimo to Castrima, and was captured when he slept in one of the above-ground buildings.

    In passing, I had a moment's entertainment thinking about the mineral names. Like any systematic method of naming, you run into the problem that there are only so many names to pick from. OK, there are a lot of minerals, and one can assume that this world has made a detailed catalogue of them... but even so I'm guessing that at The Fulcrum either there's a lot of head-scratching, or else a lot of duplicates.

    If the world-building was thought through in this way, I'm sure we could glean some information about the possible size of the Fulcrum orogene corps from this. If there's only a limited number of names, and we've not seen anyone called "Beryl 3" or "Beryl the Eager", that implies there's only one orogene per mineral

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    edited April 11

    @NeilNjae said:

    He says he's not an orogene though he had a close relative who was one, and was killed for it (revealed near the start of The Fifth Season). At the end of The Fifth Season he recounts how he travelled from Tirimo to Castrima, and was captured when he slept in one of the above-ground buildings.

    You do realize this is very possibly lies... I find it highly amusing that he somehow went straight to this place and arrived substantially before Essun without encountering and passing her, while she was being 'pulled' there. I say amusing because there is no cause and effect here, just placement and plot triggers. It is more likely the author just wanted him here to hit on Essun than because he is part of some secret plot, but the abrupt and speedy way this was accomplished looks suspicious to we who are used to causality. :D

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    > @clash_bowley said:
    > (Quote)
    > You do realize this is very possibly lies... I find it highly amusing that he somehow went straight to this place and arrived substantially before Essun without encountering and passing her, while she was being 'pulled' there... the abrupt and speedy way this was accomplished looks suspicious to we who are used to causality. :D

    I agree... in the ordinary course of life there is no way he can have arrived first, unless we find out later that actually Essun went on some significant diversion from the straight line route which she (or rather, Hoa) elected not to tell us about at the time.
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    Maybe he took the train?

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    @Apocryphal said:
    Maybe he took the train?

    That'll be the hydroelectric train running on polymer tracks...

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    @RichardAbbott said:

    @Apocryphal said:
    Maybe he took the train?

    That'll be the hydroelectric train running on polymer tracks...

    You say that like there is something wrong, @RichardAbbott! :D

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    I wonder if Alabaster wants to pull the moon into the earth.

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    edited April 17

    "One of these days Essen! Pow! Right to the moon! If only we had a moon!"

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    > @WildCard said:
    > I wonder if Alabaster wants to pull the moon into the earth.

    In the first interlude of book 1, the narrator invited us to look at the sun and other celestial objects, then to think about what was missing. The moon was conspicuous for its absence. So I think the real question is ‘what happened to it’ rather than ‘what will happen to it’. The fact that Essun doesn’t know what a moon is supports this idea.
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    @Apocryphal said:

    @WildCard said:
    I wonder if Alabaster wants to pull the moon into the earth.

    In the first interlude of book 1, the narrator invited us to look at the sun and other celestial objects, then to think about what was missing. The moon was conspicuous for its absence. So I think the real question is ‘what happened to it’ rather than ‘what will happen to it’. The fact that Essun doesn’t know what a moon is supports this idea.

    Thank you for that reminder.

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    I revise my wondering to: I wonder if the moon is in geosynchronous orbit on the other side of the earth, which is causing all this plate tectonics instability.

    I may have mentioned this early on, but maybe not. A retired History prof at my school, who is a fellow caver and pretty mean amateur geologist, has a tee-shirt that says, “Stop plate tectonics.”

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    > @WildCard said:
    > I revise my wondering to: I wonder if the moon is in geosynchronous orbit on the other side of the earth, which is causing all this plate tectonics instability.
    >

    I can't see that working, I'm afraid. Geosynchronous orbit above our Earth is at just over 35,000 km. The Earth's radius is just over 6,000, and the Moon's a little under 2,000. I don't believe that such an orbit would be stable over any length of time, not given how large (radius and/or mass) the Moon is relative to the Earth. It works for artificial satellites because they are tiny... I can't see it working for the Moon.

    For comparison, the Moon's typical distance from us is nearly 400,000 km.

    Now, maybe Jemisin has a different Earth, or Moon in mind. Or maybe she just doesn't care about the science. But as a physics model I don't think it's credible.
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    She does admit in the afterword of book 1 that she did play fast and loose with the science. What I wonder is if this book was inspired by what might happen if either (1) the earth and moon collided with earth and we are long after the catastrophe (the pangaea-like continent would be a clue to how long) or (2) broke into pieces, or (3) was thrown out of our orbit. Quite possibly we are not on earth, but then I wonder why the absence of the moon would be significant.

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    The moon's orbit is getting tighter and tighter, and it will one day hit the Roche Limit at about 11,000 miles and break up as the tidal stresses overcome the moon's own gravity, and it can't keep itself together. I can't believe Jemisin cares about that, so we are thinking the wrong way. @Wild Card's hidden moon in geosynchronous orbit sounds much more like Jemisin. Screw you science! Bite me, causality! I'm thinking BIG here!

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    > @clash_bowley said:
    > The moon's orbit is getting tighter and tighter, and it will one day hit the Roche Limit at about 11,000 miles and break up as the tidal stresses overcome the moon's own gravity, and it can't keep itself together. I can't believe Jemisin cares about that, so we are thinking the wrong way. @Wild Card's hidden moon in geosynchronous orbit sounds much more like Jemisin. Screw you science! Bite me, causality! I'm thinking BIG here!

    Currently moving away, I think, at a couple of centimetres per year (https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/moons/earths-moon/in-depth). That should (in a few billion years result in an orbit of about 47 days, and Earth and Moon tidally locked. After _that_ tidal effects from the sun start pulling the two together again, with the effect you described. But all the while, the Sun is toddling along the main sequence, turning itself into a red giant, which may well engulf or melt both Earth and Moon and put paid to the whole retreat/advance thing.

    That said, I totally agree with you that all such stuff is not of concern to Jemisin!

    There is a loose analogy in the film _The Wandering Earth_ - in which Liu Cixin of Three Body Problem had input - which in a similar way speculated that events which normally take billions of years would instead happen in a decade or so
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    edited April 17

    @RichardAbbott said:
    Currently moving away, I think, at a couple of centimetres per year (https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/moons/earths-moon/in-depth). That should (in a few billion years result in an orbit of about 47 days, and Earth and Moon tidally locked. After that tidal effects from the sun start pulling the two together again, with the effect you described. But all the while, the Sun is toddling along the main sequence, turning itself into a red giant, which may well engulf or melt both Earth and Moon and put paid to the whole retreat/advance thing.

    Many years ago I released a game called FTL Now, in which a terrorist group hit New York City with a comet on September 11, 2001, vaporizing the mouth of the Hudson, and killing everyone in the Northeast US Megalopolis - i.e. Boston to Washington DC. One fellow asked if two airliners also hit the twin towers that day, and I answered "Possibly, but I doubt anyone noticed."

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