The Islanders Week 1: Introduction and Island of Winds

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Introductory, by Chester Kammeston

  • This book is introduced by Chaster Kammeston, who is not the author of the book, but likely a person of some reknown. Kammestone claims to know little about the islands, but feels a lot.
  • Kammeston was born on his island, has never stepped off, and never will. He does not reveal which island is his home.
  • The Archipelago is the largest geographical feature on unnamed world, spanning the whole girth of the world and many climates.
  • The Midway Sea comprises more than 70% of the world surface.
  • Two continents exist - one to the north with no name but colloquially called 'Nordmaieure' with 60 different states and nations.
  • The other is officially named Sudmaieure and, like Antarctica, is mostly uninhabited and polar. Wars between northern nations are fought by proxy on Sudmaieure.
  • The Islands adhere to a Covenant of Neutrality.
  • There are too many islands to number. Most have Patois names, sometimes more than one. There are no reliable maps of the whole archipelago.
  • The world has some unusual features. "Temporal gradients" prevent high altitude mapping, and exist anywhere in the world except at poles. Low level cartography also difficult, due to "gravitational anomalies"
  • The nature of Islanders is described
  • A table of contents reveals the structure of the book.

Aay: Island of Winds

  • The Island of Winds is caught between two major global ocean currents. These give rise to several unusual winds on the island.
  • Aay is the home of the Academy of Winds, founded by a woman named Esphoven Muy who initiated the study of winds.
  • The Academy of Winds has several faculties: Astronomical & Mythological, Natural World, Anthropomorphism, Necromancy, Scientific Observation, Military History, Navigation, and Geography & Topography.
  • The famous artist, Dryd Bathurst, also lived on this island and seems to have had a relationship with Esphoven Muy. Both later moved away to the island of Piqay, though they did not stay together.
  • Some of Bathurst's works are described. Chester Kammeston is revealed as the author of a biography of Dryd Bathurst.

Discussion

What early themes can you see emerging? What should we keep an eye on as we continue our reading?
Any early thoughts on the World Priest is building, here?
This book will largely be a gazetteer of places. With Aay, we get our first taste. Comments to date?
Did any text passages catch your eye?

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Comments

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    So far I have found the book fascinating but (perhaps) slightly impenetrable! (I won't try to make an argument that this is a kind of mimesis for the fascinating but impenetrable Archipelago, but on a better day I am sure that such an argument could be made...)

    It was hard stopping at the chapter end to stick to the Slow Read rules - it seemed that it would be altogether too easy to just slip into the succeeding chapters. Despite the fact that (in a conventional sense) nothing much has happened.

    Early thoughts emerging - just the obvious one that the Archipelago is hard to fathom and encompass. It seems that in theory this world has enough technology that it could make a stab at mapping everything (after all, this world managed it with credible accuracy back in the days of sail) but that firstly there are geophysical obstacles which have not been overcome, and secondly there is no great mood among the people to make it so.

    Other than that, I don't have any settled thoughts or impressions yet.

  • 1

    A key theme I see emerging is that this is a world of stories, and stories where even the world itself is an unreliable narrator. In the introduction, Kammeston doesn't tell us anything true, only what he's read in his books. And he says that those books are at best inconsistent, at worst unreliable.

    I get a sense of a stable society, somewhat like a modern Europe in tone and values. They've had photography for at least two and a half centuries, which is longer than the real world.

    As a gazetteer, I wonder what the overall narrative of the book will be. Reading it could be a similar exercise to reading Always Coming Home.

  • 2
    edited February 3

    There are definitely some similarities with Always Coming Home in that we get a mix of place description and stories. And even the place descriptions are not all strictly about geographical elements. Unlike Always Coming Home, there is a least one narrative spanning the book, but it's hidden inside the entries. And the short stories presented within are quite unlike those in ACH.

    I think you're quite right that we should be looking for unreliable narration. Presumably Kammeston himself tells us no more, having only written the introduction, but he is himself certainly unreliable.

    Kammeston describes the book as: a "typical island enterprise: it is incomplete, a bit muddled and it wants to be liked... Our history has largely been created by adventurers and entrepreneurs who arrived somewhere other than on the island they sought. The ones who landed where they intended frequently found that matters were not as they expected. Our history is full of people going, becoming confused, and then coming back or wandering off somewhere else."

    I can attest that I've often thought Priests protagonists matched this description, even in books not in this setting. I've only read four of his books, though, so maybe it's not a consistent pattern.

    Kammeston concludes:_ "None of it is real, though, because reality lies in a different, more evanescent realm. These are only the names of some of the places in the archipelago of dreams. The true reality is the one you perceive around you, or that which you are fortunate enough to imagine for yourself." _

    Anything else? I note that on one cover of the book (not the one I'm reading) the following text can be found:
    "Every man is an island", which clearly calls up John Donne:

    No man is an island entire of itself; every man
    is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
    if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
    is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
    well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
    own were; any man's death diminishes me,
    because I am involved in mankind.
    And therefore never send to know for whom
    the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

    Should we be looking for the opposite sentiment in the book? That each person is to some degree alone, and the bell tolls for no-one?

    @RichardAbbott Hopefully reading the book slowly together will make it seem less impenetrable. For my part, I had a much harder time penetrating The Book of the New Sun, but the exercise helped a lot.

  • 0

    @Apocryphal said:
    @RichardAbbott Hopefully reading the book slowly together will make it seem less impenetrable. For my part, I had a much harder time penetrating The Book of the New Sun, but the exercise helped a lot.

    Your comment made me realise that "impenetrable" may have sounded as though I wasn't enjoying it. In fact I am - I was meaning impenetrable in the sense that a maze or riddle is, and hence invitational rather than off-putting. What I was the to convey was that I feel as though I am working my way around the outside of some structure, trying to find out how the puzzle unravels and reveals the design.

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    @RichardAbbott said:

    Your comment made me realise that "impenetrable" may have sounded as though I wasn't enjoying it. In fact I am - I was meaning impenetrable in the sense that a maze or riddle is, and hence invitational rather than off-putting. What I was the to convey was that I feel as though I am working my way around the outside of some structure, trying to find out how the puzzle unravels and reveals the design.

    I got that feeling too. I think Priest is trying to make a point (or several points) but won't spell it out explicitly. We'll have to work on finding out what he's trying to say.

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    I feel as though I am working my way around the outside of some structure, trying to find out how the puzzle unravels and reveals the design.

    Yes, exactly. The book is often described as a 'puzzle box' in reviews, so you're certainly not alone.

  • 1

    Working at a puzzle whose pieces change shape unpredictably looks like it may be an unsolvable puzzle. :D

  • 2

    @Apocryphal said:
    What early themes can you see emerging? What should we keep an eye on as we continue our reading?
    Any early thoughts on the World Priest is building, here?
    This book will largely be a gazetteer of places. With Aay, we get our first taste. Comments to date?
    Did any text passages catch your eye?

    The World Priest - sounds like every wannabe GM ever!

    Priest is pretty confident in the reader's motivation. Why do we continue reading these books? And I wonder about calling this a novel. Novel seems to mean nothing more than a certain number of pages contianing a fiction, whatever that means.

    I find the idea that the world is scientifically impenetrable: time and gravity (mass, substance) prevent mapping; compelling. Perhaps Priest is suggesting that the Islands stand in contrast to other fictional worlds which can be penetrated because they are not bound by those two entities, which are themselves fictional (constructed of words). So the obstructions are part of the fabrication.

    So penetration of obstruction and deception is one of the themes I am looking at.

    @NeilNjae said:
    A key theme I see emerging is that this is a world of stories, and stories where even the world itself is an unreliable narrator.

    I think it was Bacon who suggested that doing science was reading of the book of nature, which suggests that nature is a speaker. But can the world be a narrator? I don't think so. Listening doesn't require a speaker, it is primordial. We can listen to the world, but if it cannot speak it cannot deceive.

    @NeilNjae said:
    In the introduction, Kammeston doesn't tell us anything true, only what he's read in his books. And he says that those books are at best inconsistent, at worst unreliable.

    About the narrators - we are introduced to a person in the intro, but after that the tone is no one's voice from nowhere. The voice of authority, or the Wizard of Oz if you prefer.

    I guess my starting position is that it doesn't matter how much speakers insist that they are the initiators of language, speakers cannot ever be anything other than derivatives of listeners. They are utterly trustworthy in this way.

    I'm waiting to see if Priest is a listener, and what grows out of his speaking.

    @Apocryphal said:
    Kammeston describes the book as: a "typical island enterprise: it is incomplete, a bit muddled and it wants to be liked... Our history has largely been created by adventurers and entrepreneurs who arrived somewhere other than on the island they sought. The ones who landed where they intended frequently found that matters were not as they expected. Our history is full of people going, becoming confused, and then coming back or wandering off somewhere else."

    @NeilNjae said:
    I get a sense of a stable society, somewhat like a modern Europe in tone and values.

    I think you're right.

    Gazetteering is a colonial enterprise. Kammeston neglects to mention if out of so-called confusion they generally enslave or kill kind people they meet, and instead suggests that wars occur somewhere else where they only harm themselves. Where did the people on the islands come from? I found his description of war unbelievable. Great powers are very stable - they lack self-discipline. All they can do is feel bad about their actions afterwards, so it's impolite to mention it. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    Side note: Have to escape the backslash character.

    As to how this relates to Donne, we'll see.

    @RichardAbbott said:
    I was meaning impenetrable in the sense that a maze or riddle is, and hence invitational rather than off-putting. What I was the to convey was that I feel as though I am working my way around the outside of some structure, trying to find out how the puzzle unravels and reveals the design.

    I'm worried that it will turn out be a mechanical rather than organic plot. I guess I no longer read books for the designed plotting in and of them. I used to be impressed by such intricacy, but now I find it lazy - there is better and more important work to do with words. Not prejudicial, but experienced. I more interested in what grows out of them.

    A bit of a mess, but that's what I got this time.

  • 2
    edited February 4

    Barner Cobblewood said:
    I find the idea that the world is scientifically impenetrable: time and gravity (mass, substance) prevent mapping; compelling.

    I find it rather off-putting. I don't care if the reader doesn't have a map. I do care if the writer has a map. Announcing this signals to me that the writer will be inconsistent and will revel in that inconsistency. I don't mind unreliable narrators, but when the author announces this in the intro, this signals that the author does not care, and further more is using this authorial unreliability as an 'artistic' statement. Whatever. Once burned by Jemesin, always wary!

  • 1

    @clash_bowley said:

    Barner Cobblewood said:
    I find the idea that the world is scientifically impenetrable: time and gravity (mass, substance) prevent mapping; compelling.

    I find it rather off-putting. I don't care if the reader doesn't have a map. I do care if the writer has a map. Announcing this signals to me that the writer will be inconsistent and will revel in that inconsistency. I don't mind unreliable narrators, but when the author announces this in the intro, this signals that the author does not care, and further more is using this authorial unreliability as an 'artistic' statement. Whatever. Once burned by Jemesin, always wary!

    Couldn't agree more if it turns out that way, but I'm not sure that Priest doesn't have a map. Maybe it's just the characters.

    However it certainly opens a door for laziness about craft. And I think it raises a question about what grows from encouraging readers to find deception entertaining. Then again, how would a reader ever learn to be suspicious if their writers took care for them? But in this case I'll wait and see what happens for a bit before getting fed up.

  • 1

    @BarnerCobblewood said:

    @clash_bowley said:

    Barner Cobblewood said:
    I find the idea that the world is scientifically impenetrable: time and gravity (mass, substance) prevent mapping; compelling.

    I find it rather off-putting. I don't care if the reader doesn't have a map. I do care if the writer has a map. Announcing this signals to me that the writer will be inconsistent and will revel in that inconsistency. I don't mind unreliable narrators, but when the author announces this in the intro, this signals that the author does not care, and further more is using this authorial unreliability as an 'artistic' statement. Whatever. Once burned by Jemesin, always wary!

    Couldn't agree more if it turns out that way, but I'm not sure that Priest doesn't have a map. Maybe it's just the characters.

    However it certainly opens a door for laziness about craft. And I think it raises a question about what grows from encouraging readers to find deception entertaining. Then again, how would a reader ever learn to be suspicious if their writers took care for them? But in this case I'll wait and see what happens for a bit before getting fed up.

    That's where I am. I am hoping Priest has a map, and this is just narrator unreliability. I am just perhaps too suspicious after our last slow read.

  • 1

    I think the 'world' (and yes, World Priest sounds totally like a GM! I may steal that) is unreliable in that we know things can change unpredictably in time and place. But I don't think that Priest is hinting at slap-dash world-building. I think he's rather consistent in applying these mysteries. So this makes the world reliably unreliable, as opposed to just random.

    My memory from my previous read is that the world feels well-thought-out. Well designed, rather than well-mapped, perhaps. And the thing about a well designed world is that you don't really want it to feel designed, am I right? So, among many questions raised here at the beginning that we can answer at the end: Did he find the sweet spot between organic and designed?

    And another: does the book have a coherent plot? Did Priest map his story before telling it?

    Apart from length, I think this is what most people consider to be the defining quality of a novel. Otherwise what separates a novel from a collection of short stories?

  • 3

    @Apocryphal said:
    I think the 'world' (and yes, World Priest sounds totally like a GM! I may steal that) is unreliable in that we know things can change unpredictably in time and place. But I don't think that Priest is hinting at slap-dash world-building. I think he's rather consistent in applying these mysteries. So this makes the world reliably unreliable, as opposed to just random.

    Dream logic.

  • 2

    @clash_bowley said:

    That's where I am. I am hoping Priest has a map, and this is just narrator unreliability. I am just perhaps too suspicious after our last slow read.

    I think the label's pretty obvious: it's the Dream Archipelago, so it would be a surprise if things were entirely logical. I'm expecting inconsistency in geography and naming, as those have both been highlighted in the introduction. I'm hoping that the characters in the world have believable responses to those limits on knowability.

  • 0
    > @BarnerCobblewood said:
    > Priest is pretty confident in the reader's motivation. Why do we continue reading these books? And I wonder about calling this a novel. Novel seems to mean nothing more than a certain number of pages contianing a fiction, whatever that means.
    >

    I personally wouldn't call it a novel (likewise ACH). However, it's probably worth remembering that the idea of a novel is a comparatively recent one - 19th century, basically, arising out of earlier diaristic or epistolary works. These precursors often maintained the fiction that they were accounts of true events, as though the idea of pure fiction was too uncomfortable to consider.

    So I guess you could argue a couple of ways... 1) that ACH and Dream Archipelago are both trying to revert to the roots of the novel as we know it, or 2) that "the novel" is not a frozen form but one which goes on evolving.

    That said, I personally still wouldn't classify either of those two works as novels!
  • 1
    edited February 5

    @RichardAbbott said:
    I personally wouldn't call it a novel (likewise ACH). However, it's probably worth remembering that the idea of a novel is a comparatively recent one - 19th century, basically, arising out of earlier diaristic or epistolary works. These precursors often maintained the fiction that they were accounts of true events, as though the idea of pure fiction was too uncomfortable to consider.

    The Tale of Genji was the earliest known novel, and was written in the 11th century. I have read it, and it is very definitely a novel. In fact I considered nominating it for this slow read.

  • 1

    @RichardAbbott said:
    I personally wouldn't call it a novel (likewise ACH). However, it's probably worth remembering that the idea of a novel is a comparatively recent one - 19th century, basically, arising out of earlier diaristic or epistolary works. These precursors often maintained the fiction that they were accounts of true events, as though the idea of pure fiction was too uncomfortable to consider.

    I'm using novel to point to a book made of prose, narrative, and an intimate, even individual and private reading experience, all of which contributed a great deal to who we are, e.g. the idea spoilers are bad, and that we share some responsibility to prevent such an act, depends on the moral idea that consuming narrative is something that is properly isolated from the social person. I'd argue that to belong to the genre novel means narrative text containing structures and cues supporting such an isolated individual.

    My point is that so far this text is not written in a narrative manner. Instead it is appropriating a scientific mode of discourse for its authoritative voice, while still intending to produce a private reader isolated from society. I'm concerned because I think that scientific genres are not, and should not, be used to produce private individuals isolated from a global society. This is not about science- or speculative-fiction. It's about the mode of discourse. I think the activity of science needs to be public, not individual. There is something profoundly anti-scientific about mis-using scientific modes of discourse for such an endeavour.

    Perhaps novels didn't at first contain pure fiction was an unconscious concern with the kind of person who might be produced by intimacy with that - a person too isolated from the social and moral, who can no longer negotiate the social shared actuality. In other words, a fandom. My question is about whether, and how, this kind of book removes people from the actual social, and who experiences what resultant pluses and minuses.

  • 1

    This discussion has already surpassed my expectations. Thanks all :)

  • 1

    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    I'm using novel to point to a book made of prose, narrative, and an intimate, even individual and private reading experience, all of which contributed a great deal to who we are, e.g. the idea spoilers are bad, and that we share some responsibility to prevent such an act, depends on the moral idea that consuming narrative is something that is properly isolated from the social person. I'd argue that to belong to the genre novel means narrative text containing structures and cues supporting such an isolated individual.

    Why are you creating a private meaning for a word? Words are vehicles for communication, and a private meaning for a word communicates nothing. Is this perhaps an accepted alternate meaning for 'novel' that I don't know? My ignorance is truly vast and that would not surprise me.

  • 1

    @clash_bowley said:

    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    I'm using novel to point to a book made of prose, narrative, and an intimate, even individual and private reading experience, all of which contributed a great deal to who we are, e.g. the idea spoilers are bad, and that we share some responsibility to prevent such an act, depends on the moral idea that consuming narrative is something that is properly isolated from the social person. I'd argue that to belong to the genre novel means narrative text containing structures and cues supporting such an isolated individual.

    Why are you creating a private meaning for a word? Words are vehicles for communication, and a private meaning for a word communicates nothing. Is this perhaps an accepted alternate meaning for 'novel' that I don't know? My ignorance is truly vast and that would not surprise me.

    Not sure what to say. A gazetteer is not usually read as a novel, so I wanted to think about what was being done here. According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Islanders_(Priest_novel) some people think this is a novel. Why do they think so?

    What is communicated by writing an ideological manifesto as a scientific treatise? How do the words mean the same things then?

  • 1

    I suspect it is just some people being a bit sloppy in their use of the word 'novel' - it's a work of fiction of novel length, so it's a novel, right? It is a casual comment, not a technical comment. The fact that he is using this style is, to me, sketchy, but I may be fine with it when I see how it plays out.

  • 0

    @clash_bowley said:

    @RichardAbbott said:
    I personally wouldn't call it a novel (likewise ACH). However, it's probably worth remembering that the idea of a novel is a comparatively recent one - 19th century, basically, arising out of earlier diaristic or epistolary works. These precursors often maintained the fiction that they were accounts of true events, as though the idea of pure fiction was too uncomfortable to consider.

    The Tale of Genji was the earliest known novel, and was written in the 11th century. I have read it, and it is very definitely a novel. In fact I considered nominating it for this slow read.

    Sure, one can pick earlier isolated instances - I could make a case for the Middle Kingdom Egyptian Tale of Sinuhe, and considerable amounts of academic ink has been spilled over to what extent this should be classed as pure invention, pure fact, political positioning, or somewhere in the middle. Nevertheless, all of these early attempts were simply isolated brilliances, and the world had to wait a long time for novels in the sense that we now understand them, widely written and with a set of broad conventions and expectations around them.

  • 1

    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    I'm using novel to point to a book made of prose, narrative, and an intimate, even individual and private reading experience, all of which contributed a great deal to who we are, e.g. the idea spoilers are bad, and that we share some responsibility to prevent such an act, depends on the moral idea that consuming narrative is something that is properly isolated from the social person. I'd argue that to belong to the genre novel means narrative text containing structures and cues supporting such an isolated individual.

    My point is that so far this text is not written in a narrative manner. Instead it is appropriating a scientific mode of discourse for its authoritative voice, while still intending to produce a private reader isolated from society. I'm concerned because I think that scientific genres are not, and should not, be used to produce private individuals isolated from a global society. This is not about science- or speculative-fiction. It's about the mode of discourse. I think the activity of science needs to be public, not individual. There is something profoundly anti-scientific about mis-using scientific modes of discourse for such an endeavour.

    Perhaps novels didn't at first contain pure fiction was an unconscious concern with the kind of person who might be produced by intimacy with that - a person too isolated from the social and moral, who can no longer negotiate the social shared actuality. In other words, a fandom. My question is about whether, and how, this kind of book removes people from the actual social, and who experiences what resultant pluses and minuses.

    These are some really interesting points that I will have to think a bit more about. But my initial impression is that I couldn't be sure about some of them. For example, Melville in Moby Dick quite often introduces scientific (or at least quasi-scientific) portions within what is clearly a fiction, and a novel. I'm not sure that this is anti-scientific, or necessarily divisive (though as we know in this club the novel itself is quite divisive in terms of personal reaction). And here and elsewhere we gain pleasure and a broader perspective on a novel by doing a collective reading, and so deliberately eroding the individual private experience (which I totally agree is there, and remains even when we discuss as a group). All very provocative, and thanks for raising these issues.

  • 1

    So what of a movie? Or a TV show. Both can be seen with or without others. Is a movie a different thing when watched by one or when watched by many? Is the novel different when read by several at once? When read aloud? What is inherent to the novel and what is inherent to the transmission?

  • 1

    As usual, I’m a day late and a dollar short to this discussion. I didn’t enjoy o what we’ve read so far, and I also had flashbacks to ACH, which I didn’t have time to finish but which I found some meaning. I hope I’ll find something here.

  • 1

    @RichardAbbott said:
    These are some really interesting points that I will have to think a bit more about. But my initial impression is that I couldn't be sure about some of them. For example, Melville in Moby Dick quite often introduces scientific (or at least quasi-scientific) portions within what is clearly a fiction, and a novel. I'm not sure that this is anti-scientific, or necessarily divisive (though as we know in this club the novel itself is quite divisive in terms of personal reaction). And here and elsewhere we gain pleasure and a broader perspective on a novel by doing a collective reading, and so deliberately eroding the individual private experience (which I totally agree is there, and remains even when we discuss as a group). All very provocative, and thanks for raising these issues.

    I'm not sure myself. But I do think we are currently living through a series of industrial accidents caused by the heavy manufacture of dreams (pace Umberto Eco), and I also think that our dreams are likely to kill us, and many other beings, by obstructing the actual social we need.

    As for your point, I'm talking about the adoption of a scientific form as a novel, not the inclusion of science within a novel. The disguising of narrative as occurring in a science, which perhaps harms the recognition of science.

    I'm willing to trust that we will receive a intimate prose narrative, but I think the choice of the form does matter. Perhaps Sherlock Holmes would provide a comparison - there is a thread connecting short stories, producing an intimate narrative, but they are still framed as narrative - e.g. serial, occurring in time. Clearly we are already treating this as a detective, which is a peculiar person for us to be.

  • 1

    @clash_bowley said:
    So what of a movie? Or a TV show. Both can be seen with or without others. Is a movie a different thing when watched by one or when watched by many? Is the novel different when read by several at once? When read aloud? What is inherent to the novel and what is inherent to the transmission?

    Briefly, yes. There is the message, the transmission, but also the reception, which are all part of the event. None of them are not parts, and their meaning comes from their relation, not from themselves. What is noise depends on the stance of the receiver.

    This is how a modern secular society is set up - when there is a traffic accident, some people see it as a medical emergency (paramedics), a threat to property (firemen), some as a obstruction for the movement of others (traffic police), some as a case to determine responsibility (ambulance chasers), etc. They actually see different things in or on the event, and act accordingly. That is part of how we can live in such complexity.

    As time continues the event echoes ever more complexly. There is time, and there is unendingness. This is where a narrative has difficulty.

    It's no good if the paramedics start directing traffic because they notice cars honking - that is noise. It's also no good if the traffic warden abandons the traffic (honking is not noise but useful feedback) because someone who witnessed the event is emotionally distraught (noise), and he catches the contagion. It's no good if people have no friends when they are emotionally upset (unlike the cop not noise, but an important message). This individuation, of not responding to the whole event, is the price we pay to live as we do.

    I think intimate narratives are part of how we, knowingly or not, maintain and are maintained as individuals. Good for us and others? I'm not sure. But some particular cases don;t seem to have much benefit or well-being growing out of them.

  • 1

    Thank you for clarifying, Barner!

  • 0
    > @BarnerCobblewood said:.
    > ...
    > As for your point, I'm talking about the adoption of a scientific form as a novel, not the inclusion of science within a novel. The disguising of narrative as occurring in a science, which perhaps harms the recognition of science.
    >

    Your comment reminded me of an Asimov short story I had quite forgotten, published as usual in _Astounding_ but dressed up in the form of a scientific paper. Wiki has just informed me it was "The Endochronic Properties of Resublimated Thiotimoline" and that he subsequently wrote some other follow-up stories (which I have not read). This is exactly the kind of disguise you are referring to, though perhaps the context of publication in a journal known for speculative fiction might have tipped the reader off that it was not real science!

    Which brings out the corollary... if an author makes it clear from context that this is indeed fiction not fact, is any harm done? In Christopher Priest's case, he is making clear that the archipelago is not a real one in our world... so (in your view) does that do enough to offset the mismatch of form?
  • 1

    I'd like to think it should, but does it? Not so clear. I think we can all find daily evidence of fiction (dreams) derailing seemingly stable individuals and societies in shockingly short order.

    Asimov supposedly said in The Early Asimov, Volume 2:
    But what amused me most was that a surprising number of readers actually took the article seriously. I was told that in the weeks after its appearance the librarians at the New York Public Library were driven out of their minds by hordes of eager youngsters who demanded to see copies of the fake journals I had used as pseudo references.

    Not real evidence I know (marketing faff from people in a business similar to the publishing of our book), but the cues that enable us to identify genre are not objective, universal, or enduring - they depend on education. And there are more people than we know or imagine.

    The people Asimov is talking about didn't get the joke, but neither did Asimov. The joke's on scientists finally. Scientists need to be trustworthy speakers, and genre is part of how that trust is maintained. The genre is meant to enable a kind of critique (scientific critique), a kind of critique that cannot be launched against Priest's book. But by realising that, you learn how to nullify scientific critique by deflection rather than engagement. Undermine the genre, you undermine the institution. Dunce means stupid right?

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