The Islanders Week 2: Calm Place + Jaem Aubrac

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Annadac - Calm Place

  • Annadac is located in a southern region, close to the southern continent and in a region of tidal swells.
  • We are introduced to the person of Jordenn Yo, a landscape artist who has carved a tunnel through the island, taking advantage of the tidal swells to make a kind of water torrent.
  • 'Torrenting' is now an extreme sport on the island of Annadac.

Aubrac Grande

  • The Aubrac island chain has no known Patois name and is named after Jaem Aubrac, a modern(?) explorer.
  • The chain was uninhabited when discovered, and seemingly never inhabited.
  • Aubrac decided to make a study of the island after discovering a wide range of unique, endemic, insect life. Foremost among these is the Thryme.
  • During the extended scientific expedition, a number of people (including Aubrac and Thryme) died after being exposed to Thrymes.
  • Despite being declared 'uninhabitable' by Aubrac, the chain is now settles and developing, with a tourism industry. The Aubrac chain has become this world's Silicon Valley
  • The local government seems to downplay the dangers in their advertising material, but the guide (and local laws) describe several precautions that must be taken before visiting which suggest the danger is very real.

Discussion

This week we're introduced to two new (and quite different) islands. Both have unique and noteworthy characteristics. Would you visit either? Could you see yourself as an 'island collector'?

In terms of worldbuilding, we now have dangerous creatures and dangerous activities. We continue to learn than this worlds is, technologically, very similar to ours. Have you made note of any particular similarities or differences?

The gazetteer isn't scientifically organized. We get some information is some entries, other information in others. It seems to be focusing on what's interesting about each place, rather than the logistics of travel or organizational facts (population, area, time zone, local telephone exchanges), though with the addition of currency there is a nod to this kind of thing. How does this influence your position on whether this is a novel?

Comments

  • 1

    @Apocryphal said:
    This week we're introduced to two new (and quite different) islands. Both have unique and noteworthy characteristics. Would you visit either? Could you see yourself as an 'island collector'?

    I'm struck by how privileged and uncurious the reader is assumed to be. As a travelogue I feel like I'm reading a Lonely Planet book - this is what's important about a place, for outsiders. I don't find my memories of travel are really about the things talked about in such books. But I think the book will feel familiar to that class of people who happen to have disposable income for such excellent things as waterslides.

    When I was younger I mixed up collecting, being a completist, with souvenirs, objects that interact with memory. But I never really was successful at collecting, as I didn't have the disposable income. I love my souvenirs though.

    In terms of worldbuilding, we now have dangerous creatures and dangerous activities. We continue to learn than this worlds is, technologically, very similar to ours. Have you made note of any particular similarities or differences?

    So far I find the world-building second rate, but perhaps that's because I'm impatient. It just doesn't make sense, I think principally because I do not have any sense of either the first person or the dreamer. Then again, the Islanders seem to think that only humans inhabit a place, so perhaps we just don't share a common frame. We do discover that Islanders are by self-definition not indigenous people, so I am curious if we will find out where they are from

    Of course we are joining a world already in progress, so perhaps if I had started at the beginning it would make more sense. Did we leave the first couple of books aside on purpose? I think there must be something interesting to say here about sequencing, but I don't yet know what it is. But see next comment:

    The gazetteer isn't scientifically organized. We get some information is some entries, other information in others. It seems to be focusing on what's interesting about each place, rather than the logistics of travel or organizational facts (population, area, time zone, local telephone exchanges), though with the addition of currency there is a nod to this kind of thing. How does this influence your position on whether this is a novel?

    I'm not sure we can yet say that it's not scientific. So far it's organised alphabetically, progression by name. I think dictionaries are scientific. Naming and listing are the basis for enlightenment science since Linnaeus. If we develop or discover a nested hierarchy among the entries as we go forward, the book would be scientific. Or an episodic TV show - you know with the mythic arc spread over several planet or monster of the week episodes, which have their own structure

    Certainly not a narrative though individual entries contain narratives. Instead I feel I am reading a kind of throwback to early colonialism. Those were good times for scientists.

    I must say I like the Thrymes. So we now have a monster - maybe we'll find this is a dungeon crawl!

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    There's an interesting focus (not so much on the Aubrac chain of islands, to be fair) on artistry. I guess this underpins some of what @BarnerCobblewood is saying about wondering who is the selector of material. We don't (again, until Aubrac) get much sense of what the "average person" who might have grown up on an island does with his or her time - only the artists or in some case the explorers who have free time and resources to swan about here and there. So as yet it is not really about island life itself, but more about how a small group of unusually positioned people experience the islands. And, by implication I suppose, the kinds of things that the narrator is assuming that the reader might want to do during a visit. Perhaps the implication is that people only ever really visit islands, they don't swell on them generationally?

    TBH I found both of this week's islands rather, well, artificial. Digging a tunnel through an entire island? How much time, effort, and resource would that take? And why? Except to create a kind of Disney Island? And the islands with the implacably deadly insects turn out to be highly popular for both high end tourism and high end tech firms? It felt a bit like a cross between "here be dragons" on an antique map, and the In place to go if you were an aspiring tech giant. Now, I've clearly missed my chance in life to be a tech giant, but I don't think I'd have chosen such an out of the way place with all manner of natural obstacles to prevent me getting my cool gizmos to market.

    I also started wondering about the biology of the people. It's all too easy to just imagine homo sapiens wandering about in some alien terrain, and the scattered allusions to anatomy while describing the effect of the thryme seem to support that. But I don't think that Christopher Priest has actually pinned his colours to the mast about this, and I am half expecting to read in some chapter that the folk we've been reading about so far actually have three eyes or eight limbs or something. Which would be no bad thing... and the continual uncertainty about who we are in fact reading about is also no bad thing. Or maybe I'm over-analysing and looking for complexity which in fact is no part of his plan?

    More questions than answers this week...

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    @RichardAbbott said:
    I also started wondering about the biology of the people. It's all too easy to just imagine homo sapiens wandering about in some alien terrain, and the scattered allusions to anatomy while describing the effect of the thryme seem to support that. But I don't think that Christopher Priest has actually pinned his colours to the mast about this, and I am half expecting to read in some chapter that the folk we've been reading about so far actually have three eyes or eight limbs or something. Which would be no bad thing... and the continual uncertainty about who we are in fact reading about is also no bad thing. Or maybe I'm over-analysing and looking for complexity which in fact is no part of his plan?

    I was wondering about this too, but the references to silicon economy and art installations made it seem to me to be pretty much about humans. They might be wearing suits, but ...

    Did anyone else notice there are a lot of lists? Or is that just me?

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    I haven't noticed a lot of what you've noticed, so it's interesting to me how we all pick out different things. It never occurred to me they might be other than humans, or that the people on this world are anything other than natives, or that we might have somehow missed key information from previous books, or that the tunnelling landscape art is for for any purpose other than art.

    I wonder if Priest has a general predilection for artists in general. We meet quite a few in his books - stage magicians, musicians, authors, painters... even (gasp) a mime.

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    I didn’t realize this was not the first book. I don’t enjoy trading books In a series out of order. Just reading Amazon’s summary of the first book gives me new information about this one. Or does it?

    The Glass Window Bridge on Eleuthera, an island in the Bahamian archipelago, overlooks a spot where the Atlantic has eroded through the thinnest part if the island, so that it’s waves boom through the hole created as the waters of the Atlantic on the eastern side shoot into the calm Caribbean on the western side. Waves hitting that hole shoot water 100 feet or so into the air, even when the waters aren’t particularly violent. The juxtaposition of the dynamic, dark blue waters of the Atlantic; the glassy, turquoise waters of the Caribbean; and the meeting if the two through that small hole is quite a memorable sight. That experience came to mind while reading about the Torrent. (I was not collecting islands; I was helping build an addition on the back of a woman’s house who had taken in a friend and her children after the death of her friend’s husband.)

    Regarding the collection of islands, my wife and I set out a few years ago to visit all the state parks in our state. We visited about a third of them before abandoning the project.

    I enjoyed these entries better than the Intro and first entry. I’m not sure why. It may be more about my frame of mind while reading rather than a real difference in the writing.

    Apropos of nothing, I got a dark feeling when I read, “The Serque colonies were eradicated,” rather than, “The Serque colonies were eradicated of thrymes.”

  • 2

    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    I'm struck by how privileged and uncurious the reader is assumed to be. As a travelogue I feel like I'm reading a Lonely Planet book - this is what's important about a place, for outsiders. I don't find my memories of travel are really about the things talked about in such books. But I think the book will feel familiar to that class of people who happen to have disposable income for such excellent things as waterslides.

    Very true. It's either a guidebook for middle-class tourists, or a coffee-table book for the curious.

    @Apocryphal said:
    The gazetteer isn't scientifically organized. We get some information is some entries, other information in others. It seems to be focusing on what's interesting about each place, rather than the logistics of travel or organizational facts (population, area, time zone, local telephone exchanges), though with the addition of currency there is a nod to this kind of thing. How does this influence your position on whether this is a novel?

    I'm not sure "scientifically organised" is the right term, but I agree that the information presented is inconsistent. It's a set of interesting anecdotes rather than something intended to be a reference or source of data.

    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    We do discover that Islanders are by self-definition not indigenous people, so I am curious if we will find out where they are from

    Do we? It seems they're as indigenous as any island-dwelling people. After all, the Māori only arrived in New Zealand about 700 years ago.

    As for the thrymes, the book was published in 2011. What is Priest saying about Silicon Valley by having its analogue set in a hostile land where everything is trying to kill the techies?

    One other thing I noticed. The book is presented as a collection of snippets about islands, places. But the title of the book is The Islanders, referring to the people who live there. Are we focusing on the wrong part?

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    @WildCard said:
    Apropos of nothing, I got a dark feeling when I read, “The Serque colonies were eradicated,” rather than, “The Serque colonies were eradicated of thrymes.”

    I don't know if Christopher Priest had this in mind, but several islands around the British coastline (and quite likely other places I don't know about) have been working on a programme to rid them of rats originally brought in on ships. The rats are not any particular deadly threat to people (not any more so than anywhere else on the planet, I mean) but they are deadly to various species of surface- or just-underground-nesting birds, like puffins and such. Populations of thees birds have bounced back impressively after near-collapse following the rat eradication programmes.

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    @NeilNjae said:
    One other thing I noticed. The book is presented as a collection of snippets about islands, places. But the title of the book is The Islanders, referring to the people who live there. Are we focusing on the wrong part?

    That's a really interesting thought!

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    edited February 10

    @WildCard said:
    I didn’t realize this was not the first book. I don’t enjoy trading books In a series out of order. Just reading Amazon’s summary of the first book gives me new information about this one. Or does it?

    I don't think it's anything to worry about, from a story perspective. The books are not sequential, and not written with any order in mind as near as I can tell.

    I have not read_ The Affirmation_ (1981), but I understand it takes place mostly on the northern continent, and deals with the islands only cursorily. It was written 30 years before The Islanders, the next novel set in the islands. It's not a prequel to The Islanders. But I don't think it's a spoiler to say that the The Dream Archipelago may be an imaginary creation of the author of that book - or possibly it's real, and our world is the imaginary creation of a character from The Dream Archipelago.

    In between these two was published The Dream Archipelago, a collection of short stories. First published in 1999, then republished with additional stories in 2009. This contains stories first published between 1978 and 2008 - and the order in which they appear in the book is not chronological.

    The slow read is organized in the same way that I first encountered these books. I debated whether to read The Dream Archipelago first, but I think The Islanders is a better introduction so I kept this order. We aren't reading The Affirmation at all (though we can, if people want to continue). Instead, we're reading The Gradual (2016) which, after some research, I felt would be thematically a better choice than The Affirmation, both in terms of content and in structure.

    I don't recall the possible relationship between the Dream Archipelago and our world ever coming up in the two books I read, but perhaps it's something to keep an eye out for.

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    edited February 10

    @NeilNjae said:
    Do we? It seems they're as indigenous as any island-dwelling people. After all, the Māori only arrived in New Zealand about 700 years ago.

    Indigenaeity (being native) is a difficult category. I meant that the scientists think that the indigenous people are shy, so not really Islanders, who presumably do not consider themselves native anywhere.

    One other thing I noticed. The book is presented as a collection of snippets about islands, places. But the title of the book is The Islanders, referring to the people who live there. Are we focusing on the wrong part?

    +1

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    Reminder of the sections for next week:
    5. Rain Shadow
    6. Silent Rain
    7. Sharp Rocks
    8. Large Home / Serene Depths
    total of 26 pages

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    I’ve purchased and have started on The Affirmation. Too anal to do otherwise.

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    I like the thrymes. They seem like a hard working lot.

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    @clash_bowley said:
    I like the thrymes. They seem like a hard working lot.

    "Thrymes"
    Good name for your next album.

  • 0
    > @Apocryphal said:
    > (Quote)
    > "Thrymes"
    > Good name for your next album.

    Almost an anagram of rhythms...
  • 1

    @Apocryphal said:

    @clash_bowley said:
    I like the thrymes. They seem like a hard working lot.

    "Thrymes"
    Good name for your next album.

    Well, my next album is already named - Nightcrawler - but the one after is up for grabs!

    @RichardAbbott said:

    @Apocryphal said:
    (Quote)
    "Thrymes"
    Good name for your next album.

    Almost an anagram of rhythms...

    How about "Rhythms and Thrymes"? :D

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    I enjoyed Aubrac Grande more than the intro and Windbag Island. Annadac was a mercifully fast read, and I thought it was dumb. I did like the fact that it was popular despite - or probably because of - being quite dangerous. If there were more attractions like this - and the Thrymes - we would have less population pressure here on Earth. But I really liked the Thrymes! I could sink my mandibles into it!

  • 1
    > @clash_bowley said:
    > (Quote)
    > How about "Rhythms and Thrymes"? :D

    Until I read this I hadn't realised that thyrmes rhymes with rhymes as well as being an (almost) anagram of rhythms! You can put my inattention down to a large glass of whisky and ginger after a splendid 15 mile walk in the Langdale Valley in sub zero conditions...
  • 1
    edited February 13

    @RichardAbbott said:

    @clash_bowley said:
    (Quote)
    How about "Rhythms and Thrymes"? :D

    Until I read this I hadn't realised that thyrmes rhymes with rhymes as well as being an (almost) anagram of rhythms! You can put my inattention down to a large glass of whisky and ginger after a splendid 15 mile walk in the Langdale Valley in sub zero conditions...

    You are excused, Richard! That is a perfectly reasonable reason!

  • 1
    Langdale valley... always beautiful I’m sure!

    Rhythm & Thrymes, kind of like Rhythm & Blues
    Or Rhymes & Thrymes, which really does rhyme.

    I’m partial to just ‘Thrymes’ though. Keep it simple. Keeps em guessing.
  • 1

    I struggled a bit with this week's, and in the spirit of the book I'll give my problems as a list - which address some of the points raised

    1. Whether it is or isn't scientifically organised, I keep worrying I'm going to forget what previous islands, people, or (for goodness sake) winds are called - and combined with the perpendicular nature of some of the descriptions, I keep feeling like I'm missing something. Reading these comments and realising I'm not doesn't entirely make me feel better about it!

    2. The lack of progression of conflict (I'm making up terms now) is starting to bug me already. We meet an exciting tunnel through an island - 2 pages later, it's a tourist destination and a reason to get holiday insurance. There's a deadly insect that kills anything it touches - 2 pages later they've exterminated it, or pretend they have, and everyone lives there happily ever after.

    Maybe we'll come back to these things and it'll start to all hang together, even chaotically - but (1) makes me doubt the effectiveness of this

    1. The language, written as it as a Lonely Planet travelogue, seems deliberately clumsy in a way that I can't block out. "... allowing themselves to be thrust excitingly and dangeously through the Torrent.." - just how passively can you describe something exciting? I feel like we have a narrator (or narrators) who is unreliable, incurious, and also a bit bored, and I'm hoping he gets a bit more enthusiastic about things soon.
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    > @BurnAfterRunning said:
    > 1) Whether it is or isn't scientifically organised, I keep worrying I'm going to forget what previous islands, people, or (for goodness sake) winds are called -

    Yes, totally. With what you might call a regular novel then you get to follow a comparatively small number of protagonists as they encounter each other and some background characters. Here it's not clear to me even that the islands are characters that I ought to be remembering, let alone the islanders. Like you, I feel that I may well have forgotten some important facts about the handful of places in focus so far, and the structure of the book isn't designed to point me to what is important.


    > 2) The lack of progression of conflict (I'm making up terms now) is starting to bug me already.

    Again yes. It's a bit like having a monster-of-the-week in a series, except that we don't have a crew that we get familiar with who are dealing with the monsters. Do I need to remember about thrymes for later? Or is it the response to thrymes that matters? Or are they just there for one "episode" and I don't have to remember them at all?
  • 1

    Catching up.

    • I feel like the names of islands and sometimes of people in this book are anagrams. I keep trying to work them out. Annadac looks a lot like Canada. LOL. And Jaem Aubrec? That has to be an anagram, doesn't it? :)

    • Tunnel under the island. Interesting idea. Scientifically ridiculous and way too costly to do as an artistic earthwork. Would necessitate environmental studies as well. And being flung through it by a tide would be suicidal, surely. Even more so than is pointed out. Having said all that, I do not mind the fact that the situations and world building is implausible. What I do mind is when they don't seem to have a point. Was I supposed to be provoked into seeing some truth about people, human nature, reality? What is going on here? It feels like nothing.

    • Ok. I liked the bugs one. Reminded me of similar stories in a more pulpy vein, like Harry Harrison's Death World (1) or the movie Attack of the Crab Monsters. I laughed out loud at the experiments where they timed how quickly various creatures died in the experimental thryme tanks (aka gladiatorial arenas). I thought for sure when they first tested the blood that came out with black specs in it that those were going to turn out to be little eggs. But the author never followed up on that comment; it was left to hang as a distracting loose end. Some of the people seemed to have been stung just by the thrymes looking at them funny.

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    @Ray_Otus said:
    Catching up.

    • I feel like the names of islands and sometimes of people in this book are anagrams. I keep trying to work them out. Annadac looks a lot like Canada. LOL. And Jaem Aubrec? That has to be an anagram, doesn't it? :)

    Wow, now that you mention it, I see Cuba in there.
    Cuba jam ree?
    Cuba ram jee?
    Cuba ream je?
    Cuba ear jem?
    Cuba jar mee?
    Cuba Raj Mee?
    Cuba Marjee?
    Cuba Meer Ja?
    Cuba Mere Ja
    Cuba Jeer Ma
    Cuba Arm Jee?

    I can’t pull it out, but I don’t want to resort to an online anagram solver.

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