The Islanders Week 3a: Rain Shadow + Silent Rain

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Week 3 was supposed to feature 4 entries, but after reading them, I realized that the first two entries make a logical topic, and the second two entries belong with the first entry of the following week. Rather than revise the schedule, I'm going to introduce a separate intermediary topic for the DERILL islands to follow this one, which you can jump into when you have read the 3 DERRIL entries.

CHEONER (RAIN SHADOW)

  • This island's entry contains no description of the island itself, but instead introduces us to a mystery involving the death of a mime.
  • The entry opens with a confession by Kerrith Sington which appears to be derived from a police interrogation.
  • We learn that a 'performer' named Akal Drester Comissah (who performs under the name 'Commis') died on stage at the Teater Sjokaptein on Goorn (CHILL WIND) when a large piece of glass fell on him. Kerrith Sington claims responsibility.

  • A brief report posted in the Cheoner Chronicle at the time of Sington's execution gives more context. Sington was found guilty and executed. Commis was a mime.

  • The final excerpt is from a judicial enquiry report into the case, written by Seignior Putan Themper.

  • It reveals how the case has subsequently been re-examined more than once, and how there are irregularities to the confession and handling of the case.
  • We are introduced to a 'social visionary' by the name of Caurer (no first name given) who previously raised concerns about the case.
  • We learn about Sington's early life, and that he was involved in a shipping collision shortly before the death of the mime. The same police officer ('Sarjeant A') investigated both events, though they took place on different islands.
  • A street brawl involving a mysterious '3rd bystander' and four labourers took place before the death of the mime.
  • The four labourers later entered the theatre and may have had a motive to harm the mime.
  • There is no evidence that Sington was one of the labourers - in fact, the evidence suggests he was being questioned on Muriseay at the time of the mime's death.
  • The report concludes that Sington's trial was a miscarriage of justice, but the facts of the crime (if it was a crime) remain unsolved.

COLLAGO (SILENT RAIN)

  • Collago is briefly described as a quiet and pleasant island.
  • It is a centre for 'Athanasia' treatments - that is, gene therapy treatments that prolong life indefinitely.
  • Some advantages, drawbacks, and social implications are discussed.
  • The process wipes the memory of the person undergoing it. Extensive rehabilitation is available to help recover it.
  • The Lotterie Collago gifts the treatment to random people.
  • We learn that Caurer (here called a 'social theorist') wrote a critique of the lotterie called 'Lottery of Fools'. As a result, a committee was put together to choose worthy people for the treatment.
  • One of these worthies, philosopher Visker Deloinne, refused his gift and wrote about it in a book called 'Renunciation'. This caused Caurer to change her position on the matter.

QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS

  • In a previous discussion, @NeilNjae wondered if a book called 'The Islanders' should be more about Islanders than Islands. How to these entries influence this discussion?
  • The Cheoner entry reveals quite a bit about the mysterious incident of the mime, but raises at least as many questions than it answers. Does this work for you?
  • Unlike the entries to date, this one does not have anything directly to say about Cheoner. How do you feel about the difference in approach?
  • The Collago entry also doesn't have much to say about Collago, but introduces us to an aspect of the setting: immortality treatments. What does this entry tell us about The Archipelago? about The Islanders?
  • Social theorist Caurer and philosopher Deloinne seem to settle on Deloinne's point of view that robbing someone of their death will also rob them of their life. Do you agree?

Comments

  • 1

    @Apocryphal said:

    • In a previous discussion, @NeilNjae wondered if a book called 'The Islanders' should be more about Islanders than Islands. How to these entries influence this discussion?

    I'm seeing no real movement so far.

    • The Cheoner entry reveals quite a bit about the mysterious incident of the mime, but raises at least as many questions than it answers. Does this work for you?

    We're getting to a narrative at least. We'll see if it goes anywhere.

    • Unlike the entries to date, this one does not have anything directly to say about Cheoner. How do you feel about the difference in approach?

    I'm starting to suspect that we might have filler sprinkled throughout, because there isn't enough material for a 'real' novel. Like a lot of double albums, that are really only three sided.

    • The Collago entry also doesn't have much to say about Collago, but introduces us to an aspect of the setting: immortality treatments. What does this entry tell us about The Archipelago? about The Islanders?

    That it is barely attached to any reality that might be actual.

    I'm starting to wonder if a 'slow read' is a useful way to read this book. As I think @RichardAbbott said that it was hard to stop reading, so perhaps the chunks we are reading are too small, and we can't get a sense of larger structures that would appear if we read the book over say a two week vacation in the Islands.

    What do people think the reason for 'slow reading' is anyway?

  • 1

    Collago and the lottery for atahansia are featured in The Affirmation, and some of the other islands we’ve encountered here are named. I don’t know how prominently featured the lottery will be. I’m about a quarter of the book, and this world makes its appearance in the last chapter I’ve read.

    If a life is a narrative, it needs an end. Many continental philosophers, influenced by literary theory, contend that life can have meaning only if and when it ends. Yet I have a subjective sense that my life has meaning in the here and now, not merely when I contemplate its end. Can this part of my life have meaning without the overarching meaning of the whole? I think so. Perhaps this part will be brought into greater highlight after I die and given a greater richness (or perhaps even highlight the paucity of meaning of this particular part), but that would necessarily be done by someone else not experiencing my subjective meaning in this moment.

    (I need to note that life as a narrative is a major theme of what I’ve so far read of The Affirmation. I don’t want to keep on making reference to it, but I am having a different experience reading the two in conjunction with one another than I would be having without reading the earlier work. In the same universe. By the same author. Have I mentioned I don’t like reading books out of order? Yes, I might have mentioned it.)

  • 1

    @Apocryphal said:

    QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS

    • In a previous discussion, @NeilNjae wondered if a book called 'The Islanders' should be more about Islanders than Islands. How to these entries influence this discussion?

    I've not seen any of it yet. OK, the individual vingettes are interesting, but I'm at the stage where I'd like to have some connection between them. If this is pitched as a "novel", it could do with some kind of overaching narrative. There's no sign of it yet, but I assume the death of Commis, and the conspiracy around it, will come back later.

    • Unlike the entries to date, this one does not have anything directly to say about Cheoner. How do you feel about the difference in approach?

    The variety of good. But we've already left behind the conceit that this is a gazetteer of islands.

    • The Collago entry also doesn't have much to say about Collago, but introduces us to an aspect of the setting: immortality treatments. What does this entry tell us about The Archipelago? about The Islanders?

    It reminded me of Haldeman's novel Buying Time, where immortality treatment is reserved for the super-rich. In that book, the treatment costs the entirety of a person's worth (at least $10 million, or something) and lasts 10 years. There's a lot of asset movement between people as a result.

    • Social theorist Caurer and philosopher Deloinne seem to settle on Deloinne's point of view that robbing someone of their death will also rob them of their life. Do you agree?

    Utter balderdash. Lots of people do lots of good, which can be appreciated while they're alive. Me living for another few hundred years wouldn't make meaningless my life so far.

    But it does raise a question about crime and punishment. Prison is about robbing someone of a portion of their life. Life imprisonment can also be for people who can never be rehabilitated. What's the cost of a 10-year prison term for someone who will live for centuries? And how long should you try to rehabilitate someone if there's a chance they could end up living a good life for centuries after?

  • 0

    @NeilNjae said:
    It [athanasia] reminded me of Haldeman's novel Buying Time, where immortality treatment is reserved for the super-rich. In that book, the treatment costs the entirety of a person's worth (at least $10 million, or something) and lasts 10 years. There's a lot of asset movement between people as a result.

    I know that one under its alternative title The Long Habit of Living and reckon it's a good one of Haldeman's, altogether more developed and rounded than the few brief pages we get here. This seemed curiously out of place in the contents so far - it seems unlikely to me that such a treatment would receive as little focus form the world at large as seems to be the case. Immortality was, well, just casually dropped onto the page in a way I found very odd.

  • 0

    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    I'm starting to wonder if a 'slow read' is a useful way to read this book. As I think @RichardAbbott said that it was hard to stop reading, so perhaps the chunks we are reading are too small, and we can't get a sense of larger structures that would appear if we read the book over say a two week vacation in the Islands.

    What do people think the reason for 'slow reading' is anyway?

    I have enjoyed the process of "the slow read" as we have practiced it, even when I didn't like the books i question (orogenes, anyone?). To me, this style of reading - deliberately containing one's frustration at stopping progress through the book after quite a short interval and then focusing on that - brings out aspects of the book that I would certainly have missed if I had gone through it at my usual pace. Generally speaking, provided it's a book I like, I reckon on more than one read to get the content and structure into me. That said, I do think that some books are not well suited to a slow read... but I don't yet have a view on whether The Islanders is one of these or not.

  • 0

    And going back to @Apocryphal 's start points, I enjoyed the human drama set on Cheoner, partly because it was in fact drama rather than description. Collago and the athanasia treatment seemed bizarre and abrasive in this world insofar as I understand it to date.

    I have to admit that I am already (as we discussed briefly last week) losing track of whether some worthy person who gets named is someone we have already met in a different context, or a newcomer on the stage. So I shall be relying heavily on other readers to say "aha we met so-and-so on island such-and-such".

    Life and death issues? In all honesty, the viewpoints are presented so quickly and superficially that it's hard to take sides, or even work out if the narrator has taken a side.

  • 1

    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    I'm starting to suspect that we might have filler sprinkled throughout, because there isn't enough material for a 'real' novel. Like a lot of double albums, that are really only three sided.

    Possibly - I've always been of several minds about this aspect of the book. Is it a novel, or is it a collection of short stories with some filler, or is it something else? We should reserve judgement to the end. The publisher and, I suppose, the author pitch it as a novel. However, when I pitched the trio of books for this read, I described 'one novel (The Gradual), one collection of short stories (The Dream Archipelago) and one gazetteer of islands. For me, this book defies that kind of description.

    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    I'm starting to wonder if a 'slow read' is a useful way to read this book. As I think @RichardAbbott said that it was hard to stop reading, so perhaps the chunks we are reading are too small, and we can't get a sense of larger structures that would appear if we read the book over say a two week vacation in the Islands.

    What do people think the reason for 'slow reading' is anyway?

    Possibly. That's something else we can better evaluate at the end. As @RichardAbbott said, in all the cases where we've done this so far, it has been a benefit to pause at regular intervals and share cross-chat. It opens people to new interpretations, allows people to see things they otherwise wouldn't have.

    When we discussed Sarah Canary (one you didn't participate in that one, though at the time I remember wishing you had because the author was a protege of UKLG and shared some of her sensibilities) I realized that a lot of people were not seeing what I was seeing in the novel. They zoomed on to the end and passed over things, only discovering them when we talked about it at the end. I think that novel, though not very long, would have been better as a slow read.

    Similarly, I think that Christopher Priest has complex enough ideas (in this book included) and the world-building is rich enough to warrant a Slow Read. But the proof of the pudding will be in the tasting, so we won't really know until the end. And we may not all agree. There isn't really anything to stop you from plowing ahead in your reading, if you like.

    Note that @RichardAbbott also said he had a hard time slowing down when we did The Lord of the Rings as a slow read - and that was a book that all the participants agreed was well worth reading that way.

    @WildCard said:
    If a life is a narrative, it needs an end. Many continental philosophers, influenced by literary theory, contend that life can have meaning only if and when it ends. Yet I have a subjective sense that my life has meaning in the here and now, not merely when I contemplate its end. Can this part of my life have meaning without the overarching meaning of the whole? I think so. Perhaps this part will be brought into greater highlight after I die and given a greater richness (or perhaps even highlight the paucity of meaning of this particular part), but that would necessarily be done by someone else not experiencing my subjective meaning in this moment.

    (I need to note that life as a narrative is a major theme of what I’ve so far read of The Affirmation.)

    I thought I read somewhere that Buddhists believe that dying was part of being human, and that nobody could really claim to be human until they had died. Is this, perhaps, what the philosopher is getting at? Not so much that immortality would rob the character of his life, but that it would rob him of his humanity?

    Though brief, I think the introduction of this has very interesting implications for settings. As 'gamer' reader, these are the kinds of things I'm most interested in. (And my hope is always that these are the kinds of things we'll discuss in favour of the quality of the writing, but I know that's a vain one - even I can't stick to it!). So what's thrown at us? Some people will live forever unless killed. This makes others jealous - jealous enough to kill an immortal in a fit of anger. So, this drives immortals into hiding. And into redefining their identity from time to time. There are other in-setting implications - legal ones (as someone raised). And questions about what happens when one lives for a long time. Is there such a thing as 'too long?'.

    So, considering this, and thinking back to the previous episode... we have a mime operating under a stage name. Who was killed, perhaps by some ruffians. After the ruffians had been beaten up in the street. By someone the reporting officer tried to 'describe clearly' but absolutely did not. Why would the thugs respond to the fight by going into the theater to kill a mime? Was it revenge? Was it jealousy? This has me wondering if these two entries are related. And if so, how? Was the Mime an immortal? I can't remember the particulars of this episode, so I'm just spit-balling. But these are the kinds of things I look for from books - they give me ideas for setting elements, situations in which to put PCs, and for good NPCs to use.

    BTW, I've also decided to read The Affirmation. I had purchased it already, so this was a good inducement to start. I'm still not convinced one needs to read one book before the other, but by all means if you come across any other insights please feel free to share.

    @RichardAbbott I'll continue to remind people when we've seen characters before. One drawback of the slow read is that it's easier to lose track of this kind of thing. Writing the summaries and questions each week forces me to keep on top of what's going on, and actually makes we want to read the text more closely, so it's a nice experience.

  • 0

    @Apocryphal said:
    ... Though brief, I think the introduction of this has very interesting implications for settings. As 'gamer' reader, these are the kinds of things I'm most interested in. (And my hope is always that these are the kinds of things we'll discuss in favour of the quality of the writing, but I know that's a vain one - even I can't stick to it!). So what's thrown at us? Some people will live forever unless killed. This makes others jealous - jealous enough to kill an immortal in a fit of anger. So, this drives immortals into hiding. And into redefining their identity from time to time. There are other in-setting implications - legal ones (as someone raised). And questions about what happens when one lives for a long time. Is there such a thing as 'too long?'.

    Agreed there are some good potential game settings here... but coming at it as a reader then (at least so far - we may return to it later) the ideas are kind of thrown away and not sufficiently developed. Haldeman did it much more thoroughly in The Long Habit of Living (AKA Buying Time as we discussed before), as did Poul Anderson in Boat of a Million Years - a book which as I recall you recommended to me. So what extra do we gain from Christopher Priest's very brief treatment? If there is anything than a quick "let's mess with their heads" approach, then it must surely be something to do with the context in which we meet this? As yet I have no idea, but I'm happy to wait and see.

    So, considering this, and thinking back to the previous episode... we have a mime operating under a stage name. Who was killed, perhaps by some ruffians. After the ruffians had been beaten up in the street. By someone the reporting officer tried to 'describe clearly' but absolutely did not. Why would the thugs respond to the fight by going into the theater to kill a mime? Was it revenge? Was it jealousy? This has me wondering if these two entries are related. And if so, how? Was the Mime an immortal? I can't remember the particulars of this episode, so I'm just spit-balling. But these are the kinds of things I look for from books - they give me ideas for setting elements, situations in which to put PCs, and for good NPCs to use.

    What an interesting thought which had not occurred to me.

    @RichardAbbott I'll continue to remind people when we've seen characters before. One drawback of the slow read is that it's easier to lose track of this kind of thing. Writing the summaries and questions each week forces me to keep on top of what's going on, and actually makes we want to read the text more closely, so it's a nice experience.

    Thanks :)

  • 1

    @Apocryphal said:.

    BTW, I've also decided to read The Affirmation. I had purchased it already, so this was a good inducement to start. I'm still not convinced one needs to read one book before the other, but by all means if you come across any other insights please feel free to share.

    The Affirmation does have more to say about Deloinne than we’ve encountered so far in our reading here.

  • 1

    @Apocryphal said:

    @RichardAbbott I'll continue to remind people when we've seen characters before. One drawback of the slow read is that it's easier to lose track of this kind of thing. Writing the summaries and questions each week forces me to keep on top of what's going on, and actually makes we want to read the text more closely, so it's a nice experience.

    Thanks for doing them. I'm finding them useful. I think I'd miss many of the cross-references otherwise.

    As for the club format, I'm happy to be doing this as a slow read. It's prompting good discussion, which is the point of the exercise.

  • 0
    > @Apocryphal said:
    >... This has me wondering if these two entries are related. And if so, how? Was the Mime an immortal?
    >

    Or alternatively - this being a thought that occurred to me while painting today - perhaps the arrested and executed suspect was an immortal? We were specifically told that the lottery might pick criminals and such like. Perhaps it makes a more challenging dichotomy to set against each other
    1) a death sentence on an immortal, with all the consequential loss of potential over many years, but one who was in fact a drifter with few redeeming features in a social sense, vs
    2) the premature death of an acknowledged talented mime artist, in the prime of his career, but certain to die in at most (say) 80 years?
  • 1

    I keep getting pulled out of the introduced frame of a travel gazetteer by the willful ignoring of any pretense of consistency. The fact that one is a story with the barest trace of island description while the next is an island description with the lightest hint of story makes it difficult to maintain the premise. It's awkward.

    Aside from that, I thought, like Richard, the immortality thing was absurdly cursory, and wondered why it was in fact introduced. The killing of the mime story was bizarre - I could pin nothing of substance down. It was like fighting Proteus. The author chooses to tell you specific things and not others because they do not actually relate and it is impossible to form a coherent picture. Facts as sub-atomic particles. This is, I have a feeling, going to be a continuing problem...

  • 0
    > @clash_bowley said:
    ... Facts as sub-atomic particles. ...

    All you need is a grand unified theory...
  • 1
    edited February 20

    @RichardAbbott said:

    ... Facts as sub-atomic particles. ...

    All you need is a grand unified theory...

    It's a GUT feeling...

  • 1

    RE: PURPOSE OF THE LONG READ

    I sort of "invented" the slow read. My point was to echo the slow food movement. Eating slowly and rally paying attention to the food - the look, the smell, the texture, the first taste and the lingering notes. Same idea for fiction. When you read in a big glob, the little thoughts and incidental stuff gets lost in the overall sprint for big ideas. It worked well on Lord of the Rings. But I do think it requires a certain kind of text. I'm sure Gene Wolfe was a good choice even though I fell off the wagon early.

  • 1

    CHEONER
    What was the point? Stories like this happen all the time in real life. Why put out one that is fictional in an abstract setting where there are no characters to really care about? Did anyone feel a surge of injustice? I didn't. I suspected from the beginning it was a coerced/odd confession. Again, I am kind of wondering what the point is. I notice that Chill Wind is involved here and I'm wondering if these stories will start to connect some. There are some recurring themes already - like artists who play with natural forces. Women artists. Who do it on an island and then leave behind their works.

  • 1
    edited February 28

    COLLAGO

    Sounds like collagen. Athanasia sounds like anesthesia. VISKER DELOINNE has to be an anagram. Risker (v) Leonine (d)? LOL. Seriously, these names are both great and annoying. I feel like I'm missing inside jokes.

    Anyway, this one finally tackled a sort of philosophical question, though in a kind of half-hearted way.

  • 2

    @Ray_Otus said:
    COLLAGO

    Sounds like collagen. Athanasia sounds like anesthesia. VISKER DELOINNE has to be an anagram. Risker (v) Leonine (d)? LOL. Seriously, these names are both great and annoying. I feel like I'm missing inside jokes.

    Collago sounds like Key Largo to me.
    Athanasia sounds like euthanasia to me. Of course, one means “no death” and the other, “good death.”Athanasius was a bishop around the time Christianity started becoming the religion of the Roman Empire, his name a reference to the resurrection, but I can’t see any connection to our book.

  • 1
    People undergo a treatment and lose all memory of who they were, but are now immortal, and must go into hiding or reinvent themselves to adapt. Maybe resurrection isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
  • 1

    I couldn’t remember whether losing memory was mentioned in this book or only in The Affirmaton, so I didn’t bring that up. Self-identity is such a huge theme in The Affirmation, and maybe here, too. We’ve got mirror locations, body doubles, purported mystical Manifestations of a professed secular rationalist, pre- and post-procedure immortals.

  • 1
    Yeah. They’re memory is wiped in the process and they have to relearn their own backstory.
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