The Dream Archipelago Week 1: The Equatorial Moment and The Negation part 1

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Summary

The Equatorial Moment

  • This short piece of fiction puts us briefly up into the vortex and describes what it's like to fly through one.
  • It reveals a bit about the history of their exploration, that they continue to defy explanation, and tell us how time is shortened as one falls through them, which makes them very useful for shortening long haul flights.
  • The centre of the vortex is neutral and a place of safety. This seems to be both a practical reality and a metaphor.

The Negation part 1

  • We are introduced to Dik, a young conscript in what seems to be a branch of the army performing border patrol of Faiand.
  • Dik is stationed somewhere northerly - perhaps on Faiand itself, which is described as being surrounded by a security wall.
  • The author Moylita Kaine is currently in the same town, having been commissioned to write a play about the place.
  • Dik has read Kaine's book, The Affirmation, several times, and was moved enough by it that he seeks to meet her. This takes some work, since his time is mostly filled with the duties of a soldier.
  • Eventually, he books a time to meet the author at her rental. She is initially stand-offish, thinking he represents the Burghers, but she opens to him once she discovers his true motives.
  • They have a pleasant enough discussion about The Affirmation in general, but also about the nature of novels, though Dik suspects much of it is above him.
  • Both agree to a second meeting again soon, but it doesn't happen right away, and he has time to reflect on what Kaine said and some literary criticism he read while at college.
  • Dik wonders: "In explaining her novel to him, had Moylita Kaine been trying to tell him something?"

Questions/Discussion

  • Priest wastes no time in establishing some themes, and they are familiar to us already.
  • The Equatorial Moment seems to exist only to create a mood and establish a theme. What did you get from this chapter? I was immediately put once again in mind of a Yin-Yang symbol, which the vortex seems to be at the centre of. The writing is of the lyrical type @RichardAbbott was hoping to see more of.
  • The Negation brings to life a character we encountered at some distance in The Islanders - Moylita Kaine. You may remember her as an author who exchanged letters with Chaster Kammeston - or seemed to. Priest may have been suggesting that Kammeston invented the entire exchange in a fit of Erotomania. In another entry, Kaine made a long and difficult journey to recover the body of a conscript who had died in a plane accident. Might that have been Dik?
  • Kaine is the author of a book called The Affirmation, which was also the name of Priest's first novel set in the Dream Archipelago setting. These books have the same name, but are otherwise quite different. Dik seems to be obsessed with the book as a reader. The title of this chapter is The Negation - the opposite of an Affirmation? What themes are being suggested so far in this story?

Comments

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    I liked the introduction to the vortex. It's an interesting idea that the world has no time zones: it's the same local time at every place in the world. The chapter serves the purpose of saying that this is not our world, and also the notion that the centre is safe.

    Dik comes across as a naive young man, who picks up all the detail in The Affirmation but doesn't understand any of the messages that underly it. Is this Priest telling us something about how we should relate to the stories in the book?

    It's an interesting choice that the first story in the book The Dream Archipelago is set nowhere near the archipelago. Is the snowy continent of Faiand going to be a contrast with the tropical-ish rest of the book?

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    Yes, so far I have enjoyed the writing style of this book much more than most of Islanders. Which makes me wonder why CP decided on the style he did for that book. It can't be just to reinforce the notion that Islanders is a travelogue, since that is eroded multiple times anyway. Not sure about that yet.

    And yes, it was interesting to get a "proper" explanation of the vortex, here coupled with the business of no time zones. I suppose that makes this world more like a flat earth than a globe, sort of like Discworld but without the zany humour. The whole thing spurred some thoughts about war and the islanders, which I shall ramble on about in the summary discussion for the last book, hopefully later today.

    Now, I had thought from Islanders that Moylita Kaine was herself an islander, and a quick check back to that book indicates that yes, she grew up on Ferredy Atoll / Hanging Head, now living on one island in the Ferredy group called Mill. I don't remember any sense in that book that she was not an islander. Yet here she is presented as a Faianlander through and through, and completely identified with the land "the wall goes right "the enemy have around Faianland, Dik. But how many of )our people, ordinary people, have ever seen it"... "that's what [the Federated States] say... that we built the wall"... "we live under a dictatorship". And so on, all those uses of we to establish identification. Reading this book so far, one would get no impression that she had ever been near the islands.

    Another interesting quirk is the location of the war. In Islanders, the premise is that the war takes place only on the southern continent, in order to avoid damage to the north and to preserve the neutrality of the islands. Yet here we see a warzone with regular border incidents in the north. Is this a change of intent on CP's part? A change of perspective on the characters'? A shift in the nature of war?

    So far so good, - I am more engaged with the narrative than I ever felt with Islanders, and it seems likely that there will be more of an overt story to follow!

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    Some additional notes from my reading:

    • Kaine explains: "There have always been walls, Dik. Two sides to everything." This recalls the dualities we encountered in The Islanders, and the panes of glass, and the yin and yang, too.
    • Dik reflects on the literary theory he's read: "One book in particular had made an impression on him. In it, the author made out the case that the act of reading a text was as important and creative an act as writing one. In some respects, the reader's reaction was the only reliable measure of a book. What the reader made of the text became the definitive assessment, irrespective of the intentions of the author." This, too, harkens back to our late discussions of the last book.
    • Dik concludes: "...not only were her intentions irrelevant to his enjoyment of the book, but it was arrogant of her to impose them on him." Doesn't this seem to get to the very heart of why Priest avoids drawing tidy conclusions in his books?
  • 1

    @Apocryphal said:
    Some additional notes from my reading:

    • Kaine explains: "There have always been walls, Dik. Two sides to everything." This recalls the dualities we encountered in The Islanders, and the panes of glass, and the yin and yang, too.

    Yes, I forgot to write earlier that the sheet of paper was like the panes of glass in Islanders. But also this whole portion reminded me of The Dispossessed with its focus on the ambivalence of walls. Dispossessed starts with a wall, keeps returning to the question of whether it keeps Urras out of Anarres or Anarres out of Urras, and foregrounds the anarchist principle of "to lock in, to lock out: the same action".

    • Dik concludes: "...not only were her intentions irrelevant to his enjoyment of the book, but it was arrogant of her to impose them on him." Doesn't this seem to get to the very heart of why Priest avoids drawing tidy conclusions in his books?

    Not so convinced by this one. I can see a sort-of parallel with tunnelling in Islanders. There, some of the major protagonists take great pride in building tunnels through islands which they know are going to arouse the anger and rejection of others, and they do so to the point of destroying the islands themselves. Surely that is indeed arrogant to impose art on bystanders. But there's also a recurrent theme that the true artist (or author, or whatever) is the only one who truly knows what the real meaning of the work is, and is uncaring about the responses of others. My take is that CP is exploring both ends of that particular spectrum, and I'm not sure it is safe to infer anything about his own views or purposes.

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    edited May 13
    @RichardAbbott So, in saying ‘it would be arrogant of an author to impose a statement on the reader’ Priest isn’t trying to tell us what he thinks, because he doesn’t believe he should tell us what he thinks? Did I understand that correctly?
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    @Apocryphal said:
    @RichardAbbott So, in saying ‘it would be arrogant of an author to impose a statement on the reader’ Priest isn’t trying to tell us what he thinks, because he doesn’t believe he should tell us what he thinks? Did I understand that correctly?

    Ha! Love it!! It's a circumlocution worthy of CP himself. There is, surely, no answer to this conundrum...

  • 1

    First, I am enjoying this book much more than the Islanders. The first story destroys any notion that the world of the Islanders has any connection to ours, as the physical laws which underlay it are completely different, and not rigorously applied. The fact that the basic society and technology is similar is merely a convenience for the author. This makes it fantasy rather than SF, which is a huge relief!

    The second story seems to be set before the war was moved to the southern continent, or perhaps more accurately as the war was starting to be moved to the southern continent. This places it centuries before the happenings in the Islanders, yet Moylita Kaine is not only alive, she has already written the book she describes writing in her letters to Kammeston. Magic. As pointed out by @RichardAbbott, Kaine is now a continental and not an islander. Magic. Thus my position that these stories have no causal relationship to each other seems to be the proper reader position.

    This lit crit taking stories apart thing is not my gig, so I leave the rest of you to it.

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