The Dream Archipelago Week 10: The Watched, part 1

1

SUMMARY

  • We meet Yvann Ordier and his girlfriend, Jenessa. Yvann is a wealthy but retired entrepreneur, and Jenessa is an anthropologist.
  • They are on the island of Tumo. Yvann settled here because he wanted to get away from it all.
  • Jenessa is her to study a people called The Qataari, who were originally indigenous to the Qataari peninsula, but have been forced to relocate to a secluded valley on this island because of the war being fought in the south.
  • We are also introduced to 'scintillas', nano-bot spying machines that seem to be everywhere. They keep appearing in Yvann's home, though he tries to detect them and remove them. Yvann made his fortune in the scintilla business, but now wants nothing to do with them. Yvann thinks that the latest sctintillas invading his home are part of an organized deployment.
  • Jenessa and Yvann spend the morning together, but Yvann is anxious for Jenessa to leave, because he'd like to do something surreptitious - spy on the Qataari, and in particular one Qataari woman. He has become obsessed with her and unspecified Qataari 'rituals'.
  • Finally, after some sunbathing and routine chat, Jenessa leaves for work. Yvann heads out to an old stone folly on his property that overlooks Qataari territory and brings his binoculars. He begins to spy, but we do not learn what he sees.
  • When Yvann stands in his folly, observing the Qataari, fragrant Qataari Rose petals waft up to him on the wind.

.

  • That evening, Yvann drives to Jenessa's apartment in Tumo Town. She has invited him to dinner so he can meet another anthropologist. Yvann doesn't seem much interested, but this seems important to her.
  • The anthropologist is Jaqj Parren, and his wife is Luovi. Parren seems to have a cunning/questionable plan to watch the Qataari by plane. Jenessa seems sceptical, even scandalized.
  • We learn that the Qataari are a people that refuse to be watched. When they know they are being watched, they freeze in place and refuse to act.
  • The Qataari are described as a 'race' - one of the better known races in this world. Though they are insular by nature and keep others out, they do at times travel abroad and, when they do, it is to achieve great things. There are many stories of accomplished Qataari warriors, doctors, architects, builders, playwrights, artists, athletes, mathematicians, and disaster relief workers.
  • A Qataari woman once explained that the Qataari are but actors, playing roles that are predetermined during a ritual that somehow resembles improv theatre. However, no outsider has been able to observe the Qataari doing this - or anything, really.
  • In the valley on Tumo where the Qataari have settled, they have cleared farmland in which to raise the Qataari Rose - a fragrant rose with narcotic properties.

DISCUSSION

  • Some familiar themes emerge - our characters are outsiders who came to the Archipelago. Yvann goes do far was to say that once people come here, they can't easily return home to the north. So it seems to be a one-way trip for most.
  • Watching and spying is a major theme, and there are many layers. Yvann made the scintillas, tools for watching. He also made the scintilla detectors, tools for observing and locating the scintillas. He himself doesn't like to be watched. But he does like to discretely watch the Qataari, who themselves don't like to be watched.
  • Do the Qataari live in a quantum world, where the act of watching changes that which is being observed?
  • The role of Qataari as itinerant master craftspeople seems at odds with their other qualities. Why do you suppose Priest introduced this?
  • More themes - old stoneworks with odd, forbidding, holes in them. These are places where one can hide and watch.
  • More themes - narcotic effects in the air, which call into question the things the main character experiences. This hasn't happened yet in this novel, but Priest seems to be setting it up. We also encountered this in story called The Negation, in this book.

Comments

  • 1

    There are various other elements of "watching." Jenessa likes being watched when she's in Ordier's house. Jeness and Parren are anthropologists, who watch others to study them. The Qataari seem to organise their society around watching themselves, especially if we're to believe they make their decisions through improvisational theatre.

    Another theme. This story was first published in 1978 and posits a chilling effect on public discourse, caused by pervasive observation. People restrict what they say and do in public, for fear of the repercussions should they do something offensive. But they don't self-censor in "private" settings, despite knowledge of observation and widespread "voyeur" broadcasts.

    We've got a similar panopticon now, with widespread cameras and social media inviting us to expose our activities and thoughts. It's not the same mechanism as Priest posited, but it has similar features. And for us, it's not affected public behaviour in the same way.

  • 0

    This first section has been a great setup story for me - well-drawn and interesting if enigmatic characters who (so far) have been acting in ways that make good sense given their back-stories, some provocative additional bits of world-building - for example, of course there are surveillance devices used by the armed forces, but until now the only mention of them has been the drones in Islanders, which frankly were pretty ineffectual - and a new people-group who don't fit in with anything we have read about so far. Great stuff, and I managed to stop myself at the appointed place! (Largely by carefully searching for and then bookmarking in my kindle the places @Apocryphal had specified).

    I think this is the first long term relationship we have met which seems to be fairly satisfying to the participants, even if it is becoming a little boring and humdrum, at least according to the male perspective of this story. (Struck by a sudden thought, I just reread to make sure that Ordier is called "he"). As usual, they have had no children to complicate matters, and the relationship seems to consist of a lot of sitting around and a fair amount of consensual and non-creepy sex/ Maybe that's what retired tech entrepreneurs do with their time?

    Concerning the point @NeilNjae makes about surveillance and public inhibition, this seems more like the presentation in western literature of life under communism - public obedience and submission, individual rebellion. It's like the telescreens of 1984 (which book I have just learned, owes a debt to a banned Soviet-era book called We, published in 1923). In 1978 the Berlin Wall was still fully operational, and would be for another decade or so.

    Maybe a closer analogy to our own culture's relationship with surveillance is that presented in films such as Minority Report or Sixth Day, where its use for targeted advertising is utterly universal.

  • 1

    @RichardAbbott said:
    I think this is the first long term relationship we have met which seems to be fairly satisfying to the participants, even if it is becoming a little boring and humdrum, at least according to the male perspective of this story.

    Yes, something of a novelty for Priest!

    @RichardAbbott said:
    Concerning the point @NeilNjae makes about surveillance and public inhibition, this seems more like the presentation in western literature of life under communism - public obedience and submission, individual rebellion. It's like the telescreens of 1984 […]. In 1978 the Berlin Wall was still fully operational, and would be for another decade or so.

    That's the reference I was searching for! Thanks for pointing it out.

  • 1

    Neither scintillas nor the Qataari are mentioned elsewhere in the series, though both would seem important if not vital. The scintillas in particular would seem to negate the quantum uncertainty of geography so prized by Priest. In any case, the viewpoint character profited from the war, which sets him up for a horrid end, I am sure! The relationship between Yvann and Jenessa seems comprehensible to mortal humans, which is shocking in Priest! Perhaps we just haven't seen its true depraved nature? So an interesting setup!

  • 0

    @clash_bowley said:
    Neither scintillas nor the Qataari are mentioned elsewhere in the series, though both would seem important if not vital. The scintillas in particular would seem to negate the quantum uncertainty of geography so prized by Priest.

    A good point - they are a great idea in themselves but seem completely at odds with other parts of his world building. I guess it's another case of there being not one world but lots of quite similar ones, each with their own spin on particular aspects. On the whole, the "horror and intrusion of war" theme is vastly stronger in this book than Islanders, where war was essentially a remote thing which did little to upset happy island life.

  • 1
    edited July 2021

    >

    On the whole, the "horror and intrusion of war" theme is vastly stronger in this book than Islanders, where war was essentially a remote thing which did little to upset happy island life.

    Oh, definitely! At first I put it to 'the war is new and not limited yet', but that is not true in most of these stories.

Sign In or Register to comment.