The Dream Archipelago Week 11: The Watched, part 2

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Summary

  • After dinner, Ordier returns to his folly to seek the woman. As he hopes, she starts to participate in a ritual.
  • While Ordier watches, the Qataari woman stands in the middle of a circle. Her clothes are partially torn off. Ordier pleasures himself to this spectacle until he thinks he is spotted, then the scene breaks off.
  • Later, the anthropologist Parren and Ordier are climbing the ridge to observe the Qataari. Parren asks about the folly, but Ordier discourages him by saying it is unsafe.
  • Parren has difficulty with the climb, and makes noise while exerting himself. When they reach the top, they are immediately spotted by the Qataari, who either turn away or freeze.
  • Parren and Ordier's conversation then turns to scintilla. Parren seems to know a lot about Ordier's previous involvement with scintilla. He would like to use them to spy on the Qataari, and use Ordier as a consultant.
  • Parren tells Ordier that someone else is already using the un-marked scintillas to spy on the Qataari, but he doesn't know who. But Parren has his own source for the little spycams. The ones he can get are smaller and more advanced. But before he commits funds to this inquiry, he wants to know if the Qataari can block their use. He asks Ordier, but Ordier doesn't seem to know.
  • They return to the house and Ordier is annoyed to learn that Jenessa and Luavi have been up to the folly. He tells them it's too dangerous.
  • That evening, when Jenessa drives the Parren's back to town, Ordier goes up to the folly himself, and is relieved to find that all is quiet in Qataari-land. He makes sure to lock the gate this time.
  • When Jenessa returns from driving the Parren's home, she tells Ordier that Parren wants to hire her for his team. He objects, but seems to have no real reason for her to refuse. She tells him Parren also wants to hire him.
  • Ordier avoids the folly for the next four days., but thinks about the Qataari and the woman. It occurs to him that the un-marked scintilla he's been finding might be deployed by the Qataari, and that maybe the Qataari woman is being offered to him.

Discussion

  • Priest is using the word 'race' in an odd way, and even goes so far as to suggest that different races have different technologies. Is this just an artifact of the story being from 1978, or is there more to this?
  • The Qataari seem to have been able to mix with northerners in the past without issue, and to have even excelled in many aspects of norther culture. Why shouldn't they be able to create scintilla, or detect them?
  • Is the Qataari woman an offering... or is this just rose petal-induced male fantasy at work?

Comments

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    The "race" angle is one I wanted to bring up. The description of the Qataari reinforces that this is a very European setting and the Archipelago is the Mediterranean. Jenessa is described as "dark in hair and complexion" and having olive skin; that implies "dark" is from a northern European perspective, and Jenessa looks typical for someone living on the shores of the Mediterranean. The Qataari woman has golden hair and pale skin, in line with the perfect beauty ideal painted by Vaskarreta.

    Is it just me who finds pale skin and golden hair incongruous for a group that's described as living exclusively on the equator?

    I think a lot of this could be a legacy of Priest's 1978 British viewpoint. I wonder how the Dream Archipealgo would be different if Priest were American and the model was the Caribbean?

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    I have found it curious (but forgot to mention last week) that here CP uses a name remarkably close to a real-world country, viz Qatar. There doesn't seem (so far as I can tell) a huge similarity between Qataar and Qatar, or the cultures described... except that Qatar is a small region which one can easily imagine being occupied as part of a larger squabble, and the occupants dispersed. And Qatar is and always seems to have been a disproportionately wealthy state - according to Wiki, the third highest GDP per capita in the world. One can imagine CP converting this into a disproportionately influential culture in terms of science, art, mediation etc. But I don't think anyone would describe the residents of Qatar as racially different.

    I like the interactions between the four main characters, and how their motives are overlapping so partly in harmony and partly in conflict. I feel CP has described this web of relationships very well.

    In terms of storytelling, again I am really enjoying this - I did guess before the characters did that the Qataari might be the origin of the unmarked scintillas, and all that fits very neatly with the ambiguity of the title - The Watched... who is watching whom? Pretty much everyone in the story is a watcher of one form or another, and is being watched by somebody else. The question being constantly circled round seems to me to be "if you think you are being watched, how do you react?" especially in a world where pretty much everyone is being watched by someone. The Qataari response is by and large that of the film Wargames "the only way to win is not to play"... except that where Ordier's watching is concerned, they seem (at least in his mind) to be actively cultivating and playing with the watching.

    Talking of watching and such like, I just about managed to stop reading at the defined point rather than go on past it. Next week is the last part of this story, and I an eager to see how it plays out - so once again CP is trying (in my case successfully) to instil in the reader the same feelings as the characters - how will it end? Will everything get revealed or not?

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    @NeilNjae said:
    Is it just me who finds pale skin and golden hair incongruous for a group that's described as living exclusively on the equator?

    Totally. It's like reading books allegedly set in the classical Mediterranean world where suddenly the ideal of beauty becomes a kind of blonde cheerleader figure. Often in such a case one feels it's a lack of imagination on the author's part... but by and large CP doesn't seem to lack imagination, so one presumes it's a deliberate ploy. If we hypothesise that the Qatarri are watching and manipulating Ordier, might they have found someone who appeals to his sense of aesthetics rather than their own?

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    @RichardAbbott said:
    I have found it curious (but forgot to mention last week) that here CP uses a name remarkably close to a real-world country, viz Qatar. There doesn't seem (so far as I can tell) a huge similarity between Qataar and Qatar, or the cultures described... except that Qatar is a small region which one can easily imagine being occupied as part of a larger squabble, and the occupants dispersed. And Qatar is and always seems to have been a disproportionately wealthy state - according to Wiki, the third highest GDP per capita in the world. One can imagine CP converting this into a disproportionately influential culture in terms of science, art, mediation etc. But I don't think anyone would describe the residents of Qatar as racially different.

    I noticed the Qataar / Qatar similarity as well.

    Qatar has always been occupied by different states (it was a British dependency until 1971), and I don't think was especially rich before the discovery of oil. But by 1978, the trope of oil-rich Arab sheiks was a trope in British media (at least as I can recall), but that's at odds with the portrayal in the story of a refugee people with a prominent past.

    I like the interactions between the four main characters, and how their motives are overlapping so partly in harmony and partly in conflict. I feel CP has described this web of relationships very well.

    Agreed. Four interesting characters who all seem believable. There's also a sense of dread building in the story. I'm expecting something dreadful to happen to at least one of the characters before the end of the story.

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    @NeilNjae said:
    Qatar has always been occupied by different states (it was a British dependency until 1971), and I don't think was especially rich before the discovery of oil. But by 1978, the trope of oil-rich Arab sheiks was a trope in British media (at least as I can recall), but that's at odds with the portrayal in the story of a refugee people with a prominent past.

    Well, according to Wiki (which is of course unquestionably correct :) ) the peninsula we now call Qatar was famous in the Kassite Babylonian period as a source of purple dye, in the early CE for pearls, then in the 8th century CE for horses and fine clothes. Yes, they certainly got occupied and/or governed by others, but they seem to have always manage to find something of value to deal in well before oil became The Thing. I imagine they'll swap to solar generation or something soon. In passing, that's not unlike how The Scilly Isles have managed - they've perennially found some sort of item to trade in to generate wealth (tin, fish, smuggling, flowers, tourism) and then had periods of poverty when a particular market collapsed for them.

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    edited July 2021

    @RichardAbbott said:

    Well, according to Wiki (which is of course unquestionably correct :) ) the peninsula we now call Qatar was famous in the Kassite Babylonian period as a source of purple dye, in the early CE for pearls, then in the 8th century CE for horses and fine clothes. Yes, they certainly got occupied and/or governed by others, but they seem to have always manage to find something of value to deal in well before oil became The Thing.

    I've not been to Qatar, but I've done work trips to Bahrain and Kuwait. My impression is that most of the Persian Gulf was pretty desolate before oil came along. Yes, there were bits of trade, and some servicing of shipping going up and down the Gulf. But not a lot, and limited by some harsh conditions.

    Going back to the book, I don't understand what Priest was trying to do by naming his enigmatic people the Qataari.

    I imagine they'll swap to solar generation or something soon.

    Qatar, I think, is one of the more forward-thinking in that area. I get the impression that the Gulf states are enjoying the oil boom too much to think about the future and what happens when the oil runs out. There's not a lot of depth to the economies or the social resources. They're not Norway, putting aside a lot to develop the country!

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    @NeilNjae said:
    Going back to the book, I don't understand what Priest was trying to do by naming his enigmatic people the Qataari.

    Agreed, it's a mystery at present

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    @Apocryphal said:

    • Priest is using the word 'race' in an odd way, and even goes so far as to suggest that different races have different technologies. Is this just an artifact of the story being from 1978, or is there more to this?

    Sounds like the roleplaying use of "race" to me, which I have always avoided in my own crap. In most RPGs, different 'races' DO have different technologies.

    • The Qataari seem to have been able to mix with northerners in the past without issue, and to have even excelled in many aspects of norther culture. Why shouldn't they be able to create scintilla, or detect them?

    No reason at all. It seems odd that anyone would believe this for a moment.

    • Is the Qataari woman an offering... or is this just rose petal-induced male fantasy at work?

    My instinct says she is bait. Lets see if the fish bites.

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