The Gradual Week 6

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Summary

  1. Sandro is on Muriseay, having escaped Glaund. We learn a little about the island. He's settled in knows he will soon leave, as this isn't where he wants to say. But he's happy for now, and won't rush to leave. The rigmarole of island travel daunts him.
  2. Sandro describes his departure from Glaund. On Ristor, the first island after leaving Glaund, one of the young people approaches him and offers to sell him a stave. He already has one, so she tells him it will soon be expired and offers to renew it. He declines. A port official tells him it will not soon expire.
  3. Sandro arrives on Muriseay and is met by his friend Denn Mytrie, who drives him to a small town on the coast. They see a ship off shore - a Glaundian troop ship - and Sandro is reminded of his brother. Mytrie tells him something about the R&R camps on the islands, and about deserters. The conversation then turns to And Ante; Mytrie doesn't remember working with him - doesn't know him. He's surprised to hear about the plagiarism, says it's typical behavior for people on the island of Temmil.
  4. In the city, Sandro vainly searches the database of known deserters/refugees for a sign of his brother. Later, he explores options for exploring the islands and books himself a 5-island excursion on the Serquian.
  5. Sandro heads to the harbour in the morning, where he one again sees the same young woman (among others) outside the shelterate building. He rushes past and enters. At the customs desk, he's told he needs a visa to leave Muriseay, which he doesn't have. And his stave is almost expired. The agent tops up the stave for free, but is told that it's 'blank, and he shouldn't risk anymore travel until the gradual has been marked'. He'll need this if he's going to travel about the islands without a visa. He's told to talk to the 'adepts' to learn more. Outside, he speaks to one of the young people - a man, an 'adept'. The adept seems to know a lot about him, including his past itinerary and his name. He warns not to travel east due to the 'steep gradual'. He examines Sandro's stave, says there's a 17-day detriment since Riston. He scores the stave with his chisel to record the detriment, then asks for 50 thalers to remove it. He says it will prevent the big loss of time he experienced after his island tour. Sandro reluctantly hands over the money.
  6. The adept leads Sandro to a small boat and they zoom out of the harbour and over to a shoreline. They move back and forth, then land. On land, they move back a forth again, then hail a taxi which winds its way about. The adept refuses to explain things to Sandro, who is not happy about it. Eventually they return to the harbour, and Sandro seems to have regained some of the lost time. The Serquian, which he thought had left, is still there. He enters the building again and the agent tells him the boat already left. He presents his staff, and the machine beeps - a new itinerary is printed, and he's told his boat will leave in a few minutes.

Discussion

  • The book has certainly taken another turn this section. We are learning much more about the time differences, the young people, and the stave. But many more questions are raised than answered. No doubt as a reader, you are feeling some emotions at this point. What are they?
  • What was all that business in the boat and taxi with the adept?
  • Is this the book's scherzo movement?

Comments

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    Well, the escape from Glaund was alarmingly easy! All our expectations of the power and reach of The State were proved exaggerated... which may itself be part of what CP is saying.

    Ok, so the nature of time abnormalities is different from anything we gave heard before (and I'm as eager as the rest of us to hear what @clash_bowley thinks of this :) ). In this version of the Archipelago, the rate of time flow seems to depend on the exact geographical route taken across the world's surface, and moreover is asymmetric, so the same path traversed in opposite directions has a different outcome. It's not hard to think of other physics analogies... hysteresis loops, for one thing, or general relativity world lines in a strong gravitational field... but we're not accustomed in our world to reckon on this affecting simple movement from one island to another. I kind of like what CP is doing here, but wish he'd explored this potentially fascinating idea more consistently elsewhere in what we have read together.

    "The Gradual" because the experience of time depends on each and every step through the islands? (As well as the other meanings we have talked about).

    Presumably an "adept" is a person who by innate talent or training has learned how to assess the consequences of a particular world-line. (Again, I wish we'd explored this in thd other books). And youth seems to be a prerequisite, rather than experience, which reminds me a bit of Roadside Picnic. Maybe the old adepts die, or transcend mere physical matters, or something.

    And the magic wand now seems to have a purpose in tracking the person's movements around the islands - or maybe verifying that what they say they did matches the wand's record? Though the latter seems a bit bureaucratic for the laissez-faire island attitude we got used to before. It's more what we might expect of the warring north pole factions.

    Finally, speaking of war, it occurred to me that in The Gradual, the nature of war seems different and more "normal" ( ie more like our world) than the sensory and psychological arsenal of the short stories we read in The Dream Archipelago.
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    Well, what a surprise, this version of the Archipelago is different from what we've seen in all the other stories.

    The words that came to mind during these events were "scam," "gullable tourist," and "taken for a ride." This is completely a scam.

    It doesn't even fit the consistency with the rest of the book. Was this not considered during the original, highly organised, tour? Did Denn not mention the role of the staves when discussing Sandro's travel plans?

    As for the forgetting of And Ante, there are plenty of possible explanations, including that it hasn't happened yet or that they're talking about two islands called Temmil. The ground is sufficiently shaky that it's not worth making predictions.

    @RichardAbbott said:
    Ok, so the nature of time abnormalities is different from anything we gave heard before (and I'm as eager as the rest of us to hear what @clash_bowley thinks of this  ).

    I think we're running into the same problem as the worldbuilding for Broken Earth: it's there to serve an emotional outcome, not be internally consistent. Are we asking the wrong question of the setting?

    @RichardAbbott said:
    Finally, speaking of war, it occurred to me that in The Gradual, the nature of war seems different and more "normal" ( ie more like our world) than the sensory and psychological arsenal of the short stories we read in The Dream Archipelago.

    Notably, we've not seen anything of any soldiers after returning from the war. We know they exist, and have even seen a ship-ful of them. But their experiences? Their temporal dislocations? Their political voices? Nothing.

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    We’ll, this isn’t really the solders story.

    I also think it’s possible that Denn and And Ante haven’t met yet. I haven’t thrown out the idea that And Ante is somehow Jacj, but given the time slippage and how Sandro seems to be able to be in two times at once (the ship has left/it hasn’t left) I’m now thinking that maybe And Ante is actually Sandro, and isn’t plagiarizing at all. Nor would he be an inspiration to himself. Question is: is AA a parallel version of Sandro (not likely), or a future version. The word Andante means slow tempo… which maybe suggests a person moving through time differently.

    All versions of this setting have distortions, but they all seem to be different. Often called temporal anomalies. I wonder why Priest didn’t stick to something consistent across the novels. Is it intentional (like, the novels themselves are the result of temporal distortions?) or did he just gave a different idea to explore each time?

    I don’t think these Adepts are a scam. Sandro is clearly worried they are. But I don’t think it’s Priest’s style to write about scams, or even have a mundane answer like that. I think he’d rather write about maddening bureaucracy and people who find themselves in situations they can’t quite comprehend.

    But I agree it doesn’t quite ring true that this should all be so confusing. I’ve had many confusing travel experiences where it’s hard to know what the rules are and different people tell you different things, which makes it even worse. But there’s always a seasoned traveller nearby so it isn’t really that hard to ask. Sandro is in this position because he never asks. And that’s something I find very frustrating. The way he interacts with these people isn’t how I would do it. So this isn’t an aspect of the novel I find convincing.
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    I must be a gullible reader :) it never occurred to me that Sandro might be being scammed. But I tend to agree with @Apocryphal that CP seems to like other kinds of mystery to scams. Even The Prestige, which on the face of it would be great for all kinds of scams, the characters (and author) go to extraordinary lengths to make the acts not scams.

    I do like the suggestion that And Ante is in fact Sandro - we haven't seen any time slip more than an hour or so (depending how long we all think the Serquian was hanging around), and this would require a time shift of decades. But from what we have heard about movements in the Archipelago (this version) I don't see any theoretical reason why it couldn't be that long. And it would fit with his gradual (haha) appreciation for the liveliness of island folk/popular music as opposed to his own earlier experimental classical /jazz style
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    The time slip after his first tour was 23 months, wasn’t it? And on this trip he racked up 17 days just getting to Muriseay.

    That’s the part where I really struggle. I mean, he can’t be the first. It seems like something important enough that it would pervade society. This time slip would be in all the stories, there’d be songs about it, heaps of studies and experiments, a common element in films…. Even if we accept this as part of the world’s physics, isn’t it ridiculous that Sandro’s never heard of it?
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    @Apocryphal said:
    The time slip after his first tour was 23 months, wasn’t it? And on this trip he racked up 17 days just getting to Muriseay.

    That’s the part where I really struggle. I mean, he can’t be the first. It seems like something important enough that it would pervade society. This time slip would be in all the stories, there’d be songs about it, heaps of studies and experiments, a common element in films…. Even if we accept this as part of the world’s physics, isn’t it ridiculous that Sandro’s never heard of it?

    And presumably one is equally likely to go in both temporal directions - this happens with the Serquian to a minor degree, in these chapters. But if he can gain 23 months in one trip, no doubt others have lost 23 months and so arrived home before they set out. Unless the groups of young people are a kind of temporal police force who go around making sure nobody breaks causality? (Which could also explain why they're all young :) )

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    They’re young because they always lead people back in time? Makes sense. Maybe that’s also why they’re so bitter.
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    @Apocryphal said:
    Discussion

    • The book has certainly taken another turn this section. We are learning much more about the time differences, the young people, and the stave. But many more questions are raised than answered. No doubt as a reader, you are feeling some emotions at this point. What are they?

    There is a lot of frustration, but by this point I am used to dealing with CP inability to write from inside out organically, and his marked preference for exception based settings. By used to it, I mean like I am used to taxes.

    • What was all that business in the boat and taxi with the adept?

    CP wanting to be mysterious and stuff. Nothing can be pinned down. This is the Dreamscape of Unknown Kadath.

    • Is this the book's scherzo movement?

    It's fast, but not light, and the only thing playful is CP playing with his toys. It's more manic improv.

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    @Apocryphal said:

    But I agree it doesn’t quite ring true that this should all be so confusing. I’ve had many confusing travel experiences where it’s hard to know what the rules are and different people tell you different things, which makes it even worse. But there’s always a seasoned traveller nearby so it isn’t really that hard to ask. Sandro is in this position because he never asks. And that’s something I find very frustrating. The way he interacts with these people isn’t how I would do it. So this isn’t an aspect of the novel I find convincing.

    I agree. The adept is surly and non-communicative, but Sandro is also passively non-communicative, preferring to bitch about his exertions rather than ask any relevant questions. Which all, of course, is CP being 'mysterious' because he's winging it without any prep. HOW DOES NO ONE ONCE EVER MENTION THIS TO ANYONE ELSE, EVER? Do the islanders just FORGET TO MENTION this temporal mess to visitors? WHY DID SANDRO'S TRAVEL AGENTS NOT TALK ABOUT THIS? This is just so very unreal.

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