The Gradual Week 8

1

Summary

  1. Sandro soon decides to abandon his itinerary and go 'off-piste'. He spends the next 56 days travelling on 20 boats to umpteen different islands. He enjoys the freedom, so different from his highly regulated home, where free speech and the internet are not really a thing, and e-mails are monitored. The adepts go wherever he does, always getting there first, but seldom obviously taking the same boat. He uses their services and sees the results in the changing face of his wristwatch. It costs him in thalers each time. Each ship also has the two chronometers - absolute time and ship time.
  2. He is slowly making his way toward Temmil, haunted as he is by And Ante. He arrives on Demmer, a large island in the same group where he must change ship. The adept, Kan, approaches him. She asks him if he intends to land - he could go back without disembarking. He asks why she suggests this, but received no answer. She tells him there will be no charge for services on Demmer. She doesn't explain why and he doesn't persist.
  3. He disembarks and meets Kan outside the Shelterate building. Kan hands him his stave and tells him there is no detriment, and no charge. The Gradual on Demmer is neutral. Meanwhile, a storm builds quickly and soon opens up. He shelters with Kan under the canopy. Several rounds of hail fall, and there are high, warm, winds. Eventually the hail turns to rain, and Kan steps out into it, allowing herself to get soaked while she looks up at the sky. Sandro sees others doing this, too, including the people from the shelterate building. When the rain stops, Kan departs without a word, and the officials re-enter the Shelterate building. Sandro follows them in.
  4. Sandro re-emerges an hour later, angry and humiliated at what seems to be rough or invasive treatment by the customs people. In a foul mood, he goes to his hotel and turns in early. The next day is pleasant, though, and his mood seems to be back to normal at the end of it.
  5. The second morning, he strikes off to go on a walk in a direction he hasn't explored yet. There remains something about the island he doesn't quite like, but he can't quite say what. On his walk, he comes to a barrier across the road, and is uncertain he should cross it. Two young black caps emerge from nearby and question him loosely. He has no papers but offers his stave - which they have no interest in. He asks if he can keep going, or must turn back. They let him through. He descends into a village - it seems somewhat abandoned. He hears gunfire nearby and shouting. He crouches beside a wall in fear. Soon, a door is kicked open and four black-caps emerge, roughly escorting another man. They put him on a truck. The officer returns to the house and closes the door, picking up some caps that fell off. He approaches Sandro and tells him he's in a closed military zone, and that he's authorized to eliminate witnesses. Sandro tells him who he is, and begins to think this is his brother Jacj, by the sound of his voice (he can't see his face). He has the number 289 on his clothing. The soldier tells him that he's read a report that Alesandro Sussken has absconded from Glaund with 30,000 gulden of state money, and that he has downloaded a warrant for his arrest.
  6. Sandro appeal to Jacj, asking him to acknowledge their connection. He tells him their parents are dead. Reminds him of when they played music together after bombings. Then he mentions Jacj's cat, Djahann, and that seems to do the trick. Jacj removes his glasses and scarf and Sandro can see it's him. Jacj acknowledges the cat, and even calls him Sandro. He tells him to leave - if he leaves now, he need not arrest him. Sandro is reluctant, but when the other soldiers arrive and Jacj tells him to leave a second and third time, he does - and runs back to town.

Discussion

  • This passage from Ch. 46 seems to strike at the heart of one of the themes: "When we travel, we take our expectations with us, our prejudices, our sense of normality. We see what we see through eyes trained by home." Does this only relate to Sandro's travels, or to all physical travel? To what degree does it apply to the whole novel, or to novels in general?
  • What do you make of the people standing in the rain? A symbolic cleansing? An actual cleansing? Of what? Is this the author's way of signaling a change in the story? Or is other symbolism at work?
  • I'm currently reading Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands by Michael Chabon, a collection of essays about, mostly, genre fiction. In the essay, Dark Adventure Along Cormac McCarthy's The Road, Chabon has something to say about the genre. Relevant?:

"But it's not the goal of the journey, the movement toward healing, however illusory, that marks The Road as epic adventure. It's the passage of it's heroes through Hell. In Walter M. Miller Jr.'s introduction to Beyond Armageddon, an anthology of post-apocalypse short stories, the late author... suggests that what most characterizes the form is not the setting or action - the scarred landscape, the savage contending tribes, the mutations, the deprivations, the desolation and death - but rather the epic persistence with which its protagonists are haunted by the ghosts of the dead, by the vanished. The world post-apocalypse is not Waterworld; it's the Underworld. In his stories, his memories, and above all in his dreams, the father in The Road is visited as poignantly and dreadfully as Odysseus or Aeneas by ghosts, by the gibbering shades of the former world that populate the grey, sunless hell he and his son are daily obliged to harrow."

Comments

  • 1

    I must admit, I got very bored in this section. Sandro has no goal, no drive, no curiosity, and is just drifting aimlessly. Why should I care about him and his self-centred life? Regarding the quote about taking our expectations, if Sandro was exploring or challenging those expectations, the book would be more interesting. But he's just wrapped up in his own little world, not interacting with anyone or anything beyond getting fleeced by the "adepts."

    As for the quote about The Road... if Sando was showing any signs of being haunted, I've missed it.

    The encounter with Jacj was a bit more interesting, but unearned so therefore unsatisfying. I suppose we should somehow note the difference in age between Jacj and Sandro, but I don't really care.

  • 1

    @Apocryphal said:
    Discussion

    • This passage from Ch. 46 seems to strike at the heart of one of the themes: "When we travel, we take our expectations with us, our prejudices, our sense of normality. We see what we see through eyes trained by home." Does this only relate to Sandro's travels, or to all physical travel? To what degree does it apply to the whole novel, or to novels in general?

    This applies uniformly to life, not just travel. Travel - whether physical or mental - stories - broadens that perspective

    • What do you make of the people standing in the rain? A symbolic cleansing? An actual cleansing? Of what? Is this the author's way of signaling a change in the story? Or is other symbolism at work?

    I haven't the faintest idea. Maybe it's a local thing. That's what I thought when I read it.

    • I'm currently reading Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands by Michael Chabon, a collection of essays about, mostly, genre fiction. In the essay, Dark Adventure Along Cormac McCarthy's The Road, Chabon has something to say about the genre. Relevant?:

    "But it's not the goal of the journey, the movement toward healing, however illusory, that marks The Road as epic adventure. It's the passage of it's heroes through Hell. In Walter M. Miller Jr.'s introduction to Beyond Armageddon, an anthology of post-apocalypse short stories, the late author... suggests that what most characterizes the form is not the setting or action - the scarred landscape, the savage contending tribes, the mutations, the deprivations, the desolation and death - but rather the epic persistence with which its protagonists are haunted by the ghosts of the dead, by the vanished. The world post-apocalypse is not Waterworld; it's the Underworld. In his stories, his memories, and above all in his dreams, the father in The Road is visited as poignantly and dreadfully as Odysseus or Aeneas by ghosts, by the gibbering shades of the former world that populate the grey, sunless hell he and his son are daily obliged to harrow."

    Perhaps, but the Islands seem a strange sort of hell.

  • 1
    > @clash_bowley said:
    > Perhaps, but the Islands seem a strange sort of hell.

    That’s definitely one of the messages I’m getting. Luckily we only have 3 weeks left after this. :-)
  • 1

    @NeilNjae said:
    I must admit, I got very bored in this section. Sandro has no goal, no drive, no curiosity, and is just drifting aimlessly. Why should I care about him and his self-centred life? Regarding the quote about taking our expectations, if Sandro was exploring or challenging those expectations, the book would be more interesting. But he's just wrapped up in his own little world, not interacting with anyone or anything beyond getting fleeced by the "adepts."

    As for the quote about The Road... if Sando was showing any signs of being haunted, I've missed it.

    The encounter with Jacj was a bit more interesting, but unearned so therefore unsatisfying. I suppose we should somehow note the difference in age between Jacj and Sandro, but I don't really care.

    If it was definitely Jacj, I think it could have been far more interesting. If Sandro THOUGHT it might be Jacj, but wasn't sure... But now the mystery is solved - and as Neil said, it's unearned. Sandro tripped across it.

  • 0

    Just to be different, I am enjoying the book now and am looking forward to how it concludes - it hardly seems possible there are only three more sessions to it!

    Yes, I agree that Sandro's lack of curiosity is bizarre and frustrating to us - I suspect that we would all be asking salient questions about the time changes... First on my list would be to find out if the magnitude and temporal direction of the changes can be of any size, simply be embarking on a suitable path? In other words, can the adepts use their talent to go whenever they please? (Which could easily explain how they get to an island "ahead" of Sandro).

    Sandro doesn't ask this, and the omission is so startling by now that my belief is that CP has a reason for it. Two possibilities occur to me 1) he is simply not scientifically oriented so doesn't view the world in terms of cause-and-effect or thought-experiments (most of our staff here in Cumbria would be as incurious as Sandro, and would, I suspect, just go with the flow). or 2) it reflects his Glaundian upbringing where you are ill-advised to be curious about things that aren't your immediate business (hence the passage that @Apocryphal quoted "When we travel, we take our expectations with us, our prejudices, our sense of normality. We see what we see through eyes trained by home."

    I also wondered in passing if the various detriments are, rather than being some sort of natural geophysical phenomenon, instead generated by the population of a particular island - hence Demmer is neutral not because of some weird piece of curved spacetime, but because it has a large continental presence (the army camp).

    I'm sure we all wondered about Jacq's appearance in terms of age - has he (and perhaps the entire army) been kept artificially young by means of specific travel itineraries? Since all the army units seem to arrive home far later than anticipated, maybe so. If that's the case, then his subjective age might be say 35 while Sandro is in his fifties - which goes some way to explaining why he fails to acknowledge Sandro at first. His expectation of Sandro would be a man a few years younger than himself: instead he is presented with someone 15 or 20 years older.

    @clash_bowley said:
    If it was definitely Jacj, I think it could have been far more interesting. If Sandro THOUGHT it might be Jacj, but wasn't sure... But now the mystery is solved - and as Neil said, it's unearned. Sandro tripped across it.

    So my current working hypothesis is that we are not getting Sandro's side of the confusion but Jacq's... "Jacq THOUGHT it might be Sandro, but wasn't sure"

    Don't miss next week's exciting episode...

  • 1
    edited October 2021
    When Jacj pointed out that Sandro was supposed to look after the cat, and then later called him ‘Sandro’ instead of ‘Alessandro’ or ‘Sir’ I took it as an acknowledgement that this was the real Jacj.

    I also see that Sandro‘a life is full of ghosts. Jacj is one. This person he just met isn’t his Jacj - that ones dead. His parents are dead. His marriage is dead. The cat is dead. He now has one ghost left - And Ante (and even he may be dead - or at least the thing that made him interesting, the plagiarist part of him.) This whole journey is a tour of ghosts, which is why that post apocalyptic passage sang to me. This is a tour of ghosts.

    I definitely agree that Sandro is wandering… not quite aimlessly, since Temmil seems to be his subconscious goal. But the whole drifting thing seems appropriate for a book about change so gradual you don’t see it happening. I’m definitely curious (but not quite optimistic) to see how it all comes home to roost. I agree it does at times feel like Sandro isn’t going anywhere, so maybe it also feels like the story also isn’t going anywhere. But most sections seem pretty eventful, so I’m actually feeling like there’s progress - I just can’t see toward what.

    Also, twins are a recurring feature of Christopher Priest's stories, so it wouldn't surprise me if we're not done with Jacj. I would not be totally surprised if the person we think is Sandro is actually Jacj, or that both of these were aspects of the same person.
  • 0
    I've been thinking about the comments suggesting that Sandro is not changing here, and I'm not convinced they're quite fair!

    He has disposed of many of his possessions, which he tells us is difficult for him because in Glaundian society that's all he has to define himself as an individual.

    He has successfully broken the habit of planning an itinerary and rigidly sticking to it.

    He has become able to start exploring on his own, and to face up to a couple of soldiers without backing down (admittedly this got him into different problems, but that's ok).

    In short, he has been going through what must be the hard process of moving from a very oppressive and intrusive culture into one which is far more laissez faire. To most of us in the group, that probably feels like he's becoming normal instead of weird! And arguably more could have been made of his culturally imposed blockages earlier on... but when you compare the social structure he was born into - the "expectations, prejudices, and sense of normality" that @Apocryphal quoted - with his present lifestyle, he's come a long way!
  • 1

    @RichardAbbott said:
    I've been thinking about the comments suggesting that Sandro is not changing here, and I'm not convinced they're quite fair!

    Oh, I agree he's being changed. But he's being changed with all the desire and agency of a piece of clay in a sculptor's hands. I'm not interested in the story of the clay; I want to know about the sculptor.

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