7. Dark Orbit - Unexplored themes

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The book suggested a couple of themes that it might have explored, but didn't.

One was the traveller/settler split. The people on the ship had the Waster/Plant split, with all the ship crew being the travelling Wasters. Torobe had the same split, with wenders and villagers (and all adult men expected to be wenders). I was expecting there to be some clash between the two attitudes to life and community: the crew being both from a different culture and the flitting Wasters, with the Torobes being the settled villagers.

The other theme was the nature of identity and teleportation (and probably less interesting). There was lots of teleportation in the book, and it was unclear exactly how it worked. I'm mainly thinking about the mass: the laser beam could transfer the information to make a person, but I expect that the mass to make the body at the receiver to come from the receiver. In that case, what happened to the body/mass that was left behind? I was expecting an occasion where someone in a teleport was trapped in a fold of dark matter and hence we ended up with two copies of the same person. A bit hackneyed, but there if the author wanted to go there.

Did you pick up on the suggestion of these themes? Do you think the book would have been stronger or weaker if it had explored them? What themes did you find in the book that you weren't too engaged with?

Comments

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    Good question! I didn't particularly notice the traveller/settler split, though I did notice that both locations had many similarities, and perhaps this was intentional to contrast them?

    On the matter of identity and teleportation, I didn't think too much about the mechanics of it. Since matter can be converted to energy, I just assumed it was converted and transmitted. Teleportation exists in both societies, but operates differently. The Torobes (is there anything significant behind that name, I wonder? So many names are significant!) travel by folding space and walking through (so it seems). The Wasters are converted to light and beamed.

    On the matter of other themes, loosely I noticed that many things are described as two things at once. When travelling by light beam, Thora (I think) speculates that she is a once both dead and alive, and wonders if she has a soul in that moment. In that same passage, she declares that light can both illuminate and conceal. Nkidas are both strengths and weaknesses. Later, on the matter of learning, she says that at the moment of comprehension, something that was new suddenly becomes old as we apply our own understanding to it.

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    I think the traveller/settler split is something the author put in as being a possible theme for the book, but she ended up looking at different aspects instead. It's also perhaps another instance of the duality you mention: is a society defined by the people who stay or the people who explore?

    Duality is something touched on a lot in the book. Is it a fundamental theme of the book? I don't know.

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    Yes, I think that duality is a major theme and appreciated that, and agree with the explorations that the two of you have made about kinds of individual and society.
    Yes, I think there were numerous things that Carolyn put in as background depth, without necessarily intending to tie up all the loose ends. There would be plenty of material to go back for other books in the same universe, though I have no idea if she means to (or indeed has done).

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    To answer the original question - I don't mind that some themes were not developed. I felt that the book was already pretty full, thematically. It might have been too busy otherwise.

    Sorry we didn't get much turnout on this one, guys, but that happens sometimes. This is partly why I hesitate to get more guests involved - hate to ask someone to set aside some time to be with us only to have three people turn up for the discussion. We had one sometimes member pick a book for us once (The Name of the Wind - which was and is rather popular) and nobody read it but me, and I didn't particularly like it. Needless to say that guy never participated again. So thanks for your dedication - it's appreciated.

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    In case there's any doubt about the matter, I totally loved this book and am very pleased that we chose it, since otherwise I would probably not have stumbled over it for a long time.
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    Waster/Planet was a theme I certainly would like to read more of. What makes someone willing to remove themselves from their existing life in such a way that they can never return to even a semblance of it? Signing off to go to Iris means everyone you know being dead when you return home - I mean, unless you learn to wend...

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    @Keith said:
    Waster/Planet was a theme I certainly would like to read more of. What makes someone willing to remove themselves from their existing life in such a way that they can never return to even a semblance of it? Signing off to go to Iris means everyone you know being dead when you return home - I mean, unless you learn to wend...

    I feel this is a common theme in the SF-verse, but at the moment I can only think of The Forever War as one that explores this. Vernor Vinge's novel Marooned in Realtime explores one-way time travel, but not in the context of worrying about what you left behind, so much.

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    Actually Ursula LeGuin used it a lot in her sf books - for example Rocannon's World explores its impact both on those expecting the lag and those not. She had instantaneous comms (via ansible, never explained in the way Carolyn Gilman does) and slow-time travel
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    @Apocryphal said:

    @Keith said:
    Waster/Planet was a theme I certainly would like to read more of. What makes someone willing to remove themselves from their existing life in such a way that they can never return to even a semblance of it? Signing off to go to Iris means everyone you know being dead when you return home - I mean, unless you learn to wend...

    I feel this is a common theme in the SF-verse, but at the moment I can only think of The Forever War as one that explores this. Vernor Vinge's novel Marooned in Realtime explores one-way time travel, but not in the context of worrying about what you left behind, so much.

    Guess it makes sense I enjoyed Forever War so much! That was the one where they'd show up to fight and find out the situation had changed so much that they never would have been sent had anyone known, yeah?

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    @Keith said:

    Guess it makes sense I enjoyed Forever War so much! That was the one where they'd show up to fight and find out the situation had changed so much that they never would have been sent had anyone known, yeah?

    Yes, then they get back home to find everything had changed while they were away - so much so they are no longer comfortable at home. And so they are forced to re-enlist.

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    > @Keith said:
    >
    > Guess it makes sense I enjoyed Forever War so much! That was the one where they'd show up to fight and find out the situation had changed so much that they never would have been sent had anyone known, yeah?

    I think the quote that nicely sums that up is

    "...there was no way to tell what sort of weaponry they would have. They might have never heard of the stasis field. Or they might be able to say a magic word and make us disappear..."
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    I agree on the settler/traveller split, both with the Wasters/Plants and in Korobe.

    Other themes....

    A weakness actually being a strength (though I think that's adequately explored).

    A culture being defined by its technology. For example, the people of Korobe seeing the visitors in terms of their "boxes". I think there's also a theme here of open spaces vs. enclosure.

    Perception and reality, whether of a place and a person. This is the main theme, but I want to mention some of the ways it comes up:

    • Wending, and the form taken depending on the expectations of the receiver. I still wonder about wending into a properly alien society.
    • Mental maps when different senses are used (Moth on the Escher, Thora in Korobe). Which is the real picture?
    • The character of the security captain changes completely through different perceptions of him when Sara realised he wasn't the enemy, despite part of me still thinking "well, he's still a jerk". It's hard to let go.
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    Related to "mental maps" and unrelated to the book, I read an article a while ago about the maps used by polynesian navigators. Europeans just couldn't understand the maps and how the polynesians managed to do their navigation. It took the europeans a while to understand that their mental model of navigation was very different. In the european view, the islands are fixed points and people sail between them. For the polyneisians, the vessel they were in was the fixed point, and the islands slid around over time. And that makes a lot of sense, if you're the one on the canoe in the middle of a large expanse of ocean: the only fixed point is you.

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    > @NeilNjae said:
    > Related to "mental maps" and unrelated to the book, I read an article a while ago about the maps used by polynesian navigators. ...you're the one on the canoe in the middle of a large expanse of ocean: the only fixed point is you.

    That's really interesting
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