|The Fifth Season (Jemisin)
||[Jun. 22nd, 2016|08:39 pm]
4/5. Wow, you guys. This was amazing. And I'm speaking from the point of view of someone who really didn't like Jemisin's Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and who suspects that in general Jemisin might not exactly be for me? But this book is amazing. Jemisin has really got a handle on her writing (which IMO she didn't have in 100K); this thing is super ambitious and it manages to pull it off.
So, first of all: all the trigger warnings in the world. I mean, this is a book that begins in the first chapter with a baby killed by its father. Also: apocalypse, all the time.
Relatedly, it's a very angry book, which turned me off at first. And in my opinion 100K Kingdoms got over-the-top with the anger without sufficient character justification — but here it is much better handled. (I did find it a little… something… that apparently the torturing-people-in-cages thing that the Bad Guys do in 100K (so, y'know, we know they're bad guys) has the ante upped here, so now it's torturing kids in (what amounts to) cages! It didn't make my eyes roll here in the same way, though, because here it wasn't "ooh, let's do this at a party because that's what we do for fun because We Are Evil," but rather arose much more naturally out of the power structures of the society.
One of the things I really loved about it is that it's…science fantasy? Like, it's got clear trappings of fantasy (although there are hints that there might be at least a pseudo-scientific basis for it, which by the way is super cool), but if it's fantasy, it's fantasy that's rooted in science, and she seems to have a good grasp on earth science (as I'm not an earth scientist I couldn't tell you for sure, but it's got that feel to it, if you know what I mean, of someone who's comfortable with the science). I was totally unsurprised to read at the end that Jemisin had been part of a consortium where writers and scientists communicated, because it's really got that feel.
There are some parts where I felt like the human reactions were a little off. One was the attitude towards the orogenes; I mean, I haven't been part of the whole superhero conversation where I know this kind of thing is discussed at great length, but I would think one's attitude towards someone who could easily kill you and your entire community if she got angry would be… a little more… respectful and scared, at least superficially. So, for example, I found it completely believable that people might induce a sniper to try to pick off Essun, but I found it completely unbelievable that Damaya's parents would make her live in the barn in isolation punctuated with overt verbal and implicit physical abuse after she showed her powers. I don't know, I feel like, while many (perhaps most) people would not react well to the revelation that "my kid could kill me if she got angry with me!" the immediate response, given an ounce of self-preservation, would not be "Let's see how many over-the-top ways I can figure out for her to get angry at me!" I feel like it was manipulation by the author to manufacture reader outrage and justify the book's anger. (Manipulation that worked, honestly, because Jemisin's writing is so powerful and raw in this book; it wasn't until after I finished the book that I started thinking about these things.) (And yes, I understand it's all metaphorical too, but it also has to make sense within the story.) This was probably my biggest problem with the book. There's enough to be angry about without piling things on.
(Also, no one in the history of the world before Alabaster and Syenite ever, like, got more than one orogene together to work against the Guardians? And/or held the world hostage to get what they wanted? I find this kind of unbelievable too. Jemisin makes a stab at postulating why not, but…)
I have another quibble — this one is extremely minor, much more minor than the others, but what is this journal for if not to vent about minor quibbles -- along these lines. One of the plot points has to do with Syenite telling the politicians of a seaside community that she can clear the coral that's blocking their harbor, but that it'll have to be done again in a hundred years (since there's another unknown obstruction under it which she doesn't want to mess with). "We want the long-term greater-than-100-years solution over the short-term works-perfectly-well-for-decades solution" …said no actual real-life politician EVER. Doubly so given that this world regularly goes through apocalypse, which they hope their community will survive but don't have odds I would have bet on. I am giving her super kudos for correctly identifying the timescales, and I understand the scientific correctness sort of painted her into a corner here, but… heh.
Anyway! I keep waffling about what to put on the top of my Hugo ballot. I think on the whole Uprooted, because I thought Uprooted had deeper things to say and its flaws didn't bug me as much as in Fifth Season or Ancillary Mercy, but both of those are great as well. I'm pretty happy with this selection of (novel) nominees. (Next up: Novella!)