21st Century Literature discussion

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, #1)
This topic is about The Fifth Season
95 views
2016 Book Discussions > The Fifth Season - Second Interlude, Chapters 20-23 and Entire Book (August 2016)

Comments Showing 1-23 of 23 (23 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

Whitney | 2202 comments Mod
What a long, strange trip it’s been. In the final chapters, Syenite’s life is literally and horrifically blown apart, and we find out that one of the resulting pieces is Essun. We also find out that Tonkee is Binoff and she has been following Essun for quite some time, and Hoa is a storyteller and has also been following Essun for quite some time. Meanwhile, having destroyed Yumenes and started the longest season ever, Alabaster is turning to stone and feeding a stone eater.

Spoilers allowed for the entire book. I will post a separate thread for speculation on what some of the things left open in this book might mean.

What did you think of the ending? Did it answer enough questions and leave enough others open to make it a satisfying first book in a trilogy?

Did your opinions of the fulcrum, the guardians, and the orogenes change throughout the book? What did you think of Alabaster’s retelling of the story of Misalem and Shemshena, as well as his bitter explanation that orogenes built the fulcrum?

The following blog post from N.K. Jemisin discusses why she chose to split her character into three people, as well as why she chose the second person for Essun. The post is pretty much required reading. I saved the link for this thread since it’s spoiler city. Also, this is one of those blissful situations where the comments section is safe and interesting. http://nkjemisin.com/2015/08/tricking... The following questions relate to this post.

What did you think? Was Jemisin’s ‘trick’ effective? Do you think you would have felt differently if the book had been a straightforward beginning to end narrative? Did the use of the second person have the intended effect?

There is so much going on in this book. My questions are just there to (hopefully) start some discussion (and because I’m the moderator and it’s expected.) Please take things off in any direction you think is interesting!


Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments I love the structure of this book! I love the way it allows us to experience the interaction of the character with her society at different stages in her life under different conditions, and at the end, to put the narrative together into one seamless whole.


message 3: by Peter (last edited Jul 20, 2016 10:08AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments (This post is a response to Whitney's message 10 in The Fifth Season. Prologue and First Eight Chapters. Moved here in order for it to benefit from the all the events of the book.)

Whitney wrote: "As you say, I don't think Jemesin is trying to provide easy categories of good and bad. But here the big question is whether it's justified to control and enslave people because they have a potential to cause harm."

I believe the question that Jemesin is asking is an even harder one: what do you do when it is necessary for survival for you to treat people in an immoral and unethical manner? It is clear that unless orogenes are raised in a tightly disciplined manner (and probably culled (killed) when they can not be trained), they will cause harm and potentially massive harm. But the necessity of that does not make it right. However, the society of the Broken Earth does not acknowledge the wrongs they do to the orogenes out of necessity, but rather tell themselves fairy tales about how the orogenes are agents of Father Earth's malice, "justifying" their treatment of them. This is what leads to such horrors as the nodes and the breeding program, and the hubris to think they can control the most powerful of the orogenes. It's very human and very flawed and rather awful.

Many societies (most? all?) benefit from (or depend on) to some extent injustice, what Jemisin has done here is to make it very explicit how this particular society does.


Marc (monkeelino) | 2824 comments Mod
Peter, doesn't the end of this book suggest that orogenes don't need to be that tightly controlled and that the fear is somewhat unfounded? They are certainly given a lot more freedom and respect on the island after the stone eater helps transport Alabaster and Syenite there. I'm not saying there's no danger anymore, but that it might not be "necessary for survival" to "treat people in an immoral and unethical manner"? I do think Jemesin does a fantastic job of making the racism systemic and somewhat self-perpetuating.

Your comments remind me a bit of Ursula Le Guin's short story, "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas (basically, about a "utopian" society that depends on the sacrifice of one individual at a time to maintain their way of living).

I was also very impressed with the structure of this book!


Marc (monkeelino) | 2824 comments Mod
I read the link above and I do think the second person perspective speeded up my relating to Essun (although I don't think I would have had much trouble in general), but I also think it helped with the deception. It makes her seem more the main character, but also more isolated from the other two young selves. It also re-inforced the present tense of her narrative.

Sad but interesting explanation from Jemesin. I usually think a well-written character does away with a need for readers to be able to directly relate to specific age or physical attributes, but maybe not so much in genre fiction... ?


Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments The island is an interesting counter-point, Marc. It's possible that to create a truly dangerous oragene, it requires training and selective breeding. That means that Sanze Empire may have created this awful situation (or at least made it a lot worse) by creating the Fulcrum. Interesting!

It's funny, but I was thinking of The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas when I was writing the above post, and considered referencing it myself...


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2395 comments What did you think of the ending? Did it answer enough questions and leave enough others open to make it a satisfying first book in a trilogy?
I thought the ending was good. Unlike with many series, I did not just feel left hanging. We got a lot of answers but were left with a lot of questions. Bring on book 2!
What did you think? Was Jemisin’s ‘trick’ effective? Do you think you would have felt differently if the book had been a straightforward beginning to end narrative? Did the use of the second person have the intended effect?
I think Jemisin does herself a disservice calling what she did a trick. I thought the structure was extremely creative and that kept me interested. A straightforward narrative would probably have been enjoyable but certainly not as creative. But I did not need to be tricked into caring about Essun. The second person narrative made me believe Essun was the most important character.


Whitney | 2202 comments Mod
Peter wrote: "It is clear that unless orogenes are raised in a tightly disciplined manner (and probably culled (killed) when they can not be trained), they will cause harm and potentially massive harm. But the necessity of that does not make it right...."

I interpreted this more in the way Marc did, that the fear and hatred of the orogenes was an example of history (or in this case fables) being written by the victors. The story of Misalem is presented as a tale of how orogenes can arbitrarily decide to destroy cities, rather than a tale of the wrongs of an immoral empire. Points to Jemesin for not pulling any punches. In the first part of the book, we essentially see the orogenes the way society sees them, and as Damaya is indoctrinated to see them. And the orogenes ARE dangerous, no doubt about it - look at what happened when Syenite joined the pirates.

In the previous discussion thread, Linda brought up the example of the internment of Japanese Americans. Although primarily informed by racism, the danger they posed was very real to people at the time. Were the architects of interment justified in locking up people based on what they might do?


Whitney | 2202 comments Mod
Marc wrote: "Sad but interesting explanation from Jemesin. I usually think a well-written character does away with a need for readers to be able to directly relate to specific age or physical attributes, but maybe not so much in genre fiction... ? ..."

I think that's a good point. The average reader of genre fiction is on the whole likely to be younger and more male that the average reader of 'literary' fiction (God, I hate that distinction). You have to ask, though, who all is picking up Jemesin's book? There seems to be a lot of "I don't normally read much fantasy, but this book..." in the buzz surrounding Fifth Season.


Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments Whitney wrote: "In the previous discussion thread, Linda brought up the example of the internment of Japanese Americans. Although primarily informed by racism, the danger they posed was very real to people at the time. Were the architects of interment justified in locking up people based on what they might do? "

Given that there was no actual evidence that the Japanese-American population actually had any loyalty to the Empire of Japan, it was pretty unjustified. There were no facts that they were a threat, just prejudices. And (this is a key distinction) its not like anyone suggested locking up Americans of German or Italian descent.


Whitney | 2202 comments Mod
I know. I'm not claiming there was. I'm saying that people perceived the danger as real. Just like some people today perceive that every refugee from Syria is a potential terrorist bomber. Is it possible that any given refugee will blow you up? Sure. Does that mean they will? No. Isn't it the same for an orogene? Fear doesn't justify locking people up. (And please don't tell me that's just racist fear and that white people are more likely to kill someone is this country etc. etc. etc., I know, and it's not my point).


message 12: by Viv (new) - rated it 5 stars

Viv JM | 62 comments Peter wrote: "The island is an interesting counter-point, Marc. It's possible that to create a truly dangerous oragene, it requires training and selective breeding. That means that Sanze Empire may have created ..."

Peter - that was my impression too, that the Fulcrum, far from making orogenes less dangerous, was actually making them more so. Yes, they were able to "control" themselves better but they also had the ability to direct their destructive powers more.

I also felt sad that Jemisin thought she needed to pull this "trick" to get readers to empathise with a 40 something supposedly-unlikeable character. I'm not sure the second person narrative made Essun more relatable or likeable, but it certainly did indicate that she was the most important character (before we found out that all the characters were her). I think I would have empathised with her equally if it had been first or third person but as a I am a 40 year old mother, perhaps I am not the demographic that is likely to have a problem with that! Do fantasy writers have to sell their books to an audience of primarily young, white males? Maybe the contempt Jemisin has received surrouding the Hugo awards etc indicates that may partly be the case. If so, that is very sad indeed :-(

I don't think it's been mentioned in any previous threads, but I also like Jemisin's treatment of sexuality in this book. For example, there is a trans character and it's just mentioned very casually in passing, like it's no big deal, which I thought was pretty great. Then of course there's the three way relationship, which is also treated as nothing abnormal. I thought that was quite a refreshing approach.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2395 comments Peter wrote: "Given that there was no actual evidence that the Japanese-American population actually had any loyalty to the Empire of Japan, it was pretty unjustified. There were no facts that they were a threat, just prejudices. And (this is a key distinction) its not like anyone suggested locking up Americans of German or Italian descent. "

While not done in as significant numbers, Italians and Germans were put in internment camps - http://www.archives.gov/research/immi..., http://www.italianhistorical.org/page....


Whitney | 2202 comments Mod
Viv wrote: "Maybe the contempt Jemisin has received surrouding the Hugo awards etc indicates that may partly be the case. If so, that is very sad indeed :-(

I don't think it's been mentioned in any previous threads, but I also like Jemisin's treatment of sexuality in this book. For example, there is a trans character and it's just mentioned very casually in passing, like it's no big deal, which I thought was pretty great. Then of course there's the three way relationship, which is also treated as nothing abnormal. I thought that was quite a refreshing approach. ..."


I think you're right Viv. Jemesin has been on the front lines of the racist / sexist backlash against diversity in SF and Fantasy. When she called Theodore Beale (aka Vox Dei, the ringleader of the Angry Puppies) out on his abhorrent views, he responded with statements such as "we simply do not view her as being fully civilized for the obvious historical reason that she is not." More on that abhorrent mess here: http://bibliodaze.com/2014/04/vox-day...

And, yes, thank you for pointing out the casual way that Jemesin has sexually and gender diverse characters such as Tonkee who simply are the way they are. It's very refreshing.


Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments Linda wrote: "While not done in as significant numbers, Italians and Germans were put in internment camps - "

Interesting! I did not know about this. I will note, that according to these links, these were non-citizens being interned. In the case of the Japanese internment, 62% of those interned were citizens.


message 16: by Peter (last edited Jul 21, 2016 08:22AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments Whitney wrote: "I know. I'm not claiming there was. I'm saying that people perceived the danger as real. Just like some people today perceive that every refugee from Syria is a potential terrorist bomber. Is it possible that any given refugee will blow you up? Sure. Does that mean they will? No. Isn't it the same for an orogene? Fear doesn't justify locking people up."

Well, I thought the whole worry about Syrian refugees was overblown and ridiculous, but then, people are very bad at measuring risks in their lives (most people's daily commute is far more dangerous than any of the things they usually worry about). As for orogenes, it is harder to say. What is the risk of a trained or untrained orogene causing damage inadvertently? As Marc pointed out the mainland society and the island seem to give you different answers to that question. I'm wondering now if the dangers of orogenes 'accidentally' causing destruction has been exaggerated by the primary culture (the chapter one preview of the next book has a chilling proverb about this, but is it belief or truth?).


Whitney | 2202 comments Mod
The danger of refugees is a creation of political fear mongering, and Jemesin is making the same point about the orogenes. I think she did an excellent job in leading the reader along a similar path as Damaya in changing attitudes towards their treatment. From seeing it as regrettable but necessary, to seeing the horrific abuses of orogenes in the nodes, to finally finding out that the story of Misalem is propaganda and that her guardian's fondness for her is largely the fondness of a slave owner for a favored slave. Any sign of rebellion or desire for self-determination must be ruthlessly crushed.


Whitney | 2202 comments Mod
Here's another interesting blog post from Jemisin. It's a criticism of the implications the "Shanarra Chronicles" trailer, but in it she unequivocally states that The Fifth Season is not set on a future earth. I had assumed it was based on the very human characters, the noted absence of a single moon, the map looking like a mash-up of all the continents et. al.

Maybe it should be considered simply as an 'alternative earth'?

http://nkjemisin.com/2015/07/the-apoc...


message 19: by Veronique (last edited Jul 26, 2016 09:46AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Veronique Just finished! Had to re-read the prologue, and that made me think of the quote - ends being beginnings and vice versa - then that made me think of ouroboros (I know, weird brain). Anyway...

Loved it :O)

Regarding the use of the second person narration - (thanks for link) it is sad that Jemisin felt the need to do this. The second person can also be quite alienating if not used expertly. Does this mean that 'white males' cannot empathise with the rest of the population? I don't mind reading about male protagonists, or different cultures, or faiths, or LGBT ones, or anyone really. That's the beauty of reading - you get to experience someone else's life and perception, which gives you understanding, and enrich yours. Personally, I took the 2nd person as a sign that the character had to externalise herself in order to protect herself from the turmoil of emotions (more positive interpretation).

The book structure is amazing in its complexity. Yes the story would have worked if it had been presented in a chronological order, or even with flashbacks, but would have had less force. There are parallels after all in these three stages of Her life. By using these three narratives, twining them, Jemisin adds suspense and momentum, and I guess she also creates this end-beginning-end-beginning circular movement that we see at the beginning of the book and at the end. The mind boggles... I may have to re-read this.

Like others have said, I also appreciated the LGBT elements and their "it's normal" nature, the couple a la trois being especially interesting. The world building was complex and absorbing. There is tons still to be discovered about the fulcrum, what is underneath it, the guardians, the obelisks, what is driving Alabaster in his actions and his turning to stone, etc.

My curiosity has been piqued and yes I shall be reading the next instalment :O)


Michelle (topaz6) I think this book was a fantasy masterpiece. It drew me in, explained the world well without infodumps, and made me care about all three of the characters before I knew they might be related (i.e. the same person) to each other. Also the diversity is much-needed and does wonderfully, I can't think of another fantasy with a healthy polyamorous relationship!

Has anyone read the Traitor Baru Cormorant? The Guardians and Fulcrum kind of remind me of the main power structure in that world, very interestingly written.

I will most definitely be reading the Obelisk Gate when it comes out next week.


Veronique Michelle wrote: "I think this book was a fantasy masterpiece. It drew me in, explained the world well without infodumps, and made me care about all three of the characters before I knew they might be related (i.e. ..."

:0) I just bought Traitor Baru Cormorant. Looking forward to reading it now


Whitney | 2202 comments Mod
Michelle wrote: "I think this book was a fantasy masterpiece. It drew me in, explained the world well without infodumps, and made me care about all three of the characters before I knew they might be related (i.e. ..."

Yes to all that! It's amazing how much Jemisin packed into this book and how almost flawlessly she structured it, with nothing seeming at all forced.

I'll be posting a thread here for discussing Obelisk Gate after it's been out a little while.


Caroline (cedickie) | 384 comments Mod
I don't have anything much to add right now except that I really enjoyed the book! I also feel a bit silly to not catching on that they really all were the same person in the end. I wasn't too keen on the use of second person until the very end when it all came together. I'm definitely looking forward to Obelisk Gate.


back to top