Mark Reads ‘Lifeboats’: Chapter 4, Part III

In the third part of the fourth chapter of Lifeboats, Kit meets his new wizard partners and tries to settle in to strange circumstances. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Young Wizards.

OH, THIS WAS SO GOOD. You know, reading a story like this — in which Duane must construct an entire world for the reader — makes me want to write something like this. Duane has long been good at this (THAT ALTERNATE MANHATTAN, HELP), so it’s not like I’m surprised or anything. It’s just that this is so goddamn cool and SHE HAS ALREADY WRITTEN SO MUCH COOL SHIT. The world of the Tevaralti has some similarities to our own reality, but all of the ways in which she deviated from that fascinated me. First: it’s not just strict worldbuilding that we’re getting her, at least in the sense of explaining the details of Tevaral. Much of that was done earlier. Here, however, we’re given contextual detail we did not have before, such as the layout of the gating system that will ferry people from different locations all over the planet to one of the six refuge planets. It shows how well thought-out this is, sure, but it also adds emotional weight to everything we’re experiencing.

Part of that comes from the sheer strangeness of this all. Kit has arrived on a planet that he doesn’t really get to explore, and instead, he sees it in a bizarre state of flux. There’s Thesba looming in the sky, and the population is flowing out continuously, and then Duane drops that one detail that makes EVERYONE UNCOMFORTABLE.

Kit had known since he’d left home how huge the numbers were of the people who were moving off the planet every moment. But there was something else going on with the people in this huge encampment. These were some of the people the Tevaralti Planetary had spoken of—the ones who felt they couldn’t leave just yet, and maybe wouldn’t leave at all. The dull gold of Thesdba shone down on them as on the rippling of the wind through the alien grass, so that the whole plain seemed alive with half-seen, uneasy movement, with the muttering of the wind and the murmur of countless distant voices.

I know I referenced this before, but that constant reminder is always a part of the narrative in Lifeboats. We can’t forget about Thesba, and Kit can’t forget about the thousands of Tevaralti who do not seem to want to (or, perhaps, can’t) leave. So even when Kit meets two of the wizards who he will be working with while monitoring the gates, the pleasant experience has still got an edge to it. Djam and Cheleb are charming and pleasant (as well as two of the coolest wizards we’ve met), but even they’re disturbed by the work that they’re doing.

BUT LET’S TALK ABOUT CHELEB. I said this in the video reading for this section, but one of the great failures of much of science fiction (and really, I focus on Star Trek a lot since I just finished watching it) is the reliance on the human gender binary when creating new species and civilization. So yes, I was thrilled when we were introduced to a new character who uses pronouns that are unique to this book: hae and haes. YES. IT’S SO COOL. And it’s about time! There are a few slips in the text where “his” is used, but otherwise it was a cool way to demonstrate that the general human ideas of gender are limited.

Duane also expands this world with the use of the sibik, a species native to Tevaral that might look like something we recognize, but that actually helps the book feel strange and different. The sibik are an intelligent species, but they behave in ways that seemed unique to me. Though… they’re kinda like violent Tribbles, aren’t they? OH MY GOD, RIGHT.

Anyway, I’m still nervous about this because I know it’s all heading towards disaster. I’m really eager for Kit to talk to some of the Tevaralti who are remaining behind because gods, that is gonna be uncomfortable. Plus, new wizards! New characters! It’s so exciting!

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since ’09.

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