In “Syl Anagist: Four,” Hoa is tempted. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Earth.
Legacy. I can’t escape that word as I think about what Jemisin accomplished here. All the characters in the present time are living in the wake of a legacy established long, long ago. There is a delicate, complicated brilliance to all this, as Jemisin fills the text not just with images and phrases and ideas that call towards the future of the Stillness, but are also drawn from our world. It’s a dual parallel!!! IT’S SO GODDAMN GOOD!
So, let me try to piece this all together. It feels very obvious to me now that the reason for Hoa’s big reveal in the opening for this book is because of Kelenli. I think she is the one who changes the internal monologue we see here. For the most part, Hoa, as a tuner, sees himself as a tool that was made for a purpose and nothing more. Normally, he derives no meaning from anything that is outside of that purpose. Which isn’t exactly a stretch, given that until this point in his existence, he hadn’t even left his “prison” before. He was been a Tuner for the Engine the whole time, held captive indoors because Tuners weren’t allowed out with the general population. And there’s no pushback against this, because… well, why would there be? Tuners don’t even have the words or experiences to truly understand freedom or agency. Again, look at the way Hoa talks about himself throughout this chapter. He is a tool and nothing more. WHICH IS A PAINFUL PARALLEL TO WHAT ESSUN TOLD YKKA JUST A COUPLE CHAPTERS AGO!!! She can’t imagine herself as anything other than a rogga because the world hasn’t allowed her that option.
This is where Kelenli comes in. I still don’t understand what she is, aside from the stated bit of her being a “prototype” for the other tuners. Yet despite that status, she’s actually more efficient than any of the tuners who came after her, so much so that she rubs most of the tuners the wrong way. Why is she “better”? Well, because:
She feels sharper than the rest of us, she explains, because she is more experienced. Because she’s lived outside of the complex of buildings that surround the local fragment, and which has comprised the entirety of our world since we were decanted. She has visited mre nodes of Syl Anagist that just the one we live in; she has seen and touched more of the fragments than just our local amethyst. She has even been to Zero Site, where the moonstone rests. We are in awe of this.
So, let’s first move past the fact that the moon “rests” somewhere, which makes me think it’s not up in the sky? I don’t fucking get that, and I’ll obsess about it for the rest of the review if I don’t move on. By the end of the chapter, it’s clear that the tuners actually have been thinking outside of their purpose. They’re incredibly eager to leave the compound! They just can’t express it out loud or let the Conductors suspect as much. But even though they were “decanted” to be tools, it hasn’t negated their curiosity. And now, here’s someone who is claiming she can “sharpen” the tuners by taking them outside of the only place they’ve ever known. Not only that, but it’s hard for me not to see this as a subversive thing, especially with passages like this one:
(She soothes me with a polishing stroke. It is not a kindness that you are kept so dull.) “You need to understand more about yourself. What you are.”
Right??? Doesn’t it seem like she’s trying to awaken them, for lack of a better term? Or maybe she’s trying to show them that they’re actually human, too. (Which makes it tragic whenever Hoa remarks that the tuners were made like statues. Oh god, an unfortunate reference to what these humans will become, right? Since Earth turned some of the humans into stone eaters.) That’s why I also thought that Conductor Callat was the original form of both a Guardian and Schaffa. What if this was just a more pronounced separation between who was enslaved and who was considered a human? And what better way to make all the tuners fully believe that they aren’t human by depriving them of literally everything that humans experience? Honestly! Look at the life they lead!!!
That being said, one thing I really admire about the construction of all of this is, as I noted before, the existence of curiosity. Of resilience. Of secrecy. Because while the tuners might believe they are tools, it’s to an extent. They still have their earth speak, and they use it on purpose to have quasi-seditious and radical conversations that they absolutely shouldn’t be having. They question things constantly, and all of them seem to have been wondering about the world outside for a long, long time. That earth speak thing is probably my favorite single detail. How many oppressed groups have developed their own languages of survival? How many had means of communication that went undetected by their overseers? That’s what earth speak feels like to me! Jemisin is drawing upon a long tradition of oppressed peoples finding subversive ways to stay connected. There’s a really cool moment where Remwha, one of the tuners, manipulates the Conductor further into Kelenli’s idea. It’s so subtle, but it demonstrates an awareness on their part, and even Kelenli, with her “silent” signal of approval, was in on it. I LOVE IT SO VERY, VERY MUCH. It makes me excited for what I imagine is the content in “Syl Anagist: Three.” I hope??? But I don’t know!!
I also wanted to talk about the absolutely disturbing sequence in which the tuners are painted to look brown so that they can “blend in” with others while they’re outside. I love that Jemisin plays with expectations of skin color and hair texture as a way of marking difference here, particularly in how there’s no amount of powder that could ever hide who they really are. Which is why Kelenli tells them it’s pointless and has it all removed! That leads to a SCORCHING conversation about original thought, about fear, about the place tuners have in this society. This bit in particular reminded me of a similar passage in The Obelisk Gate:
They’re afraid because we exist, she says. There’s nothing we did to provoke their fear, other than exist. There’s nothing we can do to earn their approval, except stop existing—so we can either die like they want, or laugh at their cowardice and go on with our lives.
Right? Isn’t that what racists feel, down at the core of their sense of self? Isn’t that the same anxiety we see here, in Syl Anagist, and later, throughout the Stillness? It’s exactly what Nassun struggled with in the last chapter! There’s no way out of this system as it currently stands unless you stop existing, and she refuses to do that. She’s standing on a legacy, isn’t she? The same things that Hoa struggled with as a tuner is what she struggles with as an orogene. It’s all cyclical; it’s all repeating. And clearly, Hoa did not destroy this system.
Is Nassun going to?
- Oh. this is counting down, isn’t it.
- well, that’s disturbing
- infinite efficiency
- so this is like… they wanted to eliminate decay and entropy, right?
- the tuners talking about themselves as tools… lord.
- “this isn’t the first time we’ve had to do it.” god. the matter-of-fact nature of that
- I turned into that Leo DeCaprio meme when I saw the word “fulcrum”
- okay, what the FUCK is up with Kelenli
- THE WIRE CHAIRS. NODE MAINTAINERS. HELP.
- I still can’t get over how creepy the word “decanted” is in this context
- where the moonstone RESTS?
- it’s not in the sky?????
- oh god SHE IS GOING TO RADICALIZE THEM, ISN’T SHE
- “built like statues” you mean like STONE EATERS oh the irony
- the whole bit about who was built wrong or whose understanding is wrong… that’s so REAL.
- “Remwha is just an ass.” I LAUGHED SO HARD.
- wait are the Conductors like… proto-Guardians?
- OH LMAO Hoa shut that down real quick. I was ready to ask if he was Schaffa.
- “Tools should not want to escape their box so obviously.” THIS IS RUINING ME.
- holy shit, remwha manipulated gallat!
- THE HAIR TEXTURE DETAIL, I’M YELLING
- also the fact that they have a secret means of communication!!!
- “maybe I don’t want to be liked” I REALLY ADORE KELENLI
- the whole bit about laughing at their cowardice! mood of ALL TIME!!!!!
- holy shit, this whole metaphor is INCREDIBLE. Even when they did what they were told, the Tuners were still killed off.
- “It doesn’t matter what we do. The problem is them.” !!!!!!!!!!!!! I LOVE THIS BOOK SO MUCH.
- LEGACY. OH MY GOD. I mean, the present timeline is everyone living in the legacy of what was done in Syl Anagist!!!
- UGH THAT FINAL QUOTE. Also, are we ever going to see what’s in Warrant?
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