In “Syl Anagist: One,” the tuners know the truth. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Earth.
Trigger Warning: For slavery, consent, torture, body horror, genocide.
You know, I was warned. And back when it was mentioned that the Niess weren’t exactly gone, I knew. And yet? There was no way I could have braced myself for the true depth of the horror.
What a fucking nightmare, y’all.
I did my best to piece this chapter together as it was unfolding, but as you’ll see by the notes below, I missed the mark a couple times. First, I assumed the opening was for a specific reason: Kelenli was taken away from the tuners because they figured out what she was doing. But not only do I now know that’s off-base, I can also see how this wasn’t ever really an option. From Gallat’s interactions with the tuners, it’s clear he has bought every bit of propaganda and myth around them and their abilities. In particular, I don’t think he believes that they are capable of the sort of thought that would lead them to the epiphany that we get at the end of the chapter. So why would he and the other Conductors even consider that Kelenli is trying to radicalize the tuners? To further make this case: the conductors only see the end results, which is that the tuners are becoming more efficient, that they will assuredly be able to work together better for the final project.
My interpretation of this is that Kelenli did everything to provide the tuners not just an understanding of where they came from, not just what is being done to them, but to hint at what they can be:
But let’s back up to talk about Conductor Gallat, whose behavior wasn’t as clear to me at the start of the chapter. There’s a line that made no sense to me, but definitely does now:
We have wondered if Gallat has feelings himself. He does, I see when he draws back now, expression all a-ripple with hurt, as if Kelenli’s words have struck him some sort of blow “I’ve been good to you,” he says. His voice wavers.
Good to her? Once I also realized that this wasn’t about disrupting Kelenli’s lessons and more that she was needed elsewhere, a new portrait began to form of Gallat. It’s not until late in the chapter that the tuners spell it out to me: Gallat has been hurt by this whole system, but not nearly as much as Kelenli has. He sees himself as a savior or a protector of Kelenli, who he grew up with. But how can you be a savior of someone if you ultimately keep them within the machine that actively exploits them? How can you see yourself as a liberator when you’ve liberated no one? Remwha goes a step further when Gallat tries to justify how he’s never “mistreated” Kelenli, much like he’s mistreated the tuners:
He doesn’t want you to hear him say “like one of you,” Remwha signals, humming with irritation at my obtuseness. And he doesn’t want you to know what it means, if he says it. He reassures himself that he is not like the people who made his own life harder. It’s a lie, but he needs it, and he needs us to support that lie.
Whew, THAT HURTS. And it hurts because I think most of us have assured ourselves in someway that we don’t uphold this system that we live in that so openly exploits people. But that’s not true, is it? We just lie to ourselves, even when this system hurts US. There’s a specific context here, too, that I don’t want to ignore: Gallat has “undesirable ancestry,” and it doesn’t matter if he is or is not genetically descendent of the Niess:
We were made this way, but he was simply born with pale skin and icewhite eyes—traits common among the Niess. He isn’t Niess; the Niess are gone. There are other races, Sylanagistine races, with pale skin. The eyes suggest, however, that somewhere in his family’s history—distant, or he would not have been permitted schooling or medical care and his prestigious current position—someone made children with a Niesperson. Or not; the trait could be a random mutation or happenstance of pigment expression. Apparently no one thinks it is, though.
Just… fuck. I feel like I’ve had to say the same thing a million times while reading this trilogy, but I’m just so enamored with how Jemisin mixes real-world history and social terror with the speculative. This is a fully-realized secondary world, but part of the reason it comes across as so full is because Jemisin is so fucking talented at drawing conclusions like this one. She writes about physical appearance and prejudice in a way that speaks to people who recognize their own lives in this character. Yet she also isn’t ignoring how people who can be harmed by a world like this can also be complicit in upholding it.
Because Gallat has been. No matter how much he might have protected Kelenli or supported her or found ways for her to have small freedoms… he still upheld this world. A world, I might add, that has exploitation built into its very framework, an exploitation that is undeniable and inescapable! I didn’t comment on it in the past review, but I have to bring up this line here as I transition to talking about the final location Kelenli wanted the tuners to see:
We have reached the restricted zone around the base of the fragment—a three-tiered park with some administrative buildings and a stop on the vehimal line that (we are told) does a week run to Corepoint. It’s all very utilitarian, and a little boring.
First, this is why I thought that the fragment would reveal the connection to Earth. There’s that line in Nassun’s chapter where she comments on the violent arrogance of running the vehimal track through the core. Like, it wasn’t enough to siphon the Earth’s silver, but their weekly transportation pierces the core. Here, that line from Hoa really hints at how deeply fucked up this world is: the vehimal line is “utilitarian” and “a little boring.” Well, I get why Hoa would think that, but that’s also because he has no idea what it actually is. How many others do? How many people ever knew that the Earth was alive and aware, that they were hurting it? Ignorance is not an excuse for harm, either, and that’s also applicable to anyone living in Syl Anagistine who isn’t aware of where their power comes from. Question, though: Is it even a secret? Like, I think it’s awful either way, but something tells me that the people in charge have no reason to hide the truth. They’ve successfully sold and maintained the story of the Niess in order to oppress them and commit genocide. Somehow, then, the idea that this ISN’T a secret is way worse. That would mean most people know and don’t care.
But now the tuners know. I won’t quote the details of the briar patch. It is evocative of what we’ve already seen in the node maintainers, which means that history is simply cyclical. The current overlords just found a new story to tell and a new people to exploit and a new way to view people not as people but a body to use, a tool to utilize, a resource to plunder. It feels like the worst thing in the whole series, and it affected me so much reading the details of the briar patch that I just started crying. Granted, I cry over everything and the past year of my life has been the fucking worst, but I don’t think my response is all that dramatic. It’s horrifying looking over this again, and the cruelty is just so… open? Unhidden? Right there in front of literally anyone who looks upon the briar patch? Which is the point, I guess. If you strip a people of their personhood, you can do anything to them, right?
And that’s what leads to that final line:
So we go home.
And we begin, at last, to plan.
I’m reminded of what Hoa told us. Two things, mind you. First, he revealed at the beginning of this book that he flung the Moon away. I think we’ve now been given, through these Syl Anagist chapters, the basis for that action. Not everything, and I can’t claim to fully understand why he did that. But I really think we’re getting parallel storylines: Long ago, the tuners tried to end this vicious system. They failed. And now, Nassun is trying to end it again. (And I think she’ll succeed, whatever that means.)
I also don’t want to ignore another hugely important line:
But they also dismiss us more easily when we do not look at them, and I don’t want to be dismissed in this moment. I want him to feel this conversation, even if his weak, primitive sessapinae cannot tell him that my jealousy and resentment have raised the temperature of the city’s water table by two degrees.
We’ve been witness to Hoa falling in love (or whatever this might be, love or infatuation or affinity) with Kelenli, and we’ve also been given a warning in another chapter that love will be very important to Hoa’s past. I am much less certain where this is going, but I wonder… is that why he flings the Moon away? For Kelenli? How does this attachment come to affect the decisions he made? I think there’s also something to be said about his feeling being the first time he has ever experienced love, which means he also won’t know how to deal with it. He raised the temperature of AN ENTIRE WATER TABLE BY TWO DEGREES. That takes an immense amount of power!!!!
What happens if he uses that power for something else?
- I… that’s the opening line???? WHY MUST YOU DO THIS TO ME
- oh god, I really shouldn’t be surprised that the conductors likely figured out what she was doing? at least that is my guess
- wow. their pain or discomfort is “incidental.” WHEW.
- what kind of conversation are they having if they’re not using tuning/vibrations???
- oh god NOPE. GALLAT. NOPE. THIS IS BAD.
- the amethyst?
- THE SOCKET??????
- OH MY GOD WHAT IS SHE DOING.
- god, the way he talks about the tuners is… he really sees them as parts of a machine. shit.
- though I get a sense of something else. does he have feelings of some sort for kelenli?
- OH. OH SHIT. “undesirable ancestry” OH. SHIT.
- oh my god, hoa is so forward???? he is just asking gallat about kelenli???
- they are changing because they have context. they are changing because—here’s a guess—they are starting to see themselves as both individual people AND as a collective unit with power
- that whole bit about what love feels like for hoa… MOOD. ETERNAL MOOD.
- OH NO
- A HUMAN CONTROL
- EVERYTHING IS FUCKED UP ALL THE TIME
- WOW REMWHA’S WORDS. THIS BOOK. HOLY SHIT.
- “Then Syl Anagist must stop being Syl Anagist” AAHHHHHH THERE IT IS AHHHHHH
- oh god
- are these parallel storylines
- did someone try to end it all in the past, but failed? and now, nassun is on her way to try again?
- a weekly run to corepoint!!! WEEKLY!!!!
- immortality. galactic travel. they thought this would grant them unlimited energy
- IT DID SOMETHING SO MUCH WORSE
- HOA. thinking about what they would do if their life was theirs 🙁 🙁 🙁
- SOMETHING STRANGE
- I KNOW WHAT THAT IS
- IT’S NOT SINKLINE FEEDBACK
- IT’S FUCKING EARTH, ISN’T IT
- “And there… we are destroyed.” no. I am. it’s me. this is gonna destroy me, isn’t it?
- I was warned
- I knew it
- I even basically guessed it
- “Some of them we can see breathing”
- I just. burst into tears. this is terrible. the worst thing.
- god, now I’m just realizing the node maintainers were just a cycle. a repetition of the past
- sent to the briar patch. jesus fucking christ
- millions. millions of bodies exploited for decades
- “And we begin, at last, to plan.”
- I knew it I KNEW THIS IS WHY SHE WANTED THEM TO SEE THIS.
- hey. that rhyme. that rhyme is..
- look, there is a long history of “innocent” children’s rhymes being based on a nightmare.
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