In “Syl Anagist: Three,” the tuners go outside. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Broken Earth.
Holy fucking shit. Did I go this entire series without noticing that there’s not really any art in the Stillness? I know that there are books, but now that I think about it… music? Paintings? Sculptures? Statues have to exist in some form because there would be no way that stone eaters could be compared to them otherwise. But aside from all this?
Oh my god.
So, I was overwhelmed by this chapter. It’s brief, but damn, does it pack a PUNCH. Jemisin drops us into Hoa’s experience as a tuner, and it’s A LOT. There was no exaggeration in the earlier Syl Anagist: The tuners have never left captivity. So what would something like that look like? Well, Jemisin’s prose accomplishes an incredible thing here. We are put in the mind of someone experiencing literally everything for the first time. There are so many tiny things here that are very normal for us that are utterly confusing for the tuners. The air. The smells. SNEEZING. Dushwa starts crying because they sneeze. The sound of “leaves rustling” is a new experience. So are BIRDS. Climate! Wind is new. Looking at the city firsthand is also new, since everything was only seen from inside a building. Everything is overstimulating; everything is overwhelming.
However, that’s not just a negative thing, and Jemisin does give these characters a chance to express their wonder and amazement at what Syl Anagist actually is like. Actually, it’s less that the city inspires them, and more that the thing they were decanted to help with makes them feel like they have a purpose. Which is… it’s a little disturbing. It’s also hard not to think about the future, about what tuners will become, about what Kelenli ends up showing them. Because even amidst this sense of wonder, I can see how they worship the plutonic engine because they don’t know anything else. It is the pinnacle of Syl Anagist. It is the technological marvel. Look at that whole aside where Hoa shares what the tuners were told of the past, though. A specific narrative was fed to them: The world used to be awful. Now, things are better, and they will only continue to get better. It’s the illusion of progress. Because yes, certain things may have been improved, but at what cost? Is this world better if people like the Tuners exist, are “decanted” to basically exist as living tools? Who pays for that progress? And that’s not even getting into all the other exploitation happening here. On the surface, the world might be fine, but how were the people of Syl Anagist poisoning the Earth? What led to the Shattering?
Because there is almost always something ugly under the surface of utopic shit like this.
Actually, it’s weird saying that because what Kelenli shows underneath the facade of the city-node is the opposite of ugly. Y’all, I hope the notes below convey just how much I was losing it as I read this. I had no fucking idea where Kelenli was taking them. I knew that whatever she was showing them couldn’t be obviously seditious, since there were two guards with them at all times. Also, we get confirmation later that all three places she takes the tuners were pre-approved. So… what story did she sell? Context, right? She told the conductors they would become more efficient if they had context. So, she gives them a little tour of what once was, and I’m guessing the conductors think she’s going to teach them just how much “progress” this society has made by glimpsing into the past.
So, a museum. Makes sense, right? Where else could you go to easily look towards the past? (A neat detail here: the tuners were never taught how to read. Why would they be? That skill would never be needed for what they did.) (Another interesting detail: the way the tuners walk. Even that sets them apart, and I adored that moment where Hoa said that emulating Kelenli’s walk actually had nothing to do with the people around them.) The evidence of that is obvious right from the start, too. In a city-node comprised of literally living material—all of it!!!—there was a building that was “dead.” And now I will forever think of wooden buildings as being “dead” buildings because… that’s not a wrong way to describe it! I feel like all that is intentional, too, a way to play with the words “living” and “dead” to further support the idea of what has come to pass. The museum is both dead and obsolete.
Which is also why the thing that Kelenli shows them is so mind-blowing. Because that engine? That thing that someone who was not of Syl Anagist constructed? It’s not dead. It’s not ugly. It’s better. I feel like there’s another parallel here, too: Aren’t the conductors frustrated that Kelenli, who is a prototype, is more efficient than the tuners they created? So that makes me want to ask another question:
Who created Kelenli? How did they get her so right, and why was no one ever able to achieve that again?
I still can’t get over Hoa calling the engine art. Maybe I’ve oversold this art thing, and it has existed in some form throughout history. It certainly isn’t as important to many of the cultures, and that’s why Hoa’s epiphany struck me so hard. For a tuner to call something a work of art? That’s immensely meaningful. So… who the fuck built that thing???
- oh, wow, that opening line. WOW. It’s so fascinating to read that, knowing that Hoa started off as a tuner? Did he ever consider himself human at one point? Does he anymore?
- the fact that they’ve LITERALLY never been outside is so upsetting to me
- like, of course all this shit is overstimulating! none of them have ever heard the flutter of a bird’s wings. or sneezed. or dealt with pollution.
- this is SO MUCH
- I LOVE THE IDEA THAT NODES ADAPT TO THEIR CLIMATES
- “…but sometimes death is necessary” and there I am, back in that deeply uncomfortable place. wow, that was quick.
- wait the amethyst used to be an old growth forest???
- wait I think i’ve been thinking of syl anagist all wrong this whole fucking time
- “the amethyst is part of us” okay, literally?
- oh my god, what the fuck are the obelisks MADE out of
- this is astounding. how quickly they are emulating kelenli, WHY they do it, remwha’s resistance to it. THIS IS SO GOOD.
- “This is not about them.” HELP OH MY GOD.
- “Not exactly.” OH NO, I DISLIKE. WHAT IS THIS
- buildings are ALIVE in syl anagist??? normally???
- oh my god why the fuck did she show them this????
- once again, I am nervous down to my very CELLS.
- oh, right, they wouldn’t be able to read.
- are they in a fucking MUSEUM????
- I am so afraid of what this chapter is about to do to me
- okay look, the biggest mood in this book? HOW TOTALLY USELESS RAILINGS ARE. I hate them!!! they make me more nervous!!! thank you for voicing this anxiety to me, hoa!!!!!
- “Ancient times were horrible.” Well, I have some bad news about the future.
- what the fuck are they looking at
- wait what the fuck???? why is this engine here? Why aren’t there more of them if they’re so efficient?
- tones??? what is that?
- HOW IS ANY OF THIS POSSIBLE
- okay so… she is deliberately forcing them out of their paradigm, right? She showed them an impossible thing, to get them to accept that… maybe the impossible is actually possible? IDEK I AM GUESSING.
- “No one of Syl Anagist built this.” WHAT THE FUCK. THEN WHO DID.
- don’t end
- WHAT THE FUCK WAS THIS!!!!!!!
- I AM SO FURIOUS BUT ONLY WITH MYSELF BECAUSE OF HOW I READ BOOKS!!!!!!!
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