Mark Reads ‘The Stone Sky’: Syl Anagist – Zero

In “Syl Anagist: Zero,” the tuners make their fateful decision. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Stone Sky.

Trigger Warning: For mention of grief

Well, they tried, didn’t they?

It’s worth something to me. In the greater scheme of this story, the tuners recognized that Syl Anagist was built on a constant source of exploitation—the Niess and the tuners—and that they were created to help exploit another living thing forever. A perpetual machine of exploitation, if you will. Faced with the reality of an existence that would be violent in perpetuity, they made a choice, one that was supposed to be final, one that spoke to how their captors and oppressors misjudged their ability. Because oppressors always do, don’t they? They have to. They have to minimize and diminish and insult in order to posit that they themselves are the superior beings. And in doing so, they become unable to see the truth.

And so, the tuners struck.

But Hoa’s story loops around, shoots back and forth between the present and the past. In the present, I believe he was referring to Essun: she committed “to the change.” I assume that’s the change in her body? Or maybe this is all a reference to the last Essun chapter. Look, Hoa has outright admitted to us that he’s had his own motives in all this, and we know he’s been willing to manipulate Essun to reach his endgame. And now, Essun will shortly be on her way to Corepoint, to reunite with her daughter, where the choice will be presented again.

What’s the solution? Does Essun return the Moon and try to repair things with Earth, to grant Earth the recompense it deserves? Or will Nassun destroy them all, both out of fury and out of mercy?

I don’t know. Yet. 

But let’s talk about what is revealed here, because Jemisin has tied up so many questions in this mind-blowing, upsetting, and shocking chapter. I feel… well, first, lemme say that I feel satisfied. Deeply so! The answer to the mystery of the origin of orogenes is given to us. So is the origin of the Guardians and the strangeness of their corestone implants; so is the mystery the sockets and those strange iron needles. The Moon. Kelenli. The tuners. The conductors. THE IRON THING THAT TONKEE TOUCHED IN CASTRIMA’S CONTROL CENTER. Why Hessionite was murdered!!! This chapter was like a dose of adrenaline and dopamine and serotonin ALL AT ONCE. 

So let’s start with Alabaster. I appreciated that we opened with his story because it grounded the reader in what was to come: the tuners having a similar breakdown as they tried to understand reality. And that’s really what this is, isn’t it? I think any person who considers themselves knowledgable and aware in our own world has a moment like this. They realize how fundamentally broken the world is, and the despair and rage settle in. At first, that is. But what do you do with that? What happens, in particular, when Alabaster learns the truth of the tuners and the Moon from Tablet Three? (OH MY GOD WE FINALLY FOUND OUT WHAT WAS ON THAT, TOO.)

He leaves. He abandons the Fulcrum and his Guardian. I mean, who wouldn’t try to run away from an epiphany that horrific? I was fascinated by his Guardian’s reaction, but it does explain why they had such an odd relationship. It wasn’t hard to see what was happening here: I think this was a way to reference Steel’s conversation in the previous chapter. What if Leshet loved Alabaster? What if that was her way of resisting the will of the corestone? And didn’t Alabaster visit Leshet as she was dying? I don’t know, maybe I’m just connecting dots that aren’t actually there, but with the reveal at the end of this about the origin of the Guardians, I can’t help but think this was all part of that! 

From here, though, Jemisin gives us another crucial scene. Now that I’ve read it again, I realize that this was the final time that Hoa saw Kelenli. And what a goodbye: a goodbye without words, just a single stare. But a stare that communicated so much:

Kelenli stands gazing after him until he is gone. Then her head turns and she looks right at me. Stahnyn makes a choked sound beside me, but she is a fool. Of course Kelenli will not report us. Why would she? Her performance was never for Gallat.

She gave Hoa the last piece of the puzzle:

I close my eyes, aching as I finally, finally, understand. Kelenli is one of us in every way that matters, and she always has been.

And the tuners always will be the same in the eyes of the conductors. They will never ascend to anything greater because it is impossible within this system. It was designed that way. The interpersonal relationship between Gallat and Kelenli isn’t just a matter of a pregnancy that isn’t supposed to happen. Both of them cannot escape what this world has decided they are. They’ll always be damaged goods in the eyes of others, even the people they love. Well, even worse for the tuners and, I assume, Kelenli: they won’t be anything after Geoarcanity. Syl Anagist will have no use for them, and I’m sure that if they’d done as they were ordered, the Sylanagistine would have found a new way to fold the tuners into their genocide of the Niess. 

So they decide, in an act of poetry, to destroy everything with the very engine that was supposed to grant them perpetual magic. Well, perpetual relative to them; it never could have been actually perpetual. But they were too arrogant to ever see that. To ever see that magic comes from life, so something at the core of the Earth had to have been alive. To ever see that this whole venture would always have ended in a terrible, terrible violence.

That being said, no one expected the violence that came to be. First: THE MOON. OH MY GOD, I can’t believe I was technically right with my The Obelisk Gate prediction about them going to space. I WAS JUST WRONG ABOUT THE TIMELINE. Zero Site was never on Earth, IT WAS ON THE MOON. Even worse, Jemisin chooses a particularly disturbing means of revealing that Earth uses metal as a means of communication and control. It’s here that the true context and meaning of corestone becomes apparent. Again, it’s such an incredible display of hubris. The very thing that leads to the downfall of Syl Anagist is the object they proudly put on display INSIDE THEIR SECRET MOON BASE. Earth spied on the humans through it!!! And even when Hoa warns them all that it’s definitely alive and it is DEFINITELY angry, they don’t fucking listen. Because the tuners have no value outside of being tools, and tools can’t warn those that wield them. At least not in the minds of these people.

I admit to a glee, even knowing that this wasn’t going to end like the tuners had planned. There’s something deeply satisfying about reading this all unfolding with not one of the people in Zero Site even slightly suspicious of the tuners. I accept that glee because it’s a power fantasy for me. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to turn my oppressors’ tools against them? Wouldn’t it be great to see the surprise on their faces when they realized just how much they had underestimated me and my people? Yet even for Hoa, it’s not that simple, especially once he finds out that Gallat left Kelenli behind on Earth. As promised, love plays a part in this unfolding apocalypse, and Hoa’s “love”—whatever that love might be—affects his decisions at Zero Site. There’s this part, which… whew. THIS HIT HARD:

She should survive the initial convulsion of magic; even if she’s in contact with any of the devices that flux, she has more than enough skill to shunt the feedback away. Then in the aftermath, she’ll be just another survivor, made equal in suffering. No one will know what she really is—or her child, if it ends up like her. Like us. We will have set her free… to struggle for survival along with everyone else. But that is better than the illusion of safety in a gilded cage, is it not?

Better than you could have ever given her, I think at Gallat.

There’s an elegance here: I see tones of Essun’s life, which is fitting given who Kelenli is. The idea of hiding orogeny in plain site… Essun tried that. Twice. There’s also an echo of what Nassun is struggling with: her love for Schaffa and the ramifications of what she is about to do. It’s part of a long cycle, but Jemisin continues to leave us wondering: Will Nassun or Essun be able to close this loop? Or will they destroy it? Bend its shape into something else? 

And how exactly did Hoa help shape the world we see in the present day?

We learn that here, and again, so very many hints and clues from over the course of the series come to fruition. Like this:

(There is a stutter here, quick and barely noticeable in the heady moment, though glaring through the lens of memory. Some of the fragments hurt us, just a little, when they detach from their sockets. We feel the scrape of metal that should not be there, the scratch of needles against our crystalline skin. We smell a whiff of rust. It’s quick pain and quickly forgotten, as with any needle. Only later will we remember, and lament.)

Because that was Earth. Because Earth communicates and controls through metal. Because in a way, Hoa and their tuner friends were doomed from the start. Sort of, that is, since part of the whole reason this war is ignited is because neither party has a definitive victory. Earth had the advantage in many ways, and the tuners were also ignorant. They didn’t know that if you stuff enough magic “into something nonliving,” that it would come alive. And what happens when you have a collective of obelisks, all used as conduits for magic, that remember what was done to them? Y’ALL. THE ONYX WANTED JUSTICE SO IT LET HOA CONTROL IT. Even then!!!! Even with that on their side… fuck. I wasn’t ready for the sheer chaos of this sequence. Jemisin writes Hoa’s narration with a beautiful poetry. He is accepting that he’s going to die (but not alone) while eradicating this entire monstrous system.

But.

But. 

Remember. We were not the only ones who chose to fight back that day.

Three sides to this war. Stone eaters. Earth. Humanity. And Earth wrenches twenty-seven obelisks away from the tuners’ control, bringing this into a stalemate… until Burndown. That word. That word we heard so long ago. That’s what Earth wanted to do: to utterly destroy everything. But Hoa was in love. Hoa couldn’t fathom a world destroyed with Kelenli still on it. And so, he made a choice, a split-second one, and he shattered the moonstone cabochon. The power flung the Moon out of orbit.

And then.

And then.

The transformation. 

I have said that it held us responsible for the attempt on its life, and it did—but somehow, perhaps through its years of study, it understood that we were tools of others, not actors of our own volition. Remember, too, that the Earth does not fully understand us. It looks upon human beings and sees short-lived, fragile creatures, puzzlingly detached in substance and awareness from the planet on which their lives depend, who do not understand the harm they tried to do—perhaps because they are so short-lived and fragile and detached. And so it chose for us what seemed, to it, a punishment leavened with meaning: It made us part of it. In my wire chair, I screamed as wave upon wave of alchemy worked over me, changing my flesh into raw, living, solidified magic that looks like stone.

Thus, the stone eaters were made in an instance of retribution and justice, at least in the eyes of Earth. It’s poetic, too, to create these beings who, like the Earth, last forever. Who will understand the impossible stretch of time. Who will have an eternity to ponder the long-lasting ramifications of their actions.

Well, that’s not all of it:

We didn’t get the worst of it; that was reserved for those who had offended the Earth the most. It used the corestone fragments to take direct control of these most dangerous vermin—but this did not work as it intended. Human will is harder to anticipate than human flesh. They were never meant to continue.

Incredible. That is where the Guardians came from, and based on what we know from what Steel said in the previous chapter, it’s easy to connect the dots: Human willpower allowed some of them to resist Earth’s control. And these same humans who subjugated the Niess and the tuners started all over again, didn’t they? Which leads us to the last piece as it falls into place

Only Kelenli’s children, who did not stand out, whose strength hid in plain sight, continued. Only Kelenli’s legacy, in the form of the lorists who went from settlement to settlement warning of the coming holocaust and teaching others how to cooperate, adapt, and remember, remains of the Niess. 

Because they had one hundred years before those 27 obelisks burned down to the core. Because they had time to prepare for the very first Fifth Season. And in that time, Kelenli gave birth to the very first orogenes, or at least what we now understand as orogenes. 

I don’t think this explains everything about the origin of both the orogenes and the Guardians, but it’s enough. It’s enough to get a portrait of that time, back when both groups came into existence. I am certain that there are Guardians who don’t even know what their original purpose was: a punishment. Instead, they became part of yet another system of theft. They stole orogenes, and they stole from orogenes.

No more, right? That’s what we’re leading to. As Hoa notes, it’s time for Essun to end the world again. Or Nassun? Or both? OH GOD, WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN IN THESE LAST THREE CHAPTERS????

NOTES

  • the name of this chapter activated a deep and terrible fear in me
  • WHY ZERO
  • WHAT WAS THIS COUNTING DOWN TO
  • I imagine the Moon thingy???
  • (i’m an adult and I know words)
  • wait
  • what is the present??? where is hoa telling this story from
  • i’m so nervous
  • oh wait
  • gaewha???? what is she doing here???
  • FUCK YOU
  • FUCK YOU
  • THAT’S W
  • ANTIMONY
  • I CAN’T FUCKING BELIEVE IT
  • HOW DOES JEMISIN KEEP TRICKING ME OVER AND OVER
  • committed to what change????
  • oh my god is hoa referring to nassun? essun????
  • oh god, this whole bit about being betrayed by your society MIND EXPLOSION
  • THIS WHOLE BIT IS DESTROYING ME
  • okay, right, for a long time, alabaster always spoke of knowing more stonelore, but never explained it
  • the original tablet three said WHAT?!?!?!?!
  • NO ONE WAS READY TO ACCEPT OROGENES
  • oh my god LESHET. HOLY SHIT
  • oh god hessionite OH MY GOD
  • so now we know why hessionite was murdered
  • “life is sacred” whose???? oh god this fucking book
  • AAHHHH HOA REALIZING HOW UNDER VALUED THEY ARE!!!!
  • w;lakjt;lekjr;lj;ljasd;lfj;sdlkfja;lsdkjfasd;s HOA JUST PUT HER BUSINESS ON DISPLAY!!!!
  • the fact that hoa literally never considered running away
  • I can’t
  • I am literally on the edge of my seat reading this
  • oh
  • oh 
  • oh kelenli
  • OH
  • THIS WHOLE SCENE
  • WHAT THE FUCK
  • “the ember catches fire in all of us” this line has me VIBRATING
  • oh my god, they wanted to use the Gate to destroy everything??? but… they didn’t? Or did they? I DON’T ACTUALLY KNOW
  • oh my god this is happening
  • feeding upon the life of the planet, forever. 
  • WE SHOULD HAVE GUESSED fucking hell, this book
  • kjn.n.sdf.m,nzxdmn,.sdfmn.fsdmn,.fsadasdfknasdfkljsafdlksafdkljsdfajkfsda
  • I CAN’T 
  • I CAN’T FUCKING BELIEVE
  • ZERO SITE IS ON THE FUCKING MOON
  • OH MY GOD HOW DID I NOT GUESS THIS
  • WAIT
  • DIDN’T I PREDICT THEM GOING INTO SPACE FOR BOOK 2 ;ADJF;AFDKADSJ;KSDAJFASDKLFJAS;LKDFJ;ALSKDFJA;SJASJDFL;KASDJF
  • look at me being right in the wrongest way possible
  • there’s a whole fucking facility. ON THE MOON.
  • the test bore???
  • “I immediately hate her.” RIGHT. THE WAY SHE DRIPPED ALL THAT IN CONDESCENSION
  • “it’s angry” HI WHAT THE FUCK
  • OH MY GOD
  • IS that
  • corestone????
  • OH MY GOD IT IS
  • aahhhhahsfdljakdshflasd IS THAT EARTH SPEAKING TO HOA???
  • no??? where is kelenli???
  • OH NO. NOPE
  • OH shit, he spared her???
  • THE ABSOLUTE POWER OF HOA CLAIMING THAT THEY ARE PEOPLE AND SAYING THEY WON’T BE ABLE TO DENY THIS AND YET
  • THE TRAGEDY OF WHAT COMES IN THE FUTURE
  • OH MY GOD THAT QUICK FLASH OF PAIN
  • so. alive. it was all alive
  • OH. OH SHIT. THEY REMEMBER HORROR AND ATROCITY
  • j u s t i c e 
  • this is truly amazing, y’all.
  • “but for a society built on exploitation, there is no greater threat than having no one left to oppress.” I believe this line has completely sent me into the ether. 
  • “it will be good not to die alone.” I… I am speechless at this book
  • BUT
  • BUT!!!!
  • WAIT WHAT THE FUCK
  • what are the needles????
  • HELLO LITTLE ENEMIES!!!!!!!
  • WHAT DID THOSE IRON SHARDS DO!!!!
  • wait didn’t that almost happen to tonkee??? in castrima????
  • oh god I feel like the word “contaminated” is intentional!!!
  • OH MY GOD.
  • BURN FOR ME
  • I love the poetry of that test bore being the thing that led to the downfall
  • oh
  • oh the needles
  • METAL
  • INSTRUMENTS OF EARTH
  • BURNDOWN!!!!! OH MY GOD
  • hoa warned us that love would matter in the end
  • oh
  • oh that’s what he did
  • he redirected the power
  • and the Earth made them all part of IT
  • and it created fucking GUARDIANS
  • whose own willpower and humanity were strong enough to resist corestones… until they contaminated
  • oh my god. twenty seven wounds
  • wait
  • WIAT
  • KASDKJF;LKSDAK;LASDJFADS
  • WAIT
  • KELENLI GAVE BIRTH TO OROGENES
  • DIDN’T SHE
  • IS THIS ALL MEANT TO ESTABLISH THAT ESSUN IS KELENLI’S DESCENDENT?? 
  • oh my god KELENLI GAVE BIRTH TO THE OROGENES SHE TOTALLY DID
  • fuck
  • holy fuck, the guardians make so much sense now
  • THIS BOOK HOLY SHIT

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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