Optical Illusions

With some inspiration from Brigid’s post about comparing The Stillness with the Earth that we all call home, I want to expand on another idea related to this, that we have also briefly brought up in class: Jemisin has so beautifully created a world that we have recognized as vastly different from ours, which makes The Fifth Season a stunning example of a wonderfully executed science-fiction novel (hence being awarded The Hugo Award for Best Novel, wow!). However, thanks to the film we watched in class on Friday, which I believe was called The Last Angel of History, I began thinking of the similarities that are also present between The Stillness and our Earth, such as natural disasters, discrimination, loss, emotion, and so on. Despite the dystopian approach that Jemisin takes towards presenting The Stillness and the events that occur within it, which makes unfortunate aspects of this reality seem a million times worse than the unfortunate aspects of our own reality, there are still similarities that may not be clearly recognizable due to the genre of the book.

In The Last Angel of History, there is a specific line that sparked this blog post idea: “The line between social reality and science-fiction is an optical illusion”. (Ironically, I believe it was stated in the film that this phrase was written on a small piece of rock, which aligns wonderfully with the significant presence of rocks/geological material in The Fifth Season.) This “line” that is brought up immediately caught my attention, and I wanted to look into how this line may have effected the way I looked at the situations that occurred in The Fifth Season.

One example that I thought of was the shifting of identities that Damaya/Syenite/Essun goes through. These are first presented as three different, completely separate identities, until we figure out that it’s actually the same person, just in different stages of her life. This may seem very dramatic, and exclusive to a fiction story- where someone can just change their whole identity as frequently and easily as they please. However, I found that this can be related with the changing of maturity as we age. When Damaya/Syenite/Essun experienced a significant life change, she ended up changing her identity as she grew (this could tie into the growth vs fixed mindset that we talked about today, which I’ll maybe look into in another blog post!) Even though it isn’t common for us to change our entire identity, I can relate to this aspect of her character in my own way, and I found an understanding of how the change of her physical, legitimate identity can relate to how we change as we grow and learn.

Another concept that I feel applies to this “line” we struggle with relates to what the film described roughly as “expressing man and machine as an intertwined unit;  seeing the human side of technology, and the technological side of humanity”. I found that this seems like an exclusively science-fiction concept, because combining humans and machines seems very fiction-like. When we apply this to The Fifth Season, where humans and nature are combined to create an intertwined unit (orogenes!), it gives orogenes this air of impossibility: normal humans like us do not posses the ability to “manipulate thermal, kinetic, and related forms of energy to address seismic events” (Jemisin, p. 462), which makes them a sort of superhuman to us. However, instead of looking at orogenes as these freaks of nature (which is essentially what I’ve been doing), I took a step back after hearing this line in the film and looked at orogenes in a different light: yes, in one sense, they are a group of superhuman beings, but in another sense, they are expressing the human side of nature. I’ll unpack here- By demonstrating what the Earth is capable of doing, under the control of an orogene, it brings to life the incredible complexity and beauty of the things that occur right beneath our feet, in our own Earth, that we may not have given any thought to before reading this book. I can say that I surely had no interest in learning about earthquakes or minerals or P-waves and S-waves, etc. before reading this book, and because learning about those things has opened up new understandings within the reality of the book, I am now wondering what incredible understandings of my reality that I may be missing out on.

Overall, I can definitely say that similarities between our reality and a science-fiction reality are more difficult to identify because of the book being categorized as science-fiction. In some cases, this genre can be connoted by readers as purely unreal, due to the “fiction” aspect of it, and I admit that I fell into that category. But, by being conscious of the illusion that the word “fiction” can create attached to the end of the word science, I feel that I can now be more conscious of making an effort to blur that line, and approach my further reading of the series with a mindset that opens up to the possibility of finding similarities in concepts, even in things that are entirely foreign to my current mindset.

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