One of the most impressive qualities that I read the Stillness’ humans to have was their consideration of time and legacy in their decision making. After all, the Sanzed Empire was only able to maintain its power and the oppression of orogenes because it had a referenceable past that was hundreds of years old. This past is uncontestable because they are able to dominate the Stillness as the victor and therefore the author of their origins. From this position they could squash opposition using their developed power structure. There is a perfection to this oppression despite it being so horrible and offensive to free speech sensibilities as well as the generally held belief that racism is bad. The length of this engineered past that is used to oppression orogenes is what I consider to be the most important aspect of Sanzed’s sustained power.
We’ve talked about geologic time scale in class a number of times though I’ve recently become more aware of how that aspect of geology starts to creep itself into the emotional experience of reading the Broken Earth Trilogy. It was in The Stone Sky’s end that I realized that Hoa is one of the oldest available characters in the trilogy after he benchmarked himself at forty thousand years old. His position in Syl Anagist was still ahead of what could have been hundreds of years of oppression and outright genocide. The length of recorded human existence on Jemisin’s Earth surpasses ours by an unthinkable amount. I would even go so far as to claim that the Neolithic resemblance of comms is as much a result of the refusal of metal tools as well as the loss of momentum that comes from the complete collapse of a civilization.
When I first started learning about the scale of geologic time from a class I took with Scott Giorgias (the climate change one he mentioned when he came to talk with us) I remember being disturbed by our Earth’s own geologic time scale. There is a sense of horror that one gains when they learn how short their life is in comparison to the history of planets. There is an even greater sense of horror when one learns how short the life of their entire species is in comparison to the history of planets. Though I do not think that it was Jemisin’s intention to write within a genre of horror, I started picking up this thread of time scale that was absolutely frightening. I would assert that humans are placed into the middle of an abyss where there is a past preceding them that is no truly knowable and an infinity in front of them that is guaranteed to wash over them in life. It only seems natural that a world of such scale should have the immortal stone eaters to try and keep the record of everything straight. Hoa, for example, is so old one can assume that he has become an authority on human interaction by virtue of being able to observe thousands and thousands of years of humanity.
When I started reaching out into the void for other people who treat time in similar ways I found this article in the Paris Review. What Aaron Worth writes in his article, “The Horror of Geologic Time,” is that the emergence of geology had brought an enlightening to the people of the nineteenth century. Specifically, the writer Arthur Machen began working in the yawning void of knowledge that science had opened up. Estimates made by religious leaders placed the age of the world at a mere six millennium. Worth writes it as “The world was suddenly—overnight, as it were—millions of years old,” and it’s fairly easy to conclude that violently shaking the beliefs of a majority religious group might startle that same group. The article considers the unrecognized weight of geologic horror in Machen’s writing with specific attention to the short story “The Shining Pyramid.” Where authors like H. P. Lovecraft was reaching out into space for the unknown, Machen had simply gone under the soil to create his own kind of horror. Jemisin and Machen both capitalize on the scale of geologic time when they talk around the mystery of what goes on underneath the feet of their characters. Where Machen writes about subterranean races that serve as reminders to humanity’s bestial beginnings (The Shining Pyramid’s antagonists), Jemisin writes mystery into the Earth’s crust as magic and its harnessing’s dark history. Both presented something to be discovered and seemed to need no further canvas than the pretense of life before humans as they’re currently known. There’s plenty fear of the unknown right here on this planet without involving aliens or ghosts.