“How do you decide what to include?“
“Where do you start?”
“How do you decide if the narrator is reliable?”
“How reliable does a narrator have to be for you to believe them?”
These are just some of the questions that my group thought of during the discussion of how to write science fiction stories and specifically some questions that Jemisin thought of as she was writing the Broken Earth trilogy. Earlier in the semester, we looked at the Deadly Sins of Worldbuilding in class. I think that the article covered what not to include when building a new world. Although I think that Jemisin did a good job in her world-building, I really think that she danced around the “seven deadly sins” and almost committed a couple of them. For example, the second sin is “not explaining why certain events are happening now” and although it was a stylistic choice to make the first sixty pages of The Fifth Season confusing, that could and probably did turn people off to the series almost immediately. Eventually, Jemisin gets around to explaining what was happening, why it was happening, and what was to come of the events in the first sixty pages of the trilogy. Although she toed the line on that sin, it did make for an interesting start to the series.
The Fifth Season starts with tragedy because it is a tragic series. It is literally called the Broken Earth Trilogy. Once we get past learning that the main characters very young child is dead at the hands of his father, we get some context of the land that we were essentially plunged into with a lack of grace. We had to start with the beginning of the end of the world as our characters know it in order to get to the end of life as the characters know it to the beginning of what could be. It’s like in the military, when you go to basic training they break you down to build you back up into something stronger. Once we understand this we can move onto the narrator.
The narration of the trilogy is in the second person, meaning the story is being told to you by some outside source. Eventually, we learn that this source is Hoa talking to Essun. I didn’t start thinking about the reliability of Hoa as the narrator until The Obelisk Gate. I just took everything he said as the truth for a long while. Then I saw the cracks – places where he would pause or refute something that he had said because he was putting his own bias onto your, Essun, story. The going back and correcting himself or acknowledging that he was changing or altering details made me question him more, instead of trusting in his words. How much was the truth? How much was hearsay from other stone eaters? How much was he just trying to make Essun out to be something that she’s not? Of course, we can’t ask him these questions, but it’s just something to think about.