Father Earth’s Revenge: The Deadly Seasons

The Fifth Season includes many geological concepts to keep the readers engaged and wanting to read more. Throughout my reading of the novel, the most intriguing geological event N.K. Jemisin chose to include, in my opinion, was volcanic activity. The shakes are the primary geological aspect used most frequently throughout the novel, but after my reading I looked at the appendix and discovered something about the different seasons that make up the science-fiction world that is The Stillness. N.K. Jemisin took the time to go back to a time before her book was even set and created a timeline of Seasons for the readers to explore after their initial reading of her work in The Fifth Season.

There are a total of twelve seasons that N.K. Jemisin writes about in “Appendix I, A Catalog of Fifth Seasons…”, and out of those twelve seasons, eight of them were somehow linked with volcanic activity (eruptions, hot spots, etc.). A Fifth Season, as defined by Jemisin in Appendix II of The Fifth Season, is “an extended winter – lasting at least six months, per Imperial designation – triggered by seismic activity or other large-scale environmental alteration” (Jemisin 460). The Choking Season, Boiling Season, Breathless Season, Season of Teeth, Fungus Season, Madness Season, Heavy Metal Season, and Twin Season were all a result of some sort of volcano related geological event!

I found it extremely interesting that three-fourths of the cataloged Fifth Seasons were connected to volcanoes because of how prominent shakes/earthquakes are throughout the novel. This leads me as a reader to begin thinking about these geological events in relation to the topic of power and justice. Father Earth is described as a vengeful being that is out to destroy humankind and there are many things written about him in the stonelore and other forms of historical communication that frequently appear that the end of each chapter. For example, the quote at the end of chapter twenty in The Fifth Season is from an Ancient Folk Song and reads “Some say the Earth is angry / Because he wants no company; / I say the Earth is angry / Because he lives alone” (Jemisin 387). In the eyes of someone who thinks the Earth is vengeful because of the orogenes, stone eaters, and Guardians (among others) inhabiting the planet and using their powers to alter the way the Earth works, it could be said that Father Earth is using the power he has to fight for what he thinks is just. When the orogenes alter the Earth in anyway using their powers to stop quakes and other seismic/geological events from impacting the people that inhabit the Earth, they could be seen as using their power (in the literal and figurative sense) to avenge the population and provide justice to those who live in the Earth’s surface.

I read a National Geographic article in preparation for this essay and discovered that volcanic activity can occur in many forms. Volcanic ash is very harmful if inhaled, can collapse weak structures and even cause power outages. Volcanic mudflows can prove to be very destructive, burying entire towns in their wake. Pyroclastic flows, avalanches of hot rocks, ash and toxic gas can race down slopes at speeds as high as 450 miles an hour. These are just a few major examples of what volcanoes have the power to do. In the novel, Essun, Hoa, and Tonkee walk together amongst others through ash clouds that require them to wear face masks to avoid suffocation. The article, “Volcanoes, explained” written by Maya Wei-Haas (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/volcanoes), emphasizes how each volcano is unique and how it can’t always be easy to predict volcanic eruptions. Maya writes that warning signs include small earthquakes and difference in the appearance of the volcano in question, but “none of those signs necessarily mean an eruption in imminent” (Wei-Haas). The idea the humankind is sometimes unable to predict volcanic activity and use this information to take necessary precautions and preparations for a life altering geological event, the Earth has the power. Just like in the novel, Father Earth is the character that holds the power in the relationship between him and the people living on his surface.  

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