Writing is a difficult skill that takes years to develop and perfect. The process to solve a math problem can be instructed, the dates of a political conflict can be memorized, and even chemical compounds can be derived and analyzed. Writing is difficult in other ways. It can’t be taught in a traditional sense, you cannot read how to deliver an idea, argue a point, or explore a concept beyond the pure basics of writing. Much of the journey of learning to write is a personal process of trial and error, considering input from others to make small, microscopic adjustments over time. Many times these adjustments themselves are hidden. You can’t mathematically confirm if an essay delivers what you want to say, or look up the answers online to find if what you are saying reaches the reader in any meaningful way. This is where the value of good writing and good writers come from, the difficulty in developing this skill.
One of the most powerful moments in The Broken Earth occurs in its final confrontation. “This moment would be when Essun and Nassun finally meet up after years of travel, “I watch you and your daughter face each other for the first time in two years, across a gulf of hardship” (The Stone Sky, 371). While of course the action and confrontation to follow this would have large ramifications for the entire world of the Stillness, this moment overshadows any other portion of the novel. It is incredibly significant, and this scene defines the entire series.
Early on within my read of The Fifth Season, I had a personal theory that perhaps the Stillness was our own real world. Following the destruction of the environment, as we currently know it, the organizations and comms within the Stillness rose up. In my eyes, not only was Jemisin’s work incorporating elements of fantasy and science fiction, but also apocalyptic or post apocalyptic fiction. I even had another theory that perhaps the Stillness was an example of post post-apocalyptic fiction. However, as I continued through The Broken Earth series, I realized that the element of the Seasons makes it a mixture of all of these, a cycle of apocalypse, and a cycle of societal collapse. It seemed that I couldn’t find an exact name to describe this.
Labels, names, and identify have power. More power than we often give them credit. In Joy Kim’s post, this subject is tackled and spoken about in a way that I truly identified with. I strongly agree with many points that are made within the post. Even within the world of the Stillness, where some parts of the world seem to be much more accepting, such as Tonkee’s identity or Alabaster sexuality, labels still exist. Even within the homogenized Sanzed people, Essun points out individual traits each has, trying to determine what their ancestry is, “He’s probably lighter skinned… from somewhere near the Antarctic’s, or the western continental coast,” (The Fifth Season, 106).
In the collaborative blog post I previously worked on about the Mt. Pinatubo eruption, I had the chance to look into older stories I have been told within my own family and cultural upbringing. While I would classify myself as culturally American, many parts of my own family come from the Philippines, specifically from a region very close to Mt. Pinatubo. I have grown up hearing stories about the eruption, however, my own research into the events of the eruption so many years later has revealed some interesting results. In many ways, the Pinatubo and Aeta situation contain strong reflections to Jemisin’s works. This blog post will likely take on a personal tone, as I speak about my own passed down cultural knowledge of the area, and expand upon the cultural disaster of Pinatubo on the Aeta people.
One moment within The Stone Sky that really got me thinking about the series at large was on page 222, where Danel and Essun talk of the term “hero”. Heroes and heroism often find themselves within texts tackling adventure and exploration, and Essun undoubtedly fills the place a hero would be within The Broken Earth Series. But, to what extent? Especially within the turbulent times of the season casting shades of gray rather than black or white, Essun is not a hero in a traditional sense. So, is Essun a heroic character?
Probably the most apparently strange aspects of The Fifth Season is in its perspective. Jemisin uses not only three different characters within the novel, but more than one perspective. I found this to be one of the most intriguing aspects to both the narrative and storytelling format itself. Jemisin’s usage of second person perspective was especially strange but in ways incredibly effective.
In my own time reading the series, orogeny has been one of the most unique and interesting aspects of The Broken Earth trilogy. Its process and descriptions always seem to interest me, and in any passage describing I always find myself picking apart to learn its system and internal logic. While on one level this is purely for the fun of immersing myself in the world and having a more fun understanding of orogeny, understanding the systems and how it compares to other fantasy influences can be important to understanding Jemisin’s work to a deeper extent.
Representation is an interesting topic that Jemisin clearly implements within The Fifth Season. Within her writing, she makes careful note to include many otherwise ignored groups into her world, presenting these perspectives. In a genre saturated by common perspectives, this presented myself with an interesting lesson to learn of character representation.