Lithosphere Essay- The Fifth Season

N.K. Jemsin created a “earth- shattering” trilogy that encompasses many different themes and real world situations. The first book in the Broken Earth trilogy is an amazing depiction of what science fiction should be. As someone who has never read science fiction, Jemisin has been able to keep me engaged, causing me to ask further questions and think about her writing in more complex ways. The parallels that exist between The Fifth Season and our world are very interesting to work through and are very eye opening for me as a reader to recognize. This book shows the ways the issues in our world can be looked at from different angles or perspectives while still having the same consequences there are in real life. Specifically, the discrimination, oppression and racialization of groups of people that are individuals of the minority. 

Racialization is a major thread throughout the book that has major effects on the paths each character goes through. Orogenes are racialized in the Stillness simply because of the powers they possess, the characteristics they were born with. The definition of racialization from the University of Winnipeg is, “The concept of racialization refers to the processes by which a group of people is defined by their “race.” Processes of racialization begin by attributing racial meaning to people’s identity and, in particular, as they relate to social structures and institutional systems, such as housing, employment, and education. In societies in which “White” people have economic, political, and social power, processes of racialization have emerged from the creation of a hierarchy in social structures and systems based on “race.” The visible effects of processes of racialization are the racial inequalities embedded within social structures and systems.” This is essentially a categorization of people based on their physical characteristics, or in the case of the orogenes, their capabilities. From my mini collaboration I discussed structural inequity and it causes them to be treated differently in every aspect and in the Fifth Season even killed. This also has to do with structural inequity which is very prevalent in the novel. From the respected University of Pennsylvania structural inequality “describes disparities in wealth, resources, and other outcomes that result from discriminatory practices of institutions such as legal, educational, business, government, and health care systems.” This is a concept that has its roots in imbalances of power. Power is a possession of control and influence over others. Those who choose to use their power and turn it into oppression is how structural inequity is formed. Oppression based on my research is deeply and widely spread racist beliefs that have effects all over. It affects laws or policies, behaviors, and feelings while having a negative impact on certain groups of people. This is a racist system and cycle that hands out power/privilege to some and takes it away from others. Structural inequality is everywhere in our world and even in fiction and literature it takes its own shape. 

Examples of racialization, oppression and systemic inequality are all throughout this novel. To start off, the dedication of this book is, “for all those who have to fight for the respect everyone else is given without question.” This highlights the differences in power that ends in certain groups receiving benefits from their status while others reap worse consequences. Orogenes are considered non- human even though they are, which is just a way to separate them further. In chapter 4 it reads: “It’s somewhat flattering to think that despite her feral status, they actually want something of her infused into their breeding lines. Then she wonders why a part of her is trying to find value in degradation.” This quote states the orogenes are considered feral which is awful in general. This quote highlights how Syen has had to adapt herself to be able to fit in, change herself and somehow become adequate to others when she knows they will never truly value her or see her fully. Even in the orogene community she is seen as less than due to her breeding. This idea of being seen as less than and the internal struggle that goes on in who this prejudice is put on is not only true for the orogenes but also every minority individual that has to face it everyday in our world due to racialization. 

Systemic inequality has major connections in this novel and starts from birth for these characters. “They kill us because they’ve got stonelore telling them at every turn that we’re born evil—some kind of agents of Father Earth, monsters that barely qualify as human.” The brutality that the orogenes must face and fear due to the history of hatred that has come before them comes right back to systemic inequality. Essun’s son was even killed by his own father because he found out he himself was an orogene. This is an example of how deeply this hate can go and it knows no bounds. It is a vicious cycle that continues on the back of a wretched history of oppression and blatant, blind hatred for them. Being an orogene in general is always attempted to be kept a secret in order to escape persecution and even being killed. As a white woman in America I am lucky to say I can’t say I have had to experience this. Through my reading it has given me a closer look at the prevalence and truly awful effects that these racist acts have on communities and the world in general.

The course epigraph includes Geraldine Heng’s definition of race. Heng believes that race is constructed through culture and isn’t purely just inside of them. Race has a way of either working for you, or being done to you. This is dependent on if you are on the receiving end of power or power is being used on you. Heng’s definition defines oppression and race through different lenses and allows the reader to see its effects in different ways. The racialization and systemic inequality can take form while also being able to draw connections between our world and literature.

Racialization and Power Dynamics  A Structural Analysis of The Fifth Season

The course epigraph is a framework for the thought-provoking and controversial concept of “race,” and is laid out as a strategic, political, and epistemological tool designed to demarcate and distribute power differentially among sects of humanity (Heng, 27). Geraldine Heng’s passage from The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages, serves as a theoretical framework to analyze the racial complexities of the book The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, providing the context for how racialization operates within the narrative, applied through realistic circumstances. Emphasizing how science, myth, and other power dynamics shape the narrative of The Fifth Season, this paper will prioritize the world of orogenes, and how their livelihoods are crafted by preexisting power dynamics.

Heng proposes in The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages, that “race is a structural relationship for the articulation and management of human differences, rather than a substantive content” (Heng, 27). In The Fifth Season, racialization is presented beyond the notion of individual prejudices, or even inherent characteristics. Rather, racialization is a structural relationship designed to manage and disparate differences amongst humans. Orogenes, in particular—individuals in The Fifth Season with the power to manipulate the earth and its resources—become the targets of racialization throughout the narrative; their powers are selected through a process of essentialization from the Fulcrum—a place designed for orogenes to harness their power. Jemisin writes that, “the orogenes of the Fulcrum serve the world,” using the characters Damaya and Schaffa, arguing that “you will have no use name from here forth, because your usefulness lies in what you are, not merely some familial aptitude.” It is further exemplified that the Fulcrum is a place designed for the use of orogeny, where “from birth, an orogene child can stop a shake; even without training, you are orogene,” and that “within a comm or without one, you are orogene.” However, with training, “and with the guidance of other skilled orogenes at the Fulcrum, you can be useful not merely to a single comm, but all the Stillness” (Jemisin, 36). The orogeny is placed within a systemic hierarchy within their absolute and fundamental differences, reflecting the broader social tendency to construct hierarchies based on perceived differences. 

Likewise, myth plays an important role in how racialization is showcased throughout The Fifth Season. In a particular instance, Damaya is ridiculed under the notion that “orogenes don’t feel cold the way others do,” a myth that has plagued the existence of orogenies. As such, it is mentioned that “Damaya might have been faking it [the cold,” and that was what “she’d [Mother] said to Damaya that first day, after she got home from creche and while they were setting her up in the barn” (Jemisin, 33). The narrative of The Fifth Season draws on the power of myth to alter societal perception of orogenes, equally portraying them as saviors to society, along with threats, demarcating them to the periphery of society by imposing mythology upon them. This serves as a mechanism to justify the treatment of orogenes, and is used to perpetuate the inherent belief throughout the story that orogenic abilities are dangers and consequential. The manipulation of myths throughout The Fifth Season permanently alters the societal view of orogenies, establishing a racialized hierarchy that justifies the subjugation of orogenies.

The subjugation of orogenies becomes far more prevalent as science is incorporated into racist ideology, becoming wholly evident in the systematic control and exploitation of orogenies. Drawing back on the Fulcrum, a technologically advanced system of training and manipulation, is used to perpetuate racialized power dynamics. As such, the usage of orogenies in the conquest of suppression and societal stability demonstrates the usage of science to uphold racialized hierarchies—utilizing science as a tool for maintaining and reinforcing racialized structures, particularly at the Fulcrum.

The usage of eclipses throughout The Fifth Season exists as a layer of symbolism to the process of racialization. An eclipse is a naturally recurring event, defined as “an astronomical event that occurs when an astronomical object or spacecraft is temporarily obscured, by passing into the shadow of another body or by having another body pass between it and the viewer,” which is strategically employed during moments of heightened tension throughout the story (New York Times). Eclipses are linked to the suppression of orogenes, highlighting how celestial events are manipulated by those in power to reinforce the aforementioned societal hierarchy, subjugating orogenies to the periphery. Symbolically, eclipses emphasize the events that occur throughout the story, intentionally orchestrated to perpetuate the racialized structure.

In a real-word context, the structural context of racialization in The Fifth Season allows for reflection on how real-word events parallel the narrative. Jemisin emphasizes the notion of “Blackdar,” which is shared amongst orogenies. “Blackdar” is defined as “the ability to detect whether or not a person is of African ancestry by observing that person,” which is evident in The Fifth Season through the “sess” ability of an orogene—the ability to distinguish other orogenes (Wikipedia). Clearly, there are certain traits shared among oppressed groups that help understand the context of racialization throughout The Fifth Season, allowing the reader to better understand the world of The Broken Earth Trilogy. Jemisin writes:

“If the problem is that ferals are not predictable… well, orogenes have to prove themselves reliable. The Fulcrum has a reputation to maintain; that’s part of this. So’s the training, and the uniform, and the endless rules they must follow, but the breeding is part of it too, or why is she here? It’s somewhat flattering to think that despite her feral status, they actually want something of her infused into their breeding lines. Then she wonders why a part of her is trying to find value in degradation,” (Jemisin, 58).

Indeed, the symbolic language and intertwining of science, notions of race, and power dynamics are immensely prevalent as the story ensues, using these events to resonate with historical and contemporary issues surrounding racialization. Realistically, the world is heavily condemned by racist ideology, and Jemisin uses The Fifth Season to forward a sense of awareness to better understand the conditions of oppressed and marginalized groups by using orogenies as the periphery.

The Fifth Season, though a confusing narrative, employs intricacies in its world-building to better provide a lens in the examination of racialization and the pre-existing structures surrounding it. The interplay between myth, science, and other forms of power dynamics allows the recognition of the parallels between the fictional world of orogenies throughout the story, along with the complexities of real-world society and the racialization that is evident historically and contemporarily. Jemisin’s work throughout The Fifth Season allows the reader to question and challenge the systems that perpetuate treatment in regards to selective differences, and how society ultimately condemns the things they do not understand—rethinking and reshaping our understanding of race and power is essential to understand the narrative, and by employing the course epigraph, the complexities of The Fifth Season become quite distinguishable.

Works Cited

Heng, Geraldine. The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. Print. 

Jemisin, N. K. The Fifth Season. Orbit, 2016.

The New York Times. “Science Watch: A Really Big Syzygy.” (March 31, 1981).

Wiktionary. “Blackdar – Wiktionary, the Free Dictionary,” n.d

Lithosphere essay- Ashley Tubbs

Racialization, a word often associated with contentious points in history, is essentially applying meaning to certain characteristics a group of people have in order to create a hierarchy. Because a hierarchy is created, it means there are those deemed to be at the top and those unfortunately deemed at the bottom, which often leads to unjust treatment. Racialization is a purely human-constructed concept, and it is heavily emphasized in the novel The Fifth Season by N.K Jemisin. She creates a fictional world that has concrete connections to this one. She artfully creates characters that fall into two categories: the racialized and the ones doing the racialization. The process needed to racialize requires imperfect humans and differences between said humans. The difference that is racialized in the novel is orogeny, which is “the ability to manipulate thermal, kinetic, and related forms of energy to address seismic events” (Jemisin 462). This means that there are orogenes and there are non-orogenes, often referred to as “stills”.  Orogenes are placed under the “stills” control because they are regarded as dangerous and thus a lot of the prevalent issues in the novel are created. Orogenes are controlled by the empire, government institutions, and even their peers thus creating the perfect environment for racialization. In the novel and in real life, control over others is essential in the process of racializing them. 

Orogenes, in the novel, act as a symbol for minorities residing in the United States. Jemisin creates a direct parallel between the U.S and her fictional world called “The Stillness.” A powerful empire resides within “The Stillness” and it controls orogenes and their way of life in direct and indirect ways. The empire, called Yumenes, controls a vast majority of “The Stillness” and has created institutions and laws in order to control orogenes. The main institution that controls orogenes is called the “Fulcrum” and it is a “paramilitary order created by Old Sanze after the Season of Teeth (1560 Imperial) … Fulcrum-trained Orogenes (or ‘Imperial Orogenes’) are legally permitted to practice the otherwise-illegal craft of orogeny, under strict organizational rules and with the close supervision of the Guardian order” (460). The Fulcrum acts as an oppressive institution to control orogenes. The Fulcrum acts much like colonial America and its treatment of people of color. The Fulcrum, powered by Yumenes, spreads the Yumenescene culture throughout all the comms, Even the poorest comms lives in reverence of Yumenes, much like the U.S and its colonial ways. Jemisin masterfully creates a fictional world that has very real ties to my world. Not all orogenes are trained by the Fulcrum, there are those who are untrained. Unfortunately, untrained orogenes are often excommunicated from their comms or brutally murdered. There is no winning if you are an orogene, you are forced to choose between two evils. The creation of the Fulcrum may be passed off as a safe place for orogenes to learn their craft, but truthfully it is more like a fictional internment camp.  Orogenes are ripped from their families because they are viewed as dangerous and are put in a heavily guarded building in order to protect everyone. The logic here really is not far off from what the U.S did to Japanese Americans during WWII. This parallel may be a stretch but the connection is there. The true purpose of the Fulcrum is to control and exploit orogenes all for the glory of the Yumenescene empire. This exploitation is very much like the enslavement of black people in the 17th century to build a powerful America.  A big part that plays into the exploitation of orogenes is the fear surrounding them due to myth in order to racialize them. 

Orogenes are being controlled because of the “myth” that orogenes are dangerous. There is a story told to all Fulcrum-trained orogenes and even “stills” with the purpose to make orogenes and “stills” alike be fearful of what an untrained and uncontrolled orogene can do. Damaya, an orogene being taken to the Fulcrum, is told a story by her guardian Schaffa. He begins to explain to Damaya the story wherein: 

an orogene named Misalem decided to try to kill the emperor…Most orogenes had no proper training in those days; like you, they acted purely on emotion and instinct, on the rare occasions that they managed to survive childhood. Misalem had somehow managed to not only survive, but to train himself. He had superb control…which Misalem promptly used to kill every living soul in several towns and cities, and even a few commless warrens. Thousands of people, in all (88).

This story is specifically told in order to villainize orogenes and keep people fearful of them forever. If people are afraid of orogenes then it makes it easier to control them and keep them submissive to the empire. 

One of the main issues with this story, apart from the harmful image of orogenes it creates, is that the story is severely taken out of context. One recurring theme within this story is that history, called stonelore in the novel, is passed down from generation to generation. Much of the stonelore is incorrect, doesn’t add up, or is straight up missing. Several characters have questioned the stonelore, including this story told to still and orogenic children alike. Alabaster, an extremely powerful orogene who has been in the Fulcrum since birth, becomes privy to knowledge other orogenes aren’t. Alabaster is so powerful that he is left to his own devices often and this led to him gaining knowledge the empire wouldn’t want him to have. For instance, he knows the truth behind Misalem the “evil” orogene. Alabaster explains to his mentee that at the time of Misalem, cannibalism was running rampant because of a previous season that caused starvation. Apparently, many powerful people developed a taste for human flesh, and this is the truth of Misalem. Alabaster explains:

All the accounts differ on the details, but they agree on one thing: Misalem was the only survivor when his family was taken in a raid. Supposedly his children were slaughtered for Anafumeth’s own table, though I suspect that’s a bit of dramatic embellishment (418)

This means that Misalem killed the emperor due to revenge. Misalem’s family was taken and murdered for the cannibalistic emperor and his supporters. This is a story of revenge not of a crazy orogene killing for no reason. The death toll is also very inaccurate. Misalem attacked the emperor, he didn’t kill thousands of people for no reason. I am not defending what Misalem did, but I am saying that there is a logical reason behind what he did and truthfully most people would likely seek revenge for a horrendous act like cannibalism. Unfortunately, not many know the truth of Misalem and those that do don’t want it shared. Time and time again the Fulcrum and Yumenes rewrite history to paint orogenes as evil and dangerous. This harmful myth is not easily dismissed and is used to racialize and control orogenes. If orogeny wasn’t considered dangerous, it is likely a different trait such as skin color would have been racialized to create a hierarchy, like in the real world. Because of the myths surrounding orogeny, it is viewed as negative and thus racialized to place those with this undesirable trait at the bottom of a hierarchy. 

Throughout Jemison’s novel, she creates fictional racialization that parallels chattel slavery, racism, and even internment camps in order to show how racialization happens anywhere, even fictional worlds. She uses myths of the orogenes to further establish racialization and show the ugly truth that as long as there are differences between imperfect humans, racialization is unavoidable. Orogenes essentially serve as a metaphor for minorities that have existed throughout the U.S’ history, and institutions put in place in this fictional world have very real-world implications. A corrupt empire and institutions that treats many of its people badly is something that has been done in the United States. Jemison’s entire novel demonstrates the process of racialization and shows how it truly is unavoidable. 

The Roles of Sociology and Biology as Social Science in The Fifth Season

Social Sciences, which Jemisin explicitly advocates “is science too” because of how often it is ignored, is the scientific study of human society and social relationships. It’s composed of several branches that include archaeology, anthropology, geography, history, law, politics, psychology, and sociology, to name a few. In my experience, many of these branches don’t seem to fit into the typical categories considered when someone brings up the sciences, as the biological, logical, and physical sciences are usually thought of first.

Jemisin uses this to her advantage, creating a story that has social science at its core, allowing her to deep dive into the experiences of minorities who have been marginalized, especially in the field of fantasy writing. This theory about the intentions of the groundbreaking novel are reinforced by Newkirk, who reviews The Fifth Season’s characters as “a slate of people of different colors and motivations who don’t often appear in a field still dominated by white men and their protagonist avatars.

A rupture of the science fiction genre is in the placement of exploited minority characters at the center of the story. Within the novel, there are three main characters with interchangeable perspectives each chapter. All three characters are girls and women who are described by Jemisin, in the appendix, to be a race known as “Orogenes,” which is classified by their “ability to manipulate thermal, kinetic, and related forms of energy to address seismic events.” While the Orogenes do not have visually distinct traits and can be from any region of the Stillness, the continent Jemisin explores in her world, the main characters are “Midlatter,” a multiracial group. The choice to create Orogenes as a race composed of varied peoples is likely influenced by readings Jemisin has studied about “the different sets of people who have been oppressed and the different systemic oppressions that have existed throughout history,” drawing on not only her “own African American experience, but…a lot of other stuff too.” These systemic oppressions are documented through all three narrators, showing the injustices towards Orogenes in different settings and also in a seemingly nonlinear timeline.

The injustice against the Orogenes has a long history. Jemisin describes that there’s “stonelore” that tells the non-orogenes and Guardians, those that train and control Orogenic people, that Orogenes are “born evil—some kind of agents of Father Earth, monsters that barely qualify as human.” Even though there’s no solid proof that Orgoenes truly are born evil, the non-orogenes and Guardians follow the stonelore closely, using it as justification for their severe mistreatment of Orogenes. In this society, Orogenes, as Jemisin outlines, “have no right to say no,” “have no right to get angry, to want justice, to protect what they love,” and are subject to private discipline from Guardians so that the non-orogenes do not see and generate “inappropriate sympathy” for the Orogenes. They are a race that are feared to be weapons of the Earth and are controlled to be mediators for seismic events, paired with an anguishing degree of suffering and even death, just to ease the lives of non-orogenes and Guardians.

However, focusing on just the sociology of the novel doesn’t consider the impact of social science as a whole. Geology is also a critical factor of Jemisin’s novel. Jemisin herself highlights just how important the geological aspect of science fiction is by discussing how “the boundaries of science-fiction and fantasy…are supposed to be about people…It was all supposed to be about the science” and yet “you would see dozens of people nitpicking the hell out of the physics.” In order to keep people from focusing on the physical attributes of science in the novel, Jemisin takes care to represent the science realistically, proving her research as she describes the effects of natural disasters. This tactic can turn the focus away from discussing whether or not the science is a true representation and turns it towards theorizing why these catastrophes happen and how they’re related to the social institutions in the novel. After reading the book, I think Jemisin wanted to show a world in which society exacerbates geological events, placing emphasis on just how dangerous injustice can be by giving it not only individual mental, emotional, and physical dangers, but also universal physical dangers that threaten even the privileged. 

The origin of increased seismic activity is recounted through folklore Jemisin creates, which explains that people “poisoned waters beyond even his ability to cleanse, and killed much of the other life that lived on his surface. They drilled through the crust of his skin, past the blood of his mantle, to get at the sweet marrow of his bones. And at the height of human hubris and might, it was the orogenes who did something that even Earth could not forgive: They destroyed his only child.” It is this vague action that seems to instigate the first Fifth Season, which Jemisin says, in an interview with PBS, is “similar to what we have had in our world, the year without summer, for example, where people have to learn to suddenly survive where they can’t grow food, they don’t see the sun for weeks, months on end.” 

The cause for this catastrophe in The Fifth Season consults two opposing viewpoints in Nur and Burgess’ “Introduction,” which states that “Some researchers deny that earthquakes, and, by analogy, other sudden natural events, may have played a bigger role in shaping history, simply because these sudden occurrences are not manmade” while the norm for “many modern historians, political scientists, and ecologists is to view major disasters in human history as resulting from man’s actions.” By mixing these two perspectives, Jemisin can make a point about how social injustice leads to natural disaster and then how this natural disaster leads to more social injustice, creating a cycle formed by rigid social structures that seem to worsen following catastrophes. 

After this initial cataclysm, it seems like select humans adapted to be able to practice Orogeny to protect society as a whole from the rage of Father Earth. Instead of being celebrated, they are enslaved and continuously injured and molested, seen to build tension until they erupt and bring damage to civilizations.

This concept is introduced in the very beginning of the book, when Jemisin introduces, “And then he reaches forth with all the fine control that the world has brainwashed and backstabbed and brutalized out of him, and all the sensitivity that his masters have bred into him through generations of rape and coercion and highly unnatural selection,” metaphorically holding the Earth in his hands before “he breaks it.”  It’s seen yet again when Essun tears apart the fault line and causes deadly destruction to the town, claiming that “The kind of hate that can make a man murder his own son? It came from everyone around you.” It’s seen yet again when the readers are introduced to node stations where young Orogenes who struggle to control their powers are sedated and used to negate small tremors and fulfill sexual fantasies of perveted people. They meet the dead Orogene boy who had been held captive there, abused until he killed everyone within the station and himself. Once more, it’s seen “five days after Syenite shut down a volcano that she started, which killed a whole city, and eight days after she killed two ships full of people to keep her family’s existence a secret,” which occurs later in the book.

These situations build on the sociological aspects of the novel, of the continued social injustices, and it gives them physical repercussions. By continually pushing the Orogenes beyond their breaking points, we may see the entire world Jemisin fabricates brought to its downfall, caused by the prejudices of the very people who are desperate to save it.

Geographically Induced Injustice in “The Fifth Season”: Let’s get to thinkING

N.K Jemisin’s The Fifth Season presents a complex and engaging narrative that seriously  addresses issues of injustice and inequity through her studious worldbuilding. This was evident  from the first moment I picked up the book. I couldn’t help but notice the parallels between the  injustice experienced by the Orogens (enslaved people who can manipulate kinetic energy to  control seismic movement) and the experiences of marginalized and oppressed groups from  throughout the world, particularly the U.S. The Novel incited me to begin to examine the relationship between  justice and geography in an interdisciplinary understanding, which for me led to some  surprising realizations supported by Jemisin’s writing and related research. To put it plainly, it seems to me that Jemisin suggests that injustice and inequity can be exacerbated  and even created by impartial geographical circumstances. 

Before tackling the issues I believe Jemisin is proposing through her writing I will  provide brief context for the novel as a whole. The story itself is set in a region of the world  called “The Stillness” where the earth experiences destructive “seasons” that threaten to destroy  communities and extinct humanity. In order to combat this unforgiving planet, the communities  of the Stillness harness the power of Orogenes, who, as previously mentioned, are enslaved by  the Fulcrum to use their powers to control the earth’s restlessness so it is less volatile.  Communities construct “Nodes”, facilities where Node Maintainers (also orogenes) quell shakes  for communities throughout the Stillness, ensuring no loss of life or destruction of communities.  “In the Equatorials, the nodes’ zones of protection overlap, so there’s nary a twitch; this, and the  Fulcrum’s presence at its core, is why Yumenes can build as it does” (119). Jemisin establishes  that this is an unforgiving environment and the communities in this environment are only held  together by the effort of the Node Maintainers and other orogenes. Every second of existence is a  feat when one considers the how volatile the planet is. The power of the orogenes is all that  keeps the balance. By establishing this fact, Jemisin also introduces the idea of geographically  induced injustice.  

When two orogenes named Syenite and Alabaster investigate one of the nodes in a place  called Mehi, they find the corpse of the node maintainer. Much to Syenite’s shock and horror,  the maintainer is a child. “The body in the node maintainer’s chair is small, and naked. Thin, its  limbs atrophied. Hairless. There are things—tubes and pipes and things, she has no words for  them—going into the stick-arms, down the goggle-throat, across the narrow crotch” (139). Not  only is the maintainer– the person enlisted to control seismic activity in that region– a child,  they are malnourished and abused. In the Stillness, orogenic children can and will be abused,  tortured, and enslaved to ensure the safety of the greater society. The node maintainers stop any  earthquakes that could result in massive destruction. Through this horrifying example of  worldbuilding Jemisin seems to be establishing the case that injustice can often be caused or exacerbated by the demands of geography.  

Luckily, there are other examples of this idea of geographically induced injustice in the  novel to consider that are far less graphic than the abuse of a child. Later in the story Alabaster  and Syenite are taken to safety on a relatively unknown island called Meov after having been attacked by a Guardian (a sort of soldier created to neutralize any rogue or dangerous orogenes).  Syenite describes the island. “The island is nothing but rolling hills and grass and solid rock—no  trees, no topsoil. An utterly useless place to live” (282). Agriculture is impossible on the rocky  island, and keeping cattle is just as unlikely due to the size of the island and its lack of fertile  soil. The topography and geography of this region makes it almost unlivable. So, how do the  citizens of Meov get by? Well, due to the desperation of the topography, the islanders must use their seafaring ways and a little crime survive. “So Meov raids. They attack vessels along the  main trading routes, or extort comms for protection from attacks—yes their attacks” (294). Here  again I found that the geography of the regions in the Stillness create and exacerbate injustice, in this case injustice to the communities of the Stillness. What is interesting  about Jemisin’s depiction of the issue of geographical injustice in this case is that both “sides” of  the story engage in it. In the case of the communities of the Stillness their geographical survival  is ensured by the enslavement and abuse of powerful children. In the case of the community of  Meov, they ensure their geographical survival by killing Merchants, raiding communities, and  taking what is not theirs. Meov must act unjustly to keep their people alive. Now, my interest is not to compare the degrees in which these actions  are unjust or immoral, my only interest is to point out what I noticed, that Jemisin is clearly tying geography to injustice, and after looking at some relevant research presented in class, it is understandable why. 

It turns out Jemisin seems so keen on pointing out the connection between geography and  injustice because it is extremely relevant in the discussion of justice and equity as well as discussions in science. In an article published by the Columbia Climate School titled “Earthquakes May Endanger New York More Than Thought, Says Study”, authors Leonardo Seeber and John Armbruster discuss the risk that seismic activity has on New York City and other places located on minor fault lines, as opposed to major faults like near California and Japan. Their research found that New York City, although not a frequent hotspot for large earthquakes, could be susceptible to high amounts of damage due to the confluence of multiple smaller tremors. Seeber notes that the effects of these tremors would affect some communities in New York City more than others. “Earthquake-resistant building codes were not introduced to New York City until 1995, and are not in effect at all in many other communities. Sinuous skyscrapers and bridges might get by with minimal damage, said Sykes, but many older, unreinforced three- to six-story brick buildings could crumble”. Here, represented in data and research we have an example of real world geographically exacerbated and induced inequity. People from low income neighborhoods which often do not have the money to remodel buildings so they are earthquake resistant, will be disproportionately affected if a natural disaster like a strong earthquake should happen. The marginalized, minority communities which have been oppressed through systematic structural racism in housing communities will feel the ramifications of a natural disaster far more than a wealthier  person in a newer, more expensive building. When geographical disasters take place the oppression minority communities face is only exacerbated. As I am limited in space, I won’t delve into the ways that geography was used to oppress communities in the U.S through redlining, gerrymandering, and other strategies, just note that they are there, waiting for discussion. What is evident is that due to structural inequality, when disaster comes, it is the oppressed communities that unduly feel the ramifications. 

The final example of Geographically induced/exacerbated inequality and or injustice I would like to briefly discuss is a thought I derived while reading the “Guidelines on Preparedness Before, During and After an Ashfall” prepared by International Volcanic Health Hazard Network (IVHHN), Cities and Volcanoes Commission, GNS Science and the United States Geological Survey (USGS). While reading the preparedness guidelines, I noticed a recurring theme amongst the rules: a need for abundance. This can be seen looking at the first page of guidelines. “Enough drinking water for at least 72 hours – one gallon (3-4 litres) per person per day. Enough non-perishable food for at least 72 hours for family and pets…If cold, extra blankets and warm clothing. Extra stocks of medication for both family and pets…A small amount of money” (3). The guidelines state that in order to make it through an ashfall you should have extra clothes, food, medication, water, and even money. Can you think of how inequity might be exacerbated by an ashfall? Start by asking the question: how are people who are poor or oppressed expected to get this abundance of material? If one is to survive an ashfall one must have an abundance of these materials and the ability to stock resources, and until relatively recently the ability to stockpile resources has been a luxury, one not allowed to minority communities.

 I am uncertain where the rest of Jemisin’s Broken Earth series will take me, or how my understanding of her commentary on geography and justice will change, but as it stands right now Jemisin has gotten me thinkING about how injustice is created and perpetuated by things as simple and as impartial as geography. This leads me to believe that an interdisciplinary approach to solving issues of inequality and injustice is essential in getting lasting, meaningful change. Jemisin is toying with the ideas that justice is a relative luxury, and that the need to live can override ideas of justice and equity. She makes this idea clear in her worldbuilding, survival outweighs the luxury found in the concept of justice. I am uncertain if Jemisin is simply challenging the reader to sympathize with unjust people (like the pirates who help our progatogists), or simply stating that the need to live comes before the need to live justly. It is not clear to me what the answers to these questions are, but I look forward to continuing thinkING about these concepts as I read further.

Carving (Y)our (My) Stories

” In love, then, we shall seek understanding.”

  • – N.K. Jemisin, The Obelisk Gate

Oftentimes, when I’m writing, I feel as though I’m carving something out of stone — I’m writing and writing and writing and slowly an idea emerges from the haze of dust and rock, at first realized only in rough outlines, in the hint of a general idea, and slowly, s l o w l y I polish away the hard edges.  I have, truth be told, perfectionist tendencies that come into play when writing (when doing anything, really, god, you should have seen me try to play sports — practice does not make perfect when you expect yourself to be perfect on the first try) and these tendencies are most definitely not unusual, especially when many of us are released from a schooling system that incorporates in us  a certain idea not only of writing (how to write, what qualifies as effective and acceptable writing) but how to work. Even now, in writing this, I feel the perfectionism — which is in turn symptomatic of both my education and my anxiety— rising up inside me, in the constant questioning (Is this good enough? Is this long enough? What will they think of this? Is this comprehensive enough? Is this good? Is it great? Is it the best it can be?) of my own work. In writing I sometimes feel trapped in my anxieties, in my thoughts, so judgemental of my own self, my own art, my own individual stories; I am caught in a spiral constantly folding in on itself as I question and question and question. 
Continue reading “Carving (Y)our (My) Stories”

Ex-Machina or That Which Was Formerly Machine

We were constructed as intentionally and artificially as the fragments you call obelisks. We are fragments of the great machine too . . . By our existence, we glorify the world that made us, like any statue, scepter or other precious object. We do not resent this, for our opinions and experiences have been carefully constructed, too. We do not understand that what Kelenli has come to give us is a sense of peoplehood. We do not understand why we have been forbidden this self-concept before now… but we will (Stone Sky 50).

Artificial intelligence.  Robots.  Cyborgs.  The steadfast fundamentals of sci-fi.  From I, Robot to Ex Machina, from the cybermen of Doctor Who to the cylons of Battlestar Galactica, the idea of living and cognizant technology has captured our imaginations for decades.  It’s a fascination that has developed and grown alongside our exploration and use of technology, one that, in a literary sense, likely has roots in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; we are fascinated, in a sense by creating that which is beyond ourselves, fascinated by the idea of becoming becoming almost as god.  In the concept of artificial intelligence we see the ability to not only push the boundaries of knowledge, but to push the boundaries of self.   Continue reading “Ex-Machina or That Which Was Formerly Machine”

On Beauty and Being Stone

In another course myself and Sabrina Bramwell are taking this semester, we are reading Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, a novel based in exploring contemporary ideals of beauty, academia and self.  It is, in fact, a novel almost as completely opposite from Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy as possible, taking place not in a future other-world involving people who move mountains and eat stone, but instead in a contemporary other-but-still-quite-similar university and focusing upon the lives of two families riddled by ideological differences, affairs, issues of ethnicity, and art.  And yet, both Sabrina and myself have been finding a myriad of connections, especially to do with ideals of beauty, between the works, despite their seemingly enormous differences in genre and content.   Continue reading “On Beauty and Being Stone”

Utopetroleum (and Cow Farts™)

Life is sacred in Syl Anagist — as it should be, for the city burns life as the fuel for its glory.

Syl Anagist at first seems a utopia, projecting image of surface-level perfection: a society built around life, around a pure and clean energy source, a source that, in lasting forever, will allow for unhindered progress of the  empire. Yet, Kelenli’s lessons to the tuners break any illusions of perfection in revealing the oppressive framework upon which the empire’s energy, and thus, the empire’s survival, depends.  Continue reading “Utopetroleum (and Cow Farts™)”


By Abby “Opal” Ritz and Helen “Azurite” Warfle

On the first day of class, Professor McCoy asked us what our favorite rock was. Now that the semester is almost over and we have a more advanced knowledge of geology, we have decided to come back to this and give everyone a description of their rocks and note whether or not they are significant in the Broken Earth trilogy. It is clear that in the beginning of the semester, none of us knew the difference between a rock and a mineral as most people chose minerals, except for those who chose igneous rocks, sedimentary rocks, granite, slate, and shale (good job lads, you rock 😉 ).   Continue reading “WHAT’S THAT ROCK?”