Ben Smithgall

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Bit pusher at Spotify. Previously Interactive News at the New York Times, U.S. Digital Service, and Code for America.





The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth, #2)

By N.K. Jemisin

Finished reading on February 21, 2018

The second book delivers in the same way that the first does, and the things that I like and do not are largely the same. It’s a delightful and captivating tale and I definitely recommend it.

On her blog (and now in a book entitled No time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters which collects some of those blog posts), the late Ursula K. Le Guin (RIP) had a lovely post entitled “It Doesn’t Have to Be the Way It Is” where she talks about, among other things, the difference between fantasy as a genre and anarchy. She discusses a subtle difference between the notion of “It Doesn’t Have To Be the Way It Is” in contract with “anything goes;” the relationship and interplay between a fantasy world where one woman can move mountains (literally) and science as we understand it:

Fate, Luck, Necessity are as inexorable in Middle Earth as in Colonus or South Dakota. The fantasy tale begins here and ends there (or back here), where the subtle and ineluctable obligations and responsibilities of narrative art have taken it. Down on the bedrock, things are as they have to be. It's only everywhere above the bedrock that nothing has to be the way it is.

I bring this up because there are parts of the book that really stretch at this for me. One of Jemisin’s real strengths as an author is writing cruelty: of children, of people, of groups. But it is difficult for me to reconcile the alleged age of the child in the book with the way she is written. Perhaps I just underestimate the cruel potential of ten year-olds, but it is certainly distracting from the narrative.