First things first: I’m going to SPOIL the hell out of this. If you don’t want to have the book spoiled, read no further.
Still here? Well here we are then, all ready for what I took from my reading of The Fifth Season, Jemisin’s Hugo winning, Nebula considered fantasy work. I put this on Twitter straight after finishing it:
Four days later I still feel the same way. Well, no matter how I look at it Jemisin is one hell of a talented writer. We have a blending (kinda sorta) of fantasy and science-fiction, action, world building and powerful description. There is magic, lost science, obelisks that fly through the sky and genuinely alien aliens that I think Stanley Weinbaum would have tipped his hat at. This is full-on imagination at work here and technically there is one hell of a lot to admire.
What it doesn’t have, at least in my opinion is a single likable character. The protagonist isn’t likeable in any of her three incarnations (yes, that was a spoiler), the people that she encounters are for the most part despicable, and the big bads are no better or worse than anyone else. There is literally no one to root for. I really don’t give a monkeys about someone’s gender, sleeping arrangements or skin color, what I do care about is there being something about them that makes me want to care about them. There was nothing, and in the few fleeting moments that it was an option Jemisin was at pains to take that away from me.
If that was all I wouldn’t have a problem with reading other books by Jemisin. Not so good with characterization? Well hello there Mr Asimov, nice to see you again. No, what really got me about the book was the sheer unpleasantness of the tale. It begins with a man killing a child. Actually, it begins with a father battering his son to death with his own hands. This alone was almost enough to get me to stop reading. The mothers’ response? Two days of sitting by the corpse. While her daughter and said husband were out there somewhere.
Just like any mother would. *eye roll*
This again nearly threw me right out of the tale. I persevered, nay, I persisted and carried on, hoping that the stupidity would cease. But it didn’t, again and again, I was faced with more people doing horrible things in a world where it seems that no-one is capable of being nice. NO-ONE. Somewhere around the middle of the book (it’s not a linear story, by the way, the narrative jumps around like a cricket on Ritalin), she is forced to attend a Hogwarts variant, to learn to control her power. There then follows a lot of nastiness involving abuse and bullying.
I sped through the rest of it, feeling dirtier with each page I turned. I read Thomas Covenant years ago and this makes that seem like a comedy by comparison. There is nothing of real beauty in this book, despite the quality of the writing. I can see why it won, and Jemisin continues to win awards, its appeal to a certain demographic is clear due to the ticks next to the checklists.
That’s okay, but it’s not for me.
A final word on today’s news that Jemisin is going to write books set in Lovecraft’s cosmology.
It doesn’t matter, it really is of no importance, despite the inevitable cries of triumph that will come from some quarters. Jemisin writes that
“This is deliberately a chance for me to kind of mess with the Lovecraft legacy. He was a notorious racist and horrible human being. So this is a chance for me to have the “chattering” hordes—that’s what he called the horrifying brown people of New York that terrified him. This is a chance for me to basically have them kick the ass of his creation. So I’m looking forward to having some fun with that.”
which is to completely miss the point about Cthulhu really.
What do I mean by that? Well, Cthulhu isn’t there to be beaten, none of Lovecraft’s works are really about that. Cthulhu isn’t a proto-Godzilla, despite what later writers have tried to do. Cthulhu is a force like Death, unstoppable, undefeatable. His worshippers…not so much. Anyone is obviously free to write whatever they like in Lovecrafts sandbox, he’s been dead a long time now. I’ve read a lot of tales set in his cosmos though and the only ones that stick in my mind are the ones that acknowledge the basic premise. The truth is that no matter what Jemisin writes I won’t be reading it, but I wish her the best of luck. Killing Cthulhu, and with it, Lovecrafts legacy is going to require a whole lot of it, and the only ones who’ll know will be future generations. I reckon my great-grandkids will still be enjoying At the Mountains of Madness long after I’ve gone.
Take care guys