Thursday, June 8, 2017

This Broken Earth

Good Friday earthquake photo of damage
Massive damage from the Good Friday Earthquake
of 1964 near Anchorage, AK
March 27, 1964. Good Friday. The Aleutian Subduction Zone--where the Pacific tectonic plate collides with the North American plate--suddenly ripped loose, unleashing a massive magnitude 9.2 earthquake. It was the largest seismic event in North American history and the second largest ever recorded in the world.

For nearly five minutes the ground rolled and buckled, heaved and plunged. When the land finally settled, the damage was catastrophic. In some places the ground had risen as much as 38 feet. In others it had sunk nearly the same amount. Downtown Anchorage was in ruins.

Even more destructive than the quake itself, however, was the tsunami that raced across the Pacific Ocean.

Inundated within minutes were Alaskan communities like Portage, Whittier, Valdez and Kodiak. The waves clawed onto the shores, running up as much as 220 feet above average sea level. And it didn't stop there. The tsunami sped across the broad ocean, moving nearly 500 mph, striking the west coast of the United States. Thirteen people were killed in Crescent City, California and another five along the coast of Oregon. The tsunami was eventually registered in a least 20 countries, including Japan, New Zealand, Peru and even Antarctica.

By the end of the day, at least 139 were killed and some $311 million dollars in damage had occurred.

Believe it or not, this is eventually leading to a book review....

Seward, Alaska immediately after the quake
Near the exact crosshairs for this incredible event was the little town of Seward, Alaska, the place where I now live. Though the town was rocked by the massive earthquake, Seward was mostly affected by the large tsunami which flooded through downtown, destroyed much of the old harbor and laid to waste the bulk of Seward's economy, killing 12 of the tiny town's citizens in the process.

Nearly a mile of Seward's coastline fell into the ocean, and burning oil from a destroyed refinery was washed inland, sometimes nearly a mile, by the tsunami. The land was cracked and fissured. The Earth was broken. It must have seemed like Hell.

This Broken Earth (An Earthquake-related Book Review)

(Note: there may be a few spoilers in this review. Though I was careful not to reveal any major plot points, since I am reviewing a sequel even my description of the setting may give away some important points of the series's first installment)

So since we are on the topic of massive earthquakes, it seems only fitting to segue into a fantasy novel that is about, well, massive earthquakes....

The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin is modern fantasy series which replaces a stereotypical medieval setting with a distant future on a nearly unrecognizable Earth. The planet, ravaged by rampant earthquakes and massive tectonic motion, has reformed into what is, apparently, a new, one-continent Pangaea.

Another pleasingly original notion in the The Broken Earth is that the "magic" comes not from wizards, witches and warlocks but from "orogenes," people with the incredible ability to harness orogeny, which according to means "the process of mountain making or upheaval."

The series's first novel, The Fifth Season, begins in this futuristic Earth in the immediate aftermath of a enormous earthquake, a "ten pointer at least," which has launched the civilization into post apocalyptic survival mode. This unprecedented earthquake, which would dwarf even the massive 9.2 that rendered so much destruction here in Alaska, has laid to waste all of the careful constructs of the human culture known as The Stillness.  

Amazon scores: 222 reviews
5 star: 77%; 1 star: 1%
As some may recall, I reviewed the The Fifth Season in a blog post on March 16th, giving the original, Hugo Award winning installment a "4.2 out of 5 stars." I praised Jemisin for bringing something fresh to the fantasy genre and for her pleasingly complicated story structure. Today, I would like to take a look at The Obelisk Gate, the second in the unfinished trilogy.

One of the things that was so enjoyable about The Fifth Season was discovering the strange and interesting world of Jemisin's creation and learning about the unique structure of the world's "magic." The novelty and adventure were what made the pages of The Fifth Season cascade away (I read the novel in just a few days). In comparison to its predecessor, however, The Obelisk Gate unfortunately strikes out.

The setting for the second installment in the series is disappointingly static. Although the town which the main character, Essun, now lives is interesting (it is constructed inside the heart of a massive geode) the primary group of characters never leaves it. This underground setting quickly begins to feel claustrophobic. As a reader who was delighted in the first novel, I desperately wanted to explore more of this world but was instead forced to remain underground in a bizarre, hard-to-visualize crystal city whose walls seemingly shrank in around me.

Another disappointment in this follow-up was how The Obelisk Gate failed to live up the pleasing complexity of The Fifth Season. In the first book of the series, I found Jemisin's cleaver weaving of its the three plot arcs distinctly gratifying. In the sequel, however, no such intriguing complexity exists. Instead, the second plot arc is instead rather frustrating and actually even a bit uncomfortable. I found myself almost wanting to skim through it and return to Essun's story, which (as previously mentioned) was already proving to be a significant let down. 

And  then there is present tense, second person...

Why? Please, can somebody tell me why? Half of the novel, Essun's story, is written in irritating second person. In my opinion, and feel free to differ, this unconventional move does nothing positive for the story but instead only presents a significant obstacle that the novel has to overcome. It's like cruising along a scenic road and running into a sea of potholes. You have to bump and grind your way uncomfortably through it to navigate what should have been smooth and beautiful. It feels like a forced concept, a heavy-handed attempt at originality. For my money, this novel would have been far better without it.

At this point I feel like I have been overly harsh on The Obelisk Gate and it's not entirely fair. If so it's only because I liked the first novel so much I felt like The Obelisk Gate was a missed opportunity. I still blazed through the story in a matter of days and there's no doubt I will read book three when it comes out this fall. There was plenty quality writing, the premise is still fresh and original, and the action plays out into an exciting and page-turning conclusion. The novel's weaknesses (which most reviewers on Amazon didn't seem to mind as the novel has some of the best scores a book can get) were a mere dip in the series that I believe the third installment can can easily redeem. 

In the meantime, I can't help but wish we had an orogene here in Alaska that might be able to stop the next major earthquake, should one happen again.

*** Overall I give The Obelisk Gate three out of five stars 

If you enjoyed this post, consider signing up for my mailing list. I blog about all sorts of crazy, educational, entertaining, and occasionally funny topics from what makes an effective first paragraph in a novel to giant redwoodsmedieval sailboats, the ancient Mayans and more. If you do sign up, you will get a once-a-week update on my posts and NOTHING ELSE! No spam, no selling your email to third parties. Okay, if I ever get around to publishing one of these works in progress that are constantly haunting me, I might send out an email letting you know. In the meantime thanks for reading.

find us on facebook

All writing is the original work of Brian Wright and may not be copied, distributed, re-printed or used any form without express written consent of the author. Find out here how to CONTACT me with publishing and/or use questions

No comments:

Post a Comment