The Obelisk Gate
by N. K. Jemisin
You flicker into this strange place, wondering how you got here. Simple, really, you clicked on something that brought you here. How you got here is immaterial; why you are here is the real question.
You’re expecting something, yes, an overview of The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin.
But you realize the only other person in the room is a statue, obsidian black, standing with one arm poised before his torso, as if in warrior mode.
His body? Why do you assume the statue is male? You look closer down there, and see only a jumble of rocks precariously poised against each other, just like the rest of him . . . it?
The statue doesn’t move, yet its black glinting eyes still seem to follow your movements.
You look away to find your overview, but it eludes your senses.
You look back at the statue, wondering if your review will come from him . . . it. The statue is in a different pose. You did not see it move. Both hands are covering its groin area, and its eyes are turned away. You sess, or sense, shame? Embarrassment?
“It is appropriate to begin like this,” the statue says. Its lips do not move, and the sounds seem to come from his . . . its chest. The voice is deep, and decidedly male in its tone. So any gender designation must be male, then, if a clever pile of rocks can ever truly have a gender.
For the sake of convenience, you decide to refer to it as he or him or his. His hands are not big enough to cover his groin, and the size of his rocks somehow excites you a teensy bit. He must be heavy, therefore it would be prudent – should you follow up on that excitement – to be on top.
“First,” he says from his chest, his luscious pecs, “We need to establish parental advisories.”
You groan in despair as these words beat your rising desire to death with an umbrella. You look down and away, knowing that you are now the one embarrassed.
“There is no sex in this second book of The Broken Earth trilogy,” the statue continues. You are disappointed and want to let him know, so you frown at him. His position has changed again, and you did not see that movement either. Now one hand is braced against his hip, and the other hand is pointing a finger at you.
You hear a low rumble in your head, a quivering of the earth, and realize the statue is shaking his finger at you, admonishing you for your bad thoughts.
“None at all?” you stammer.
“Well . . . just a bit, off camera. You might hear moaning and groaning, but you mustn’t see it out of respect for the lover’s privacy.”
That low rumble is intensifying, and you close your eyes, fearing a migraine is building. When you reopen them, the statue is sitting on the ground in the lotus position.
He speaks, “Too, there is a change in the profanity from the first volume. In fact, regarding that first volume, have you read it?”
Your thoughts flutter into random moths at this sudden change of subject, and those moths beat at the inside of your skull. “What was it called?” is all you can weakly query.
“Only a little thing called The Fifth Season. Not much of a book as far as books go. After all, it barely made a ripple in the SF/F realm. It only won the HUGO FOR BEST DAMN NOVEL THIS YEAR!”
You sess, or sense, that the statue is getting a tad testy.
It continues, “If you haven’t read The Fifth Season, then two things are apparent. First, that you have no business here while we talk about its sequel The Obelisk Gate. Secondly, it is apparent that YOU ARE AN UTTER IDIOT!”
Your mind turns elsewhere and you remember it now. Yes, that one. The one about earthquake people called Oral Genes or something, which need guardians, and stone eaters that are made of stone and . . . and eat stone, as their designation clearly suggests, and those strange obelisks in the sky. “Yes, I remember it,” you say, and realize the statue has changed position again.
It is standing on one foot, and it’s in profile to you now, so that you can clearly see its arms and hands making that walk-like-an-Egyptian pose.
Its voice continues, “Then you should know there are fewer f-bombs in this one. In fact, Ms. Jemisin decided to replace a lot of them with the word ‘rust’ or ‘rusting.’ Like, instead of saying like, ‘He couldn’t just f-ing tell me,’ she changed it to ‘He couldn’t just rusting tell me.’” Sounds more family-friendly, don’t you think?”
“Um,” you pause. “Sounds like a euphemism for the same thing. Won’t people just insert the bad word in their minds?”
“Don’t use big words on me or I’ll, like, get angry. You don’t want to see me get angry,” the statue says. “Besides, she uses both words, sometimes together, which is all very confusing, but I’m not the author. Regardless, the bad one isn’t as common as it appeared in the first part of this journey.”
It occurs to you that the statue is adopting, like, Valley Girl Stupid vocabul-air-y, and you begin to think this was a waste of time. But you ask anyway, “Is there any violence?”
Somehow, without you seeing the movement even though you never took your eyes off the statue, it is now posed with hands like photo screen shots framing its smiling face. You think the word ‘Vogue’ and can’t remember why. And you wonder how a face made of gravel can smile so brightly.
“Of course, there is violence. After all, this is a war story at heart. The orogenes, guardians, stone eaters, obelisks, and your own kind are at war with each other. Orogenes will die. Guardians will die. Stone eaters will . . . actually, we don’t die. Obelisks will . . . actually, I’m still not sure about them. Your own kind will die. But still – “
“Wait,” you interrupt. “My own kind? What are my own kind?”
“Still – “ he says, but you interrupt again.
“Don’t ignore me; tell me what my own kind are!”
“I just did. You’re still – “
“Stop it! WHAT AM I?” you demand, raising your voice because you are now getting a tad testy also.
He stops, smile gone, staring at me as if studying an ant in a magnifying glass. Yes, you can see it’s just like that. You don’t need to sess it. You see it. Somehow the statue found a magnifying glass and is peering at you through it.
One of his black, shiny, obsidian eyes loom larger than the other, and you think that’s really kind of cool.
“You are a Still,” he says.
You are confused. You know that he has now told you the same thing for the third time (or is it more properly the ‘same thing for the second time,’ considering the first time doesn’t really count as it is the original thing, not the same thing . . . oh, who gives a crap. You know what you meant). Yet, your confusion remains, and you bravely ask the obvious question.
“I make hooch?”
His shoulders slump. The magnifying glass drops to the ground but doesn’t shatter. It just puffs dust and disappears into the earth. (But wait, you think, you’re not on the earth. You’re at a website on the Interweb. You wish this whole conversation would just GET ON WITH IT!”)
“Do not fear the violence,” the statue says. “It is not reveled in by the author. She wisely states what happens, and demurs from describing the effects in detail. In fact, I am the one who gets torn apart, and see how well I turned out.”
You are back to that again. That strange sensation that you want to get your rocks on with a pile of rocks. (Or, would that be ‘get your rocks off’ rather than on. Such beautifully smooth, strong rocks; rocks that cause you to feel oddly ‘nasty.’)
“This installment has an upside and a downside,” the focus of your desire says, which causes even more illicit ponderings on your part. “The upside is that you will learn much more about my kind, the stone eaters, and a little more about the obelisks, and you will realize that the stone eaters and obelisks are linked to each other. You will also learn how Essun will learn to befriend many of us, and to use the obelisks as the gates they truly are. Some things will be kept in reserve. This novel does not yet reveal all. The outcome of this war is yet for the third volume.”
Yes, even a handsome hunk of rock-hard manliness loses his allure when being pedantic. Your desire ebbs to the appropriate level for your question, “And the downside?”
“This is the second book in a trilogy. This one’s purpose seems to be to explain things in story form. Think of it as a mildly entertaining info dump. There may easily come a moment (around two-thirds of the way through) where you will get bored and want to skip ahead. But don’t. All this meaningless action will turn out to have meaning later. Besides, don’t you want to know what becomes of the ten-or-twenty-ringed orogene called Alabaster?”
Actually, yes, you would like to know that. So, yes, you will read it, and probably the third also. This is not for children, but you know each parent will delight to read these and then decide for themselves what their child can handle in a mature manner.
“Will this one win a Hugo also?” You ask.
“Nah,” the statue says. “Oh, it’s good, just not quite THAT good.”
The statue has changed pose again. It is now upside down, balanced only on its fingertips in the earth, that entire rippling torso on full display rising up, and you think that maybe . . . yes, perhaps there . . . you see a slender slab of rock rising down . . .
“Whoa!” you exclaim.
The statue’s eyes flick at you, and they smile a little. “Actually, there is no ‘W’ in my name,” he says, and dives straight into the earth, disappearing.
Gone. This website is empty now. Even that rumbling of the ground has subsided, echoing into the distance.
Are you glad you came? Only you can answer that question.
9 October 2016