Friday, August 07, 2009

Gardens Of The Sun, Third Chapter

Some fifty days after he’d defected, the spy at last returned to Paris, Dione.

It had not been an easy journey. He’d fallen from orbit in a stolen dropshell, skimming through a hole in the Brazilian surveillance-satellite network, landing inside a small impact crater in the high northern latitudes of Dione’s sub-saturnian hemisphere, walking away across a frozen, gently undulating plain. He was short of air and power and had to reach a shelter or an oasis as quickly as possible, knew that his former masters would be searching for him and that he faced disgrace and execution if he was captured, yet in those first hours of freedom his heart floated on a flood of joy. All around, beyond the shell of his pressure suit, with its intimate chorus of clicks and whirrs, the tide of his breathing and the thud of his pulse, the moonscape stretched silent and still, lovely in its emptiness. The dusty ground glimmering golden-brown in the long light of the low sun. Saturn’s swollen globe looming half-full above the curved horizon, bisected by the black scratch of the ringplane, which printed crisp shadows across smoggy bands of butterscotch and peach and caught fire with diamond light as it shot beyond the gas giant’s limb towards the tiny half-disc of one of the inner moons. He felt as if he was the emperor of all he surveyed. The only witness to this pure, uncanny beauty. And for the first time in his brief and strange life, master of his fate.



Anonymous Keith Talent said...

I like the imagery here, place and emotion are both clearly rendered. If I may, and for what it's worth as presumably the wording is a fait accompli in any case, the sentence:

All around, beyond the shell of his pressure suit, with its intimate chorus of clicks and whirrs, the tide of his breathing and the thud of his pulse, the moonscape stretched silent and still, lovely in its emptiness.

Was doing exactly what was required of it right up until the final clause, the 'lovely in its emptiness' which just threw me out of the image. Presumably others' mileage will vary but for me this was jarring coming after the preceding clauses, all of which were more or less objective statements of what was going on 'intimate chorus' although not meant literally doesn't represent someone's opinion (other than the narrator who need not be the protagonist). Then the sentence after it is also objective.

I presume what you're doing is purposefully telling us about the subjective opinion of the protagonist, without wishing to spell it out as you do with 'he felt as if ...' but the absence of any explicit clue that this is the opinion of the protagonist makes one stop: up until then I was thinking, OK this is what the reliable narrator is telling me about the world, this is all accurate, and it's also lovely in it's emptiness, oh wait hang on, what does that mean, I don't know anything about the narrator's take on emptiness nor what 'lovely' could mean when used to describe it, it must be a report of the protagonist's feelings. And now I'm out of the flow.

At least that's my assessment of why it jarred, it's not straightforward to reconstruct after the event. I wonder also whether a fairly anodyne adjective such as 'lovely' after a series of precisely evocative descriptions leaves me floundering somewhat.

Way too much just read into one clause. Anyway like the look of the story.

August 07, 2009 2:19 pm  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

Hi Keith, It's his subjective vp (we're inside the suit with him), and for him the emptiness is lovely because he's alone and therefore - as far as he is concerned - safe. A colon would emphasise that, but would also be even more jarring, I think. Tricky things, run-on sentences...

What makes you think any narrator is reliable? ;)

August 07, 2009 3:02 pm  
Anonymous Keith Talent said...

So it's a switch from narrator's vp to protagonist's vp mid-sentence (we're in third person at the beginning of the sentence), I think that's why it jars for me, and I definitely agree that a colon would have been not a good idea.

I think a full stop after 'still' then 'It was lovely in its emptiness.' would have worked, it still wouldn't have explicitly spelled out the switch in vp, (which can be clunky if not done well) but the reader is no longer primed for more dispassionate third person reporting.

Too much analysis of one clause on my behalf, there was just something that felt unnatural about it, as I say others' may well differ.

August 11, 2009 4:18 pm  
Anonymous Keith Talent said...

Oh, and point taken about the reliability of narrators, but I think my default position is that when the narrator has a god's eye view, as it appears the narrator here does, and when that narrator isn't obviously meant to be another character I'm justified, at least on inductive grounds, in investing my faith in their trustworthyness. Always good to have one's assumptions confounded by a book though.

August 11, 2009 4:23 pm  

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