Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Think Galactic- The Traitor Baru Cormorant

For the July meeting of Think Galactic, we discussed The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson. This is a book I've been raving about for a bit, and it was great to get some Think Galactic analysis.

Set in a fantasy world a bit more complicated than the usual pseudo-medieval setting, Baru is a tale of empire and the attempt to break free of it. The titular character is a woman from a small island culture that is crushed by the Empire of Masks; she sets her sights on changing (or betraying) it from within, as her savant status allows her to rise within their ranks. She's sidelined to a norther province, however, where she becomes embroiled in their own nascent rebellion.

We had some great arguments about this one. Brief notes and possible spoilers below:

  • We started off noting that the cover doesn't actually match Baru's physical description very well. Not the worst case of white-cover-washing we've seen, but still a a bit disappointing.
  • Praised the way this made trade wars & economics exciting.
  • Final chapters very intense; that ending is what sold a lot of us.
  • We dug that this isn't the usual pseudo-medieval pseudo-Europe, and enjoyed the range of sources that informed this world. Hard to say exactly where it corresponds, historically--just barely pre-Enlightenment, perhaps, but with twists.
  • "Oh my god, they killed Tara again!"
  • I really dug the Cherryh-like intra/interpersonal politics & psychology. We kept coming back to that phrase "you are not the only player on the board", and how that conception of multiple actors, not just our protagonist, is kind of rare to see.
  • Long pro/con discussion of empires both fictional and real. "Do we really need eugenics for the roads & dentists?"
  • Brief aside on Star Trek vs. Star Wars: true utopian vision versus "eternal resistance" that valorizes combat with clear villains without a real end-goal.
  • Talked a bit about Arendt & the nature of evil, "Eichman in Jerusalem as a little pick-me-up after the election", and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth.
  • Some of thought Baru as a character, and the book as a whole, were driven too much by calculation, not enough passion to pull them through.
  • On the lack of magic and kind of making the best of a crappy situation: "it's a little like when Frodo returns to the Shire".
  • Rawls! Much, much discussion of "the veil of ignorance", an important component of Rawls vision of fairness (which is also a pretty influential theory), and how Dickinson's empire uses the same idea, at least in theory.
  • Shout-out to Canadian metal band The Agonist.
  • There are maps, and we are pleased.
  • Noted some similarities to YA dystopian POV, but "I'm not used to villains that are competenet and have their own plans".
  • Comparisons made to Game of Thrones, and some call-backs to Too Like The Lightning (empire, gender) that we recently discussed.
  • Are we sympathetic with the empire, or not? Much debate. Do imperial power concentrations unavoidably contain atrocities, like the LGBT oppression here?
  • Wondered what the Falcresti makeup actually looked like. Siouxsie & the Banshees? Hunger Games?
  • Lots of talks about the deeply creepy eugenics & conditioning projects here.
  • Is the Aurdwynni deal justified from a utilitarian standpoint? E.G., did the empire actually make lives better in the long run? Does that count as justification?
  • While we liked Baru/Vultjag, we noted that the "disastrous one-night lesbian stand" is straight out of "tragic gay" pulp stories.
  • Comparisons made to A Companion to Wolves.
  • Much discussion of '60s and '70s anti-colonial movements and literature, the idea of being pulled from your context and then returned to it.
  • Wondering how we feel about the level of cynicism here.
  • The Masquerade, not to be confused with The Masquerade.

Fun discussion, rather polarized reviews. Keep up with Think Galactic on their website and Facebook group.

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