Tuesday 24 July 2018

The Stone Sky is the most artful book, and that's why it deserves to win.

N.K. Jemisin’s The Stone Sky is a warning about ravaging the Earth, made relatable through the story
There's a reason the first two Broken
Earth books won the Hugo Award -
It's the same reason The Stone Sky
deserves to make it a clean sweep:
These books have emotional resonance.
(Images via Goodreads.com) 
of a shattered mother-daughter relationship.

Well-known visual art critic Edmund Feldman once argued that when considering any work, one should consider four basic questions. To paraphrase these questions, and repurpose them to the literary world, they might be summarized as: what does the work set out to achieve, what tools and techniques does the artist use to achieve those goals, is the work successful in what what the artist set out to achieve, and finally how does it make you feel. Great art, it is suggested, is that which provides satisfactory answers to these questions.

By this standard, The Stone Sky, the most ambitious of this year’s Hugo shortlisted novels, succeeds admirably. As such, it is the work that deserves to be recognized with the award.

As the concluding book in the Broken Earth Trilogy, The Stone Sky aims to provide a resolution to several intertwined storylines, to complete several grand metaphors and to deliver a powerful message on relationships. In this work, humans are at once our own worst enemies and our only hope for redemption. We see in The Stone Sky how hubris has brought the Earth to near ruination. In the distant past, thirsting for more power, humans drew more and more from the Earth. In a terrible accident, the moon was pushed into a different orbit causing chaos on Earth. In the present, two factions are trying to bring the moon back: one wants to bring it straight into the Earth destroying life, the other wants to return it to its former orbit. Both claim to want to end the chaos and suffering on Earth and both intend to do it with extreme interventions on the natural world.

The immediate relevance of the metaphor should not be lost on readers. Today, Earth is changing in
The Broken Earth trilogy has
inspired readers.
Image via BrokenEarth Tumblr.
ways that resemble the catastrophic fifth seasons of the Broken Earth trilogy. Humans are at fault for these changes. Our extreme interventions have caused pain and suffering for people, plants and animals. We regularly experience storms, floods and droughts that thousands of years ago would have been so unusual as to be considered divine punishments. We are also working on new and different extreme interventions that will return some balance to the world.

The setting and structure of the series are ambitious, and Jemisin’s prose is impactful and engrossing. But more than any of the other novels on this year’s shortlist, The Stone Sky has an emotional core with well-crafted human relationships.

The main actors in the books are all tied together through a variety of relationships. Master-slave, lovers, mother-daughter. The treatment of people in each of these relationships affects decisions they are making now. Essun and Alabaster overcome previous trauma to form a new trust. The Guardian, Shaffa, goes after Nassun and using his knowledge of what he did to Essun gains the daughter’s trust. Nassun is lashing out at Essun after Essun was at best a questionable mother but acted from love in the best way she knew how.

“I think,” Hoa says slowly, “that if you love someone, you don’t get to choose how they love you back."”

The misunderstandings and mistakes lead to conflict. Communication leads to understanding.

“Don’t be patient. Don’t ever be. This is the way a new world begins.”

Each book of this trilogy had highlights that add up to an overall story that is is cohesive. When books are well done, we shouldn’t punish them for being the third but reward them for doing it well. N.K. Jemisin would be the first “threepeat” in Hugo history and for this trilogy she deserves it. It is a well-crafted story relevant to our time with timeless messages.

While other shortlisted novels in 2018 may answer Feldman’s first three questions satisfactorily, only The Stone Sky is a novel that offers a profundity of emotion, and that is what elevates it above the other works.

(This is one of two blog posts in which members of our book club make the case for the book they think should win. The second one on New York 2140 can be found at this link.

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