leaflitter: Leaf litter (Default)
[personal profile] leaflitter
A self-assigned topic: never coming home.

There's a dynamic in the Hainish cycle I'm fascinated by, which is the people who can never go home, because during their journey everyone died and during their journey back, everyone they've spoken to on the ansible will die as well.

There's a lot of characters who are in this situation. Genly Ai (Left Hand). Solly and later Teyeo (Four Ways). Isako (Another Story). And more.

But what we don't see a lot of is the massive emotional upheaval involved in preparing for the journey. We don't often see that final moment, the moment when you walk out of the room, or shut the door, or vanish into the mountain, or disappear in a thunderclap, the moment from which you are, from the point of view of those at home, dead. (There's some mention of the Hainish version, of the seemingly very casual or at least brief Hainish traditions of "goodbye, I'm dead". What does everyone else do?)

And I think we do not see, at all, the Sleeping Beauty experience, the experience of getting on the ansible, or reading the reports that came ahead of your ship (they only need to travel at light speed to beat you there) and finding out how it was that your family died, and reading the letters they wrote to you throughout their lives, and learning the names of your great-grandchildren who are now twenty years older than you, and so on.

We see a little bit of it in reverse, in Four Ways when Yoss thinks about her daughter and grandson on the ship. But we don't see any sense that she is communicating to them, by, eg, compiling some kind of "and this is how the rest of my life went" document. (Le Guin doesn't seem to have separated family members reach out to each other every so often. See also, in The Dispossessed, how Shevek and Takver don't seem to communicate when physically separated on Anarres, let alone when he's on Urras.)

Here's some of the fascinating stories I think are in the margins (ie, good fic candidates):

Solly and Teyeo, oh my goodness. For starters, I think her characterisation is inconsistent with her backstory, which is that she's been through the entire process of "goodbye, I'm dead" twice, and has twice woken up on a new world and needed to catch up on 500 years of history. (I don't have the book with me right now, but if I recall correctly, one of those two times was "while you were asleep, the population of that world destroyed itself".) I suppose the intended characterisation is that her youth and self-confidence will get her even through that kind of challenge, but, I'm not convinced.

Then there's him, the perfect, self-reliant, honourable soldier, who has come to believe that the basis for his society and his honour is utterly bankrupt. I don't know what the journey is like after that, but I can only imagine that adding in two journeys forward in time and massive culture shock from there cannot help. (He accompanies Solly to Terra and then to Hain.) He seems to be so much a man of Werel. How does he deal with Terra at all, let alone with Terra culture shock while simultaneously dealing with whatever the news from Werel-Yeowe is?

Leaf and In Joy Born, from the "Solitude" short story in The Birthday of the World, when they wake up on Hain to find that, as they had probably expected but not hoped, Serenity (the narrator) never followed them. (This is strictly left ambiguous. As of the time of making the report, she had not followed them. But she has two children, one a daughter, on Eleven Soro, and in her cultural tradition Hain would be the seat of interstellar-scale evil sorcery. I think it's a fairly clear no.) "Solitude" is actually a letter to the future, but I can't imagine Leaf finding it anything other than a catastrophic end to her relationship with Ren, especially since it would arrive concurrently with news of her presumed death, and news of the grandchildren she can never even know of (especially the grandson).

As an aside, I find this an interesting story in another respect too, which is that I'm not sure what planetary origin the family has. They speak Hainish and talk only of Hain, and the names are more like the Hainish names we see, but if so, Ren shouldn't need external agents to control her fertility because the Hainish have it under conscious internal control. Still pondering.

O is in something of a unique position, since it's only a four year difference. That's probably why "Another Story" treats it in a fair bit of detail. It's less unimaginable, a bit equivalent to Age of Sail emotional dislocations except that if you travel O to Hain to O you not only come back at least four years behind the news but also eight years younger than you "should" be.

I'm thus also treating several aspects of this problem in my novella-in-progress at the moment, although since as usual for sedoretu stories it's a romance and comedy of manners, I can't get right into it. In particular, the part that is like grieivng a death, only of someone who is going to reappear in the far future on another planet, after you're dead.

I actually need to work on this respect a bit: the mourners are too isolated and misunderstood. O is a very stable culture who have been doing interstellar travel for a very long time. No doubt There Are Procedures That Are In Place. On O, the problem is generally not that no one knows how to deal with grief or love or lust or any big thing. It's that There Are Procedures and they fit you so well and argh dammit for once why can't I have just one big huge life disaster that my culture doesn't have the perfect script to deal with? Do I have to be ki'O now too? Seriously? It turns out we have a religious ceremony that deals with this frustration with conformity too? I should have expected that. DAMMIT.
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