Friday, April 18, 2014

On RETCONS - Retroactive Continuity; And The Foreigner Series

I did a thing on Tumblr a few days ago on C.J Cherryh's Forienger Series, the latest book with it's appendix(epilogue) giving a precis of history (the story) up till now and my personal frustration that the author forgetting various facts, plot points, characters, the time-line, etc - has not only continued, but via this new appendix is being codified.

I thought I had everything to say done; well for the most part; until I sat down to reread and within not the prologue but the first chapter; now I'm not eagerly devouring plot, there's a point early on that makes it all hit me all over again.

Plus, my brain remembered the name of what's going on - RETCON.

Though, is it really a retcon if the author just has trouble keeping things straight, or the author themselves is an unreliable narrator?

Spoilery things ahead for those who've never read the series btw; will note major spoilers for most recent book if/when it comes up.








So there's this: "All of Mospheria lived on the tolerance of the atevi. And the last decade or so, after a period of progress, had been a particularly anxious time — first the unexprcted death of Valasi-aiji, then the rule of the aiiji-regent, Ilisidi, Valasi's mother. Ilisidi had ceased meeting with Wilson-paidhi, who described negotiations with her as like talking to a stone statue."

So what's my problem?

It's been more than a decade. Much more. Closer to 15 years maybe even 17.

Cajeri is 9 (finally), then count the period of his gestation. 10 years. But before he was even BORN, things happened. Major things.

Then include the fact that the story skips ahead a few years in between three book arcs, from the declaration of the need of a space program, to the peak of the space program's manufacturing process.

Granted the last NINE (yes 9) books have all taken place within the past SINGLE YEAR.

And no, I'm not including the two year journey.

Destroyer - Pretender - Deliverer

Conspirator - Deceiver - Betrayer

Intruder - Protector - Peacemaker

All happen in the single year POST two year journey. They all happen in Cajeri's 8th year.

Three, three book arcs. That's a lot.

And yet the preceding 6 books (2 arcs) do actually jump time; for the space program, which includes Jason's time on the planet. And remember that once upon a time a couple of MONTHS would pass IN STORY between the end of one arc and the beginning of another, sometimes even between the end of one BOOK in an arc, and the beginning of another, IN THE SAME ARC.

One upon a time, Bren spent a week or so on Mospheira every couple of months - reporting in and dealing with his family.

Once upon a time, Bren took a damn vacation.

If we're to also include the period of Illsidi's regency, and include the initial assessment of how long Bren had originally been in Tabini-aiji's service BEFORE things in the first book pick-up and change the whole landscape of the Atevi… - That's more than 10 years. WAY more.

If we just include the time period when 'The Foreign Star Returned'; stuff, again happened BEFORE Cajeiri (Jeri-ji from Cajeiri?) was even born. That's still more than 10 yrs.

But put aside the number counting (Ha! If you don't read these books, you so didn't get that).

And there's other things going on; Valasi-aiji's reputation. Ok maybe not quite so important in terms of how the greater public maybe saw him, compared to an inner circle and [spoiler] Geigi was not part of the inner circle in those days. But Aiji popularity has been a political plot point a couple of times.

And what about when the plot hinged on things Phoenix kept secret from everyone? Why muck up the timeline as to when anyone besides Tabini found out about Reunion? And thus how things rippled from there?

Ok, you say, that's not maybe so important if it gets people reminded and caught up to the current moment - in which I give you a look of WTF, because, timing, time-lines, history, politics, ancestry, ancestral politics and ancestral imperative are kind of what DRIVE the plots in the series -so… WHAT?

But ok, we stick another pin in something and put it to the side.

Does anyone remember the Damiri-daja who was an effortless mix of savy and sensual Diane Caroll and challenging if mischievous Katherine Hepburn (or at least her movie career baseline)? Does anyone else remember thinking, post the two year journey and post the 'circumstances that happened therein' - that it seemed subtle writing to show her, just a touch clingy, just a touch shaken in some places, logically jealous of Illsidi, and somewhat lost in what should be familiar times?

Oh by the way; does anyone else realize, that the current set up as is, has Atevi gestating for AT LEAST a full year? From Cajeiri's 8th birthday to his 9th? And I say 'at least', because it was known upon the return and regrouping that Damiri was pregnant. And at a point Tabini admits that it was a heightened situation and they clung to one another and now there was this 'spare' - so to speak, that among Atevi equaled political trouble due to the format of his marriage.

But anyway, I thought a shaken, Damiri, having spent time primarily among Tabini's distant kin, faced with her own kin, both Atageini and Ajuri - suddenly clinging to them, kind of made sense. But then again? I remembered the fact that she'd purposely sent away ALL HER OLD RETAINERS, way before the official marriage, when they were just living together and she was Tabini-aiji's Lady - as a symbol of her confidence in relying on him and his people.

So to me, it was a matter of the difference between people she'd known for years, who'd even helped her through her first pregnancy and the first few years of Cajeiri's life (pre him cycling through relatives) vs all these people who didn't know her as her own person.

And of course there was a need to refill the apartments with servants post massacre.

When the reveal came, a reveal that seemed immediately to be forgotten in the next book - that the servants she currently had, given to her by her father (yet another wtf, since I'd been under the impression in early books that it was her father who'd died and her mother who'd returned to Ajuri, taking her child with her and leaving her Atageini Uncle (Tatiseigi) out in the cold or risk feud - thus his delight when she left THAT family and came to seek him out in her adolescence…)

But when the reveal came that the Ajuri servants were creeping about and spying, even on her child and she said that wonderful line in Intruder: "It seems superfluous to point out that you are not a foreign enemy and I have no need to spy on my son."

Granted, that's not quite true. It's been established that servants spy all the time. It's how information is passed. And that fact is used a lot. But the distinction was made of the difference between a servant in another household as part of a prior mingling of families, and a servant spying within the same house and household - on a child. And not via direction from a parent, but a grandparent who was not of the same house, had no relationship with the child and was instructing ACTIVE spying - going into areas not assigned, rifling through things, etc…

This was such a beautiful wrap up moment to me, of the consequence of Tabini et all losing ALL THEIR HOUSEHOLD and trying to remake it, and everyone around them trying to get a toe in. And the reveal of the insecurities Damiri's family plied in her; given what else she'd been through - her worry as to where her son's manchi lay, her grieving that it didn't seem to be to her and that meaning that the period of time between mother and child was forever gone and that THAT had been important to her - whatever the usual process for the raising of an Aiiji.

And how vulnerable she had to be, whether due to pregnancy hormones or just the exhaustion of having been on the run for months; that she went from having her own quietly respectful relationship with Bren, to utter, utter jealousy that this HUMAN had a relationship with her son and she didn't.

And from an in universe perspective, I was very intrigued and waiting for resolution of potential further insight into aspects of manchi etc - because Cajeiri is an aiji and manchi flows UP. So it was intriguing to understand that for children it doesn't work that way. Cajeiri is expected to have manchi TO certain adults and at some point that will change and he'll only COLLECT it.

And there'd been so much worry that his time primarily among humans may have damaged his ability to do what he'll need to do in future and make that transition. And could he even sense the flow of manchi NOW. And that had it's own resolution in that moment, with his mother's speech and her asking if she should stay married to his father or not.

And them having a discussion as a family that was so unexpected but delightful. His parents having talked but then included him after a point and getting his insights on the situation.

And then the very next book; the fight and effort to get into Cajeiri's room where he holed up after circumstances made him feel unsafe … suddenly transferred to his grandfather trying to get into the whole apartment and making a scene. NOT being denied entrance, all Ajuri servants sent away and Komaji storming down to a formal reception and making a spectacle of himself, accusing Illsidi of corrupting her own great grandson, and of Bren corrupting the next Aiji to be.

It suddenly went from an unsafe situation for Cajeiri, and a growth moment as a family - to Komaji somehow… desperately wanting succor and safe harbour.

Oh, I suppose he could have had servants spying as he tried to determine which way to jump. But that's not how it's presented at all in the retcon. Y'know, the very next book retcon.

But once again Damiri was unsure of her place, as if those moments of conversation with her son and husband had never happened.

Which is why I'm… "Is it really even a retcon if it's like the author FORGOT what just happened?"

I have no idea what it's like to write a book a year, in a single universe. But I do wonder how, if you are writing in the same universe - you forget what just happened?

I'm not even getting into make a bible of how things work in your universe. Everyone works differently. Though yeah, I kind of wish Cherryh had cause - "Where are the Determinists?" And what happened to the Astronomer Emeritus? And how his findings and continued development of such was meant to change the world; surely Geigi would still be in contact with the Emeritus' former students, even if the Emeritus himself had passed away. Though… he was there for that dinner before Cajeiri was kidnapped (post 2 year journey) and no mention again.

Does anyone else remember the Hashrid and Tashrid (I am likely butchering those names - but I cannot right now find the right wiki - the fan wiki created, I believe, to help Cherryh find info and I want my thoughts out); but remember the upper and lower houses that resembled Parliament? With a House of Lords and a House of Peoples and Tatisegi held prominence among the Traditional Lords (Hashrid), while Tabini was popular among the Peoples (Tashrid)? And it was a political coup that had given very much power to the people, away from the Lords in the formation of the government, of the aishidi'tat. Which is how Illsidi ended up a very temporary regent, twice, no thrice denied being named Aiji, because the Tashrid could not trust someone as traditionalist as she seemed to be to NOT favour the Lords over the common people.

Remember that? And what a political plot point it's been? How it focused and molded Illsidi's personal presentation, her plans etc?

And then there was that 'business editor' or whomever, who went all through one book, changing everything; spellings, how people said words in English to denote it wasn't their first language, AND adding 'Conservatives' and 'Liberals' everywhere in what to me seemed very human, and modern and from my perspective, very USian, on a system where it'd been overlapping associations and interests CONSTANTLY.

And now suddenly it's Liberals and Conservatives (capital 1st letter), everywhere; NOT Traditionalists. NOT 'the number-counters', NOT Determinists (whatever happenened to Geigi's faction of Determinists and how they ebbed and flowed within policies and politics?). Suddenly it's a two-party system, where before it'd been factional, if along lines of traditionalist and modernist. Which by the way are two very different things to 'conservative' or not.

Illsidi's eventual support of the space program made her no longer a 'traditionalist', thus her relationship with Tatisegi being so important; politically and personally. He holds the traditionalists to her, as she's now seen as a modernist and that's before her Southern-Eastern + Tribal People's initiatives.

I really enjoyed the political scene in this universe and these last few books it's gotten all very muddled.

There have been times things were mentioned; Bren considered a star spangled on black ribbon as 'Lord of the Heavens' and then that being mentioned as fact later. That's sometime's jarring. But it's far easier to think it was mentioned to the appropriate people and followed through on. It's a blip at most because there was a concrete moment to point to as to where. it. came. from.

But now with this appendix, I'm all; but what about… and… and… and…

And they're not mentioned.

The importance of Taylor's Children? Nope.

Phoenix's hierarchy? Nope.

Why Mospherians had/have the resentments they do re: Phoenix's ruling class/captains or don't give an fig they do? Nope.

How Phoenix's heirarchy works for Phoenix's people AND the Reunioners AND how that affects Caejeiri's human almost ashid? NOPE.

The fact Crescent Island failed? And how that reflects Mospherian government? NOPE.

How dangerous the Heritage faction was, and their collaboration with atevi across the strait? Nope.

And more…

Sometimes it feels like I'm reading a completely different set of books with EACH new release; and no one else when I peruse certain sites, ever seems to mention the inconsistencies. Or maybe they're reading a different book than I'm reading….

Then again, I often don't get the feeling that any of THEM? Are Black. So lots of what they get out of the series is 'exotic' rather than 'familiar' or 'understandable'. The consequences of a 'first contact' where the 'white guys didn't win' doesn't mean the same thing to them.

But yeah a multi-facets Atevi, interacting with multi-faceted humans, as a model for the Kyo had intrigued me. And now it feels like everyone and everything is being simplified.


All that said…

I still enjoy the books - yes, it's all the way here at the bottom. But I do. That's what makes the constant - but how did that happen? When did that happen? So aggravating.

My mind is always spinning at possibilities. Example? The long ago hints that if you presented yourself as unremarkable you could get lost in the shuffle in the Assassin's Guild (and end up marked dead). The original hints as to the importance of Algini (before he apparently gave that up) that STILL haven't born much fruit as to what sort of position that could be. The stress that now the major players are Cenedi and Banichi.

The reveal a few books ago, that the paidhi position was one of mediator between warring/feuding clans and associations.

And then you read that's part of what the Assassin's DO.

And you wonder, or at least I do, all over again at Aligini and Tano's placement, when Bren's position got more public etc… And at how corruption in the Guild ended up with him learning more and more.

And I end up pondering a white ribbon with a black one.

But that's just mah brainz.

And I want to giggle at 'mah brainz' but it gets tricky to conjecture when I'm trying to reconcile what was stated in the last book, with what's stated in the current, with what came before in the early books. And we're now some 15 books in, with the 16th almost done first draft I believe.

Seriously, where are the Determinists? What about the potential rise of the Astronomers? It should mean something politically (though it's no longer mentioned) that Geigi runs the atevi half of the space station.

Also: Geigi is Aiji of half the space station - right? But Bren is Lord of The Heavens. Is it just Bren's brain fart that he thinks he falls UNDER Geigi and not that manchi wouldn't flow UP to him?

See? See? I'd like to ponder actual structural complications vs unintentional retcons.