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Recommending: “The Fifth Season”

When you read enough books in the same genre, it can sometimes be hard to find a book in that group which feels fresh without also feeling like you’ve jumped the rails and started reading another genre entirely. The tropes become worn, the arcs become rote, and it can be hard to find that spark that got you interested in the genre in the first place.

Then a book like “The Fifth Season” comes along and reminds you.

If you run in fantasy circles, this probably isn’t going to be the first time you’ve heard someone recommending “The Fifth Season”, the first book in “The Broken Earth” trilogy by N. K. Jemisin. And for good reason: Not only is it a Hugo award winner, but its two sequels are also Hugo winners, making Jemisin the first (and only) author to have won the award three years in a row.

So, all I’m really trying to do here is signal-boost a bit to let anyone who hasn’t already heard of this book know that it’s absolutely worth the read.

“The Fifth Season” doesn’t break the mold, it instead feels like it rebuilt the mold from scratch. To describe its synopsis, then, would do it little justice. (Stop me if you’ve heard this one: It’s set in a fantasy world with a unique twist to the environment, there’s a special group of feared magic users who all get trained at a wizard’s college to control their great and terrible powers, bureaucrats with a dagger behind every smile, and a race of mythic humanoids with strange motivations and stranger powers.)

No, where “The Fifth Season” succeeds is in taking all these well worn ideas, breaking them down to their component parts, and reminding readers why they’re such effective story tools to begin with. Jemisin displays almost complete mastery over the genre, knowing both how to set up the pins and how to knock them down.

In certain parts, the book lets you in on some secrets, rewarding readers for being familiar with certain tropes, but then it’ll let the penny drop and throw you completely off guard for having ever thought you knew where the story was going next. Even being very familiar with the genre and knowing where the story was going in general, this mix of surprise and familiarity kept me on my toes throughout the story, because even when I thought I knew what to expect, I could never be certain when Jemisin was going to pull the rug out from under me to reveal something I’d never have expected.

I haven’t gotten to read the two sequels, (“The Obelisk Gate” and “The Stone Sky”) yet, but you can bet they’re the next two things on my reading list.

Let’s Talk About Liking Things

Everyone’s a critic. Myself included.

I have a reflexive habit of responding with a lot of negativity towards the media I consume. This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily – Being negative is no more inherently a bad quality than being positive is inherently good – but it tends to dominate the conversation. Even coming out of movies or books that I really enjoy, there’s a reflex I feel to hedge that enjoyment by pointing out all the flaws. Whether I do this out of some unconcious, misplaced instinct to be “Fair”, or just because it’s easier for me to see and explain the isolated flaws in a work than to comprehend what made that work good to begin with. I just recently finished playing Hollow Knight, (an excellent Metroidvania that you should absolutely play,) and despite the fact that I enjoyed my time with the game so much that I played it to 107% completion, seeking out every bit of bonus content and every hidden area the game had to offer, when I talked about it with friends I was quick to bring up the isolated moments and small quirks that frustrated me.

This isn’t unique to myself, of course. Go on Youtube and look up video essays or think pieces about movies, you’ll find that most of them aren’t deconstructions of “Good” films, but are instead critical analyses of bad works, and this isn’t even taking into account the deluge of nitpick channels and riff-style comedy shows. (This isn’t a universal rule, of course – Bob Chipman (“Moviebob”) notably has an excellent series called ‘Really That Good’ where he exclusively talks about renowned or otherwise great works.)

Again, I want to stress that this isn’t a bad thing. Deconstructing a bad work of fiction can be incredibly illuminating and educational, not to mention cathartic and satisfying, and if you’ve never seen Lindsay Ellis or Dan Olson do a visceral autopsy or thorough takedown of a bad film, you’re really missing out. A lot of “Riff” humor is genuinely funny. (There’s a reason why Mystery Science Theater ran for twelve seasons and 211 episodes, and it occurs to me that if I keep up with this blog I’ll end up divulging my entire Youtube and Netflix playlists.)

However, even as I add another video to my ‘watch later’ with a title like “A Thorough Deconstruction of ‘Show Dogs’ (2018)”, I feel like there’s a point where too much of a good thing can start to cause problems. I don’t watch movies or read books because I want to see them lambasted, no matter how thoroughly or precisely an author can list all its flaws.

I watch movies because I like them. I read books because I enjoy them. When the chips are down, I like liking things a lot more than I like disliking them.

Criticism and deconstruction are valuable tools, but I don’t want that to be something I make a part of my identity, because as easy as it is for me to complain about a film, that’s not what I want to spend all my time thinking about. There’s a lot of bad stuff going on in the world right now, and I think everyone could use a few more positive thoughts.

So… I’m going to make a stand, sort of. This blog won’t be a negativity-free zone, because like I said at the top, negativity can be important, but I’m going to try to make it a positivity-forward zone. If I’m going to take the time to talk about a subject, I’m going to pick something I like, and I’m not going to pick a subject that’s going to end on a downer note, because plenty of that already exists.

I wish I had a better mission statement or thesis here, but I really don’t. I’m still feeling this out, trying to find my style and my voice on this site, figuring out what I really want to write and who I want to be out here.

But while I’m figuring all that out, I might as well make it something fun.

(Links:

Moviebob (Bob Chipman)

Lindsay Ellis

Folding Ideas (Dan Olson) )

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