Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Agenda 21: Serial Offender

Agenda 21, pp. 164-171

The next part of the novel is a weird little vignette in which Emmeline quarrels with a mad old crone. I'd thought about skipping this part - it's superfluous, it actually makes less sense in context than out, and there's not a lot of informative value to be drawn out of it. On the other hand, skipping it would mean skipping the whole chapter as, aside from Emma finding the coin on page 163, nothing else happens. So, in the sake of competeness, here we go.

Here's the abridged version: Emma goes outside to find that the woman next door has stolen her morning rations. The woman, who is clearly disturbed, insists that the food is for her children who are coming for her. Eventually, a Gatekeeper shows up and ends the argument. Later, a group of officials come by and take the woman away to parts unknown. Right before the big Meeting, they take the crazy woman's husband away as well.

So why is this here? That's a good question. The one thing I can say in defense of this passage is that it was established before now - previous chapters mentioned noises from "Living Space 2" which is where the crazy lady lived. That does little to answer the "why" part, though. It seems like it might be meant as some sort of object lesson in how life in the Republic changes a person, as evidenced by passages like this:

I was safe. But she was not. What kind of a person had I become, glad that an old woman would be reported instead of me?

But really, this whole subplot is yet another element of the novel that makes it feel like a serial. In serialized fiction, it is not always possible (or even wise) to stick to a nice, neat, linear narrative. Occasionally, you have to divert in order to keep the story moving forward. These diversions rarely have much to do with the proper story, they're just present to keep the momentum going. I've done this myself - the original serialized version of The Fabulist had several one-off subplots that were wholly detatched from the main story. In one chapter, Storyteller had an extended conversation with a megalomaniacal raider who was trying to build his own city by tricking people into coming to an encampment and trapping them inside. That character was dead by the end of the following chapter. There was no point to that subplot - it was there because it was interesting.

You may notice that nothing like this subplot appears in the novel version of The Fabulist. Well...aside from being pointless, that kind of thing can break the flow of a novel. A novel that a person might read in a few sittings can't afford to meander like a serial that's meant to be read over a period of months.

This whole chapter has that weird serial feel. It even has a passage in which the protagonist recounts the people with whom she had attended the previous Meetings, as though I had read those chapters months ago and needed a refresher. Not knowing the history of this narrative (and not believing the official Glenn Beck version), I really can't speak to this aside from warning you not to do it yourself.

There is one more serial-like aspect of this chapter - it ends on a cliffhanger. At the meeting, John says this:

"There's been a change of plans."

Then Emmeline collapses. Ooh, drama!

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