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February 23rd, 2010

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08:33 am - The Ask and the Answer
The other book I read last weekend was The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness which is the sequel to The Knife of Never Letting Go. It's the 2nd volume of a young-adult SF trilogy. It's set on a colonised world where some sort of ambient infection has rendered the thoughts of men and animals (but not women) transparent to all. There are also some telepathic humanoid natives called Spackles.

Ness writes in a very engaging way, and he takes gender politics seriously. In the first book the protagonist, Todd, ran away from his community where all the women had been slaughtered. In this book the army of the all-male community conquer the capital city and set up prison camps for the remaining women. In response some of the women set up a guerilla force in the wilderness.

The book begins with Nietzche's famous quote about 'fighting monsters one becomes a monster', and this is the thread of the book. The men use torture, specifically waterboarding (the 'Ask') and the women blow up buildings (the 'Answer'). The women's terrorist campaign is seen as morally compromising, although it began as a response to gynocide. This parallelism is embodied in the young couple - Todd and an off-worlder, Viola - who are co-opted into the male army and the female resistance respectively. They must find a way to reconcile and forgive.

However this is not satisfactory to me. I don't think genocide and the resistance to it are morally parallel. For example the male army brand all women, like cattle (with metal tags brutally embedded in their flesh, but effectively branding). Todd does the branding. To my mind this is not forgiveable. There is no reconciliation back from that sort of thing.

(5 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:February 23rd, 2010 09:26 am (UTC)
I find these books unreadable (I think the style is awful, all those sentence long paragraphs and people shouting in italicized capitals).
[User Picture]
Date:February 23rd, 2010 10:08 am (UTC)
I like the style. I particularly like the way he portrays animals. And I found I can read it very fast. YA is like that in general I think, it goes down very quickly.
[User Picture]
Date:February 23rd, 2010 07:35 pm (UTC)
To my mind this is not forgiveable. There is no reconciliation back from that sort of thing.

But there has to be, or else the only response is the Answer's - interminable conflict. You say that Viola and Todd must reconcile and forgive; I might say you just chose the wrong one of those in your final sentence - had you said there's no forgiveness for what Todd did, I'd agree.

A big question about this whole series - which I find very readable, too - is whether Ness is aware of all the implications of his story. Abigail Nussbaum, for instance, thinks not; if she's right, tensions like this won't be resolved. I rather think they will be - though that third volume has a lot riding on it.
[User Picture]
Date:February 23rd, 2010 08:34 pm (UTC)
People must fight to live, and if an enemy goes to kill them, their refusal to submit to death does not make them his moral equivalent. But I don't think Ness quite feels that the women or the aliens have an imperative to live, just like men do.

(I'm pressing 'Post' too quickly - I'm not attributing the position I am arguing against to you, of course, but only to Ness)

Edited at 2010-02-23 08:35 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:February 23rd, 2010 08:44 pm (UTC)
Fighting to live is clearly a theme of the book, and it's shown as necessary, but open to being taken too far. I think at first the Answer is portrayed quite positively. Because, yes, everyone has the right to live - what happens after that fight is won, or the enemy forced to stalemate? Without forgiveness and reconciliation, where do you go?

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