READALONG: Full Fathom Five, by Max Gladstone: Week 3

Week 3, and we’re now three-quarters through the novel and the readalong. This week’s questions were provided thanks to Heather of The Bastard Title.


1. Kai and Izza finally meet face-to-face. What do you think about their confrontation? Did it go as you expected, or did they surprise you?

Well, I certainly didn’t expect them to meet the way they did, but I can’t really say it surprised me, either. Izza’s definitely the type to do what she did, when the need arises, and given what she’d just seen with Margot, and seen his connection to Kai, it’s not entirely surprising that she jumped to the conclusion she did.

And it was definitely more dramatic than, say, having them bump into each other on the street, or to have Margot connect the dots and arrange an introduction for them both, or some other such thing. And it definitely provided Kai the incentive to let Izza explain her side of things!

2. Poor Margot. Do you trust that Claude just did a stupid thing and didn’t believe Kai when he needed to, or do you think he has a bigger role in the conspiracy? And who is behind the mysterious murdering Penitent?

You know, I think I do believe him. The impression that I got from him in previous scenes wasn’t one of general maliciousness, or even specific maliciousness. I think he just acted thoughtlessly because he didn’t really take Kai seriously. Which seems to be a bit of a running theme with those two. So while I think he’s innocent of deliberate wrongdoing, I still think he bears a bit of blame for what happened. Culpability rather than guilt, if that makes sense.

As for the Penitent, I have no idea who could be behind that. I have a handful of different theories, and too few facts to actually lean toward any more than others. It could be a deliberate order coming from someone in law enforcement. It could, weirdly, be someone disguised as a Penitent, because there was definitely something weird about it beyond “Penitents don’t kill people,” and it killing someone. It could be that Penitents do kill when ordered, but that’s not widely publicized because that would make citizens too fearful and it might be deemed completely unjust to force the people inside to experience the kill.

It could be that it wasn’t a Penitent at all and it was a god that looked like one. Hell, maybe it was Smiling Jack!

Yeah, I’m going to sit back and let the book explain this one to me outright, rather than theorize any more.

3. Kai and Teo’s conversation about evolution and creation myths, science vs. belief, was really striking. Which side of the philosophical argument would you lean towards?

Let me just say that I loved that argument. I love debates like that, ones that look at both sides of a coin and yet neither of them is right nor wrong. They’re each arguing a different side like it’s the whole truth, and missing the fact that they’re still arguing about a coin in the end.

Personally, I’ve always tried to meld science and religion, at least when it comes to my personal religious beliefs. So in that regard, I can see both sides. Teo’s absolutely right that you can’t really refute all the scientific evidence regarding where humanity came from, where we were and how we got here, if you look at history and fossils and all that stuff. But Kai is also right, I figure, by interpreting humanity in a different way that Teo. She made a very good point when she said that sure, people were all over the place way back when, but when people got to Kavekana, then somehow they became human, as they know humans. And that reconciling that is exactly what her job as a priest is: to fill in the gaps with spirituality when other evidence can’t give you answers.

Here’s what I think regarding creation myths: they’re not meant to be taken literally. Religion is couched in metaphor, and always has been. Those myths are our way of trying to make sense of the world around us, to answer questions we have that we have no real way of discovering. So we see what we have and we go, “Aha, that must be tied to how we were made!” Interpreting it literally is pointless, because there’ll always be tons of evidence to the contrary, and easy-to-find stuff to boot. But taken metaphorically, understood as a historical interpretation of spirituality and physicality, it’s easier to understand sometimes. Maybe some myths say we came from a deity diddling himself because early humans understood that was related to life.

Or otherwise, melding that with Kai’s comment about Kavekana being where people became human, looking at creation myths and all the different ones all over the place makes sense even then. It’s established that there are different gods in the world of these books, and there were more. Who’s to say that all the myths aren’t true, exactly how they’re told? That god’s eventual people lived in spiritual darkness until whatever the creation myth says happened happened, and then people were enlightened and understood things and could comprehend deities at all. To those people, wouldn’t that sudden epiphany look like the world hadn’t existed before that moment?

(This is giving me flashbacks to a philosophy course in which I attempted to show why Christianity and evolution were largely incompatible, because any melding of the concepts would prove that God is a giant monkey. Amazingly, I got pretty good marks on that essay… :p)

And that’s my religious diatribe for the day!

4. So we know now that all of the idols and Izza’s gods are different facets of a single goddess. How do you think this development might affect the different characters, and Kavekanese society as a whole?

I think it’ll blow a whole lot of minds. Kavekana’s not supposed to have any gods at the moment. The idols filled a need, in a way, but definitely weren’t gods. And suddenly there is a god, one that’s been there for a long time now, existing under everyone’s noses and nobody knew about it. I think that’s going to cause some major upheaval.

Some would deny it. Some would try to destroy the god that rose from the idols in an attempt to keep the land pure. I’m sure some would insist that this new god is their old god returned, just in a different form. It’ll be divisive and scary to a lot of people, because it overthrows something that people were adamant about for so long.

5. Why do you think Teo threw her bracelet into the pool?

Now, on this I actually have no idea. I thought at first it might have been just to get Kai’s attention, but that seemed an odd thing to do when Teo could just talk to her. Maybe to get her attention silently because Jace was there now? I don’t know. Weirdly, I was on more solid ground for the creation myths question than this one.

6. Uh, oh, Jace. All signs are starting to point to Jace being the architect of this conspiracy. Signs can be wrong, of course. But where do you think we’ll go from his surprise appearance? If he did know about the goddess in the pool all along, why do you think he would have covered it up?

If he did arrange all of this and he knew about the goddess in the pool, it makes sense that he’d want it covered up. For one thing, there’s the bit about Kavekana not having gods, and the goddess would throw a monkey wrench in that belief. For another, the idols were never supposed to gain sentience. They were designed to not have sentience, to not be another more than little mini-myths and soul storage. If that were revealed, everything about idols would be called into question, as well as the people who created them, and the whole arrangement would sink in a heartbeat. From a business standpoint, it makes sense to cover up blips in the data, to make the business model look as secure as it’s ever been.

I don’t think he knew how large it had gotten, though. I think he knew about some idols seeming to gain sentience, and arranged to have them terminated accordingly, but not that they’d all linked together and were facets of one larger deity. But I guess this last part of the novel will show if I’m right or not.

Bonus (silly) question: what possible reason could a skeleton Craftsman have for poolside tanning?

Bleaching. Everyone knows that pale is in this season.

3 comments on “READALONG: Full Fathom Five, by Max Gladstone: Week 3

  1. Teo and Kai’s conversation has been one of my favorite parts of the book so far. It really helped me understand both of them in a much more rounded way. And it certainly looks by now that Teo is much more than a cameo–I still don’t know what to do with that curveball she threw at the end!

  2. I like your answer to #3! Now that you’ve pointed it out, I really loved how well Kai and Teo represented their positions. It seems too often that when it comes to philosophy or religion, the two sides are clearly what the author believes and what the author doesn’t believe. One can tell because one side does a laughably crappy job defending their beliefs. I really appreciate that this is not the case here.

    On the evolution/Christianity side, I generally take the Adam & Eve myth as a metaphor (there are all kinds of problems if you take it literally) of, among other things, the rise of self-awareness in humans. God made humans in his own image, not in a literal sense, but in the sense that we were creatures that were capable of eventually becoming self-aware and understanding morality. The eating of the fruit and being cast of Eden then symbolizes that particular step in our species’ history.

    I could see the creation myths in the Full Fathom Five world as either metaphors for the rise of self-awareness, or of the rise of a culture and a way of life (‘becoming human’ in a particular region).

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