Using the five senses

Right now I’m reading China Miéville, and I’ve heard a lot of good things, but I’m quickly learning that he has this beautiful language that leaves me staring off in the distance, wondering. And yet at the same time, I don’t have the attention for it. His story is stunted within me because, even though I think his language is beautiful and grand, I find it so superfluous at times that I have trouble paying attention.

For example:

The city reeked. But today was market day down in Aspic Hole, and the pungent slick of dung-smell and rot that rolled over New Crobuzon was, in these streets, for these hours, improved with paprika and fresh tomato, hot oil and fish and cinnamon, cured meat, banana and onion. (Miéville 7)

Do you smell it? I do. And the astonishing part was it took no more than listing some foods and some spices. It took nothing more than a list. I really like how when you read this sentence aloud (or in your head) and you can feel the rhythm that carries you along.

Then I read something like this:

It did not help that she was not an aficionado of Bonetown. The cross-bred architecture of that outlandish quarter confused her: a syncresis of industrialism and the gaudy domestic ostentation of the slightly rich, the peeling concrete of forgotten docklands and the stretched skins of shantytown tents. (Miéville 1)

I was not confused, but it felt abstract. I had trouble picturing the area. Single words stuck out with a definite meaning, others were smooshed into abstract definitions as my mind picked apart pieces that I recognized, struggling to comprehend ones I didn’t know. Maybe it’s because my vocabulary is not large enough. Maybe it was too abstract. Maybe the words themselves aren’t the best choice, not creating enough of an image, not detailed enough.

I just know that sometimes while I read, I am astonished. I love the language. And then other times, I struggle to read. Look at something once, twice. My eyes roaming the page because it’s too hard to keep going.

It’s definitely going to be something to push through. I can already tell Miéville puts a lot of effort into his writing, and there are a lot of other techniques that I really like about him. I’ll mentions some more as I go along.

Miéville, C. Perdido Street Station. London, Great Britain: Del Rey, 2000. Print.



Inventing Vocabulary

The best part about being fluent in a language – you’re allowed to decimate it.

It’s terrible, though, isn’t it? You spend your whole life trying to get a firm grasp of the language you converse in, and then as soon as you’re judged fluent enough, you can break the language apart and ruin it. Which, I guess is okay because that’s how our language grows, right? We’ve gained a lot of words through invention.

But the child-buyer ignores Mother. His footsteps come closer, and they’re…strange. Damaya can sess footsteps. Most people can’t; they sess big things, shakes and whatnot, but not anything so delicate as a footfall. (She has known this about herself all her life but only recently realized it was a warning.) It’s harder to perceive when she’s out of direct contact with the ground… (Jemisin 27)

When I think about sess, I think about sense. And I’m sure it’s not a coincident that these two words are so close to each other. But, I think the idea with sense is that the sensation itself must be a physical experience, especially when you’re talking about the five senses.

And with sess, I think Jemisin was going for something more sensual, something more spiritual, less physical. Which is Damaya she did not have to be in direct contact with the ground to “sess” footsteps.

This is a good word for this book when the characters work with a skill/sense that is not available to the whole population, where it’s not a true physical sensation but another “muscle” you use when manipulating rock material. Which is why, looking back, it seems necessary that a word was invented for this purpose.

When you’re building a world, where the laws of physics aren’t always 1-to-1, there is almost a requirement for you to invent a language, or to redefine it. Which is why Jemisin invents so much. In fact, books that do this usually contain a glossary at the end, just like Jemisin does. I don’t think that’s necessary, but it’s nice for the readers who idolize perfect comprehension.

Jemisin, N.K. Fifth Season. New York, NY: Orbit, 2015. Print.