Comments on Robinson L's The Oracle Renamed

Robinson L hops halfheartedly aboard the Catherine Fisher bandwagon.

Comments (go to latest)
Wardog at 15:56 on 2009-09-21
*weeps bitter tears*

I'm only halfway through so and I've actually really loved it so far so I shall save my response until then.

It's just possible you have no soul.
Arthur B at 15:58 on 2009-09-21
What's wrong with "translated to mystery"?
Wardog at 17:19 on 2009-09-21
I have to admit, I was wondering that, but given how totally biased I am in favour of Mrs Fisher I am I didn't want to be the first to say :)

"behind her the cacophony of the trumpeters and drummers was loud as pain" is not so gret aktually.

But I quite like the paragraph about the strange warped music. I think it's real purty. "A language filtered through strata and stone" is gorgeous.
Robinson L at 20:30 on 2009-09-21
It's just possible you have no soul.
Ooh, that's harsh.

Yes, "A language filtered through strata and stone" is very good, it's the next part, I feel, which crimps the sentence. I suppose the real meme should be "without meaning, translated to mystery." So you're saying that what we have here is something which doesn't mean anything translated into something which makes no sense?

It seems to me there was another awkward phrase which gave me pause early on in the book, but I can't remember any details about it.
Arthur B at 21:01 on 2009-09-21
So you're saying that what we have here is something which doesn't mean anything translated into something which makes no sense?

I read it as something which doesn't mean anything translated into something which sounds like it means something, which is entirely in keeping with the idea that the half-heard music sounds a bit like a strange, unknown language to the listener.
Jamie Johnston at 23:48 on 2009-09-21
If we're playing 'find the favourable interpretation' (which is a game I always enjoy):

In what sounds like it might possibly be a ritual context, and especially given the Egyptian / Graeco-Roman frame of reference, could 'mystery' perhaps have a connotation closer to its original meaning of 'ritual secret'? And [he says, becoming less plausible by the second] could 'translated' perhaps also have a flavour of the medieval usage in which the 'translation' of a saint meant the physical moving of the saint's remains or relics from one church to another?
Robinson L at 00:02 on 2009-09-22
@Arthur: Clearly we read that sentence very differently.

@Jamie: I tried out what I think all that would come to in my head, and it makes even less sense.
Jamie Johnston at 00:11 on 2009-09-22
Probably! :)
Shimmin at 09:40 on 2009-09-23
A strange warped music was all that came down to them, its syllables oddly lengthened, a language filtered through strata and stone, without meaning, translated to mystery.

See, I have no problem at all with that. I don't understand why you're all reading it as sequential. Surely then, "without meaning" would be earlier and not form its own subclause. To me, "without meaning" and "translated to mystery" are different ways of expressing the oddness of it. Just like if I say, oh, "she was a dark woman, like a whip, slender and strong", it doesn't mean the woman was like an unusually slender and strong whip. I'm sure someone can write a better example... Basically I read it as saying the original meaning has been lost, and "warped", "filtered" and "translated" are all parallel.
Arthur B at 12:56 on 2009-09-23
To be fair, I think it's usually natural to read that sort of thing sequentially because, well, language is a series of words arranged in an intelligible sequence. And if you read the bits of the sentence as synonymous statements existing in parallel, then Fisher is basically stating the same thing over and over again in the same sentence with massive redundancy, which is usually a bad habit.

I think it's a lovely bit of writing however you interpret it.
Wardog at 13:17 on 2009-09-23
Oi, I wasn't reading it sequentially... I just like it =P
Shimmin at 14:41 on 2009-09-23
Sorry Kyra, didn't mean you!

Okay Arthur, I see your point, and to be fair, if that had been pretty much any other subclause that would work best. I suppose the thing is, here is doesn't make much sense when read sequentially, and the meaning you get from sequential reading would be more naturally expressed another way, so I assumed it wasn't sequential. Metaphorical writing is a bit weird though. I personally really like the sentence as well (I suspect my writing tends to use subclauses like that, so I may be biased).

It's a bit like "Opening the door and running upstairs, he leapt through the broken window," which people condemn on logical grounds, but can and should be read in the way that actually makes sense.
Arthur B at 14:56 on 2009-09-23
I suppose the thing is, here is doesn't make much sense when read sequentially, and the meaning you get from sequential reading would be more naturally expressed another way, so I assumed it wasn't sequential.

"Natural" ain't always "best", though. I like the sentence the same way I like Jack Vance's dialogue: nobody actually talks that way, but it's so gorgeously crafted you don't care.
Shimmin at 15:53 on 2009-09-23
...the meaning you get from sequential reading would be more naturally expressed another way, so I assumed it wasn't sequential.

"Natural" ain't always "best", though.


Okay, from Arthur's response I'm not sure I explained what I meant very well, so I'll do a better explanation for my peace of mind. I meant something like:
a) read sequentially, it can be interpreted as "X (which is without meaning) has been translated to mystery". As Robinson says, this doesn't seem to make much sense.
b) if I wanted to say that the music (or the language) had no meaning, I would write "music without meaning..., translated to mystery" or something, which seems a "more natural" (as I phrased it) way to express that meaning.
c) given a and b, this sequential reading is quite likely not the reading the writer intended. Since there is an alternative reading available, which seems to make more sense, that seems preferable. So I assume that was the reading they intended.

Of course, b) is subjective, and I can't always assume the writer is like me, or that my intuitions on "natural" expression are universal. Some writers' styles are very different from what I'd write, or they're deliberately vague and "artistic". How generously writers get benefits of the doubt and alternative readings also depends on how much they try my patience.
Arthur B at 15:57 on 2009-09-23
a) read sequentially, it can be interpreted as "X (which is without meaning) has been translated to mystery". As Robinson says, this doesn't seem to make much sense.

I think this is where we need to just disagree: I think it makes complete sense. Mysteries imply a solution, which in turn implies a meaning; turning meaninglessness into a mystery would entail creating the impression of a hidden meaning where there is, in fact, none.
Shimmin at 09:37 on 2009-09-24
I think this is where we need to just disagree: I think it makes complete sense.


Another apology - I don't actually disagree, I quite like your interpretation and in that reading it does make sense.
On the other hand, I wasn't using this sense of "mystery" when I wrote either comment, but a general idea of something the listener doesn't understand (without your undertone that there might be something to understand), more like Robinson's definition - and I'd say that sense supports my comment.

This may be a good time for me to abandon textual analysis.
Robinson L at 20:30 on 2009-09-24
*Changing his story slightly yet again*

I guess I'm still stuck on "translated" as meaning "turning something you can't understand into something you will understand" with "mystery" meaning "something which you don't understand."

"Without meaning" only compounds the problem, whether we take "translated to mystery" to refer to it, or both of them to refer back to "a strange warped music etc."
Arthur B at 20:36 on 2009-09-24
Ah.

I don't think translated means what you think it means. :)
Andy G at 21:11 on 2009-09-24
Having worked as a translator for a year, I can assure you that "to translate" very often means "turning something neither you nor anyone who's actually a native speaker of the language understand into something else you don't understand in such a way that you can cover your ass with bullshit excuses if it turns out it didn't mean what you half-guessed it might mean"*.
So it actually makes a lot of sense to me - if the original text is gibberish, you hedge your bets and translate it with something vaguely suggestive of meaning.

* Disclaimer: I can't think how to say this without using American English, even though I know I would sound utterly ridiculous if I said it out loud rather than merely typing it.
Jamie Johnston at 22:53 on 2009-09-24
Still no takers for my implausible medieval interpretation of the word 'translated'? :(
Rami at 06:57 on 2009-09-25
I'm still holding out for 'translated' meaning a mathematical transformation, and 'mystery' being a secret notation for the new coordinates of the gibberish.
Wardog at 12:23 on 2009-10-05
Now that we've dealt with this sticky 'translation' issue is there a more general feeling that Catherine Fisher is AWESOME, yet?
Robinson L at 15:00 on 2009-10-06
Now that we've dealt with this sticky 'translation' issue is there a more general feeling that Catherine Fisher is AWESOME, yet?
Fine with me. I haven't read The Scarab or Corbenic yet, though, and until somebody brings up another specific aspect of The Oracle to discuss, I've said my piece on that score.
Robinson L at 15:00 on 2009-10-16
Oh wait, I did think of something. There's a part towards the end of the book where Mirany is telling the new Archon (the living vessel of the God) that the God has promised her that she'll be all right, too which the young Archon replies: "Yes, but what if the God lies?"

Now that is an awesome line, and it opens up an infinite number of interesting possibilities about where the story will go. Unfortunately, none of the possibilities is followed up in The Oracle, but maybe in The Scarab or The Archon?
Wardog at 11:26 on 2009-10-20
I'm probably going to read them all - I generally found The Oracle a much more positive and interesting experience than you did... but I'll refrain from comment until I've done the lot of them. The book is so obviously an opening that it's pretty difficult to review.
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