Friday, February 10, 2017

Worthing Saga

The Worthing Saga. Orson Scott Card. 1992. Tor. 463 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: In many places in the Peopled Worlds, the pain came suddenly in the midst of the day's labor. It was as if an ancient and comfortable presence left them, one that they had never noticed until it was gone, and no one knew what to make of it at first, though all knew at once that something had changed deep at the heart of the world.

Premise/plot: Imagine living in a world where there is no pain, no suffering, no grief, no fear, no anger, no violence, no injury. Wrong actions, in a sense, have ceased to have consequences. If a person were to hurt himself/herself chopping wood or tending the fires, then there would be instant--almost magical--healing. Even morally wrong actions are prevented, on this world there are no children out of wedlock; and the child is always the husband's never the lover's if you're an adulteress. Yes, there is an occasional death, but never for the very young, never for the able-bodied. It is hard to imagine for us this life of easy contentment. A life with no struggles? A life truly worry-free? A world where fire doesn't burn you and ice doesn't freeze you? Surely there must be a catch, right? Some reason why this world isn't a perfect paradise...

The change came in the middle of the night. Imagine going to bed with everything being quite all right, and waking up to find that life is not what you thought it was. Pain. Grief. Suffering. Worry. Fear. Anger. And it wasn't just emotional, as the village learned. It was physical, too. As one accident after another occurred, the villagers soon realized that they could not only be hurt, but they could also DIE. With the whole village (and indeed the whole world) in confusion, no one knows quite what to think. Is God dead? If God is still watching over them, why then is there suffering? Why suffering after all these centuries of watchful care? Folks are going along muttering that God doesn't look out for them anymore.
The old clerk trembled and nodded and his voice quivered as he spoke. 'I have read the books of ancient times,' he began, and all eyes turned to him. 'I have read the books of ancient times, and in them the old ones spoke of wounds that bleed like slaughtered cattle, and great griefs when the living suddenly are dead, and anger that turns to blows among people. But that was long, long ago, when men were still animals, and God was young and inexperienced. (5-6)
Yes, no one understands this Day of Pain. Least of all, Lared, our young hero. But it is Lared who will become the chosen speaker that will write the story and tell the tales that will explain this Day and give it meaning. Two strangers come to the inn, the inn that Lared's parents own, and it is Lared and his sister, Sala, who befriend them. Jason. Justice. A man and woman. The two are mysterious, no doubt about it, and more than one person suspects that they're coming is linked with the Day of Pain.

The two share their stories mostly through dreams and waking visions. Jason will occasionally share one the old-fashioned way, but most are transmitted directly into Lared's mind. Lared doesn't know what to think. He doesn't like the dreams. He doesn't like the uneasy feelings they leave him with...but he also knows that he has been called, chosen, if you will, to write this down. To record them. It is not his place to understand everything, just to write it down as it's been given to him.

Lared and his village provide the framework for the stories that Jason and Justice share. It is a story of two men, one empire, and one powerful drug.

Abner Doon. A name that still strikes fear in people thousands of years after his death. Some even say that he was the devil himself. But was he really? His name is associated with death and destruction, and in some ways, it is easy to understand why. He caused the death and destruction of the EMPIRE. The very arrogant, often corrupt, very stagnant empire. But was the fall of the empire really that bad? Wasn't it better for humanity in general? Jason Worthing certainly thinks so.

Jason Worthing. Another name that people fear to speak aloud. Why? It is a name of reverence. Many people feel that Jason Worthing is God. The creator of life. The sustainer of the universe, even. But was he really? Yes, he had a hand in establishing life and building civilization, at least on one planet, but the creator of all life? No. Just an ordinary man with unusual psychic powers who came from a technologically advanced society.

The empire. It's not that the empire was completely evil. Sure the empire had its fair share of corrupt and power-hungry politicians. More than its fair share. Every branch of the empire had its corrupt officials. And there was nothing that couldn't be bought--as long as you had money. But that wasn't the real crime of the empire. The real crime was that humanity was being robbed of its very soul, its very essence. They had lost the point of living. They were corrupting the very nature of our existence.

Somec. Perhaps the most powerful drug the empire had ever known. What did it do? It put the user into a deep sleep, a coma, if you will. First, the user would have his/her memories downloaded or recorded, if you will, onto a tape or into a bubble. I forget quite how they did it. I just know that there was a way of downloading and uploading memory. Then the assistant would inject somec. It wasn't a pretty picture. It burned. It hurt. It caused severe physical problems--sweating, discomfort, pain--but the user would forever be unaware of it because the memories would never include this part of the experience. Who was it for? At first, it was just for starship pilots. Their skills would be needed throughout a long voyage. And if a trip took hundreds or perhaps thousands of years, then they'd need Somec to function. The computer would always be able to wake them up in case of an emergency. But they'd arrive at their destination intact. So for colonization vessels, it really couldn't be any better. A ship would carry three hundred or so passengers and all the supplies needed to create and establish a civilization on another planet. So there were a few valid uses of the drug, I suppose. But the real corruption began when somec became a common necessity for the people.

Imagine the possibility of immortality. Somec offered immortality. The wealthy. The elite. The powerful. The brilliant minds of society were all given the chance for immortality. The more valuable society deemed you, the longer you would sleep between waking cycles. The common people lived and died naturally enough. But a good portion of society, became obsessed with immortality. But is living a thousand years natural if you spend 70% of it or so asleep? What does it accomplish really? You're not able to have friendships with others unless you're on the same sleep cycle. You're not able to maintain family relationships either. People could theoretically outlive their great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren. Love becomes to a certain extent irrelevant. Most things become irrelevant. No time for the finer things in life. Love. Romance. Music. Art. For not only do most people spend most of their times asleep, what little time they're awake they're obsessed with power, money, fame, greed, control. They always want more, more, more. Never content. There is no longer any joy in living life. But really too few people notice what they're missing. Except for one. The aforementioned Abner Doon.

Abner "rescues" Jason, if you will, and offers him a chance to become a part of something great. Jason becomes a starship pilot, a very famous starship pilot, and he eventually leads a colonization ship. Abner's big plan--besides the fall of the Empire--is to recreate life as it used to be. His plan? To spread humanity throughout the galaxy. To have human civilizations sprout up on thousands of planets. He knows that with the fall of the Empire, with the fall of technology, it will be thousands upon thousands of years before ANY civilization becomes advanced enough for star flight. He sees this as a way for humanity to wipe the slate clean and begin anew.

The Worthing Saga is the story of Jason's planet. How Jason "fathered" or "created" that world. And what happened to its inhabitants. What happened to his descendants. All these stories--and there are many--span thousands of years. Everything is leading the reader back to Lared. Back to the Day of Pain.

The Worthing Saga contains the previously published The Worthing Chronicle and nine short stories.

My thoughts: The Worthing Saga is about the meaning of life. It is about what it means to be human. It asks important questions. It goes where few novels do. It asks what the meaning of pain and suffering is. It asks what the meaning of struggles are. It is ethical in nature. It asks the hard questions. But it is philosophical as well.

I love the world-building. I find the three settings within the book to be fascinating. (There is Lared's home planet which is the present-day setting; there is Capital, the planet from Jason Worthing's memory and stories, Capital becomes "real" to Lared as he experiences Worthing's memories through dreams; there is Worthing, the planet that Jason colonized with a handful of colonists thousands of years before the novel opens, again this planet becomes "real" to Lared as he experiences other people's memories through Justice, Jason's descendent.) Readers get a taste of all these societies and communities.

I love the characterization. I love getting to know Lared, Sala, Jason, and Justice. Not to mention all the men and women from the memories and stories. (I have a soft spot for Hoom.) I love the storytelling. I love the dialogue. I love how everything is layered together. How the story all comes together. How Lared slowly but surely pieces things together and comes to understand--if understand is the right word--the world. Card's characters are so very human, so vulnerable, so fallible. Readers see humans at their best and at their absolute worst within The Worthing Saga. Moments of compassion and redemption make it so worth while.

I love the ideas. I love the depth and substance. That is not to say that I agree absolutely with every single philosophical idea within the book. But it goes places most fiction doesn't. It asks real questions, tough questions. It explores ideas. One also sees the consequences (or possible consequences) of ideas.

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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