Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Ones Who Know Where They Are Going, by Sarah Pinsker

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(Fantasy) You have lain in your cell long enough to forget how to walk. Then you see sunlight and realize someone has left the door open. (1,785 words; Time: 05m)

Rating: ★★★☆☆ Average

"The Ones Who Know Where They Are Going," by (edited by Sheila Williams), appeared in issue 03-04|17, published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: This is the world of “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by Ursula LeGuin,  from the POV of the prisoner. In this story, the narrator also has the choice to walk away, but ultimately accepts his/her fate. It’s even implied that the narrator has made this climb before, always to return to the cell.

Con: When a story is all message, no plot, action, or characters, that message should be clear, but it's really not. My best guess is that it's trying to say that people in society who suffer do so by their own choice. Perhaps someone else will have a better interpretation.

If you didn't read "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," this story will be incomprehensible.

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3 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. I think it's more along the lines of: the only person with the moral authority to make sacrifices, is the person doing the sacrificing.

    That's how I read it. (It's certainly not trying to pardon the Omelasians in any way...)

    1. If it's a voluntary sacrifice, though, then it really does let them off the hook. But is that really the point?

    2. It clearly *doesn't* let them off the hook; the sacrifice is only under duress -- the boy is willing to sacrifice himself, to keep another boy from being broken and traumatized.

      Quite the opposite; I think this is meant to be a damning contrast -- the Omelasians are willing to keep a child in hell for their comfort; the child is willing to endure hell to keep the same thing from happening to somebody else. The point of the original Omelas story is to portray the cruelty of accepting suffering as necessary or beneficial; that the utilitarian near-utopia of "only one person suffers" is monstrous. Pinsker's version takes that one step further, presenting an ennobled child POV, who is unwilling to bring about harm to another even at horrendous cost to himself.

      All that being said, I think it's a pretty awful message, because it completely disregards all the suffering of, well, all of Omelas. Omelas isn't just the utopia of luxury and privilege, it's also the absence of the terrible pain and suffering that beset all cities that don't keep a sacrificial child. The child is content to let the city crumble -- it seems to me for being complicit in his captivity -- and doesn't seem to have the same compassion for, say, all the children of the city. He only cares for one child, the one who will replace him. No other forms of suffering matter.

      Le Guin's original story said "you cannot justify the suffering of a single person." Pinsker's seems to me to be saying "Only the suffering of these few particular people matters." I love Pinsker's work in general, but not this one :-/