The Dazzle of Day by Molly Gloss
Notes and quotes for ‘The Dazzle of Day’
On the great sails there was silence, aloneness, as there never was in the crowded torus and maybe for this reason menders had a habit of coming together at the junctions where their fields joined – exercising their human connections. P33
A little retractable ribbon had a house in the house of her exo, and when she pushed off with her hands against the weathermast the tether trailed her, sliding soundless on its endpin, following the curving track of the seven-yard. The Miller was braking, had been braking for forty years, and now they had come within the inner harbor of the new star their navigation had become an intricate, interminable equation of motion, a continuous contraposing of he outward stream of li9ght, and of the solar wind, of the star’s centripetal attraction, the perturbations of its four small planets, and the old momentum of the torus. The diaphane presented its face, like a blossom, always towards the sun, while the petals of shimmering sailcloth tilted their edges at shallow angles to the elliptical plane: finding their balance and then seeking a new one. P34
The death up on the sails – the despair of simanas:
“It was the simanas, eh?” someone asked them all tenderly.
It was a sort of madness, an exquisite pain of utter and unspeakable aloneness. Their own. It was not a small thing. In Juko’s memory, perhaps a dozen people had killed themselves to end unbearable, unspeakable alienation; and when the clerk read the names of the dead at Yearly Meeting, these suicides seemed to lie at the center of all their lives, a heart of inexplicable grief. But they had all got to calling any least sadness or fear by its name. It is the simanas, they said, blaming that mindsickness for quarrels and forlorness and names cast like bottles into the void. Maybe they meant to enfeeble it, giving its name to other, slighter insanities. It was plain, though, that this question was asked in the old way, true and narrow. Has he gone crazy, then? Killed himself? P45
He straightened, pushing a little stiffness out of his back, and looked across the field of rice into the woodland. For a while he had been hearing a ringing high whistle – a nunbird, he thought it was, objecting to their voices. He looked on the long slope at the edge of the woods, in the patchy, concealing shade under the trees, the ferns, for the bird’s low nest. P114
He nodded without taking his gaze from the edge of the woodland. There had not yet been agreement on the question of whether new species, Earth species, ought to be introduced to the New World. People researching this question had brought up plagues of alien rabbits in Australia, or alien cheatgrass in North America; but evidently there had once been a landmass connectine America with Asia, and animals had crossed in both directions, some killing off others – how was this natural event different from human ones? While they waited for agreement, quite a few people were going ahead, looking at the Miller’s library of frozen cells for plants that would take cold weather, poor soils. Humberto’s little committee studied the wild things – cold-tolerant natives that might, if cultivated, be edible, or pharmacological, or useful as a textile. P115
Humberto makes sounds at the meeting but his noises are understood as:
Are we thinking we’ve created something? He was saying. Are we thinking, because we’ve put ourselves and some other creatures inside a container, that this container we’ve made is Eden? There’s only one Creation, eh? And we’re among its members. What is this torus except a smaller circle within a larger one? Are we thinking we can go on living forever inside the little circle of each other’s arms, without returning? Without joining ourselves to the cosmos? Without letting our arms open to touch the arms of the rest of Creation? What is this torus except a solitude? There isn’t any meaning in anything except in its relation with other things – what is the anther of a flower except in its relations with the bee, eh? And what is the meaning of people who have uprooted themselves from ancient soil and are trying to go on living in a container of air and water, separate from the rest of the Creation? What is the meaning except a skeleton of bones from which the soul has escaped? P214
Cejo had lost her leading, by the end, wasn’t certain if she had finally argued for or against their going on living in the Dusty Miller. Was she saying the Miller was a living organism? Or a mechanical object they were laboriously keeping alive themselves? When he looked out through the open logio of his house, across the crowns of the breadfruit trees to the incongrously huge architecture of the Alaudo spoke holding up the roof of the sky, his confusion was charged with agitation, excitement: In the uncertainty itself, there seemed an indefinable meaning. P215
Religious understandings of the colonisation of the new planet:
Was it Herza’s old voice that he heard finally? A few words, floating, transcendent in their meaning. God’s world, she said. Here we are, re-entering God’s world. P217
In these last weeks, the little orange sun had gradually become a source of light. Now in the blackness, objects were bright. Inside the exo, in sunlight, Juko’s skin was warm, and on the shadow side of something, cold. The purity of the unreflected light was a comfort, clarifying. She went out to the field called the Wayward Gate and climbed to the head of the flymast. The sails were a vast wheel of light, luminous in the perfect blackness. From the head of the mast, it was possible to see the edge of light bound to the blackness in an intricate, inextricable coherence. Over the broad, bright field of the sheet she became exact, contained, a foot or an elbow like an oar dipped in still water moving her precisely. In the soundlessness, the depthlessness of space, there was the sense of a slight shudder, a susurrus on the black brightness. She floated on it, drawing her body through the light. P234
On the new world:
In abandoned flakes of eggshell, emptied seed cases, the hollow stems of cottongrass, in the delicate attenuated backbones of fish and the teeth of desiccated crustaceans, you can sometimes glimpse the bare and introcate structures of God. P239
The new generation on the new world reflect on their parents and their differences:
My mother has an old, religious reverence for books. I value them myself, though my mother’s experience of books is not mine. In her childhood people looked to books as a repository of wisdom about the land; in mine, people looked to the land itself. The child knows the world more sensuously than the adult, and I think my mother’s understanding of this world, even after seventy years, is intimately linked to the fusty smell inside the covers of books, the thickened, buttery texture of the old paper, the sibilant sound of the pages slipping across one another. Mine is in waxy panes of riverine ice, in the smell of a mouse’s old bones and the spiny rustle of a ring-eye’s nest. The landscape we inhabit as children, inhabits us. P253
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The Dazzle of Day is an astonishing short novel about a generation starship.
There have been plenty of books set on generation starships by everyone from Heinlein to Wolfe, but thing that makes this stand out is how astonishingly real the characters are, and how well fitted to their world. Gloss has an immense gift for getting inside people’s heads. This story is about people both like and unlike usthey are culturally Quakers and they’ve been living on the ship for generations, which makes them very different, and yet they’re unmistakably people. They’re my favourite kind of characters, people I can understand and get inside their heads, and yet very different from the standard kinds of people you get in books. They’re very much individuals, not types, and they’re very much shaped by their culture and experiences.
The book opens with a piece of a memoir from a woman on Earth who’s considering going on the ship, then the middle section consists of the rotating points of view of an extended family a hundred and seventy-five years later as the ship is approaching a planet, then it ends with a piece of memoir from a woman living on the new planet a hundred years after that. The way they live, the expectations they have of family and work and decision making are all very unusual, but they take them for granted and so I absorb them naturally as I’m reading. The characters, whose ancestors came from Japan, Costa Rico, and Norway, speak Esperanto, and Esperanto is used in the text for a few words for things we don’t have, which gives it an unusual flavour.
This is only the second time I’ve read this, as I completely missed it when it was published in 1997. I think of a second reading of a book as completing my read, a first reading is preliminary and reactions to a first reading are suspect. I loved this book just as much the second time. It’s very well written and very absorbing. It isn’t a cheerful story thoughthematically it’s about worlds and boundaries, and it’s about those things very much on a human scale. This very much isn’t a fantasy of political agency, one of the things it faces is the knowledge that change can be frightening, that responsibility can, but that the answer to that is not refusing to change or refusing to accept responsibility. I sometimes read something and think “I’d have loved this when I was eleven.” I’d have hated The Dazzle of Day when I was eleven, it’s all about grown-ups, it has a lot of older women as significant characters, and while being on the generation starship is essential to everything, everything that’s important is internal. But I love it now for those very things. If there’s an opposite of a YA book, this is it.
Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published eight novels, most recently Half a Crown and Lifelode, and two poetry collections. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.
A review by Katharine Mills
Imagine a world where death by plague or cancer seems “to be distilled from the very air and water,” where species become extinct every day, where hurricanes, tornadoes, hail, flood and drought claim thousands of lives.
This is the Earth of the opening pages of The Dazzle of Day, the Earth which a 60-year-old woman named Dolores Negrete will be leaving behind, never to see again. Dolores is part of the Society of Friends, the Quakers, who have seen the Earth’s approaching end, and are determined to escape it. They have bought a world-ship, the Dusty Miller, and carefully furnished it with a closed ecosystem in which a few thousand people may live for however many years it may take to reach another habitable world, and try to make something better of human history there.
On the eve of her flight to the orbiting Dusty Miller, Dolores debates whether she will really go. On a long walk through the dry lands of her home, she considers and reconsiders, debating everything from whether she can live in a place where the horizon is only a few kilometres away, to whether she packed the right books. But we never know if she does make that flight, for in the next chapter, we are upon the Dusty Miller, and it is almost a hundred and fifty years later.
It is within reach of a possibly habitable planet, and an exploration team has been sent out. The Dusty Miller is decaying. Its fragile ecosystem is falling apart, a species here, a species there. The people aboard it are also feeling the strain of their long journey, and as they come within sight of the end of their travels, they start to crack — relationships falling apart, mysterious suicides, quarrels.
If any group could be prepared, by their very nature, to cope with the situation, it is the Quakers. Gentle, sane, reverent of the past but not frightened by technology, their spirituality is woven into the very fabric of their lives. Their Meetings aboard the Dusty Miller address the everyday issues of their lives, but with the everpresent possibility of the sound of the voice of God. Gloss illustrates their kindly respect for their fellow beings with small things — such as the nest of leaf-cutter ants which attacks their crop trees. The issue is discussed with as much seriousness as the proposed planetary landing, and the solution — provide them with the fresh prunings from other areas — is typically sensible and considerate.
Gloss’ science is immaculately crafted, but it is not the focus of the book. The Dazzle of Day is about the impact of momentous events on living people. Yet she is not telling a story about individuals — something which is emphasised by the fact that we never know the end of anyone’s particular tale. Instead, we experience the movement of change and time through the members of an evolving group. Her insight into human dynamics and interaction makes this utterly absorbing, and the spirit and intimacy with which she evokes the ship’s Quaker culture is marvelous.
Molly Gloss has been compared to Ursula K. Le Guin, and there are certainly similarities. Like Le Guin, Gloss transports us into the ordinary life of people in another place and time, with such a wealth of homely detail that we can almost smell the food cooking and feel the texture of the soil. Here, great occurrences are felt, not only by the pivotal individuals, but by everyone. There are no “little people,” no cannon fodder — even those we glimpse only for a moment are real.
This is the kind of book that lingers in memory; at once harsh and sweet, a poetic celebration of humanity’s potential for destruction and creation. We are capable of both, Gloss says — it is our own choices which will make the difference. The Dazzle of Day begins with hope, and ends with hope, expressed with simple and beautiful language.
Copyright © 1998 Katharine Mills
Katharine Mills collects both cats and books. Because she does not scoop litterboxes, her husband has limited the number of cats to three. The books multiply, and the house is gradually becoming overrun with them, scratching and biting, wailing to be let out and generally making nuisances of themselves.