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Kalimpura by Jay Lake

Kalimpura

Kalimpura by Jay Lake (Tor, 2013) is the third book in the series telling the story of Green. To understand this book, we need to spend a little time considering the socialisation process. When we’re born, we know nothing of the world around us. We must learn from our parents and other authority figures, and adapt through interaction with those around us until we “fit into” the local culture. This is fundamental to the way in which we form our personality. Our experiences shape our beliefs and attitudes. So if we live in a small rural community where the most important figure in our lives other than our parents is an immensely patient ox, this should predispose us and the other people living there to be gentle. We should take the pace of life in the farming community as our norm, and avoid violence and aggression. Now imagine a young girl untimely ripped from this self-contained community and transported to a different closed environment in which she’s forged and tempered into a different person. During this process, she becomes aware of different races and, more importantly, the hierarchy of gods. This means she’s exposed to the influence of a rather startling array of authority figures.

The question, I suppose, is which phase of the process is the most significant. Some would argue that socialisation begins almost immediately after birth. This is when we learn language and set down the basics of behaviour. The normal pattern is, however, fundamentally disrupted for Green. She’s forced to learn a new language and assimilate a completely alien culture so she will be ready for the Factor. In other words, with a new status and prospective role, her beliefs and personality alter (albeit not quite in the way her teachers intend). Ironically, most of this process is controlled and directed by women. They are the “professional knowers”. As arbiters of taste, they impart basic skills and direct learning. Even though this is fantasy, it mirrors our own society in which the men are the “breadwinners” and leave the day-to-day care of their children to women. All the early formal schooling is also dominated by women. For a number of reasons, primary and early secondary education is not considered entirely suitable as a job for men.

Jay Lake staying strong in the face of adversity

Jay Lake staying strong in the face of adversity

The result for Green is that she’s most comfortable among women and, in terms of sexual partners, has a preference for lesbian relationships. That she has given birth to twins is an indication of her willingness to accept men, but note she has also “birthed” a god. This gives her a unique point of view and a quite different status among humans. As someone able to interact with gods and, in her own way, literally defend them from attack, she has achieved a position from which she could choose her own way of life and no-one would gainsay her. Yet what kind of life should a person choose if she’s been forced to live as a loner and only knows how to fight? The answer begins to emerge at the end of Endurance. Just as a mother instinctively cares for her children, so she begins to see the people of Copper Down, where she has temporarily made her home, as her children. There’s just one difficulty. She’s a magnificent warrior and if someone attacks her, she can easily kill them. But if someone attacks the people of a city, she can’t be everywhere fighting all those who threaten her people. It forces her to accept that a loner can’t be a leader. Only through interacting with others can sufficiently large groups be formed that can defend a city.

This book starts off with Green recognising she has to return to Kalimpura. This takes her away from Copper Down and reduces her responsibilities to her two children and the small group who travel with her. However, on the sea crossing, she must face the fact her relationships with the gods may place others at risk. If she accepts any responsibility for the safety of others, she must therefore begin a form of communication with the gods. This leads me to what seems to be the central message of the book. For Green, the use of force is a form of negotiation. If a god threatens her, she takes out a knife and indicates her willingness to fight to the death. This is not to say she sees herself as a god but, by refusing to be intimidated, she’s sending a message about respect and responsibility. A god of the sea could overwhelm a ship or inundate a fertile shore with salt water. If this was done capriciously, it would be an abuse of power. What’s the point of being a god and picking up worshippers if you’re arbitrary and kill the innocent (contaminating the fields kills the farmers more slowly through starvation)? Even a god should accept limits on the exercise of power. That’s morality in action. Although Green herself may only kill minions on the street, this is also sending a message to those who control the minions and to the people who may be adversely affected by the minions’ activities. This is not to dignify her killing or to excuse it as having some higher purpose. But as she matures as a person, she comes to see individual actions as having a context. Social cause and effect can be very powerful so that, even though she’s only one person, she can ultimately move large numbers of people. As someone once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Even though she makes mistakes, Green is ultimately a force for good. Ironically, she ends up defending both the interests of the gods and of the common people who live in Kalimpura. That’s not bad going for a girl who started off in a primitive backwater with only an ox as her friend.

Kalimpura is a very good fantasy book. I’m not entirely sure it’s quite as good as Endurance, but it reaches a pleasing point of balance in Green’s life. With all she’s been through, she deserves the satisfaction in seeing her children grow up.

The artwork from Daniel Dos Santos nicely shows the heroine’s new priorities.

For reviews of other books by Jay Lake, see:
Endurance
Green
Love in the Time of Metal and Flesh
The Sky That Wraps.
Jay Lake and Nick Gevers edited Other Earths.

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