Transformation by Carol Berg

dwndrgn

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This is March's book discussion thread on Transformation by Carol Berg. The actual discussion won't begin until around the 15th or so but if you've finished already and want to get some points down or topics posted before they fly out of your head like mine always do :) go ahead and post them here.
 

littlemissattitude

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First, a quick question: are enough people finished with the book, or should I wait a couple of days before I post my review over on the Reviews thread?

Again, with the realization that probably not everyone is finished reading the book yet, I still want to jot down a few thoughts - or maybe just a few areas for disucssion.

As someone who has studied anthropology, I am amazed at how anthropological this book is. If I were teaching a cultural anthropology class I would seriously consider teaching "Transformation" as wa way of illustrating the clash of cultures without having to consider actual existing cultures - which I think is a good way of looking at principles without bringing in personal biases. Berg makes it possible to look at the story and discuss issues such as: Can you ever really leave your native culture behind? In other words, is it true that you can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy? But she also touches on the idea of returning to one's native culture after a long enough absence that it is possible to look at it through an outsider's eyes (an etic rather than an emic view of the culture). Or is that ever possible?

There is also the cultural question of cruelty, brought up very specifically at one point in the book where Aleksander reflects on the fact that Seyonne has expressed that he finds Derzhi treatment of slaves to be cruel, but Aleksander feels that some Ezzarian cultural behaviors are at least as cruel. Is it possible to compare the cruelty of very different practices in very different cultures? Which leads to another issue, and series of interesting questions, brought up by the book.

That issue is the idea that the Ezzarians just don't see one of their own who they consider to be unclean. I remember a similar plot point in "Clan of the Cave Bear". This brings up issues of perception that might be interesting to discuss. For example, do we see only what we want to see? Only what we expect to see? Is it really possible to not see something that is plainly there but which the individual does not recognize? These questions are important not only to cultural issues, but to science as well. How possible is it for a scientist to make observations that go against the current paradigms?

Another issue that "Transformations" made me think about was the issue of slavery, specifically how slaveholders view their slaves. I got to thinking about how it doesn't seem so much that the Derzhi hate those they have enslaved as that they just don't consider them at all, except as objects. But then, Aleksander has to see Seyonne as a human, simply because Seyonne refuses to be less than human. Anyway, that's how I read the story. How does that change the usual slaveholder/slave relationship in the course of the story? And how might assuming this sort of attitude on the part of slaveholders relate to manifestations of slavery in the real world? This is, of course, a sensitive topic. Still, I think it bears thinking about considering that there is still slavery in the world, both literal slavery and conditions that amount to virtual slavery for some.

Well, I think that's enough for now. I hope I haven't slipped in any spoilers for those who have not yet finished the book.
 

dwndrgn

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Well, I've read it before so I don't really count. I plan on reading it again in the next few days once my branch has their copy in so that it can all be fresh in my mind.

I propose we give the others at least until next Monday to finish the book - I don't even think Marianne is back from her cruise yet and she planned on reading it while there. And Monday happens to be the 15th which is our 'regularly scheduled' discussion start date for each month.

Great discussion topics! We're going to have lots of fun on this one. I'm already itching to get into the cultural clashes...ahh, but I'll wait. However, LittleMiss, this is the first in a series if you feel you'd like to continue on while you wait for the rest of us to join you in discussion.
 

littlemissattitude

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Thanks, dwndrgn. I'll hold off until Monday to post my review. Don't want to spoil things for anyone.:)

I didn't realize that there were more books in this series. I'll have to see if I can track the rest down. In case my post didn't get the idea across clearly enough, I really, really liked this book. I'm glad you proposed it, because I'm not sure I would have picked it up otherwise.
 

dwndrgn

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That's part of the fun of a book club - finding new books you may not have otherwise. Of course this site has led me to lots of other books too. I was just telling knivesout that I bought a used copy of one of Jeffrey Carver's works and plan on reading it even though normally I wouldn't.

Cool beans.
 

littlemissattitude

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You're absolutely right, dwndrgn. That's one of the reasons I was so enthusiastic for the book club to go forward. There are things that I just won't end up reading unless there is some outside incentive.:)

I've discovered that I'm going to have to request the other two books in the series - the library system has them, but only in branches that are too far away for me to go and get them myself. Oh, well. I'll get them eventually. Meanwhile, I've got plenty of other things to read. In fact, I've already started another book (and that's beside what I'm reading as part of my project research).
 

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

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Well I won't get my copy of the book until another few weeks, but don't hold off on my account! And yes, the Book Club is doing its job, what with me trying new fantasy authors out! Maybe next month I can persuade dwndrgn to plunge into some Phillip K Dick!!!:D
 

dwndrgn

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We can go ahead and begin the discussion, those of us that have finished the book. Others can join in as they finish or while they are 'in progress'. LittleMiss - you can post a review any time you like, I don't think that would detract from our discussion at all.

Since you brought up several topics to discuss, why don't you start out?

knivesout - Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle was chosen for March but since I couldn't get a copy I held it out until April. So unless there are any objections, since it was already chosen to be read, we'll go ahead and use that one for April.

Also, anyone reading this discussion who has not finished the book may want to watch out for spoilers. I'll try to note at the beginning of my posts if there are any spoilers included so that you can skip over them (or cheat and read them, as you wish :p).
 

littlemissattitude

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knivesout said:
Just got my copy. I am looking foreard to getting into this one after all the interesting points littlemiss mentioned. BTW, what exactly do the terms etic and emic mean?
Sorry, knivesout. That's my anthropological background speaking. Basically, etic means the view of a culture from outside that culture, and emic means the view of a culture from inside that culture. There seems to be a great controversy over whether it is really possible for anyone not native to a culture is able to describe it from an insiders point of view, even if that person has lived in that culture for years. Even so, that is the point of view that some anthropologists strive to achieve in their ethnographic profiles of cultures they have lived in and studied, sometimes for years.

And that, to begin the discussion, I guess, is one of the things that really intrigued me about "Transformation". If you look closely, it actually speaks to issues concerning how we see different cultures from our own and how we see our own culture if, for example, we have lived in another culture for a long time.

POSSIBLE MILD SPOILERS

Once Seyonne and Aleksander have reached the remnants of the Ezzarians, and sees how that culture treats anyone who they consider to be "unclean", Aleksander reflects on Seyonne's comments about the cruelty with which the Derzhi treat their slaves, and wonders which culture's practices are really the more cruel. This, in my opinion, is a great example of how most people naturally see the cultural practices of others in a harsher light than the practices of one's own culture. (You'll find this on page 259.)

It is also interesting to me how easily and naturally Seyonne seems to slip back into his role in his own culture, even though that initially consists primarily of accepting his role as "unclean" and therefore invisible. Even though this is horribly painful for Seyonne, he respects this judgment of his people, finds it perfectly natural and appropriate, and even facilitates it as much as he can by acting invisible when any Ezzarians are present. He even defends his actions to Aleksander, when Aleksander questions Seyonne's actions in this regard.

I guess my question for you all is, are these issues as easily seen in the story as I think they are? Or are they only obvious to me because I have been trained to see cultural issues like this, since I studied anthropology and intercultural issues at university. I mean, these things really jumped up off the page at me, so much so that I will probably recommend this book to my mentor from university (who I had the privilege of introducting to science fiction and fantasy) as something she would be interested in reading with a possible view to using the book in her teaching, as she has expressed interest in incorporating such novels in her teaching.

Well, probably best to start off with just this one issue of cultural perceptions within "Transformations". What do you all think? Is it true that you can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy? Or, in other words, can we ever really transcend the culture we were raised in? And is that even a good goal to have?
 

Marianne

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Well, my thoughts are a bit to scattered at the moment to respond to such an in depth question. I just want to react to the book as a whole and say that I was impressed by the fact that this was a 'first book' by a new author. It was a great book and I loved every minute of it. I am going to order the other two in the series today. As far as the culture goes, I can't help but view it from a writer's point of view and marvel at the way she has painted her world. Her different cultures not only are unique, but she has described their history, or involvement with each other very well.



I was enthralled by the personal relationship between slave and master and how she convincingly transformed the relationship into one of friendship.



That's my 2 cents for now
 

dwndrgn

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Marianne - I know that this is her first fantasy but I'm not sure if it is her first novel. I'll have to find out about that. Edited to say that yes, this is her first novel period. You can check her out at this site: http://www.sff.net/people/carolberg/

LittleMiss - as far as your question(s) go, here's what I've got:

1. Yes, I noticed right away the care with which she covered the different cultures and how they lived separately and together, so it isn't just you. You'll actually see more of it in the next two books as well.

2. Can you take the country out of the boy? I don't think so. Our cultural heritage is part of our makeup - it colors everything we say and do. Even as a slave with no power and no real voice, Seyonne's upbringing makes him endanger his own life to help Alexsander; which goes against all he learned in the many years of being a slave - survival. You can always ingore things like what you are supposed to eat or what you aren't supposed to eat, but you have to ignore them because you cannot banish them completely. At least, that is how I feel about it.
 

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

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littlemissattitude said:
Sorry, knivesout. That's my anthropological background speaking. Basically, etic means the view of a culture from outside that culture, and emic means the view of a culture from inside that culture. There seems to be a great controversy over whether it is really possible for anyone not native to a culture is able to describe it from an insiders point of view, even if that person has lived in that culture for years. Even so, that is the point of view that some anthropologists strive to achieve in their ethnographic profiles of cultures they have lived in and studied, sometimes for years.

And that, to begin the discussion, I guess, is one of the things that really intrigued me about "Transformation". If you look closely, it actually speaks to issues concerning how we see different cultures from our own and how we see our own culture if, for example, we have lived in another culture for a long time.
Thanks for that! I've started on the book by the way, and I have a feeling it won't be too long before I'm done with it - it is a good read, well paced and well told.
 

dwndrgn

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I'm interrupting our discussion for some great news. Yesterday while discovering more about this month's author, Carol Berg, I entered a drawing on her website (posted earlier) and since it was an email drawing I told her that we were discussing her book this month in case she wanted to drop by and see what we were saying. I figured, if she read it, great, she may stop by. Well, she read it and responded. She generously offered to answer questions we may have for her. I'm terribly excited.

So, with that in mind I'd like to table the discussion temporarily and request any and all questions you might have for the author - regarding this book only. I'll then pare them down so as to not overwhelm her, and send them off via email. Once I've sent them, we'll continue our discussion until she has the time to respond to those questions.
I know you guys will have some thoughtful questions so post 'em!
 

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

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Wow, dwndrgn!!! Wow! That was incredibly cool of you. When do you need questions by? I will probably finish by the weekend.:)


Also - did you mean you sent her a drawing or was it a sort of online lucky draw? Sorry, I got a bit confused on that...:confused:
 

dwndrgn

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knivesout said:
Wow, dwndrgn!!! Wow! That was incredibly cool of you. When do you need questions by? I will probably finish by the weekend.:)


Also - did you mean you sent her a drawing or was it a sort of online lucky draw? Sorry, I got a bit confused on that...:confused:
She's extremely nice and it was very generous of her to offer this for us. Cool isn't it? I'd say as soon as you've got them, post them so I can put them all together and whatnot.

I was participating in a drawing for a prize (if you visit her website it is posted there on the front page). If I had sent her a drawing of mine she probably would have laughed herself off of her chair. :p
 

Marianne

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I would like to know what her inspiration for the story was. Also, I would like to know which authors influenced her the most in choosing her genre. Also :) when does she plan to do a book signing in California? And does she have any tips for first time novelist like myself? (heheh)
 

littlemissattitude

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This is so cool, dwndrgn. This is why you are our fearless leader for the book disucssions.

Of course, most of my questions are anthropological in nature. Go figure.

1. Has she had any anthropological training - taken any anthropology classes, or even read in anthropology? If so, how consciously did she draw on things she learned in these courses or reading in the writing of "Transformation"?

2. Are the cultures she created for "Transformation" based, in any part, on cultural practices from real cultures, or did she create them from scratch?

3. This is a technical question: One of the hardest parts of writing fiction, for me, is naming my characters. How does she deal with this aspect of the writing process?
 

dwndrgn

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littlemissattitude said:
This is so cool, dwndrgn. This is why you are our fearless leader for the book disucssions.
Ha! Pure luck, and the generosity of the author is all it was. Fearless leader my patootie. I'd never have the gumption to actually ask for this type of thing, I just have to thank my lucky stars that she offered!
 

littlemissattitude

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dwndrgn said:
Ha! Pure luck, and the generosity of the author is all it was. Fearless leader my patootie. I'd never have the gumption to actually ask for this type of thing, I just have to thank my lucky stars that she offered!
:D Right place at the right time, dwndrgn? Still, you went looking for information on the author. That's more than I've done.
 
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