Orbology!

Tonight we continue the Small Gods bookclub, as Mike S recaps the fourth section of the book. Mike S recapped the first section here, James K recapped the second section here and Mike the third here. The complete list of sections can be found here. If you’re reading a different edition, post a comment giving its first and last pages, and I’ll add it to the spreadsheet. If you must comment on anything past what we’ve read so far (the first four sections), please rot13 it to avoid spoilers. If you’d like to volunteer to recap future sections, please say so.

That’s all the boilerplate stuff. Let’s get started.

Section 4

From “It was a small mule and Brutha had long legs” to “They were known for it”.

The Omnians set out from the Citadel towards the seacoast. Bringing up the rear are Vorbis and Brutha. Brutha demonstrates more of his savant talents: he knows exactly what time it is and how far they’ve come. And a less welcome one: he has noticed that more people set out than are part of the official embassy; there are 98 mounted soldiers somewhere behind them. Vorbis tells Brutha to forget he ever knew that. As if! The two do some cross-talk in which Vorbis assures Brutha that Om is with them, and Brutha agrees (without saying “in my backpack”.) Vorbis, a true son of the desert, doesn’t approve of the sea. He pontificates a bit about that. Om snarks at him, which frightens Brutha until he realizes that Vorbis can’t hear Om either.

There are some nice Biblical puns here. When Om speaks “The voice of the turtle is heard in the land.” (Song of Solomon, 2:12). Om explains that he isn’t everything Brutha thinks a god should be with “I am what I am” (Exodus 3:14. Also Popeye.)

They all board the ship to Ephebe, which Om assures them will have seas as calm as a mill-race. He’s right, though he realizes later that he should have said “mill-pond”. Brutha becomes horribly seasick, though the sailors consider the weather quite mild. Part of this is it being his first time on a ship; part is his having lost his lifelong sense of place, because the sea, unlike the land, is featureless. In this he’s like a cruise missile, which over water can’t use its terrain-tracking guidance system. Vorbis comes by to see how Brutha is doing, and Om recognizes Vorbis as the one who’d flipped him onto his back. Om insists that Brutha kill him immediately, though Brutha is unwilling to do so.

The three of them go to visit the captain, on whom Vorbis has the usual effect, making him feel that his sailor’s superstitions are lethal (to himself) heresies. One of them is a mystical regard for porpoises. (Quite justified, since on the Discworld, they are sacred to the goddess of the sea.) Vorbis bullies him into harpooning one to serve for lunch.

Brutha, who now speaks to Om with less deference than to anyone else, reminds him that none of his commandments say anything about cruelty to animals, and his new concern for it is based entirely on now being one himself. Brutha insists that if Om were really a god, he could stop being a tortoise, and Om comes clean about having lost almost all of his power, though not about why. (Here comes a literary pun: he calls being a tortoise “Two Years Before the Shell”.)

Next comes a digression explaining again that gods derive their power from belief. This is heretical in Omnia (as it is here in Flatworld Roundworld) and Omnians deal with heretics much as we used to. The philosopher who promulgated the idea was chopped up quickly and exceeding fine.

Killing the porpoise has had the traditional result: a storm that seems likely to destroy the ship. Om uses one of his few remaining powers to call upon the sea goddess to save the ship. She agrees grudgingly, though he now owes her one huge favor. Meanwhile, the desperate sailors know that the sea requires a sacrifice to atone for the porpoise, and (naturally) choose Brutha. They are about to throw him overboard, but he asks to say a final prayer first, and at last the goddess keeps her promise and the seas calm.

This has the shape of an Old Testament story. The frightened unbelievers want to sacrifice a godly man to their pagan demon, but it’s his prayer to the true God that saves all of them. Except that in this case, the pagans have it exactly right, and the “true” god has to beg a favor from the “false” one.

Om reflects that Brutha was about to be killed for Vorbis’s crime. Which is how gods operate: people being wary of you is more important that justice. That this seems wrong to Om now shows how much being a tortoise has changed him. (Of course, Om wouldn’t care either if the sacrifice hadn’t been his one believer.)

Om recalls how he became a god. He performed a very small miracle to help a desert shepherd find a lots lamb, and accepted his worship. The shepherd started a cult of Om, for which he was stoned by the priests of the older god, but no matter: Om was on his way. He wonders idly whatever happened to the old god. Nothing good, certainly. And it occurs to him that it’s the way of the world for new gods to replace old ones, but he’s been replaced by nothing at all. What’s up with that?

Vorbis tells Brutha to borrow a mirror from the Captain and use it to signal the army that’s crossed the desert. Vorbis, with his usual eye for sin, knows that a man as vain as the captain must have one. And the captain knows quite well that Vorbis will both ask for the use of the mirror and then punish him for having one. Resigned to that fate, he confides in Brutha: he’s been to the edge, and looked over: the world is flat, it sits on a turtle, and the turtle moves! At that moment, Brutha hears a voice calling him, and he’s terrified. But fortunately, it isn’t Vorbis. It’s merely his god. Who agrees, of course the world isn’t round. What idiot thought it was? Burtha reports to Vorbis, who asks if Brutha is frightened of him. Brutha repeats what he’s always believed about the perfection of the religion, but inwardly he’s beginning to have doubts. And he’s gotten smart enough to hide them.

Tune in next week for section 5 – from “Next day the ship rounded a headland” to “And your God is a rock — and we know about rock.”.

Please do be so kind as to share this post.
Share

3 thoughts on “Orbology!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *