Orbology!

Tonight we continue the Small Gods bookclub, as Mike S recaps the sixth section of the book. Mike S recapped the first section here, James K recapped the second section here and Mike the third here, fourth here. and fifth 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 six 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 6

From “Om stumped along a cobbled alley” to “The fundamental truth was that the handful of Ephebian guards in the palace had no chance at all.”

Om is looking for a philosopher to help him become more of an all-powerful being and less of a tortoise. He comes upon Didactylos, who’s similarly down on his luck, living in a barrel and selling mottoes for a living, with little to show for it. (Ephebeans can be dismayingly epistemic, rejecting “It’s always darkest before the dawn” after staying up late and observing that it isn’t.) But Didactylos has a practical side too, observing (for the nth time in this book) that there’s good eating on a turtle. We leave Om, once again close to being in the soup.

Brutha is still attending the peace conference. Vorbis is frothing that the Ephebeans murdered Murduck the Omnian missionary, while the Tyrant explains, much more plausibly, that while they ridiculed and humiliated him unmercifully, the physical aspect stopped with roughing him up a bit. It’s getting towards lunch time and little progress has been made, so the Tyrant suggests knocking off until sunset. Vorbis prefers to wait until morning. (Hmm. Is he up to something?) There’s some cross-talk in which Vorbis sneers at Ephebe for having slaves, and the Tyrant says only slightly elliptically that Om has nothing else.

Brutha is troubled. He knows that the Tyrant was being truthful and Vorbis was not. In particular, he believes than the Ephebeans didn’t beat Murduck to death, but he knows that someone did. And he wonders why a Tyrant seems like a wise and reasonable ruler compared to what he’s used to. Back in his rooms, he meets a slave and asks him what it’s like. It turns out that he’s what we might call a wage slave (with some amusing Pratchettisms about how he gets two weeks escape time a year), and he’s in all ways richer, more comfortable, and better off than anyone Brutha knows back in Om. Also, after a few years he’ll earn his freedom (which largely means getting his own slaves. Yay!)

Vorbis calls and starts working Brutha (not unlike the way Walter White used to work Jesse.) This time it’s fairly innocuous. He wants Brutha to get out and see the city, which given Brutha’s memory means reconnoiter it. Brutha presumes to ask Vorbis what really happened to Murduck, to which Vorbis responds “Exactly what I said.” He appears not to notice how changed Brutha must be even to ask.

Brutha goes looking for Om, and finds him pacing off geometrical shapes while other philosophers bet against Didactylos and his trained tortoise. He manages all of them except the dodecagon, which he gives ten sides instead of twelve. Still, the net profits are far more money than Didactylos has seen in roughly forever. Brutha, there to interpret, informs him that the tortoise got it wrong on purpose, to raise tomorrow’s odds. Oh, and it’s really a God. Didactylos remarks “The turtle moves.” It turns out he’s the one that write the scroll that’s started all this trouble.

Brutha explains that he’s looking for a philosopher that knows about gods. Didactylos says that’ll cost, and Brutha, without Om’s prompting, points out how much he won that day. Then, when Didactylos asks if he has a good memory, he say “no”. Quite truthfully, since “good” doesn’t begin to describe it. This is a cagier Brutha than we’ve seen before. They all go to the library.

Didactylos explains how philosophy works. Basically, people think of things, or discover things, or simply look carefully at things, and write down the result. This is all new to Brutha, for whom there’s a fixed amount of knowledge, all revealed long ago and handed down since then. And you can be sure it’s true. Ephebeans know a thousand times as much but aren’t sure abut any of it. Didactylos tells a story about having been in Om and watched a crowd stoning a man. They were sure, very sure indeed. Sure that it’s better to be throwing stones than their target. Didactylos gives Brutha a book on gods to take with him. It’s by an expert, someone who’s offended so many gods in his days that he always smells burnt, and was last seen as a pair of smoking sandals. Brutha and Om depart.

Om reads the book by walking along it. It’s very thorough, very impressive. Om decides to confide in Brutha that he’s the last true believer. All the others believe in Omnianism: the religion, the rituals, the hierarchy; but not in Om. Om needs Brutha to become the next prophet and lead people back to worshipping him. Brutha is skeptical; he doesn’t feel like prophet material. Anyway, everyone knows Vorbis will be the next prophet.

Speak of the devil; Vorbis calls, and Brutha leaves Om behind to attend him. They look into the desert behind the city, and see the same flash of light they saw when they departed Om. Vorbis asks Brutha to take him back through the labyrinth. Brutha hesitates, and asks what really happened to Murduck. Vorbis explains that the deepest truth is that the Ephebians killed him by not accepting his mission to them. Brutha asks whether it’s true that in a more trivial sense of truth, Murduck returned to Om and was killed there. It is, and Vorbis is impressed than Brutha grasps the distinction. (Again, Vorbis fails to see how Brutha is changing).

Brutha leads Vorbis through the labyrinth. He considers running ahead, leaving Vorbis to die in one of its traps, but he’s unable to murder him that way. They run across one of the guards, but Vorbis quickly kills him. Now they are at the gates of the city, which Vorbis, killing the watchman as well, opens. The Omnian army, which had, with great privation and huge losses, crossed the desert, pours into the city.

The timing is interesting. It took months for the army to make it across, advancing, creating caches of food and water, going back for fresh supplies, and advancing a bit further each time. In fact, Vorbis sent them before Murduck was sent, and well before the Omnian fleet was destroyed. But fortune favors the prepared so it’s well to have an invading army at the ready before you absolutely need one. It easily overpowers the city guard, and the Omnians now rule Ephebe.

Tune in next week for section 7 – from “Vorbis sat upright in the tyrant’s chair” to “I don’t think I can swim…”

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9 thoughts on “Orbology!

  1. The timing is interesting. It took months for the army to make it across, advancing, creating caches of food and water, going back for fresh supplies, and advancing a bit further each time.

    Is that how it happened? I thought it was advance, leave caches of food and water for the next group, die of starvation and dehydration, get replaced by the next group.

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