Silver Goggles | December 23, 2011
So let’s talk about Scott Westerfeld’s Goliath, ya’ll. Did you like it? I liked it, just like I liked Leviathan, and I liked Behemoth, and I thought Goliath was very well done indeed. The slow dawning realization of Aleks that his best friend is, after all, a girl and the OMG AWKWARD chapters afterwards and the EVEN MORE AWKWARD chapters when he realizes Deryn is in love with him was indeed super-awkward and I enjoyed that, possibly to an unwholesome degree.
I was a bit iffy with the visit to Japan, but ehh, it’s Japan, weird shit happens there all the time, I guess, and I thought it was nice that we took a trip down to Mexico and met General Francisco Villa. The little rivalry between the journalists was fun, and I, too, wished to punch Eddie Malone when he also discovers Deryn’s secret and gets to writing all about it. And I love how Aleks puts himself out there to protect Deryn, because you know, that is what best friends do!
And yes, I laughed out loud at that middle-of-the-book chapter where Aleks is really really really realizing that Deryn is, indeed! for realsies! a girl! And then Deryn takes advantage of it! And I was like, yea Deryn, you go for it girl, life’s too short to spend it not kissing boys. Also, Dr. Barlow / Count Volger — I WILL GO DOWN WITH THIS SHIP, understand?
And Lilit! My revolutionary anti-patriarchy homegirl! I knew in Behemoth that she was going to get sent away. If possible, get your hands on Marilyn French’s From Eve to Dawn series; it’s a history of women from as much recorded history as possible, and is French’s ten-year opus. In it, French points to how so many times, women become involved in movements that will help everyone, and they get with them specifically because they see potential, and are told, all the time, “wait your turn, let us get rights for the men first” and when the men get the rights they want, they set the women aside, telling them, “you’re asking for too much.” Women constantly contribute to political movements led by men only to get shafted as soon as the men’s goals have been achieved, and women’s needs are ignored in due course. I was sad to see this happen to Lilit, but it still made sense to me, and isn’t it sad that it made sense to me that this was the logical way her patriarchal movement would play out?
Fine, yeah, okay, Deryn isn’t a princess by the end of it, and Aleks goes into obscurity instead of taking up the throne, that’s cool (although I sometimes have misgivings about this; I’d rather thought Aleks had proven himself as a good leader and could’ve found some way of returning to his people while still abdicating, but, whatever, I’m the kind of person who still believes in
huge honking scapegoats ultimate martyrs vain and useless things symbolic functions of royalty.
And of course Westerfeld, whenever we exchange tweets, is a cool dude, and it’s nice to have him out at #steampunkchat, and I teethgnash at having missed meeting him earlier this year in New York City (where he ruined his feet walking at BEA and thus missed the Steampunk Bible signing as a result), bla bla obligatory this-white-dude-is-cool-by-me disclaimer bla-di-bla.
Now that that’s out of the way, I can move on to talking about what I really want to talk about. Also, spoilers.
“Zoology,” Dr. Barlow reminds Deryn, “is the backbone of our empire” (395). And for all the larking in the sky, the text makes it clear that the stakes of Aleks’ mission–to save the world, poor sod–are stakes that everyone in Europe, and the neighbouring Ottoman Empire, partake of. General Villa’s fight is tied to American business; the Japanese are still slightly beholden to Western technologies (notice how the British Leviathan heads towards Japan just to show up and show off, indicating that Japan still looks to the West for imperial inspiration in this iteration, and the hierarchy of European superiority still remains firmly entrenched). There’s no mention of Japan’s imperial ambitions in Manchuria (that I remember, anyway).
So, all the great European powers are fighting, and because of the way the war plays out, with all the advanced technology, everyone gets their boom-bangs in much faster, too. I remember in Belgarath the Sorcerer, by David Eddings, Belgarath complains, in an internal aside to the reader, “all these wars always ends up at conference tables anyway! Why can’t they just start there??” (paraphrased, of course)
There’s always an assumption of a specific trajectory on how such conflict begins: everybody wants to get a bigger piece of pie, everybody gets mad at everybody else for impinging on said pieces of pie, everybody gets into a big ol’ pie fight, the pie gets ruined, someone or more gets hurt from pie in the eye, everybody stops in horror at what has happened to the pie, they gruffly say sorry, attempt some cleanup and make some solemn promises about how to divide up the next pie. (Nobody stops to question the existence or the necessity of the pie.)
And sometimes, there is an assumption that accelerated technology also means accelerated trajectories of this sort. I think Cherie Priest got it right that accelerated technology actually prolongs trajectories of conflict. I don’t believe in one second that people with so much power–and there is so much power in a Clanker machine! We saw Clankers use their machines to murder Deryn’s squad in Behemoth! And there is so much power in Darwinist tech! The flechette bats are pretty much tiny little living machine guns!–I don’t believe these people would actually give up fighting so easily. World leaders have never truly recognized the costs of their stupid wars, all through history, even in our fucking present. There IS a reason why Afghani and Iraqi casualties far outnumber the 3000 deaths that supposedly precipitated the Iraqi War.
Science is a tool. And for much of history, science, particularly in the hands of Western powers, has been used to conquer and destroy. For all that people tout about the potential of science for world peace and somesuch, all too often, technology that can actually aid people? Exploited for greatest commercial wealth. Technology that aids destruction? Co-opted by militaries all over the world, for “self-defense”, and we all know what I think about that
At the end of the book, Westerfeld very nicely writes to his YA readers about the differences between his book and recorded history, which I think is also really important, because YA audiences are keen to learn. Young people want to learn. That is how they grow. And growing is what young things do. But Westerfeld also writes this:
“At the end of Goliath, however, my fictional Great War would seem to be drawing to a close. … Europe may well emerge from this war less devastated than in our world, and therefore less vulnerable to worse tragedies to come.” (underline mine)