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Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Sharing Knife Books: Ground

In previous posts, I described the setting and the theme of the four Sharing Knife novels, by Lois McMaster Bujold. A later post, on religion in the books, is here.The final post in the series, on how I found illustrations of important Christian ideas in the books, whether Bujold intended them or not, is here.

I now expand on the setting, by describing one special aspect of Bujold's sub-creation, namely, ground. A Wikipedia author, in the article on Passage, the third book in the series, compared ground to the traditional Chinese concept of ch'i, or qi. The comparison seems to have some merit. I would like to describe Bujold's ground, as well as I am able. I do not think in those terms, myself.

All material objects possess ground. Living things have more of it than non-living objects, and humans have more of it than any other living things. Embryos and fetuses have especially active ground. Some adults have more active, or intense, ground than others. A person with groundsense can distinguish between people, using only this sense, which tells us that there must be some property, or properties, of ground that make it so distinguishable.

Lakewalkers all develop groundsense during adolescence. The amount of groundsense varies. Groundsense has a range. For Dag, this is about a mile, normally, although during some times when he has been stressed, it is much less. Most Lakewalkers do not have a range as great as Dag's. Some Lakewalkers are especially talented. They are healers, or makers of sharing knives. I described sharing knives in my first post in this series.

Some farmers have a little groundsense. Fawn's Aunt Nattie has some. Fawn, herself, has none.

Not only can Lakewalkers detect individual humans, other living things, and inanimate objects (such as hidden sandbars in rivers) but they can manipulate other objects with groundsense. They can, for example, make mosquitoes stay away from them. Dag, at least, can attract fireflies to himself. He can also fish and hunt using his groundsense, attracting game animals and fish to him, using his ground.

Dag puts a broken glass bowl together, using his groundsense. Healers, and even ordinary Lakewalker patrollers, can do some medical work with their groundsense. When doing so, they lose contact with the ordinary world, and sense details of the body to be healed that would not be perceptible to a person lacking groundsense. They can set a bone, remove infection, and other remarkable things. They don't seem to be able to sense microscopic objects, such as blood cells or platelets.

The loss of contact with the ordinary world gives the healer the ability to sense, as it were, a second, parallel world, the world sensed only by groundsense. The same ability, in a lesser degree, seems to be expressed on other occasions. This reminds me of the two worlds seen by some of Tolkien's characters. In The Fellowship of the Ring, just as Frodo is crossing the Ford of the River Bruinen, on the way to Rivendell, the house of Elrond, he sees that parallel world, rather than the ordinary one. Glorfindel, an elf-lord, and the Riders of the enemy are "seen" especially well by Frodo, his peers, and Aragorn, a human, less so.

There are dangers in becoming too obsessed with the parallel world shown by groundsense. A Lakewalker, especially a healer, can become groundlocked -- conscious only of the world shown by groundsense so long that she cannot come back to the ordinary world. If this happens, she dies.

Ground, as indicated above, can be detected by others. So, to a Lakewalker, being with lots of people can be like receiving too many radio broadcasts at once -- noisy and distracting. Lakewalkers can voluntarily shield their grounds from other people. When they do so effectively, they cannot use their groundsense.

Dag discovers that he can extend, and use, a hand he doesn't really have (he lost his real hand in a fight with a malice). Arkady, an accomplished maker, can also do this.

Dag also discovers that he can groundrip other objects -- remove the ground from them, so that they die, or if not living, lose their structural integrity. He uses this as a weapon, ground-ripping a small cross-section of Crane's spinal cord, which paralyzes Crane, and making a hole in the heart of a bat-based slave of a malice, thus causing its death.

Ground, and the story of Fawn and Dag, are essential to the Sharing Knife books.

Thanks for reading.

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