Wednesday, February 15, 2017

"The Skill of Our Hands"

Steven Brust is the bestselling author of Issola, Dragon, The Phoenix Guards, Five Hundred Years After, and many others. Skyler White is the author of And Falling, Fly and In Dreams Begin, along with co-authoring The Incrementalist series with Steven Brust.

White applied the Page 69 Test to The Skill of Our Hands, the second volume in The Incrementalist series, and reported the following:
I’m a believer.

After I agreed to write this post, before I checked for what was on The Skill of Our Hand’s 69th page, I set myself a little test: to prove the rule, the page would need to reference immigration, and it would need to include one of Oskar’s asides to the audience. It didn’t do either.

But in yet another instance where books know their authors better than we know ourselves (ask Steve about Teckla sometime) the rule proved itself right, and me wrong. In my mind, Skill is Oskar’s book. He is, in fact, on stage on page 69, but the scene is written from his point of view, and he doesn’t interrupt himself quite as often as he does his fellow Incrementalists, so no asides. And yes, the book is centrally about brutal race-based laws now and in the 1850’s, but it’s also about the militarization of the civilian police force, and which weapons — guns, sex, data mining, magic — are fair to use in those fights, and which backfire. The book is about those questions, but it’s about these people — the Incrementalists. The scene on page 69 (and onto 70, sorry) is between Oskar, Irina, another Incrementalist, and Jane, who isn’t one of the group:
"We know pretty much everything, about everyone. Or we can with a little work."


"Your cat's name was Satha because when you got her you couldn't pronounce Samantha. Your big brother has a small white scar over his left eye where you pushed him into the edge of the piano when he wouldn't stop poking you. Your favorite dessert is blueberries with sugar and half and half. You became a Wiccan in college because you like the people, the community, and the attitude, but you’re not sure you really believe it all. You kept your last name when you married because you had it legally changed from ‘Rossi’ to 'Astarte' two years before, and you didn’t want to look fickle.”

Jane was staring at Oskar, her eyes widening. When he stopped speaking, she stood up abruptly, and stepped back a little. "Okay," she said. "This is creepy."

"Yeah," he said. "I know. Sorry."

"Way to be reassuring, Oskar," said Irina.

"Go fuck yourself," Oskar appeased, and turned back to Jane. "We are kind of creepy," he admitted. "But our intentions are good."

"Who’s we?"

"That's a difficult question to answer. We're a small group of people who try to make things better."
Oskar is telling Jane about herself to show her who he is, and who they are. Which, in the best of worlds, is what this book, maybe all books, are really all about.

So yeah, I’m a believer. But I’m not obedient. I’m going to cheat a little again and sneak Oskar’s last aside in here at the end, because he ought to get a chance to talk right to you: “Get involved. Make things better. I’ve taken a big step here, and maybe it’s just jumping up and down plus waving. Maybe it covers all the distance from a gunshot to an invitation. And if you accept it, from Look to Be. Yours are the hands on those machines. Think for a minute about what that means.”
Visit Steven Brust's website and Skyler White's website.

--Marshal Zeringue