Day By Night

by Tanith Lee
Reviewed date: 2019 Nov 30
Rating: 3
316 pages
cover art

Always dense, often overwrought, sometimes lyrical. Lee drops in a few truly magnificent phrases, scintillating diamonds in a vast and dusty coal mine.

The planet is tidally locked with its sun: one hemisphere relentlessly scorched, the other in eternal night. One the sunlit side, the decadent rich live on vast estates operated by robot labor, and the poor live in Slumopolis. On the dark side everyone lives underground; the rich, again, in vast residences maintained by robot servants, while the poor labor and die in the mines.

In both societies, the robots are slowly failing and nobody can fix them. Their societies are dying and decadent remnants of an ancient civilization, and the people have long since lost the ability to understand their technology, must less maintain it or fix it.

🌗 Day
Vel Thaidis and her brother Velday are heirs to the Hirz estate. Velday is friends with Ceedres Yune Thar, whose estate's technology has failed and is now dependent on the largess of his friends. Ceedres proposes marriage to Vel Thaidis, who both despises and loves Ceedres. A marriage would give Ceedres the right to Vel Thaidis's share of Hirz technology, restoring the Thar estate. She rejects him.

Angry at being rejected, Ceedres stabs himself and accuses Vel Thaidis of attempted murder. He lies convincingly to the robot judges and to his fellow aristos; Vel Thaidis is convicted. Her property is stripped from her and given to Ceedres, so he has won what he needs without a marriage of convenience. Vel Thaidis is banished to the Slumopolis.

🌓 Night
Aristocrats Vitra and Vyen Klovez look down on Casrus Klarn, who defies the social order by spending his time and technology to help the Subterines--the lower classes who toil ceaselessly in the mines of the Subterior. Casrus even dares to bring a Subterine woman, Temal, into his home and treat her like an equal.

When Klovez house's technology fails, Vitra and Vyen contrive to accuse Casrus of a crime. Klarn's technology is given to Klovez, and Casrus Klarn is banished to the Subterior.

Orbital mechanics
There's a problem with the orbital mechanics. The planet is tidally locked with its sun; its period of rotation and period of orbit are the same. The axis of rotation is the same as the orbital axis.

However, Lee says the planet spins around its zenith (the point on the sun side that is closest to the sun). That's an axial tilt of 90 degrees from the orbital axis. That's not possible for a tidally locked planet.

🌗 Day
The day side story, with Vel Thaidis and Ceedres, is a story-within-a-story. Vitra is a Fabulist, and she constructs this story to amuse the Subterines.

But of course we know, having read the back of the book, that there's more going on here. The day side is just as real as the night side, only Vitra doesn't know it.

Is it Vitra and the night side who are the fiction? Are both real? Are both stories Fabulisms?

Jate and Maram
Both day and night sides observe regular periods called Jate and Maram, for wakefulness and for sleep, respectively. Skipping sleep and staying awake during Maram is called keeping J'ara. In the light side, the periods of Jate and Maram correspond to the planetary rotation--the impossible rotation that makes me suspect either Tanith Lee doesn't know her orbital mechanics, or the entire planet is a fiction.

A false world
I'm convinced that the so-called light side of the planet is a created illusion. The sun is a construct. It must be. Everything about this world rings false. For example, when Ceedres takes Vel Thaidis to the upper room of a temple (where no one ever, ever goes), the roof opens up not to a sky filled with blazing sun, but to a deep blackness pierced by white points of light. Deep space and blazing stars, seen from a tower on a planet facing the eternal sun? No, there's something very wrong here.

🌗 Day
Vel Thaidis escapes from the Slumopolis and travels into the Fading Lands, the twilight zone between the Day and the Night. She arrives at Kaneka. Kaneka is a little paradise, a domed city right on the twilight line, filled with lush gardens and robot servants. The dome ceiling simulates a day-night cycle.

🌓 Night
Casrus escapes from the Subterior and also finds his way to Kaneka. He questions the Kaneka robots persistently, and ascertains the purpose for the facility. It is a control center. Through machines similar to those used by the Fabulists, the inhabitants of Kaneka can manipulate and control the societies on the Day and Night side of the planet. The entire planet is a plaything, a toy for the amusement of gods. The gods are now gone, and Vel Thaidis and Casrus are the only inhabitants of Kaneka. Adam and Eve in paradise. Will they use their power and become the puppet-masters of the societies they once belonged to?

🌗 Day
Velday, at last seeing Ceedres for who he truly is, plots revenge. On a lionag hunt where Ceedres plans to have Velday "accidentally" be killed by the great cats, Velday turns the tables: he discreetly drugs Ceedres, and then the great cats tear Ceedres to pieces.

🌓 Night
Y'all, they've got fire-swords. Fire-swords! Calvium steel blades with a narrow channel running down the center. The channel is stuffed with fosscoal and oil and set aflame.

The duelers have shields of solid ice, and when fire-swords strikes ice it produces an impressive fountain of steam and billowing vapor.

Vyen Klovez and Shedri Klur duel to the death with fire-swords. It is a genuinely enthralling piece of writing. At the climactic moment, Vitra rushes in to stop the duel, and Vyen accidentally kills her.

All is revealed
In the final chapter, Tanith Lee reveals all. In Deneder, a domed city similar to Kaneka, the god and goddess of the planet are revealed. The planet is indeed a constructed toy for their amusement. They'd tired of their plaything, so they'd taken the game to the next level: they entered it themselves, as Ceedres and Temal. From within the game, they'd manipulated the story. When they died, they were re-born in Deneder. Now, they're ready for the next phase: a competition. Vel Thaidis and Casrus can access the game from Kaneka, and Ceedres and Temal have their control chairs in Deneder. With Vel Thaidis and Casrus working to lift up and to create a better world for the people, and Ceedres and Temal working to destroy, to abuse, to torture--who will win?

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