• Raelyn Teague

Sci-Fi in "The Lunar Chronicles" |Lunar Chronicles Analysis Part 2|

Welcome to part two of my analysis on The Lunar Chronicles, or at least my analysis on Cinder and a few relevant parts of the rest of the series.

If you didn’t catch part one, you can read it here. I recommend you check that one out first, as it will have all my disclaimers as well as some background that may help make this discussion a little clearer.

Seen part one already? Great! Let’s continue this analysis with a discussion on the sci-fi adventure plot for Cinder and The Lunar Chronicles and a few of the struggles it had.

First, a little worldbuilding discussion. I already did an entire post on why worldbuilding is important no matter the genre, but I want to reiterate a few relevant points before we talk about Cinder.

The amount of worldbuilding you need to do for your novel depends on a combination of your personal writing tastes as well as the reader expectations for the genre you’re writing. It’s important to know those expectations, because readers of different genres have different sweet spots between what they’ll deem too little and too much worldbuilding.

This becomes trickier when you write a 50/50 mashup like Meyer’s sci-fi romances, because now you need to understand the worldbuilding expectations for both romance and sci-fi and try to find a happy medium. If you do either genre too dirty, you run the risk of upsetting your readers.

And here’s the thing about sci-fi: worldbuilding is kind of important.

A sci-fi romance won’t require anywhere near the same degree of worldbuilding as hard sci-fi, but any worldbuilding you have that’s going to play an important role in character or plot probably needs to have a little substance. A little nuance.

And this was something I personally feel Meyer struggled with at times. Don’t get me wrong, you can tell from her writing that she enjoys worldbuilding. I also feel she gets a lot better with worldbuilding as the series goes on, but, especially in the first book, she tends to go wide with her worldbuilding rather than deep.

She introduces several neat sci-fi elements into Cinder. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that she introduces more than she was ready to handle. Cyborgs, androids, a Lunar civilization, Lunar refugees, Lunar mind powers, spaceships, a sci-fi plague, and more. Not all worldbuilding necessarily needs depth—it’s entirely okay to have some worldbuilding that’s just for aesthetics as long as it isn’t painfully obvious that’s the only reason it’s there (unless you’re breaking the fourth wall and going for humour). I really don’t care about nor need to know the inner workings of portscreens or Rampion ships, so it’s not a big deal that those elements weren’t deep, but even many of those elements that ended up playing vital roles in Meyer’s story felt a little like cardboard props.

I feel like this worldbuilding issue is stemming from two problems. The first problem is what I already mentioned: there are simply too many important sci-fi elements introduced in the first book to give any of them the depth they deserved in a book that was half romance. Second, just as the sci-fi plotlines interrupted the romance, sometimes the romance undermines the sci-fi. So, let’s take a look at the worldbuilding in Cinder.

One of the main sci-fi elements Meyer introduces is cyborgs. Yet, despite being a major premise of the novel, Meyer doesn’t do much with them. Again, it’s not that Meyer did no worldbuilding, but she didn’t provide nuance, a sense of place, or show many consequences of what she’d introduced before moving on to introduce something else that would end up competing for space in the novel.

For example, let’s take a deeper look at these cyborgs and talk about this discrimination they face. We know the discrimination exists because we get told it exists, but we don’t see it in action except when it directly affects Cinder, and only then.

In fact, not only do we not see this hatred of cyborgs in action, we don’t even see other cyborgs in the main series! Not one. The only other cyborg who actually appears on the page is in a single short story in Stars Above, not the main series. Cyborgs are apparently enough of a so called “problem” to warrant legislation declaring them property, but they’re not enough of a problem to actually appear anywhere in the books. Not even in the background. Which is a shame, given how self-conscious Cinder is about being one. I would have sympathized more deeply with her fear of Kai finding out if she’d witnessed another cyborg being carted off for the draft, losing their job, getting dumped, just…anything.

This might be on me simply missing it, but it took Kai explaining it two and a half books into the series for me to even know why people hated cyborgs.

Kai had studied it all when he was fourteen years old. He had agreed with the laws. He’d been convinced, as his grandfather before him had been, that they were so obviously right. Cyborgs required special laws and provisions, for the safety of everyone.
Didn’t they?
Until this moment, he didn’t think he’d given the question a second thought.
Realizing that he’d been staring at an empty lab table with his knuckles pressed against his forehead, he turned around and stood a little straighter. Torin was watching him with that ever-present wise expression that so often drove him crazy, waiting patiently for Kai to form his thoughts.
“Is it possible the laws are wrong?” he said, peculiarly nervous, like he was speaking blasphemy against his family and his country’s age-old traditions. “About cyborgs?”
Cress, Chapter Thirty-Four.

And there’s little nuance to this cyborg hatred. While we see protests regarding the Lunar Queen’s visit, we never see anyone protest the draft or the Cyborg Protection Act. You know. The laws that end up killing people’s cyborg family members. No one cares. It takes Kai until halfway through Cress to even consider that maybe, just maybe it’s unethical to treat cyborgs as property. As though he’s surprised by this thought. As though not one person in this whole world has ever brought that idea to his attention before.

That universal hatred leaves me coming to the inevitable conclusion that every Earthen citizen has been magically brainwashed like the people on Luna. But throughout the series we actually see far more nuance in the people of Luna when it comes to their treatment of shells than we ever do in the people of Earth and their cyborgs.

I by no means expected Meyer to slow down the story with long historical accounts about cyborgs or boring exposition. But when we only ever get to see discrimination toward cyborgs when it directly affects Cinder, it makes it feel like this world exists solely to persecute her. While the cyborg draft may have been created to find her, cyborg hatred supposedly existed generations before Cinder was born.

If other cyborgs weren’t important enough to appear in the novel, it leaves me wondering why cyborgs were necessary at all.

I know that Meyer’s whole first concept was Cinderella as a cyborg. But what is the narrative reason for cyborgs in this story?

Yes, cyborgs would explain how Cinder could survive her attempted murder and gave a reason for Cinder to be voluntold as a science experiment. However, I don’t feel either of those warrant their necessity, especially where other worldbuilding the story already established could easily have explained both those things without the need for introducing another sci-fi element that would compete for space in the novel.

However, the predominant narrative reason for cyborgs in this book—the reason we see in action most frequently, the reason we see emphasized and addressed more than any other reason in this series—is so Cinder can feel insecure around Kai. That’s all. The main narrative reason for cyborgs to exist in this series is for romance reasons.

Again, it’s entirely okay for this to be the reason Meyer wanted cyborgs. Understand, I’m saying this as someone who’s written a book with a cyborg side character who’s mostly there for aesthetics, but when the reader can tell that’s the reason, when the reader can tell you haven’t thought through how introducing that bit of worldbuilding would affect your characters and the world they live in, it makes the world and characters feel contrived. When the sci-fi exists almost solely for the sake of the romance, it makes us care about the sci-fi less, and it makes us side-eye that romance.

Honestly, if they weren’t going to be a bigger feature, I feel it would have worked better for Meyer to streamline some of her worldbuilding, to get rid of extraneous elements that take up unnecessary space, and to instead put more depth into what remained. Especially where the later books tend to focus more on Cinder’s identity as a Lunar than her identity as a cyborg, why not get rid of cyborgs from the series entirely? Or, if cyborgs were the more interesting identity, give cyborgs the magic mind powers rather than Lunars.

Actually, that could have been really cool. Cyborgs gaining magic abilities through their implants would have better explained why Earthens so distrusted them. If cyborgs were more common on Luna, it also would have explained Earth’s rocky relationship with Luna. We could have had opportunities to explore cyborgs more on Luna. Do all cyborgs get magic powers, or is it only those with implants in the brain? What is a culture with cyborgs like? How does status work—are certain cybernetics considered better than others? Are people without cybernetics treated fairly? Maybe the royal family gets implants as a right of passage. They feel it’s their right to have the power and privilege that comes with cybernetics. Maybe Levana’s sister cruelly burns her but uses the excuse that “Mummy said you were too young to get your implants, but now you’ll have to get them. I’m just helping you grow up faster.” Rather than having Cinder be the only cyborg in the books, giving cyborgs more of a presence would make Cinder asking the world leaders to revoke their anti-cyborg laws at the end of the series feel less self-serving.

But trying to juggle both Lunars and cyborgs with any degree of importance, alongside a romance and all the other shenanigans in these books, means they start to feel thin. Like cardboard props.

We see similar problems with androids, particularly with the android Nainsi. She acts as a reason for Cinder and Kai to meet. So. Romance reasons again. However, Nainsi also ends up giving Cinder incredibly important information that instigates the climax of the book. Yet for much of the book, like many worldbuilding elements Meyer introduced, the android gets shoved aside, having to compete with too many other sci-fi threads and the romance for attention.

I don’t know about you, but if a member of the royal family came to my business with a job, I would get the heck to work on that ASAP. Most people would, and it would be very character revealing of anyone who wouldn’t, because when someone with that much power to make or break your entire business gives you work, you don’t want to upset them.

Yet Cinder kind of forgets about the android the second Kai is gone. As soon as she gets home from the market stall, rather than working on the android, she sets it aside and heads to the junkyard. She’s got her own plans, but the last thing those plans need is for her to draw attention to herself by pissing off royalty.

Cinder cleared a space for the android among the work-table’s clutter and set her messenger bag on the floor. She swapped her heavy work gloves for less grungy cotton ones before locking up the storage room.
Cinder, Chapter Two.

After Kai first reminds her of the android, she goes home that night and makes a mental note to work on it, but she still doesn’t work on it, because she’s off to the junkyard again. I would have preferred Cinder’s motivation to get out of town to be somehow tied to fixing the android, because for Cinder to neglect working on the android for an entire half of the book because she’s fixing up a car instead, it starts to feel like the android mainly existed to bring about the meet cute.

“I don’t suppose you’ve had a chance to look at Nainsi?” Kai asked.
Cinder stopped twirling the wrench and clutched it with both hands to keep herself from fidgeting. “No, not yet. I’m sorry. It’s been…the last twenty -four hours…”
He shrugged her words away, but the gesture was stiff on him. “You probably have a client list a mile long. I shouldn’t expect royal treatment.” His mouth twitched. “Although I guess I do anyway.”
Cinder’s heart tripped as his grin caught her by surprise, every bit as charming and unexpected as it had been at the market. (back to flirting already).
Cinder, Chapter Fourteen.

What’s worse, this android is supposed to be a big part of Kai’s motivation. The information the android might have is likely to be Kai’s one way out of an arranged marriage with a woman way too old for him that he very, very, very does not want to end up with. And yet there are times even Kai seems unconcerned with the android.

The second time Kai meets Cinder, I was desperately waiting for him to remind Cinder of the android. And he does! But it’s only after he’s flirted at her first, making it seem like the android is a less pressing matter to him than chasing after some ovaries he barely knows. When Cinder admits she hasn’t gotten anything done on it, he basically shrugs it off and goes back to flirting.

The third time he meets Cinder, after Levana has announced she’s coming to the palace, I was once again desperate for Kai to get Cinder off her butt and working on the android. This time Kai does finally assert to her how important the android is, but even though he insists it’s important, this almost comes as an afterthought. It is one of the last things he says to Cinder, not the first. Even when we’re in chapters from his POV, he really doesn’t think about the android much.

Kai paused. With a glance around the hallway, he inched toward Cinder, lowering his voice. “Look, I really appreciate your helping with the med-droids, and I’m sure the best mechanic in the city has a million jobs to prioritize, but at the risk of sounding like a spoiled prince, could I ask that you move Nainsi to the top of your list? I’m starting to get anxious about getting her back. I—” He hesitated. “I think I could use the moral support of my childhood tutor right now. You know?” The intensity in his eyes did not try to hide his true meaning. He wanted her to know he was lying. This had nothing to do with moral support or childhood attachments.
The panic behind the prince’s eyes spoke volumes. What information could that android have that was so important? And what did it have to do with the Lunar queen?
“Of course, Your Highness. Sorry, Prince Kai. I’ll take a look at her as soon as I get home.”
Cinder, Chapter Eighteen.

Even once Cinder does fix the android, does Kai take this android that supposedly is so important and he's been so desperate for into a private room where he can finally learn if it has the answers he's been waiting the whole book for? You know, the answers that might save his skin and free him from the clutches of the evil Levana?

No. He doesn't. He asks the android if Cinder is still around and leaves to chat her up. In fact, I'm pretty sure we never, ever get a scene with him checking on his android for that information.

So, despite being integral to the story and Kai’s one way to save himself, at times the android feels like it almost gets forgotten by Cinder, sometimes by Kai, and the book. But it wasn’t forgotten by me. And that was very frustrating. The way the android had been set up in the first chapter as being important, ignoring the android for so much of the novel meant I felt the early chapters had set up false premises.

In the end what we get in Cinder is a sci-fi plot that sometimes feels neglected for a romance and a romance that never gets developed because too much time is spent with the sci-fi elements. Rather than one plot building up the other and vice versa, when Meyer takes time to build up one, it’s too often at the expense of the other.

And that brings us to the end of part two. While I do feel this structural imbalance between romance and sci-fi was probably the biggest problem for the book, there’s one other problem I want to talk about before we start talking solutions. So, next week, we’re gonna talk about by boy, the prince and then emperor himself, Kai.

What did you think about the sci-fi plot in Cinder? Did it work for you? What was your favourite part of worldbuilding Meyer introduced in The Lunar Chronicles? I’m not sure what my favourite worldbuilding was. There was a tiny detail I appreciated, which was how Lunars don’t really light matches or start fires because it would use up their air supply. See? That’s a nice worldbuilding detail Meyer included.

That’s it for this post. If you enjoyed this, I hope you’ll turn in for part three, coming soon!

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