Headscratchers: The Books of Ember

aka: The City Of Ember
I only saw The Film of the Book, but there was some Fridge Logic in there that I wonder if it was in the book. I understand the Builders not wanting people to go to the surface for 200 years, but why such a convoluted plan where so much could go wrong? I mean the whole thing with the boats and the secret rooms upon secret rooms and the wheels getting stuck and the dangerous rapids. Why not just hide a giant elevator that you need the cards to operate?
  • You can only hope it's a bad, bad, bad movie based on a good book. I didn't read the book, but if it has the same wallbanging plot holes, it's not worth being used as fuel. Bad escape route? Instead, ask yourself:
  • Where are the telephones gone? No more that ten years before the events, there should have been quite a number (Lina keeps an automatic secretary cassette with her father's voice). No longer than a decade, and they use runners as voice messengers?
    • This leads to Fridge Brilliance. Electricity is scarce and valuable to produce light, so to conserve energy probably only wealthy people can afford the energy for telephones. As for the secretary cassette, it was powered by Lina pedaling, so they would not have to pay for the electricity.
    • In addition, they have a whole society of people, most of whom have nothing useful to do except recycle their dwindling supplies. People with nothing to do get *really* antsy. This troper assumed right off that runners exist only in order to keep young people busy.
    • The phones weren't in the book. They were in the movie for a plot point though, so they came, served their purpose and left.
  • A two-century old wooden water rail, in a cavern no less? And still so solid?
    • Again, this was added to the movie to add drama. I suppose they chose wood because it was lighter, so easier to move, than stone or metal.
  • Where is knowledge? They have computers (or what else opens the door when they use the plastic key, or keeps the year count in the case?), but every bit of human knowledge is in crumbling books. Way to go.
    • The Builders probably attributed the conflict that started the wars to people becoming lazy because of technology. Also, they didn't want to have the citizens of Ember to have knowledge of the outside world, because that could cause them to try to leave and, y'know, die.
    • This was probably down to bad planning on the Builders' parts, or possibly the Mayors of Ember deliberately erased the data on computers.
  • Weapons. Probably Ember was meant to be a Utopic peaceful place, but huge bugs and mammoth moles would make guns a requisite to survival. And no one knows what lurks outside. That brings us to...
    • There were no bugs or moles to provide Nightmare Fuel in the book, in case you were wondering.
  • No one knows what is outside. The survivors are not prepared to face an open world. I'd bet they won't survive a single winter.
    • One of the books says that Ember was built in California, so winter shouldn't exactly be a big problem. However, in the fourth book they do experience a winter... so yeah (probably post-nuclear climate change or something).
  • Obviously, we are ignoring the fact they should have been dead for lack of sunlight (that, if you wonder, is required for many biological processes).
    • Also, I'm no doctor but since they spent their whole life in a dimly-lit underground city, I'm pretty sure the powerful sun will have blinded them, at least temporarily.
    • It sort of does, temporarily. In The People of Sparks (when the majority of Ember arrives on the surface) everyone is shocked and stunned by the sun, which I assume would amount to flash blindness.
    • The entire plan The Builders came up with is extremely patronizing. Don't tell anyone about world history so they don't feel bad? Check. Have the jobs be assigned by lottery instead of merit so people who aren't very skilled don't feel bad? Check. Set up an incredibly convoluted system so no one could possibly trigger an exodus early and have only one person in possession of the instructions? Totally in character.
  • In his review, Roger Ebert pointed out the fact that the whole city has been lit for two centuries by unreachable light bulbs, the kind that barely last half a decade nowadays.
    • Light bulbs can last for far longer than half a decade.
  • Again this is coming from a Troper who saw only The Film of the Book, but where did that giant mole come from?
    • This troper's guess is that they were somehow shrunk down to minuscule size so as to require fewer resources, which might make sense if civilization were collapsing from a shortage of resources. What just bugs me is this: at the end of the film, we see the protagonists, having made it to the surface, look straight down upon Ember through a very deep hole in the ground. Doesn't this suggest that Ember should have rained every time it rained above?
  • Another thing to think about is how the three kids reached the surface and then walked off into the sunset. How on earth are they going to survive on the surface alone for the time it takes for everyone else to come join them?
    • It's been a year or so since I read the sequel, but IIRC they're up there for a day or so, and the lady who supported them has the note they dropped, so after a while the rest of Ember comes up to the surface the same way Lina and Doon did, or something very similar, and then they run into a group of surface-dwelling people who grudgingly teach them how to survive.
    • A troper who has recently reread the books is now chiming in. I don't know anything about giant moles, but the Emberites were placed below ground because the war had broken out, and the likelihood of anyone surviving was slim. After the world had nearly been destroyed by technology, the Builders made an effort to keep the Emberites away from any knowledge, Adam and Eve style. They couldn't even make fire, because that would be dangerous.
    • And yeah, the escape plan could have used a bit more backup. I mean, sure, the magic box with clearly marked instructions was given to the Mayor, but humans are naturally corrupt, and they should have forseen something like the seventh Mayor stealing/losing the box.
    • The rest of the series is about the Emberites trying to adapt to an above-ground society. They migrate to the village of Sparks, where the people reject them, and we get to learn a whole Aesop about the nature of wars and humanity's instinctive hatred of all that is different. One of the things that causes friction between Sparks and Ember is that the Emberites are, for all intents and purposes, useless. Imagine you being transported back in time to a rustic, countryside setting. You might have all sorts of cool concepts ("Hey, guys, you can make electricity to do all this stuff for you!") but you wouldn't actually know how to implement them ("What do you mean, there are no batteries?"). Meanwhile, you'd need to be earning your keep doing hard labor you are unused to, in the blazing sun. That's how it went with the technologically advanced, but helpless, Emberites.
    • And then it all gets fixed, anyway, in the fourth book, where we discover the amazing properties of solar-powered diamonds. No, really.
    • Solar-powered diamonds FROM SPACE!
    • Did no one else notice that there was circuitry in the diamonds? The actual diamonds were just there to diffuse the light. And they weren't from space.
    • Umm, why didn't they bring any of the technology with them from Ember?
    • Things got bad really fast at the end, basically, and it's amazing anybody got out. (I believe it's made clear in the fourth book that some people didn't, in fact, get out in all the chaos.)
  • It Just Bugs Me! that so many Tropers who haven't read the book are posting under the book entry... but that's rampant, and not just in this entry.
    • Maybe because there is no trope page for the movie?
  • There's no romance between Doon and Lina, not even a little nod. It's a Missed Moment Of Romance.
    • I think this was intentional by the author so that focus could be put on the plot and not "Ohmygosh, does he love me?" (just look how messed up The Hunger Games' love triangle got.) I don't remember how old they were in the books, but Lina and Doon see each other as very close friends. Also, in the epilogue of the fourth book, when they're older and probably more open to romance, there's a line that says "a look went between them, like a current of electricity," and it's mentioned that they get a house together.
  • The way they choose people's careers in Ember. Kids basically pull a piece of paper from a bag and hope they get something they have some skill in. The generator is failing, supplies are running out, and the best way they can think of to assign jobs is the luck of the draw. You would think it would make more sense to assign people with some actual skill with machines or mechanics to work on the generator, since it's so key to their survival.
    • I second this.
    • Well, the current Mayor is not the sharpest tool in the shed. His goal seems to be to maintain morale and hope things fix themselves. He figures drawing jobs out of a hat is fair, since it's unbiased. The problem is, in a survivalist society you kinda have to be a little biased towards people with the skills necessary to keep things going.
    • Lina and Doon trade their jobs as a Messenger and a Pipe Worker respectively. I think a blind eye is deliberately turned to this because as long as the jobs are done, who cares who does them?
    • I don't think the current Mayor came up with the idea. It's probably been part of the town from the beginning, which is in keeping with the characterization of The Builders and their odd ideas for keeping everyone happy.
    • None of the jobs mentioned in the book require much talent or know-how: you don't need to have a special aptitude for collecting garbage or delivering messages. The only "sophisticated" career mentioned in the book is electrician, but even in that case, it's explained that they just replace broken parts instead of proactively trying to keep the generator running. Also, Lina's boss mentions that there's an evaluation after five years and people can switch jobs then. The Emberites have been sheltered all their lives while their society slowly declines: they've never had to do anything more than maintain their world for so long that all the knowledge to fix anything has been lost and the whole concept is absurd to them. They even read the Builders' book as a sort of bible and just assume that they'll be saved again.
  • In the second book, one of the attempted projects was making a creek so they could swim in it. But wait, how would the Emberites be able to swim?
    • I guess some of the Sparks could teach them or had taught them?
  • One last thing: at the end, they reach the surface... by cascading DOWN a river which is already located near the city, dozens if not hundreds of meters under ground. How do they end up on the surface?
    • Stairs. Hundreds and hundreds of stairs that the Builders purposely built far away from the city so that no one would find their way out of Ember until the time was right.
      • Also, a set of switchbacks was explicitly mentioned in the books.
  • In the film, what were the Builders thinking when they built the funhouse ride out? Were they giggling to themselves about how many of their older descendants would have heart attacks on their way out?
    • Lina says something to Doon during the boat ride about taking a path leading to the right - I couldn't see what was going on very well due to the lighting and the disorienting camera shots...but I'm pretty sure had they gone to the right, the river would've taken them to a lss-tumultuous way out...though how Lina can tell that before even seeing where it leads, I'm not sure. In any case, Doon ends up breaking the steering mechanism that controls the rudder, so they end up taking the bumpty ride out. I presume they included this in the note they dropped back down toward the city.
  • The generator is on fire. This is bad. But the generator appears to be run off a gravity-powered paddle wheel. So what's exactly on fire, and why do the lights stay on (even intermittently) during and after the fire?
    • Probably whatever converts the energy of the paddle wheel to electricity. Or maybe some electrical cables with bald patches sparked and some rubber/wood/lube oil/whathaveyou caught fire.
  • The female protagonist of the third book. In the epilogue, she is somewhat elderly and chosen to be one of the very few original inhabitant of Ember. Why is she chosen? Unless she has some indispensable skill such as incredible engineering or agricultural knowledge, which she is not stated as having, she does not makes sense as someone to be part of the city. It is difficult for women to safely have healthy children at 40+ and nearly impossible without medical help at 60+. For any society to last further than a generation, the people in it must either be able to reproduce at sustainable numbers or have immigration to supplement their population.
    • Wasn't her dad involved in the building of it or something? Don't remember too well.
    • I just recently re-read the ending of the first book, so I think I can explain this: 1) The protagonist of the third book is the one who leaves behind the journal that Lina and Doon eventually find in the first book; in this journal, she states that part of why she thinks she was chosen was that she lived on a farm. 2) ALL of the adults that go are over sixty; they are not expected to reproduce, but are each given an infant to care for and raise. They are also partnered with another adult to form a sort of family. There are 100 adults and 100 infants that are originally sent to Ember. The reason that the adults are all older is that so by the time the babies are in their twenties or so, all of the previous generation that remembers life outside of Ember will be gone so that soon no one remembers the truth of the city.
  • Would anyone who's seen the movie and understands this mind explaining to me the sidestory involving Lina's and Doon's fathers trying to escape from Ember? I've seen the film dozens of times, and I do enjoy it...but I've never been able to understand this one portion of it. From what I can gather, Ray and Loris tried to follow the river to escape the city using a tunneling contraption Loris made, but their plan failed after, according to Clary, they "hit it too early" and the tunnel flooded, resulting in Ray drowning and Loris giving up. The questions I have, however, are as follows:
    • Why is the machine they used to try and get out hidden in the greenhouse? Is that where the tunnel that flooded began? If so, why when Lina and Doon end up following it during the film's climax does it just take them to the trash heaps?
    • The river is shown to flow deep beneath even Ember underground, through the generator room in the Pipeworks, while the greenhouses are built on the surface. If the same river is what flooded the tunnel they'd created, how would they have even managed to get deep enough underground for it to do that, and how did Loris manage to escape while Ray ended up drowning?
    • What is with the relationship between Doon and his father? The beginning of the film shows clearly how Doon is optimistic and hopeful with regards to being able to help fix the city, while his dad behaves much more cynically about it, no doubt due to what happened to Ray. But then Doon hears his father's voice on Lina's answering machine, talking about how watching Doon apparently is what convinced him to aid in Ray's plot to leave the city. Doon confronts his father about the revelation, and Loris asks him why he would ever want to leave the city, to which Doon replies, "Because of me."...What does he mean by that? Was Loris ashamed of his son for some reason and wanted to abandon him...or did he maybe want to find a better life for him outside of Ember? The movie never really clarifies anything beyond that point, and it's left me really confused on the matter.
  • What is "The Weapon" that they bring out at the end of the second book? I read the description numerous times trying to figure out what it was, but I'm not very good as visualizing, I'm afraid.

Alternative Title(s):

The City Of Ember