Headscratchers / The Books of Ember
aka: The City Of Ember

     Flaws in the plan 
  • 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?
    • The same problems you have listed were also present in the book, but I think you're making them out to be a lot worse than they truly are. Firstly, a majority of the issues the main characters come across in their attempt to escape is that the instructions are in pieces due to Lina's sister Poppy chewing on them. Thus, not only do they have to figure out for themselves what words are being used, but also in what context and therefore what they could mean. Also, the Bulders had to make the way out more convoluted than a simple door to ensure that no one would come across it by accident or before the time was right, the water wheel getting jammed was due to the entire cit operating 41 years past the day it was supposed to, and the wild, rickety ride out is discussed below.

  • 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.
    • It's pretty likely that at some point all of the telephones in Ember simply broke and stopped working, at which point none of the Emberites knew how to fix them and just threw them out and resorted to messengers.

     Wooden rail ride 
  • 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.
    • Where do you get the idea that the Emberites had access to computers? The card keys unlocking the door was something the Builders designed - there's no reason to assume that the residents of the city would've known or had access to it. And the inner workings of a clock tower are a lot simpler than a full-on computer.

  • 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.
    • There were no bugs or moles to provide Nightmare Fuel in the book, in case you were wondering.
    • The Builders had no idea what would become of Ember - they couldn't have figured that radioactive, mutated moles would have ever come into the picture.

     Lack of sunlight 
  • How are the Emberites not all dead already due to a lack of sunlight?
    • 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.

     Light bulbs 
  • 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.
    • Even our best LE Ds last thirty years at the most. Still strange. But this takes place in the future, maybe they have better lightbulbs.
    • Also, what makes you say the bulbs are unreachable? You take a stepladder to the roof of any given building, and you can probably reach and replace any one of them pretty easily.

     Giant wildlife 
  • 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?
    • The mole and the moth seen in the film were both supposed to be taken as being caused by radiation from the wars that had been waged on the surface - if the modern technology we have today is any indication, the wars were most likely nuclear. Obviously, the moth could travel through the crack in the cavern's ceiling, and moles pretty much make their livings underground anyway.

     Surviving on the surface 
  • 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.

     Bringing it with them 
  • 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.)
    • Not to mention, most of the technology was either too big (stoves, fridges, etc.), and even what wasn't would've been useless without electricity to power it. They didn't have any portable forms of light, remember?

     Assignment Day 
  • 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?

     Reaching the surface 
  • 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.

     Riding out 
  • 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.

     Why was she chosen? 
  • 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.

     Further precautions 
  • Why didn't the Builders take any more precautions to ensure the box wouldn't fall into obscurity like it did in the film? The book answered this question better by having the box be stored in the mayoral office in the basement of the gathering hall, and by explaining that Lina's great-great-she-doesn't-know-how-many-greats-grandfather took it from there without telling anyone because he thought it held something that would save him from sickness. The movie, however, has each mayor seemingly carry the box everywhere with them, and the one holding it when it was lost simply drops dead.

     Sul's job 
  • How could Sul not know where the key to the generator room is when his job whenever a problem with the pressure occurs is to go and fix the water wheels, which are in the generator room? Wouldn't a job like that require knowledge of how to get in?

  • Why didn't the Builders just call the instructions the "Intructions for Exit", instead of using such a comparatively complicated word? I don't know many people who would even know what 'egress' means, and if it's urgent for people to leave the city once 200 years have passed, shouldn't the mayor be able to have an instant idea of what the instructions are for as soon as the box opens?

     Building the city 
  • In the film, how did the Builders get down to the city and back up to the surface while they were building it? In the book, it's implied that they cut a path leading down into the Unknown Regions and a tunnel that led outside, but in the movie, that path was replaced by just a crack in the ground, that now opens up onto the top of the cavern rather than into its side, so there was no way the Builders could've used it to build the city unless they built some sort of pulley system or something, which seems inefficient.

  • Considering that the Disaster was made so disastrous due to such technological advancements in terms of warfare, why would the Builders think it smart to give the world a jump-start into those same kinds of advancements by leaving the diamonds behind for the Emberites to use? Especially since their intention was for them to be found when they first emerged from underground, i.e., before the disputes with the inhabitants of the surface world?

Alternative Title(s): The City Of Ember