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Literature / Green-Sky Trilogy

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This young-adult trilogy (Below the Root, And All Between, and Until the Celebration) was written by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. It spawned a video-game Sequel in Another Medium called Below the Root, which is considered canon.

After the End, a group of scientists and a shipload of war orphans left Earth That Was and travelled to a new planet. Generations later, their descendants have split into two separate and distinct cultures. The Kindar live in a Tree Top Town, have Psychic Powers at an early age (which are fading), and have no knowledge of violence whatsoever, and the best they can express of unhappy feelings is "unjoyful."

Historically, some Kindar and a few of the scientist leaders — including the ones who created the entire complex structure of Kindar society — believed the kids should be brought up so that when they're old enough to handle it, they would be told about their history and what violence is, so that they will want to avoid it. After a debate, these mavericks were trapped Beneath the Earth, and became the first Erdlings, while the leader of the dissident scientists suddenly died (hey, nothing suspicious about that, right?). Today, however, the Kindar are taught that the underground caverns are inhabited by Pash-shannote : monsters who steal and enslave (or eat) Kindar, especially orchard workers and children who fall out of the trees. The only ones who know the history are the Ol-zhaan — leaders, counselors, healers, judges and priests — who are believed to have infinitely superior wisdom and Spirit power.

Protagonist Raamo is a young Kindar who is elevated to the ranks of this elite priesthood, keepers of the ancient secrets. A fellow Ol-zhaan confides his accidental discovery of an inner circle, the ones responsible for exiling the Erdlings. Things get shaken up even more when an Erdling named Teera escapes and is discovered by Raamo and his friend, and becomes BFFs with Raamo's ill sister Pomma, subsequently triggering massive upheaval in both societies.

Examples of:

  • Actual Pacifist: Your character, in the game. If you're facing a hostile that wants to kidnap you, normally the only thing you can do is run away. Late in the game you can find a machete that's supposed to be used for cutting through undergrowth. You can go on a killing spree with it, though, if you don't mind watching your mana go poof and the game becoming Unwinnable by Design.
  • Agent Mulder: Neric. The closest thing to a cynic this society has, he's been questioning the social setup and working on breaking the big conspiracy from inside the Ol-Zhaan for a couple years before Raamo and Genaa come into the picture. Green-sky society has a strict social class system called "honor ranking". By this system, Neric is trailer trash. His parents were "wasted" Berry addicts living on charity. He was Chosen to become an Ol-Zhaan believing he'd be so grateful that he would never question anything.
  • Agent Scully: Genaa. She has no psionic ability, accepts Ol-Zhaan privilege readily, and has a burning hate for the Pash-shan she thinks stole her father. It takes a while to convince her of the extent she had been lied to. Her father was Director of the Academy, an inventor with an extremely high rank, and she's used to a high-class life.
  • All Your Powers Combined: The thought-dead power of Uniforce, two or more people using their Psychic Powers in concert.
  • Ambiguously Brown: The Erdlings, sort of. One of the striking things about Teera's appearance when Raamo and Neric first find her is how dark her skin is. Apparently this is because the Erdlings spend a lot of time in places where the sunlight can get through the Root, though they can't. The Kindar, meanwhile, are largely protected by the canopy; orchard workers like Raamo's father wear protective clothing when they have to work in the sun.
    Neric: You should see [Teera]…They have dressed her in one of [Pomma's] shubas and arranged her hair more normally, and one would scarcely notice her on any branchpath in Green-sky.…Even her skin seems to be a more normal shade now. Do you know what she says caused its darkness?…The sunlight…she explained that all Erdlings…spend many hours daily in the areas where the tunnels run between the aisle of the orchard trees. And the sun, she says, falling down between the grillwork of Root, quickly turns skin to that strange golden hue.
  • The Atoner: D'ol Falla
  • Awful Truth: (several of them)
  • Bamboo Technology: Very literal. All the Kindar tools, buildings, and technology is based on natural items. In-game,however, the limitations are shown explicitly. Honey lamps have a limited use time and are prone to going out at random. Trencher beaks used for cutting thick brush also tend to break at the worst possible time. Only the Spirit Lamp (implied to be an artifact from the Earth That Was) and the Erdling made "Wand of Befal" (machete) don't break or go out at random.
  • Batman Gambit: D'ol Falla had intended Raamo to be a Reluctant Ruler. The only one who could set things right was someone who wouldn't be caught up in the trappings of power.
  • Big Good: D'ol Falla and (in the backstory) D'ol Neshom.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Many of the "alien" terms are German, French, Latin, or Hebrew.
  • Brain Drain: Implied, and Fridge Brilliance on Snyder's part. Genaa's dad, is one of many highly intelligent people who disappeared after getting too curious about the true nature of the "pash-shan". Erda has many craftsmen and engineers who are described as creatively brilliant; the architectural genius of the Kindar, seen in their temples and public halls, belongs to the distant wistful past. Many banished Kindar, whatever their former profession, become teachers in the lower world — although many of them were teachers. Or scientists. They are valued in the cavern schools because they can read and write — a precious skill in a world without books (they write on slates or carve stone). In Teera's experience, math is even more important in school than literacy. All the STEM is happening down there.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": A rabbit is a lapan, a monkey is a sima and at the very end D'ol Falla says "we should all be the Zhaan, the people" (les gens). Snyder simply says they are descendants of a colony from another world, but it's pretty clear that world is Earth and the colonists were primarily German and French. There is a bit of Hebrew in the mix as well, with people named Neshom ("soul"), Teera ("enclosed") and Kanna (Chana, "beautiful"). She does a fairly good job of demonstrating linguistic drift over many centuries. Genaa's dad's name is Hiro, usually a Japanese name, but it's also Greek, a takeoff on "Chairo", and illustrator Alton Raible drew him and his daughter as dark Caucasians.
  • Chekhov's Gun: very literal version
  • Crapsaccharine World
  • Disappeared Dad: Genaa is on a search for hers.
  • Disney Villain Death / Heroic Sacrifice: Raamo, ironically suffering a villain's usual death as his heroic sacrifice.
  • Double Speak: Most notably, the Kindar lump all negative emotions under the heading of "unjoyfulness" (which is to be avoided).
  • Ear Worm: The Answer Song. Its irregular rhythm, Word Salad Lyrics and goofy melody delight children and drive Raamo crazy. Raamo, asked to meditate and reach out for psychic clues, can't stop singing it. There's a clear implication that he is picking up a message from the late founder D'ol Nesh-om. Because only the Kindar have the song, Nesh-om may even have written it before his untimely demise.
  • Elves Versus Dwarves: In a lot of ways. Although it's also plain that they once were one people.
  • Emotions vs. Stoicism: The Erdlings versus the Kindar, although the Kindar are less stoics than just repressed. This divide could actually be traced back to the Erdlings' ancestors being dissidents who wanted to teach the full, ugly history of their ancestry, and the concept of "negative" emotions whereas the Kindar were descended from those who stayed ignorant - willfully or otherwise.
  • Empire with a Dark Secret: The Ol-Zhaan hierarchy.
  • The Evils of Free Will: Inverted and on display. Essentially, the layers of complex ritual, meditations, and the embarrassing stigma of "unjoyful" emotions did a pretty good job of getting the Kindar to a place where any kind of questioning their place or path was unthinkable. This is outright shown to be stifling their Psychic Powers and world in general.
  • Expy: Anyone who has read Snyder's earlier work The Changeling will recognize not only The Land of the Green Sky, but Martha Abbott and Ivy Carson.
  • False Utopia: Played straight at first, and then cheerfully Subverted. Yes, the Kindar society was perfect on the surface, rotting from within, but the pacifist foundations of both Kindar and Erdling society made things much smoother than they could have been. By the end of the third book, and certainly at the end of the game, the society is certainly on its way to ditching the "false" label.
  • Fantastic Honorifics: "D'ol," which turns out to be a corrupted form of "Doctor." (Likely Docteur, with the uvular fricative "r" in French evolving into an "l" sound).
  • Fantastic Racism: There are tensions between the dark-skinned Erdlings and the pale Kindar, although that's more cultural than ethnic. For example, the Erdlings are hunters and the Kindar are vegetarians, and the Emotions vs. Stoicism debate. There's also the fact some Erdlings resent the Kindar for their exile beneath the ground (Befal and followers want violent retribution). And it's hard for many Kindar to get past the archetype of the dreaded Pash-shan monsters they'd always assumed were real. One Rejoyner said, some Kindar are trying "to think 'Erdling,' but they feel ' Pash-shan '".
  • Fantasy Contraception: The "youth wafers." A shrub grows in the higher branches of the city-trees, is pressed into wafers, used by the Kindar for birth control. Because a similar herb isn't available among the Erdlings, they end up suffering from overpopulation issues.
  • Freedom from Choice: The Kindar have their future professions decided for them when they finish their formal education at the age of 13. They're asked what they would like to be, and very rarely someone might be so unhappy as to apply for a change and get it. Novice Ol-zhaan are steered into specialties after a few months, and they don't get to choose either.
  • The Game of the Book: Came out in 1984 and is probably the oldest example of this trope being used as a canonical sequel for a book. You can still find copies of it on abandonware sites and run it via a C64 emulator like Vice; also it's possible to configure Raspberry Pi Zero to run it using Vice.
  • Get It Over With: Neric, the closest thing the series has to a cynic and Deadpan Snarker, all but challenges Salaat and Regle to go ahead and set off the bomb at the end of the second book.
  • Government Drug Enforcement: Wissenberries, a "sacred" herb that is widely used as a narcotic; even to the point of passing them out in school to keep the kids docile. Neric's parents "wasted" to death on them.
  • Growing Up Sucks: Ironically, the entire society of Green-sky, every aspect of its culture was deliberately and consciously designed so that growing up would not suck. And it worked. Psychic ability manifested in even the first generation on the new world. For centuries the people kept these inborn Psychic Powers into adulthood, but by the time of the story most children lose them at six or even earlier. Everybody goes around wondering why the kids are losing their ESP so young. It didn't used to be this way, did it? Have another Berry and don't worry about it. The Ol-zhaan will figure it out, right? But even they haven't made the connection (or maybe some of them have) that the ESP goes off just about the time kids start eating a lot of Berries to suppress illegal "unjoyful" emotions. They also learn mindblocking to protect others from said emotions.
  • Happiness Is Mandatory: Unless you like living in caves for the rest of your life. And this isn't just in the backstory — nonconformers and questioners are still being banished underground. One of the first things we learn is that more and more Kindar, especially academic researcher types and harvesters (some of whom report seeing and even speaking with the "Pash-shan") are being "taken by the Pash-shan". Genaa's dad is "taken" while investigating the disappearances.
  • Hidden Mechanic: The game is loaded with these, none of which are explained in the manual, but make perfect sense if you read the books. NPCs could treat your character very differently, based on selection of avatar, something now taken for granted in role playing games, but nearly unheard of in 1984. Also, Kindar characters got little nutrition and took a hit to their spirit stat if they ate meat, but Erdlings were not affected. Erdling characters got hit much harder by wissenberries, the narcotic berry that Kindar developed a tolerance for. There was also an Unwinnable by Design mechanic where using the Wand of Befal (machete) against a living being made your spirit stat decrease permanently.
  • Hi, Mom!: In the midst of the Choosing Celebration, Raamo's first thought is of his family in the massive crowd, and he sends them a telepathic greeting even though he assumes they won't be able to receive it (though Pomma might). In fact, it's significant, because Neric picks it up and "chooses" him also, to help with his own investigation.
  • Holy Child: Pomma and Teera are immediately enshrined as this when they prove capable of uniforce. Deprived of the Ol-zhaan, who have all stepped down, the people begin to revere the girls. Pomma reacts as kind of a Bratty Half-Pint while Teera becomes shy and fearful. They'd worship Raamo too, but he strongly rejects it and feels that all this reverence will cause great harm to all the people, not just the girls.
    • Becomes an actual mechanic in the game. While other characters like Neric (Kindar) or Herd (Erdling) will sometimes get a chilly reception from some NPCs, Pomma is given friendly treatment from all but the overtly malicious NPCs.
  • Humans Are Psychic in the Future: Kindar and Erdlings alike. The spirit skills have been fading among the Kindar, but they remain at a common baseline among the Erdlings. Most people retain some mild empathic ability. The Ol-zhaan, who are supposed to be able to read every thought, are practically mindblind.note  Genaa is actually considered a bit odd for having no psionic ability at all, which makes her the most difficult character in the game adaptation. Neric can pick up strongly sent thoughts; Raamo is unusual for being able to both send and receive.
  • Lighting Bug: As fire would be a bad idea in the Kindar grunds, lighting is provided by baiting bioluminescent moths to lamps using honey. As a game mechanic, this makes honey lamps common, but they have a limited use and tend to extinguish without warning, leaving a character in the dark without another light source.
  • Lightworlder: Green-Sky's gravity is gentle enough that a toddler falling from the treetops is merely injured. The Kindar are generally "willowy and light-boned" as a result, although we see some overweight people. The Erdlings, due to their generations underground, are "sturdy" and stockier. This also factors in as a game mechanic, as you cannot fall to your death.
  • Kleptomaniac Hero: Totally averted in the game. Walk into someone's house, or find a named object, and you have to ask the object's current owner in order to obtain it.
  • Knight Templar: Most of the Ol-Zhaan in general. The Geets-kel in spades.
  • Language Drift:
    • Kindar and Erdlings can understand each other, but have developed different regional accents over time. The Kindar think that Erdlings speak in "softly slurring" accents, while Erdlings perceive Kindar speech as "curiously crisp", "sharp and sudden".
    • As seen above, a lot of the "alien" terminology in the books is a cross of French, German, and Hebrew that was subject to this. For example, "D'ol" used to be "Doctor."
  • Living Lie Detector: In the game, your character can do this when they learn telepathy. That guy kindly offering you a place to sleep for the night may be thinking "The reward is mine!"
    • You can also detect people's auras by pensing their emotions. If said person's aura is "Untrustworthy" or "Malicious" GET OUT OF THERE.
    • In the books, people will use mindspeech to guarantee to their interlocutors that they're telling the truth, because it's impossible to lie in mindspeech.
  • Magic by Any Other Name: "Spirit skills". In the game, the Psychic Powers were expanded to things like growing plants instantly (in the book, "grunspreking" takes a bit longer).
  • The Magic Goes Away: Practically the first thing we learn about the decline of Kindar society is that children are losing their Psychic Powers instead of retaining and increasing them with maturity. In the third book The Magic Comes Back.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Dr. (D'ol) Wissen is outright named to have endorsed some shady stuff, and implied to have a hand in a lot more.
  • Never Say "Die": The Kindar, being pacifists, tend to use "dead" as a verb instead of saying "kill." (And cringe while doing so.)
  • Newspeak
  • Nude-Colored Clothes: Teera's rescuers weren't sure if she was wearing clothing until they approached. She had on a jacket and trousers made of rabbit fur — and they thought it was hers. The fact that the "Pash-shan" monsters are supposed to be furry beasts contributed to this perception. For a split second they must have wondered if she were the offspring of a Pash-shan and a Kindar captive.
  • Out of Sight, Out of Mind: The tool-of-violence is built in a way that would be extremely dangerous if dismantled. The society decides to enclose it in a lead-lined urn and drop it down a deep underground hole.
  • Not Quite Flight: The planet's gravity is light enough that it's possible to glide by wearing a garment called a shuba (a bodysuit with built-in artificial patagia, or membrane; think what flying squirrels have, or just look at the book cover on this page).
  • The Omniscient Council of Vagueness: the Ol-zhaan
  • Perfect Pacifist People: The Kindar, although the Ol-zhaan are more in the "technical" category. They have no qualms about sending dissenters to what they believe is certain death.
    • The Erdlings are mostly pacifists, but there are a few rotten pan-fruits like Befal. An Ol-Zhaan also pulls out a "tool-of-violence", implied to be a gun or bomb, when the Rejoyners make it known they're going public.
  • Power Trio: Raamo, Neric and Genaa. D'ol Falla was even told in a prophetic dream to watch for three young people.
  • The Reveal: that the evil Pash-shan are really the normal human being Erdlings.
  • Scavenger World: Snyder never gets explicit about this, but she does go into considerable detail about how their great public buildings, palaces and temples involve some pretty complex engineering and were all built by teams joining their telekinetic powers together to lift heavy stuff. That ability, called uniforce, has been lost for many generations. Again, as with Brain Drain, she never says this, but since these buildings are all made out of wood and vine on a rainforest planet, and stuff deteriorates very fast in these environments, who's going to do the maintenance? Fortunately, we can assume The Magic Comes Back.
  • Secret Circle of Secrets: the Geets-kel are a subset of the Ol-zhaan who are totally in the know about who's been shoved underground and why.
  • Sequence Breaking: In the game, there are various hostile NPC encounters who will "kidnap" your character and imprison them in an otherwise inaccessible house. They're fairly easy to escape with a trencher beak (if you don't have the Temple Key or telekinesis), or the "wand of Befal" (machete). The "wand" is in the Nekom house. A strength booster is in the Salaat house. Since you lose no time by being captured and the houses are near useful spots in the game (base of Star Grund and top of Broad Grund), queue speed runs using being "captured" as a form of rapid transit.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism - Despite some of the nastier stuff that goes down, it bleeds idealism.
  • Silly Lapan, Cynicism Is For Losers!: The cynical Neric tells Raamo that Genaa cannot be trusted and is too steeped in Ol-Zhaan privilege to be sympathetic to their plans. Not only does Neric turn out to be wrong, but Genaa turns out to be the one with the tactical savvy to pull off their scheme.
  • Single-Biome Planet: It's a rainforest. Unless there's a huge ocean somewhere, the entire world as we know it is covered with gigantic trees, and it rains every night. The sky really is green and there are seven moons.
    • Oceans and other bodies of water are shown in the game. And in the book, there are huge lakes and rivers underground.
  • Squishy Wizard: Pomma in the game. She has a very high starting mana, and her status among Kindar and Erdling alike means she always gets a warm reception, but her endurance is terrible. She needs frequent rest and food until/unless you boost her strength.
  • Stand-In Parents: Neric's parents "wasted" to death from Berry addiction. To keep up appearances, the Ol-Zhaan appointed some servants to act as Neric's proud parents during his Year of Honor. This did absolutely nothing to endear Neric to Ol-Zhaan and made him even more convinced the whole social order was based on appearances and lies.
  • Stepford Smiler: Kindar do not believe in expressing "unjoyfulness." Or even in feeling it too strongly.
  • Stupid Sacrifice: The ending of the final book. Raamo, a telepath, is about to throw a deadly weapon into a huge underground lake (it's enclosed in a lead-lined urn, fortunately). Accompanying him are many hundreds of people from both cultures. Many still believe the weapon should be kept "just in case." Confused by their indecision, he slips and falls into the lake with the jar in his hands, "dying for their sins". This resulted in quite a bit of mail screaming "Why not just chuck the gun in there?!" The computer game continuation was a self-admitted Author's Saving Throw.
  • Stepford Suburbia: Kindar culture.
  • The Chosen One: Every year, two Garden graduates are Chosen as future Ol-zhaan. It's when Raamo doesn't respond to being worshipped as a demigod that Neric knows he can confide in him. He calls Raamo "Twice-chosen" for this reason.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Raamo, although it turns out that he really was Just Hiding.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Pomma is approximately eight years old and addicted to psychotropic berries. Nobody, other than her brother Raamo and their mother, seems massively concerned by this.
  • Unwanted False Faith and A God I Am Not: Raamo, in the books. He resists being adulated as an Ol-zhaan both before and after the Rejoyning, and keeps saying he's just a Kindar. And he is. At his Ol-zhaan Elevation ceremony he doesn't feel any different and responds to the crowd with this telepathic message: "No, do not look up to me. I am only Kindar like yourselves." D'ol Neric says this makes Raamo the perfect assistant for his investigation of the Geets-kel and the true nature of the Pash-shan. D'ol Falla says the whole civilization would have been better off if everybody had realized that they are all Kindar, or rather, Zhaan, the People, the one people of Green-sky.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: The original premise behind Kindar culture.
  • Veganopia: The Kindar, however, are not as superior as they'd like to believe.
  • Video Game Cruelty Punishment: There is a way to obtain a Wand of Befal (otherwise known as a machete). Using it on any living thing permanently lowers your mana, which can quickly render the game Unwinnable. However, Pomma can actually get away with one or two murders due to her high starting mana.
  • Wham Line: Pomma all but destroys a society when she announces "I know what the Pash-shan look like — they look just like Teera. Because Teera is a Pash-shan."
    • "My father was never ill. He was taken by the Pash-shan." Genaa reveals this to Raamo soon after they are Chosen, and it haunts him for a long time. He's never heard of this terrible fate happening to a grown man, a relative of someone he knows and a prominent member of Kindar society.
  • Wizard Needs Food Badly: In the game, your character needs food and regular sleep. Pomma's high starting mana is counterbalanced by her lack of endurance. A stronger character like Neric didn't need as frequent of naps or meals.

Alternative Title(s): Below The Root