At first life seems good in Pristina, the aptly named community Owen labors to develop. He has his workers subscribe to a number of morally admirable principles involving Clarity, Unity and Purpose. The pragmatic results of these principles involve the dignity of labor, a ban on alcohol, gambling and tobacco, and perhaps more surprisingly a proscription against "Superstition" (or "Artificial Knowledge"), which includes all religions. Owen's world revolves not just around his workers and the Pristina community but also around Victoria, his loving daughter, and Dolores, his not-quite-so-loving wife. Factor starts her narrative with the birth of Victoria and ends it 23 years later, at Owen's death. In between we learn of the difficulties in mining mercury, of Victoria's strong attachment both to her father and to the idea of Pristina, and of Dolores' dissatisfaction with domesticity; she much prefers the gentility of urban life to the physical and cultural isolation of the great Southwest. While Owen is for obvious reasons a strong proponent for the "magical" qualities of mercury, eventually the market price drops, and, much to Victoria's disgust, he finds himself forced to close one of the shafts and turn away from the principles Pristina was founded on.
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