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From: Ron Crown <crownrw@slu.edu>
Subject: (urth) All the Hues of Hell
Date: Thu, 03 Jul 1997 09:30:42 

[Posted from URTH, a mailing list about Gene Wolfe's New Sun and other works]

Alga mentioned a while back that The Island of Doctor Death and Other
Stories and Other Stories is coming out soon and would be fun to
discuss.  I've been reading a couple of Wolfe short stories reprinted in
David Hartwell's The Ascent of Wonder anthology and thought maybe a
discussion of these could jump start us with short stories.


The first story is the one mentioned in the subject line.  For those of
you who haven't read it or may have forgotten it, the story is about a
crew of three, two humans and one mechanical being of some type (this is
one you have to suss out for yourself, BTW, though considering it's
Wolfe, the clues are fairly obvious), investigating while in orbit
around it a world of "shadow matter"(dark matter?).  While observing the
shadow planet they discover a humaniform being of some type, capture it
and bring it on board their vessel.  One of the human characters thinks
he is dead and that the vessel has actually reached Hell and its never
made clear (at least not to me) whether this character is actually dead
or (as the crew robot claims) insane.

Anyway, the main question for me is the ending.  The crew has a pet
macaw (named Polyaris; can anyone think of other Wolfe stories with
birds who figure importantly, Oreb is obviously one) who suddenly begins
a screech that signals "Danger! Fire! Flood! INVASION and CATASTROPHE!"
The shadow being then begins to change color from an original "dusty
pinkish brown" fading to gray and then white.  He then curls into a
fetal position.

At the same time the female crew member, who is carrying the male crew
member's child has not observed any of this but is touching her belly
and says "It moved [i.e. the fetus]! It just moved.  I felt life!"  End
of story.

The editors blurb compares this ending to the end of 2001 but it seems
to me there is a little more going on here, though as is usual with
Wolfe, I'm not sure what.  For one thing, there seems to be some sort of
parallel being drawn between the female crew member's pregnancy and the
crew's vessel (named the _Egg_) being fertilized (?) by the shadow
creature (representing a sperm? I'll have to go back and check the
description) coming on board the vessel.  The shadow being is kept in
some type of stasis field, not called that but referred to as a "yolk;"
this "yolk" only appears when the shadow being is brought on board.

And I haven't even mentioned the color imagery which is obviously of
great significance (see the title) but maybe this is enough to get some
discussion going.

BTW, the story is also found in _Endangered Species_.  The other story
in The Ascent of Wonder is "Procreation" but I'll leave that for another
time as this has gotten long enough already.

Ron Crown

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