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From: "Alice Turner" <al@interport.net>
Subject: (urth) Tracking Moon
Date: Sat, 2 Aug 1997 17:36:54 

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

in the US in a trade paperback. I had never read it before, though I have
read some of the famous stories collected otherwhere, for instance the
three famous Island/Doctor/Death stories and "Seven American Nights." But
there's a great deal of meat in this collection, and I hope we can chew on
it happily. I thought I might start things off with a discussion of
"Tracking Song," not a famous story (or at least I'd never heard of it). It
was published in 1980 in an anthology with a fairly significant title, IN
THE WAKE OF MAN. Spoilers galore follow, natch.

The format of "Tracking Song" seems to be completely conventional, the
adventures of a stranger in a strange land trying to find his way
home---just like Odysseus or Dorothy. The epigraph is from the Aeneid,
which has the same structure, though in it the hero is trying to find a
–new- home. This hero is known to us only as "Cutthroat," after a
birthmark, and he appears to have been a member of an anthropological
expedition studying a small planet just as its Ice Age is coming to an end.
Apparently, he fell off the "Great Sleigh," the expedition's planetary
vehicle, and, hitting his head in the fall, has lost his memory, though he
retains much of his training, including the language of this planet—which
has low gravity, two moons, remnants of a technological past and at least
five humanoid species, all living on a primitive, tribal subsistence level.
Or lower. All of these species serve as food for the others; the only other
food sources seem to be small animals and vegetation that grows under the

Cutthroat records his journal over 19 eventful days. He is found in the
snow by members of the Wiggikki tribe, taller and stronger than he. He
helps their women to kill a Lenizee girl for food, sees the giantess
Ketincha (wife to Ketin), then joins the menfolk in a killing raid on the
giant (apparently a different kind of giant) Nashwonk (Mankiller), who has
been killed "often before." Though Cutthroat acquits himself well, he is
turned out by the tribe because he has hair on his face and is therefore
"not a man"—i.e. he's potential food, so this is a well-meant gesture. With
a sail-powered sledge, he sets off westward on the well-marked track of the
Great Sleigh, hoping to overtake it.

He next encounters the short and stocky Pamigaka tribe, which also
recognizes him as from the Great Sleigh—which has laid some dietary
strictures on the tribe. They attack another, somewhat effeminate giant,
Mimmunka, with uncertain results; a man of the tribe dies and they prepare
to eat him. Cutthroat, disturbed at this, leaves after spending the night,
then picks up, along the track, Cim Glowing, a woman of yet another tribe,
who is also trying to overtake the Great Sleigh after the death of her
lover, whom she killed with her endieva wand, a futuristic weapon which may
electrocute victims (she says it "poisons" them, but game it kills can be
eaten). Cim slows down the sledge, which now seems to be only a short
distance behind the Great Sleigh. Cim suggests that he may not be one of
the off-worlders, but may only be dressed in their clothes.

That night, Cim is kidnapped by the Min, and Cutthroat is wounded in the
chest. He must decide whether to follow the Great Sleigh (rejecting Cim's
suggestion, he now sees himself as one of its crew) or to go after Cim, and
he does the latter, having had to destroy his sail to bind his wound. The
tall, thin Min live in a huge storeroom in a cavern infested with humanoid
vampire bats, one of whom tears Cutthroat's uniform. The Min area is filled
with mostly broken ancient machines, one of which comes to life and finds
some futuristic food cubes for Cutthroat. The Min have replaced many of
their own body parts with machine parts (hello Jonas, hello Rose). Stone
flowers lead to a ramshackle palace built of rubble, and before it a Min
places a strange forked shaft that Cutthroat grasps. They take him, as a
"perfect" man (Cim is not considered human) to their leader, a dwarf named
Mantru (He Who Rules) who claims to be the only true human on the planet
besides Cutthroat (the Min have not, apparently, encountered the Great
Sleigh expedition). They suggest that Cutthroat is the sole survivor of an
indigenous human village, and that he has the right to kill Cim, or anyone
else with his staff.

The Min imprison Cutthroat and Cim beneath the throneroom and release the
beautiful, graceful giant Ketin, hoping for a duel to the death. Instead,
they join forces and escape through a trapdoor. Cutthroat orders the three
machines that still function to dismantle the palace, provoking the dwarf
to appear with another forked staff. They duel, and the dwarf dies
(seemingly it is the staffs which duel rather than the men—Cutthroat feels
that "the fighting of the staffs was taking place outside the ordinary
world.") Cutthroat, Cim, Ketin and the three machines leave the cave and
continue on their journey, Cutthroat riding on the head of the most
talus-like of the machines. The machines die from the cold, one by one, and
 Cutthroat suffers the cold on his wound through the rent in his uniform.
Ketin kills a girl of yet another species for them to eat, then leaves. A
Pamigaka boy, Whiteapple, joins Cutthroat and Cim, but Cim turns back the
next day saying "I cannot love you as a husband" and that they have "little
chance" of finding the Great Sleigh. Then the Wiggikki Crookedleg joins
them, with a sail-sledge and a bow. Cutthroat intentionally leaves the
strange staff behind at the last camp. They eat the last of their food.
Cutthroat sees something that may be a spaceship.

The snow is melting and they must abandon the sledge. When Cutthroat cannot
walk further, the other two build a litter for him, but he drives them from
him by pretending to be afraid of them, and they continue without him. He
makes a little camp and the friendly beasts come out…and the Great Sleigh,
having circumnavigated the planet, comes toward him. "Who is that tall man
with you? I think he has…wings?"

Well, that last line will send Nutria into an eye-popping frenzy, I dare
say. There's St. Michael atop the juggernaut of Mother Church, coming to
scoop up the Pilgrim who can Progress no more toward his Heavenly Home in
the spaceship. Hey, it could be an illusion, Ratty, a deathbed

But who's to say that this isn't the right approach? Cutthroat, at first an
innocent, and pliable to suggestion, behaves with increasing virtue: he
chooses to save Cim, to befriend Ketin, not to eat girls (he relies on food
cubes, I infer); he momentarily brings members of four different tribes who
eat each other together. It's the cold, corrupt staff that kills the dwarf
rather than himself, and he abandons that staff. Etc.

But, if you don't mind, I'd like to bring up some other things. (Sorry this
is so long, but it's a long novella, and I wanted to provide a framework
for a good discussion.) First, I'm interested in how Wolfe has taken all
this John Carter of Mars material and put it in a modernist context.
Ordinarily, I'd agree with many here that he usually takes Borges as the
master when in this mode, but in this case I'd argue that it is Kafka.
Cutthroat's pursuit of the Great Sleigh feels very much to me like K's
attempt on the Castle…though Kafka never, ever would have handed us that
Nutrified ending!

Would love to hear more in this direction. 

Second, as always in Wolfe, the names are interesting. Some of them sound 
Northwest Indian or Inuit (like many of Le Guin's names), some of them
sound Finnish (Wiggikki), and some Slavic Russian (Ketin, Ketinsha) and
some just sound sci fi (Minshu). Cim is described, but I don't quite get
it, and it's not in the OED. But they're all northern. At times I was
reminded of Gerda's pursuit of little Kay.

Apologies to those of you who know this novella well. I read it for the
first time this week, and I'm sure I've missed key clues.


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