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From: Ron Crown <crownrw@slu.edu>
Subject: (urth) Digest 4.13
Date: Fri, 29 Aug 1997 15:07:07 

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

Alga, no I'm not cephalo, I'm not anything Vironese (yet, anyway.)

Wolfe interview: the full question and answer from which Gordon took the
quote is as follows:

Gordon: You marked a bibliography of your stories for me with checks to
indicate which ones were "pivotal."  What do you mean by "pivotal?"

Wolfe:  A pivotal story for me is one in which I feel I have succeeded
in doing well something I have never really done well before--fairy
material in "Thag," a certain religious viewpoint in "Westwind," the use
of second and third person in "The Island of Doctor Death and Other
Stories," the progression from realism to fantasy in "The Eyeflash
Miracles," even the primitive inventions no one ever actually invented
(and which no one now notices) in "Tracking Song."  Just as "Tracking
Song" is about uninvented inventions of the stone age, "Straw" is about
(partly, of course) uninvented inventions of the middle ages.

"Tracking Song" is a wolf totem story, by the way.  The protagonist gets
his original orientation from a wolf tribe, then lives in a world in
which the roles of moose, lion, deer, mink and so on are taken by
semi-human beings.  Wolves are winter symbols, of course, and birds
symbols of spring.

End of interview excerpt.  The whole interview is 5 pages long and thus
too long to post here (too long for me to type in, I mean) but if I find
some interesting snippets, I'll post those, too.

I didn't express myself well re the robots outside, what I meant was
that they could not survive outside in _current conditions_ and thus
could not have learned the finger to chin gesture from the other
"tribes" in the story.  Of course, they in all likelihood lived on the
surface prior to the "ice age;" perhaps the underground city was a
last-ditch effort on the part of their makers (at least, those not
genetically altered, if we opt for that scenario) to survive?

Alga, maybe I missed something in an earlier post but why are you so
adamantly opposed to the winged creature as bird interpretation?  Hey,
here's a sudden thought (or maybe a blood vessel just burst), how about
the winged creature at the end as a sort of ironic counterpoint, ala
Robert Frost's "ice will suffice", to the Phoenix legend (is there a
native american Phoenix legend or is this ancient mediterranean?). 
Instead of Phoenix rising from the ashes, we've got a bird of some type
rising from melting ice!

Something I just found out about Jack London's "The Call of the Wild;"
the working title was "The Wolf" or "The Sleeping Wolf."

I'm not so sure about the Fisher-King analogy in T.S. myself; Crooked
Leg is not that major of a character; nevertheless, he is there at the
end when no one else from the wolf tribe is.

No luck with the dictionaries yet but in researching gestures, I did
discover that a common feature of native american sign language (found
in several tribes, I suppose all those that had dealings with the Sioux)
was the hand or finger(s) drawn across the throat from one ear to the
other signifying the Sioux (Dakotas) as "cutthroats." [!]

Re gestures, I came across an interesting comment, not particularly
pertinent to Wolfe per se, but certainly to science fiction.  The author
of A Cultural History of Gesture points out that not only do gestures
evolve but that the same gesture can have radically different meanings
in different times.  For example, slapping the thigh is usually
associated with a guffaw in our culture, in ancient Rome it meant anger.
The author concludes "The time traveller would be well advised to learn,
amongst much else, the ancient art of gesticulation."  Reminds me of L.
Sprague de Camp's famous essay on "Language for Time Travellers" which
dealt wholly (as I remember it) with spoken language; but how many
science fiction writers have thought to apply notions of change to
unspoken language as well?  

Finally, I have an Iranian colleague at work; I asked her about the name
"Nadan Jaffarzadeh" in SAN.  "Jaffarzadeh" is a perfectly normal last
name; the "zadeh" component is found frequently.  But "Nadan" in Farsi
is not a name, but a noun/adjective meaning "ignorant," "unaware;" it
can even be used as a polite way of saying that someone is stupid. 
Whatever else it may imply in SAN, it certainly implies a fallible
narrator (but we knew that already, didn't we?)

BTW, (forget that "finally" above) since we're broadening the parameters
of the list and Dan Simmons has been mentioned in that connection, y'all
might be interested in John Clute's online review of Simmons' latest
entry in the Hyperion series. It's at:
http://www.scifi.com/sfw/current/excess.html.  He has some interesting
comments comparing Simmons and Wolfe.  Indeed, I've been reading Clute's
Look at the Evidence and it seems he can hardly mention Wolfe without
mentioning Simmons and vice versa.

Ron Crown

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