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From: adam louis stephanides <astephan@students.uiuc.edu>
Subject: (urth) Book and Urth; A & M; black hole
Date: Fri, 19 Jun 1998 16:58:56 

Spectacled Bear wrote:

> >5) My final question is one that probably only Wolfe can answer, though
> >the answer may be in some interview.  We know that _Urth of the New Sun_
> >was not part of Wolfe's original intention, but was written as a
> >compromise with his editor.
> I hadn't heard that. What happened?

I gave the citation earlier, but I'll quote what Wolfe says about it,
because it's brief: "David [Hartwell] felt that I should add one more
paragraph saying, Okay, Severian went to the universe next door and
borrowed the white hole and fixed the sun and everybody lived happily ever
after.  I, on the other hand ... felt that a paragraph wasn't going to be
enough." (Castle of Days, pp. 416-417)  He goes on to say that they
reached the compromise I quoted earlier.

> You took the words right out of my mouth! It seems to me that any
> puzzles in BotNS ought to have answers in BotNS, subject only to
> modification by things we find out later in UotNS.

OTOH, _Urth_ is evidence of Wolfe's intentions in writing BotNS, just as
interviews with Wolfe are (although neither of these sources are
infallible).  So if we allow the interviews as evidence, as we usually do
on this list, we should allow _Urth_ as evidence also, even if we're only
interested in BotNS.

And it seems clear to me that many puzzles in BotNS don't have answers in
BotNS.  For that matter, many of them don't have answers even in BotNS
plus _Urth_, as far as I can tell (e. g. who is the extraterrestrial mind
whom the Cumaean contacts?  Who lives on the other five continents of
Urth?  Who lives on Lune?)

> Final Ignorant Question: what is Texas A & M, please?

A university.  The A & M stands for "agricultural and mechanical."

Rostrum wrote:

> Getting back to Adam's comments, I'm reminded of Borges, who was very
> interested in the idea of how our reading of a text changes because of
> what else we've read.  (See especially "Pierre Menard, Author of the
> Quixote" and "Kafka and his Precursors").   I think Wolfe very
> deliberately and successfully created with Exodus a book that almost
> rewrites the earlier books in the Long Sun series and am fascinated by how
> different a re-reading of them is after finishing Exodus.
> Reading this list has convinced me that what Wolfe has done with Urth does
> in fact make BotNS more interesting than my original reading, and I'm way
> overdue in re-reading BotNS, but I'm also still interested in BotNS as it
> stands without Urth.  I'd be interested in alternate interpretations of
> events in BotNS that Urth rules out. 

This raises an interesting philosophical (and very Borgesian) question:
can the meaning of BotNS by itself be different from the meaning of BotNS
as part of the five-volume "Fictions of the New Sun" (Peter Wright's
useful term, IIRC) including _Urth_?  The answer is yes if we go by the
asumption that the author's intention determines the meaning and if Wolfe
had in fact changed his mind about certain things between BotNS and
_Urth_.  It could also be yes, I think, even if Wolfe hadn't changed his
mind, if we don't regard the author's intention as determinative. 

> Is it certain, for instance, in the
> first four books that Severian himself will one day become the
> Conciliator?

I would say there is no hint in the first four books that Severian
was/will become the Conciliator.  But I could be wrong.

> Are there any reviews or discussions of BotNS I could get my
> hands on that predate Urth? 

All the book review of the original volumes will of course predate _Urth_,
and I'd assume some can be located in _Book Review Digest_ or _Book Review
Index_, if you have access to those; there are also some in _Foundation_,
if you can get hold of that.  The problem with such reviews is that by
their nature they will only be based on a superficial reading of the
book(s).  I believe Clute's essay in which he puts forth his controverial
theory about Sev's mother was written before _Urth_; I don't remember in
which of Clute's books this essay was included.

> A fascinating, but at best difficult exercise!  Some might argue it is
> impossible, that having read Urth, there are some possibilities we just
> won't be able to see in BotNS anymore.  I can't imagine, for instance,
> pretending anymore that the Urth is so old that the Sun is dying of
> natural causes, even though I read the whole series without catching on
> about the black hole. 

Actually, that particular fact was established in BotNS, although it
certainly was easy to miss.  The clearest evidence is in Dr. Talos's play:
the Prophet's description of the "cancer" at the old sun's heart is quite
clearly a black hole, though he doesn't use the term.


*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

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