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From: mary whalen <marewhalen@yahoo.com>
Subject: Re: (urth) Islands in Commonwealth
Date: Mon, 20 Jul 1998 03:35:52 

This is Sean Whalen (prion).

---Peter Westlake wrote:
> At 13:57 1998-07-05 -0500, Adam wrote:
> >
> >prion wrote:
> >
> >> A previous letter to the list (I'm sorry but I don't remember when)
> >> asked how the Commonwealth could be in a South America
> >> similar to the current continent when the Commonwealth is
described as
> >> consisting of an archipelago of islands to the south.  The answer
> >> that SA does have a long chain of many islands in the south, but it
> >> closely follows the close, so the questioner probably wouldn't
> >> remember them or have noticed them just by casually looking in the
> >> first place.
> >
> >I was the original questioner, and I was aware of the islands in the
> >south of SA.  My question was based on my belief that Severian was
> >asserting that the Commonwealth consisted entirely of islands.  But
> >reexamining the quote, it now seems clear to me that the relevant
> >phrase--"a chain of islands like our south"--refers to the southern-
> >most portion of the Commonwealth, and not to the Commonwealth as a
> >whole, as I had originally thought.  So there's no problem there.
> Hasn't Wolfe said that Gyoll is the Orinoco? As usual, I can't find
> the place where I read this. But I looked at an atlas yesterday and
> was quite surprised. Because if it's true, then the islands in the
> South - the direction away from the Equator - would be the West

Wheww.  How's that for a bundle of citations?

I don't remember Wolfe ever saying this, and it doesn't appear
possible (see below).

> Last year Scott Dalrymple wrote:
> >And, regarding Vodalus's assertion that Urth has flipped on her
axis, would
> >that matter?  To someone like Severian, wouldn't the world appear
to be the
> >same?  He'd still be traveling toward Urth's belly to reach the
> >regions.  After all, North and South, while tied to poles, are
> >arbitrary constructs, aren't they?  Why couldn't we depict the
world with
> >the South Pole on "top"?  Maybe we've got the whole universe

Vodalus was talking about the magnetic axis flipping, which has
happened often before on Earth.

North and south may seem arbitrary, but east and west definitely
aren't.  The sun rises in the east and sets in the west.  Assuming a
human has a head in one direction and feet in the other, it is
possible to determine which side is left and which right, and they are
different.  But anyway, with a person's left to the west and right to
the east, he would be facing north, as happens to Severian (see below).

> (I quote Scott because I can't find the original quote ;-)
> It makes sense for the West Indies to be rather colder than nowadays,
> while the islands along the coast of South America would surely be
> under the ice. The West Indies are more of an archipelago, too.
> I think this also explains why the rivers all flow West, when we
> would expect them to flow East.
> In _Citadel_ Severian is walking North with the sea to the West and
> the Sun rising on his right. The Sun still rises in the East, I think
> (doesn't Typhon's statue face West, away from the sunrise?) so this
> really would be the world having turned over, not a magnetic reversal.
> Mind you, this is about the one place in the whole book where left
> or right are mentioned explicitly. I would almost rather believe the
> Sun rose in the West than trust Severian to know which way was right,
> given his total inability to follow directions.
> SBear.

As I understand it, the entire geography is like this: the sea level
is lower because the colder temperature has frozen more water into the
ice caps.  There is thus more land.  South America is in the general
area it is now, with a similar distribution of continents.  Nessus is
on the west coast, west of the "Andes" and perhaps on land that is
currently underwater.  The Gyoll flows from it's source in the Andes
west to it's mouth on the west coast.  East of the Andes is the Amazon
jungle.  North in North America is the country of the Ascians.  West
are the Xanthic lands (Asia).

To explain:  in the book it says that to the south are the narrow
lands and the southern archipelago.  This could refer to either what
is currently north or south, however, it also says that to the north
is the waist of the world and north of that the Ascians.  There is no
isthmus to what we call the south.  Therefore, the directions are the
same as we use today.  The Ascians live in North America, the waist is
the Isthmus of Panama and environs.  The narrow lands are the narrow
southern part of South America.  Also, the islands may not be the ones
there today, but lower ones revealed by the receded ocean.  Severian
also says that the north is hotter, in some sections of the books.

The rivers flow west because he's west of the Andes.  There's also
more land in that area because of the sea level.

I've already discussed how Severian's northward journey helps confirm

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