FIND in
<--prev V19 next-->

From: Peter Stephenson <pws@ibmth.df.unipi.it>
Subject: (urth) Cloning and science generally in the Book
Date: Wed, 07 Oct 1998 12:12:02 +0200

Maybe this is obvious, but I don't think the phrase "grown from the
body cells of exultant women" has to imply cloning as we know it.
Nothing else is quite as we know it; I can well believe body cells
take on their own life on Urth.  Even being prosaic, if genetics is
(was) sufficiently advanced there's no need why the genetic
information has to be unchanged in the offspring.  On the other hand,
there's no reason why SBear's growth hormone shouldn't come into the

I think it's another case where deciding too definitely between
apparently distinct options doesn't really reflect the way Urth is
depicted --- certainly in Severian's own account, but maybe it goes
wider.  `Science' is something a bit fluid, which can be twisted into
apparently magical, but still actually logical, shapes.  This goes for
space travel, black holes, drugs, pretty much everything.

Or to put it another way: what we would think of as the `underlying'
logical explanation of something is really an emergent phenomenon in
Wolfe's writing, even if we assume (which is, I think, usually
correct) that it's hiding there somewhere: the imaginative effect is
the fundamental one.  For example, spaceships are like sailing ships
*apparently* because they're sailing on some cosmic wind, but
*actually* mainly because it's a nice idea.

Quite a lot of authors on the SF/fantasy border try this sort of
thing, but it's very hard to get right; any rational explanations, if
given, tend to sound silly, and they're often avoided completely so
that the SF element is very marginal (I'm thinking here of Colin
Greenland's `Harm's Way', which is essentially the British Empire in
space).  Wolfe gets away with it partly through the deliberate
vagueness on Severian's part as to what is actually going on (in this
example, as Wolfe himself points out in an appendix, he doesn't even
bother distinguishing between seaships and spaceships).  If Wolfe had
Jack Aubrey on the quarterdeck saying `I believe we may scandalize the
topsheet, Mr. Pullings', much of the sense (as opposed to the real
logic) of an underlying scientific explanation would be lost.  There
is, in summary, some highly creative tension between the feeling that
there's a logical explanation for everything, and the (deliberate)
absence of that explanation.

Peter Stephenson <pws@ibmth.df.unipi.it>       Tel: +39 050 844536
WWW:  http://www.ifh.de/~pws/
Dipartimento di Fisica, Via Buonarotti 2, 56100 Pisa, Italy

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

<--prev V19 next-->