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From: Peter Stephenson <pws@ibmth.df.unipi.it>
Subject: Re: (urth) Cursing in Old Solar
Date: Sat, 31 Oct 1998 16:58:18 +0100

Dan Parmenter wrote:
> Of course Star Trek handled this same concept rather well in the
> "Darmok" episode, which for my money is probably one of the better
> popular treatments of this sort of thing.  The premise was of our
> Captain Picard marooned on a planet with some humanoid alien who even
> through the Universal Translator seemed to be spouting gibberish.  It
> turns out that all conversation among these people is expressed in
> stock phrases from their "national epic".  Picard figures it out,
> hilarity ensues, I think there's probably some shooting at some point.
> Good episode.

I enjoyed it too, and it certainly seems relevant to the Ascians, but
put in this context the idea struck me as utterly implausible.  I
can't understand how a space-faring culture could ever get off the
ground if instead of `Captain, the dilithium crystals canna take it'
they have to say something like `Laforge, crawling around in a flimsy
studio tunnel again'.  Well, all right, they do that every episode so
it's completely transparent after all, but think of any mildly
technical sentence you like and try to construct a parallel for it
using only references to ancient epics.  (`And Arjuna said: "How then
shall I rig the transporter beam so that the army of the Pandavas
arrives in the hold of the freighter without the phaselock undergoing
quantum degradation, O Krishna?"...')

Maybe it's another example of what I was talking about a couple of
weeks ago with respect to Wolfe's science:  the idea of the Ascian
language works perfectly in the context Wolfe uses it, exactly because
you're never shown an example where an Ascian is saying `You two go
round the other side of the hill, wait till exactly 11:35 and take out
the two sentries without making any noise'.

Maybe, too, the trick in Star Trek is different, maybe if it works
there it's because there is such a limited repertoire of things you
can do: beam up, beam down, lock on tractor beam, set phasers to stun,
pick up strange vibrations (Troy only), engage, ...

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/

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