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From: Nigel Price <NigelPrice1@compuserve.com>
Subject: (urth) Wolfe and Teilhard de Chardin
Date: Wed, 9 Jun 1999 19:11:30 

Following the recent discussion on the this list, I decided that it really
was time I got round to reading the copy of James Blish's "A Case of
Conscience" that has been sitting on my shelf for the last 25 years or so. 
I'm about two-thirds of the way through so far, and enjoying it very much,
although I can't see much obvious thematic or stylistic connection with
Wolfe at this stage.  

Seeking a little background information on Blish and ACoC, I consulted the
Grolier SF CD-ROM encyclopedia, where I found the following passage in the
essay on "Religion":

        The 1950s also saw a remarkable proliferation of images 
        obviously allied to religious notions but shorn of their 
        association with actual religious doctrine. Arthur C. Clarke 
        has said that any religious symbolism or imagery in 
        CHILDHOOD'S END (1950; exp 1953) is "entirely accidental", 
        although the text itself refers to the climax as an "apotheosis" 
        and the events described there are strikingly -- but 
        coincidentally -- similar to Teilhard de Chardin's notion of the 
        coming-together of displaced planetary "noospheres" at an 
        apocalyptic "Omega Point". Clifford D. Simak's Time and Again 
        (1951; vt First He Died) is similarly free of formal doctrine, 
        although the alien symbionts which infest all living things are 
        obviously analogous to souls (> ESCHATOLOGY). In later 
        works by Simak -- particularly A Choice of Gods (1972) and 
        Project Pope (1981)-religious ideas do become explicit, and 
        here again there are strong echoes of a Teilhardian schema. 
        Sf works explicitly based on Teilhard's ideas are 
        George ZEBROWSKI's The Omega Point Trilogy 
        (2 parts published 1972, 1977; omni, including 3rd part, 1983) 
        and Gene WOLFE's The Book of the New Sun (1980-83) and 
        The Urth of the New Sun (1987 UK). The syncretic approach 
        of these stories, which blends the religious and scientific 
        imaginations, contrasts with uncompromising stories using 
        TIME TRAVEL and other facilitating devices directly to confront 
        the central symbol of the Christian faith: the crucifixion. 

I've never read any Teilhard de Chardin, so I can't really comment.  
(Though I borrowed one of his books from a friend this evening, and even
managed to find out what a "noosphere" was.  As far as I can understand, it
is that aspect of the human mind, considered from a developmental point of
view, which is devoted to the comprehension of abstract concepts.  So

Has his possible influence on Wolfe ever been discussed on the Urth list? 
If so, what conclusions were reached?  If not, is anyone sufficiently well
read in this area to comment?

"A Case of Coscience" is an interesting, but strange book.  As others have
intimated on this list, Father Ramon's logic is more than a little odd when
it comes to assessing the Lithians.  It's partly that the book, though set
long post-Vatican 2, was, of course, written very much before Vatican 2, so
Blish's model of Catholicism, whilst it is intended to be futuristic,
nevertheless comes over as somewhat dated and anachronistic.  Other than
that, I can't make up my mind whether it's a peculiar twist in Blish's own
thinking, or the effect of the novel's technique, which is to set the main
characters against each other in a sort of chiaroscuro dialectic,
reminiscent in both its brilliance and its staginess of George Bernard Shaw
at his most argumentative.  (There are parts of the first book of ACoC
which are actually set out as dramatic dialogue, as if written for a play.)
 I like it, but it is odd.  An elegant book, but maybe ever so slightly

Or is that just me?

Nigel Price
Minety, Wiltshire, England

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

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