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From: Michael Andre-Driussi <mantis@sirius.com>
Subject: Re: (urth) Re: lunar calendars [Digest urth.v028.n014]
Date: Thu, 12 Aug 1999 14:52:29 

John Bishop,

>Mantis says:
>> Lunar calendars have thirteen months (13 x 28 = 364).  Period.
>Not that I ever read.  The islamic calendar still offically
>depends on a witness to the new Moon, the Judaic calendar used
>to (before it could rely on calculation), and the Classic
>world's lunar calendars did also (in particular, the calendars
>used to calculate possible eclipse times), though in later
>times astronomers calculated a sequence of short and long
>months that would be predictable (by reference) but never
>more than half a day off the real new Moon.
>A fixed lunar calendar would pretty quickly cease to be aligned
>with the moon, which kind of loses the point, and produces the
>kind of "months" we have, which are unrelated to the Moon.

Maybe there is trouble caused by the term "calendar"?  That is, if I wrote
"Lunar reckoning" rather than "Lunar calendar," would that clear up some of
the problems?  ("Calendar" carries such imperial trappings, such a sense of
precision, or something written down, at least.)  Because by the "Lunar
reckoning" I'm describing, the situation can =never= cease to be aligned
with the Moon; by the same token, dates are about as fluid as the watches
of the day (where they have no mechanical timepieces, nor do they even
assign sequential numbers to the watches).  And years are numbered by the
reign of the Autarch.

I am aware of the "Lunar" calendars you mention, and frankly I think they
get into the trouble they do because they are trying to match the solar
year (and see next paragraph).  I sense that they are hybrid Lunar
calendars, born from a tradition of simple Lunar reckoning and then
retrofitted to approximate a solar calendar.  (I also believe that the
number of thirteen months to Lunar reckoning is the largest contributor to
the taboo/"unlucky" nature of the number 13--shows how deep these arguments

I'm also aware that those pesky fractions (29.nnn days per lunar month)
will throw the counting off--after all, that was the impetus to have
alternating long and short months (I've seen Chinese women calculate long
and short months of their Lunar calendar by somehow counting on the
knuckles of their fists--don't ask me how).  Then again, what with the
terraforming and all, the 1.nnn fraction may have been shaved off!  (And 28
is handy because it divides evenly by seven, and . . . uh oh, next we'll be
arguing on how many weeks there are to a year!)

In addition to historical examples I've also seen models for interesting
modern solar calendars (aside from that of the French Republic) that will
fix one problem or another.  One, for example, that has thirteen months
(the new one being "SOL," inserted between JUN and JUL) of exactly 28 days
each (13 x 28 = 364), where the 13th of every month is always a Friday, and
a special off-calendar day for New Year's Day (364 + 1 = 365), plus a bonus
off-calendar day every fourth year.  Whooh!

(Kind of like the "missing time" in the Martian day of Kim Stanley
Robinson's RED MARS--have a quick party, we're outside of time!)

Now then, I think the point of all this is =not= that Wolfe worked out any
sort of Lunar reckoning and/or calendar.  The point is (or so it seems to
me) that in the Commonwealth they are crushed by history; time to them does
not have the precise, mechanistic sense that it does to us--theirs is
"medieval" or even more primitive, yet it suits them fine.  The zinger
being that they are the heirs of a starfaring culture, yet they have sunk
to this level, a deeper, longer dark age, such that they do not have a
calendar (also implying a loss of astronomical skills) . . . the Aztecs
were basically neolithic, but they had a very elaborate calendar (to say
nothing of Mesopotamia).  So the Commonwealth would appear to be less
developed than a neolithic level in this regard.

Plus, hinting at different calendars/time reckoning systems, etc., is a
neat way to imply "otherness," to give the sense of strange-yet-valid (if
not very accurate).  One of the details I look for in sf.

And time proves to be even more fluid and fuzzy, as the story progresses.


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

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