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From: Alex David Groce <Alex_Groce@gs246.sp.cs.cmu.edu>
Subject: Re: (urth) Positive thoughts, negative thoughts
Date: Wed, 27 Oct 1999 13:08:29 

Yes.  Of the friends I've convinced (forced at gunpoint if necessary) to read
BOTNS, I've had three reactions:  one, very well-read in Heinlein/Asimov/Clarke
(and, though he hates to admit it, Piers Anthony) was impressed but irritated
by Severian, who he felt was too cold and distant.  Another, also well-read
(and more literarily inclined) became an instant Wolfe fan and is happily,
when MIT gives him five minutes to breathe, plowing his way through the rest
of Wolfe as fast as he can.  And the English major who is heading to grad
school in Theology, with no real science-fiction background (other than having
read ENDER'S GAME, which seems to be true for every person interested in math
and science who's near my age), was blown away by BOTNS and is amazed Wolfe
doesn't get more critical notice.  I think Tony's right that the hardest
people to convert may be the people who think they know what science-fiction
should be, and "this isn't it."  The CASTLEVIEW review is the kind of reaction
that's hardest to overcome (although, to be honest, if CASTLEVIEW was the only
thing Wolfe had written, I'd gladly toss him to the wolves).  The people who
"don't read science-ficton" might pull the same trick they pulled with
Bradbury and LeGuin, or when somebody like John Updike writes what is clearly
a science-fiction novel:  "Oh, that's not science-fiction, despite the rocket
ships and such--after all, it's good."


The Clute article in SF ENCYC. is good, as is the article in the ENCYCLOPEDIA 
uninformative article that does boast a very succinct characterization of the
worldview expressed in Wolfe's books:  "eccentrically conservative, 
hierarchical, and grave."


Another thing, while we're on a critical roll, is to point out that Wolfe is,
on the one hand, a definitively Catholic writer--all of his books and most of
his stories are essentially Christian in their moral and metaphysical 
underpinnings, and specifically Catholic in their approach to theology.  On
the other hand, though, he does not belong in any sense to the main tradition 
of 20th cent. Catholic novelists.  Muriel Spark, Evelyn Waugh, Walker Percy,
Graham Greene, and even Flannery O'Connor are largely concerned with our
present foibles--they all have a strong streak of satire and black humor,
aimed at things that are very contemporary (Spark's "abbess Nixon" novel,
Waugh's rich young things, Percy's amoral scientists, Greene's evil Americans,
etc.) and through these things they allow their religious concerns to show.  
Wolfe is a lot more catholic than this--except in some minor short stories
("Paul's Treehouse") and in parts of FREE LIVE FREE, Wolfe seems singularly
uninterested in scourging the follies of our day--he's after much more cosmic
game than that.  O'Connor has some of this panoramic view (as in "Revelation")
and can, in the midst of gothic Southern weirdness, evoke it in a less somber
way than Wolfe, but the others generally avoid the directly visionary.  Even 
in something like "Forlesen," Wolfe seems to be only accidentally satirizing
contemporary business practices--the idiotic routines and pointless games are
Kafkaesque masks for reality, abstract bureaucratic obstacles to perception.
Some of this is a result of writing science-fiction and fantasy, which lend
themselves to the archetypal and universal, but Wolfe's contemporary fantasies
such as PEACE and THERE ARE DOORS are about things such as identity, story-
telling, time, reality, and a man and the goddess.

"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." John 8:32
Alex David Groce (agroce+@cs.cmu.edu)
Ph.D. Student, Carnegie Mellon University - Computer Science Department
8112 Wean Hall (412)-268-3066

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

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