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From: Dan Parmenter <dan@lec.com>
Subject: (urth) Planarian Worms
Date: Wed, 3 Nov 1999 17:05:57 

From: Paul C Duggan <pduggan@world.std.com>

> the memories contained in a single cell certainly doesn't have a
> scientific basis. There was some speculation about rna-memory
> transfer (based on statiticly invalid samples) from planarians fed other
> planarians who had learned to do t-mazes did the t-maes faster than other
> planarians.
> Larry Niven made alot out of this memory-rna transfer schtick in his
> stories, but AFAIK, its a scientific dead end.

This was also one of Alan Moore's earliest conceits in his stint on
SWAMP THING.  Before Moore took over, the essential premise of the
character was that he was a man transformed into a plant being.  By
means of the Planarian Principle we discover that the Swamp Thing was
actually consumed and replaced by a plant being, complete with the
memories of his predecessor.

I had been meaning to bring up Moore again for a few reasons actually.
Regarding Wolfe's lack of popularity among "mainstream" AND "SF"
readers, it occured to me that despite the similar approaches of Moore
and Wolfe at some level (taking tired genre cliches and doing
interesting things with them and indeed, making you fall in love with
the cliches themselves all over again), Moore, unlike Wolfe was very
popular and did in fact win over both non-comics fans and comics fans.
Indeed, Moore became one of a small number of celebrity comics writers
(Art Spiegelman and Frank Miller who both also achieved a lot of fame
at around the same time Moore did were rather significantly
writer-artists rather than pure writers).  So is WATCHMEN simply more
"accessible" than BOTNS?  Perhaps it is, although in its own way it is
every bit as obscure as Wolfe with lots of symbolism ("everything
means something, but not everything means much" was the quotation),
important information dropped casually in odd places (each issue of
the series included text pieces that illuminated the world of the
WATCHMEN: excerpts from books mentioned in the comic itself, spurious
PLAYBOY interviews with Ozymandias etc.) and other "lupine" touches.
In short, I think there's a lot of basis for comparison.  But for
whatever reason, WATCHMEN really doesn't alienate readers the way
BOTNS seems to.  The "genre" parts of it are so good by themselves (a
contrived superhero pastiche with a plot device lifted from an OUTER
LIMITS episode, for the record) that even if a reader ignores a lot of
the really interesting details (some readers have told me that they
skipped the text pieces and the "comic within a comic" TALES OF THE
BLACK FREIGHTER), you can "get" the essence of it.  I would have
thought that this was the case with BOTNS too (I first read it at age
16 and loved it but missed a lot) since it really does deliver on the
"genre" goods (plenty of fight scenes, a cool sword, lots of sex, an
appealing "world") but perhaps with Wolfe there's simply too much of
that feeling that one has missed something.

Re: Wolfe and Moore and the place of "genre" writers in "literature"

One other thing I thought I'd mention: I've been re-reading a lot of
Moore (and reading his first novel, THE VOICE OF FIRE for the first
time, more on this in later posts) and it occurs to me that if his
stuff does survive and enter the "canon" of "real literature," it will
not only serve to keep his stuff alive, but in the cases of his "pure
genre" stuff he may also ensure that a lot of less-worthy stuff, the
very genre cliches that he revels in, will also make it into the canon
simply by dint of the fact that these were the things he wrote about.
For example, Moore wrote exactly four Superman stories.  Each of them
makes extensive use of the "Superman mythos" that DC largely
jettisoned when they did their "revamping" of the character in the
mid-eighties (e.g. Krypto the supergdog, the Bizarro world, things
like that).  Moore included these things because he loved them, but he
also made them come alive and seem incredibly interesting and even
poetic (any writer who can make me cry with a scene involving Krypto
the superdog AND the Legion of Super-Heroes is pretty skilled IMO).
So perhaps someday when no one writes about superheroes any more, Alan
Moore's vision of them will be the one that people remember and the
one that shows people why anyone would ever want to write about such
things in the first place.  To make a highfalutin (and perhaps overly
pat) literary comparison, when we study Shakespeare's plays we learn
that some of them (e.g. Romeo and Juliet) were based on existing
stories/plays of the time, but it's the Shakespeare version we're
reading.  His is the version that survived.

And so it may be with Wolfe.  When the time comes (if it ever does)
when no one writes about robots, spaceships, time travel,
sword-wielding barbarians and dying earths, Wolfe's vision of those
things may be the only one that future readers are aware of.  So in a
sense, writers like Wolfe and Moore become literary guardians of their
genres, not just examplars of them.

Lex(icographer) Shellac


Dan Parmenter

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

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