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From: Adam Stephanides <adamsteph@earthlink.net>
Subject: Re: (urth) GWOT <> LB
Date: Wed, 03 May 2000 00:12:54 

Michael Andre-Driussi wrote:
> Adam's Questions
> >1. What is the function of the opening section, about Caspar Last?
> [snip]
> Those are good functions.  I'd also add the "red herring" of technical
> details... [snip to avoid repetition]  But for me, the most important
> function is to begin the big American/British dichotomy: Caspar Last is
> American (though you probably wouldn't know it until somebody mentions it
> later), and Denys is British.

Those are also good functions, although the American/British dichotomy
is raised more pointedly in the very next section.  I'm still not
convinced the section deserves the size and prominence it has.
> >2. When the old Denys is telling the young Denys (of our world) his
> >story, after describing how he failed to kill Rhodes, he says "'I am
> >satisfied in my own mind...that it cannot be possible to meet oneself on
> >a trip into the past or future; that is a lie, invented by the Otherhood
> >to forestall its own extinction, which was however inevitable."
> >(131-32).  Why does Denys think propagating the "lie" that one can meet
> >oneself would forestall the Otherhood's extinction?  Why does he think
> >the Otherhood's extinction inevitable?  And why does the old Denys not
> >believe his older self dissuaded him from killing Rhodes, when he has
> >the evidence that that is what happened?  Does he just not want to admit
> >that his current plight is the result of a considered decision on his
> >part, rather than an impulsive act?
> Okay, it gets complicated: I'm not sure what you are saying, so I'll
> outline my understanding of the situation.  In the text our world seems to
> be what the Otherhood calls "Original Situation"; the world the Otherhood
> is making I call "CC" (for the "Cape-to-Cairo" railroad which figures so
> strongly); the world at the end of the text is neither OS nor CC, but a
> third situation I dub "C2."

A technical nit to pick: actually the world at the end of the text is
OS, or nearly so.  As Denys C2 transmits Denys CC's explanation, it
"restores" itself as the Otherhood's interventions fail to take place,
and Denys CC's presence, which distinguishes C2 from OS, disappears from
history.  (135)

> So I take your opening statement as meaning: "When Denys CC (86 years old)
> is telling Denys C2 (23 years old) in the C2 world, after describing how he
> failed to kill Rhodes in CC/C2 1893, he says . . . "


> On to the paradox itself.  I hope it resolves cleanly as I've laid it out
> above: one cannot "meet oneself" because of one or more of the following:
> one's age difference means that an older version is a different self than a
> younger version (standard truism about age); the usual time-travel history
> eraser thing (meddling with your past self alters both); the
> multiple-timeline model (such monkeying around causes new worlds to emerge:
> OS became CC, CC became C2; each version of Denys is different enough to be
> outside of "self").

But Denys CC is denying that it would have been possible for Denys PT
(as I will call the Denys who did kill Rhodes, became President pro tem,
and visited the future) to encounter Denys CC in 1893.  The reasons
above are merely arguments, if such a meeting took place, it should not
be called "meeting oneself."

> Then again, the text facts remain (if Denys CC [86 yo] isn't lying): the
> actual agent of change in CC 1893 (which caused the birth of C2) was a
> phantom lion (which suggests to me that the fairies of CC 2015 did it).

He's not consciously lying, but as he himself suggests (131) the episode
of the lion is a confabulation on the part of his unconscious.  What
really happened is what he dreams happened: Denys PT does meet him and
dissuades him.  That seems to me the simplest reading.  If the fairies
of 2015 did it, why did they tell Denys PT he had to do it?  (Another
alternative is that Denys CC has somehow unconsciously absorbed Denys
PT's knowledge of the consequences of the Otherhood, in the same way
that Denys C2 does later; and again confabulated the lion to explain his
actions to his conscious mind.)

> GWOT uses science fiction to separate America and Great Britain into two
> hostile camps.  The reader is urged to choose between one or the other,
> with constant goading towards the British side (third paragraph: "in an
> American sort of voice (for we are all Americans now, aren't we?)"; a few
> pages later, "The hotel in the capital was as he expected, shoddy-American
> and intermittently refrigerated" [I wonder how "American" that use of
> "refrigerated"?).  As the plot thickens, to the "American" side is added,
> on top of Coca-colonization, Big Macs, and all that, a heaping of Nazi
> Germany and the Jewish Holocaust--now which side is the reader going to
> choose?

I don't think the text is so loaded on the British side as all that. I
never bought Davenant's sophistry about how it would have been better if
Britain had helped the South win the Civil War.  And the comment "He
[Denys] believed implicitly that his Empire did not wipe out populations
wholesale." (56) is surely irony directed at Denys.  (Incidentally,
while reviewing this conversation I noticed Davenant's reference to "the
near genocide [in the American South] of the last hundred years." (56) 
Is this hyperbole, or does it indicate that in CC, African-Americans in
the South in the first half of the 20th century were even worse off than
in reality?  The latter doesn't seem implausible; since the U.S. is
poorer and weaker in CC, white Southerners might well have had more
frustrations to take out on African-Americans.)

> Well ha-ha, which ever side you choose, you lose!  No ambiguity there.
> [snip]
> But no, it is actually even worse than that!  See, in LB, Smoky has ideas,
> but does nothing (he is passive), and that seems sad; in GWOT, Denys tries
> very hard, suffers, and changes worlds (he is active), and it is worse.  So
> a thread which I think runs through much of JC's work: the only thing worse
> than doing nothing (bad, sad) is doing something (very bad, very sad).
> Which is like a negative-version of the Tao, or something.

To me it's simply saying that sometimes actions taken with good
intentions can have bad consequences, a common theme of tragedy (and not
something anyone can reasonably deny).

> Anyway, GWOT uses sf to destroy fantasy (especially LB), implicate the
> authors/readers of fantasy (basically worse than Hitler, all of 'em), and
> destroy sf itself.  LB is a wedding of opposites; GWOT is a war, a civil
> war, and a few genocides.

I'm not sure what you mean here.  There is, I think, an implicit
critique in GWOT of the love of archaic social hierarchies in much
fantasy (something that has bothered me too).  But to say it wants to
destroy fantasy seems a considerable exaggeration.  And I don't know
what you mean by saying it destroys sf (the time-traveller whose actions
cancel out time travel is itself an sf trope: see Ward Moore's BRING THE
JUBILEE, and especially Asimov's THE END OF ETERNITY, whose plot GWOT
basically cribs).

> Finally!  Reading GWOT outside of the context of NOVELTY might be as
> slippery/skewed as reading "`A Story' by John V. Marsch" outside of 5HC.
> (Or maybe not.)

I might be able to agree or disagree if I had any sense what the context
was.  It's been a while since I read it, but as I recall I couldn't make
head or tail of "In Blue" and found the first and last stories slight
(though the first was rather charming).


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

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