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From: Michael Straight <straight@email.unc.edu>
Subject: Re: (urth) A Pullman Car on the Wolfe Train
Date: Thu, 2 Aug 2001 09:48:27 

On Wed, 1 Aug 2001, Alex David Groce wrote:

> > No. Once is a joke. Twice might be jokes. Three or four times, let
> > alone the dozens of things that have similar quasi-referentiality to
> > our world For examplw: all the places with same or similar names --
> > I could almost grant that if only as a conceptual "translation" to
> > give readers a clear sense of the geography. But the titles of
> > persons [various Oxonian titles], the references to historical
> > persons [i.e., Manicheeism] ... the fact that the [European] culture
> > of TGC's world is so _similar_ to ours, I suppose, is what bothers
> > me most. It seems to lack a certain kind of inventiveness that I
> > would hope would go into working out the ramifications of such a
> > radically _different_ Earth.

> Well, I haven't yet read TGC, but this is pretty common in alternate
> history fantasy.  

I haven't read TGC either, but it can't be as egregious in this regard as
Wolfe's _There Are Doors_.  TAD may be more tolerable since it doesn't
focus so much on the alternate world (which may even be a figment of the
protagonist's imagination), but it was a real stumbling block for me.  I
almost didn't pick up on what was weird about the alternate world because
I couldn't imagine something so radically different in a world that was
otherwise do much like ours.

> Restricting
> the changes because you want the frisson of John Calvin/Richard
> III/etc. in different roles in your world vs. people nobody has heard
> of and who have no connotations seems like perfectly legitimate
> fictional technique.

I think it's stupid.  An alternate world might have a "Pope John Calvin,"
but it would have to be an utterly different person that just happens to
have the same name.  The alleged "frisson" of "What would Hitler have been
like as a Hollywood movie star?" does nothing for me. It's my second-least
favorite trope in fiction right after the alleged "frisson" I'm supposed
to feel on finding out that the villain is really the hero's
brother/father/aunt/long-lost-pet/etc.  Not to say that good stories can't
be written with these techniques, but for me they have to be be good in
spite of them.


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

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