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From: Alex David Groce <Alex_Groce@gs246.sp.cs.cmu.edu>
Subject: Re: (urth) Scattered Shots
Date: Thu, 02 Aug 2001 13:55:05 

Dan'l said:

> TGC is not just an "alternate history fantasy," in which some random
> event in the past has historical ramifications. I think most of
> these (there are exceptions, like _THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE_) are
> simply silly, and almost precisely to the extent that they do the
> "what would Richard III or John Calvin have done in this world?"
> bit.

I fail to see why they are silly; considering them to be
science-fiction rather than fantasy strikes me as odd, but that's
another story.  The examples I came up with and (how on earth did I
not think of this?) _There are Doors_ are not perhaps in worlds as
radically different as Pullman's, but they're not simple "Ghandi
becomes a car salesman" stuff, which often _is_ silly (I'm thinking of
some Baby Boomers obsession with putting JFK and other historical
figures through every possible profession, although when Howard
Waldrop does it I like it).

Think of the technique as a musical variation on a theme in real
history.  _The Dragon Waiting_ has a Richard III not unrelated to
ours, or arbitrarily changed--I think there's a possibility for the
study of character and contingent situations in this kind of thing.
Garrett's Lord Darcy stories aren't up to that kind of thing, but the
altered but near background works well for me, at least.  Keith
Roberts' _Pavane_ would also be in this class, and also changes more
than history--in all of these, magic really works, which would
presumably (but what does a counterfactual even mean?) alter the world
beyond recognition just as Wolfe's reproductive cycle in _There are
Doors_ would.  Actually, Wolfe shows one reason to do this: the whole
ambiguity of the Green's sanity would be much less interesting if the
other world were completely and utterly different, not just a
reworking of themes in our own history.  

Expecting fantasies to follow a rigorous logic that (a) is in a sense
as hypothetical as the logic of these stories and (b) would destroy
the fictional aim of the author and much of the enjoyment of the story
for many people strikes me as unfair.

I'll also add that Walter Jon Williams in _Aristoi_ uses daemon in its
classical sense, and that Pullman could be just borrowing a reasonable
coinage from Socrates.  On the other hand, one reason I've put off
reading the series so far is that the anti-Lewis essays struck me as
the work of a particularly rude village atheist whose hatred for
Christianity moved him to berate Lewis for writing books for children
that might (gasp and horror of horrors) move them to think differently
than Pullman, and then set out to do the same thing himself, secure
that his side wasn't propaganda, it was plain and simple truth.  But
that's unfair--there are plenty of writers I enjoy despite their
utterly wrongheaded opinions, and I shouldn't let the fact that I ran
into Pullman at his worst turn me away from trying his books.  That he
disdains fantasy except for Terry Brooks is what should really worry

"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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