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From: "Nigel Price" <nigel.a.price@virgin.net>
Subject: (urth) What the El?!?
Date: Thu, 23 Aug 2001 18:22:42 +0100

Thanks to Mantis for beating the Illinois county bounds, and to Joshua for
useful information on the Chicago area and the background to Holly
Hollander's adventures. I very nearly asked, "What is the El, then?", but
just managed to stop myself in time. I assume that it's an Elevated Railway
or something of the kind. (I think that Fritz Leiber mentions it in his
mini-autobiography, the splendidly entitled, "Not much disorder and not so
early sex: an autobiographic essay." He lived near it at some stage in his
young life, if I recall.)

Thanks, too, to Dan'l, for the encouraging words. You're absolutely right to
warn about the horrifying and revolting bits in the Night's Dawn trilogy,
and its theological incorrectness. I really liked the whisky priest, Father
Elwes, and enjoyed his (absolutely predictable!) change of heart and
spirited recovery, exorcism and extemporary orphanage included. (Patera
Silk, also an occasional exorcist, would have been proud of him.) His
conversation with the bishop when he finally gets to Tranquillity is really
disappointing, though. He says something along the lines of, "Well, of
course, Christianity is really all about believing in yourself, isn't it?"
The bishop nods in agreement, and you think, well, no, actually, that isn't
what it's about. Pretty well the opposite, in fact.

As for the entropic hell of The Dark Continuum and the paradise worlds of
the Kiint, one couldn't really take them seriously, though the former was
horribly chilling (as it were) and the latter would be a nice place to visit
for a holiday. (Have to be better than bloomin' Disneyland Paris. Please,
just don't ask. It's all too painful...)

Here, though, is an interesting hierarchy of universes, reminiscent in many
ways of Wolfe's cabalistic concatenation of worlds in TBotNS, but altogether
less subtle. Wolfe makes the point in UotNS that Yesod and Briah exist at
different energy levels. The Brook Madregot flows "down hill" from Yesod to
Briah as energy seeks a lower state. (Thank you, Mantis - again.) Hamilton's
different universes are also at different energy levels, and he makes great
of play of the fact. This is the source of power for the dead, who still
retain an open link with the higher energy state of the beyond even when
they enter our universe by possessing a living being. Conversely, it's the
reason why The Dark Continuum poses such difficulties for Valisk and its
inhabitants. The Dark Continuum is the bottom of the hill, energistically,
the place where all the energy flows to and dissipates in entropy.

(Urth is often described as a place where entropy has gone a long way
towards running its course. Radioactive elements have degenerated into
harmless metals, mineral resources are exhausted and the sun is slowly
dying. The icy future Severian glimpses from the Last House awaits the world
if someone cannot bring the New Sun...)

As in Wolfe, Hamilton's different dimensions at some level evoke Christian
spiritual states or places, specifically here, heaven and hell, although it
has to be said that in Hamilton, the evocation is fairly playful, and at
times wilfully daft. I especially enjoyed the nice throwaway reference to
"The Prisoner" TV series. The Kiint's former human agents, retired to the
book's heaven-analogue, stubbornly insist on calling their sunny but remote
xenoc retirement home "The Village".

I have to admit that neither the gore nor the theological silliness stopped
me enjoying Hamilton's books. They're definitely prime examples of Dan'l's
Type 2 kind of novel.

If I ever get time to finish and send in my other submission to the list,
the one with "Ion" in the title somewhere, I'll try to tackle the subject of
Platonism and hierarchies. Don't hold me to it, though. Things are getting
busy once more, and I may just disappear for another year or so...

A long way from Illinois

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

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