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Date: Wed, 30 Jan 2002 09:36:40 -0800
From: Michael Andre-Driussi 
Subject: Re: (urth) In Glory Like Their Star (SPOILERS) F&SF Mag story

My thinking on this story was very similar to what Adam posted.

>In any case, this is
>another good but enigmatic story by Wolfe.  I don't understand the
>narrator's thought processes at all; perhaps that was Wolfe's intention?

I agree.  There is something opaque about the narrator and the story:
whether this is due to alien-ness or something-being-hidden or
something-else-again seems to be an open question.

>I agree with Nutria that the "natives'" approach to the aliens represents
>pagan ritual, but I'd go further.  Ancient mystery cults promised those who
>were initiated immortality after death, and the narrator promises the man
>who helps him immortality.  The initiation ceremonies took place in a temple
>or cave, like the interior of the ship where the narrator tries to fulfill
>his promise.  The narrator tells all this to the natives; he believes he has
>succeeded in explaining that he failed, but he's probably wrong (despite
>what he thinks, he comprehends the natives no better than they do him).  I
>think what we see in this story is the birth of a mystery religion.

Again, I agree.  I don't recall if Nutria's trailblazing posts covered what
I am about to suggest, thus it seems new to me, but I also thought that the
natives were directing the space traveler into being like a god.  That is,
it wasn't exactly a top-down, "me-god, you worship" type of thing, but more
of a movement from bottom to top.  The traveler is being manipulated into
acting like a god, but the traveler resists certain things, so the result
is by definition a compromise of visions.  To me the story is "The
Fisherman and the Genie Bottle" crossed with the formation of a
mystery/cargo cult, finally becoming the tale of a reluctant god.

>Another peculiar thing is the narrator's reference to two subspecies, one
>larger and without tails, and "the little ones with tails."  My first
>thought was that the "lesser" subspecies were some sort of domestic animal,
>but it's hard to see how the narrator would think that any such animal is of
>the same species as humans (he's aware that the man's beast is a beast, and
>not of the man's species).  The other possibility that occurred to me was
>that the "lesser" subspecies is women, but of course women don't have tails.
>This makes me wonder if the story really takes place on Earth (the
>narrator's reference to Earth could be a translation of whatever the
>"natives" call their planet).

Yes.  And that whole weird thing about the desert . . .

>This is the narrator's misapprehension.  He thinks that in the desert "the
>horizon is larger than a place of this size can produce," and deduces that
>the desert is geometrically flat; that is not following the earth's
>curvature, but a plane intersecting the earth's sphere.  If this were the
>case, then the desert's edges would be further from the center of the earth
>than the desert's center, so walking away from the center would be like
>walking uphill (though I doubt that the effect would actually be
>perceptible; certainly not at the center itslef).

Let's use some numbers here.  On Earth-like planets (diameter), in a region
of flat-smoothness (ocean, sandy wastes), a standing human will perceive
the horizon at about 5 km away.  Anything further than that would be

So I started thinking about places like the Gobi Desert, and that old
kook/pulp notion that it was created by nuclear explosions by ancient
astronauts.  The narrator's description makes the relation of the planet to
the desert spot like an orange that has had its peel grated a bit: a sphere
which has had a small, glancing slice removed.

How big would this circle be?  Traveling 5 km is trivial: the narrator
travels many days, but in many different directions.

Then there is the navigational weirdness, which seems somewhat like being
at one of the poles with a compass and then the pole starts (impossibly)
moving.  If the "compass" of the story is reacting to magnetic fields, it
may be responding to buried magnetized masses, a cluster of local "poles"
of a sort.

>No; if Sol had actually died "in glory," that could only mean it had gone
>nova, in which case there could be no life on earth.  When the narrator says
>"died swiftly and in glory like their star," it is the star, not the death
>of the star, which is "in glory."

Yes, I agree about the nova, but I myself took the "solar glory" to mean
that the native was washed by the ship's fusion exhaust as it launched.
Because I'm otherwise vague on how the swift glory came about after the
trials of three days.

>Joshua wrote:
>> Everything but the desert appeared to vanish as the narrator approached. On
>> one level, this merely implies that the narrator's journey took a long time.
>> On another level, it might mean that material things *effectively*
>> disappeared for the narrator.
>Surely this just refers to mirages?

Yes, mirages.  But this, in turn, fed into my "vanished cities of the
ancients" sense of the story.  That is: they point to the possiblity of
vanished cities on this otherwise pre-city planet.

Gene Wolfe's "Planet of the Apes"?  It does seem a bit like it, especially
with the smaller species having tails.


Sirius Fiction
booklets on Gene Wolfe, John Crowley

Questions or problems: write ranjit@urth.net

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