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Date: Mon, 18 Nov 2002 09:43:53 -0600
From: "Charles Reed" 
Subject: Re: (urth) The leatherskin

Hello Don.

I'd like to respond to your idea about the "alien-ness" the animals of 
the Blue/Green system.  You say that the leatherskin is "the only really 
alien creature in the book," but I think you're mistaken.  ALL the 
animals we encounter on Blue are very and extremely alien to anything 
that existed on the Whorl.  It's just that settlers, where possible, 
have given the alien animals names that reflect the only animal names 
they know.

For example, there's a beast on blue that is rather large, lives in the 
forest, and has a very long snout.  Instead of making up something new, 
they start calling it an elephant, despite the fact that it has eight 
legs.  It's much easier to do that than try to create a new taxonomy. 
 Every settler knows what a real elephant is, and this new creature of 
Blue is similar enough in appearance that when somebody says "elephant" 
everybody immediately knows what is being talked about.  Similarly, 
there's a creature that lives in the river that is at least vaguely 
reptilian, probably looks like a log floating in the water when still, 
and might eat you if you fall in, so instead of making up something new, 
they call it a crocodile, even though these new crocodiles are obviously 
not the same animal as the "real" crocodile whence their name derives 
("real" crocodiles don't have eight legs).  

That's not to say that some Blue animals don't get new names.  Some 
animals are so different that they're not reminiscent enough of a Whorl 
animal to inherit a Whorl name.  In those cases, the names given are 
very utilitarian and descriptive in nature -- such as "leatherskin."

You're also forgetting the inhumi, and the great variety of alien beings 
on Green, which were pretty much mentioned only in passing.  Still, some 
of their descriptions bear little resemblance to anything we ran into on 
the Whorl.

Blue is an alien world.  The evolution of land-based life on Blue for 
some reason favored octopedal locomotion rather than quadrupedal 
locomotion, as was the case on Urth and subsequently in the Whorl.  In 
fact, I can't think of a single animal we meet that is native to Blue 
that does not have eight limbs, and that includes the departed Neighbors.

Wolfe is an extremely surprising writer, and is often subtle -- 
sometimes subtle to point of being frustrating -- but I really don't 
regard him as being "tricky."  I tend to take his (and his narrator's) 
explanations at face value until there is a reason to do otherwise. 
 Sometimes there is such a reason, but I don't think this is one of 
those times.


Don Doggett wrote:

>Howdy all,
>One of (imho) Wolfe's first tricks in SS to give us the impression of Blue
>as an alien world is his introduction of the leatherskin, a terrible
>creature with three (gasp!) jaws.  It is the only really alien creature in
>the book (even the neighbors are four limbed humanoids).  Or is it?  Here's
>a more mundane (sort of) explanation:  The leatherskin is a sort of evolved
>shark. Yes, a shark.  Its three jaws are really three rows of teeth.  To
>someone like Horn, or Silk, who has probably never had any previous
>experience with salt water creatures, these rows could very well appear to
>be three jaws.  Sort of the way people with no experience with horseback
>riding might have seen the first horsemen as centaurs.  Sharks also have
>extremely rough skin.  Just a thought (a scary thought - a shark that can
>climb into your boat.  Ugh.)


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