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Date: Fri, 07 Feb 2003 09:23:22 -0600
From: "Charles Reed" 
Subject: RE: (urth) New Wolfe online

Hello everyone.  I read "Castaway" a couple of times and thought I'd 
offer up some thoughts, and try a stab at answering some of Nigel's 
questions.  First, some observations:

I'm not sure why, but this story reminded me a little bit of "The Rime 
of Ancient Mariner" by Coleridge.  Maybe "reminded" is too strong a 
word.  Rather, I heard faint echoes of the poem in the story.  Did 
anybody else hear similar echoes?  

For example, the mariner in the poem was doomed to repeat his tale as a 
warning to others, while the narrator of the story feels compelled to 
tell his story about the castaway so that he can stop thinking about 
him.  That is, both tale-tellers suffer from a compulsion to tell their 
tale (as do all tale-tellers, I suppose).

Also, in the poem there was that bit about the mariner holding the 
wedding guest with his hand, then with his eye, which sort-of echoes the 
part in the story about the castaway grabbing the narrator's wrist "like 
a vice" when he gave that little speech about how they could have "saved 
her" if they had wanted to.  Which, in turn, kind-of echoes the idea of 
how the mariner could have saved the albatross (by not shooting it) if 
he had wanted to.  That's kind-of reaching, I know.

But there's also another echo.  Compare the poem:  "The many men, so 
beautiful! / And they all dead did lie: / And a thousand thousand slimy 
things / Lived on ; and so did I./ . . . . /The very deep did rot : O 
Christ ! / That ever this should be! / Yea, slimy things did crawl with 
legs / Upon the slimy sea."  It's the image of something dead (the 
becalmed sea) being consumed from within, as in the story:  ". . . was 
she still alive when we took him off, because he'd said how sick she 
was, and I thought he wouldn't go off and leave her. /// He sort of 
smiled. I never had seen a smile like that before, and I don't ever want 
to see another one. "She was and she wasn't," he said. "There were 
things inside her, eating the corpse. Does that count?" /// I said no, 
of course not, for it to count they would have to have been part of her. 
/// "They were," he said, and that was the real end of it."

And, of course, there's the obvious similarity between the mariner and 
the castaway being the only beings left alive aboard a doomed 
ship/planet and having to deal with the various ghosts and spirits being 
called forth.

Well, so much for that.  Now let me try the questions:  Nigel asked:

 > The fact that the day is shorter by half an hour than it once was
 > indicates - what? That the planet's rotation has speeded up? What's the
 > significance of that?

According to an article on www.faqs.org (the astronomy archive), "Prior 
to forming a planetary nebula, a low-mass star (i.e., one with a mass 
similar to that of the Sun) forms a red giant. Planets close to the star 
are engulfed in the expanding star, spiral inside it, and are destroyed. 
In our own solar system, Mercury and Venus are doomed. . . . When a star 
enters the red giant phase, the rate at which it loses mass can 
accelerate. The mass of a star determines how far a planet orbits from 
it. Thus, as the Sun loses mass, the orbits of the other planets will 
expand. The orbit of Mars will almost certainly expand faster than the 
Sun does, thus Mars will probably not suffer the same fate as Mercury 
and Venus. It is currently an open question as to whether the Earth will 
survive or be engulfed."

So the answer to the question is that the Earth in the story (assuming 
that it is Earth) is spiraling into the sun along with Mercury and 
Venus, therefore speeding up its rotation.

 > So: what are "things inside her, eating the corpse"? Worms eat 
corpses, but
 > what eats a planet, literally or metaphorically? And what does it 
mean that
 > the things were "part of her"?
 > Are we to read that the things inside the planet are humans in 
 > shelters, having killed off the planet by waging nuclear war which
 > precipitated a nuclear winter? The humans are part of the ecosystem or
 > "Gaia" model and therefore "part of" the woman?

I think the Coleridge stuff I talked about earlier addresses these 
questions.  I don't see any evidence to conclude that there are humans 
living "inside her" or that the planet is experiencing a "nuclear winter."

Two questions of my own:

1) The castaway says, "We could have saved her. Earlier. We could have 
made her young again. We could have taken her away. We could have done 
it. Nothing stopping us." But later on he says, "But it was all over for 
her, and she knew it. We never wanted to help her. We never wanted to 
save her, and now we couldn't if we wanted to. It's too late. Too late 
..."  So.  How could she have been saved?  How much earlier is he 
talking about?  Is he talking about a future Earth (or Urth) where the 
New Sun doesn't come, and is the New Sun the way she could have been saved?

2) Who was the real castaway, the man or the planet?


P.S.  Does anybody know how to get back on the mailing list?  I put it 
on holiday mode about three months ago, and now can't seem to turn it 
off, even though I've followed all the directions in the "Complete 
Instructions" and have even tried re-subscribing.  All to no effect. 
 Any ideas?


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