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Date: Wed, 9 Apr 2003 04:14:26 +0200
From: Christopher Culver 
Subject: (urth) Seven American Nights

I recently read "Seven American Nights" and think it is one of Wolfe's 
finest - and most chilling - works. I've long been unhappy that Wolfe 
has shown little interest in minority characters (and his black orderly 
in THERE ARE DOORS, quite the stereotype, makes me cringe), but I feel 
Wolfe's use of an Iranian protagonist was sincere and accurate. Who 
knows, though, how different Nadan would be had Wolfe been writing two 
years later after the Islamic Revolution when American bias against 
Iran really took off. I also find ironic Wolfe's clever reversal of an 
inhabitant of a developing country coming to America for sex tourism 
and drug tourism instead of vice versa, as Wolfe could have observed in 
the sixties and seventies when hippies were making escapes to 
Afghanistan and Goa.

Still, I've got several questions about the novella:

1) What caused the "genetic damage" in America? At one point Nadan 
makes a reference to artificial hormones used to grow cattle more 
quickly, so I at first assumed that it was caused by food which 
treatment unbeknowst to the population slowly caused damage, like mad 
cow disease today. But later on Ardis says the course of some rivers 
has changed, which could be consistent with a thermonuclear attack. 
Also, the Arab world is clearly superior in this novel, perhaps because 
Europe has been wiped out in a Cold War shootout, though apparently 
Rome is still around.

2) So, Ardis is the creature Nadan shot, right? But I don't understand 
why she wants to take him to the interior. It can't be she is one of 
the mutants from the interior, since her normal parents live in 
Washington... unless she is pretending to be their daughter, or they 
too are mutants. Why would Ardis want to take him into the interior?

3) The police are clearly conspiring against Nadan, so could the entire 
population be evil mutants like Ardis? But Nadan doesn't say there was 
anything abnormal about the three prostitutes who came to his hotel 

4) What is the secret under Mt. Rushmore? Could it be the command 
center of the current government, as South Dakota is remote and barren 
enough to escape a nuclear strike?

5) Whence the two plays mentioned in the novella? "Mary Rose" was 
clearly originally "Rosemary" in tribute to Wolfe's wife, but is it or 
the "Small Planet" play obviously based on any real work of literature?

I find SAN's very prototypical of The Book of the New Sun and Wolfe's 
other works of the 1980's. The tone of narration seems similar to that 
of Severian, and the protagonist's shooting of a person he later sleeps 
with is like Severian the Autarch's attack against Gunnie in the dark. 
The possibility that the entire plot comes from the ravings of a (in 
this case drug-inspired) lunatic is like THERE ARE DOORS.

Christopher Culver 


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