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From: "ArchD'Ikon Zibethicus" 
Subject: (urth) Generic considerations revisited
Date: Fri, 25 Apr 2003 02:44:15 +0000


>... _all_ fiction is set in a parallel world or alternate history.


>(Mimetic fiction, pretty much alone among the genres, is ashamed of its 
>fantastic nature and tries to hide it.)

...or is merely ignorant of it...


>A difference between a fictive universe that the author intends to 
> >correspond to the real world, and a fictive universe that introduces 
> >things that are not at present in the real world

I suspect that all literature is the consequence of a process of selection 
and elimination - at story is told which does not and cannot correspond to 
any 'real' events which may be their basis.

This, firstly, because 'real' life is distinctly plotless and, frequently, 
motiveless, and, secondly, because 'real' life cannot be narrated in its - 
oh, say its 'raw' form - for exactly that reason.

Well, perhaps it can be, but in that eventuality it is liable to wind up 
like that video I heard of a while back of somebody's drive down a British 
freeway - the camera is simply pointed fixedly out of the car, and one sees 
what the camera sees for HOURS.

Like Warhol's film of the Empire State Building - one shot sustained for 
HOURS - it might have substance as a dadaesque prank, but it is hard to 
imagine a large audience demanding repeated viewings.

>While the texts in question are rich in their coverage of the >characters' 
>subjective lives, they are ultimately object-oriented; >they take place in 
>a universe where the "meaning" of things and events >is the events 
>themselves, and not how they serve to reflect and >comment on the 
>characters' psyches.

This intrigues me.  How is this consistent with Serverian's realisation of 
his equivalence with the Conciliator?

>Further, when presenting what I, subjectively, regard as plainly 
> >miraculous, Wolfe seems to take a special glee in providing an out -- >in 
>giving or hinting at a "scientific," object-oriented explanation >for the 

But consider the ending of EotNS - Severian becomes one of the 
creator-figures of the New Urth.  I would suggest that there is a mythical 
(if not) mystical function to the story...although this precise detail may 
have been a later development...

>Asking about the mechanism by which Gregor Samsa is turned into a >giant 
>blattidaean is approximately as valid as asking why Typhon is >such a 
>bastard. You can ask, but the text won't respond.

Intriguing analysis.  It clarifies your earlier observations.

>his Venusian jungles are not really about Venusian jungles at all (and >in 
>fact frequently get bleshed with South American jungles); they're >about 
>the experience of being in a certain condition that the heat and >wet and 
>danger of the jungle represents.

Indeed, and I'd further suggest that one of the reasons for WSB's achivement 
as an author is his recognition of the inherently fantastic nature of all 
literary portrayal, as you have pointed out.

>You know, my edition of "Crash" doesn't seem to have that intro. I bought 
>it a looooong time ago. It must have been added in later (possibly 
>post-Cronenberg?) editions.

It's credited as the introduction to the 1974 French edition.  It's been in 
all the copies I have had since I started lending, losing and duly 
re-purchasing it in the early 1980s.  I find that it's a very interesting 
manifesto, at least as regards the 'internal apocalypse' period.

I'll add that Ballard is a significant instance of the acceptance of SF 
concepts by MF literature.  I recently read 'Super-Cannes' with enjoyment 
and interest, and found that (IMO) it really didn't differ too greatly in 
its premises from the 'hard SF' period.  Perhaps the reason it has become 
accepted as MF is that, as Ballard states, the concepts of MF have now 
caught up with (or been overwhelmed by?) SF.

>Note that even when we talk about Severian's personality we're inclined to 
>talk about objective matters in relation to it: how the Hieros (and 
>others?) manipulate spacetime to shape him, for example. In SF, the psyche 
>itself often becomes an object, and projects itself into the "objective" 
>world of the text via "psi" powers and the like.

Would you include in this perception Severian's destiny as, not merely the 
Autarch, but the Conciliator?  The Claw, after all, is ultimately 'powered' 
by Severian as the Conciliator - although at the time Severian encounters 
the Claw as a gem, he is unaware of this...

>Then, NINETEEN EIGHTY- FOUR  it isn't really about Winston >Smith; 
>it's about Ingsoc, its primary areas of concern are >socioeconomic.

Unless, perhaps, Orwell intended Smith's initial lack of character as a 
implicit comment about the socioeconomic nature of Ingsoc.  One might say 
that precisely what troubles Smith is the arrival of an incipient 
personality where this is forbidden; Orwell obviously read 'We' attentively.

>I should have said that Le Guin uses the tools of the SF t-and-d; THE 
> >DISPOSSESSED is very much part of that ongoing conversation.

Not to mention being (partly) about the practice of science and having a 
working scientist as its 'hero'.


Marked for attention.

>Some does. Some doesn't. Romance novels, for example, generally don't. 
>Technothrillers -- what Crichton, really, writes -- generally do.

Oh, I was thinking more of that dreary, obscure and little-selling 'genre' 
generally known as 'serious fiction'...

>I would expect that you'd be most actually _enjoy_ (if you can get >hold of 
>it) the paperback collection variously titled 6 X H or THE >UNPLEASANT 

Actually, at this juncture I should probably confess that my father was a 
'Golden Age' adherent; he had 'Astoundings' et al going back to the late 
40s, if I recall correctly, as well as hundreds if not thousands of 
paperbacks by Heinlein, Asimov, 'Doc' Smith, and a multitude of other 
authors whose names now escape me.  I've probably already read 'Jonathan 
Hoag', but not at an age where I could really profit from it...thanks for 
the suggestion, which I will pursue...

>H'mmm. I don't think that _this_ story could be told, but a story that was 
>pretty similar at the level of plot could be told in a purely fantastic 
>realm, certainly.

I'm sorry - that's a much better way of putting it!

>LORD OF THE RINGS and the Arthurian cycle take place in "the mythic past," 
>an ahistorical past whose relation to our present is epistemic rather than 
>ontic, if you follow me.

I _think_ so; the settings of the myth-cycles are ultimately inspecific 
because the purpose of the myths is to pursue epistemological knowledge 
about who and why we are, rather than to provide ontological knowledge 
regarding our creation and purpose for being in the sense which a 'real' 
religion/religious myth does - needing a specific locale for this 
purpose...is that it?

>This is possible but kind of a "so what?" hypothesis. Since we have no 
>specific differences to point at, they're human enough for purposes of 
>psychological "identification" by the reader.

Oh, indeed...the point was not one of any great significance, but rather a 
personal conjecture regarding BotNS which I used for illustrative purposes 
at this point.

One could, however, imagine a SF work which used subtle cumulative 
'psychological' detail to implicitly draw a portrait of a character or a 
society which the attentive reader would _gradually_ understand to be 

>Not just Palm Sunday. Didn't he also see the Crucifixion?

Not sure, must check.

>the "humans" aboard the Whorl (and possibly on Urth) have been genetically 
>engineered in a way that makes them more subject to certain kinds of 
>intrusion by dictators --

What a horrifying thought.  Fortunately or otherwise, history as well as 
contemporality proves only too clearly that humans are already all-too-ready 
to succumb to dictatorial leaders...

>H'mmm. Really? I found that in my first reading I was _fascinated_ by 
>object-oriented questions, from the socioeconomics of the Guilds, the 
>Autarch, etc.

To recall my first reading, I am obliged to return in thought to the 
mid-80s; something I am generally loath to do.

However, on my first reading of SotT I was simply captivated by the story.  
If I had any analytic notions at all, it would probably have been simply 
that I was being treated to a major literary event.  Analysis came later...

>-- regarding which, if I'm not mistaken, Wolfe gives us a >tantalizingly 
>brief appendix,

Indeed; claiming incomplete knowledge in consequence of the frustratingly 
incomplete archaeological record of the far future.

>The point here is that we've been forced to radically revise our 
> >definition of what the word "mountain" means in this culture twice.

Mr. Wolfe is one of the most painstaking of stylists, and his use of 
language is slyly vertiginous in BotNS; another of its treasures which is 
too often overlooked.

>(Why is scientific authenticity opposed to suspension of disbelief? 
>Scientific authenticity is, rather, a tool in service of suspension of 

It is not at all opposed to this purpose; I agree completely.  What I was 
trying to observe is that the initial publicity attempted to categorise SotT 
with the Gormenghast trilogy, which is avowedly fantastic in that it is a 
combination of, among many other elements, the Gothick castle in the 
original Otranto sense, Peake's recalled childhood in China, and a comedy of 
manners / eccentricities in a very English Dickensian sense.

Gormenghast could not exist as it is portrayed; however, Peake places it in 
some unspecified location _on Earth_, in that there is a moon which appears 
to be our own, although the stellar map is inspecific it appears to be our 
own, the flora and fauna are earthly as far as it is described, etc.  Yet, 
for instance, no other castles exist in the region, or if they do they are 
never mentioned.  Yet Lady Groan's unhappy marriage to Lord Sepulchrave 
implicitly is that of a foreigner of some sort, or at least a different 
lineage...but from where?

Peake, I would guess, was thinking as a poet and a painter when he wrote 
'Titus Groan'; the strength of his achievement is that he succeeds in making 
us forget about all these improbabilities for the duration of the reading.

The initial bracketing of SotT with the Gormenghast trilogy suggested to me 
that the publishers, at least, regarded the work as one involving suspension 
of disbelief in this sense, which is a property more commonly associated 
with 'fantastic literature' rather than 'SF' per se.  (This apart from the 
other similarities which you have already noted.)

...But I find myself wondering very greatly - partly in consequence of this 
discussion - whether these categories are of any great use to anyone other 
than publishers and book-sellers.

>I don't recall those comparisons, but it's an interesting pairing.

I could quote it, but my last copy has been out on loan somewhere for about 
three or four years, now.  It was my third or fourth copy, too...(sigh...)  
Will I ever learn?

>This has been a most interesting conversation for me also, and apparently 
>for several others who've jumped in.

Thank you for a stimulating and useful discussion!


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