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From: Ranjit Bhatnagar <ranjit@gradient.cis.upenn.edu>
Subject: (whorl) Nightside; story vs mystery
Date: Fri, 28 Feb 1997 19:09:42 

[Posted from Whorl, the mailing list for Gene Wolfe's Book of the Long Sun]

> Let me ask another question (and this one is prompted by laziness, I
> fear -- I haven't searched for quotes).  What is the shade and how does
> it work?  Is the night sky of Viron dark but lit with the lights of the
> cities on the other side of the whorl, or is it bright with the sunlight
> shining on those cities?

The shade seems to be a strip which covers about half the
sun, and rotates around the sun so that it's day on one side
of the whorl and night on the other.  The glare of the sun
blocks the view of the other side -- the Skylands -- until
shadeup (or shadedown -- now I can't remember which is
which).  After Silk is knocked out cold by the white-headed
bird, he wakes up with the skylands swimming before his eyes
(i.e. he's flat on his back).  It must be pretty darn bright
even at night, but on the other hand it's nearly pitch dark
in Mucor's room at night even though she has a window.

In Exodus, the travelers to Mainframe see the thing which
makes the shade -- it appears to be blowing opaque smoke or
mist out along the axis of the whorl.  Presumably, as the
whorl rotates around the sun, the shade forms a gentle
spiral around it; perhaps the spiral effect is too slight to

Maybe Mainframe distinguishes summer from winter by varying the
width of the shade, to emulate the shorter days/longer
nights of winter on a planet.

I was wondering today -- is the Whorl long like a cucumber,
or fat like a potato?  It's gotta be big, with hundreds of
cities (Sand or Hammerstone in the tunnels).  Silk sees
"countless" cities in the skylands, yet only a few are close
enough for travel and trade.  On the other hand, it's only a
few days or weeks by airship to Mainframe.  If nearly all
the Whorl is visible in the sky but the east pole (or was it
west?) is close, that argues for a potato shape.

Why did Wolfe choose to put East/West along the axis,
instead of North/South?  Just out of perversity, I suppose.
The sun rises (shade lowers) in the south (north?), and
there's a west pole.  If the shade is spiral-shaped, then
the sun could rise in the southeast, but nobody ever
mentioned a spiral.


I'm a lazy reader; I like an entertaining story without too
much work.  But I'm also a curious reader; if the puzzles
and mysteries are intriguing enough, I'll enjoy puzzling
them over.  The New Sun and Long Sun books are to me a good
balance of story and mystery, though Exodus gets just a bit
too mysterious for my tastes.  Even if I didn't appreciate
any of the symbolism and hidden connections in the Book of
the New Sun, I could still enjoy Severian's adventures.
Exodus, on the other hand, leaves the reader going "Huh?"
The surface story doesn't quite work for me, the Lazy
Reader, so the mystery becomes more vital.

 - raton

Questions or problems to whorl-owner@lists.best.com

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