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From: Adam Stephanides <adamsteph@earthlink.net>
Subject: Re: (whorl) TBOTSS as fantasy
Date: Tue, 20 Feb 2001 22:13:03 

on 2/18/01 11:23 PM, William Ansley at wansley@warwick.net wrote:

> No one forced Wolfe to write LS as a series loosely (and, before SS,
> uncertainly) linked to NS and UNS. Likewise, he did not have to write
> SS, as a direct continuation of LS and a series that also makes the
> link between LS/SS and NS/UNS all but certain. Wolfe choose to do so
> however. If he also choose to make the LS (and NS/UNS) SF and SS
> fantasy, I think he is being terribly unfair to his readers.
> I am certainly not alone in reading SS as SF.

Certainly not; I read it that way myself until about a week ago.  It was
reading Allan Lloyd's letter that gave me the idea of seeing it as fantasy,
and I saw that it could provide a rationale for several of the features of
SS that had annoyed me.  And I don't exactly mean to say that SS is not SF,
or at least I don't now; see below.

> All the arguments and
> discussions about the orbital mechanics of the Blue/Green system
> become meaningless if SS is fantasy.

I remember these discussions well because I participated in them.  But they
never came to a conclusion; and there's no indication of whether Wolfe ever
worried about making the orbital mechanics seem plausible.

> Robert Borski's reason's for
> saying he thinks the inhumi are lying when they say they can travel
> through space from Green to Blue and back are moot.

Right; and there's no suggestion in the books of any alternative means for
them to travel from Green to Blue, which strongly suggests to me that they
do fly, despite the scientific implausibility and lack of any
rationalization thereof.

> Why does Wolfe bother to put in so many SFnal details, if we are
> supposed to read SS as a fantasy,
[example snipped]
> Why does Wolfe bother with this passage, if all he wants to do is
> apply a veneer of SF to the book? Why wasn't the stuff Sinew never
> heard of pixie dust or duralloy or neutronium?

"Veneer" may have been the wrong word to use.  Certainly I didn't mean to
deny that the books take place in the future of our Earth, and involve such
SF tropes as a space colony seeded by a generation starship, self-aware
artifical humans, and so on.  A better way to put it migh have been that the
Short Sun books used the vocabulary of science fiction (for the most part),
but arranged it according to the syntax of fantasy.  Whether that makes them
"really science fiction" or "really fantasy" is a matter of taste.

> I can't say you are not right, because I don't know what was going on
> in Wolfe's mind, But, if you are right, I think Wolfe did a grave
> disservice to his readers and has made it impossible to seriously
> consider NS/UNS/LS/SS as a cohesive whole, which is surely what he
> wants; else why did he link the books so strongly?

I think it's difficult to consider the universe of the books as a cohesive
whole, because of the implausibilities I and others (including you) have
pointed out in the Short Sun books, which don't mesh well with the other
books.  But I'm not sure that you can't consider the books themselves, as
works of literature, as a cohesive whole.  After all, if I'm correct it
wouldn't be the first time Wolfe has switched genres in the course of a
series.  I'm referring to the series of linked short stories that starts
with "The Dark of the June" (iirc) and ends with "Thag."  The first story is
definitely science fiction, the last is definitely fantasy.  What Wolfe's
purpose in doing the same thing here would be, and whether he pulls it off,
are things I would have to think more about.

Alex David Groce wrote:
> I don't think SS is fantasy.  Or at least, I suspect it's not meant to
> be read that way.
> The reason it is problematic is that the narrator makes use of
> abilities that are as strange as Severian's and we don't understand
> why he has them or what their implications are.

That's one reason; I gave others in my original post.
> Basically, SS looks like fantasy until we have further understanding
> of the role of the Neighbors.  I'm willing to bet that if we can get
> that, it will be much easier to "buy" what Silkhorn does (as a use of
> the corridors of time, it makes considerable sense).  But I, at least,
> don't think I understand much about the Neighbors at all.

This is a possibility, of course: that there will turn out to be an
explanation for the Neighbors and their powers that makes them plausible as
aliens.  But I'm dubious; similar enigmas in earlier books have proved
remarkably resistant to the best efforts of explicators, as this list shows.

> The godling seemed vaguely unneeded, and I'm willing to believe that
> Wolfe used it as an impressive piece of stage setting (though I'd like
> to have some better justification), but the Neighbors are central to
> all three books, and I don't think they exist just "to be cool" or
> give Silk comic book powers to show us how necrotic Urth really was.

No, I certainly don't think that.  But I also don't think that they play the
same role as alien species in "real" sf.

In any case, I probably need to think this whole thing out further.


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