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From: "Dan'l Danehy-Oakes" <ddanehy@siebel.com>
Subject: RE: (whorl) Re: Digest whorl.v012.n101
Date: Tue, 17 Apr 2001 11:33:49 

Timothy Reilly objected to my use of the word "petty" wrt Wolfe's
use of astral travel.

> "Petty"...well it substantially decreased my enjoyment of the
> series, 

I would suggest that this has far more to do with your expectations
of what is and what isn't "science fiction" than to do with the 
quality of the writing.


> and leads directly to the issue discussed previously as to
> whether Wolfe is writing Science Fiction or Science Fantasy.  

I stand by my claim: Mr Wolfe is writing science fiction, but does
not make the same assumptions most SF writers do about the nature
of (physical and other) reality. 

> t is something of a disappointment to find it's the latter
> after the earlier books in this "universe of discourse" (TBNS
> and TBLS) suggested the former.  

Granted NEW made some handwaving attempts to offer pseudoscientific 
explanations for ... some of ... the Miracles of Severian, how 
anyone can read LONG without recognizing right up front that Silk's 
enlightenment on page one is an unvarnished miracle is quite beyond
me. NEW is, in Mr Wolfe's own words, an attempt at theodicy -- "the
justification of the ways of God to Man." LONG is (among many,
many other things) an extended meditation on the process of Divine
revelation. It is perhaps best read in light of the SOLDIER books;
Mr Wolfe has some very definite opinions (well, perhaps "opinions" 
is too strong a word: "speculations") about the reality of Pagan 
gods. I have long suspected that if Mr Wolfe had continued that series
Latro would have had some experience or experiences leading him to 
or towards monotheism.

No; if "the intrusion of the miraculous into the story" forces a
book into the pigeonhole labelled "Science Fantasy," then LONG and
NEW belong in that pigeonhole quite as much as does SHORT.


> As I've asked before, why doesn't the Narrator try to astral
> travel to Seawrack or Nettle (the two places he repeatedly says
> he wants to be) once he's discovered this useful ability?  

Why he doesn't _try_ is an interesting question and may reveal
something about the Narr; or it may perhaps be an omission on Mr
Wolfe's part. "Even Homer nods."

I think it is fairly clear, though, that it could not have 
succeeded -- Horn seems to be able to astral-travel (a) only in 
the presence of an inhum[u|a] and (b) only to places that someone 
with whome he is astral-travelling has been, i.e., to Green 
(because all the inhumi have been there, pretty much by definition) 
or Urth (because wossisface of Soldo has been there).


> The rules of astral travel don't seem sufficiently clear to
> rule this out.  Instead he goes (involuntarily it seems) to 
> Green, and (it seems eventually voluntarily) to Urth.  

Hoom. I think it's a bit more complicated than that. _First_ he
goes involuntarily to Green. Later, he goes semi-voluntarily to
Green. In _Return_, he goes (I believe) voluntarily to Green. His
first trip to Urth is semi-accidental. His final trip to Urth is
quite deliberate, and is possible only because Scaldin' Scylla,
who is present in Oreb, has been there.


> The problem with giving characters these magic abilities is that
> it's irritating when they don't use them (or at least try to use
> them) in the way that would be rational given the motivations
> they've described.

Again, agreed in principle; the question then is whether this is 
a failure on Mr Wolfe's part (as it might be) or some clue to
the actual (as opposed to claimed) motivations of the Narr. Given
Mr Wolfe's demonstrated skill as a writer of unreliable narrators,
I think it is at least worth while to spend some time (a year or
so) living with the assumption that there is something more there
before tossing the books aside as miswritten.


> Plus, there's no plausible mechanism for astral travel even
> suggested, unlike the mirrors in TBNS or the descriptions in LS
> of how the gods possess people.  

But very much like the transmogrification of water to wine in NEW 
and the enlightenment of Silk in LONG...


> > Juvenilia of the LS series? What on _earth_ are you talking about?
> > LONG is quite possibly the most mature sf series I have ever read.

> What on _urth_ I'm talking about is that TBLS is IMHO (and not only 
> mine...) clearly juvenilia by the standards Wolfe established in TBNS,
> especially in terms of narrative style but also content.  

Interesting: I would say that in terms of style, LONG manages the 
subtlety of NEW without the outright obscurity. In terms of content,
well, chacun  son gout et tout comme a, but I see the difference
between a story which, when the cool stuff is stripped away, is
bascially about what leadership and sacrifice really are, and a 
story which, when the _really_ cool stuff is stripped away, is 
basically standard SF wish-fulfillment about the young outcast's 
rise to power. And the latter by you is more mature? Ah, well...

(Mind you, I am not dismissing NEW as juvenilia by any means.)


> And really, what _is_ all this stuff about the past, future or
> present "gods of Blue"?  

Early days yet; I can't say.


> How many gods does a planet need?

One ... provided it's the _right_ God. 8*)

As Michael S. pointed out, the only example we have to point at
suggests that, however many gods a planet actually _needs_, it
seems to accumulate rather terrifying numbers of them. At times
the history of Earth religions makes Dunsany's "Gods of Pegana"
look quite plausible.


> Are the "minor" gods of the LS whorl all originally other friends
> etc of Typhon (eg Kypris)?  

No. The Outsider is "a minor god."

> What does "god"' mean in the LS and SS series?  

It is a deliberately ambiguous, multivalued and multiordinal term.
The Outsider is _not_ a god in the same sense as the Mother. Neither
is a god in the same sense as Pas. None of these is a god in the
same sense that Scylla-in-Oreb is a goddess. Furthermore, Pas and 
Passilk and Kypris, all in Mainframe, are not gods in quite the 
same sense.


> It's one thing to have a society ruled by computer scans of former
> people who are treated as gods (LS); it's another to have a planet
> where "god" means all or any of the above.

Yes, it is. And your point is? I mean, ambiguity from Wolfe?
Who'd'a thunk it?

--Dan'l


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