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Shadow & Claw (The Book of the New Sun #1-2)
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2011 Reads > S&C: You've Got Your Science Fiction in My Fantasy! (gradual spoilers)

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message 1: by Jlawrence, S&L Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jlawrence | 960 comments Mod
In this thread we can start cataloging and discussing science-fiction elements as they begin to appear in the fantasy-seeming world of the New Sun.

I think one way we might keep this from getting too spoilery is to note which book and chapter(s) the element comes from as the first line in a post, followed by some blank space. So someone scanning can tell if a post is addressing stuff they haven't read yet.


message 2: by Jlawrence, S&L Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jlawrence | 960 comments Mod
Shadow, Chapters 1 & 3
--------------------


Vodalus' laser pistol -- "There was a shot, a thing I had never seen before, the bolt of violet energy splitting the darkness like a wedge, so that it closed with a thunderclap. Somewhere a monument fell with a crash." (pg. 11 of my ORB paperback edition)

Fliers -- Possible high or medium tech vehicles still in use?

"The fog swallowed him up long before he reached the rim, and a few moments later a silver flier sharp as a dart screamed overhead." (pg. 14)

"Weeks, if you walked. Naturally the Autarch could get here by flier in an instant if he wanted to. The Flag Tower - that's where the flier would land." (pg. 26)


message 3: by Jlawrence, S&L Moderator (last edited Feb 09, 2011 08:54PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jlawrence | 960 comments Mod
Shadow, Chapters 2-4
-------------------


The Citadel towers as defunct rocketships

The first hint - "In our Matachin Tower, a certain bar of iron thrusts from a bulkhead at the height of a man's groin. Male children small enough to stand upright beneath it are nurtured as our own..." (pg. 17)

Bulkheads are again mentioned in the vision Severian has when he almost drowns in Gyoll. (pg. 20)

The biggest indicator is tucked away in a parenthesis when Severian is describing the different compartments of the Matachin tower from top to bottom in the beginning of chapter 3. Near the end of that description:

"Just underground lies the examination room; beneath it, and thus outside the tower proper (for the examination room was the propulsion chamber of the original structure) stretches the labyrinth of the oubliette." (italics added) (pg. 22)

From that it's clear that Severian has some idea what the tower was originally used for -- that the concept of the towers being vehicles that would be propelled somewhere is not totally lost. But how does that fit into the general non-technological view of the world and Severian himself? We're given a hint of that when Severian describes the tunnels he gets lost in while looking for Triskele in chapter 4:

"I have no way of knowing how old those tunnels are. I suspect, though I can hardly say why, that they antedate the Citadel above them, ancient though it is. It comes to us from the very end of the age when the urge to flight, the outward urge that sought new suns not ours, remained, though the the means to achieve that flight were sinking like dying fires. Remote as that time is, from which hardly one name is recalled, we still remember it. Before it there must have been another time, a time of burrowing, of the creation of dark galleries, that is now utterly forgotten." (italics added) (pg. 32)

So Severian's society only dimly remembers an age of spaceflight, but no specific history of it, and either the knowledge of how to achieve it or the resources needed or it are lost.


message 4: by Jared (new)

Jared (jared_king) | 51 comments Shadow, Chapter erm 6ish
-------------------------



The head curator refers to a small cube lost somwhere in the library that contains more books than contained within the whole library. (is that some sort of recursion?? haha) Apologies for my lack of a reference; I'm listening to the audiobook - in which the pronunciation of Triskele is tricycle ;)


message 5: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Jlawrence wrote: "From that it's clear that Severian has some idea what the tower was originally used for -- that the concept of the towers being vehicles that would be propelled somewhere is not totally lost. But how does that fit into the general non-technological view of the world and Severian himself?"

Consider this bit from Chapter 1:

"When soldiers take their oath they are given a coin, an asimi stamped with the profile of the Autarch. Their acceptance of that coin is their acceptance of the special duties and burdens of military life -- they are soldiers from that moment, though they know nothing of the management of arms. I did not know that then, but it is a profound mistake to believe that we must know of such things to be influenced by them, and in fact to believe so is to believe in the most debased and superstitious kind of magic. The would-be sorcerer alone has faith in the efficacy of pure knowledge; rational people know that things act of themselves or not at all."

The idea that semiotics have an objective reality independent of culture is essentially magic, while what Severian describes as the "debased and superstitious" magic of sorcerers is science.


message 6: by John (last edited Feb 10, 2011 07:33PM) (new)

John (jacor) Sorry, but I find no "fantasy" in this series. Every element is based in technology. That some aspects of this world appear feudal and other elements are so advanced as to appear to be magic does not mean science and technology is not the basis of this world.


Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. - Arthur C. Clarke


message 7: by Jlawrence, S&L Moderator (last edited Feb 10, 2011 07:52PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jlawrence | 960 comments Mod
Jared wrote: "I'm listening to the audiobook - in which the pronunciation of Triskele is tricycle ;)

Haha, that never occured to me! I just looked up Triskele in the Lexicon Urthus which handily reminded me that he's a three-legged dog *slaps forehead!*. Apparently 'triskele' meaning 'three-legged' goes back to when it was "a three-legged icon used in the worship of Apollo."

I'll be on the lookout for the library scene.

Sean wrote: "The idea that semiotics have an objective reality independent of culture is essentially magic, while what Severian describes as the "debased and superstitious" magic of sorcerers is science. "

Sean, that's an excellent quote. You're right, it makes sense that this society could recognize some things as technological artifacts (Severian recognizing the tower as a rocket), but at the same time view the thought and craft that brought those things into being as a debased kind of sorcery. Although, he doesn't seem to describe the 'age of the urge of flight' in necessarily negative terms.

What's also interesting is the phrase "it is a profound mistake to believe that we must know of such things to be influenced by them" has some truth to it, in that the inhabitants of Urth are constantly effected by the high-tech relics they no longer understand.


message 8: by Jlawrence, S&L Moderator (last edited Feb 10, 2011 09:05PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jlawrence | 960 comments Mod
John wrote: "Sorry, but I find no "fantasy" in this series. Every element is based in technology. That some aspects of this world appear feudal and other elements are so advanced as to appear to be magic does does not mean science and technology is not the basis of this world."

That's why I wrote "fantasy-seeming world" in my initial post.

There's plenty of fantasy tropes, images and symbols being employed by Wolfe, even if there's science-fictional explanations behind them all. That's why it's fun to zero in on the way Wolfe weaves the high technology ("science fiction elements") into what otherwise could seem a feudal or fantasy setting at first.

There's also some things Severian encounters later in the books that stretched my ability to come up with science fiction explanations for them, so they will be interesting to discuss when we get to them. It'd be too spoilery to get into them now, though...


message 9: by Noel (new)

Noel Baker | 364 comments Sean wrote: "Jlawrence wrote: "From that it's clear that Severian has some idea what the tower was originally used for -- that the concept of the towers being vehicles that would be propelled somewhere is not t..."

This quote is a really good illustration of Wolfe's writing style. Did anyone else have to read that paragraph several times to work out what it was saying? Ok I admit I might be a bit mentally deficient, but I reall feel that is could put more succinctly and elegantly.

Half way through the paragraph he says ' it is a profound mistake to believe that we must know of such things.......' What things? Things generally? Things that go bump in the night? Things aren't what they used
to be?

I think I know what he's getting at but the use of the phrase 'such things'
Is not supported by the previous sentence. Taken as a whole, it is an ugly lump of prose which is,unfortunately, typical of this writer's work and is one of the reasons why, despite years of trying, I cannot warm to his work.
I do however salute the persistence of those who like his work.


message 10: by Jlawrence, S&L Moderator (last edited Feb 11, 2011 12:00PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jlawrence | 960 comments Mod
Noel wrote: "Half way through the paragraph he says 'it is a profound mistake to believe that we must know of such things.......' What things? Things generally? Things that go bump in the night? Things aren't what they used to be?

I think I know what he's getting at but the use of the phrase 'such things' Is not supported by the previous sentence."


Hmm, the reference of "such things" seems pretty clear to me. It does point directly to the previous sentence - "such things" = "facts, such as the fact that accepting the coin means swearing loyalty."

What I found difficult in that quote was untangling the rest of it - what exactly Severian is saying about debased sorcery, etc. Sean's interpretation has helped me untangle that now.

The prose is very dense in Book of the New Sun, but part of what makes it work for me is that Severian alternates between abstract ponderings, like that quote, and very evocative physical descriptions, and well-written dialogue where clearly distinct voices are heard - ie, it doesn't stay in the tangled abstract.

Wolfe's writing style in the loosely connected later series, Book of the Long Sun and Book of the Short Sun, is much more direct and less dense.

Edit: I started a separate thread about Wolfe's writing style, because it is a big component of people's reactions to the books.


message 11: by Noel (new)

Noel Baker | 364 comments Jlawrence wrote: "Noel wrote: "Half way through the paragraph he says 'it is a profound mistake to believe that we must know of such things.......' What things? Things generally? Things that go bump in the night? Th..."

Yes, I can see what You and Sean mean but, to my poor sensibilities, it is put in such a dull and turgid manner, unnecessarily so. It's written in the style of insurance and government documentation. Did he ever work for the Department of Works and Pensions at all?


message 12: by Noel (new)

Noel Baker | 364 comments Jlawrence wrote: "Noel wrote: "Half way through the paragraph he says 'it is a profound mistake to believe that we must know of such things.......' What things? Things generally? Things that go bump in the night? Th..."

Generally, I like good reflective prose. I quite like writers that indulge in abstract musings as long as it is done clearly and elegantly. There is always the danger that some people will mistake dense, dull and opaque writing for profundity.


message 13: by Jlawrence, S&L Moderator (last edited Feb 12, 2011 07:57AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jlawrence | 960 comments Mod
Noel wrote: "Generally, I like good reflective prose. I quite like writers that indulge in abstract musings as long as it is done clearly and elegantly. There is always the danger that some people will mistake dense, dull and opaque writing for profundity."

I totally understand that reaction - can you add it to the Wolfe's Writing Style thread so that discussion could get rolling?

That particular passage we're discussing is not so much about profundity as it is about revealing Severian's non-scientific world view and making a double-layered comment on how the inhabitants of Urth are effected by technological artifacts they no longer understand.

The passage is convoluted on purpose, just as the mention of the tower's propulsion chamber is tucked away in parenthesis, as part of Wolfe's strategy at this early point to only subtly hint at the science fiction basis of the world. He does not have Severian clearly say, "Scientific thought and its products are a corrupt kind of magic." or "My tower, which used to be a rocket ship." Those meanings *are* there, but you have to be looking for them, or tease them out. That's partly what this thread is about.


message 14: by Jlawrence, S&L Moderator (last edited Feb 12, 2011 08:16AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jlawrence | 960 comments Mod
Shadow, Chapter 5
--------------------



The astronaut in the picture - "The picture he was cleaning showed an armored figure standing in a desolate landscape. It had no weapon, but held a staff bearing a strange, stiff banner. The visor of this figure's helmet was entirely of gold, without eye slits or ventilation; in its polished surface the deathly desert could be seen in reflection, and nothing more." (pg. 36)

A bit later, the picture-cleaner comments on the picture, "There's your blue Urth coming over his [the figure in the picture's] shoulder, fresh as the Autarch's fish".

The two have this exchange:

"I managed to say, 'Is that the moon? I have been told it's more fertile.'
'Now it is, yes. This was done before they got it irrigated.' "
(pg. 38)

So again Severian reveals he knows something about past scientific achievements (travel to and even terraforming of the moon). And is this the earliest hint that Urth could be future Earth?


Larry (lomifeh) | 88 comments @Jlawrence: What exactly Urth is is revealed over the rest of the books. I won't spoil it.

One thing I love in this book is that it is really science fiction. There are some things that smack of mysticism and magic though. Some of the major supporting characters really throw a monkey wrench in figuring this all out as they are introduced.

What I love is the complexity of the books.


message 16: by Noel (new)

Noel Baker | 364 comments Jlawrence wrote: "Noel wrote: "Generally, I like good reflective prose. I quite like writers that indulge in abstract musings as long as it is done clearly and elegantly. There is always the danger that some people ..."

Thanks, between your replies here and your comments on the book that I've just listened to on the latest podcast, you have done the impossible and have made me seriously consider digging out my decades old copies of this book and giving them another try. Perhaps my older self will appreciate them more. Thanks for your patience too.


message 17: by Jared (new)

Jared (jared_king) | 51 comments Sean wrote: "The idea that semiotics have an objective reality independent of culture is essentially magic, while what Severian describes as the "debased and superstitious" magic of sorcerers is science. "

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. " - and perhaps any sufficiently defunct technology is indistinguishable from magic.


message 18: by Jlawrence, S&L Moderator (last edited Feb 13, 2011 12:16PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jlawrence | 960 comments Mod
Noel wrote: "Thanks, between your replies here and your comments on the book that I've just listened to on the latest podcast, you have done the impossible and have made me seriously consider digging out my decades old copies of this book and giving them another try. Perhaps my older self will appreciate them more."

That's great, Noel! Maybe Wolfe's prose will still rub you the wrong way, but I hope instead you end up getting into the books this time.

I also realized the first two sentences of the passage we've been discussing were not included in Sean's quote - they give some extra clarity to the untangling we've attempted here: "We believe that we invent symbols. The truth is they invent us; we are their creatures, shaped by their hard, defining edges." He then goes on to describe the symbol of accepting the coin as swearing loyalty and the rest quoted above.

I think it also helps to always view such asides as being more revealing of *Severian's* thoughts than Wolfe's. Wolfe likely disagrees with Severian on a number of things. ;)

Jared wrote: " 'Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. " - and perhaps any sufficiently defunct technology is indistinguishable from magic. "

In the podcast, Tom rephrased the Clarke quote to apply to the New Sun -- something along the lines of "To any sufficiently regressed society, its own technology is indistinguishable from magic."


message 19: by Noel (new)

Noel Baker | 364 comments Thanks, the missing sentences do help a lot.

The idea that advanced technology would be indistinguishable from magic to less advanced societies is quite common in Science Fiction today though probably less so when Wolfe wrote this. It always brings the Techno Mages in Babylon 5 to mind.


message 20: by Jared (new)

Jared (jared_king) | 51 comments Jlawrence wrote: "In the podcast, Tom rephrased the Clarke quote to apply to the New Sun -- something along the lines of "To any sufficiently regressed society, its own technology is indistinguishable from magic." "
Love it!


message 21: by Jared (new)

Jared (jared_king) | 51 comments Shadow - part two of the audiobook, chapter 16
--------------------



The good Doctor uses Holographic projectors as part of his show. When they are packing up the properties, there is reference to the projector 'wires' - electrical conductors/signal cables? Interesting to note that 'such things' are not referred to as magic. Which could tie back to this quote: "rational people know that things act of themselves or not at all" yeah it works. How? who cares. :)

A rocket ship takes off in the previous chapter when Severian and Dorcis are walking and glance back at the city, which also launches into a discussion on symbolism...


message 22: by Jlawrence, S&L Moderator (last edited Feb 15, 2011 12:12PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jlawrence | 960 comments Mod
Shadow, chapters 12 & 13
-------------------------




More of the-tower-is-a-rocket. When the Revolutionary is used on Thecla, Severain mentions "for a few moments, the ancient engine of the tower lived again." Master Gurloes speaks of the electricity it uses as "lightning."

When he visits the top chamber of the tower right before his exile, it's clearly a cockpit: "Then higher still to the room of the glass roof, with its gray screens and strangely contorted chairs..." And there's mention of "unseen mouths" speaking from other towers - the old communications systems.

It's funny how it's so clear now as I'm looking for these puzzle pieces, but I think of *all* the examples I've listed so far the only things that really registered the first time I read these books were the mention of the moon (but it just seemed strange to me) and the obvious use of electricity to power the Revolutionary. I actually remember thinking at the time that electricity just seemed out of place, that Wolfe hadn't laid any groundwork for its introduction in the story, though now it's clear to me that he had.


Colin | 278 comments Shadow, p192, on Dr. Talos' play
"Triumphing in all this, he yet failed. For his desire was to communicate, to tell a great tale that had being only in his mind and could not be reduced to common words; but no one who ever witnessed a performance --and still less we who moved across his stage and spoke at his bidding -- ever left it, i think with any clear understanding of what that tale was. It could only (Dr. Talos said) be expressed in the ringing of bells and the thunder of explosions, and sometimes by the postures of ritual...."

Not really science fiction, but if that isn't a description of Urth's Michael Bay, I don't know what is.

Further relating to the play, I am glad Frankenstein has lasted so long....


message 24: by Jared (new)

Jared (jared_king) | 51 comments Further relating to the play, I am glad Frankenstein has lasted so long.... "
Look out for a variation on the story of Theseus in Crow.


message 25: by Jlawrence, S&L Moderator (last edited Feb 19, 2011 08:45PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jlawrence | 960 comments Mod
Jared wrote: "Shadow - part two of the audiobook, chapter 16
--------------------



A rocket ship takes off in the previous chapter when Severian and Dorcis are walking and glance back at the city, which also launches into a discussion on symbolism... "


I had remembered that as kind of a city (I think because of the "flying mountain" phrase) floating above them that disappeared in wink, but you're right, it's described as a single "building with towers and buttresses and an arched roof" with "crimson light" pouring from its windows that disappears in a "cascade of sparks" (and Dorcas saw it "leap").

It's an interesting friction in Severian's perception that he sees it as a strange vision instead of a rocket, since from the other quotes above it's clear that he understands his tower was a rocket ship and that he understands what rocket ships do (and in some passage in Shadow even longs for his society to return to mastery of space flight). It could simply be that he was still unprepared to see a rocket in action even though he understands what they are intellectually. But it's definitely appropriate that their conversation turns to symbolism and how Dorcas says that the first level of meaning, the practical/literal, "which ought to be the easiest", is actually the hardest.


Colin | 278 comments I loved it when Data beamed himself back up to the Enterprise to replace his batteries.

The Doc's big play near the end of Claw smacked of genetic engineering and the old sci-fi device of light-speed travelers returning home after a LONG time. Not to mention how they blended that in with Genesis.
Or the Aliens Among Us when Baldy gets angry and goes all "Professor Plum, in the garden, with the candlestick."


terpkristin | 4188 comments I dunno. I agree that the towers are space vehicles (probalby not rockets per se), though some of the items so far (such as the tunnels) were not dead giveaways to me that they're space vehicles. I design these for a living, maybe reality is making it harder for me to imagine what Wolfe was imagining.

The cockpit, though, made it pretty obvious that if it wasn't a space vehicle, it was some flying thing...

Sadly, I've had a hell of a week and haven't done much reading. I'm hoping to leave work early today and get some quality reading this weekend.


message 28: by Jlawrence, S&L Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jlawrence | 960 comments Mod
Hm, yeah I think the tunnels are just tunnels -- they were built after the craft was no longer used as a vehicle. They are just under the "propulsion chamber" of the craft.

It's mostly the combination of its shape (a tower), the description of the cockpit, the bulkheads and the mention of "the propulsion chamber of the original structure" that are the clues.

Looking online for a illustration of the Matachin Tower, I just discovered there was an early '90s comic book adaption of Shadow!

Someone posted a scan of how it depicted the tower:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/mordicai...

Later I'll try to scan in Andre-Driussi's diagram of it, which is slightly different.


message 29: by Jlawrence, S&L Moderator (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jlawrence | 960 comments Mod
Here's a cruddy capture of Andre-Driussi's diagram of Matachin Tower:




message 30: by Dan'l (new)

Dan'l | 2 comments A rocket ship takes off in the previous chapter when Severian and Dorcis are walking and glance back at the city, which also launches into a discussion on symbolism...

That wasn't a rocket ship, but a much simpler form of flight. It is the huge, silk tent that had been the Cathedral of the Claw. When they found that the Claw of the Conciliator was gone, the Pelerines lit the straw floor. The tent took off like a hot-air balloon, before being consumed by the blaze.

Father Inire, in a scene we get second or third hand, compares the sort of mirrors that allow interstellar travel to his mirrors in terms of the difference between fliers used for travel and paper lanterns launched aloft with a candle for fuel.

So even though it is in fact a low-tech phenomenon, it is still inscrutable to Severian (who, although he had been in the tent a day or two before, cannot recognize it) and to Dorcas (who was better educated, but amnesiac and also had likely never been in the Cathedral).


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