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From: "Nigel Price" 
Subject: (urth) Scylla, Oreb and transmigrational chain yanking
Date: Sat, 20 Apr 2002 21:19:23 +0100

Back in the "good ol' days" of 16-bit processors, people sometimes used to
refer to machines based around these devices as having "a two-byte word". A
byte is 8 bits, and the natural data size for input to and output from these
chips was therefore two bytes.

I've sometimes wondered whether there wasn't some sort of joke or word play
going on in Wolfe's mind with Oreb, who can talk but who can only use two
syllables at a time. All Oreb's ideas are expressed in these compressed and
occasionally gnomic two-syllable phrases. Perhaps he has a brain based
around two-word bites, as it were.

I'm sure that there will be contributors to the list who have converted
programs to work on different platforms and who may well have had to squeeze
an application and its accompanying data so that it will work on a much
smaller device than that for which it was originally intended. All sorts of
clever techniques have been evolved over the years, and I still marvel at
the way that the operating system on my PDA runs a form of Windows
(so-called Windows CE)on an architecture vastly different and very much
smaller than that used by my desktop machine. File formats are seemlessly
changed as I shunt data back and forth between the handheld and the main PC.

Wolfe has the "windows" in the manteions carry out this sort of operation
with a whole human personality, for example downloading an already digitised
version of Scylla into Oreb's tiny memory and brain. As far as one can make
out, all the data is downloaded, but the executable parts of Scylla's
personality can only run in a highly truncated form.

I just love this mixing of imaginary engineering (how to effect the transfer
of all that data!) and theological speculation (what is a personality? is it
a soul? is it transferrable?), which seems quintessential to the Lupine
version of science fantasy. But as others have pointed out, the "transfer of
human identity" (Hartshorne) is a frquent occurence in Wolfe's writing,
whether it is Severian ingesting Thecla's personality and memories via the
alzabo, or Mr Million preserving a human intelligence in a mechanical
environment in 5HC. (Hmmm. There must be more room in Mr Million than in
poor old Oreb's head. Mr Million does at least talk in complete sentences.
Anybody know what the data capacity of a night chough's brain might be? More
or less than a fine old Spectrum 48, I wonder?)

I have to agree with Hartshorne that this transfer of identity business
really doesn't seem very "biblical". It's always seemed downright odd to
me - wonderful and intriguing, but also very odd! As a Christian, Wolfe
clearly believes in the soul, but his experimental treatment of this theme
within an SF context has always seemed very daring to me. He achieves all
sorts of extraordinary and complex effects, some of which carry deep
symbolic resonances, but the actual plot devices are definitely speculated
and wholly science fictional, or at least, science fantastical.

I was therefore deeply puzzled by Tom's recent post where he wrote:

> Matt 16:13-17 seem to address the issue.  It appears that Jews of the
> time believed in some sort of soul-type transmigration, or something
> pretty darn weird.  And apparently Jesus does, too, as he praises
> Simon for getting it right, since doing so requires some sort
> of divine assistance.  So it looks like the idea of the same soulish
> thing moving from one incarnation to another is not anti - or even
> extra-Biblical.

I almost wondered whether we were looking at the same passage here, Tom!
Peter's comments on the popular view of Jesus' ministry can be interpreted
in a number of ways. He might mean, "They think you are a prophet like John
the Baptist, Elijah or Jeremiah!" He is probably referring to the fact that
the people are making reference to Malachi 4.5, where there is a promise
that "Elijah" will come before "the day of the Lord", and saying that Jesus
is the one who comes as the reconciliatory herald who precedes the
judgement. He may even be referring to an opinion, however metaphorical or
literal we may take it, that some people are saying that Jesus is one of the
prophets come back to life, but I really can't see any reference to the
transmigration of souls in this exchange. When Jesus praises Simon in verse
17 and tells him that he has received divine revelation, it's not because he
has agreed with whatever it was that the people believed about Jesus, but
rather because Peter recognized that Jesus was the messaih, the Son of God

As for Alga's post which begins...

>>This is a Pharisees vs. Saducees question...

...I strongly suspect that my chain is being yanked! I refuse to rise to the
bait! The Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead, the Saducees
didn't. Although he was famously critical of the shortcomings and
hypocrisies of the Pharisees, Jesus did agree with them about the reality of
life after death.

Forgive a stodgy old, humourless Baptist, Alga, but that seems to be about

(Stodgy and humourless and Baptistical in Minety)


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