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Date: Sat, 04 May 2002 09:21:43 -0500
Subject: Shapeshifting (was Re: (urth) Shadow Children in the Lupiverse?
From: Adam Stephanides 

on 4/25/02 8:14 AM, Robert Borski at rborski@charter.net wrote:

> While admitting that almost all of the evidence about the Annese having
> shapeshifting abilities is anecdotal, how do you explain the lack of manual
> dexterity that all the abos seem to possess--from the shovel test, which the
> French used to determine who was human and who was faking it, to Victor's
> poor handwriting? (The latter a notion carried over by Wolfe to his other
> shapeshifting race, the inhumi of Green. Or are they non-pleiomorphic too?)
> 3) The Annese were able to copy the _form_ of human hands, but not the
> _function_, much as a gifted, if perverse, plastic surgeon could sculpt
> tentacles from human arms or fuse the legs to forge an undine's nether
> parts, although in neither case, because of nonadaptive skeletal
> restrictions, innervation, and cerebellar pathways, is it likely such limbs
> could function in the same way as their true biocounterparts.
> The last of these, of course, would be my explanation. But perhaps you have
> an alternate explanation--one more congruent with your theory that the
> Annese are unable to shapeshift?

But Victor's inability to use tools is not only, or even primarily, a matter
of manual dexterity.  As Jerry Friedman has pointed out, Victor does a
number of things requiring quite a bit of dexterity.  He is "a capital camp
cook," "very clever with ropes," catches fish with his hands with "amazing
dexterity" (iirc; I can't find the passage in the book), and makes nooses to
catch small animals out of mules' hair.  All these things require much more
dexterity than a non-functional organ would have, and at least as much as
the ability to use a rifle, lighter, or kitchen knife.  In any case, his
problem with the rifle seems to be one of aim rather than manual dexterity
(170, Ace pb), and he is able to light a fire after Marsch's death.

The same is true of the "shovel test" at Running Blood, if this test is not
indeed legendary.  If the Annese had enough use of their hands to grip
anything at all (and it's hard to imagine them being able to survive in
human form if they didn't), they had enough dexterity to use a shovel.

I think the reason for Victor and the Annese's clumsiness with tools is
psychological.  The tools they can't use are the colonists' tools.  Their
inability to use them is in part a rejection of the colonists, and in part a
self-fulfilling prophecy: they believe they can't use them, so they can't.

Later, Robert Borski wrote:

> And lastly then, this bit of evidence for the shapeshifting-is-real
> argument. In the back of beyond Victor becomes highly upset when Dr. Marsch
> attempts to kill a following farmcat. Why? Is it because he simply loves
> cats? If so, why does he himself later attempt to kill this same cat? I
> contend it's because she's the shapeshifted abo girl Marsch later catches
> Victor trysting with; and that he must kill her because she knows he's
> killed Marsch. Your theory?

Actually Marsch never "catches" Victor with the girl, or even sees the girl:
the only "evidence" for the girl's existence is Marsch's suspicions, and he
seems not to be completely sane on the topic.

In addition to Tony Ellis's objections to the theory that Victor killed his
girlfriend, if he had really killed the cat to cover up his having killed
Marsch, would he mention having killed the cat in the journal entry which
has been concocted specifically to cover up Marsch's death?  Granted, he's
not a very good liar, but still.

Nor am I persuaded that Wolfe portrays Victor as a psychotic woman-killer,
as Borski argues in the essay he cited earlier.  A male chauvinist perhaps,
but that's not the same thing.

I think the cat is just a cat, and Victor killed it as part of an Annese
burial ritual.  As to why he gets upset when Marsch tries to shoot the cat,
maybe he doesn't like to see animals killed wantonly, as opposed to killing
them for ritual purposes.  The pre-Enlightenment Silk would undoubtedly have
reproved a child he saw wantonly killing a bird, even though he sacrificed
birds himself.

There is also the fact that Victor nowhere, afaik, states that the Annese
could shapeshift.  In his "April 26" (actually June 1) entry, he writes: "I
have not killed any large animals, though once I was very tempted.  But the
rifle makes so much noise--and the shotgun even more--that I am certain it
would frighten away those I wish to find."  If Victor thought the Annese
could change themselves into animals, that would be a more powerful reason
for not killing large animals than the one he states.



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