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From: "Roy C. Lackey" 
Subject: (urth) 5HC the abos
Date: Mon, 13 May 2002 00:21:08 -0500

It seems to me that so many "facts" are in dispute regarding 5HC that some
attempt should be made to present those for which there can be little or no
doubt, so far as that can be done within a work of fiction, a fiction made
deliberately vague by its author. If one "fact" is contradicted by another,
or appears to be, then we are left to distinguish between or among the
perceptions of those presenting those facts, to weigh one against the other,
apply our external knowledge of how things work, and come to reasonable
conclusions based upon a preponderance of evidence: that, and assume that
the author is playing fair and that his puzzles have solutions which can be
found in the text. If this latter caveat is not true, then what is the
point, either of reading it or having written it? If the work is
nonsensical, a literary-seeming "Jabberwocky", why give it a second thought?

With that in mind, here are the facts of 5HC, as I see them, with regard to
the "abos".

1) The abos existed. Besides the confirmation by Wolfe in that interview
(where Shadow child was surely a slip for abo), without abos 2/3 of the work
is meaningless.

2) The abos antedated the first French landing. The symmetry, number, and
age of the trees in the Annese "temple" establish this.

3) The abos' lack of, and inability to use, tools is related to their
inability to use their thumbs as humans do. It is very difficult to imagine
any environmental scenario in which a species, which once had an opposable
thumb, would have that trait deselected by evolution. It just ain't gonna
happen, especially for a species living in what amounts to a pre-paleolithic
condition, where most of their waking hours are spent hunting for food and
other necessities, just to keep alive. An opposable thumb is quite handy,
whether in a high-tech or low-tech society, or anywhere in between. We are
invited to assume that, with a bow to Dollo, the abos use their teeth to
compensate for the loss of function of their thumbs--assuming that they ever
had it.

4) Victor is at least half abo. He may be all abo, in which case the problem
of the viability of humans and abos interbreeding is eliminated. If he is
half abo, then the fruit of such a union may be sterile, like mules. We are
given no other examples of half-breeds. If Victor is half abo, would not the
opposable thumb be genetically dominate?

5) As to the absence of tangible proof of the abos' existence, for which
Marsch was ostensibly searching, the text is not only vague, but
inconsistent. Marsch is quite young to have earned a doctorate and, as
Hagsmith put it, for an anthropologist seems "hellishly ignorant" of his
subject. On the one hand, enough information got back to Earth for some fool
to theorize that the Annese "temple" was a natural growth, but somehow
Marsch seems to have escaped the quite significant knowledge that abos not
only don't use tools, but can't. If he had known that, why would he have
thought that the "absence of legitimate artifacts remains to be explained"
or gone in search of a sacred cave in which there might be paintings?
Whether the knowledge of things Annese reached Earth from the early French
or the English-speaking victors--or both--doesn't matter; what matters is
that it did and that Marsch remains improbably oblivious. If humans had
encountered a species so close to human on another planet, it's hard to
imagine that species hadn't been the focus of intense research for two
hundred years, and that specimens didn't exist on Earth. Hell, the first
thing the French found after splashdown was a body.

Which brings me to another point often mentioned but not discussed; the
affair at the ford. The name of the ford, "Running Blood", implies that a
great deal of blood was shed there. The early French colonists evidently
found themselves in urgent need of a means of distinguishing between humans
and abos, and were taking no prisoners. There is no clue given to the exact
nature of that need, but they were obviously sharp enough to have realized
that abos couldn't use tools, and used a shovel for their shibboleth. Such
loss of life as the name of the ford implies should have resulted in a great
many abo bodies. Why wouldn't Marsch think to look there first for abo

6) The use of vines to enter (as Eastwind did) or exit the sand pit: just
try to pull your own weight up a steep incline with a rope, without using
your thumbs to grasp the rope, or to pull someone up an incline (as was done
for Eastwind) without thumbs. When Sandwalker rescued the five Shadow
children from another pit he used his hands to pull them out, and the Shadow
children used their hands to grasp his; again, pretty hard to do without
human-style thumbs. In the fight with the marshmen that followed, Sandwalker
"was upon him almost before he hit, his thumbs merciless as stones as they
drove into his neck". What, exactly, was he doing with his thumbs? Using
them to jab with in a life-or-death struggle? His elbows or knees would be
more effective. Or did he have his hands around the marshman's throat, as a
man would, in an attempt to strangle? That takes opposable thumbs.

7) It is unclear whether Victor murdered Marsch or Marsch died in an
accident, but it is quite clear that the man who showed up at the whorehouse
looking for Veil was Victor impersonating Marsch. The journal entries made
after the handwriting worsened were made by Victor, as well as all of the
writing done in prison. If Victor killed Marsch, why did he do it? It's easy
to see why, once Marsch was out of the way, Victor took his place--he had
nothing to loose on Sainte Anne, and Marsch's identity was a ticket to a
better life. To the Victor go the spoils. Some have maintained that Marsch
killed Victor, but all the evidence is to the contrary.

8) The shapeshifting   abilities of the abos seem to be limited to rather
minor, chameleon-like changes; not really shapeshifting  as, say, into the
form of an animal, but fundamentally cosmetic. If abos could truly change
their form, the French would have been wasting their time at Running Blood.

9) How the Shadow children may be related to the abos and/or humans, I have
no idea. If it were not for the fact that Victor seemed to be trying to
point some of them out to Marsch (who just isn't paying proper attention), I
would doubt their existence.



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