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From: Dan Rabin <danrabin@a.crl.com>
Subject: (whorl) [blue, spoilers, read only when finished] First rants
Date: Mon, 27 Sep 1999 22:50:53 

I was going to send in a few comments last night after I finished reading
_On Blue's Waters_, but somehow the awe prevented me.  There is also Horn's
expressed frustration that writing about something doesn't convey it--not
even close.  But this mailing list is a haven for those of us who must
write about Wolfe's works anyhow, so here goes.

The craft!  I just reread _The Lord of the Rings_, and I am reminded of a
passage where Gandalf and Pippin are riding together impressively fast on
Shadowfax.  Then they see the war-beacons, and at Gandalf's urging
Shadowfax *really* starts to pour it on.

Well, we thought Gene Wolfe was amazing before, but now...

Several matters of craft leap out at me on this initial reading.

There is, first of all, the intricate mode of narrative, in which Horn
narrates his own story, but intermingles the retrospective mode of (most
of) _New Sun_ with the journalistic mode of the _Soldier_ books and "Seven
American Nights".  There are thus two narratives in motion at once, and the
narrator only knows (or thinks he knows) the outcome of one of them.  It's
all *so* smoothly done, but when I can escape the spell for a moment, it's
rather astounding.

There is, secondly, the finely controlled progressive revelation of
important events.  Wolfe has always been good at this, but now he's got the
technique polished like a praetorian's armor.  How many little bits of
narrative have to be added up to find out what happened aboard the lander?
As this big denouement approaches, the intrusions of the Gaon narrative get
longer!  Seawrack, Krait, Sinew's reappearance are all mentioned before
they happen.

Third, Wolfe passes all this astounding technique off as Horn's ineptness
as a writer!  *We* know that it's Gene-ius hard at work, but within the
book's world it's Horn being bad at deciding what to write about and
writing under considerable stress.  The convoluted story-telling not only
serves Wolfe's purposes by doling out events to us in the order and
quantity he chooses, but also serves to characterize Horn!

Moving from the craft to content, I noticed that Wolfe's recurring motifs
seem to have moved to a new level of maturity.  Memory, truthfulness, what
it is to be human, what it is to be good, all seem to be more subtly
nuanced in _Blue_ even than in _Long Sun_.  Mucor seemed to me to make a
rather abrupt switch from creepy to good girl, but Wolfe seems to be able
to keep his portrayal of Krait very balanced as he becomes more

Wolfe has a tendency to make his protagonists very, very observant; here he
tones it down so that Horn's recognition of Auk's lander can stand out.

Other motifs that recur here: A book that the narrator doesn't expect to be
read, confusion of identity (Horn/Silk/Babbie), resurrection (Horn says he
has died), traveler with a shifting set of companions, protagonist
committed to a hopeless goal (cf. Silk vs. Blood), protagonist in authority
skips out early (Severian in Thrax, Horn/Silk in Gaon), and more.

And now on to plot and theme.

The pre-publication capsule reviews dwelled perhaps too long on the reasons
why Horn is asked to undertake his quest.  As Horn realizes, it was all
just a McGuffin; clearly what matters is that the Vironese have an
unresolved relationship with Silk.  Following the lead of _Long Sun_, the
quest is Not What It Seems.  We've already heard from David Hartwell that
the surprises just increase in the later volumes.

What we _do_ know is that a narrator who usually believes himself to be
Horn, but has had a death/resurrection episode (possibly the pit on the
island, possibly not) has returned to Blue physically changed (taller, not
bald), and has declined to return to New Viron.  This narrator believes he
has failed in his quest.  My guess would be that he will turn out to have
actually succeeded in bringing Silk in some way that neither he nor we can
understand at this point, and that this may be the reason for the
complicated mode of narrative: so that the big final surprise can be in the
_later_ story.  If I'm right (not likely, when dealing with Wolfe), the
effect should be a bit like having _The Urth of the New Sun_ intermingled
with _The Book of the Long Sun_.

Then there's the matter of the inhumi.  I find Wolfe's treatment to be very
refreshing in this age of vampire chic.  I will be *very* disappointed if
we don't eventually get a full explanation of the secret that Krait
revealed to Horn.

* *

It has just occurred to me that the narrative structure of _Blue_ has
something in common with the _Odyssey_, in which the famous adventures,
told in retrospect, are followed by a laborious homecoming.  There are also
the wife left at home and the son who sails in search of the missing
father, monsters, and a siren to consider!  [I had to go flip through the
_Odyssey_ to see if I recalled its structure correctly.]

* *

So, do they find Auk and Chenille on Green?  Where is Silk that is
dangerous to approach?  Mainframe? (that tantalizing compound "Passilk").
Will Horn/Silk bring Olivine's eye to Maytera Marble/Rose?  Will Patera
Remora ever finish a sentence?  Must we wait a year to get our next ration
of answers and questions?  Ah! cruel Whorl!

  -- Dan Rabin

P.S.  If we count _New Sun_ and _Long/Short Sun_ as the same universe,
Wolfe will have devoted twelve books to this universe by the end of _Short
Sun_.  That's certainly not a record for science fiction, but it's very
impressive considering the quality.

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