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From: Michael Straight <straight@email.unc.edu>
Subject: Re: (whorl) The Secret: Equine Overkill
Date: Tue, 24 Apr 2001 22:57:22 

On Tue, 24 Apr 2001, Adam Stephanides wrote:

> Evensong whispered, "You know their secret.  You could destroy them."
>   "Yes.  I couldn't kill them here and now, if that's what you mean;
> but I know how they might be returned to the mere vermin that they once
> were" (OBW [hb], 372).
> But the context is that Horn and Evensong are being pursued by the inhumi.
> Given Horn's other statements on the topic, most probably Horn means only
> that he knows the theoretical means by which the inhumi could be "devolved,"
> and this is why the inhumi want to kill him (regardless of whether or not he
> himself believes this means practical).

That doesn't seem like it would merit a flat, "Yes."  I'd expect more of
a, "well, in theory, if I could get everyone else to cooperate, we could
destroy them."  But when she says "You could destroy them," Horn answers,

> And just three pages later, Horn says "If only we cared about each other
> sufficiently.  If only all of us loved all the others enough, they would go
> back to that [being unintelligent animals]."  Do you seriously maintain that
> Horn is talking about two different things in these two passages?  That he
> knows two separate ways to devolve the inhumi, one morally corrupting and
> the other requiring a too-great moral elevation?

But two sentences later, Horn explicitly denies that this is the Secret!  
You may answer that the Secret is the details of the inhumi lifecycle and
how caring for each other would prevent inhumi from having intelligent
offspring, but if that's all there is, then Horn's broken his oath.  If I
promise not to tell anyone that flipping this switch will kill you because
it turns off your respirator, and then tell people who want to kill you
that flipping the switch will kill you, I can hardly protest that I've
kept your secret because I didn't mention the respirator.

> There is another passage in IGJ which contradicts your view.  When Horn is
> talking to Hide, he tells him that Krait "told me something in confidence
> that they [the inhumi] believe might harm them greatly if it became widely
> known.  I would probably violate my oath if I agreed; but I doubt that it--"
> (351)  Though Wolfe lets Oreb interrupt here, Horn says explicitly that he
> would violate his oath if he thought that publicizing the Secret would harm
> the inhumi--not that he would violate it if publicizing the Secret would
> harm the inhumi without corrupting the colonists.

This, I admit, is the best prooftext for your case.  I don't see how it
can fit into my theory.

> In any case, your argument that because Horn calls the Secret a weapon, he
> must think it is usable, misreads the text.  What Horn says is "It is a
> great secret, truly.  If you will, it is a great and terrible weapon.  That
> is how the inhumi see it, and I will not call them wrong.  But it is a
> weapon too heavy for our hands." (IGJ, 125)  In other words, he's saying not
> that the Secret is a weapon, but that _if_ it's a weapon, it's one too heavy
> to be used.

When I read this passage, particularly the words "great and terrible
weapon," I think "atom bomb" or "Sauron's ring."  A terrible weapon is one
with the potential to do much more harm than I intend, or that tempts me
not to care about the harm that I do, not a weapon that I probably can't
use at all.

The colonists learning to love and care for each other would be an
amazing, wonderful thing; it would so transform society that any effect it
would have on the inhumi problem would seem like a minor side-effect.  I
can't fathom Horn (or Wolfe) thinking of it as a means to some other end,
much less as a weapon.  It's like trying to develop automobiles because
horseshoes are so expensive (even that analogy is far too weak).


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