(urth) The Guild's Revolutionary

Gwern Branwen gwern0 at gmail.com
Sat Nov 21 14:03:16 PST 2009

On Sat, Nov 21, 2009 at 1:40 PM, John Smith <jsmith2627 at att.net> wrote:
> Isn't Thecla put to the Revolutionary because she is a revolutionary?   Or at least associated
> with her sister, who has joined the revolutionary Vodalus.   Those who revolt against the
> sacred authority have their hands revolt against them.

Well, Vodalus isn't really a rebel, and she's only associated with her
sister, but anyway; that seems like a possible reason, but that's
terrible - the method of execution chosen for a pun?
But now that I think about it, maybe that works. Just before they
reach the Revolutionary, we read Gurloes say:

>                                                               Behind it there .
> . . if you'll take a step this way you'll be able to see it better . . . is what
> we call the apparatus. It is supposed to letter whatever slogan is demanded in
> the client's flesh, but it is seldom in working order.

Perhaps this is interpreted otherwise by y'all, but to me this is a
very obviously a reference to Franz Kafak's "In The Penal Colony"
If one cannot use the writing machine to engrave 'do not rebel!' or
whatever, perhaps a joke like that is the best that can be done.

On Sat, Nov 21, 2009 at 2:32 PM, Jerry Friedman
<jerry_friedman at yahoo.com> wrote:
> --- On Sat, 11/21/09, Gwern Branwen <gwern0 at gmail.com> wrote:
> ...
>> So the Revolutionary induces, specifically alien hand
>> syndrome.
> More like alien-body syndrome, as her mouth and both her
> hands attack her, not just her right hand.  But I agree
> that it's quite possible that alien-hand syndrome
> inspired Wolfe here.

That's true; I don't see any mention in the WP article of losing
control of both hands or of one's mouth. (But then, in the split-brain
scenarios Jeff suggests, there's still lateralization: a hand and the
mouth go to one faction in the brain, and the other hand to the other;
there isn't alternating control of all of them.)

>> Another case of Wolfe cloaking science behind fantasy
>> ('like a demon')?
> I'd say the wires and needle give this definite
> scientific trappings.

It definitely does, but it's still coy - 'lightning' rather than
'electricity'. I remember in my first reading ever, this was the scene
that made me sure that the author really was working under a warped
Clarke's 3rd Law.

>> But the Revolutionary is 'the most hallowed of all' the
>> torture-devices, and Gurloes also "I couldn't describe it
>> [what it
>> does], Chatelaine. Anyway, I've never had it done, you
>> see.", both of which imply use is very rare.
> I don't get that any of that implies that its use is rare.
> Gurloes means he's never had it done to him, that is, he's
> never been a victim of it (which is obvious, hence "you
> see").

But Thecla is not stupid; she knows Gurloes can't give her any
description from having had the Revolutionary used on himself. So she
couldn't be asking for that, and Gurloes couldn't be answering that.
'had it done' doesn't mean have it done to yourself. One can say 'I
had the roof done' or, 'My car broke down, so I couldn't go, you see';
in this case, Gurloes never having actually used the Revolutionary
explains his reply best, and this also fits with the most-hallowed

> "I couldn't describe it" may mean he's not
> allowed to; whether that's true or not, he certainly
> knows as well as Severian what it does.  And I don't
> think "the most hallowed of all" implies anything about
> how often it's used.
> Jerry Friedman

Hallowed things don't get used all the time. The Shroud of Turin is
publicly displayed every decade or so; the relics of Aachen Cathedral
annually; the Ethiopian's 'Ark of the Covenant' never.

Not to mention, if they were routinely using it, wouldn't it be
broken? The guns are headed that way, and guns seem more reliable than
whatever the Revolutionary is - the relatively simple mechanical
engraver is already broken beyond their ability to repair.

(I also searched through the 4 books; the Revolutionary is only
mentioned 3 or 4 times after that, and always in a Thecla context.)


More information about the Urth mailing list