(urth) Fairies and Wolfe

Gerry Quinn gerry at bindweed.com
Sun Apr 1 03:25:57 PDT 2012

From: Lee Berman 

> And isn't Apu PUnchau really Severian (one of him, anyway)? Severian
> is raising the dead, travelling through time, causing storms and 
> earthquakes and all by channelling the energy of a star through his
> puny human cellular structures. Severian is a god and he is using magic, 
> loathe though Gerry is to admit it. There is no way he can do what he does 
> using what we define as science, i.e. physics, chemistry etc.

But clearly the physics understood by the Dawn Men is rather limited compared to that which will be understood by Severian’s time.  Urth is full of clearly technological wonders that a Dawn Man might mistake for magic.  Severian does indeed have almost godlike powers through his psychic connection to the White Fountain, but the book makes it clear that future super-technology rather than magic is involved.  Even if that super-technology involves abilities we don’t currently think exist.  (Conversely, in the world of the Wizard Knight, it’s magic, not technology, that lies at the toot of all things.)

(Also, it may not necessarily be correct to assume Severian ever – during the time we know him - has a puny human cellular structure.  I don’t think that’s important to the story, it’s just another ‘out’ if you object to the idea.  Wolfe avoids specifics and allows ambiguities in order to allow such outs.  Unfortunately some readers use these ambiguities as an excuse to write their own book, with new characters and never described events.)

> Heck, if you believe a human cell can channel stellar level energies
> without harm, what else would you believe? That inhumi can  travel
> unassisted through the void? ;- )      

I believe that is exactly how we are intended to understand the story.  As I’ve said before, Wolfe plays fast and loose with what is actually possible, although he likes to pretend otherwise.  If some technology or phenomenon is not clearly in-your-face logically impossible, and he needs it, then he’ll use it.

All but the hardest SF is about technological verisimilitude, not technological realism.

- Gerry Quinn

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