(urth) Short Story 44: Continuing Westward

Jerry Friedman jerry_friedman at yahoo.com
Fri Aug 31 12:53:02 PDT 2012

>From: Marc Aramini <marcaramini at yahoo.com>
>Continuing Westward 
>First published in Orbit 12 in 1973, this is reprinted on pg 35 of Storeys from the Old Hotel. 
>After dynamiting a Turkish power line, a pilot and his observer Sanderson seem lost in a hot and timeless miasma, their plane wings damaged and their compass 30 degrees off kilter from the north star.  Despite the damages, they are able to land and encounter a group of village people whom they can not directly communicate with, even though Sanderson claims to “speaks Wog”.  After a tense meal in which the Englishmen brandish their pistols and finish eating, Sanderson sleeps multiple times with a young dancing girl who comes out to dance for them, before our narrator hears a noise in the night and imagines that she has killed his observer with a hidden weapon.  Her body is decorated with little diodes and mechanical oddities with the wires all twisted, and as she comes up to him he realizes it must be a knife hidden in her hair.  He succeeds in disarming her and then binds her and runs off into the night to his crippled plane.  Sanderson gets up
 and starts chasing after them in his underclothes “while meteors miles ahead shot up into the sky”.  Our narrator says, “We’ll do it, we’ll fly!” to his captive passenger, and believes her eyes say that she understands. 
>The powerline explosion has unmoored our narrator and his plane from time,
I never noticed that.  In fact, I have the feeling that it had been mentioned here before, and I forgot it when I reread (after seeing the title of your post but before reading the body).
> and there are several key passages to look at: 
>“It came to me then that the scene was Old Testament biblical, and I suppose it was; people like this not changing much.” These villagers they encounter have not changed much at all even though the explosion of the power line has thrust them far far into future,
"Them" being Sanderson and the narrator, not the villagers, right?
One change from Old Testament times is the women's veils (which are not even in the Qur'an,as I understand it).  I suspect trousers and erotic backbends weren't known in the Middle East in Old Testament times either.
> though many of them seem somewhat deformed or blind in one eye (probably from an irradiated apocalyptic fall out, which has not actually affected these people, who never change much no matter how much the world changes).
I find it hard to see how radiation could make a lot of people blind in /one/ eye.
>“It had been bloody early in the morning when we’d landed to dynamite the Turskish power line, and I kept recalling how the whole great thing had flashed up in our faces while we were still setting the charge.  It seemed such a devil of a long time ago, and after that taxiing across the desert dragging the smashed wings while mirages flitted about – a good half million years of that, if the time inside one’s head mean’s anything.” 
>It probably is half a million years,
Maybe 50,000.  In half a million years, the narator wouldn't be able to identify the Pole Star.  This site shows what the Big Dipper will look like in 100,000 years:
(if Wolfe was thinking of such things, and why wouldn't he).
> because the language of the area is completely indistinguishable to the narrator and Sanderson, who supposedly speaks “Wog”.
>  Only a great, great passage of time could have made the language completely unintelligible to him.
First, we're only told Sanderson "claims" to speak Wog.  Second, for all we know, Sanderson knows Arabic and the villagers speak only Turkish--or Neo-Aramaic or something.  (In any case, a couple of thousand years would be plenty even for a native speaker.)
>First, these guys Sanderson and our narrator are gone WAY longer than 20 years – they have been thrust into a future where our nomad village has forgotten the meaning of diodes and other mechanical devices and simply uses them as hair pieces and adornments, stripping them from the desiccated ruins of the future. Our narrator acts more like Paris than Sanderson does; and while their return does start after an operation in Turkey, and there are villagers who see only out of one eye, I feel like the mythic resonance is a little bit forced by Borski. 
I suspect we're supposed to think of some place like the Syrian desert, and our men are heading toward the French in Beirut, or the areas where Lawrence was active and they're heading toward Egypt or the Hejaz.  If they were in Turkey, I think they'd be surprised to see camels.
>The narrators need to fly at the end seems doomed to a metaphorical flight into a higher realm as those meteors rise into the sky.  Is their solidity in this future world fully established?
Good question.  An odd feature of the story is "the man has eaten like a pig ever since I've known him and is a joke in our mess".  Wolfe could easily have left the tense ambiguous.  Is this telling us that the narrator and Sanderson are back at their base?  Did they go back through another time warp or the same?  Were they not quite in the future?
By the way, this passage makes it very hard to see that there was any time travel.
>AMBIGUITIES: Why does our narrator think that Sanderson is dead with such certainty?  The girl does in fact seem to have a weapon hidden in her hair, but obviously has not used it.
Good question.
>Are the meteors rising into the sky at the end an automatic defense perimeter activated by his biplane or simply another war in progress in the future world?
Or hallucinations?
> Are they doomed?  Are they fully “real” in this future desolation or just an echo and memory? 
>Why does he grab the girl?
Lust, same as Severian grabbing Daria.  In other ways, though, this story reminds me more of Severian in the village on Lake Diuturna.
> Perhaps he is unhinged from the passage through time a bit as well.
I think he's definitely unhinged.  The heat, explosion, and crazy situation would explain it.
>REFERENCES: This is a Kipling homage … but to be honest Kipling wrote so very much I cannot pinpoint an exact story – I tried to rectify this but simply didn’t know where to start on his vast corpus.  The attitude of our rather smug pistol carrying pilot thrust into a foreign place (and time) perhaps evokes that “British man in a strange land” feel of some of Kipling’s stuff. 
I think that's mostly it.  Also the lack of comment on the morality of wanting to have sex with the girl and that of leaving Sanderson behind?
>(the children are described as thin or bow-bellied and generally unhealthy looking)
Thin or bow-bellied means starving.
>RESONANCE WITH OTHER STORIES: Much like “Against the Lafayette Escadrille”, this story deals with a plane and a potential passage through time, though in this case it is the plane itself which is thrust into the future instead of a flight summoning a potential relic of the past, almost as if the theme had been inverted just slightly.  They do seem like two sides to the same coin, though. 
I must agree completely.
Jerry Friedman

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