(urth) Urth Digest, Vol 110, Issue 10

Gerry Quinn gerry at bindweed.com
Fri Oct 11 03:10:20 PDT 2013

From: Andreas Johansson

> Seems more and more as if the relations between "our" solar system
>  an that of Blue should be considered symbolical, another doppelgänger.
> Which has a very rational explanation - Typhon sent the Whorl to colonize
>  another planet, seems reasonable that he should send it to a planet that
>  resembles a pristine Urth. A very down-to-earth, common sense
> explanation that's not very satisfying, but nonetheless it gives all the
> mind-blowing depth of Wolfe a refreshing rationality. Which is of course
> already there, the SF tropes hinted at from time to time (it's still just 
> a
>  generation ship run by computer-gods, loaded with deeper meaning).

Agreed.  Indeed, I would argue that "it was Earth all along" (to quote from 
the Planet of the Apes musical in The Simpsons) is actually too much of an 
SF cliche.  Wolfe aims at subtler targets than such cheeseball revelations.

> Was going to ask also about the chronological work-out between the Whorl 
> and
> Urth, since Typhon's reign seems to be much more than three centuries past 
> from
> Severian's age (if the astral projection to Urth isn't a time travel as 
> well), but then
>  I realized: time dilation & relativity. Ship time doesn't equal planet 
> time - who
> knows how long the Whorl was really out there, and how far they've 
> travelled?
>  The crew at the East Pole could surely answe that but then again no-one 
> asks them.
>  Fascinating how Wolfe created the Whorl cultures in such a 
> pre-enlightenment setting.

It's worth noting that in Return to the Whorl, Silk/Horn specifically points 
out the Sun as a faint red star in the sky of Blue.

That does actually raise some questions if you look at it in depth, because 
you shouldn't be able to see such a star more than about fifty light years 
away.  Yet three hundred and fifty years seems a bit short for the time 
between Typhon and Severian on Urth, so one naturally invokes time dilation, 
which would in turn place them a multiple of 350 light years away, perhaps 
up to 2000 light years or so, from where the Sun would certainly be 

There is also the question of why Typhon was bothered by the dimming of the 
Sun, if he could build engines powerful enough to accelerate the Whorl to a 
substantial fraction of light speed, he could easily have built satellites 
to warm Urth.

I take the view that Wolfe probably didn't consider these details so 
closely, and that we are intended to assume that time dilation took place 
and Blue is in fact 1000-2000 light years away from Urth.  [In short, I 
would apply the same caution to reading the science too closely as I would 
apply to reading other elements...]

But if you want to go with a hard SF interpretation, they went about fifty 
light years in total, and there was no significant time dilation.  350 years 
ago on Earth today was 1663, so it is still time enough for a lot of 

- Gerry Quinn

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