(urth) "been teaching literature for over 35 years"

Jeff Wilson jwilson at clueland.com
Sun Sep 8 15:07:15 PDT 2013

On Sun, September 8, 2013 11:20, David Stockhoff wrote:
> On 9/8/2013 9:19 AM, Gerry Quinn wrote:
>> From: David Stockhoff
>>> Well, he might justifiably ask, if Wolfe intended plate tectonics
>>> to exist on Urth, how it makes the book better for Severian to
>>> tell us that it stopped.  To improve the dying-earth atmosphere?
>>> I'm intrigued by Jeff's idea:
>>> The slowing of geology processes and the refrigeration of the earth
>>>  in somewhat of a historical time scale was once the current scientific
>>> thought in the 19th century (Bellamy mentions it in LOOKING BACKWARD),
>>>  so the idea has a reason to be present and for the estimated time
>>> necessary to be reckoned past, however mistakenly by the characters.
>> Wasn't that prior to the discovery of radioactivity, though?  [The
>> limited lifespan that the Sun would have if its energy output were
>> based on chemical or gravitational processes was also considered a
>> problem for evolutionary theory, which required a longer timescale.
>> But the Sun actually operates on nuclear fusion, and nuclear fission
>> continues to heat the Earth internally.]
> Absolutely. Here's a clear summary of the four forces that create heat:
> isotopic decay (85%?), latent heat (5%?), residual heat (5%?), and
> gravitational differentiation (5%?): http://phys.org/news62952904.html.
> And yet the Earth IS gradually cooling.

Back in ~1980, I believe the isotopic decay source was the only one
generally recognized, and it's possible that the metal depletion mentioned
in the Book would be of *radioactive* metals, powering the great ships and
robots aboard them. This explains a possible reason for there to be still
funeral bronzes and moveable type in a metal poor world, and of course
isotopes sent into space can't keep the crust lubricated.

>> However I agree that Wolfe doesn't necessarily care where a scientific
>> concept comes from.  And he leaves matters intentionally vague; his
>> motto is that the reader should not be able to disprove the scientific
>> possibililty of something (e.g. the gigantic godlings) as they do not
>> have quite enough information to locate them in specific
>> well-understood physical models.  I do not think he always succeeds
>> perfectly in this endeavour, but he does pretty well, and the reader
>> should not fret to much about seeming scientific contradictions (or
>> worse, build complex metaphysical hypotheses based on them).
> Agreed. The hypothesis I had in mind was one supported by Wolfe's own
> remarks, to the effect that the ancients were just as smart as we are,
> just as foolish, and yet rarely completely wrong in their understanding
> of the universe. Their understanding was merely imperfect, as is ours.
> Thus gods and godlings may be as real as our scientific theories,
> cast-aside or not.
>> One thing that strikes me is that the New Sun explicitly seems to
>> restore the tectonic activity of Urth.  This is predicted in the play
>> of Dr. Talos ("continents will founder", etc.), and rendered
>> explicitly in _Urth of the New Sun_.
> My thought exactly, although "founder" could simply mean "drown." If you
> do read it that way, I assume this would be caused by gravitational
> shocks from the New Sun's approach, leading not only to temporarily
> increased plate movement but perhaps also to increased heat+shear forces
> in the mantle, as I assume would arise in any massive transfer of energy
> to a planet.
> As a side note, my conception of the New Sun's coming involves rapid
> (but sub-lightspeed, so that it can be seen approaching) movement of a
> stellar mass across the galaxy with no deceleration and no inertia.
> Thus, rather than taking days, the catastrophic event takes only hours
> as the New Sun enters the solar system and "seats" itself at the center.
> It's quick. It's basically magic. Maybe I'm wrong.

I think the White Fountain is sub-stellar in magnitude and involves a form
of negative mass, but otherwise as you say.  Inertia is mitigated by the
Kirbyesque machinery tended by the crews below the surface of Yesod's
artificial planet.

>> It's hard to see scientifically how a white hole cancelling a black
>> hole would do that - but seemingly it does.  If so, one might argue
>> for the the theory that the black hole in the Sun somehow stopped
>> plate tectonics. Perhaps what is in the Sun is not quite a black hole
>> as we think of it. [For that matter, I think an actual black hole in
>> the Sun would cause it to heat up - but even if I am correct, story
>> clearly must trump science in this regard.]
> My first question would be why the black hole did not cause the same
> effects (i.e., a flood) on approaching Urth, since none are mentioned.

The black beans may have been seeds or kernels, quantum black holes
humanly transportable and meant to grow later into larger ones. Some or
most may have failed or merged, as it is later said that a singular worm
gnaws at the heart of the sun. But that may be a bit if a gag on Wolfe's
part, making them Mexican jumping beans!

Jeff Wilson - < jwilson at clueland.com >
A&M Texarkana Computational Intelligence Lab
< http://www.tamut.edu/cil >

More information about the Urth mailing list