(urth) Short Story 71: Silhouette

Marc Aramini marcaramini at gmail.com
Mon Jul 28 21:50:33 PDT 2014


 *Silhouette* was published in *The New Atlantis* in 1975. It is collected
in *Endangered Species*.


 The story opens with a quote from Ambrose Bierce's “A Psychological

 To sundry it is given to be drawn away, and to be apart from this body for
a season, for, as concerning rills which would flow across each other the
weaker is borne along by the stronger, so there be certain of kin whose
paths intersecting, their souls do bear company, the while their bodies go
fore-appointed ways, unknowing.

 In the far future, set in a constantly shifting low gravity space ship in
search of new planets to inhabit after the Earth has been ecologically
damaged, it seems that a recent war has placed German culture at the
forefront and that a rigid class caste system is in place in which those of
higher class can periodically request even sexual favors from those of the
lower classes, which cannot be refused except for medical reasons. The ship
was originally controlled by a computerized God-like overmonitor which has
become something of a useless, seldom consulted oddity, scrapped by its
female Captain.

 The ship has reached the double star system of Algol, the winking demon,
and is exploring a planet with a supposedly breathable atmosphere. The
thick foliage on the planet fights to get underneath and escape the harsh
ultraviolet rays of Algol, fleeing the sun rather than seeking it out. The
Captain wants them to make a landing on the planet to populate it for 2
years so they can then return to Earth, but different and mutinous groups
are vying for control of the ship. Johann, a senior officer, notes that the
lights in his chamber are failing, but maintenance can find nothing wrong.

 He requests the presence of a lower class crew member named Grit, who is
reluctant to accede but must. Johann, off duty, goes to speak to Grit on
the bridge but is kicked off by the Captain – it is clear that he wanted to
be a part of the expedition.

 A male crew member named Emil comes with words of endearment for Johann,
who treats him coldly. He calls Johann “O betrothed of fortune.” He
indicates that Johann wants to be a captain, unlikely now that the war is
over, and the reason that Johann joined this expedition. Johann was
promoted to Lieutenant sometime during the journey, and his leg has also
been smashed. Emil asks to be called Grit, so that he can hear affection in
Johann's voice, but Johann refuses.

 Johann naps then goes into the three sided corridors where crewmen walk on
all the sides – gravity is only maintained by the sandals they wear. He
goes to the old library table to gamble with books. The books mentioned are
a Dore engraved *New Testament*, Thornton Wilder's *The Eighth Day*,
Dineson's *Seven Gothic Tales*, Chesterton's *The Wild Knight*, a guide to
the wild birds in Texas, a manual of letter writing, a historical almanac,
and a handbook on power tools. When Johann goes to eat it is revealed a new
girl, plump Gretchen is the undercook, since the old one, Anna, killed
herself. Much of the crew and the marines who serve as the main fighting
force have been asleep for the 17 year duration of the trip. Ottilie the
main cook, puts an arm around Gretchen and gives her food in another
sexually suggestive moment.

 Johann returns to his room and “reads” *The Wild Knight*, then hears a
whispering in his room, and he feels “for an instant the icefoam wall panel
with its single light seemed very far away – as far as Algol itself,
millions of kilometers down a tunnel in space. It throbbed like a heart.”

 Grit awakens him floating in his chamber and refuses to serve him now,
believing he is ill or on some drug. Johann's forehead is cut, and she
washes it as he touches her breasts, which she objects to. When she leaves,
he finds that his shadow is immensely dark and no detail can be found where
it falls. It whispers to him. When he closes his eyes, he hears “the soft
sound of air-blown sand, dry and insistent, and the scuttling of a small
animal” and a sighing wind he knows to be unreal. A voice ask, “Friend?” to
which he replies affirmatively.

 He visits the doctor, Karl, who diagnoses a concussion and suggests he has
nice legs and shoulders. Here Johann reveals that while he was asleep he
dreamed he was on the planet below, following it to a chasm full of
waterfalls and giant ferns and orchids. He will mention this visit later
when he fights Helmut, the man whom Johann believes both the Captain and
Grit prefer.

 Johann knows that the Captain wants to convince the government humanity
can settle on the planet Neuerddraht, but Johann believes living on planets
is a mistake. Johann questions the breathable nature of the air since
breathing devices are being used, and the Captain chastises him. (In this
scene, Grit is filling in for Gerta, showing something of their
interchangeability, though clearly Grit is a less refined, chubbier female
– see the refinement of Sap discussion below).

 When Johann returns to his chambers, Heinz and Emil are waiting for him
with incense burning. The cabal of mystics, Heinz, Emil, Gerhart, and Elsa,
all had some form of vision of Johann's name, and Heinz discusses the
signification of each of the letters, saying that in times of crisis a
priest will appear, and that they believe Johann will be that priest.
Johann asserts that Earth must be dead by now and laments the loss of
traditional values. Heinz and Emil want to go to the planet, and Johann
says he has no power to influence events or he would be down on the planet

 Almost immediately after they leave, he does find himself walking on the
planet, smelling something like a fire in a flower garden or myrrh. He sees
trees black against Algol's light, and walks towards them, at which point
the voice implores him not to turn around. The voice says it did not bring
Johann, and promises to tell only the truth. Johann says, “Promises no
longer hold. There is nothing left to swear by. No honor. No God.” To this
the voice replies that “You still have the word. I found it in your mind.”
(Note that in *Faust*, for comfort, Johann Faust looks in the gospel of
John, which begins with the rather famous “In the beginning was the Word

 The voice thanks Johann for returning him to the planet and says that
Johann sleeps but is not dreaming. He turns around to see his shadow in
Algol's rays. When his hands touch the cruel spines of the first tree, the
voice speaks to him again, saying, “I did not leave. But because you had
seen me, you could not hear me. Now you cannot see, and so I can speak to
you again. I can guide you through this, though it must be slowly.” His
body is moved and protected from harm.

 Gerta, the yeoman of his watch, wakes him, and at this point his room is
bright again. Gerta says that “hell is going to pop on the bridge.” When
Johann arrives, he is in time to see Helmut tell the Captain a man has been
seen on the planet, dressed like them.

 Johann goes to talk to the overmonitor, which is called “God” by the crew.
It had been fused to junk by the Captain but survived in fragments. He
thinks of Neptune and the last message he sent to Marcella, then visualizes
a frieze of the god Neptune. He asks why breathing apparatus must be worn
on Neuerdrahht and gets no real answer from the monitor save that they have
been ordered to do so. The overmonitor does not clear channels
automatically as it should, claiming that it doesn't as a matter of ship
survival. The clerks explanation is that it wants someone to talk to it so
it keeps requesting questions. He thinks of the overmonitor as “the little
man in Dostoevksi's *Notes from the Underground,* hunched beneath the floor
of some neglected storeroom in the remote module.” The clerk claims the
overmonitor is insane, but it estimates only a 0.237 probability of ship
survival over five years for poor ship operation, low efficiency, and a
failure to consult the overmonitor.

 Johann returns to his bunk and looks up astral projection, directly
mentioning Padre Pio and Goethe and revealing the date to be 2214 as he
speaks into his voisriit. He notes that modern men are perhaps less honest,
and speculates that the projection may involve the soul, then thinks of the
body as a giant community of microorganisms, cousin to the microbes. A red
haired woman named Uschi (a diminutive of Ursula, which means “little
bear”) comes to tell him the captain wants him.

 The Captain is listening to music that suggests a storm. She speaks of
Pleasureworld as the inspiration for the music, the first leisure
satellite, where soil was made from guests excrement and the trees without
gravity grew like giant tangles of yarn. She reveals that the composer went
into an arctic labor camp and never got to see the satellite. Her orderly
brings in drug bugs, fancy and genetically modified crab lice that serve to
expand the consciousness during sexual encounters. Johann reveals he hasn't
been there since the first year of the journey and his leg was crushed.
Here it is revealed that the captain has had cosmetic surgery to make her
eyes the green color of algae.

 He hallucinates of an encounter with his old Earth girlfriend Marcella, in
the wild wind and flowers of nature, vowing never to return to the
artificial city. He comes to his senses with an orderly cleaning him, and
then returns to his compartment to be met with Heinz, a woman, two other
men, and an androgynous figure. They claim to be a coven of spiritualists
who acknowledge that the physical world is an illusion (perhaps echoing the
Walpurgis scenes in *Faust*). The believe that the void is people by beings
of great power who can traverse space instantaneously without ships. His
shadow is identified as a familiar.

 Here the voice begins adding its words to Johann, asking what they want.
He remembers an old jealous run in with Grit on Helmut's lap, snorting in
powdery drugs and happy in her excess. He helps Helmut put her to bed, and
she reveals that her birth name was Joan, though psychologists don't
encourage mothers to select old fashioned names such as that one. His
reverie over, Johann turns his attention back to his present situation.

 Here, Heinz quotes, “Lying spirits all, whose rancor runs blacker than
their reach.” They reveal they will take the ship and rule as a group with
voting power. Johann says there can only be one Captain. Johann says it
would be more dangerous to be a part of that group than to fight against
them openly. The shadow neutralizes them easily and cows them into retreat,
though one throws a pick as he runs out. Johann signals the bridge and
tells Horst that the five were planning a mutiny.

 He tries to ask his shadow what it is. Then he admits, “I know I'm not
right. My mind has been slipping for some time – I know that. But you're
real. … they were afraid of you.” The shadow says, “By instinct I follow
your will, to better remain in your shadow. If you disbelieve – I am
inhibited from speech.” Grit arrives to see if he is all right, and is
surprised this is the first time he has been asked to take part in a
mutiny. She indicates the Captain knows and that the bald man in the group
was named Rudi, saying she is sorry he is mixed up with him. (Rudi means
famed wolf).

 Grit is bothered by the lights in his chamber. Johann shows some jealousy
over Helmut and Grit and she says, “He's nice; he's fun to be with
sometimes, and he's generous. … But he's not as handsome as you are, and
not as strong, and he can be very silly at times.” Here Grit says she is
bothered by Johann's treatment of people he touches – thinking something
which is perhaps implied to be possessive (or perhaps implying that it
means something to him). She undresses. She reveals Rudi sells drugs and
thought the cult only a sideline for the drug business. There is another
dangerous group, those who want the overmonitor reinstated.

 Johann is upset the Captain hasn't told him of all these groups
threatening the ship. He pushes her away and she angers, saying “You're
just the type, just the kind that does it. Alone all the time and so very,
very intellectual. When was the last time you talked to the overmonitor?”

 Grit says the overmonitor is the same thinking that ruined Earth, and
Johann sees his shadow reach out and infect Grit's in an inversion of the
Michelangelo's *The Creation of Adam*.

 Later on the bridge, he watches the ship change, to which the yeoman of
the watch, Gerta (taller and thinner than Grit) remarks how ugly it is,
like a bacterial nucleus. Gerta says that the Captain is going to go down
to the planet so that when she returns to Earth she can speak as a witness
at hearings and interviews. Johann reveals he wants to see the planet as
well, but that it already seems ruined by a race older than humanity.

 The captain has woken up the marines who will defend the ship in case of a
mutiny. Johann thinks that a yeoman is like a wife, and wonders why he has
never been one of Gerta's lovers – she is tall and slender like the
Captain. Johann kisses her neck as he starts to leave, but Erik, Helmut's
second in command, interrupts his egress, saying that they found a city on
the planet, with piers for the ships that the sand surges against. He shows
a photo of three strange structures, and Johann goes to ask the overmonitor
if he has left the ship, to which it replies that he has been absent or
dead on several occasons.

 The monitor says, “temporal quanta are not emitted at a uniform rate, but
at a rate dependent upon the velocity of the body experiencing the time in
question. Since time is composed of quanta, the reduction in the rate of
passage of time must be explained as a reduction in the rate of emission of
these quanta. This reduction implies the existence of hyper-time, by which
the rate of emission is measured, and this in turn implies the existence of
hyper-time intervals of some duration between the emission of the time
quanta applicable to a rapidly moving body. If motion were continuous, it
would cease with a consequent release of energy during these hyper-time
intervals, since motion without time is motion at infinite velocity No such
releases of energy have been observed, from which it follows that motion is
discontinuous – consisting of translations of the moving body from point to
point, corresponding to the time quanta emitted.” I will attempt to talk
about this in the section labeled Quanta of Time below, but I think roughly
the idea is that objects are discontinuous, and translations of the moving
body from point to point need not be uniform in nature and can conceivably
involve large jumps.

 Johann believes Erik has been hallucinating, and requests to go down to
the planet with Helmut and the marines. The Captain refuses. She says she
has revived the marines because they have not been changed over the 17 year
long journey and have their original patriotism.

 Johann remembers leaving and writing Marcella why he must go, but
remembers few details of the briefing before they left on the mission. He
thinks that she is long dead.

 Johann goes to the landing boats and inquires which brought Helmut back to
the ship. He prepares a life boat with food, water, and survival gear for
later escape. The shadow urges him to go, but he wants to take Grit and his

 Helmut appears and asks if progress has been made studying the
microorganisms from the planet. Helmut remarks the amount of them is
astonishing considering how dry the planet is, and Johann reveals that
there are water in the crevasses, with thicker air, and Helmut realizes
Johann has been down on the planet and was the man his group saw. Helmut
believes Johann is working for the Captain and immediately attacks, but his
shadow prevents the blow like “black tissue” and also covers Helmut's
mouth, killing him.

 On his way out Johann sees a dead marine sentry and realizes the mutiny
has begun, thinking Helmut might have been part of the occultists. The
fighting has begun, and Johann ditches his blouse. His shadow succeeds in
opening the Captain's compartment and he joins the Captain, Elis, Gerta,
and Grit. She calls the mutinous group the C.O.C. and are trying to cut
their way through to the bridge. On the screen, they see the dead Helmut,
an illusion of the monitor, enter the lab where a laser is being built to
cut through to the bridge. Johann reveals he has an escape pod and tells
them they can escape to the watery crevasses of Neuerddraht. The Captain
flirts with Grit on the way. Johann realizes that the overmonitor has begun
to fight, too, and is interfering with the boards that would show the
Captain which way to go and might be able to cut off and sever parts of the

 Johann knows that it cannot cut off the bridge so he encourages them to
head back. Grit disappears after saying that she can smell the plants of
the hydroponics module, which is now connected to the bridge. They run
through the foliage of the hydroponics module (where Rudi was a technician)
to the hatch of Johann's escape pod. The Captain indicates Johann should
enter last, deferring to his rank as “the leader of the escape”. He does
not enter the pod and lets Gerta close the hatch, then apports back to the
bridge as the tender is shot into space, his shadow standing before him on
the hatch.

 The fake Helmut tells the marines to surrender on his broadcast, but it is
simply the overmonitor's bluff. Johann tears apart the connections allowing
the fake broadcast and announces to all screens that the mutiny is over. He
says he will pardon the mutineers and that loyal crew members are expected
to help wipe out insurgents, identifying himself as Captain. The
overmonitor indicates that five year survival is 0.383 probable and rising.
Johann says he will not consult the overmonitor.

 “In a storm, land as the enemy He kicked off his sandals and floated over
to the navigation panel to begin the laborious business of setting a new


Compared to Wolfe's other novellas of the 1970s, there is practically no
critical discourse or extended discussion on “Silhouette.” Ironically,
though I find many of Borski's conclusions to be a step too far, his post
on “Silhouette” is actually a good starting point, especially for
recognizing its deliberate and intentional Faust allusions (his Faustian
analysis of Peace has far less overt textual support). The play Faust
itself rambles quite a bit, so perhaps Borski's identification of the story
as a mystery play goes too far. Those wishing to review his entire argument
may do so here: http://www.urth.net/urth/archives/v0017/0072.shtml

 Are Johann's final actions good or selfish? It seems that the Captain and
Gerta have been jettisoned to the planet despite his promise to return (or
was that spoken to his shadow?). Grit simply vanishes, perhaps returning to
the crevasses below, and those final moments certainly make us consider
both the Faustian allusions and the storm motif that haunts the text.



 Unlike many of the supposed references to Goethe in some other Wolfe, this
one is exceedingly clear in referring to Johann Wolfgang Goethe, and
besides being a man of many hats (artistic, political, and scientific),
Goethe has that wolf like middle name to attract Gene's attention. The text
even explicitly mentions “Goethe's friend” in regards to apportation
(though there are two apportation stories in Goethe's life). The three
females whose names begin with G (Grit, Gretchen, and Girta) can all be
derived from Margeret, and his lost earth girl Marcella, has a name that
begins with M.

 Johann is the first name of both Goethe and his character Faust, but
luckily the character in “Silhouette” is called “betrothed of fortune” by
Emil … after a quick perusal of names meaning fortunate or lucky, I was
astonished and edified to find Faust means exactly that: Fortunate or
Lucky. So Johann is Faust. However, the actual mapping of the story of
Faust onto Johann's struggle on ship is not so easy. Perhaps the despair
and his unhealthy and ill-fated desire for Grit and the sad fate of his
relationship with Gretchen forms one link, and we know that Mephistopheles
serves as Faust's double at times in Goethe's version, but several key
themes are ambiguous: the over-monitor indicates that Johann in charge of
the ship greatly increases the chances of survival, and the shadow colony
that follows him around always helps him in defeating the diabolists and
followers of the over-monitor who threaten him.

 Johann abstains from the drugged excesses of his peers, though the drug
bug culled from a crab lice with the Captain does echo the scene in Faust
when he deals with witches in a hallucinogenic kind of fairy story. It is
almost impossible to identify the true devil in “Silhouette” - the
over-monitor, the Captain who destroys it, Johann, his shadow, and the
diabolists all seem to desire their own form of control over the formless
ship, with Johann and his shadow emerging victorious (though the shadow is
not explicitly mentioned again after he observes it on the escape pod).

 Goethe's *Faust* begins with a Job-like deal between Mephistopheles and
God, but the second part culminates in Faust's redemption, beginning with
his journey into the womb or “realm of the mothers” to bring back ideal
beauties. Perhaps the amniotic atmosphere of the ship and Johann's lament
for the lost values of life resonate with the second part of *Faust* rather
than the more readily apparent and well known first part. However, in the
first part, Faust signs a contract in blood with Mephistopheles which will
grant Faust's desires but cost him his soul at the moment of his greatest
contentment. Johann receives some bloody wounds on the planet when he first
comes into contact with his shadow familiar, and it does serve him as
Mephistopheles serves Faust. Grit's disappearance in the final scenes
before Johann steers the ship away from the planet also seem to resonate
with the fate of Gretchen in the Faust play: in jail for killing her child,
she refuses to escape while Faust and Mephistopheles flee. Johann finally
has his captaincy and the ship may survive, but is his partial betrayal of
Gerta and the Captain amoral and damning?


 I feel that, much like *The Fifth Head of Cerberus*, the literary
allusions throughout “Silhouette” contribute to its thematic conclusion.
The opening quote, from Bierce's “A Psychological Shipwreck”, is important
for several reasons.

 It deals with a supernatural affinity that, at least in the quote, if not
in the story, sounds like apportation, the transportation of consciousness
across vast distances and time, and references a disastrous sea voyage that
results in destruction. Its narrator is on ship with a young adopted girl
and looks into her eyes as the ship sinks, then wakes up on the same day on
a very different ship with a roommate who claims that they have been on
that ship since its debarkation, and that his fiance, the young girl who
drowned in our narrator's visions, took a different ship to rendezvous
later because of the displeasure of her adopted parents over the
relationship. It seems that the lost, probably drowned, girl is the
daughter of a man of the same name as our narrator from a branch of his
family that settled in the South of the United States, unknown to him.
Thus, their familial kinship created the “Psychic Shipwreck” that allowed
him to experience her final voyage in his visions. Whether or not he was
ever there is unclear, though the made up quote from Denneker's meditation
would seem to indicate it is a drawing together of the “soul” rather than
the body.

 In the trading book game in ”Silhouette”, in which the books are contained
under small covers and seem to be palm sized storage devices (like an
extremely limited flash drive), several other works are mentioned,
including Isak Dineson's *Seven Gothic Tales* and Thornton Wilder's *The
Eighth Day* as well as GK Chesterton's collection of poems, *The Wild

 The portions of *The Wild Knight* quoted are:

 My eyes are full of lonely mirth:

Reeling with want and worn with scars,

For pride of every stone on Earth,

I shake my spear at all the stars.

 In a science fictional way, this indicates that though damaged and broken,
humanity has turned its derision and angst towards the heavens and the
galaxies outside its origin point. However, settling on the planet in the
Algol system would almost certainly be a mistake, though the Captain wants
to settle there so they can then return to Earth, which has been damaged
probably beyond repair.

 A live bat beats my crest above,

Lean foxes nose where I have trod,

And on my naked face the love

Which is the loneliness of God.

 The figure which accompanies these verses is characterized by anger and
restrained power. Here, love involves loneliness, and Johann turns the ship
away from the planet, distancing humanity from a landlocked planetary
existence but dooming it to the loneliness of space.

 These verses are from the poem “The World's Lover”, the speaker a supposed
sorcerer who is cursed for mentioning that the leaves are green (reveling
in the natural world), and is then scourged by thorns and whipped, and the
people call to crucify him, praising the Lord – he is killed and becomes
food for the vultures. (Soon Johann is cut along his arms and legs and his
head bruised from his apportation to the planet right after reading the
poem). Note that the final action of Johann is to turn away from the world,
and he seems to believe that living on planets is an anomaly.

 The storm motif is present in a few scenes. When Johann is with the
Captain and discussing the constructed Pleasureworld, actually made from
excrement, he thinks of a storm attacking a jetty, and in the very end he
knows that land is the enemy during a storm. The other texts mentioned deal
with storms and ships quite directly, and Erik's report deals with a rather
disturbing implication to the seas of Neuerddraht:

“There are piers jutting out into the sea – piers for the ships, that the
sand surges against. I went out onto one of them … the stones are still
solid enough, though they're not really stones, and stood at the end, and I
swear to you, Lieutenant the ocean that isn't within a thousand kilometers
of here washed over my feet and the sand blew and sang so I my ears that I
nearly fell, almost fell off the end of it as I stood there looking out
into the ocean with the unwalled houses all behind me and the ships beating
their gongs in the rain out there in the whirling bay.”

 Where is Erik experiencing this? What has happened to the creatures that
lived in these houses?

 Thornton Wilder's *The Eighth Day*, which is, according to the author,
about “evolution – Man evolving and individuals evolving (and back
sliding!)”, is clearly relevant – the novel was originally designed around
Goethe's poem “Tyche” and still quotes Goethe several times “Beware what
you long for in youth, for you will get it in your middle age.” In
addition, we have a murder where the suspect, though innocent, is forced to
relocate his entire existence in escaping “justice” … eventually, he will
drown at sea. In addition, one of the character's joins a church combining
spiritism, Indian philosophy, and healing that “seemed to her to reflect
many ideas, many affirmations, that she had acquired from her lifelong
reading in Goethe.”

 In *Seven Gothic Tales*, it is quite clear what appeals to Wolfe:
characters in costume and in disguise, telling stories within stories, but
there are a few specific references that directly tie the work to the
German future of “Silhouette”. The first story involves rising waters and
flooding threatening to drown a group of people from a variety of classes
stuck together, including a supposed Cardinal. The cardinal speaks of
sanctity and how only in context with everything else does any particular
thing become sacred, before this quote:

 “All their shadows, thrown away in the circle from the center of the
stable lamp, reached up to the rafters under the roof. In the course of the
night it often seemed as if it were these long shadows which were really
alive, and which kept up the spirit and the talk of the gathering, behind
the exhausted people” (Dinesen). After this point they share a meal much
like the last supper and the cardinal faints, and when he awakens he is far
weaker, but it seems that leadership and strength transfers somehow to
another character almost symbiotically. In addition these characters are
not who they seem – the bishop is merely someone who pretends to be him and
who in fact murdered the original bishop, and is actually illegitimate
royalty. They will all drown in the terrible deluge brought on by the
storm, regardless.

 The second story bears two portions that would be irresistible to Wolfe,
concerning a married couple and their extra-marital explorations “Before I
had ever met her I had read about her family, whose name ran down for
centuries through the history of France, and learned that there used to be
werewolves amongst them, and I sometimes thought that I should have been
happier to see her really go down on all four and snarl at me, for then I
should have known where I was.”

 An even more explicit reference to Faust may be found: “And in the air
there was a theory, which caught hold of them there, that the jealousy of
lovers was an ignoble affair, and that no woman should allow herself to be
possessed by any male but the devil. On their way to him they were proud of
being, according to Doctor Faust, always a hundred steps ahead of man. But
the jealousy of competition was, as between Adam and Lilith, a noble

 No doubt this idea of male and female relationships plays out with Johann
and Grit, with a very similar interplay, though the coupling with the
Captain seems to mirror this competition between Adam and Lilith. The *Seven
Gothic Stories* mention Goethe several times. The final story, “The Poet”,
involves a story of a man obsessed with poetry and mentions Goethe at least
four or five times as an ideal.

 Here is a brief analysis of the names in the text.

 Johann: while it means “God is merciful” and the last name Faust means
“fortunate”, its meaning connotes less than the story Wolfe references.

 Grit - the short underclass girl in whom Johann seems most interested, is
a name clearly derived from Margeret (child of light). Her birth name was
Joan, “gift from God.”

 Gretchen- the name means pearl, but it is a pet form of the name Margaret.

 Gerta- (an alternate spelling could be Gerda) could mean protection. Of
special note is that this name sounds almost exactly like the proper
phonetic pronunciation of the word Goethe to an English speaker. While the
goddess Gerda might be invoked, it is also conceivable that Girta is a
derivative of Margaret.

 Marcella- Johann imagines Marcella when the “drug bug” is employed in his
mandatory tryst with the captain. (Marcella implies strong and war-like,
and at the beginning of the text Emil mentioned that Johann wanted to be a
captain but “with the war over it wasn't likely ever to happen” so Johann
joined the expedition.)

 Emil – the male shipmate who begs Johann to call him Grit in one of the
most unique scenes in Wolfe, could be named after Emil Ludwig, who is
responsible for recovering Goethe's remains and also wrote lengthy
biographies of both Goethe … and Napoleon, which Wolfe references in Peace
as the source of Weer's off color comments about Napoleon's hand.

 Helmut – Johann envies him for the affection he believes Grit harbors for
him, though she later claims Johann is more handsome. His name means
“Brave”, and he has been on the planet, but returns to the ship. Johann
kills him and he is then used by the overmonitor as an image to keep hope
among its followers alive.

 Horst – his name means wood or thicket, man of the forest.

 Rudi – one of the mutinous spiritual conspirators who Grit is sorry to see
Johann mixed up with, he is bald and his name means “famed wolf”. His day
job involves the hydroponic plants (plant engineering?) Hmmm.


 Forgive me in advance – my scientific training is in biological sciences,
not truly in physics.

 The overmonitors discussion as time consisting of quanta, or units, seems
to deal with Planck and his observations of black body radiation which lead
him to posit that light and other electromagnetic energy are emitted in
discrete packets of energy. Planck showed that nature is discontinuous and
discrete, made up of small units. Here, the relationship between velocity
and time is being explored as an aspect of those quanta or units and their
speeds. I am not certain that time is actually composed of quanta, though
we can measure its passage relativistically.

 In physics everything can display a wavelength, and here the wavelength of
Johann and other individuals is manifesting a discontinuous presence,
perhaps manifesting as real from that wavelength. I am not entirely certain
how sound the physics of this section is, especially when the monitor
begins talking about hyper-time, but interestingly enough the characters do
seem to have an energy valence in the story (Grit and Gerta are similar in
Johann's attraction to them and interchangeable as yeoman of the watch, but
it is clear that Gerta is higher in valence, both derived from Faust's
Margaret) and I feel that Planck's work with black body radiation is
somehow important to the science behind these Silhouettes, given the light
from Algol and its unusual ultraviolet rays, coupled to its dark twin. I
feel that the shadows are composed of cellular quanta which might even
conglomerate into a colony, leading us to our next section, where I feel
much more comfortable.


 In addition to the ships rearrangement being amorphous, it is directly
compared to a bacterial structure: Gerta says, “Ugly, isn't it … With all
those loops and ravels? I think this ship out to be long and slender and
graceful – like the Captain, if you know what I mean. This one looks like a
bacterial nucleus under a microscope.” The idea of the ship itself as an
amorphous nucleus gives the metaphor at work in the novella a large frame
of reference. Algol compared to a distant beating heart could be another
such huge multi-celled organ system.

 Helmut also reveals why the breathing apparatuses are necessary on the
planet: it is clear that Karl has been doing studies on the bacteria on the
planet: “The airborne bacteria. If they can show they don't infect human
beings, or cook up a vaccine, we won't have to wear the things. You
wouldn't think there would be such a stew of single-celled organisms
floating around in a place that's as dry as that one, but there are.” These
organisms flourished in the water garden Johann visited during one of his

 In regards to the thought of apportation, Johann records into his
voisriit: “Offhand, it would seem impossible that the living body could be
dissolved in one place and recondensed in another without a fatal
disruption of its functions; but the body is only an immense community of
microorganisms, each, as has been known for hundreds of years, capable of
existing and reproducing, in a satisfactory environment, without reference
to the rest. The personality, which conceives of itself as existing without
interruption from birth to death, has no physical reality, since no cell of
the body endures for more than half a dozen years. Rather it is like the
spirit of some long continued enterprise, which survives the extinction of
generations ...” Thus, apportation, the constantly shifting ship, and the
shadow cells that can flee from one shadow to another but maintain a
personality, which might conceivably have the demon star Algol as their
heart and command center (or even Algol's dark shadow companion, if they
flee the light of Algol), show organisms as amorphous collections of
smaller cells.


 In addition to the Faustian echoes in “Silhouette”, I believe the story
explicitly references Goethe's scientific treatise on plants, which dealt
with three basic principles.


   unity of form in diverse structures, such that every aspect of the plant
   was simply a metamorphosis of the leaf. Goethe called the leaf “The true
   Proteus who can hide or reveal himself in all vegetal forms.”

   refinement of sap: the idea that the movement of sap from low to high
   places was almost an act of purification, such that lowly tubers were mired
   in filth and the flowers of the plant pointed ever heavenward.

   Expansion and contraction in cycles: Goethe posited that plants
   developed in 3 basic cycles of contraction, visible in meristem ontogeny.

 “Silhouette” is in many ways symbolically related to the early Wolfe story
“Morning Glory”, in which the mutated plant seeks to find the true light
outside its petty container, mocking the artificial university knowledge as
almost an institution devoid of true light. Here, the plants on Neuerddraht
flee the light of their sun (note that this resonates with the refinement
of sap: struggling to reach further into the earth, the true light of the
winking demon binary system is too damaging). There is no refinement of
sap: they struggle to go ever lower, like mankind, grounding itself and
fleeing the celestial, as the captain wants them to set down on a planet
ill suited to their survival.

 The ship also seems to have the unlimited metamorphic quality of a leaf:
it changes positions and expands and contracts almost randomly, according
to some unknown purpose, made of ice foam that seems like the cell walls
found in plants. The shadows colonies which communicate with Johann are
equally amorphous.

 At the end of the novella, Johann, who finally achieves the captaincy he
was reputed to covet, turns the ship into space and away from the grounding
of Neuerddraht, or “New earth wire” - which could be taken electrically as
well as a ground wire.

 In addition, the formlessness of the ship, with no gravity, also seems to
be a symbol of aimlessness. No sexual identity, no gravity, and no
authority. Johann gives voice to these modernist fears directly: “Look back
five hundred years [note that Goethe would have lived about 450 years
before the time Johann is subjectively speaking in]. Everything valued then
is dead now beauty in architecture and language – freedom – the family,
kinship, the tribe – all the relationships of blood, all dead. Religion,
the dream of objective justice, the very ideas of a garden and a forest –
all dead.” To which his visitor, Heinz, replies, “Religion isn't dead … I
was a diabolist back on earth.”

 If mysticism survives, it is corrupt, as are all the institutions.
Ironically, man has left a destitute earth and, seeking a new world, has
found the Algol system. Pleasureworld, a false paradise, is actually made
from excrement, and in space the urine of the passengers is recycled as
water – the entire ship is infested with flabby rats. The drug bugs that
increase sexual pleasure are nothing but modified crab lice, an
infestation. Humanity seems to have lost its way.


 The star has a bad reputation. “It causes misfortune, violence,
decapitation, hanging, electrocution and mob violence, and gives a dogged
and violent nature that causes death to the native or others. It is the
most evil star in the heavens.” (Robson). If this is the beating heart of
the shadowy cellular conglomeration organism in contact with Johann, then
the alliance between man and silhouette might be more diabolic than it
first appeared.

 Algol, the winking demon, is a binary star composed of two stars that were
long considered to be one, a light and dark binary unit, with a prominent
place in astrology as an “evil” constellation, it does seem that nothing
good can come of man stopping here. Traditionally, Algol is part of the
Gorgon's head held by Perseus in the constellation. Since the gorgon could
not be looked upon without the observer turning to stone, it is interesting
that “vision” plays such a part in the ability of the silhouette following
Johann to speak only when he is not being looked at directly.

 Indeed, there is a scene in which Johann is on the planet and sees Algol
in the sky. Only some time after the sun sets and complete darkness returns
does he begin to hear his Silhouette speaking again. For this reason, and
with the image of Algol with its dark shadow sun throbbing like a heart in
space, there is at least a chance that the being which has been summoned
into collective existence might even be the demon star itself – a colony of
cells that maintain separate existence but group consciousness. Johann's
thoughts on apportation presage this (though it is of course possible that
the cells making up his Silhouette are not actually connected to Algol).

 Additionally, the name of our main character, Johann, with even explicit
mention of “Goethe's friend” and apportation must also make us consider the
connotation of the *Faust* story (the historical story referenced runs that
Goethe and his friend saw a man named Frederick in his nightgown on the
street in Weimar, who was actually asleep at the time in Goethe's house,
visiting from Frankfurt and as yet unknown to Goethe. Frederick also
claimed to have had a dream of Goethe in Weimar). Goethe also claims to
have seen a vision of his future self riding in the woods on horseback only
to realize eight years later that he was riding in the same suit of clothes
as he saw himself those many years ago.


 It is likely that Johann's shadow colony appears from the very first page,
the reason for the failing light in his chamber, which no diagnostic test
seems to be able to detect. These are probably the bacteria and organisms
Karl is testing on, running free, unsure that they will ever be able to
return to their home until Johann takes them with him in his apportation.
The shadow spreads from one wall to cover another, and eventually it joins
Johann's shadow, making its pact with him. It saves his life several times,
and he also spreads something of its aegis to Grit. I believe it is related
to the bacteria being studied by Karl from the planet - they share the
photophobic nature of the rest of life on the planet, hiding in the
shadows. Algol and its dark twin might mirror Johann and his Silhouette and
their connection, but it is conceivable that the binary star also has
something to do with the consciousness of the shadow. Eventually the light
in Johann's chamber will begin working of its own accord, after the entity
or shadow colony has taken up full residence in Johann's own shadow. It is
unclear whether Johann leaves his shadow behind in the hydroponics plant or
not, and if it leaves with the escape tender holding the Captain and Gerta.


 The action occurs on June 5th, 2214, according to the relative flow of
time on the ship, which has been on its mission for 17 years, though it
seems that relativistic speeds would make the actual date on earth about
2500 or even later. Johann wonders why there has been no apportation since
2150. The only relevance to the date June 5th that I could find is that it
is the feast day of St. Boniface, who is the patron saint of Germany and
the “Apostle of the Germans” (and was credited with the first Christmas
Tree in some stories). There is every indication that there was a war, and
that birth names like “Joan” are old fashioned and unused, but German names
are in vogue.

 Class identities are extremely stratified and reinforced by nutrition and
even height – the female Captain is taller than Johann and towers over
Grit. Johann requests Grit's sexual presence as often as he is permitted,
and the female Captain seems to be able to call upon lower class males as
well. However, there is no indication that males can call other males of
lower class to serve their sexual desires (or it could be that Emil is in a
lower caste than Johann, or he might) in this class set up, though bisexual
encounters are quite common.

 Wolfe has of course examined class relationships and even prostitution
before, but it this is the first truly foreign system we see in his
fiction, where every six weeks you can “force” someone from a lower caste
to serve you sexually, which they can only refuse in light of some form of

 UNANSWERED QUESTIONS: With the planet's photophobic plants and the ominous
“winking demon” double star, shadowy twins, does the alliance between
Johann and his silhouette represent a Faustian bargain? Johann is not a
diabolist as several of the other crew members are (it seems the last
vestige of religious sentiment lies in “perversions” of religion) but he
does seize power at the end and Grit simply vanishes, as Gretchen refuses
to leave her prison in *Faust*.

 Even though the overmonitor is called God at one point, does it
necessarily imply that it is a false one to be avoided, especially
considering it is complicit in the rebellion against the captain and the
creating the image of Helmut after he is dead?

 When Johann says that he will not consult the over-monitor, is this hubris
or a return to genuine human capability without reliance on the artificial?
Is he just “the right man for the job” - a war-time/stormy weather captain?
(Note that his ideal woman, whom he left behind, Marcella, has a name which
means martial or warlike).

 Is Johann's seizing of power a moment of salvation or damnation for him?
Clearly it will save the ship.

 Regarding the ancient civilization on the planet with houses and an
ominous stormy sea in Erik's description – are the shadows a remnant of
that civilization or responsible for its disappearance? The name of Algol
with all its negative connotations might have some impact on our answer.


 Johann uses the voisriit transcriber explicitly mentioned in “The Blue
Mouse” and “Monster” (in this work its black boxy description also seems to
match the description of the black box Cutthroat speaks into in “Tracking
Song”)… but there is one other thing I wanted to mention. For an author
accused of sexist caricatures of women all the time, there is a brief
little section in Wolfe's career where it looks like his future world is
run by women in what could almost be a dialogue with James Tiptree, Jr.

 These include “In Looking Glass Castle” (men are pretty much outlawed),
“Many Mansions” (the female being spoken to is a clone grown in a test
tube, as it is hinted all of her sisters are, but there is no mention of
brothers or men at all in the “victorious” faction of humanity), “The
Eyeflash Miracles” (the security guards who kick them off the train are
women, and I believe there is a female authority figure referenced in the
work), and in “Silhouette” the height and power of the captain, as well as
the statement that Johann was unlikely to ever be promoted to Captain after
the war ended, at least hints that gender relationships in this caste
system are very complicated (However, it may very well be that it is purely
caste in nature and does not recognize any kind of gender distinction [the
ubiquitous bisexuality on board might also hint at this attitude]). This
also occurs in *There Are Doors,* but that is closer to fantasy than SF and
has a different kind of biological explanation. The most dystopian of these
for sympathetic characters is probably “The Eyeflash Miracles”.

 The overmonitor and a long ship life of course remind us of the
fragmentation of Pas on the Whorl as well as the ship in “The Other Dead
Man”. Johann has the infamous crushed leg so prevalent in Wolfe's long
fiction, but here there is a slight echo of Marlowe's Faustus, where
someone pulls on Faustus' leg to wake him and it comes off in their hands.

 The strange shadows and plants on the planet in “Silhouette” definitely
remind us of the trees and Shadow Children in *The Fifth Head of Cerberus*,
and perhaps even the Vanished People of Short Sun, yet I feel that these
plants are slightly different. They flee the light, and in that regard I am
reminded of the wonderful modernist work “Morning Glory”, in which the
dream plant scours endless corridors to seek out true light. In the short
story “The Blue Mouse”, there is some mention of dark strangers hungry for
blood, but the time line would not seem to allow those visitors to be from
Neuerddraht. Here, the true light of Algol is damaging, and the plants
instinctively hide from it. Even the Silhouette which speaks to Johann can
only do so when he is hidden from sight. This concealment from visibility
is a very interesting motif, and I am still wondering if the consciousness
is entirely colonial in nature, with Algol as its heart, or if the cells
necessarily flee Algol's light and are actually antithetical to it.


 Borski, Robert. “Silhouette”. Urth List.

 Chesteron, G.K. *The Wild Knight*.

 Dinesen, Isak. *Seven Gothic Tales.*

 Goethe, Johann Wolfgang. *Faust.*

 Robson, Vivian E. *Fixed Stars and Constellations in Astrology.*

 Wilder, Thornton. *The Eighth Day.*
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