Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Shadow", Chapter 13, Part 3

"You know of the roads?"

"I know they must not be used. Nothing more."

"The Autarch Maruthas closed them. That was when I was your age. Travel encouraged sedition, and he wished goods to enter and leave the city by the river, where they might be easily taxed. The law has remained in force since, and there is a redoubt, so I've heard, every fifty leagues. Still the roads remain. Though they are in poor repair, it is said some use them by night."

"I see," I said. Closed or not, the roads might make for an easier passage than traveling across the countryside as the law demanded.

This is letting us know that the Commonwealth is quite totalitarian. Lots of governments have restricted travel to defeat "sedition," including Communist Russia, the Incas, Nazi Germany, North Korea, the USA during the "Red Scare," and many more that I don't know about, I'm sure. Restriction on travel within a country only happens at quite an advanced state of totalitarianism, though. The last sentence is satirical (I hope); traveling isn't outlawed, just traveling on the roads. It's inconvenient for everyone, but doesn't really stop travel, and therefore seems unlikely to stop the spread of sedition.

The four books I had carried to her a year before remained, stacked with others on the little table. I could not resist the temptation to take one; there were so many in the library that they would never miss a single volume. My hand had stretched forth before I realized I did not know which to choose. The book of heraldry was the most beautiful, but it was too large by far to carry about the country. The book of theology was the smallest of all, but the brown book was hardly larger. In the end it was that I took, with its tales from vanished worlds.

I personally think this is a statement of Wolfe's preferences; He is a religious man, but if he has to choose one book to take on a trip, it's going to be an anthology of the great stories, and not a theology text. I think that this is near-universal. Even if you choose the Bible to be the one book you take, it's the stories in the Bible that are interesting (and contain the most wisdom, anyway). Once they start talking about cubits and who begat whom, your eyes glaze over and you skip ahead. Don't deny it.

"Then I abandoned all thoughts of the south and her ice-choked sea.... North lay the wide pampas, a hundred trackless forests, and the rotting jungles at the waist of the world." More evidence that this is the southern hemisphere, and the word "pampas" suggests Argentina, which I think is another hat tip to Borges.

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