I started reading "A Story" by John V Marsch, from the start again today, as Wolfe stories get better on second read, and also they give you more perspective regarding what actually happened when you read it for second time.
Few my observations below
1. Her body hung shapeless after giving birth.
This is described to us as soon, Cedar branches waving gives birth to Eastwind and Sandwalker, and we know that the abos have replicated the first colonizing force on this planet namely the shadow children, but we can conclude from the above that their replication is not fully complete.
2. Sleeping place
So much is mentioned about the sleeping place to us by Sandwalker, it is if that their existence is completely dependent on finding the sleeping place.
Few things which he mentions about the sleeping place are
i. No predators are able to find them at sleeping place.
ii. Only a food bringer is able to find a sleeping place, for hungry mouths its twists and turns, and then disappears completely in stones.
iii. The songs of shadow children is like wind blowing over the sleeping place.
So my conclusions from sleeping place is that the hill people are able to cast some kind of conscious and unconscious halo about them at sleeping place, which can be compared if leap of faith is to be taken to the halo which the shadow children are casting about Saint Anne, by singing the songs of "Bending paths".
This halo not only protects them physically but also subconsciously, because when sand walker first encounters shadow children by hearing their song, even before they see him, he says that he is lost now. So basically the shadow children are able to sense they the abos even before seeing them.
3. When God was king of men.
Sandwalker tells us about the long dreaming days, but I find it really hard to believe that the concept of "God" has developed so fast in abos.
Now if the shadow children are to be believed then the abos of Saint Anne did not have any physical shape when they first came in contact with them during the first wave. But afterwards as the abos have the capacity of replication they replicated the shadow children's physicality.
But also while replicating the physical form, did they subconsciously replicate the some of the thoughts of shadow children like their faith.
Now I am not a theologian, but the concept of god came into place after long time in humanity's development through ages.
I just went through the below link
Scholars believe that not until the eighth century bc was the first biblical account of creation composed (starting at Genesis 2:4), and that only a couple of centuries later did an anonymous priestly author write down the full-blown version we get starting at Genesis 1.
So it has taken humans quite long journey to come to this concept, while the abos have the same faith and theology as us simply sounds unrealistic to me.
4. You sing a happy song.
When sandwalker first meets the old wise one, and after their feasting on tick-deer, they strike up a conversation, at that time the sandwalker feels content after eating the meat, the old wise senses this and says the above to him.
Sandwalker also thinks that the wise one may be a ghost, but the wise one is able to hear this too, and he launches into an explanation regarding, what exactly he is.
So the wise senses not only his thoughts but his feelings too due to the herb.
5. That which you call nothing is what holds things together. when it is gone all the worlds will come together in a fiery death.
Now the force which holds up together can be said to be gravity, and if we go at atomic level they are said to be quarks which are the heart of matter, Now the herb has given a shadow children ability telepathically communicate with each other, but they also have telekinetic ability to influence the humans in the ship which are coming to Saint Anne.
But what about guidance instruments on those ships ? Are the shadow children able to influence them too? They could if they are in control of heart of matter namely the quarks.
No wonder they don't want other colonizers finding this planet, with so much power they have at their hand.
6. The Tree
Both the species of abos have completely different approaches to a tree, know the marsh men live in a place which is surrounded by trees, but they don't give any significance to it, nor are they shown to be talking to it.
While the hill men revere trees, and even think they are born from trees.
Also for one time we come across the tree in hills, Sandwalker approaches it with hesitation and even accepts its permission to stay, know the entity which Marsch is describing could actually be a tree ? or for our convenience Marsch has named it tree ?
7. But I know how it must feel, sitting alone, waiting for it to come when no one comes. It must be terrible. You are a man it will not come to you until you are old.
This a piece of conversation which Sandwalker strikes up with Seven girls waiting at the oasis, but what exactly are they trying to convey with this conversation ?
I think the female abos are more vulnerable because they are not able to protect themselves by casting a halo, physically or subconsciously, that's why the first thing which seven girls asks sandwalker is whether he will make this his sleeping place, so they require a male to do this probably.
Also all this talk of the tree being a father and him protecting mary pink butterflies and seven girls seems bit of a hoax to me, it may done because she does not know exactly what intentions sandwalker has towards them.
We again a black imagery when we encounter Seven girls waiting because sandwalker describes her hair as black as floss, this same imagery we encountered with cedar branches waving.
8. Thought as he dreamed that were he flying feet he would feign death until they brought him to air again. Meantime flying feet's churning of the river had ceased.
This is another clue that the hill people have some kind of telepathy going on between them, which clearly does not exist in the marsh men, and the songs which the old wise one refers to the abos having, can be exactly this ability which allows them to read each other's thoughts.
Also sandwalker is not only able to convey his thoughts to flying feet, but he actually experiences the drowning of flying feet, because he is not able to breathe for some time after that, and this also leads affects seven girls waiting and mary pink butterflies.
So something is definitely going on here regarding people in a sleeping place or part of community being subconsciously connected with each other.
9. The water took him again and he spun onto his belly and thought of the otter, imagining that he too had nostrils close to the top of his head and short, powerful swimming legs in place of his long limbs. He stroked and shot ahead.
Now I am not a swimmer but learning to swim is a kind of practice, but diving into a river and then imagining I am an otter and doing the same thing that's just mind boggling. Clearly the hill people have some ability or the abos to able to replicate something so fast, that it's just unimaginable from a human perspective.
10. He tried to ask questions, and discovered he could not. as soon as his thought was no longer the thought of the song, as long it no longer swayed and pleaded with the others the touching was broken.
This happens to sand walker when he is communicating with shadow children, as they are singing sorrow song, could this also explain reason that why some hill men get lost when they try to find the sleeping place when are hungry after the day's hunt, because their songs or thoughts do not align with their tribe, and so in the process they become lost.
11. To be hunted by starving men was no new experience- twice as child he had been hunted by starving men- and it would be simple to melt away and find a new sleeping place or return to his old one.
So the shadow children are correct when the say that the natives are hunting and eating each other commonly. This also explains why seven girls waiting is initially skeptical and afraid when she talks to Sandwalker.
Also makes sense when you connect the fact that why a hungry men should not find a sleeping place as they pose direct danger to the group, and that why if we make a leap their thoughts are manipulated by the group, and he is not able to find the sleeping place, and this can also be connected to the thoughts of men in star crosser being manipulated by the shadow children by making them skip both the twin worlds.
12. The stars tell God, the blind prisoner mumbled stubbornly, and the river tells the stars. Those who look into the night waters may see, in the ripples, the shifting stars coming. We give them the lives of you ignorant hills men, and if a star leave its place we darken the water with starwalker's blood.
Now a case can be clearly argued that the shifting stars are the rockets which are moving to and fro in this part of the space from the milky way. Also it can be argued that the rockets tend to hover over this place for a long time, and a star leaving its place means either they are coming towards to the planets or they are moving away, and this is a great significance for the Marsh men as they drown their most leaned star walkers at the time of this event.
Now what other species on this planet don't want the colonizers coming ? they are definitely the shadow children, we also know that the abos have evolved from the shadow children, so did they take this tradition from the shadow children too? Because initially when the shadow children landed and before they successfully set up a barrier over the planets, they would have definitely observed the sky for the incoming ships.
And abos took this tradition from them and completely changed it's meaning, as they blindly followed it without understanding the crux involved.
13. There was a presence in the land as there had not been in empty miles at the highland's feet, a presence cruel and detached, thinking deep thoughts, contemptuous of everything below clouds.
Now in this case whose thoughts is Sandwalker sensing when he has actually come very near to finding his people ? Is it lastvoice or the people travelling in the rockets ?
14. The starwalker of these wetlanders say their minds -perhaps they mean their souls - leave the ground, tumble through space, kick off from sisterworld, and, drawn by the tractive universe, glide, soar, sweep, and whirl among constellations until dawn, reading everything and tending the whole. so they told me in my captivity.
The old wise one made a spitting sound and asked sandwalker, do you know what a starcrosser is ?
Clearly the the actions of wise one signify that all this mumbo jumbo which the marsh people are making claims to have been an act of replicating the shadow children, and doing something without understanding it.
Wolfe just shows us clearly that how a colonizing force has completely changed the colonizers not only in physical sense, but they have completely altered their sense of identity. Now these abos who did not have forms in the first place have not only taken human form, but they are also taking human culture without understanding the science behind it.
15. For this we have given up everything, because this is more than anything, though it is only an herb of this world.
My theory regarding the herb is that when the humans first landed on this planet they came across these beings who had fantastic shapes, and were living in the holes of the trees of this world, one of the reasons they consider the trees holy. Now these beings were to sense the thoughts of other beings and communicate telepathically with each other.
Humans came in contact with them, and they adopted the human form, but the Marsh men so completely adopted the human form that they lost the ability to change forms, and it is this ability of replication which also provides them with sub-conscious ability to communicate with each other.
Now the Hill people although they took human form, but they did not lose ability of communication, and that's why the Marsh men are always stealing their babies to turn them into star walkers.
Now at the same time what happened to humans on this planet is that they came across the herb and upon using it got so much absorbed in their different abilities that they just lost their sense of being, and become high in this super consciousness.
so not only the colonizers were affected by the landing but also the colonized, and it has taken such a huge mutation and loss of identity, that no one understands or cares who they were actually.
This also connects with the verse which we have at the start of this novella, because the shadow children are trying to posses the herb so that other humans do not get an access to it. The marsh men are trying to know all by reading the sky and doing these ritual sacrifices, and both are trying to access God, the shadow children by the use of herb and the Marsh men by reading stars and doing sacrifices, but as per St John of the Cross, if you try to posses anything, it will never lead to god.
Just spent my whole Saturday on this from morning to evening, reading and taking notes all the time.
You've done a really thorough job here of getting at the various issues. We talk about most of these on the episode coming out this week, but you raise a few points and questions that we didn't consider. Brandon has emphasized the significance of the sleeping places as we've gone through the story, but I don't think we ever considered that there is a psychic component to it -- that they can be screened much like the planet can be.
Your idea that Wolfe is thinking about quarks is excellent. This model was less than a decade old when Wolfe was writing and was probably very much on the mind of people interested in physics and space, something that could really revolutionize our understanding of what the universe even is. We completely missed this!