"Thought of the Day," December 31, 1997
To close our speculations on TSE for the month, I've decided to bring
up what I believe to be a central metaphor in the novel: silence.
Below I've listed several instances where silence is brought up and provide
some discussion of why I think the metaphor's used at that particular point.
1. The silence of the first encounter. "I couldn't
see anything of [the Finback's] surfaces, just the general shape under
the covers; and it stood there in a silence so total that it was hard to
understand, considering the noise it was going to make when we took it
into the open; but I could smell it..." [04:28] This is very powerful,
setting up the sensory overload images we get later when Q's in the cockpit.
TSE is a novel about passages, from states of knowing, or seeming to know,
to states of unknowing (it's no coincidence that he doesn't get to fly
the Finback until he is committed fully to the plan the Bureau's laid out
for him). It's also one of those truly "male moments" Hall gets away
with so well, man bonding with machine, and seen elsewhere in the Q-orpus
(cf. Q wanting to be alone to watch Striker land at the end of TSP).
2. Herr Bocker's laughter, variously described as "soundless"
or "nearly soundless." (Bocker's one weird dude, and he'll get
full treatment in one of the TSE back editions I plan to put up shortly
on the Q-alendar site.) Later, though, things change; just as the
Finback moves from its state of silence to screaming across the sky, Bocker
goes ballistic on discovering Behrendt's missing: "Bocker had kept
asking into the telephone, his voice like a slowly traversing machine gun,
its volume rising and falling as he tried to control his anger. It was
the first time I'd seen him like that: no more silent laughter, no plump
hand on my arm. He'd hardly recognized me when I'd come in." [07:4]
3. Silence by the ground control. We know that,
in the cockpit, Q is aware that the people tracking his Finback flight
are using silence to (attempt to) make him uncomfortable. It's interesting
that here silence becomes Q's friend, in both an extended sense (he knows
the trick they're using and lets them think he's uncomfortable with the
silence, but in fact it's silence that keeps Q from having to answer some
very embarrassing questions) and in an intermittent sense (periods of silence
he employs strategically to cut out certain words by spinning the thumbwheel).
4. Silence on the mountain. After the crash of the
crash of the Finback, and the subsequent arrival, then departure, of the
helicopters, Q says more than once that the silence is total. Here,
near the target area, he is in the midst of another passage, this time
active to passive to active.
5. Waiting for Gorodok (thanks to Penny, from whom I borrowed
that allusion). Out under the stars, Q is more alone than ever,
as he waits for the train. He's gotten to the target area, become
somewhat familiar and as comfortable as one could be in like circumstances,
but no sooner does he find even this small haven than he's shoved once
again into the alien environment where the mission's about to be wrenched
from his grasp again, as the courier goes down in the fusillade.
Just savor this writing, in my opinion as good as Hall ever gets:
"The stars had the glitter of broken icicles and the snow was an ocean,
stilled and frozen, capping the curve of the planet and reaching to infinity,
making it seem absurd to wait here for a thousand tons of metal to come
steaming out of the void with the force of a fallen comet. There was a
degree of sensory deprivation in this vast silence as I stood here, small
as a molecule, between earth and sky." [14:108] Wow.
6. Ferris brings the unspoken to the surface. Finally,
silence figures in one of the very best Q/Ferris moments in all the Q-orpus,
as Ferris, briefing Q on Slingshot's final phase, struggles to make Q understand
that which cannot be spoken: "I was still listening carefully to
what he was saying, and to his silences. I was beginning to hear something
that was only, as yet, in his mind." [17:57] What's in Ferris's mind,
of course, is that, (a) Q's to eliminate Kirinski, and (b) that no way
out of the country is to be provided him. In all the discussion about
the novel, little or nothing's been said about the disadvantageous position
in which Ferris has been placed. Here, it's clear that, just as in
Barcelona, he's discomfited about what he has to tell Q, and I rather like
the implication that Ferris is uneasy about it. Surely it isn't too
much of a stretch to assume that his discomfiture is as much professional
as personal (that is, it's just damned bad policy to run the end-phase
In all these instances of the metaphor of silence, there is the suggestion
that the monstrous unknown, silenced for a time, repeatedly reemerges to
bring Q face-to-face with his disagreeable destiny. Though attempting
to get away from the "noise," from the time he kills Novikov (by crushing
his windpipe, virtually the only method that will keep him silent as he
dies) to the time he kills Kirinski, who he describes as "the objective
for Slingshot, a silence across the snow" [18:211], Q tries desperately,
and unsuccessfully, to find the silence of contentment and peace.