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A Speculative-Fiction Book-Club Podcast

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  • Just finished reading this story of Poe, and I haven't gone through the podcast yet, but I really liked this detective story by Poe, the story starts weirdly enough where we are given kind of info dump by Poe, regarding people who are analysts and people who are genius. From my understanding what he wanted to say was people who read other people can be termed as genius, because analysts operate within a given set of rules, like chess players who follow a stringent set of rules to win. From this we are quickly introduced to our watsonesque narrator who meets an eccentric man in Paris, called as Dupin, and they quickly hit it off, as they share the same interests. But Dupin is not your normal person, who can see through people as if he watching someone through a window, and the way he arrives at conclusions seemed so much like Sherlock Holmes to me. Then we have mysterious murders happening in Rue Morgue, and police find themselves at wit's end finding exactly what can be motive for murders, also the witnesses can't seem to identify the second voice in the room which seems harsh, and unidentifiable. The way Dupin arrives at conclusion is fantastic, and reminds the methods Sherlock Holmes methods. I don't know who inspired whom but Dupin & Sherlock have lot of characteristics in common, they are interested only in solving the mystery, and finding out the truth, although Sherlock sometimes does show some humane characteristics. Also Dupin is clearly french while Sherlock also seems to have some French connection, but are interested in music, although Dupin seems to be more inclined towards theater and books.
  • "Well, here you go." said the award presenter. by Charles Gillingham "How long has Dylan been in there?" Lloyd asked. "Since yesterday morning." Julie answered. "Yesterday morning?" Lloyd puzzled for a second over how anyone could possible do that. More than twenty four hours. Did he sleep in there? Where did he relieve himself? With how beautiful and amazing the world was, how could anyone do that? Dylan had been in the Simulator for longer stretches than that. One time he had been in there for three days. Fortunately that was over a winter break. Lloyd had learned to ignore it. He used to delude himself that Dylan was doing something educational, or at least interesting, in there, but by now he had given up on that fantasy. That hadn't been true for many a year. A wave of blasting heat welcomed him as the door slid open. He already knew what he would find inside, long before the smell of brimstone hit him. The last time he had been inside this program, it had singed off his eye brows. The safety protocols had been doubled right then and there. Sitting on a throne made of skulls, gaudily lit by burning lost souls, was President Gaines. He wear a red suit, and two two foot long horns grew out of his head, poking through one of those repulsive MUSWA hats, dull blue in contrast to everything else. Lloyd did all he could not to laugh, but his efforts weren't enough. "I can't believe my son, or anyone for that matter, would want to meet you in person." "Frankly, I don't know why people like you are allowed in my throne room. Bad people, the worst people. I tell you, I haven't met people as bad as you before, very bad people." Gaines said, waving his arms around like he does. "Because of how much your money protects you, I, a regular patriotic citizen of this country, will never be able to say this to you in person. But maybe if I say it here, maybe the universe will somehow get it to you. You're everything that's wrong with the world. You've earned nothing. You stole that last election. But we won't let you steal this next one." Lloyd left the Simulator angry, holding back screams, the sneering face of President Gaines floating in his mind. How could Dylan stand being in the same Simulator as that monster? The real Devil would have been better. It was Julie's idea to have the Simulator installed. And it was a great idea, at first. It was top of the line, ten years ago, only the best for his dear little boy! Lloyd and Dylan canoed down the Amazon quite a few times. Gotten most of the way up Mount Everest. And one time even visited the Moon! Dylan would always want to play out whatever book he was read, from some of his favorite authors, usually science fiction authors, like Robert A. Heinlein or Ray Bradbury. Lloyd would always try to point Dylan towards educational or historic programs, but no matter where they went Dylan would become focused on the same thing. Some little thing would scurry too close, and Dylan would grab it and start to squeeze. Squeeze till it couldn't breath, squeeze till it turned blue and then black. After the first time, Lloyd programmed the Simulator to automatically dissolve the critter. Dylan would cry and pull enough of a fit that that was a good enough excuse to leave the Simulator. After a few times of that, Dylan would stop grabbing little things. But that didn't last long. A few months later, he would be back to it, Julie came around the corner with the telephone receiver in her hand, the cord half wrapped around her arm. "It's the school. His counselor said that Dylan has missed the last two weeks of school." "What!" Lloyd snatched the receiver from his wife's hand "Hello. Yes, this is Mr. Uppendahl. What is this about my son Dylan missing school?" "Oh yes sir, hello, I'm Mr. Darrow." Said Mr. Darrow "Not only has your son Dylan missed the last two weeks of school, but before then we had many reports from other students of his antisocial behavior. He's been telling other students how important the 2nd Amendment is, and how he will defend it if need be. Usually any support of Gaines, either open or suspected, warrants a call home, but I thought I could give your son Dylan a chance to recover on his own. I would have asked for your permission to send him to tolerance classes, of course." "Well thank you." Lloyd said "This is all a big shock to me. I know that my son Dylan has missed a few days, here and there, but not that much. He conjures up Gaines quite often in our Simulator, I held out hope that it was only as a villain for the current program. I'm such a fool. This is all my fault." "Don't blame yourself, sir," Mr. Darrow said "it's been proven over and over just how much Canada has clandestinely influenced our country. Why, just yesterday, I was posing as a younger boy, middle school aged, in an online forum. When someone, obviously posing as a few people, started talking to me about maple syrup. That's their method, to flush out other shills. Well pretty soon they were talking about how often moose attacks can become fatal, and how important guns rights are. You can imagine how quickly that line of thought led to much more radicalizing ideas. If that wasn't radicalizing enough already!" "Oh wow that must have been terrible." Lloyd said. "Very much so, but it was a learning opportunity. I feel that every time I encounter one of those people, I get closer to discovering a way to combat the radicalization. In fact that's why I'm calling you right now. I would like to visit your home, I would like talk to your son Dylan. I'm confident I can bring him about to the right side of history." The minutes waiting for Mr. Darrow were painful. Lloyd knew a lot more than just his son's fate was on the line. The fate of the whole world exists in all of us. What if Dylan couldn't be saved? Was that even possible? A knock at the door. The robot maid went to answer it. His clanking wheels roared in the pregnant silence. Mr. Darrow entered the home solemnly, taking care in taking off his rain trenched overcoat. "Remember how bad it smelt before self-driving electric cars?" A common greeting when first entering a new home, but a truism never the less. He wasted no time: "Where is Dylan?" The doors of the Simulator slide open, to a prefect facsimile of Mr. Darrow's office. A cassette tape recorder was slowly spinning on the top of his desk. "I don't remember leaving that running..." "No matter how realistic this might seem, it's not real, we're still in the Simulator. It might be detailed, but it's no where near as detailed as it might be if we were using a newer model Simulator. These old models can make light and heat, and a few solid objects, but that's about it." Lloyd reminded them. "This is realistic enough for me." Julie said. "Well, we had better go looking for," Mr. Darrow was interrupted by several loud explosions, followed by cluttered screaming. In order to investigate, the group bust out the door of Mr. Darrow's office. They found a deserted hallway, with blowing heaps of papers and long streaking stains on the floor. Blood. Reaching long down the hall, as far as they could see. More explosions. "That was from the direction of the library. Hurry!" Mr. Darrow informed they. When they reached the library doors, they found them difficult to open. All three pushed as hard as they could, finally they managed to get it open, only to discover a body was holding them shut. More screams. More explosions. Blood everywhere, dripping for tables and books, computer monitors and the card catalog. Out in the center of the library, in the middle of half a dozen over turned tables, was Dylan, laughing and swinging around a massive HKB 4045 assault rifle, sending bullets at random places and people in the room. "That's impossible, guns have been illegal for ten years. There is absolutely no way Dylan could have acquired one. This must be a projection of the Simulator." Mr. Darrow said. Lloyd look right into Mr. Darrow's eyes. "No, this simulator isn't advanced enough to make something like that. Any solid object created in here could only move so fast. I've thrown rocks so fast they dematerialized." Mr. Darrow could barely finish his nod when his head burst into a million pieces. His head detonated, much like the IEDs used by defenders of those nations that have had to withstand the imperialism of America, America has no right to interfere in the affairs of other countries, sovereign nations that are entitled to make their own destiny, besides America doesn't understand or respect those cultures, they shouldn't be trying to change those people's way of life, and every US soldier that dies over there deserves it because they are monsters. Deafened by the shoot, Lloyd could still hear Julie screaming behind him. He grabbed her by the arm, and launched both of them behind a near by book shelf. A spray of bullets followed them. As they dove down, bullets caused an entire row of books to fall, a cascade of novels and almanacs starting at one side and moving to the other. One particularly heavy volume caught Julie on the back of her head. She was out cold. Lloyd tried waking her, but couldn't, though she was still breathing. Dylan came around the corner, standing at the end of the aisle. He raised his gun and leveled it at Lloyd. "No son, noooooo. I know this isn't you. Gaines caused this. You were my prefect little boy. My son. You couldn't do this. You wouldn't do this. That monster did it. I'm glad I got you this Simulator. Maybe it could have taught you how to avoid this. I love you son. I hate Gaines. Why did he have to do this? Son, don't do this. We can hide what happened to Mr. Darrow. There is still hope for you. There is always hope. For everyone." Dylan just looked at him, with a small little smirk. "MAKE UNITED STATES WORK AGAIN!" he screamed, before he pulled the trigger. It was too late to save Dylan, but is it too late to save us? John clapped, a wild applause that he sustained til his hands hurt. He loved it. He couldn't write that good, that brilliantly. It was sure to win at the Vernes. Even better, it will change the world, make this planet a lot better to live on. "This is sure to win at the Vernes. Better, it will change the world, make this planet a little better to live on." John actually said this out loud. He was laughing and crying tears of joy as he left the Simulator. This was it, his big break. He was so glad that he asked the Simulator to write him a story that would win him a Verne. He walked over to the wall mounted printer, and gleefully asked for this story to be printed out. He would collate and mail it out right away, the prize deadline was just a week off. Express air mail would certainly be quick enough to get it there. He could already feel the pats on his back, and the cool cannon-shaped metal of the Verne cradled in his arms.
  • Damn that was a good story. I last read it in the 1970’s before I went to medical school (I am now an internist and geriatrician). It didn’t make much of an impression on me then, but it sure does now! I haven’t listened to the podcast yet, but am looking forward to doing so. I will share my thoughts about the medical aspects of the story. There are some spoilers, so read the story first. Medical schools are adding close reading of literature and patient narratives to their curricula. (1) This would be an excellent source for that. I’ll show how that might be done. Page numbers are from the 1st Orb edition of The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories. Page 80 - ‘a stubble of brown hair threatened to erase the marks of the sutures; with dilated eyes…he paused’ The boy has had head trauma and/or brain surgery. A drug or toxin is likely responsible for both eyes being dilated. A unilateral dilated eye would indicate acute brain damage. Page 86 - ‘his head swaying from side to side as he walked, like the sensor of a mine detector.’ He probably has a visual field defect, possibly related to the brain surgery/trauma. Page 86 - “I set fires to things.” Could the surgery have been a lobotomy to control his behavior? Page 88 - “and cut all the way through my corpus callosum.” Nick’s brain surgery was a corpus callosotomy. (2) This surgery is usually done in patients with difficult to control seizures. The main side effect is problems with speech and alien hand syndrome—control of the non-dominant hand. (3) Nowadays, newer medications and other neurosurgical procedures have mostly supplanted callosotomy. Page 88 - “I only see what is on the right of what I’m looking at, and the other side…only the left.” This is known as a hemianopsia (4) and is a result of the callosotomy. The ‘I’ is the speaking half of Nick—the left side of his brain -or- “left-brain Nick.” Page 89 - “He had uncontrollable seizures.” “Did you?” the girl asked. “I had visions.” We find out the reason for Nick’s callosotomy. He had visual auras before the seizures when he would “see things.” Nick seemed to enjoy these auras and was probably upset when they ended. Page 91 - “there’s something you ought to know about Diane, she gets confused sometimes, we’ve had her to doctors, she’s been in the hospital…try not to get her excited.” Diane has some major Issues. The most likely conditions to cause a 19 year old to be hospitalized would be major depression, a debilitating anxiety disorder like OCD, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Although Diane is skinny, anorexia nervosa is unlikely because the treatment certainly wouldn’t be stranding her on an island with no food! Page 92 - Diane said, “I feel better when it rains.” “That should help you to understand yourself.” Is Dr. Island using cognitive behavioral therapy? (5) Although this is a rather expensive way of doing it! Page 94-95 - “Sickness is…relative” “Diane was not functioning…you were not functioning either.” This is a major motif of the story; illness, specifically mental illness, is defined by society. In our society, a schizophrenic person may take a night job at the post office working alone, then go home to their one bedroom apartment and pull the shades to keep out the world. They would watch TV, eat dinner, go to sleep. They are content and even happy with this routine. They are contributing to society. Are they mentally ill? Page 96 - “We have treatment for disturbed persons…but we have no treatment for disturbing persons.” “Disturbing persons” - people with personality disorders? The best you can do is place limits on people with personality disorders and teach their families/friends how to cope with them. If they become unmanageable, societies tend to place them in prison. Could Dr. Island be a prison? Page 97 - ‘He noticed…that she was looking at him oddly, then realized that his left hand had risen to touch her right breast.’ Alien Hand Syndrome! (3) “Right-brain Nick” is acting inappropriately. Page 98 - “They kept me locked up because I kept burning stuff…I bite people.” Again, “right-brain Nick” is causing all these problems. Page 98 - “Then they stuck me full of Tranquil-C.” That is why Nick’s eyes were dilated. Page 98 - “I still think you’re angry somewhere, deep down.” Taking away Nick’s auras (visions) could be the root of his anger. Perhaps the visions occurred in “right-brain Nick” and that’s why he burns things? Or is "right-brain Nick" just frustrated at his lack of control? Page 101 - “My knees are rough…when I came here they were still smooth…I used to put a certain lotion on them. Because my Dad would feel them…Mum wouldn’t say anything but she would be cross after.” I don’t know Diane’s diagnosis yet, but we have a good idea what may have caused her decompensation. Page 104 - ‘There was no reply. The girl sat staring at the ground in front of her…she did not move when he touched her. “She’s catatonic isn’t she,” he said. “Catatonic schizophrenia.” We now know Diane’s problem; she has schizophrenia. Catatonia is no longer consider a subtype of schizophrenia and is more a part of the symptomatology. (6) Schizophrenia affects young adults and is a chronic condition. Some do well, but many others have major disabilities and suffer from problems with functioning and socializing. It seems that Diane is quite disabled and has a poor prognosis. It is possible that her decompensation was caused by an abusive father. Page 104 - ‘The doctor had been a therapy robot, but a human doctor gave more status. Robots’ patients sat in doorless booths…and talked to something that appeared to be a small, friendly, food freezer.’ I have never heard of Amana being involved in cognitive behavioral therapy. Page 104 - “What is the cause? I mean for her?” “I don’t know.” “And what’s the treatment?” “You are seeing it.” “Will it help her?” “Probably not.” With all their space bending technology, it seems that the prognosis for schizophrenia hasn’t changed much in the Wolfe-ian future. Page 113 - “Your record shows no auditory hallucinations, but haven’t you ever known someone who had them?” “I knew a girl once…she twisted noises.” Auditory hallucinations are very common in schizophrenia. Ambient background noises are screened out by the normal brain. People with schizophrenia are unable to ignore them and experience the noise as voices saying bad things to/about them. The voices could also be internally produced by the brain.(7) Page 115 - “Let Ignacio tell you a story…” After unpacking Ignacio’s tale, it seems that he is a feral child. Unlike other feral children, he was taught language and self-care skills. His only lack was human contact and learning how to interact with others. Feral children have a lot of problems becoming socialized and integrating back into society. They usually aren’t homicidal. (8) Perhaps being a “high-tech” feral made him violent to others. Page 119 - “Did I tell you about the bird, Nicholas?” She had been not-listening again. “What bird?” “I have a bird. Inside…She sits in here. She has tangled a nest in my entrails, where she sits and tears at my breath with her beak. I look healthy to you, don’t I? But inside I’m hollow and rotten and turning brown, dirt and old feathers, oozing away. Her beak will break through soon.” Okaaay, as Nick would say. This dispels any doubts that Diane has schizophrenia. She has a somatic delusion, which, while not as common as paranoid delusions, are frequent in schizophrenia. “Usually the false belief is that the body is somehow diseased, abnormal or changed.” (9) Page 119 - “I have been trying to drink water to drown (the bird.) I think I have swallowed so much, I couldn’t stand up if I tried…” Diane has psychogenic polydipsia, which is common in schizophrenia. They can drink gallons every day—so much so that they disrupt their electrolyte balance and develop very low serum sodium levels. (10) Page 125 - “About 100 years ago, Dr. Harlow experimented with monkey’s who had been raised in complete isolation.” Harry Harlow is a real person who did indeed perform these experiments as Dr. Island has carefully outlined. Harlow was a Professor of Psychology at University of Wisconsin-Madison. (11) Many of those experiments are now considered an unethical treatment of animals. I suspect that the inspiration for The Island of Dr. Death came about when Wolfe read about Harlow’s research. You might consider Dr. Death to be a 2150 version of Harlow. ================Major Spoilers================== Page 129 - “Nicholas, you are upset now because Diane is dead—” “But you could have saved her!” “—but by dying she made someone else—someone very important—well. Her prognosis was bad; she really only wanted death, and this is the death I chose for her.” This is the death I chose for her. Those words are the core of the story; did Dr. Island have the right to sacrifice an individual for the greater good? In medical ethics, this encapsulates the conflict and tension between the ethical models of deontology and utilitarianism. (12) It seems that Dr. Island is a firm believer in the later. This is why The Death of Dr. Island would be a great source for a close reading of literature. It is a natural jumping-off-point for a spirited discussion of medical ethics. Page 130 - “Nicholas, who was the right side of your body, the left side of your brain, I have forced into catatonia.” Dr Island has essentially killed “left-brain Nick,” the person who has been our view point for the entire story. This is the death Dr. Island has chosen for Nick. Did he have the right to do so? REFERENCES 1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4721945/ 2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corpus_callosotomy 3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alien_hand_syndrome 4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hemianopsia 5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_behavioral_therapy 6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schizophrenia 7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auditory_hallucination 8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feral_child 9. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delusion 10. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primary_polydipsia 11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Harlow 12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4778182/

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