Apr 15, 2018

A Brief Thought Going Forward

15 comments

You've said, in the past, that you intend to cover about half of Wolfe's stories in between his novels. And I think that, so far, that has been a good plan. But the short stories Wolfe wrote in the Seventies — or, say, from 1973 to 1980 or so — are, in my view, his very best. (Or maybe I should just say: he was operating at a consistently high level then.) Before and after, I think half is fine. But if you skip half the stories in that era, you're inevitably going to miss some of his best works. So you might want to loosen the constraints in that section, and do a few more. Or, if you can't stand waiting to get to the Book/Sun books another moment, at least hold open the possibility of going back to cover some of the skipped ones later.

Apr 16, 2018

We don't disagree! Indeed, if I had my druthers, we'd just cover everything in order and take thirty years to do it. But we know that most readers are fans of Wolfe's novels, and so we want to make sure we get to them. As it is, I think it'll be late 2020 before we get to New Sun. That said, we're absolutely not opposed to "going back" and covering things we've skipped, and indeed we'll be covering the runner-up from our Patreon vote later this year just because we want to.

 

You commented in the other thread (great conversation!) about Marc's opinion of Seven American Nights. Marc had an addendum to that in the interview, in which he said that Wolfe's novellas are all awesome. He's not wrong, and I think his novellas are some of my favorite of his pieces -- so they'll all get covered one way or another.

Apr 16, 2018

I agree with both of you about Wolfe's novellas — some of his best work. (And not an accident, perhaps, that Book of the New Sun began as a novella...) And for all that it is also a novel, we're about to get a taste of his novellas with "Fifth Head". And "Alien Stones", too.

 

I understand you and your audience are eager to get to the novels, and I hardly expected this thought to change your plans. Obviously, you ought to do what you feel is best for you & the show. Just thought I'd throw it out there.

Apr 16, 2018

Haha, yes. "When are you getting to New Sun?" is the email we receive most often.

 

We've got a copy of Young Wolfe, which we're eager to get to someday, as well, and we both want to do something with his letters home from Korea.

Apr 16, 2018

I'd like to get both of those books. I'm particularly interested in Letters Home, actually. But both are long out of print & unavailable. Someone should put out an edition which collects Young Wolfe, Letters Home and For Rosemary — sort of the way that Castle of Days rescued Castle of the Otter from obscurity.

Apr 16, 2018

Yes! We don't have For Rosemary, and our copies of the other two are not in the greatest shape (same with my Operation ARES). I'd also love to get the rest of his stories collected. I think there's enough for at least one book, probably two.

Apr 16, 2018

My editor was trying to get a collection of his uncollected stuff together but Tor books has the first option on it (which they will do nothing with until something happens to create a great demand) - I would love a Wolfe collection like the Integral Vance, which I was too poor to get at the time it came out. I would find the money for a wolfe collection of that type, of course.

Apr 17, 2018

Do you know how many copies Tor would have to sell for it to be worthwhile?

Apr 17, 2018

Re: Tor/collection: I don't speak from knowledge, but I'd have to guess that the fact that Wolfe's long-time editor David Hartwell died two years ago may be a factor here. The person used to promoting, shepherding, etc, Wolfe's work is no longer there.

Apr 17, 2018

I even went so far as to make a tier list of the uncollected fiction about what should be included for the "negotiations" or whatever you want to call it. It's a shame that did not happen. I don't think, outside of New Sun and Wizard Knight, that Wolfe turned a great profit for Tor - short story collections don't generally sell well outside of a few authors known almost exclusively for their short work. (Harlan Ellison, etc). I think the saddest part of the 2013 Nebula Awards was all the free copies of Home Fires that were loaded up on each table, and I overheard Wolfe lamenting, shame it didn't sell well. (I myself love the book, but it suffers from the "problem "of late Wolfe: the subtext overwhelms the text in a way that engenders confusion in most readers and the assumption that there is nothing behind the gaps in the text - I think most would attribute the holes in Skip's narration to shoddy construction. And at the risk of resurrecting Ares when it is but a week in the grave, the politics lurking on the surface of Home Fires are simply not in tune with the spirit of our age (Hegelian dialectics may not explain history, but they sure do explain trends in ideology). Once I understood the book I saw that the primary change in Wolfe's late style was only that he had become significantly more terse and reliant upon ambiguous dialogue to convey his double meanings.

Apr 17, 2018

Regarding Hartwell, one of my favorite quotes from him came after he was asked if he understood Wolfe's work. He said "you have to make allowances for genius." What a man. Tor lost a great figure who understood that pandering to the crowd isn't everything even in publishing.

Apr 17, 2018

Marc: ARES isn't dead, only sleeping: do say more! I, for one, am quite interested in hearing you say more about the politics in Home Fires, although I haven't read it, so maybe I should wait.

 

The most frustrating thing about the Tor situation is that they won't release the rights. If they don't want to publish Wolfe because they don't think it will make money, fair enough — but why not let someone else do it?

Apr 17, 2018

That is a heart-breaking story, Marc. Brandon and I decided to take out some advertisements for the podcast in SF magazines and an SF podcast or two to see if we can't get some more people reading Wolfe.

Apr 17, 2018

Awesome. I try to proselytize for Wolfe but I just don’t have the heart for marketing. I want him to be a household name but I recognize that’s asking an awful lot of casual readers. I hope the ads are successful in stirring up some attention both for the podcast and Wolfe.

Apr 18, 2018

Haha, yeah, we don't have the stomach for it either. But one of the first goals we discussed when we started dreaming up this podcast was exposing more people to Wolfe, and now that we're getting to the major works, we want to give it a shot. Maybe I'll just start leaving books lying around in coffee shops, too.

New Posts
  • 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/
  • My wife and I listened to this episode on the long drive back from a music festival this weekend. The podcast caused great discussion in the car, making the miles go that much faster. Jessica thinks that Wolfe didn't have the new messiah being born to one of Zozz's people because it would have overly complicated and lengthened the story. I agree. It got me to thinking about what Wolfe's inspiration might have been. Then I remembered that National Lampoon had an infamous cover of an alien crucifixion done by Frank Frazetta. The question is, when did it appear? A little research showed that it it was probably on the streets in May 1972. La Befana appeared in the January 1973 issue of Galaxy; probably too soon after the Nat Lamp issue for it to have been an inspiration--unless Frazetta let Wolfe see it before publication. Nah. Here is the National Lampoon cover.
  • Hello, from indecisively sunny Tasmania! This is my first post, so I'd just like to say first and foremost that I am really enjoying the Wolfe podcast, which I started listening to after The Fifth Head of Cerberus enraptured me (It's quickly become one of my favourite books), and which I'm now darting in and out of as I read his Book of Days . Anywho, I can't fully recall the episodes on 'A Story by John V. Marsch', so forgive me if you mentioned it and this is a redundant post. But I was just paging through Jack Vance's Dying Earth , which is a known inspiration for BotNS, and noticed that in the chapter on 'Mazirian the Magician' the title character spends some time trifling with 'Thrang the Ghoul-Bear', and it struck me as intensely likely that this inspired the creature in the aforementioned novella, not just for the name but a particular sentence within the passage he appears. The passage reads thusly, though of course this spoils the Ghoul-Bear in that story, not that he plays a large role: "Thrang's lair was an alcove in the rock, where a fetid pile of grass and skins served him for a couch. He had built a rude pen to cage three women, these wearing many bruises on their bodies and the effects of much horror on their faces. Thrang had taken them from the tribe that dwelt in silk-hung barges along the lake-shore . Now they watched as he struggled to subdue the woman he had just captured. His round gray man's face was contorted and he tore away her jerkin with his human hands. But she held away the great sweating body with an amazing dexterity. Mazirian's eyes narrowed. Magic, Magic! So he stood watching, considering how to destroy Thrang with no harm to the woman. But she spied him over Thrang's shoulder. "See," she panted, "Mazirian as come to kill you." Thrang twisted about. He saw Marizian and came charging on all fours, venting roars of wild passion. Mazirian later wondered if the ghoul had cast some sort of spell, for a strange paralysis strove to bind his brain. Perhaps the spell lay in the sight of Thrang's raging gray-white face, the great arms thrust out to grasp. Mazirian shook off the spell, if such it were, and uttered a spell of his own, and all the valley was lit by streaming darts of fire, lashing in from all directions to split Thrang's blundering body in a thousand places. This was the Excellent Prismatic Spray-many-colored stabbing lines. Thrang was dead almost at once, purple blood flowing from countless holes where the radiant rain had pierced him." I personally think Thrang comfortably shares the same attributes as Wolfe's Ghoul-Bear: huge, thick-limbed, and stinking (sweat rarely smells pleasant). Maybe I'm reading too deeply, but a tribe that dwells in silk-hung barges along a lake shore sounds at least superficially similar to the Marshmen. Further, the specific lake they dwell next to is called 'Sanra Water, the Lake of Dreams', which you could perhaps posit has something in common with the plan to kill Sandwalker and have his soul flow into the sea and out to the stars. I'm no literary buff, but I think there's enough textual evidence to cite a clear connection between the two, especially as Jack Vance so influenced Wolfe's later work. In any event it made me feel very big-brained.

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