This post contains THE spoiler for Peace. Only read further if you've either read the whole book or already been spoiled.
Aldin Dennis Weer is dead, to begin with.
Which is my point: we need to begin with that. Even though Wolfe doesn't.
I don't recall if Brandon was at this particular part of the Shadow of the Con that was run by what Stan Lee might have refereed to as your Distinguished Competition, but at one point in that gathering Michael Swanwick came and chatted with us, and he mentioned that he thought Wolfe might have spelled out a bit more that Weer is dead: that it would have made Peace that much more accessible.
Because really nothing in the novel makes any sense without that revelation. And Wolfe buries it: while there are hints (like the time-shifting, the infinite house), it's only clarified if you connect the "Mrs. Porter" who plants trees on graves with the Eleanor Bold tree from the opening sentence, and connect that with the fact that this is done to keep the spirits of the deceased at rest (at Peace, one might say). Is that latter fact even in the book, or is that something one has to know from elsewhere? I don't recall. Either way, it's obscure. (I think what Swanwick was suggesting is that, e.g., Wolfe might have said that Eleanor Bold is planting trees on graves, not "Mrs. Porter", and thus made the connection a bit simpler.) So no, Wolfe not only doesn't start there, he doesn't make it easy.
But—and here is the constructive criticism (I hope I have, over the years, made my love for the show clear enough that you will accept this as a friendly bit of advice and not take it too hard): I think y'all really pushed yourself by not getting to the spoiler earlier. I know, I know: it's your whole method, close reading, you're not The Other Guys.
But I think you in fact over-corrected here. I know Brandon said he caught one spoiler (but it was the spoiler) for the book before reading it, and Glenn had read it before. So I think you dodged it more than you would have otherwise. There was some moment, in the chapter four episodes I think, when you were brought to the brink of saying 'Oh, Weer's dead': but you didn't. If you hadn't known that it was true, you would have brought it up much earlier in speculation. But you didn't. And that led to the numerous remarks about how you were having to bite your tongue against spoilers, and waiting for the wrap-up episodes. And I admit I started to get impatient for you to get there already—especially since you yourselves were clearly impatient, too.
And then I was even more disappointed when I realized that you weren't even going to address this before the first recap! You stepped on it, saving it for the puzzles episode. But I think this was a mistake. Here's the thing. Some literary puzzles are garnish—they add to the taste or the fun, but you can talk about the book without them. Even the identity of Number 5 in Fifth Head is probably in this category. But other puzzles are central to the novel. Imagine trying to read Ulysses without "spoiling" that it is structured on The Odyssey! And this is actually, I think, more distorting than that would be.
(Honestly, the structure of the novel only makes sense after this revelation, too. I think it was at the end of Chapter 3 that Brandon said he felt like the novel was still getting set up. I agree: in fact I believe I said at the time that the entire novel feels like it never gets going. It's only when you get to the end and realize that you never got the normal memoir or novel or anything else that you can begin to make structural sense of this work.)
I don't mean to be harsh here. Of course I loved the run of episodes, including the thematic one (I especially liked Brandon on alchemy). But I can't help thinking that they would have been better, and more insightful, if you had allowed yourself to dip into spoilers earlier—if only by mentioning the speculation when you (as it were) got it from the text independently, by chapter four (if not earlier). At that point, even people reading along might have caught it; and as long as you don't say "Wolfe confirmed this", at that point it's not spoilers, it's speculation. And at the very least, I think your discussion of the themes would have been vastly enriched by talking about what holds them, and the book, tog3ether: Weer's posthumous status.
I am going on about this not to run you down, but to highlight the issue so that you can think about it for future novels. Now, I don't know that any Wolfe novel is as dependent on rereading as Peace is: this is a book which only makes sense, on the most basic level, in light of the spoiler/puzzle/what have you. So I think it was particularly distorting in this run. But of course Book of the New Sun is also a book which is, as it were, back-loaded: and I hope you will think about how you are proceeding before you get there.
Before you began Peace, I suggested having some spoiler-filled eps along the way. I of course see why you don't want to do that (although I think it would be cool!). But in light of this, what if I at least suggest you allow yourselves to talk about everything you have plausibly learned up to that point at any given moment. In Peace, that would mean saying outright that yes, Weer is dead, at the very latest mid-Chapter Four (when the "Mrs. Porter" revelation comes). But I think there are obvious Book of the New Sun parallels here. You may not want to talk about the end at the beginning, but I beg you to at least talk about the beginning freely.
Because I must admit that what I want (and what I am certain you don't want to even think about for the length of a paragraph, let alone actually do, so forgive me for saying it, but I can't resist) is for you, after the next episode, once you've finally, finally said that Weer is dead, is to go back and do it all again with that in mind. I think a lot of speculations and puzzles would clarify themselves; I think your superb abilities at close attention to the text would be even more wonderful if not hampered by the (ultimately) artificial constraint of not looking ahead before you look back. As your Distinguished Competition says, "you can't read a Gene Wolfe story; you can only reread a Gene Wolfe story". I was, in Fifth Head, amazed at how much of a rereading you got out of your first, careful read: but here I think it held you back. I want GWLP unleashed.
Sorry to go on at such length (even for me); I have had this imploring post in my head for months now. I was waiting until the recap, I think, and hesitant to post anything particular about chapters four and five simply because I was frustrated at what was not being said. I suppose I could wait for three more days until your puzzles ep is released... but I think at this point the hopes pinned on that episode are just too much. And not only my hopes: I wish I had kept a record of all the times you'd said "we have to cover that in the book-end recap", because you set up a whole additional season worth of issues there. I can't really expect you to get to them all in one episode. Which is why I wish you had done more along the way.
All right, enough. Again, I apologize if I have been harsh (and for going on too long, about which there is no "if".) I have gotten a ton out of the show—from the beginning, and from the Peace part too. I am just feeling impassioned here because I think you hamstrung yourselves. I hope you can take this as constructive criticism, from one who loves the show & wants what's best for it, and you.
I have labeled the last post & this parts 1 & 2 of 3 so I can swing back after the puzzle episode finally drops. I will miss the forum for sure (I've never gotten a hang of discord.)
Oh, and what is Peace if not a memoir? It's an afterlife recounting, of course: as I fully expect both of you to mention in the next episode. Once you see that, it all makes sense. But it's what you need to know to read this book:
Alan Dennis Weer is dead as a doornail.
Thanks for your comments and constructive criticism here. Glenn and I certainly felt the limits of our format while covering this novel but realized we had to stick with it to see the novel through. We'll see how things will change as we get into Wolfe's more novel-heavy period as a writer. Your suggestions are well noted.
Obviously, one thing we'll have to deal with is the fact that we'll have read some of the novels in question and so our conceit won't entirely hold up. There certainly was much we brought up during the recap portion of our episodes that will not explicitly be covered in our wrap-up episodes, though I think that we've addressed mostly everything in an oblique sense at least.
I hope we've done a good job of opening up some conversations around the novel and what I really wish could happen is getting a bunch of listeners together at a bar somewhere and just settle our disputes and so forth with pitchers of cheap beer. Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful engagement with the show. We are lucky to have you as a listener.