Mar 20

Episode 61 V.R.T. Part IV Recap


Edited: Mar 20

Some thoughts on the latest podcast: You'll probably mention this is the discussion podcast of this section, but the incident where Marsch,. Trenchard, and the boy see the enormous shark-like military airship is interesting: "The beggar [Trenchard] said, “Do not wave,” then whispered something to the boy of which I caught only the beginning and end: “Faites attention … Français!” I think the meaning must have been, “Remember that you are French.” The boy answered something I could not hear and shook his head."


I'm not fluent in French, but my daughter is, and she said the meaning is more: "Watch out! (or "Be careful!", literally "Pay Attention")...French!" He could be warning him of the French people, which doesn't make sense in the context of what this and earlier sections reveal of the history of the French on St. Anne, where they are unlikely to be in control of the airship. Rather than the apparent presumption by Marsch that this is an reminder of ethnic pride, it seems more likely that he is reminding Victor that he is supposed to be French, or act like he is French, if they are being viewed or later questioned, not the Abo or part-Abo that Trenchard apparently knows him to be. Incidentally, the elder Trenchard reminds me quite a bit of Monsieur Thénardier in Hugo's Les Miserables, another French conman and scoundrel - who is also quite abusive to his own daughter, Fantine, and teaches her his conniving ways. The three novellas dip in and out of references to world literature throughout, as you've mentioned. Proust, of course, Capek, Dostoevsky (and maybe Solzhenitsyn, by way of "A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich", which may have influenced #5's prison camp narrative in the first novel - the English edition of "The Gulag Archipelago" would not be released until about two years after "Cerberus"), Rousseau, Greene, Poe, and in this section, definitely Kafka and Orwell. If there is a meld of #5 and Marsch/Victor, among others, instead of breaking out of the cycle of stagnation, the doubled melded consciousness in the prison is doomed on St. Croix to be under the thumb of another Maitre (who could even ironically be David), where he is again known as a number, as #5 was. "And I wondered why so much of what was being said was in numbers: TWO TWELVE TO THE MOUNTAINS … Then I realized that they, we, call ourselves usually by our cell number, which gives the location and is the most important thing, I suppose, about a prisoner anyway." As the Johnny Rivers song went, "They've given you a number / and taken 'way your name." "Dendritic Culture" is an interesting neologism - in Wolfe's story "Christmas Inn", one of the odd visitors to the B&B of the title refers to the Christmas tree in the lobby as "dendrolatry", which means the worship of trees. Good podcast!

I am really interested in analyzing, why did the ship arrive so fast after they went past the four mast ship, also the sailor cursed them.


So my theory is that from Marsch's story we concur that only military has the kind of resources on Saint Anne where they able to afford such huge ships, so they were definitely some kind of patrol ships, and the now the question is what exactly where they patrolling ?


Also what did our trio Marsch/Victor/Trenchard trespass that a flying ship came down as a warning to them, and I agree with your conclusion that Trenchard says to Victor Pay attention....the french, now we know that the french don't rule Saint Anne, so why did he say the same ?

We didn't talk at all about the French here because I took this to be an indication that Marsch doesn't understand spoken French very well and that he has misheard and misunderstood what the Trenchards are saying to each other.

Here's an odd possibility...if Vail's Hypothesis is correct and the Abos impersonated and killed the French astronauts they met at Frenchman's Landing and assumed their shapes...did they lose their ability to mimic (at least broadly) and are only the (apparent) French in the novellas the descendants of Abos? This would require the reinterpretation of much of the information Marsch receives from his French informants, as well as what Constant says of the history of St., Croix. I don't know if that's correct, but it would explain the antipathy of the anglophone settlers, toward the French, the extreme violence and hostility of the war between the anglophones and the French (which was actually between humans and the shape-shifting natives they feared), the destruction of any historical records of the war, and the apparent existence of a clandestine French resistance organization hinted by #47. There is internal evidence pointing against this, though - I think what Marsch sees in the silvered mirror in his boarding house is a broad hint that at least some of the St. Crucian bureaucracy are Meadowmere people. There are also the comments that at least some French seemed to be determined to identify any Abo imposters in their ranks, as with the test of the shovel. Another thought: If an Abo meeting the French colonists were to simply assume the form (and presumably, the internal physical structure) of a human, they would still be unable to speak French, to pilot spacecraft, to know enough of human ways to fool humans. It would seem that the Shadow Children would have to facilitate the imposture by melding or switching the consciousness of the Abos and the settlers. If there was the kind of switching of consciousness that would result in two swapped minds, would that mean the surviving outback Abos described in "V.R.T." have the consciousness, or be the descendants of those with swapped consciousnesses, of the original French, now harried and hunted by those who displaced them.

I think we have to take a Story with a pinch of salt, I don't believe that the Shadow children have cast a force field over planet, so that it becomes invisible to the space ships, also as Saint Croix is responsible for tides over Saint Anne, Saint Anne must be doing the same thing to Saintt Croix, so even if the shadow children were able to hide the planet, this phenomenon of tides would surely stuck as odd to the space faring french colonizers who settled their first.


My theory is that the French indeed discovered an sentient species on St Anne, and the contact shaped the species, now we don't know for how much time the French were there before they got attacked. But that time was enough for the abos to start taking human shape and learn the language, but during the war, the English speaking colonists just did not care, and destroyed whoever they found on the planet.


This exodus led the abos to escape St Anne to St Croix, where the french at least occupied some positions of power, slowly but surely the French have started consolidating their power on St Croix, and as can be seen from the government employees, the abos have infiltrated that society.


Now probably they have assumed some positions of power in St Croix society, and they haven't forgotten about the war, they just blindly follow the path set to them, and so have started preparing for next war with St Anne.

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. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12.
  • 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.

Claytemple Media is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to