My overwhelming reaction to this episode was amazement & gratitude at how well it tied your reading of the novel together. In particular the way you tied your solution to the puzzle to the themes of the book. (Your reading of the thematic resonance of Veil's Hypothesis, as her explanation of the cruelty and the equivalent of Maitre's experiments, was a particularly brilliant touch.) I think it was this tying of your reading into the themes of the book that at the moment tips me into your reading over Aramini's. Marc Aramini likes to have a reading that explains the most details, which is a reasonable standard, but perhaps another possible standard would be to chose the reading that makes the book the richest, thematically, literally and as far as the power of the story and characters go. At the moment, for me, your reading is winning on that standard — and that standard is winning the meta-race. But I really, really can't wait to hear Marc weigh in on your podcast next week!
This all ties into Brandon's comment towards the end of the episode that perhaps Wolfe had been too clever, too ambiguous. I wonder that a lot. It gets at the larger philosophical issue of what makes for great literature, and while we all can (given this group) agree that Wolfe is that, he is not infallible (I hope we can all agree on that too!), and I think he sometimes leans too hard into his puzzles and ambiguities. One of the problems with it, I think, is that it creates the sense — at times, maybe even creates the reality — that there is a solution to a Wolfe story. But making literature something with a solution is limiting. Wolfe's stories, I think, do mean a lot more; but they are always threatening, so to speak, by toppling over the edge into the mere puzzle. What I love about your reading is that it uses the answer to the puzzles to enrich (rather than effectively replace) the thematic power of the story.
Two apposite quotes from Wolfe interviews (although I forget where, and these are paraphrases I fear) on ambiguity are worth recalling here: "Good writing is only intentionally ambiguous", and something to the effect that any great novel has to come close to saying the opposite of what it is actually saying (a very frightening idea for the wannabe interpreter!)
I haven't yet read the updated Lamarck that Glenn recommended — although I definitely plan to read at least some of it (Glenn, thanks for recommending a particular essay to start with!). But I still think that I can say that you undersold Darwin a bit in your discussion. For instance, you say that Natural Selection is chance-determined. But although it rides upon chance, as it were, it is ultimately algorithmic, and there are some interesting philosophical lessons to be learned from convergent evolution, which makes the outputs seem less random, however random the inputs are. Similarly, you say at one point that using the word "adaptation" points to a Lamarckian reading. Maybe for Wolfe; but of course Darwin's understanding allows for adaptation too: no one would deny that life is amazingly well adapted to its environments; that, indeed, is what Darwin sought to explain! And while I will allow that Darwin, unlike Lamarck, could have read Mendel, it's worth recalling that almost no one read Mendel until his rediscovery in the early 20th century: Darwin was not being particularly negligent here, nor did he have a noteworthy gap in his knowledge.
(By the way, you say at one point that the sort of shape-changing that the abos are imagined as doing would be impossible in Darwinian terms. I simply don't see why that would be the case. Natural selection has produced an imagination-beggaring array of wonders; why couldn't this be one? (It might have to be what Gould called an exaptation, not an adaptation, but he argued those could also be understood as arising by the Darwinian mechanism.))
And of course modern revivals of Lamarckian ideas can't have been what Wolfe meant when he said, in The Castle of the Otter, that Lamarck was right. I saw at least one scholar say online (although I fear I lost the reference) that Lamarck had a lot of other important ideas that were lost in the condemnation of his notion of inheritance of adapted characteristics. I wonder if that could be what Wolfe meant? It would seem to explain a lot.
Two final random notes:
• How could you possibly stand to talk about the theme of whether we have to become what we are (or could be otherwise) — as you both do at length (and very well) — and not quote the line, said twice in Claw of the Conciliator (including on the last page of the book), "That we are capable only of being what we are remains our unforgivable sin.”
• I love the fact that Glenn read VRT out of order! What a great story. I'm surprised, really, that it does hold up. I hope someone performs the reading experiment you two outline!