May 8

Let me start with, "I like the Fifth Head Episodes"


Edited: May 10

Welcome to the forum, James. This is a great write-up and your reading of the text lines up very much with Marc Aramini's, whom we'll have on the show to explain his reading in just a few weeks, and in the meantime we'll take up the question of what type of narrative and what type of artifact "A Story" by John V. Marsch is within the world.


You make a number of interesting inferences that never occurred to me, and I'm hoping you can give me the passages from the text that indicate (or suggest) them. I'll make a list with commentary below.



1. "These creatures were the only life-form on the planet." The idea that every living organism on Saint Anne is an Abo never occurred to me. I uncritically assumed that some grass really is just grass and some birds really are just birds, and that the ghoul-bear really is a ghoul-bear. Where do you see the idea that this isn't the case indicated in the text?



2. "And so, when new French explorers arrived (the first team were assumed lost), the Shadow Children caused them not to see the planet that would one day be called St Anne. They flew by it and settled on the sister planet, which they named St. Croix. As the settlement grew, no one on St Croix saw that world that dominated their sky. Some 70 years later, an inter-system war broke out between the French and English-speaking powers. St Croix was one of the systems in dispute. As the war raged above them and on St Croix, the sister world remained hidden." This understanding of the timeline doesn't account for the records from early explorers of Sainte Anne that exist on St. Croix, but piecing together the timeline from the textual evidence we have at our disposal is difficult, so I'm curious about what passage(s) you're emphasizing to date the colonization of Sainte Anne at 110-120 years prior to the start of the novel rather than 180.



3. "There is some degree of hope that if a mimic were separated from humans long enough, he could revert to his default state (such as if one were kept in solitary confinement for a long enough period)." Is this from one of Dr. Marsch's interviews or one of Dr. Hagsmith's folktales?



4. "Some few decades after the conquest of St Croix, a French speaking brothel owner and amatuer biologist named Gene Wolfe, whom we'll call the Master discovered an abo female by a river in the outback of St Anne. He shot her, intending to take the body back for exposition -- proof that the "abos" were still extant in remote locations of the planet. But when he reached her, he discovered that she was washing an infant. So, he took the cub back with him for research." I just assumed that the first Gene Wolfe of this story is an English-speaker who has adopted some of the elite French culture of St. Croix and I missed the passage that suggests otherwise. Do you think the Gene Wolfe of this story is meant to be a descendant of our real Gene Wolfe, and then if so how did his descendant come to be French or Quebecois (and so on) rather than an American?



5. "But what of the Foundling's twin -- who we'll call "V"? V continued to live with his mother on St Anne: half of a single mind on two worlds. Sharing the dreams of the Foundling and his simulations." Both Number 5 and Victor Trenchard recount their dreams for us, but I missed the overlap. Can you walk me through the parallels between their dreams?






May 9Edited: May 9

1. That the Annese were the only lifeform is an extrapolation but it strikes me as an inevitable one. Maybe there is grass and other plantlife brought by Earth settlers. However... The Group Norm does say that "When we came some of you looked like EVERY beast, and some were of fantastic forms inspired by the clouds-or by lava flows, or water." That's not anything like strong evidence, but consider how quickly the Annese supplant humanity when given an opportunity. As with Faeries and changlings, it is in their nature to supplant. How long could any other developed lifeform keep from being overtaken without continuous resupply from outside? Supposing any other lifeform when humanity arrived is unlikely and so supposing any other lifeform ever native to the planet even a long time before is just extraneous.


Now the caribou, I'm sure we are given enough evidence to know it has more in common with Sandwalker and the Shadow Children than any "natural" animal. The ghoul-bear and the tire-tiger? It's ironic that there would be any doubt that they are Annese since it's it not 100% certain to me that they ever existed at all. They "are" two specific Annese that VRT-Marsch is intentionally covering for. He is the ghoul-bear and the cat is the tire-tiger. Note that Marsch's supposed hunt for those animals occurs in the diary at precisely a time when he is on a paranoid hunt to catch Sandwalker with his hidden "woman" (but the only female hanging around is the cat).


"A Story" is a pied retelling of VRT's own life story mashed together with information about Annese culture and history that V picked up in the outback from Shadow Children during his wilderness years after Marsch's death. Relating his life from his birth until he found himself imprisoned by his twin's "tribe". The Annese in the city become increasingly locked in their human forms but those in the Back of Beyond are truly "Free People" -- they are not yet trapped in their mimcrys.

My question is did V.R.T really find any existence of abos in the back of the beyond, be that be shadow children/abos, because then why does he come back to civilization after 3 years ?.


Also we don't have any entries in his diary regarding any such encounter, except the dream sequence where we have his cat flying in the night.


Because from the start of third novella we are shown as he is literally worshiping the free people and his Mother. Even his Mother if we assume her from the hill tribe, ends up in the prison besides him, so are their literally any Annese existing in the back of the beyond ?


This is an interesting concept where you describe all the species on Saint anne to be abo, be that be the ghoul bear/tire tiger/cat, but it can be argued in a sense that we try to fit all the things in the experiences we have had so far with the world.


So actually calling that animal ghoul bear conjures up an image of bear in your mind, but when Marsch describes it, the similarities just aren't there, may be Wolfe is trying to highlight this side effect of colonization, where everything is templated on a broader scale, without actually trying to understand it.


Regarding all the people on Saint Croix being abos, I find that leap a bit hard to take, because clearly we have some human intermix in them which we have clearly come across like Aunt Nerissa or the women selling food to five or the porter in whose house VRT is staying, so I find it hard to go with theory that everyone on Saint Croix is an abo.


But I do like the ides of abos being white worms when the colonization firsts encounters them, it explains the imagery of trees in the context of abos, also shadow children in one passage says to Sandwalker that we pulled you from earth, again we get the worm imagery here.


It also explains the fact that why trees are so important to them, because they really did dwell in the roots of trees.


I also liked the idea of abos require constant presence of humans in vicinity or human like forms in vicinity to maintain their mimicry, because my reading of VRT's prison sentence was the same that he started physically transforming a bit, where he lost his speech, and the introduction of new prisoner actually saved him. but this a big hole in it because, when he was the back of the beyond, he did not have anyone with him to mimic, what happened there then ?



May 12Edited: May 12

@Sumant Natkar You make a lot of really interesting points. I do think V found "abos" in the Back of the Beyond and so did Marsch (although HE tended to kill them whenever he encountered them). But after Marsch's death, V lived among the Shadow Children and the information on Annese history in "A Story" comes from that experience.


I'm not convinced his mother is "imprisoned". I'm provoked by the fact that a black cat makes an appearance in VRT. The problem is that my understanding of the meaning of "A Story" is that it parallels V's life, so it would be in some ways more logical if the cat were Seven Girls Dancing. Sandwalker's mother doesn't seem to make an appearance after his birth. But V's mother's eyes he mistakenly thinks he sees in the darkness (makes ME think of cat eyes) references to his mother being there -- it all makes me want to think the cat is his mother. It's frustrating for me there.


I don't think ALL of the people of St Croix are abos. I think all of Number 5's fellow clones are and there are apparently a lot of them (ala the reference to a planetary 'face".) I suspect the "girls" in the brothel are. I think Aunt Jeanine was human when she formulated Veil's Hypothesis and I think the fact that she rejects it and speaks of Veil in the third person means that Veil has been replaced. I think any woman you encounter with a nymph name (like Phaedria) are Annese. I think Phaedria's aunt might be. I think the French settlers the English encountered on St Anne a century previous are. But the French of St Croix at that time were not.


Out in the back of beyond, I think V was living among Shadow Children, so he had a certain degree of humanish influence from them. He might have stopped talking out there. It might not have even been necessary given the Annese psychic abilities. But he might have maintained that because it seems that the Shadow Children maintain the capacity for human speech by interacting with each other. But -- and this is important -- he had Marsch's diary -- and by constantly perusing it, he maintained and strengthened his mimicry of him. I think that is value of V constantly writing in prison -- it helped him maintain his identity.

@James Wynn I think VRT did not write the whole A Story on his own, and would have collaborated with Aunt Jeanine, because in his prison diary he definitely mentions that he met her a couple of times, and he also thinks Aunt Jeanine will make some sort of effort to get him out of the jail.


Also the book ends for my reading by Wolfe showing us the imagery of angels trumpets in the ending, which are the flowers which cause hallucinations and poisoning in humans if consumed, and I read that on a pessimistic way, also I don't think VRT will ever manage to get of the jail, because the officer does not write any good recommendation for him, but he mentions that continue doing the torture and break him completely.


So even if VRT wrote the story, there is no way possible for him to publish it, unless he smuggled some papers outside with the help of Celestine, but that too is highly unlikely.


I think aunt Jeanine finally publishes their paper in his name, which may help his cause to get released, because Constant mentions in his letter that the intellectuals want him to be released, may be after reading that paper, they are convinced that the government has imprisoned the wrong man.


Also I don't think VRT has that much anthropological experience to write such fine details of A Story, because there many such things in A Story which VRT never mentions in his dialogue like


1. Sleeping places.

2. The religion & beliefs practiced by the Marsh people.


Also Aunt Jeanine was conditioned by nature & nurture to be interested in philosophical anthropology, and her Veil's hypothesis is an widely accepted theory, so I think A Story was definitely a collaboration with Aunt Jeanine having major contribution.

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May 9Edited: May 9

2. The dates of the colonization are not meaningful. When the English colonists arrive on St. Anne, they positively assume that the French-speaking settlers they meet are merely parallel colonists of those on St Croix. English rulers are newbies. They see two planets. Two colonies. There's no way to notice a lack of written records of St Anne not being there. There is no way the records could not state that colonies were the same age -- the French settlers, although in poverty, are standing right there in front of them. The "French girls" referenced by Mrs Blount are positively not human. They are Annese... "When I was growing up those little French girls that had been too small to fight was growing up too, and weren’t they the cutest things? They got most of the handsome boys, you know, and all the rich ones. You could go to a dance in your prettiest dress, and one of those Frenchies would come in, just in rags you know, but with a ribbon and a flower in her hair, and every boy’s head would turn."


So when the English arrive on St Anne, the French colony is non-human.


To be fair, I'll note that I haven't forgotten Robert Culot "one of the last survivors of the first French settlers [...] now dead about forty years". That is a problematic declaration for me, but he is problematic as well for anyone who says the original colony on St Anne was 180 years previous. I assume what is meant is that he was simply one of the last French settlers from before the English" but that doesn't mean he was living on St Anne before the war.


The Group Norm says: “We either came recently or a long, long time ago. I’m not sure which.”

The way I read Wolfe, it is imperative that whatever explanation one gives to this statement, both things must be true. I admit my timeline requires a couple (or many, many more) cognitive leaps. But once you've made them, the story seems to fall into place.


And, cognitive leaps are absolutely necessary when reading a Wolfe story. Not all the answers are detectable -- to the exclusion of all other possibilities -- from the words on the page alone. The first novella was not expected to be expanded to three but the Annese were still central to the story yet still completely remote and mysterious. The aquastor of himself Severian meets in the stone town is not explained until Urth of the New Sun... which Wolfe did not intend to write when he wrote that bit.


In this case, we are expected comprehend that St. Anne follows the rules of Faerieland:

That it is hidden but constantly present. That it's inhabitants are constantly seeking to supplant us, either by agreement (ala the Mabinogion) or by changelings.

May 9Edited: May 9

How do you square your dates, then, with the references to the accounts of early explorers (not settlers) on Sainte Anne? Both Number 5 and Dr. Marsch claim to have had access to accounts that predate the settlement of Sainte Anne (whether that was c.180 YA or c.110YA) -- these are on page 31 and 201 of the 1994 Orb edition. If your reading is correct, then we have to imagine that humans -- real definite honest-to-goodness homo sapiens on Earth -- knew about Sainte Anne from the accounts of explorers and then forgot it was there for roughly a century, unless I'm misunderstanding something in your argument.

@G.L. McDorman,

Well, first of all, it does not seem to be impossibly outside the capabilities of the Shadow Children, who "sing" and manipulate across Space-Time to make people forget. ("Hold your hands before you thus, not touching. Now think of your hands gone. That is what we shake.”) But I don't think that's necessary. But for me, establishing a timeline based on references to nonspecific explorers or settlers has been a dry hole (although I'm willing to have my mind changed). I'll explain...


I do not believe the references to "explorers" and "pioneers/settlers" should be read to as being a stratified in time (as in "first came the explorers and then the settlers"). It is established that settlers come in multiple waves -- first the "French" living there when the English-speakers take over, and then later the English. "Explorer" and "Settler" can apply to activity occurring in parallel and even in the opposite order. Marsch's June 6 diary entry itself says "We have behaved like explorers today, marched all day."


I *think* a "pioneer" is a farmer. An "explorer" is a military or academic who is tasked with a job of entering the remote regions.


Assuming my timeline, there were undoubtedly settlements and houses when the English arrived. Marsch actually visits a house like that. Additionally, I do say the French were ON St Anne going back 180 years or so. It would be weird if there were no written accounts of those early arrivals. But the Annese have had access to those written records as well, and for quite a long time. Marsch's diary is an example of what happens when written accounts fall into the hands of an "abo".


I don't have the Orb edition, but I think there are at least three references to explorers and none of them provide enough context to establish a timeline. Are these the ones you're thinking of? I'll recheck my editions tonight.


"I told her about my experiments (I was stimulating unfertilized frogs’ eggs to a sexual development and then doubling the chromosomes by a chemical treatment so that a further asexual generation could be produced) and the dissections Mr Million was by then encouraging me to do, and while I talked, happened to drop some remark about how interesting it would be to perform a biopsy on one of the aborigines of Sainte Anne if any were still in existence, since the first explorers’ descriptions differed so widely and some pioneers there had claimed the abos could change their shapes. "



"Actually some of the earliest explorers farther south are supposed to have reported signal drumming on the standing trunks of hollow trees by the Annese; they are said to have used no drum-sticks, striking the trunk with the open hand as if it were a tom-tom, and like all primitives they would presumably have been communicating by imitating, with the sound of their blows, their own speech-“talking drums.”) "

VRT "As for there being “many people,” it reminds me of the man who said what he saw was sometimes like a man and sometimes like old wood. The truth is, in fact, that the reports are very contradictory. Even in the interviews I have, it’s often difficult to believe that two subjects are talking about the same thing, and the reports of the early explorers-such of them as have survived-show even less agreement. Certainly some of the more fantastic must be pure myth, but there remain a great many reports of a native race so similar to human beings that they might almost have been the descendants of an earlier wave of colonization."

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May 9Edited: May 9

3. No. It's some vague supposing that I picked that up from the VRT story where he writes:

"At least half of me is ANIMAL. The Free People are wonderful, wonderful as the deer are or the birds or the tire-tiger as I have seen her, head up, loping as a lilac shadow on the path of her prey; but they are animals [NOTE THAT THIS COULD BE READ AS SAYING THAT SOMETIMES THE FREE PEOPLE **ARE** A DEER OR BIRD OR TIRE-TIGER]. I have been looking in the bowl at my face, pulling my beard back as much as I could with my hands, wetting it from the sanitary pail so that I could see the structure of myself, and it is an animal’s mask I see, with a muzzle and blazing animal eyes. I can’t speak; I have always known that I do not really speak like others, but only make certain sounds in my mouth-sounds enough like human speech to pass the Running Blood ears that hear me; sometimes I do not even know what I have said, only that I have dug my hole and passed to run singing into the hills.

"Now I cannot speak at all, but only growl and retch. "


I understood that bit to be V's recognition that in his long solitary confinement he was regressing from his humanity-- losing the ability to maintain the speech part of his simulation. And if he could stop mimicking humans, perhaps he could reclaim the his Faerie dryad nature again. I think there is a parallel instance of this in another Wolfe work. In The Book of the Short Sun (a story that has more than a few parallels to The Fifth Head of Cerberus) there is a mult-legged dog-like creature called a "hus"-- named Babbie. The longer Babbie is with the Narrator, the more humanish he becomes. At one point, he even steers the ship. But when he is separated from the man, and runs feral in the woods, he loses those human-like behaviors over time and becomes an animal again.


But it doesn't matter for V because he can't stop imitating humans as long as he is on St Croix.



4. I think the fact that Number Five calls his father "Maitre" is intended to signal that he is "French." In a society ruled by an English-speaking government, what is the social cache of putting on French affectations? Especially when the French are viewed with such suspicion? Especially, when he has designs on political power himself?


I think the fact that he is French is intended to signal that he is something of a relic.


I think Wolfe put himself in this story for the same reason he puts himself (wolves) in all his stories. The idea that Gene Wolfe is supposed to be a descendent of our Gene Wolfe is an amusing idea but the idea never struck me as a *meaningful* theory. Wolfe likes inhabiting his stories. Still, this is far in the future and it hardly seems impossible for a descendent of Wolfe to take his family to France or Quebec or Sierra Leone and leave from there to space.

May 9Edited: May 9

You've described Sainte Anne not Sainte Croix. On Sainte Anne, French-speakers are relegated to second-class citizenship and have no social cache. On Sainte Anne, national identity takes precedence over class identity. On Sainte Croix the opposite is true. Class identity matters more than national identity and there is a great deal of social cache in putting on French affectations.


French-speakers participate in the government of Sainte Croix at the highest levels and people are eager to claim descent from the original French-speaking aristocracy. Number 5 tells us this explicitly when he is describing the performance of the play (52-53) and Constant tells us this in even more detail while he's interrogating Victor (205-215, especially 209).

@G.L. McDorman What you say about French participation in government is true, as far as that goes. Participation of the indigenous population in local government is a necessity of empire. But we must return to why V is imprisoned. Not for killing Maitre. That case was solved. It was for potentially entering St Croix under a false identity. They know he's lying. They want to find out what he is lying about and why. The political situation seems to present a genuine Cold War paranoia toward the inhabitants of St Anne. It is difficult for me credit that that paranoia is due to the English settlers on the planet.


Arguably, it is possible that the paranoia is due to the St Croix government knowing that St Anne is infested with shapechangers, but if that were true, I'd expect them to deal quite differently with their prisoner.

@James Wynn I'm not sure I understand the connection you are making between the interplanetary tension and the question of whether Maitre's (and Number 5's) first language is French or English.

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May 9Edited: May 9

5. I believe ya'll pointed out the most obvious signal that V and Number 5 are sharing minds... when the Group Norm gets confused and begins suggesting that they came from Atlantis or Gondwanaland --essentially repeating what Number Five recorded of his childhood lessons. You asked "how could John V Marsch have gotten Number Five's diary?" Well, he couldn't. He's been in prison almost from the time Maitre was murdered. And the diary wasn't completed until he was released.


As for the sharing of dreams:


In the first novella, Number Five dreams:

"...dreams had come to flicker in the emptiness, dreams of fences and walls and the concealing ditches called ha-has, that contain a barrier you do not see until you are about to tumble on it. Once I had dreamed of standing in a paved court fenced with CORINTHIAN PILLARS so close set that I could not force my body between them, although in the dream I was only a child of three or four. After trying various places for a long time, I had noticed that each column was carved with a word-the only one that I could remember was carapace-and that the paving stones of the courtyard were mortuary tablets like those set into the floors in some of the old French churches, with my own name and a different date on each."


Now it matters a lot that a "Corinthian pillar" is a column with ornate leaves at the top. So near the beginning of "A Story", Sandwalker has a dream that mirrors Number Five's dream. So I suppose it was suggested by V's dreams:


"Around him in a circle stood immense trees, each rising from a ring of its own serpentine roots. Their bark was white like the bark of sycamores, and their trunks rose to great heights before vanishing in dark masses of their own leaves. But in his dream he was not looking at these. The circle in which he floated was of such extent that the trees formed only a horizon to it, cutting off the immeasurable concavity of the sky just where it would otherwise have touched earth."


In prison, V dreams of that circle again. This time in a a darker context:


"What did I dream of? The howling of beasts, the ringing of bells, women (when I can remember what I have dreamed I have nearly always dreamed of women, which I suppose makes me unusually blessed), the sounds of shuffling feet, and my own execution, which I dreamed of as having taken place in a vast deserted courtyard surrounded by colonnades."


Of course all these dreams are hinting at the "Observatory" on St Anne (to which Number Five has never been) with its circle of trees.

Incidentally, when I saw the movie Annihilation, I immediately thought of The Fifth Head of Cerberus.

I still haven't seen this, though I've just been informed by my students that it's on Netflix, so that is likely to change soon.


"A Story" reminds me more than anything else of "Tracking Song" in which every creature the protagonist meets seems to be some form of primate (at least) and might well a human-descended species.

May 9Edited: May 9

One last thing I suppose: The ghoul-bear is not "in disguise". Nor is the caribou. The ghoul-bears are Annese. Are they animals? Yes. All the Annese are animals -- as we are continuously told even by V. The owl-mice are *actually* owl-mice and owl-mice are Annese. The cat is a cat but it is an Annese cat and V sees them all as Free People races or types. Although a 6-foot, red-haired Scandinavian and a Rainforest man of Central Africa might look a bit different -- although Wolfhounds and Dachshunds look even more different -- they are actually the same "people".

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  • 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.

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