Jan 19

My observation about abos part-iii


Edited: Jan 19

I started reading "A Story" by John V Marsch, from the start again today, as Wolfe stories get better on second read, and also they give you more perspective regarding what actually happened when you read it for second time.


Few my observations below


1. Her body hung shapeless after giving birth.

This is described to us as soon, Cedar branches waving gives birth to Eastwind and Sandwalker, and we know that the abos have replicated the first colonizing force on this planet namely the shadow children, but we can conclude from the above that their replication is not fully complete.


2. Sleeping place

So much is mentioned about the sleeping place to us by Sandwalker, it is if that their existence is completely dependent on finding the sleeping place.


Few things which he mentions about the sleeping place are


i. No predators are able to find them at sleeping place.

ii. Only a food bringer is able to find a sleeping place, for hungry mouths its twists and turns, and then disappears completely in stones.

iii. The songs of shadow children is like wind blowing over the sleeping place.


So my conclusions from sleeping place is that the hill people are able to cast some kind of conscious and unconscious halo about them at sleeping place, which can be compared if leap of faith is to be taken to the halo which the shadow children are casting about Saint Anne, by singing the songs of "Bending paths".


This halo not only protects them physically but also subconsciously, because when sand walker first encounters shadow children by hearing their song, even before they see him, he says that he is lost now. So basically the shadow children are able to sense they the abos even before seeing them.


3. When God was king of men.


Sandwalker tells us about the long dreaming days, but I find it really hard to believe that the concept of "God" has developed so fast in abos.


Now if the shadow children are to be believed then the abos of Saint Anne did not have any physical shape when they first came in contact with them during the first wave. But afterwards as the abos have the capacity of replication they replicated the shadow children's physicality.


But also while replicating the physical form, did they subconsciously replicate the some of the thoughts of shadow children like their faith.


Now I am not a theologian, but the concept of god came into place after long time in humanity's development through ages.


I just went through the below link




Scholars believe that not until the eighth century bc was the first biblical account of creation composed (starting at Genesis 2:4), and that only a couple of centuries later did an anonymous priestly author write down the full-blown version we get starting at Genesis 1.


So it has taken humans quite long journey to come to this concept, while the abos have the same faith and theology as us simply sounds unrealistic to me.


4. You sing a happy song.

When sandwalker first meets the old wise one, and after their feasting on tick-deer, they strike up a conversation, at that time the sandwalker feels content after eating the meat, the old wise senses this and says the above to him.


Sandwalker also thinks that the wise one may be a ghost, but the wise one is able to hear this too, and he launches into an explanation regarding, what exactly he is.


So the wise senses not only his thoughts but his feelings too due to the herb.


5. That which you call nothing is what holds things together. when it is gone all the worlds will come together in a fiery death.

Now the force which holds up together can be said to be gravity, and if we go at atomic level they are said to be quarks which are the heart of matter, Now the herb has given a shadow children ability telepathically communicate with each other, but they also have telekinetic ability to influence the humans in the ship which are coming to Saint Anne.


But what about guidance instruments on those ships ? Are the shadow children able to influence them too? They could if they are in control of heart of matter namely the quarks.


No wonder they don't want other colonizers finding this planet, with so much power they have at their hand.


6. The Tree


Both the species of abos have completely different approaches to a tree, know the marsh men live in a place which is surrounded by trees, but they don't give any significance to it, nor are they shown to be talking to it.


While the hill men revere trees, and even think they are born from trees.


Also for one time we come across the tree in hills, Sandwalker approaches it with hesitation and even accepts its permission to stay, know the entity which Marsch is describing could actually be a tree ? or for our convenience Marsch has named it tree ?


7. But I know how it must feel, sitting alone, waiting for it to come when no one comes. It must be terrible. You are a man it will not come to you until you are old.

This a piece of conversation which Sandwalker strikes up with Seven girls waiting at the oasis, but what exactly are they trying to convey with this conversation ?


I think the female abos are more vulnerable because they are not able to protect themselves by casting a halo, physically or subconsciously, that's why the first thing which seven girls asks sandwalker is whether he will make this his sleeping place, so they require a male to do this probably.


Also all this talk of the tree being a father and him protecting mary pink butterflies and seven girls seems bit of a hoax to me, it may done because she does not know exactly what intentions sandwalker has towards them.


We again a black imagery when we encounter Seven girls waiting because sandwalker describes her hair as black as floss, this same imagery we encountered with cedar branches waving.


8. Thought as he dreamed that were he flying feet he would feign death until they brought him to air again. Meantime flying feet's churning of the river had ceased.


This is another clue that the hill people have some kind of telepathy going on between them, which clearly does not exist in the marsh men, and the songs which the old wise one refers to the abos having, can be exactly this ability which allows them to read each other's thoughts.


Also sandwalker is not only able to convey his thoughts to flying feet, but he actually experiences the drowning of flying feet, because he is not able to breathe for some time after that, and this also leads affects seven girls waiting and mary pink butterflies.


So something is definitely going on here regarding people in a sleeping place or part of community being subconsciously connected with each other.


9. The water took him again and he spun onto his belly and thought of the otter, imagining that he too had nostrils close to the top of his head and short, powerful swimming legs in place of his long limbs. He stroked and shot ahead.

Now I am not a swimmer but learning to swim is a kind of practice, but diving into a river and then imagining I am an otter and doing the same thing that's just mind boggling. Clearly the hill people have some ability or the abos to able to replicate something so fast, that it's just unimaginable from a human perspective.


10. He tried to ask questions, and discovered he could not. as soon as his thought was no longer the thought of the song, as long it no longer swayed and pleaded with the others the touching was broken.

This happens to sand walker when he is communicating with shadow children, as they are singing sorrow song, could this also explain reason that why some hill men get lost when they try to find the sleeping place when are hungry after the day's hunt, because their songs or thoughts do not align with their tribe, and so in the process they become lost.


11. To be hunted by starving men was no new experience- twice as child he had been hunted by starving men- and it would be simple to melt away and find a new sleeping place or return to his old one.

So the shadow children are correct when the say that the natives are hunting and eating each other commonly. This also explains why seven girls waiting is initially skeptical and afraid when she talks to Sandwalker.


Also makes sense when you connect the fact that why a hungry men should not find a sleeping place as they pose direct danger to the group, and that why if we make a leap their thoughts are manipulated by the group, and he is not able to find the sleeping place, and this can also be connected to the thoughts of men in star crosser being manipulated by the shadow children by making them skip both the twin worlds.


12. The stars tell God, the blind prisoner mumbled stubbornly, and the river tells the stars. Those who look into the night waters may see, in the ripples, the shifting stars coming. We give them the lives of you ignorant hills men, and if a star leave its place we darken the water with starwalker's blood.

Now a case can be clearly argued that the shifting stars are the rockets which are moving to and fro in this part of the space from the milky way. Also it can be argued that the rockets tend to hover over this place for a long time, and a star leaving its place means either they are coming towards to the planets or they are moving away, and this is a great significance for the Marsh men as they drown their most leaned star walkers at the time of this event.


Now what other species on this planet don't want the colonizers coming ? they are definitely the shadow children, we also know that the abos have evolved from the shadow children, so did they take this tradition from the shadow children too? Because initially when the shadow children landed and before they successfully set up a barrier over the planets, they would have definitely observed the sky for the incoming ships.


And abos took this tradition from them and completely changed it's meaning, as they blindly followed it without understanding the crux involved.


13. There was a presence in the land as there had not been in empty miles at the highland's feet, a presence cruel and detached, thinking deep thoughts, contemptuous of everything below clouds.

Now in this case whose thoughts is Sandwalker sensing when he has actually come very near to finding his people ? Is it lastvoice or the people travelling in the rockets ?


14. The starwalker of these wetlanders say their minds -perhaps they mean their souls - leave the ground, tumble through space, kick off from sisterworld, and, drawn by the tractive universe, glide, soar, sweep, and whirl among constellations until dawn, reading everything and tending the whole. so they told me in my captivity.
The old wise one made a spitting sound and asked sandwalker, do you know what a starcrosser is ?

Clearly the the actions of wise one signify that all this mumbo jumbo which the marsh people are making claims to have been an act of replicating the shadow children, and doing something without understanding it.


Wolfe just shows us clearly that how a colonizing force has completely changed the colonizers not only in physical sense, but they have completely altered their sense of identity. Now these abos who did not have forms in the first place have not only taken human form, but they are also taking human culture without understanding the science behind it.


15. For this we have given up everything, because this is more than anything, though it is only an herb of this world.

My theory regarding the herb is that when the humans first landed on this planet they came across these beings who had fantastic shapes, and were living in the holes of the trees of this world, one of the reasons they consider the trees holy. Now these beings were to sense the thoughts of other beings and communicate telepathically with each other.


Humans came in contact with them, and they adopted the human form, but the Marsh men so completely adopted the human form that they lost the ability to change forms, and it is this ability of replication which also provides them with sub-conscious ability to communicate with each other.


Now the Hill people although they took human form, but they did not lose ability of communication, and that's why the Marsh men are always stealing their babies to turn them into star walkers.


Now at the same time what happened to humans on this planet is that they came across the herb and upon using it got so much absorbed in their different abilities that they just lost their sense of being, and become high in this super consciousness.


so not only the colonizers were affected by the landing but also the colonized, and it has taken such a huge mutation and loss of identity, that no one understands or cares who they were actually.


This also connects with the verse which we have at the start of this novella, because the shadow children are trying to posses the herb so that other humans do not get an access to it. The marsh men are trying to know all by reading the sky and doing these ritual sacrifices, and both are trying to access God, the shadow children by the use of herb and the Marsh men by reading stars and doing sacrifices, but as per St John of the Cross, if you try to posses anything, it will never lead to god.




You've done a really thorough job here of getting at the various issues. We talk about most of these on the episode coming out this week, but you raise a few points and questions that we didn't consider. Brandon has emphasized the significance of the sleeping places as we've gone through the story, but I don't think we ever considered that there is a psychic component to it -- that they can be screened much like the planet can be.


Your idea that Wolfe is thinking about quarks is excellent. This model was less than a decade old when Wolfe was writing and was probably very much on the mind of people interested in physics and space, something that could really revolutionize our understanding of what the universe even is. We completely missed this!

Just spent my whole Saturday on this from morning to evening, reading and taking notes all the time.

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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. 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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