Wow. Great episode, guys, and I say that in particular because I didn't like these chapters nearly as well as you did. I find myself much more interested in the next two chapters having heard your talk about the first two, than I was simply having read them,
(I should say that, yes, contrary to my expectations, I *am* reading along, thanks to the generosity of Marc Aramini who offered me a spare copy of the novel. Thanks, Marc!)
I am also struck, however, by the fact that, having read only the first two chapters, I am hesitant to weigh in on your discussion of them: after all, you live, as you say, in the future (and I *just* figured out the "we greet you and say farewell thing" after all this time); you've now, as I type this, done the whole novel. If I predict which way it will go, it will come up against the hard fact that you know. I've read the text you've discussed, but not the WHOLE text, for the first time. — And while for pretty much any other Gene Wolfe novel, I would probably go ahead & read the whole thing if I hadn't yet, and then reread it along with you two, I am not sure I'm interested enough here.
But I think you'll keep me reading.
So, some observations that I don't expect to be simply vitiated by the following chapters...
1. I was surprised you didn't make it clearer how thoroughly Wolfe has repudiated this text. He's never let it be reprinted. And it's not just because the cuts — Wolfe hasn't ever, to my knowledge, tried to get the uncut text reprinted either. It's more than that. A friend of mine, who knows Wolfe somewhat (he was program chair of an SF con at which GW was GOH) once told me of mentioning Operation ARES in Wolfe's presence; Wolfe turned to him with what he thought was genuine hurt and said, "I thought you were my friend!" — This repudiation of this novel is, perhaps, over-affecting my reading: I am not assuming that there is more going on than I am catching, as I usually do in Wolfe, at least at first pass. But it still seems worth mentioning.
2. The writing seems to me not as good. Clearly. The bit on page 2 when Japhet says "set us straight" and JC thinks about how he's a hunchback is just cringeworthy. Later Wolfe would show the "liking, pity and repulsion" in some fashion, and not just clunkily spell it out. And so on.
3. I, too, saw echoes of Wolfe's later work — the end of Chapter One, and the desperate nighttime mission from one unused to such things, reminded me of the middle of NIGHTSIDE THE LONG SUN. But I personally found it less cool and predictive than a pale imitation. De gustibus non est disputandum, of course.
4. I liked your drawing attention to the Noah references; I missed those.
5. I thought that "White City" might have been a reference to the venue of the 1893 Chicago's World Fair, known as the White City (probably more famous back when Wolfe was a schoolboy than now, and anyway he lives in Chicago (although I don't know if he did then)); interesting, if I'm right to see what it means. (The 1893 White City was a sterile & planned place, but also a celebration of progress and technology...)
6. A list of characters with the initials JC can be found here (first folder below main text): http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SignificantMonogram
More in the next post, less this get too long...