I have a lot of thoughts here, although my basic thought about the podcast is "wow, I can't wait until the Aramini wrap-up"; this was, structurally, a prelude to that. I do love when you guys do a whirlwind tour through philosophy — and speaking as someone who did take a one-semester course just on Hegel in college, I gotta say, that as five-minute summaries of Hegel go, that was really quite good — but I thought that you didn't deal with the sheer strangeness of the book's direction and philosophy enough. But I suppose that will come in the next episode, and I must just be patient.
My basic thought on the novel: God, that's weird. It seems really strange on any level, what with its thematic incoherence, its odd plot balance, its adding things in at the end, etc. (I really wish we'd been able to get our hands on the uncut version!) One thing I did like, just reading it as an adventure story, was its unpredictability: over and over, some battle starts to happen (when the Martian lands besides the prisoner convoy, the battle in Arlington Cemetery here, lots of others) when Wolfe goes in an odd direction, usually in the direction of a loss.
On the other hand, I found the romance at least as unconvincing as you both did. And I thought that the politics of the novel are weirdly incoherent — or at least not well presented. But I will certainly wait until I hear your next discussion until I finalize my judgment on that score.
A number of briefer thoughts:
• You never brought up the possibility of the novel being, in any way, a Vietnam metaphor. Given the use of the US as a proxy war by two sides towards the end, and the fact that the novel was written in 1967 or so, I find it almost impossible to believe that that wasn't part of what's going on. But then, I'm not sure what to do with that notion. I can't make it work as a metaphor.
• You mention that the Universal Basic Income is a leftist idea. It certainly is usually heard about in those circles today. But, as you may well know and just didn't mention, it has a long history of support on the right — Milton Friedman favored it, for instance. I believe Charles Murray has come out in favor of it also. (I would add, as a leftist, that the left and the right versions tend to be very different: the right tends to want to use it to replace all current social insurance, and to keep it at a level that work would still be required; leftists think that it either needs to be a genuine living wage, or to supplement existing programs without replacing them.) I think Wolfe, at least filtered through your interpretation, had some interesting things on why it's better than welfare — things, FWIW, that a leftist might agree with!
• On the riots: in addition to the Watts riots of 1965, there were major riots in the summers of 1966, 1967, and in April 1968 after the assassination of King. (Maybe 64 too? I'd have to double-check.) At the precise historical moment that Wolfe seems to have written this book, it wasn't a bad extrapolation for a social collapse. Although by the time it was published it was already out of date on that score.
• I could not make sense of how the gold-theft plan was supposed to work. Why would that have gotten Castle a meeting with the PG's head? Or had any other significant bad effects?
• There is some imagery/symbolism in the novel that you pointed out, which I like, but which doesn't seem to cohere for me. You pointed out the Lee/Grant imagery, and I really, really liked that (and that it was just slightly hidden by the "Lee" being the Chinese name (often spelled "Li")). You also pointed out the imagery of fighting on the graves of dead soldiers, which I also liked; you might have further pointed out that they were specifically Civil War soldiers (at least initially), and that the cemetery itself used to be Robert E Lee's plantation (seized in wartime by the government and made into a cemetery). It feels like it should add up to something. But I'm not sure what, or even sure that it does — at this stage in his career, maybe Wolfe is just flinging things at the wall to see what sticks.
• One small note that I have to assume is unintentional, although if it occurred in a later Wolfe work I'd assume was intentional: General Lee mentions "Kuo-yu, the national language", But "the national language" — "Guóyǔ" in the currently common transliteration system, pinyin, but "Kuo-yu" is how it was written in Wade-Giles transliteration, which was common in the U.S. when this novel was published — is the Taiwanese name for Mandarin. In Communist China — the one that turned into the one in the book — it's called Pǔtōnghuà, or "Common Speech". Probably Wolfe just looked it up and saw the Taiwanese name? That's what would probably have been available in the U.S. in 1967 (Communist China, of course, was still closed to the West then; Chinese materials were from Taiwan or Hong Kong). But I thought I'd point it out.
• You mentioned Wolfe's "Hey, I thought you were my friend" comment; that might have been from me — at least, a friend of mine told me that Wolfe said that to him when he mentioned OA.
Well, to paraphrase what Jews say at the end of the seder: "Next Week With Aramini!"!