May 13, 2018

The Blue Mouse

6 comments

A fabulous discussion of a genuinely fabulous story (and yes, it is great to be back at what feels like Full Wolfe, again). In particularly I really appreciated the insights you brought from your own military experience (speaking as someone who has none).

 

This discussion did reinforce for me the idea of returning to some of these episodes. You both threw out so many great thoughts — about the mice, about conditioning, about whether this was all an experiment (a dramatic thought that would upend much of the tale), about the watch — but it wasn't put all together. I feel like if we all sat down for a few more hours we could actually hammer it out. — Probably impossible: I know. Still.

 

I want to introduce a reading that I am not myself entirely convinced by, but that really occurred to me as I read the story and even as I listened to you two discuss it (it also indulges my tendency for interpreting a story as relating to the political and specific context it was written in, in a way that perhaps shouldn't be indulged). So let us say that I throw it out only to allow others to refute it. But I read the story as Wolfe's rage against the anti-war protestors of the Vietnam era, specifically against "conscientious objectors", here represented as the techs. Their portrayal seemed to me to be something close to a negative stereotype: they think they're better than the marksmen, because they're nonviolent, but actually they are both cowards (running in battle) and really more violent than the marksmen, and in fact attack them (which I read as sort of an exaggerated version of the rhetorical attacks that returning Vietnam soldiers got). That the techs support — and are dependent upon — the same colonial effort that the marksmen are, they're just cowardly, self-righteous and thuggish, all at the same time. Obviously a lot of the story is written out of Wolfe's specific experience (i.e. Korea), but it seems reasonable to think that the Vietnam war, which was still ongoing when this story was written, was in his mind too.

 

Incidentally, one of you (sorry I forget who) said that the U.S. hides its wars. This is certainly been true in the time since, well, this story was written; but when this story was written, at the tail end of Vietnam, it hardly was the case. (Korea, to be sure, was said to have been "forgotten"; but hardly hid during it.)

 

Other questions: what is up with the political situation? More needs to be done with that. At first blush it seems like Wolfe is sympathetic to the old woman — that the occupation is not a good thing — but her rather blatant racism makes me wonder. Is it simply that both sides are rotten? The part with the old woman can too easily disappear in the analysis, but I don't think it should.

 

And what about the UN? It can't be a mistake that in our world UN peacekeepers wear blue helmets; that the techs wear blue; that the story was called "The Blue Mouse"; and that U. S. troops were officially under a UN aegis in the Korean War.

 

Anyway, some scattered thoughts. Thanks again for yours (which are, doubtless, far better than mine). See you in the Slaves of Silver section...

 

PS: I seem to have fallen behind — your next podcast has been five days up. Uh, oops? Sorry?

May 13, 2018

Great points, as always! I love this reading of the divide between the Marksmen and the Technicians as a commentary on conscientious-objectors. There is a lot to be done there, incorporating this into Wolfe's political views in the late 1960s or into Wolfe's views about violence -- at least two good articles, if not more.

 

Although we didn't dwell on it at all, I think you are right to focus on the old woman. I still think that Wolfe is sympathetic to her (and critical of the U.N., which we've seen in Operation ARES as well), but I don't think that has to be a zero-sum game -- we can be sympathetic to all of the people who are involved in this war that is not of their own making.

 

I'm looking forward to more of your comments now that we are back to Full Wolfe!

May 17, 2018

These are some really great thoughts. I'm glad our discussion allows some new thoughts and ideas to foment and arise as you listen. For me, this is a big part of what we are trying to do with this podcast. I would love to have a real book club (rather than a virtual one) where we can really hammer out some of these disparate thoughts in real time and put all the pieces together. But maybe in a year or so, we can do a return to some of these stories and present stronger critical readings. I think it would be a huge amount of fun.

 

I really like the idea that Wolfe is criticizing conscientious objectors in this story, in that they are people who refuse to acknowledge the ways in which they benefit from their nations conflicts and simply protest or go after the soldier rather than make meaningful change to the system that asks people to kill for it. It raises questions about what Wolfe is trying to do by having the tech take up arms. Maybe he wants to point out that given certain conditions event the critics of war can do violence, or that there are a contingency of objectors who are just as violent, but in a different way, as the soldiers themselves.

 

I am not sure that Wolfe is sympathetic with the woman in this story. He does a lot to generate a sense of disgust around the main character's experience with her. Of course, this could be a demonstration that the war effort has created sense of diminished hospitality due to the rationing of goods for civilians.

 

In any event, a lot of great food for thought.

Aug 15, 2018

Another great, thoughtful podcast. Glenn suggested I read both this and the “HORARS of War”, so I’m reviewing stories and listening to podcasts out of order. Some random thoughts:

 

I think it’s instructive to look at the date of publication (1971, and possibly written a year or so earlier), at a time when the Vietnam war had aroused extreme civilian opposition from the left, and the young (who stood to be drafted) in particular. The story (from my vantage-point) seems to be clearly about the class societal divide between combat soldiers and non-combatant civilians in the 1970s.

 

I graduated from high school the week that Saigon fell, so I was never in any real danger of being drafted, but grew up watching reports of the war on the nightly news from as early as I can remember, and expected that the war would continue until I reached 18 and was sent to die or survive, and that the war would possibly continue forever, as it seemed to already had to my childhood self.


The draft ended at the beginning of 1973 when I was still a high school freshman, but I can recall that older friends were strongly urged in high school by teachers and counselors to graduate high school, to apply to college, and to stay in college through graduate school to avoid being sent to Vietnam. The unspoken, and sometimes spoken, position was that the intelligent, the thoughtful, the gentle, and the artistic should be preserved alive at all costs, and that the “grunts” of the combat arms unit slots were meant to filled by the hapless high-school drop-outs, the guys who hung out in auto shop classes, the boys who worked in the factories and service stations, and (although this was left unvoiced by many on the left) the blacks, the Hispanics, and the Native Americans, who were thought by society to never really have had a chance of achieving the American Dream. It was one of the most clear-cut class-based prejudices in American society in the 1960s.

It’s often been suggested that if the number of college deferments had been drastically reduced in the 1960s, the Vietnam war would have ended much sooner, or the large scale commitment of conventional military units might never have happened at all, if the middle and upper middle classes had seen more of their sons returning in caskets or without limbs. As it was, the lower middle class and lower economic class, groups with little political suasion, bore the brunt of the war for years, to society’s disdain. Kipling’s poem “Tommy” could well have been an influence on this story.

 

But Wolfe’s choice to make the protagonist a member of the cultural elite, rather than having any identifiable sympathetic characters in the Marksmen (as he does in the HORARs) makes me think this was probably just of several themes.

The cruelties visited on the “Marksmen” by the ostensibly pacifistic “Tech” caste in the story seems to have been influenced by the dichotomy between the anti-interventionist, anti-capitalist American left, and specifically the violence which some on the fringes of that ideology used to try to end it - the campus bombings of ROTC and college Math departments that were supported by the Army, the violence of the SDS and the Weather Underground and the SLA, all violent acts purportedly in the cause of ending violence overseas, conducted by people who would probably have told you they abhor violence.

Lonnie’s reference to the Techs jumping a lone Marksman in a parking lot after the Tech’s graduation (which is hinted to end in murder) certainly bears some similarities to the violence, both verbal and sometimes physical, visited on soldiers returning from Vietnam. The extent of that abuse has become a controversial subject in recent years ,with several books debating the extent it happened, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone on the left nowadays who would admit to spitting on a returning soldier back then, but petty assaults on the dignity of soldiers in that era (and sometimes a lot more) seem to have been pretty common. The Vietnam veteran soldiers I met when I later enlisted certainly had some stories to tell on the subject, and I tend to believe them. The anger and helplessness they felt when jumped in a crowd or verbally abused in an airport corridor still ate at them years later in the retelling.

 

The ending seems to find the protagonist finding an unexpected and redemptive capacity for violence. As this is coupled with a short discussion of the genetics of the mice he raised as a young man, does this indicate that this society’s split between the fighters and a technocratic society could be the result of genetic manipulation? (If a story has something to do with Wolfeian aggression, it also often has something to do with Mr. Wolfe’s first name, I’ve noticed.) Is the protagonist a genetic throwback? Or a genetic experiment?


 

Al the time the story was written, there was a lot going on in the zeitgeist about the genetic nature of violence, like the work of Konrad Lorenz, B.F. Skinner, Desmond Morris’s The Naked Ape, Ardrey’s The Territorial Imperative, Peckinpah’s film Straw Digs, and similar popular works, which often included discussion of whether humans’ genetic capacity for aggression is outdated, or not. Wolfe may have been debating whether aggression could be, or should be, genetically modified, or modified through operant conditioning, on B.F. Sklnner’s model, or whether it is something we still need in some contexts.

Wolfe would not have had access to more recent research, which has identified what may be a genetic mutation commonly found in special operations soldiers who survive training - a higher level of neuropeptide Y in their bloodstream, which seems to increase one’s capacity for operating with higher effective cognitive ability in high-stress situations such as combat. (It also apparently reduces the likelihood of PTSD.) But Wolfe may have been presciently playing with this theme as well - what makes a man survive in combat? Is it an innate capacity?

Blood testing on successful and unsuccessful candidates for special operations courses for the SEALs, Army Special Forces, and the Ranger Battalions have shown that a high level of the peptide is one of the highest predictors of success for passing those courses and, presumably, success and survival in combat. 

At one time not long after 9/11, when high casualty rates in Iraq and Afghanistan created a demand for moving higher numbers of special operations soldiers through the service training pipelines successfully, it was suggested that a positive test for the peptide be a requirement to attend those and other SpecOps courses.

 

I’ve heard that the Army Special Forces decided not to go that route, for one, as the commander felt that we can’t say for certain what other combination of unforeseen skills and aptitudes and personality factors could lead to success on the battlefield. The SF lineage includes the OSS Jedburgh teams of WWII, which famously recruited across a broad range of military backgrounds and civilian specialties ,with some success, so SF may have been drawing on some long-term institutional knowledge and lessons learned in making that decision. (I don’t know about other SpecOps units - it could well be that peptide Y level is tested for, a report is put in the soldier or sailor’s personnel jacket, and it could be a factor that is weighed in evaluating the results of training. I have no idea.)

 

Wolfe may also be pointing out that no one knows for sure what their own capacity for violence is until it is tested in time of crisis.

 

The brief conversation between Lonnie and the insurgent on knowing what percentage of their forces will fight reminded me of General S.L.A. Marshall’s studies in WWII (with which I think Wolfe would have been familiar) in the book “Men Against Fire” (1947) which claimed that a large percentage (I think 75%) of soldiers in combat will not fire their weapons directly at the enemy in warfare, and will either fire over the enemy’s head or not fire at all. This was an enormously influential document within the Army (although its conclusions have been vigorously debated over the decades), and impacted the why the Army conducted its combat training afterwards (and which was credited for the increase in active engagement in firefights with the enemy in Vietnam.) I suspect Marshall’s book also played a part in the genesis of this story.

 

Koppell’s reminder to Lonnie that he may need to use the weapon on his truck, and his warnings that the insurgents will execute techs is interesting, as well as the references to the testing (conditioning?) you mention in the podcast. Is this related to the distrust the insurgent and the old woman feel to the U.N. forces - i.e., is this part of a greater attempt at social control to end nationalism by the U.N. / world government? I need to look at the story again.

 

The wording of Lonnie’s statement that techs “can’t be trusted in a fight” is key, I think. They obviously can, and habitually do, display a capacity for violence and attack the Marksmen (one shies away from Lonnie because of that risk), and take up arms seized from the Marksman, presumably to kill or at least defend themselves.. Simple aggression is not enough, as Wolfe would have known well from his own combat experiences - aggression needs to be part of a disciplined, cohesive whole to be successful, yet the military establishment in the story seems to be following a willful process of atomizing its forces. Soldiers fight not for their country, as is often repeated, but for the biddy next to them in the trench. Not only do the Techs treat the Marksmen with studied cruelty, but the Marksman officer directs a soldier to spray automatic weapons fire into the bunker where the Techs are cowering after the attack. 

So, is the military trying to resolve that problem - either genetically, or through a covert conditioning process?

 

If the test is an behavioral experiment (and mice are commonly used for experiments, both genetic and behavioral - as Lonnie notes, some mice have tufts of fur, others dance), the purpose could be to see if the increasingly nonviolent segment of the population could be trained to participate in violence again as part of a cohesive body. Like the genetic split in humanity in “The Hero as Werwolf”, did humanity split into two castes genetically, with the unfortunate result that the half - or more - can now no longer fight war?

 

Are there any clues that Lonnie’s experiences after the attack on the base are a set-piece to observe his reactions?

 

Why are the tech described as physically so much taller than the Marksmen? Typically, small size is not something for which the infantry selects. (Height occasionally seems to be a tip-off by Wolfe that a character is genetically modified, as in “Pirate Freedom”.)

 

There’s something going on with Koppell questioning Lonnie about his interaction with the old woman, I feel, but I’m not sure what.

 

In both this story and “The HORARS of War”, the enemy vastly outnumbers the protagonist’s force, and attacks en masse, which probably reflects the human wave assaults of the North Korean and Chinese forces.

 

Where is this taking place? It appears, from the speech of the old woman and the insurgent, to be in Great Britain. If so, it’s cheeky of Wolfe to make the human wave insurgents the British!

 

Just some disjointed thoughts. Again, wonderful podcast!

Aug 15, 2018

I see this as a primarily human story in regards to the uncertainty of determining how someone will react in extreme situations. Pacifism is all well and good until someone is bent on killing you, and then some people will kill (and some will die, and some are in both of those groups). I really don’t like the idea that there is any genetic engineering going on here unless it is to undercut the efficacy of that as a determining factor to behavior, given freedom (free will) and the breaking of mechanisms like that clock. I think this is an examination of extreme biological responses tied to will. ( I can’t be the only guy who daydreams about violence, geez.) Violent Catharsis is one of the oldest tricks in managing unruly populations. Luckily I never had to worry about the draft, though of course Wolfe did. If there is genetic engineering in this, then I think the point would have to be that it doesn’t do what it is supposed to do. As far as the height and propensity to violence ... lots of psychological reasons. I don’t have to look farther than my 5’7” Vietnam veteran father to think of countless unnecessary arguments and confrontations in public that could easily have become physical or lethal. My mother once summed up his philosophy quite handily: do unto others before they do unto you. But that doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy. And I think that Wolfe has a nice middle ground that looks at the horrors of violence and war without condemning all self-defense and self-preservation instincts.

Aug 16, 2018

Mick, this is an awesome and thoughtful response to "The Blue Mouse." Whichever the stories you enjoyed more, it seems that you had a more intense reaction to this one than to "HORARS," much as we did. For me, at least, this one captures something more of the actual experience of soldiering and seems to be more personal for Wolfe.

 

I'm intrigued by your suggestion that there is some sort of genetic engineering going on. This wasn't on my mind at all when we covered this one, but because we had just finished Operation ARES behavioral programming was. But now that we're covering The Fifth Head of Cerberus, it seems so obvious that Wolfe is interested in the extent to which our biology determines our personality. Like Marc, I'm not sure that's really at the surface of this story, but I think it's an interesting reading.

Aug 16, 2018Edited: Aug 16, 2018

Thanks, Glenn - I'm not sure that genetic manipulation, (and the disdain the "advanced" species of altered humanity feels for the left-behind genotypicals, as in "The Hero as Werwolf") is really the thrust of this story, I'm just spitballin' here. But the detail that the Techs seem to be taller than the Marksmen seems to indicate that, to me. Is the U.N. spearheading a genetic overhauling of humanity, and is that the reason the insurgents are fighting them?  I should re-read the story with that possibility in mind.

 

The spectre of Vietnam seems to haunt this entire story. Perhaps Wolfe was simply making the point that America at that time was drawing a hard line between a privileged intellectual technocratic elite  that was not willing to use lethal force to defend the community, or state (but was willing to use violence to protect its self-perceived interests in domestic political violence), and an underclass that is expected take life, and also to sacrifice their own lives and limbs on behalf of the state, and that such an arrangement was unnatural and could lead to the collapse of the state. Lonnie at the end is able to integrate the two halves of his nature.  

 

The disparity in height? I'm still not sure about that, but it could reflect that many of the healthier, more fit, more successful members of society in the Vietnam era opted out of service - there were certainly some professional college athletes who went to serve in Vietnam, but nothing like the number of college and pro athletes signed up in WWII, and some, like Muhammad Ali, resisted going to Vietnam to fight quite publicly. Quite a lot of handsome, good-looking, wealthy actors enlisted in the military and fought overseas in WWII (Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable, Sterling Hayden, David Niven, and many more). With a couple of exceptions (mostly older actors who were Reserve pilots who flew transport missions from the U.S, and didn't fly in combat, or held administrative, senior staff positions), I can't think of a single popular actor who left their career to serve in Vietnam. Some Vietnam vets later became successful film actors, but none that I know of volunteered to serve or accepted being drafted to go to Vietnam.

 

The violent fratricide between the Techs and the Marksmen (in off-duty assaults, food choice and medical care, blossoming almost into civil war near the end on the battlefield) was likely influenced by the increase in reports of "fragging" in the latter years of the Vietnam war- the homicide by hand grenade or shooting of NCOs and superior officers by draftees who resisted an overly vigorous war effort as the goals of the war became more murky and troops were drawing down and being returned to the states,.

Personal contacts between troops and Vietnamese civilians in the countryside were often testy and fraught with suspicion on both sides, and the contact with the old woman could reflect this, but relocated to the English countryside.

 

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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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