Despite the pandemic & its habit-altering ways, I found time to sneak in a few podcasts, and listened to these. God it's great to hear your voices again!
My favorite observation was the idea that this was a 'man against nature' story. This, to me, captured the surface moral approach of the story: it reads, at least initially, as if Wolfe took a deliberately detached view: people (the now-masters) did such-and-such, and this was the response. Neither the original action (which is essentially, as Marc Aramini says, eugenics) nor the response (killing people) is a good one, but Wolfe's tone seems oddly non-judgmental, particularly about the latter. I think it falls into the category of: if you give people only bad choices, they'll take bad choices.
Yet there is judgement here, and I think it's against the masters, and for Paul. To be sure, Paul is a murderer; but it feels as if Wolfe gives him a pass for having no choice. You say at one point in the discussion that the humans seem to like killing for food, but I don't see that, at least not as the main motive: it's not clear to me that there's much other choice—life in the rural areas is unsustainable; in the city is only genetically altered organisms (the policeman & the trees are all we hear of that aren't masters—so liking it seems to me to be a case of making a virtue out of a necessity. So I think Wolfe's detachment is that of recognizing the necessity, and giving Paul a pass for it — in a fallen world, he might be saying, one must do bad things if put in a bad situation.
So why is Paul still good? In a word, love. The name, I contend, is more than simply a version of the french Loup (although yes, that too: Wolfe creates polyvalent stories, after all!). It's also a reference to Paul. But not his life, necessarily (maybe that too, I'm not fresh enough on the New Testament to say), but his theol0gy. One of Paul's most famous lines, surely, is "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." I think that's why he's Paul: to remind the reader that the greatest is love.
Which Paul has. You mention several of these signs in the story: the masters are pointedly not-married, and seem to show little signs of loving. Emmitt says that "even a bad man can love his child": which is to say, love can redeem even a bad man. And Paul does love — in particular, he loves Janie (and vice-versa, as her tears indicate).
Indeed, his love for her sets him apart in particular from the masters: they were created by eugenics. But Paul loves someone who a eugenicist would dismiss — Janie can't speak. Marc Aramini, in his write-up, quotes an interview with Wolfe: "I was trying to get the reader to think about the real nature of love between man and woman. In the first place, the girl in “The Hero as Werewolf” is retarded and cannot speak. And, secondly, in the end she has to damage very badly the man she loves in order to set him free. I think I was trying to say, first, that you must not think that the person you love has to be a whole lot like you in order for that love to be real and working. And second, that we all, if we are going to be honest, have to hurt people in order to do them good. We have to tear away parts of them in order to do them good."
The have-to-cause-pain-to-help is a familiar and important theme in Wolfe's theology, one we have seen many times, and one he expresses explicitly in nonfiction (the stand-out instance being his discussion of Christ as a torturer, and his various theodic justifications for pain, in The Castle of the Otter). But the other note is key here: Janie is retarded and can't speak. Paul loves her anyway. His love for her, and hers for him, redeems them both, and sets them apart from the foul genetic supremicism of the masters.
Paul is a hero, not because he goes on a hero's journey, but because in the bleakest of worlds, in which he is cast, he is able to maintain the ability to love. Despite being, not a werewolf, but a werwolf: a man to be feared as a wolf is.
Two minor points:
I definitely read the policeman as a genetically engineered dog, as Glenn did.
I read the "ghost houses" not as intentional traps, but as houses that Paul gets trapped in that he thinks are traps. They are, in fact, just abandoned houses, with complex electoral systems that Paul is unable to work, not having the knowledge or training. Why are they abandoned? For that, I'll take the "they're leaving for the moon" theory, which I hadn't thought of but seems to fit very well.
It was great to start to catch up. Hopefully I'll find time to reread & listen to "Forlesen" before the end of the year. Stay safe, everyone.