Once again—and even more strongly, this time, than with "House of Ancestors", which I liked but didn't love—I liked this story a *lot* more than either of you. I think it worked and it cohered. Now, I'm acutely conscious that, unlike both of you, I am *not* a veteran; maybe my lack of experience made the whole thing work better for me. Still, I liked it, and I thought I'd explain briefly why. (FWIW, in the introduction to the UK edition of BEST OF GENE WOLFE (which was reprinted in the New York Review of Science Fiction), Kim Stanley Robinson takes up Wolfe's challenge (in the story note to "A Cabin on the Coast") and lists half a dozen stories he thinks could go into a second best-of volume; he lists this one (and, by the by, "The Changeling", too.)
I should say that my reading is, more or less, the same as Marc Aramini's, but I didn't read his until after I had both read the story and heard your podcast, and had myself come up with something similar (in broad outline; not all the details). But on the podcast you sort of buried the lead about Aramini's analysis. He does say that, symbolically, 2910 is both human & HORAR; but he comes down where I do (and where you two don't): that he is, physically, a HORAR.
First, Glenn (I think it was) said the epilogue made it clear that 2910 was really a human. I disagree. I think that was, in fact, *more* propaganda. The public would be distressed to think of the HORARs as human — that is to say, as possessing humanity worth caring about. To admit that these articles were written by one (even by one programmed to believe he/it was human) would shake their faith in the HORARs as machines. So they lied and told the public what they told him: he was a journalist.
Why is 2910 then writing stories at all, if they are afraid of overly-humanizing the HORARs? Because he was supposed to only do it a little, get the folks interested, keep the budget up, keep up support for the war. The way that people now write breathless articles about how neat drones are. Not to get you to actually *sympathize* with them.
What about all the evidence he was human? I think that that's all explained by what Brenner says: he was programed to think he was. Thus he had flashbacks (important for the deception, of himself & the reader). And these caused the alterations of his programming, so he could believe in religion & kill Brenner. (The importance of the thing about the eyes on stalks is, I think, that variations from the basic model go astray. 2910 has gone astray: become *too* human.)
But in being human, he sees the others humanity which is there too. They're his friends.
Aramini plays up the Pinocchio reference, which definitely fits this. I haven't worked it all out in my head, but I think the religious imagery works too. Aaramini sees 2910's dual nature, HORAR/human, as akin to Christ's as human & divine; I think in fact 2910 is something of a Christ figure — dying for the sins of humanity, in this case, the sin of dehumanization. (Done, ironically, by both the Enemy—who, if they were smart, would have tried to propagandize the HORARs, but forgot they were able to be changed (perhaps)— and the folks at home,
I have to admit I saw this story neither about propaganda, nor about what happens when soldiers go home. (I presume the HORARs are scrapped, and that what 2910 thinks is that he'll be evac-ed out, ie to a bigger repair shop to be scrounged for parts, when his (he thinks) humanity will be discovered.) I think it's another one of Wolfe's stories about human is as human thinks: that the presence of feelings and thoughts and a *soul* makes a human. And about the dehumanization of war, using the HORARs as an extreme example.
What about the title? The point is that everyone is blind to the obvious pun. They think they're only reading about the HORARS of war; but in fact they, and we, are reading about the horrors of war.
Let me close by saying I would never have thought this through without your fabulous podcast making the other case. I'm sad to be caught up — I want more!! Many thanks for all your continued work.
I'm reading Gene's collection "Letters Home" to his family from Korea, and noticed that the KATUSAs (ROK soldiers assigned to the unit) were known to the American soldiers by their numerical designations (as with his Korean bunker-mate, Number 92) - a likely inspiration for the HORARs' numbers.
Yes, 2910 is being something of a D&D rules lawyer here, finding a loophole that the rule-makers certainly never intended. While effective, it's a dishonest thing to do and hardly the type of behavior one would expect of a messiah. But Wolfe is prone to use complicated Christ figures in his stories, people who have some attributes of Christ or go through similar experiences, but are clearly flawed (and sometimes downright awful) people, so it may be that Wolfe intended 2910 to play this role.
I'm working my way through the podcasts out of sequence a bit. "HORARS of War" is not the best of Wolfe, but even when Gene isn't operating at full throttle, he's still pretty damn good.
Not much to add. I'd agree with Marc that 2910 is a hypostatic union, fully man and fully HORRAR, althought physically a HORAR. The Christological analogies are there, as I think everyone agrees.
One aspect I have not heard discussed is the change in the HORAR code, which they seem to adhere to as strongly as the Rangers do theirs: as Jesus said, He came to fulfill the Mosaic Law, not to abolish it; but He did certainly modify it. Likewise, 2910 seems to modify the strict code of the HORARs at the end, when he appears to justify to them the killing of the human Brennan, which 2900 seems to accept even to the point of modifying the code, 2910 may be operating less as a Messiah and perhaps more as a serpent, if the HORARs drop their compunctions against killing non-enemy humans, or elect t9 see some humans as the enemy.
Stephen, this is great -- thank you. I think you make a good case for reading The Castle of the Otter anyway.
No, wait, hold the phone, I *knew* there was more than that. Wolfe's interview with Larry McCaffery, which I first read in Across the Wounded Galaxies, and which I believe is also reprinted in Shadows of the New Sun: Wolfe On Writing/Writers on Wolfe (i.e. not the fictional fettschrift but the previous one with the same title), but which seems to be online here: https://www.depauw.edu/sfs/interviews/wolfe46interview.htm See, in particular, the two answers which begin with the question "Where was it that you knew you were heading when you began The Book of the New Sun?", and also further down when he mentions Harlan Ellison; and yet further down, starting where Wolfe says "Technology is like a punch or a gun".
Glenn, most of what I was referencing is in The Castle of the Otter. (I should say, I understand, I think, the desire (and the critical ideas behind the desire) to approach the text without influenced by that book... but I think in this case it's misplaced. Most of those essays are pretty peripheral to BotNS.) But, apart from those:
He talks about pain and theodicy in the MIT interview here: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/529431/a-qa-with-gene-wolfe/
His comments about 9/11 were from Lupine Nunccio, which seems to be offline, but you can find them here: https://web.archive.org/web/20041124055445/http://mysite.verizon.net/~vze2tmhh/w_archives/2002_02_01_archive.html
I have a vague sense he's said broader things than this on the morality of violence in interviews, but I'm now thinking I sounded a lot more sure than I should have; my apologies for that. But I think the 9/11 comments are good evidence on the matter.
Hope this helps!
Stephen, I'm really interested in Wolfe's writing about the morality of violence. Other than the BOTNS essays in Castle of the Otter (which I don't want to reread until after we've covered the text sometime around 2021), where are these works published? I think this might feature heavily in the Operation ARES wrap-up episode we do with Marc in a few weeks.
I think we mostly agree, actually. I definitely agree that 2910 has concerns; I would agree with your suggestion that they were part of his being programmed to be human. (The HORARS desire to die rather than surrender—even with the possibility of humane treatment being raised—perhaps speaks to their knowledge of their ultimate fate?) I can't quite imagine people trying to integrate HORARS into society; surely it is partly to avoid things like that they use HORARS at all! And "he can recognize the weak flickering soul in his other HORARS" is a very fine formulation indeed.
Personally I experienced the propaganda at the end as bitter irony, but I can definitely see why it would disappoint.
Thanks as always for the discussion.
You have both covered quite a bit in this excellent back and forth on the HORARS of War so I'll just defend my little hill for a moment. For posterity I'll state that I'm rarely willing to die on any of these interpretive hills. I get a lot out of opening up the discourse around these stories. I'm astonished by how much Wolfe is able to pack into his short stories.
I suppose my questioning about what happens to HORARS when they are released from duty was rooted in the fact that this is a question that soldiers have had to face since at least the Viet Nam war, but is an American issue that goes as far back as the Civil War. (This is a weak argument for the HORARS being concerned about reintegrating back into society somehow rather than being scrapped, but, as someone who likes to read with a hermeneutic posture, I sometimes bring up what the text brought out of me. Hopefully it has some textual backing).
I think it I can build a stronger case around 2910's concerns about the matter. He is anxious to turn in his letter to his counterpart so that he can go home. If he is a HORAR who believes he is a human, then I think the following have to be the case: Either HORARS have this type of concern as part of their being programmed to be "historical" beings rather than "rational" beings, OR 2910 has developed this as part of his being ensouled. Perhaps 2910 is a robot who has been ensouled, and because that is the case he can recognize the weak flickering soul in his other HORARS. Perhaps reading it this way, 2910 is making some king of meaningful sacrifice. The issue is that Wolfe undermines the meaning of all of this by ending the story with the scrap of propaganda, rather than having HORARS in another base tell the story of 2910 while their digging ditches or something of that nature.
But the optimist in me thinks that these HORARS will be decommissioned from infantry work and go build cars or something in Detroit when they get home.
Sorry for the unfocused ramble. I've had a few crazy days.
Glenn, it's been enormously fun catching up, reading or rereading (some of both) all these stories & listening. It's been my main leisure time activity for more than a week, and I've thoroughly enjoyed it. It's going to be hard to go down to a ration of one every two weeks! And while I have no doubt you'll get better — we all do, with practice, in just about everything — I want to reiterate, again, how splendidly I think you're doing so far.
You're right that 2910's lack of physical capacity is unexplained by my reading. I had been thinking that perhaps his *thinking* of himself as human hindered him somewhat, either by making him think he had limits that he didn't really have, or making his fear hold him back, etc, but perhaps that's forced.
As for the violent Christ figure: I do see your point. On the other hand, Wolfe made a *torturer* (who does his fair share of slaying, too) a Christ figure in his most famous work, so that hardly seems dispositive. My sense (which is weak & could be wrong) is that Wolfe's theological ideas are unusual: he talks in THE CASTLE OF THE OTTER about how the only thing Jesus is specifically said to have made is a whip, how He knew the pain of torturing as well as being tortured, etc. And Wolfe has been emphatic in places about both his defense of the morality of violence (see, e.g., his reaction to 9/11) and, theologically speaking, in his defense of pain. All of which is to say that that aspect fits into a larger pattern, one of which is part of the interesting & unusual nature of Wolfe's work (disagree though I do).
Looking forward to both "Eyebem" and "Sonya, Crane Wessleman and Kittee" — neither of which I've read before IMS. (And "Eyebem" is *also* on KSR's list, for whatever that's worth.) Many thanks, again, for your hard work & your podcast & your engagement.
Stephen, you make more than a few excellent points about this story, and I've been really looking forward to them precisely because I felt like I didn't enjoy this story as much as most readers do. First, I'll say that I was harsher on the podcast than I really meant to be, in part because I had seen KSR's assessment of the story and in part because I was interested in seeing something of GW's own wartime experiences here, and so I had really high expectations.
I don't disagree that 2910 is a HORAR who thinks he's a human. I think that has to be true if the story is going to be about what it means to be "human" or to possess a soul or to have a relationship with God -- and that's definitely a story that Wolfe likes to tell. But I do think that Wolfe also wants it to be ambiguous, and we get two pieces of evidence that are external to 2910's experience that suggest that he might really be a human: 2910's sergeant comments that 2910 is less physically capable than the other members of his unit; and the epilogue (though I like your explanation for that, and that perhaps cleans up the story for me quite a bit). And I don't know a Wolfe reader who doesn't love these puzzles -- it's a draw for most of us, me included -- but this is a case where I think the puzzle gets in the way of the story's theme rather than highlighting or emphasizing it. This is one case (maybe the only case) where I wish Wolfe had been explicit about his protagonist's identity.
That's a very interesting reading of 2910 as a Christ figure. I'll have to give that one some more thought. Something that immediately jumps out to me is 2910's own violence, in particular his murder of Brenner -- this gets in the way a little bit for me. But we are also seeing something similar in Operation Ares where someone who has clear resonances of Christ does not mind doing violence to other people. We haven't talked much about that yet, and may not until we wrap up the novel (with Aramini!), but I think you've found an interesting parallel here, and I suspect we'll revisit this point. So thank you for raising it.
I think you are right about the HORARS being scrapped. I never liked Brandon's reading of that passage, and perhaps I should have challenged him about it on the air. But I'll look forward to hearing his defense for it here on the forum instead (which is half the fun).
And, gosh, we really just left the pun sitting there without comment, didn't we? We'll get better.
You've caught up very fast, especially given that you've been reading along. "Eyebem" will be out next Tuesday, and I think this is one that we both really loved. There are more questions about what it means to be a human and some clear precursors to The Book of the Long Sun. After that is "Sonya, Crane Wessleman, and Kittee," which is one of the rare Wolfe stories with quite a bit of political ideology. I'm eager for your comments on both of them.
(PS: I did listen to your episode on "The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories" too, and loved it (it's long been one of my very favorite Wolfe stories as well), but didn't have much to add.)