I loved this story. The craftsmanship on display in introducing a third story type and having them all mesh is just wonderful. It really highlights what a next level master Gene Wolfe was and makes me incredulous that he isn’t more widely known. I think that is mostly due to his fiction being too complex to be adapted into film and tv which Would have increased his audience.
Your long discussion about St. Croix government in the second sections recap and discussion was great. You talked a lot about Vichy France but there are many other examples of this kind of government. From Sulla’s proscribed lists in Rome, the second triumvirate, the England of Shakespeare and Marlowe and East Germany in the time this story was written. The combination of a minority, for political religious or other reasons, government that is distrustful of its population and a perceived weakness in foreign affairs is a combo that leads to this. There is no evidence that the government of St. Anne is also a military junta or threatening St. Croix in anyway. The statements about St. Anne are all made by government officials of St. Croix and are unreliable. They need St. Anne to be an enemy to justify their actions. All we see of St. Anne is the edge of a colony towns, never the main city. The fact that the military is also the customs authority is common in many countries here on Earth.
I appreciated that the ballistic table in the back of the field guide was the main excuse used to detain the prisoner. The fact that it was old doesn’t matter. It also is set for a different planet, a particular weapon with a specific loading and is therefore useless for what Constant claims the prisoner was going to use it for also doesn’t matter. Why V.R.T. brought the field guide with him is kind of odd though, given the weight penalty for space travel. That Wolfe adds these types of details and uses them correctly is one of the things that makes reading his stories so enjoyable.
Is there a race of shape shifting pastoral beings living a natural existence on an alien planet? Your discussion convinced me no, but I want it to be true.
I can’t remember on which podcast that you mentioned wanting a happier ending. It seems to me that the 70’s science fiction market didn’t want a happy ending. Most every sci fi movie between 2001 A Space OdySpey and Star Wars are pretty bleak. Dystopian worlds with environmental disasters and tyranny in government was the order of the day.