Mar 31

V.R.T - My few observations Part II


Edited: Mar 31

I haven't gone through the latest two podcast by you guys, but I have just completed reading unto the point.


But this section is packed so much with content that I am just going to pen my thoughts.


1. Cultural difference between Saint Anne & Croix.

From the text we can safely assume that that these twin planets were colonized by French at the same time, and that's why they are refereed to as the sister planets.


Also Marsch observes in one of his notes that the first colonization(probable French) helped developed the human like form of Abos in the first place, and this was the conclusion we can draw from A Story too. But that's where the similarities stop.


From the questioning's of Marsch we come to know that Saint Croix has a sham of justice system, the state thinks that it is god, and whatever it does serves the truth, so anyone it suspects must be guilty of done something wrong.


Also there is no concept of prisoner rights in this society, even answering basic questions of a prisoner is considered as endorsement that the prisoner may not be guilty. It's really a weird system.


Also keeping slaves in the society has been a law of sort passed by government itself, and exclusively during early times they had french slaves, but the rich french can buy themselves a ticket out of this system, it's a complete form of corrupt government.


We don't have any inferences from the text as to how Saint Anne is governed, but nonetheless it's also worse here, because any English speaking person can and have sieged the property of French speaking natives. The only positive here is that they don't have any slave system in that society, and the French and English seem to be co-existing.


2. The war.

Now we surely know from the text that a war was fought between the French & English speaking people, and on both the planets, and the English speaking people have emerged victors in it, but in this section we also get a reference that again we have a war going on between Saint Anne & Croix.


Now why the first war was fought, has been so far a mystery to us, and we conclude that Wolfe does not agree with Star Trek vision of federation of planets, but his vision is somewhat similar to Operation Ares, where we have militarily ruled dictator nations on Earth, who developed technology to travel far and beyond.


Now regarding the second war, we also don't have much of clue as to why it is being fought.


3. The Abos.

Now from the text we can conclude that their were multiple species of abos present on Saint Anne, the species we know are

  • Hill people

  • Meadow mere

  • Shadow children

  • Trees

These are just some of the species which we have come across so far in the text, out of that Hill people and Meadow mere people surely had same anatomy like humans.


The trees are a complete mystery because we have encountered them just once in text when sandwalker comes across seven girls waiting residing at its root.


What if the shadow children are also abos but a corrupted form of them, where in they got so intoxicated by the drug, that they were not able to maintain their human form completely. The drug expanded their consciousness, but left them completely devoid of their abo powers to transform into human anatomical form, but due to vicinity with humans, their consciousness has also mixed with humans, which has led them to believe that they themselves are humans.


Also the bite of a shadow child transforms consciousness from one personality to other, what if Maitre's developed slaves which was a cross between Tree Abo and shadow child abo, which makes the demimondaines in cave canem so irresistible. May be Casilla is one of his few genetic failures which he sold to the Saint Croix military, this may explain the officer washing himself up at the end of the section.


The trees are really fascinating because in hill people culture not only are they revered but they are consider as to be gods themselves, which brings me to the temple site, which Marsch is shown by Trenchard, my observations are


1. The site is huge.

2. The trees are so evenly spaced to each other, it is as if by magic.

3. 127 Saint Anne years I think is really less period for development for such huge site, although it's Saint Anne atmospheric conditions may have changed.


The temple looks to be definitely an interesting site to me.


4. V.R.T. & Marsch

Again we have a dichotomy here, in one case we have a anthropologist whose technique of study to shoot it first, and we have Victor who has lived in nature most of his life, he has seen many magical things which he can't explain in words.


Although we haven't come to that part, but someone has died on the expedition which Marsch undertakes, also Marsch does not seem a type to me who will live for 3 years in mountains, also what rouses the suspicion further is that suddenly Marsch appears out of no where in Laon, stays their for a year, and tries to study more, and contact the university department of anthropology.


Marsch also sends a radiogram to Trenchard, informing him of his son's death, gains weight, and does his beard done by a specific barber.


At the end of section we have Marsch/V.R.T writing in prison without using his thumb, which seems a hard process for a human being.


5. Free people/hill people

This another interesting part of the story because V.R.T tells us that his ancestor was Eastwind, who we clearly know was a meadow mere abo, but he does not identify himself with meadow mere culture of Abos, who clearly searched the heavens for some sign.


Another fact is Eastwind was castrated by the meadow mere abos, then how did his genial line progress ? Again brings to the fore the question as to how the abos reproduce.


He identifies himself with the hill people whom he considers as free people, these species of abos believed that you don't need to look at the heavens to sign from god, but god can be found in nature.

Apr 1Edited: Apr 1

"What if the shadow children are also abos but a corrupted form of them, where in they got so intoxicated by the drug, that they were not able to maintain their human form completely. The drug expanded their consciousness, but left them completely devoid of their abo powers to transform into human anatomical form, but due to vicinity with humans, their consciousness has also mixed with humans, which has led them to believe that they themselves are humans." - This is a really interesting suggestion, Sumant. The same drugs that lead them to a group consciousness among themselves could also create a linked consciousness with the humans whose forms they initially took. The period when this was written was a peak era for drug experimentation, and I can't help but think that this was partly Wolfe's comment on it. Frank Herbert was also continuing the Dune series at this time, where a past jihad against computers and robots led humanity to use consciousness-expanding drugs to enable them to perform the computations and calculations that they no longer trusted machines to do - and which irrevocably warp their physical form. This trope could be a not-so-thinly veiled comment on the physical and mental changes that become obvious in hard-drug users.

"Again we have a dichotomy here, in one case we have a anthropologist whose technique of study to shoot it first, and we have Victor who has lived in nature most of his life." Although an anthropologist, Marsch seems like a throwback to the Victorian-era natural historians who seemed to spend much of their field work as an excuse for safari - shooting, stuffing and sending back to their favored museums samples of every anima; in a new land. I noticed that I pictured Marsch wearing a pith helmet while in the St. Anne outback. "This another interesting part of the story because V.R.T tells us that his ancestor was Eastwind, who we clearly know was a meadow mere abo, but he does not identify himself with meadow mere culture of Abos, who clearly searched the heavens for some sign." I think that was his father, the abusive elder Trenchard, and not the son who claimed to be descended from Eastwind. As Glenn and Brandon suggested, "A Story", if it was written by Marsch/VRT, could have been intended as a rejection of his father's claims and values - the great shaman Eastwind becomes the villain of the story and is a eunuch, and much else that his father claimed to Marsch is repudiated in "A Story".

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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. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12.
  • 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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