Apr 13

V.R.T My few observations part-iii


I just went through episodes 61-64 in a space of two days, and really loved all the observations and discussions you guys have made.


Following are few tidbits of my observations


When the fighting was over, the military commander here to our good fortune made a decision which proved to have great consequences. Perhaps I should say he made two. First he decreed that every conquered Frenchman and French woman was subject to compulsory labor to rebuild installations destroyed by war - but he allowed those who could raise money to purchase exemptions.
They were never wholly stripped of authority, and now they are an influential element once more in life of our world. At the same time they were regaining lost ground it became customary to increase the number of unremunerated workers from other sources, principally criminals and orphaned children.
No, I must have been telling you that on saint Croix some men are free- in fact, most men are free. While on Saint Anne and, for that matter, Earth, most are slaves.


Although you guys have gone in great lengths regarding the discussion of slavery, I am just amazed like how dissimilar the culture of both planets have gone on to develop, under the same colonizing force.


Saint Anne although it is not an ideal culture, seems a bit better than Saint Croix, which seems to me like a complete corrupt society, where slavery and money are means of power.


And what does Constant mean when he says that most men on Saint Croix are free ?


I think what Constant may be referring to the fact that although a man has a job on Earth,, and means of living, but at the end of the day he has an authority above him, to whom he reports to, and who is ultimately responsible for his pay.


May be Wolfe may be referring to Forlesen short story where in he shows us the meaningless everyday corporate life.




I read Phantom comics when I was young, and he always referred to as Ghost who walks in the comics, because everybody thought that he could not be killed, but the secret is that their were generations of people playing the role of Phantom, could something similar be happening with Constant ?


Unfortunately I lost the tapes while I was in the field.
At Roncevaux I had the opportunity to catch up on the literature of my profession.



All the tapes which the officer has gone through so far, have they been doctored by V.R.T ? Because V.R.T is quite capable of imitating someone's voice.


Also all the facts he writes about Dollo's law just seem like something written by a bookish experience, rather than an experienced anthropologist.


Roncevaux they are convinced that the free people are extinct.
The ab original culture was, and is, dendritic.

I think we should entertain the possibility that the abos as a species may could have gone extinct after they came in contact with the humans.


And although they may still exist among us by imitating the human form, but as a species they must have surely gone extinct, and those living among the humans just can't remember how they existed previously or how to reconnect with ones existing in the back of the beyond.


I think you guys did an excellent job when you analyzed the word dendritic, it means that abos and the trees are heavily linked, but even in A Story, we do not get how exactly this species reproduce, and there seems to be some involvement of trees in it.


Cassilla's saliva had streaked his body; now he felt pleasure in removing it.

This kind of other worldly experience took place in A Story, when Sandwalker is given a small part of drug by the shadow child, immediately he feels


Every part of him had vanished, so that he saw without eyes and felt without skin, hanging, a naked worm of consciousness amid blazing glories.

Could the above two experiences be linked with each other ?


I have the same ability, though not to the extent she did; but I chose to cover everything with this beard instead, because I was afraid of it - frightened of myself.
I thought, then, that my mother was somehow in my cell with me, for I saw her eyes in the dark.
How could my mother have taught me to become a man? She knew nothing.She tried to teach me all I would need to know to live where I was not living and am not living now. How am I to know what there was of this place and that place I did not learn?

And now we have a VRT who is an human, abo hybrid he has neither skills to survive as a human, and neither can he keep living as an abo is the back of the beyond, because either he can't find any abo like him or maybe they exist in such a form, that is not possible to interact with them.


In human society he must be despised as he is an hybrid, because any such children which are born from colonizers and existing culture are always considered an abomination in any society, because a colonizing force is always considered as evil by the aborigine culture, and children born from such are always considered as abomination.


But in this case it is not the abos who despise Victor, but basically the French colonists, so may due to this he calls the abos the Free people, because their society does not have boundaries like the human society, where each one is identified as per his race/region/religion.


Also VRT idol worships his mother as she is an abo, and from the instances which he recalls she has been kind to him, so clearly his motivation for coming to Saint Croix is to find his mother, because he searches for her in the back of the beyond for a period of three years.

You went on quite a binge! As we draw nearer to the end of the book it's getting harder and harder to comment on your observations without tipping my hand too soon, but I'm really excited for your thoughts on our conclusions and solutions.

Apr 13

Sumant Nankar: "Also VRT idol worships his mother as she is an abo, and from the instances which he recalls she has been kind to him, so clearly his motivation for coming to Saint Croix is to find his mother, because he searches for her in the back of the beyond for a period of three years." That would indeed give him a motive to travel to St. Croix (in addition to the possibility of obtaining a position at the University). As we are told that VRT"s father had apparently prostituted his mother, a fact which VRT probably knew, it could give other reasons than the carnal for why he was spending so much time at the Maisson de Chien - he could have been trying to find his mother among the prostitutes. As Casilla, the apparently Abo slave whom the unnamed officer is using sexually, is described in an identical manner (her face appearing older after sex), it is at least possible that Casilla could be VRT's mother, which would be pretty tragic - the officer listening to the tapes of the interrogation of VRT while having sex with his mother. This is yet another parallel between the Maitre of the first novella, an unnamed intelligence asset who is essentially a glorified pimp, with the Maitre of the third novella - an unnamed officer who is using a prostituted slave sexually.

I like this idea about searching for his mother in brothels -- not just the Maison du Chien, but also the brothel in Roncevaux. And perhaps this is what he means when he says there was some reason to believe she had gone to St. Croix -- another prostitute told him that.

I think the last few pages, give us a definite answer regarding where VRT's mother is, and it's really tragic.

@Sumant Natkar It is. He's achieved his quest but doesn't even know it, and in any case it's not at all what he hoped for.

New Posts
  • 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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