What struck me most about these four (excellent, enjoyable & insightful) was once again both the incredible benefits and limitations of your method. Going through the novels (and it's really only an issue with the novels, since the short stories are, well, short) as if you've never read them before — and I can't quite tell how much of this is a pose and how much it's real; I recall Glenn saying that this novel as a whole made him a Gene Wolfe fan (and not just a BotNS fan), while Brandon has said he is reading this for the first time, but are you really, Brandon? Or are you being a Wolfish trickster? — does a lot for you. Being exposed at such detail — 2 hours of conversation per section, give or take — not only really draws our attention to the details in each section, but to how much has been clarified yet. In this sense, the misguided speculations are fascinating, since they show how an ideal first-time reader would encounter the text, and really highlights what has been hinted at and what hasn't (more on this in a moment).
At the same time, this limits you to spending most of your airtime on a first reading, looking at insights gained in a rereading only in the wrap-up episodes — that is, holistically, and not slowly through the text. Which, given how much Wolfe writes for rereaders, is in fact a serious limitation.
Now mostly I am delighted to play this game. This is my third reading of the novel as a whole (I've read the opening novella more often than that), but it's been long enough that I don't recall the details. In my last comment, for example, I made a big deal out of the fact that the tools on St. Croix couldn't be Abo* in origin, given the manual-dexterity issue — having forgotten, of course, that their origin is explained in the third section (by your division), since the beggar made them. Which is to say, for the most part my memory is fuzzy enough on the details that I fall into the same traps with you.
But I do remember the big stuff. And that makes it hard, on the largest issues, not to feel slightly frustrated, or at least bemused, by your going over and over mysteries that are fairly clearly explained. (I'm about to do SPOILERS for anyone else who is reading for the first time, but since I'm behind, and you, Glenn & Brandon, are way ahead of me, I'm going to go ahead with them.) Basically, the fact that VRT has replaced Marsch is being danced around a lot in these episodes. (I know there is some question about that — that Marc Aramini argues that it is a shadow child, not VRT, who replaces Marsch — but even Aramini thinks that this is supposed to be our first conclusion, i.e. that we are supposed to think so at first, so there are readings of the text which support it, whether or not they're the final readings).
Now, on the one hand, this is fun, since you are finding so much early evidence that things are not as they seem, and even that VRT might have replaced Marsch — more evidence early on than I would have guessed there was. On the other hand, you seem to be beating about the bush to avoid coming to that conclusion, possibly so as not to spoil the effect of the pretense that you haven't read this before.
All of which is fine for Fifth Head, since you've already recorded it, and I am really loving the podcast. But let me repeat an earlier suggestion that you consider — for Peace, say — doing two episodes per section, not divided as a recap/discussion, but as a first read/reread. I can understand why you wouldn't want to — some of your audience couldn't listen to half the episodes right away — but it would have so many benefits it's worth considering. (I am thinking in particular ahead to the Book of the New Sun, where more people will have read the books, and there is all the more to see on rereading.)
Oh, and a more minor point: in the future, maybe in addition to saying what page you're reading up to, you could say something like, "stopping with the paragraph that ends: [quote]", or something? To make it easier for those of us reading along in another edition? That shouldn't usually be too big a spoiler!
Apart from those broad thoughts, I have only a few scattered specific things to say about these four episodes:
• You discuss the boy (VRT)'s name for the abos, "the free people". Now I think that that is a translation for something that a lot of different groups may have called themselves. But the English phrase evokes, for me, Kipling: in the Jungle Book, the wolf pack that Mowgli joins calls themselves "the free people" (or maybe it's the term for all wolves — I forget). Given particularly the presence of wolves (Wolfes) in this story, this seems a likely reference to me.
• You discuss Marsch (VRT)'s claim that he is a child and an animal (although this is a case where acknowledging the later switch would have been particularly fruitful). But you don't dwell on his (quick) claim that he is also, in some sense, feeble-minded, a person of importance, rich and a friend to people of importance. It seems like these, too, will be true in some sense, Wolfe being Wolfe.
• You properly connect the judicial system to the Prisoner, Kafka and Brazil. But I would have talked more about how damn funny it is. It makes me faint (and my wife reach for weapons), it does.
• I loved Glenn's points that A) this could simply be the legal system (that the rich are let off) — we don't know, it is an alien culture, and there have been societies that do this explicitly) and, in a later episode, B) that the difference in Number 5 and VRT's experiences could easily be their citizenship/wealth status;
• I loved Brandon's recall of the point from the Operation ARES Aramini wrap up: Wolfe believes that redemption is for everyone. (I might add: damnation, too.) Worth bearing in mind throughout!
Great work, as always. I will continue to catch up as fast as I am able!
* I probably should call them "Annellise" or "the free people", but Abo is so much shorter, and easier to spell, and given that it is a fictional not real people I am offending, I will allow myself the shorthand.