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Joe Beck
Feb 20, 2021
In Elder Sign
I've greatly enjoyed your coverage of some of the work of one of my favorite authors, Roger Zelazny, and this is possibly my favorite of his stories. I have to correct Brandon on one point: the text does not give Beta a gender until the final sentence. Zelazny is quite clever at avoiding gendered pronouns for any of the machines save Frost and Mordel. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that he even attempted to keep the two of them neuter, but found it unsustainable, so he added the bit about Solcom giving Frost "a name and personal pronoun." I'm curious as to whether most first-time readers interpret Beta as female throughout - it's been over thirty years since I first read the story, but I recall being delightfully surprised by that part of the ending. I also disagree with the theory that Solcom and Divcom were created by opposing powers, because it's essential to their their conflict that they were originally part of the same "chain of command." Their dispute is essentially fallacious, as Frost perceives once he becomes human. The idea of, say, the America vs. Soviet conflict extending past the death of the species would certainly be ironic, and there are still shades of it amongst the Jobean dispute of the machines. But my interpretation is that the causus belli between the Powers is their human creators' failure to think through their contingency planning. Stories built around genuine, hard-won hope always seem to touch me most deeply, and this rereading has made me certain that this story helped wire me that way. Now to listen to "The Mary Ellen Carter" with a tear in my eye. Thanks!

Joe Beck

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