Forum Posts

Eric Hale
Apr 24, 2022
In Neil Gaiman
Before I get into this, I thought the aspiring writers on the forum might enjoy Terry Pratchett’s essay about being on book tour “Advice to Booksellers”: https://boingboing.net/2015/03/18/terry-pratchetts-advice-to-b.html I am a HUGE Terry Pratchett fan, so I was glad to see this! Thoughts: It’s not in this book but when Glenn finds out about L-space I think he will lose his mind. I’ve read all of Terry Pratchett’s novels and not every novel is for everyone. I can’t see anyone who isn’t at least familiar with the Lloyd-Weber version of Phantom of the Opera liking Masquerade and I will not be rereading any of the novels featuring Rincewind and the Luggage. [Note to Brent: your niece might like Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books.] The lack of plot in the first part of the book doesn’t bother me at all. Like many of the other Diskworld fans I know, I’m happy reading for the humor and the character interactions. As for the elves arriving late in the book, two things: First, there is a build up to their arrival. It’s a slow burn, I’ll give you that. However, it’s not like the plot kicks into gear out of nowhere. Second, the Elves are so OP that I’m not sure how much more of them would have served the story. As an aside, with their mind control and casual sadism I found that they now make me think of Kilgrave from season 1 of Jessica Jones. That being said, I have no idea if David Tennant has ever read this book or not. The Diskworld books are, in part, parodies of fantasy tropes, so it makes sense that the elves, without their glamour, are small, ugly and vicious. Beyond the parody, Pratchett is very good at weaving in elements from other books. The part about Nanny Ogg surrounding Diamanda with iron and then Magrat taking the iron away is lifted from Dracula. There’s a pretty funny sendup of the St. Crispin's Day speech from Henry V. And, while it’s not from a specific book, the image of the world being held up by elephants on the back of a turtle predates Diskworld by quite a long time. The Diskworld novel about how a god’s power is proportional to the amount if belief it has is called “Small Gods”, which, coincidentally is the novel in the series the precedes this one. I’ve always seen Granny as older than Nanny, but in a 70 vs. 50 kind of way. However, maybe that’s just me. Terry Pratchett has said that Nanny is the most powerful of the witches, but that she makes sure other people don’t find this out. You mentioned how a novel centered on older characters is rare in fantasy, which is true. However, even rarer is that all the major battles in this book are between women. The men are secondary. Diamanda rants about Granny changing the rules, but they were always playing by different rules. And, while Nanny is better at it, Granny is pretty darn good at manipulating people. She calls this “headology”. Re the discussion of the early rising manager, I’ve worked in technology since the 80s and no one ever cared what time I came in. However, they for damn sure noticed when people left work. The net effect was that work started pretty late up into the early aughts. Finally, a thing that I adore about Terry Pratchett is that he trusted his readers. He didn’t over explain, he just put the work out there and assumed we could figure it out. That’s part of why the jokes work so well and why he would write a “how magic works” section that’s separated by 14 pages.
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Eric Hale
Apr 13, 2022
In Elder Sign
I know this podcast was a long time ago, but I'm relatively new to Claytemple media, so working through the back catalogue on an "as can" basis. Thoughts: Some of the themes you discussed reminded me very much of Sweeney Todd. However, when I checked the dates, that story came out several years after this one. I was not able to find out if this story was an influence on Sweeney Todd, but I would not be surprised if it were. I liked that you called out that the rule of physics are different in this world. I had never thought of it before, but yeah. If the head was severed from the body, how did it land so as to look attached. Not to put too fine a point on it, a razor is a fairly fragile blade and no one that could sever a head from a body using a razor without a lot of careful work. This story was published in 1841, when both the memory of the French revolutions loomed large and the Hungry 40s were just starting. It's an interesting time to make a fallen aristocrat a focus of the story. My take on the presentation of the orangutan was very different than yours. Apes have been used as racist symbols for a long time. (King Kong, anyone?) I read the story's take as "Damn shame they took it out of the jungle, shouldn't have happened, but now that it's here we have to keep it in a cage. " Because Poe down played parts of his background, people forget that he spent a considerable part of his childhood in Virginia. He grew up around slaves and the aristocratic mindset that was prevalent in the antebellum South. I see a lot of these attitudes in this story. My degree is in computer science, and we distinguish between conceptual complexity and combinatoric (or combinatorial) complexity. Poe seems to be trying to make that distinction. However, he sort of anticipated the way modern AI works. To oversimplify massively, collect a massive database and have an algorithm look for patterns. FWIW: This read as a parody of reason to me. I didn't get a moment of Poe taking Dupin seriously.
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Eric Hale
Apr 08, 2022
In Elder Sign
I got kind of burned out on this kind of story in the late 90s and early aughts. So, I was kind of surprised by how much I enjoyed the recap and discussion! Thoughts: When this story was written, I’m sure that I would have thought of it as a kind of vampire story. There’s a penetration – less symbolic than the vampire’s bite – that corrupts the body and promises eternal life. Also, it may not have been intentional, but Dracula also had 3 sexy vampire ladies to whom he was abusive. Speaking of eternal life, Daniel tells Bess that the Philosopher’s Stone would have made both of them immortal. He may have been lying, but that does imply that she would not have necessarily had to die to deliver the stone. I’m not sure what that means for the last line of the story – maybe as she got deeper into his confidence, he told her the truth. At the end of the story Saskia is carrying the stone, which means that Bess could get her cancer treated without hurting the project. She’s choosing to die – maybe in competition with Saskia? I have no idea. It’s in the text that Saskia has massive damage to her ovaries, but Daniel’s magic, cancer inducing sperm works without eggs. Hence his specific mention of the womb. While inducing cancer does not require eggs, I felt there was an echo on the traditional belief that the man is the seed and the woman is merely the ground in which the seed grows. That fits with Daniel's dismissive attitude to the women. Finally, did Bess’ pebble really create gold, or did Daniel fake it? It would not be a difficult trick, especially since Bess was motivated to believe. While I accept that Daniel was a true believer, he would not be the first fanatic to fake evidence.
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Eric Hale
Mar 30, 2022
In Gene Wolfe
Given how many times you've talked about Gene Wolfe's love of puns, this omission stunned me: In your discussion of Peace chapter 3 you had a protracted discussion about Julius Smart and oranges, but never once mentioned the "Orange Julius".
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Eric Hale
Mar 22, 2022
In Star Trek
First of all, I am so sorry that this podcast is ending. It's been a fun ride. I'm old enough to have watched this episode when it premiered. (I was 11) I don't know how to explain how different the attitude about America was before the 70s, and especially before Watergate, but seriously - we saw ourselves as the good guys in every story. I think anyone watching this would have been Team Kirk all the way. That made an ending where the Federation were not morally superior hit harder, I think. Re the racial coding: I think they did what was easy. It made the Klingons visually distinct, although in my memory they were more generically "not white people" than Chinese. Also, in my memory the Klingons read as unambiguously Russian. Given that we were living in the era of The Truman Doctrine at the time, less formally known as "Containment", Kor's rant did not read Japanese at all. We were literally constraining Communist regimes. However, Kirk's comments about invading our territory could be read as talking about the Japanese, especially if one were thinking about the Philippines rather than Pearl Harbor.
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Eric Hale
Feb 26, 2022
In Elder Sign
As a huge David Drake fan, thanks so much for this episode! I remember reading old Nathan when it came out. As a native of western North Carolina, some of the elements of the story were familiar to me. However, the attempt at dialect – less so. On David Drake’s website he says that he always thought of the book as an episodic novel, but the fact that he wrote two of the stories years before the rest probably contributes to the fact that the book doesn’t feel as coherent as it might. I’ll respect your desire not to spoil the ending, but that does constrain what I can say. This book is well worth the read, and is so different from the Hammer’s Slammers and Lord of the Isles series for which he is better known. Manley Wade Wellman was an inspiration for this book. I hope there can be a future episode on one of his stories. Looking forward to the ATOZ episode on Lord of the Isles!
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Eric Hale
Feb 11, 2022
In Elder Sign
I have read almost no Rudyard Kipling. Being in an integrated school in the South shortly after the civil rights era, they weren't keen to teach a roughly 40% African American student body about the author of "The White Man's Burden". However, I read the story this evening and it was fine. A couple of things: Fairies traditionally don't get on well with iron. So, Puck may have been correct to not call an iron worker a fairy. Semi-related, given the 19th century European and American fetish surrounding swords, I wonder if Kipling was using Weyland to evoke the (historical, but kind of exaggerated) Ulfberht sword. I'm curious what kind of statement Kipling was making about the church. I find it hard to believe that a monk of that period would exhort a farmer to thank a pagan god, or that if pagan artifacts were dropped of at a church that they would put them on the altar. Very odd.
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Eric Hale
Feb 08, 2022
In Elder Sign
Another good episode! (The “Read Poe!” story was adorable) A few thoughts: I’ve always kind of assumed that Louis XVI was the model for Prospero, but that’s mostly because he was not far removed from Poe’s time. However, Henry VIII would work as a model for an older version. The interesting thing about both of them is that they were second sons. If Prospero became king because the Red Death killed his older brother instead of his father, that would go a long way to explaining why he was so freaked out and why he was so ill prepared to be king. In the early months of the Covid pandemic, cities were overwhelmed while rural areas were largely untouched – and that’s with 21st century transportation. So, I don’t believe that the 50% number tells us much. It could easily be that 90% of the people in cities were dead. I’m including a link that tells the story of Eyam, England, because it describes how they were able to get food even though they were in quarantine. If you don’t know the story it’s the mirror image of this story. In 1665, the Bubonic Plague came to Eyam. This villagers isolated themselves to protect the neighboring villages. Many of them died, but the plague did not spread. FWIW: I know someone who grew up about 10 miles outside of Eyam – this is not an Internet hoax. https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/652711/eyam-england-bubonic-plague-village I don’t think we can say whether children were in the castle or not. They could have easily been in a different part of the castle being attended by wet nurses, nannies, tutors, etc. Or they could have been left at home. Modern rich people do both. Re the number of people in the castle: I find it hard to believe that people of this class would travel without servants. At a bare minimum there would be one attendant for every man and woman, and probably more. So, 1000 revelers implies, at the very least, 3000 people, and then there are the servants of the castle, entertainers, possible children, etc. I’m thinking it is more like 4000-5000 people. Louis Pasteur was just beginning his experiments in the 1840s. There’s no way Poe would have known about the germ theory of disease, but, as you said, it really doesn’t matter for the story. That being said, people of the time were working out how disease spread even if they didn’t understand why.
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Eric Hale
Jan 25, 2022
In Elder Sign
The only George R.R. Martin I was really familiar with is Game of Thrones, which is not to my taste. So, I've never read anything else of his. This convinced me that I should give him a second chance. One minor quibble, but only because the distinction mattered to this discussion: sentience is the ability to sense or feel your surroundings. A lobster is sentient. Self-aware intelligence is sapience.
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Eric Hale
Jan 21, 2022
In Atoz
Another good episode! Thank you for talking about Dulce et Decorum Est. It was perfect for this episode. Other thoughts: I thought John's father's rant was more Malthusian then Hobbesian, since he seemed to be portraying giving aid to social inferiors as a social, if not moral, evil. Heinlein has always been comfortable with large scale murder. Think Stranger in a Strange Land where the Hippie sex cult starts disappearing everyone they don’t like or The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, where a massive bombardment of the Earth is literally described as orgasmic. The idea that only soldiers are willing to die for their country is just wrong. Lots of civilians have always put their lives on the line. Just one example is the spectacularly bad-ass Virginia Hall who was a spy in France during WW2. Regarding the comment about whether dying for your country is the highest virtue, I’m reminded of the old Flannery O’Conner quote that it’s easier to bleed than to sweat. I agree that the conflation of science and truth is a problem, and that many truths cannot be scientific. (The first president of the US was George Washington. That’s a historical truth, not a scientific one.) One area where I do have to cut Heinlein some slack is on the justice system. He was living in a world where corporal punishment by parents and in schools was the norm, as I know from personal experience. I remember seeing chain gangs working as a kid in the 60s and I doubt that a flogging was worse than the beatings I saw guards give prisoners sometimes. So, he legitimately may not have seen flogging as cruel and unusual punishment. Fun fact: The Doc Savage novels, written not long before this, present non-consensual brain surgery, to remove their criminal tendencies, as a humane way to rehabilitate convicts.
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Eric Hale
Jan 17, 2022
In Atoz
Good episode guys! There were places where I was screaming at my phone, but you frequently looped back and made the points that I would have made. If it’s not clear, me screaming is good – it means you were making me think. Nice, thought provoking episode. A few things: First, there are a number of speculations that the original formulation of the “pursuit of happiness” was the pursuit of property or the right to hold property. There were a number of these. It seems probable that the founding fathers down played the right of holding property for the more vague “happiness”. This may have been to preserve the right to tax wealth, but we go into historical speculation at this point. It’s also worth pointing out that John Locke said that the main purpose of government is to protect those natural rights that the individual cannot effectively protect in a state of nature. Phrased differently, protect the property of the rich from those that aren’t. I was disappointed that you didn't mention the “freedom from” versus “freedom to” distinction. Heinlein is well known as a Libertarian, so his book is almost entirely about freedom from government intervention. It doesn't deal with freedom to be Black, freedom to be gay, freedom to be a woman, pick your favorite freedom. While Johnny Rico is frequently mentioned as an anti racist character, it's worth remembering that his proper first name was Juan. In a 1950s idea of the American melting pot, he anglicized the name. I'm not blaming for Heinlein for this, he was a man of his time. However, it's worth noting that modern ideas of racial tolerance were not part of his world. Another thing that you alluded to was that restricting citizenship to those who had been involved in the military restricted it to a specific group of people. I'm less bothered by that because we have a de facto equivalent now - it's extremely hard to get into public office without a college degree. That being said, Heinlein's description implies that you can't get into public office unless they can verify that you've been properly indoctrinated. I find that is extremely disturbing. It’s not a Herrenvolk democracy, but it kind of is. (Kind of related, but Orson Scott Card said that he thought only Mormons should have civil rights and that this is not bigoted because anyone can choose to be a Mormon.) Thanks again for a very interesting episode. I am very glad to have found this forum.
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Eric Hale
Jan 12, 2022
In Atoz
Let's accept that Robert Heinlein's politics were all over the place, starting left-leaning and getting more conservative over time. (The irony of the Libertarian who popularized TANSTAAFL having depended on his government pension has been noted by many people.) Perhaps you will get to this in the upcoming episodes, but reading Starship Troopers without mentioning the Nazi concept of Lebensraum or Carl Schmitt's friend/enemy distinction seems like it's missing the point of why this book was considered so controversial. You did lightly touch on the point that Heinlein, like modern zombie movies, creates a kind of war without PTSD, because the enemy doesn't matter. Traditionally, the officer/enlisted distinction was supposed to keep the officers from developing attachments to the soldiers, so that they would not hesitate to send the men into battle. Since Heinlein was making the point that the humans cared about their soldiers, I wonder if that's why he had the officers all being former enlisted personnel. FWIW: I knew Orson Scott Card back in the 1980s, back before he decided that if you weren't Mormon you weren't human. Ender's Game was, in part, a commentary on the abuse of child soldiers. It just seemed worth mentioning in this context.
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Eric Hale
Jan 08, 2022
In Atoz
Regarding your discussion of the Foundation TV show: any book as old as Foundation will have a number of problematic ideas. There were a number of places where I think the show made bad decisions because it was struggling with how to adapt these for a modern mass audience. To keep this post to a manageable length, I will limit myself to two of them. First, empire and colonization were not considered bad things at the time Asimov was writing these stories. In fact, countries in Europe were still bragging about their colonies, and England would still talk about things like “civilizing India”. For anyone who thinks that Americans didn't have these attitudes I would recommend Daniel Immerwhar’s excellent book “How to Hide an Empire”. Second, Asimov wrote these stories before chaos theory as we understand it had been developed. So, the idea that one could statistically predict the future of a society would not have seemed strange to people at the time. Actually, Asimov kind of threaded the needle of popular ideas by positing that one could predict the future of a society statistically and still leave the free will of an individual intact. However, in a world where movies such as Jurassic Park popularized chaos theory, and shows such as Star Trek TNG popularized Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, presenting Psychohistory as it’s shown in the books would ring false now.
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Eric Hale
Dec 07, 2021
In Gene Wolfe
I'm new to the forums and to your content, so, if this is too old a story to be commenting on, I do apologize. That being said, I found the actions in the story to be totally consistent with a corporation trying to create a civilian market for a military product, The most obvious thing for them to do would be to try to humanize their superhuman killing machines. I'm also old enough to remember the Vietnam era and to remember how much we dehumanized the soldiers then. So, for me, this resonates on another level. I had never heard of this story. Thanks for introducing me to it. Eric
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Eric Hale
Dec 03, 2021
In Elder Sign
In your discussion of Howard's "Queen of the Black Coast" I was surprised that you didn't mention geographical determinism, also know as environmental determinism. The belief that the climate and terrain determine the character of a people goes back to Classical times and persists to the present day in figures such as Jared Diamond. Geographical determinism was a significant justification for the racist attitudes of the colonial period and Howard would have been well aware of this.
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Eric Hale
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