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The Mangler
In Elder Sign
For a Breath I Tarry
In Elder Sign
Karanthir
Mar 09, 2021
Wow, I loved this story. It felt so lively and engaging compared to Graveyard Heart, which I found turgid and uninteresting. Zelazny raised so many interesting philosphical questions about humanity and personhood here, all revolving around the central issue of what it means to be human I suppose, but there's so much within that. Like Glenn, I definitely saw more parallels with Job than with Faust, but even then, it seemed like just a jumping off point really. Which is good, because I'm not sure how worthwhile a straight retelling of either story but with robots would be. While there is an element of temptation in the relationship between Frost and Mordel, the story isn't about that (or suffering, or the nature of good and evil). Instead, it's about discovering purpose beyond simply following instructions, which again, is part of the nature of humanity. By attempting to become human, Frost is actually giving the robots/computers a reason to rebuild (they're rebuilding it for humanity after all). There's another element to this, though. On several occasions, the matter of implicit vs explicit instructions is raised. SOLCOM (because it is a logical machine), assumes Frost will follow implicit instructions based on the other explicit instructions he has been given. Frost instead (because he is 'flawed') uses the gaps in the implicit instructions to go beyond his programming. Frost is already capable of a more human-like way of thinking before he becomes human. But then again, both SOLCOM and DIVCOM attempt to use a gap in their explicit instructions to each justify its own being in charge of the rebuilding. So there's ambiguity as to the line between human and computer, and even a hypocrisy in the way SOLCOM treats Frost. Zelazny's use of the appreciation of art/nature as a measure of true humanity is also interesting. Following the logic of the story, I'm not sure Frost would be able to appreciate these things even once he's in a human body. He gains the senses, but still has no frame of reference for appreciation. He may acquire that over time, and of course his descendants would be another matter. Personally, I understood SOLCOM and DIVCOM to have been created by the same agency at the same time, with the latter simply being a back-up of the former. For me, their disagreement is a sublime farce that culminates in their both being overruled by Frost, and I don't think there's any need for different powers (national or sub-national) to have been involved. It does make me wonder whether other nations' rebuilding computers are out there somewhere though... Also, for what it's worth, I didn't read the Beta machine as explicitly female (until the very end), but it is an easy understanding to reach based on Frost being explicitly male and the Beta machine being his counterpart. I did feel like Zelazny's attitudes to gender were a weakness of the story, but that's purely a twenty-first-century judgement of a story written in the 1950s. Finally, I thought this story worked fine as a stand-alone novella. I think a full novel would detract a bit from the snappy way it's written. What I would love to see, though, is more of these short story parables from the same world.
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2020 in Review
In Elder Sign
Karanthir
Feb 01, 2021
We'll let you off!
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2020 in Review
In Elder Sign
The Gunslinger
In Elder Sign
Karanthir
Jan 28, 2021
I absolutely love this story. I read it for the first time a few years ago (I've come to most classics late in life), and it completely sucked me into the world. This is the only story I remember from the first novel, although I remember enjoying the whole thing, so I'm sure I'll remember the others if/when you cover them. I tried to read more in the series, but didn't really care for the direction it went in (basically I wanted post-apocalyptic weird western rather than inter-dimesional fantasy/real-world crossover). I don't even remember whether I read one or two of the sequels before giving up. Maybe I'll go back one day, but there's always too much other stuff to read. Anyway, yes, I definitely understood this as a post-apocalyptic version of our world (not taking into account the revelations of the sequels), and I still choose to read it that way now, although I'm not against the reading Glenn and Brandon both had. I think Roland is as close as it's possible to get to a chivalric hero in a post-apocalyptic world. I'm not sure King was trying to invert that archetype so much as peel off some of the legendary layers off and ground the hero in a firmer sense of reality. Although King goes a bit too far sometimes (and I accept that's just his style - Ian Watson is the only other author I've read who compares for scatological references), the contrast between the weird post-apocalyptic environment and mundanity of everyday life really works. Then again, I wasn't really taken aback by any of Roland's actions (apart from the scene with Silvia Pittston and the demon fetus - that was just too bizarre). There's very much a sense that, while Roland aspires to be a chivalric hero (and clearly has his own notions of such figures), he also acknowledges that he has to do whatever it takes to survive in a hostile environment. One kind of unanswered question is why Roland stayed in Tull even though he suspected the man in black had set a trap for him. I think the relationship he developed with Allie was part of that. But on a more fundamental level, I felt like him being unable/unwilling to leave was either part of the trap, or just something metaphysical about the universe: the man in black had set a trap and it had to be sprung. There is one phrase I absolutely adore from this story. Not the opening sentence (though that's great too). For me it's "The world has moved on", probably one of my favourite phrases in any story ever. It evokes so much and has so much meaning behind it without revealing anything. To me it epitomises the post-apocalyptic nature of the world the Gunslinger inhabits, and also his own mental state: the world has moved on, now all that matters is his pursuit of the man in black.
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2020 in Review
In Elder Sign
Karanthir
Jan 28, 2021
I also want to lend my thanks to Glenn and Brandon for another excellent year of weird fiction. The situation with Covid has meant that I haven't always been able to listen to Elder Sign as it was going out, but I was reading along and have finally caught up with all the episodes from 2020 now. There were only two stories that I felt were complete duds this year. The first was (I hate to say it) A Psychical Invasion by Algernon Blackwood. I don't know why, but I just couldn't get into it. Even the cat and dog being so important couldn't salvage it for me! Apparently supernatural investigators just aren't doing it for me, even though it seems like a genre I should love. The other was The Graveyard Heart by Roger Zelazny. I didn't find anything to like at all with that one - even the central plot point didn't hook me. To be honest, it's the closest I've come to giving up on an Elder Sign story. But, as always, the discussions in the episodes were really interesting and gave me a lot to think about (even if you didn't manage to change my mind on either of them). The highlights were The Mask and Houses under the Sea, but I'd read them before and knew I liked them already. The very pleasant surprise of something I hadn't read before was The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings. I've never read anything by Marquez before, even though he's obviously a very well known author outside the genre of weird/speculative fiction. I thought he did an absolutely masterful job of conjuring up the world of the story, and I'm definitely intrigued to read more by him. We have a copy of Love in the Time of Cholera on the bookshelf, so maybe I'll start with that. As for themes, the one thing that came out for me in this episode in relation to Turjan of Miir and The Blue Flame of Vengeance (and has sort of come up on the forum in relation to Lovecraft) is what to do about stories that haven't necessarily aged well. For me personally, I think it's still very important to read and discuss old-fashioned stories that contain elements that seem problematic to a modern audience, not just dismiss them for being racist or sexist (or whatever else). It's then possible to examine them closely and ask fundamental questions about the stories and their authors. That's something I think you're doing a really good job of so far. Ok, final thing: I managed to watch the film adaptation of From Beyond earlier this year. All I'll say is if you like Re-Animator, you absolutely have to watch From Beyond! It's an even less faithful adaptation, but well worth tracking down. It's on Netflix in the UK, but I don't know about availability in other countries.
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Karanthir

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