Forum Comments

The Repairer of Reputations
In Elder Sign
mickjeco
Jun 19, 2021
Jumping back to an older podcast, I just recently (finally) watched the first season of "True Detective,' in which The King in Yellow and Carcosa are referenced by the serial killer that Matthew McConnaughy and Woody Harrelson's detectives pursue over the years. Looking up some reviews of the show, I ran across an interesting fan theory, which makes sense: McConnaughy's detective obsessively gathers information on the killings, even for years after he leaves the police department. You can see "The King in Yellow" and "Carcosa" written on the walls of the storage locker where he is storing his investigative archives, and he briefs Harrelson on what he found in-depth - yet, at no point does he mention the book that is source of the allusions, or Robert Chambers or Ambrose Bierce - all information that could be easily found with a Google search of the terms (and we see over the course of several episodes that McConnaughy's detective is Internet-literate). The fan theory is that the series takes place in a world where Chambers never wrote the book, and is actually in in the same universe as Chamber's collection of stories, and the killer (I won't go into too much detail to avoid spoilers) is yet another individual who read the play and went mad. Thought this was interesting. Maybe a retrospective look at the series, which certainly has its weird aspects (particularly in the last episode) would make a good Elder Sign podcast. I haven't posted in while, but have been listening and enjoying the Wolfe and Elder Sign podcasts - will try to start posting more often.
6
1
La Befana
In Gene Wolfe
mickjeco
Jan 02, 2020
I'm just getting caught up on the podcast after a hectic winter, and La Befana is one of my favorite of Wolfe's many Christmas stories - a lighter one than several. I would love to see a small-press publisher do a collection of them all, perhaps with a different illustrator for each story - I would certainly buy a copy of A WOLFE CHRISTMAS. Like Michael, I too thought of the Frazetta painting on NatLamp and like Stephen, I thought of the Bradbury story while listening to the podcast before reading the notes. The great SF and mystery editor and author Anthony Boucher, who was like Wolfe also a practicing Catholic, wrote a short story ("The Star Dummy", which appeared in the Fall 1952 issue of "Worlds of If") where the Incarnation also happened on an alien planet from whence a koala-like ET arrived. As the alien and the human narrator, Paul, become friends, he learns the aliens have similar beliefs, and even similar prayers: ("Yes, I do believe in God in a way—if less devoutly than Paul, or at least than Paul being devout. Many do on our Earth; not all, but many. There was once a man, or possibly more than a man. We argue about that. His name was Hraz, and some call him the Oiled One.” Marcia smiled and Tarvish added, “It refers to a ceremony of honor. I am not quite a follower of Hraz, and yet when I pray—as I did, Paul, shortly before you found me—it is in words that Hraz taught us: "Lifegiver over us, there is blessing in the word that means you. We pray that in time we will live here under your rule as others now live with you there; but in the meantime feed our bodies, for we need that here and now. We are in debt to you for everything, but your love will not hold us accountable for this debt; and so we too should deal with others, holding no man to strict balances of account. Do not let us meet temptations stronger than we can bear; but let us prevail and be free of evil." Boucher's story "The Complete Werewolf" would be a good addition to The Elder Sign, BTW. But the question of why the Messiah on Zozz's planet would be a Jewish human rather than one of his species is interesting and one I wondered about when I first read the story. It could simply be, as Wolfe suggested in his introduction, that as Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well, "Salvation comes from the Jews" (John 4:22), and that salvation for other planets must wait until Jewish settlers arrive...which would certainly indicate an important or primary place for humanity in the cosmos. (Although there could certainly be a non-human Moses and non-human Jews on other worlds, as Harlan Ellison and Avram Davidson suggested in a story in the anthology "Wandering Stars"). Brother Guy Consolmagno, a Jesuit brother, the head of the Vatican Observatory, and a self-confessed science fiction nerd, has discussed the issue of whether each planet would require their own messiah on several occasions, while admitting it's all just interesting speculation, God will work how He wants to work: New Zealand Catholic: If an alien life is discovered, do they have to be redeemed or is our redemption applicable to them? Br. Guy: The redemption of Jesus is universal. That is a fundamental statement. The best example we can use is what happens when Christians first encountered non-Christians whether it was in the bogs of Ireland or in the new world. Redemption already applied to them, but the fullness of a relationship with God comes to us through the sacraments, through the knowledge of actually what this God is like through the great things that the Church can give us. Will that be the same with an alien race? I . . . Don’t . . . Know. But, if you tell me that we should not talk to them about religion, you are not treating them seriously because religion is one of the important things about us. And if you think we are not going to talk about religion, you don’t know what it means to be intelligent. Inevitably, it will happen. Will we find that they’ve already experienced the Second Person in their own way? That will be fascinating to find out. But if they have intellect and if they have free will, if they are free to make decisions, then sure as shooting, they’ll probably going to need some form of redemption. Whether it has already arrived there or not, I don’t know. But it’s not like they are condemned until we show up. Br. Guy also brings up that curious phrase Jesus used in John 10:16: Br. Guy: There’s an English poet, Alice Meynell, who wrote a poem in 1918, Christ in the Universe. And I think it is a brilliant summary of the joy that some day, in some infinite time in the future, maybe even in heaven, we can compare notes and show to the rest of the universe what the Second Person was like when he was here on earth. And that represents probably the most common answer that people expect, which is: There’s one second person but the Incarnation occurs . . . maybe the Word of God who is from the beginning is spoken in different languages, in different places, in different times. There’s even a hint of that in the story of the Good Shepherd where in John’s Gospel version, Jesus ends by saying “I have other sheep” [that do not belong to this fold. John 10:16]. Most scholars assume he is talking about the Gentiles. That’s probably right. But merely listening to that phrase reminds us that we are not the only ones that God is in a relationship with. https://www.nzcatholic.org.nz/2016/10/18/popes-star-man-jesus-aliens-faith/ The other issue the podcast got me thinking about is the issue of slavery, or bondage, as an aspect of colonization in human history. While we normally consider that indigenous people have been frequently enslaved by the colonialists, the costs and effort to transport the colonists themselves across an ocean to a new frontier often requires that they be held in some sort of thrall, lest they take off to the hinterlands, away from the control of the colonial authorities, and thus wasting the investment in the transport and the need for their labor. Either you are already in slavery or servitudeb or prisoner status, as Africans were brought to America or the Irish to the Barbados under Cromwell or criminals were sent to Australia, or you agree to place yourself into debt bondage as many early colonists had to to travel to the New World. The other option is to be a member of a strictly structured military unit, religious group (like the Pilgrims, fleeing the secular society of Amsterdam), or other political group that can exercise control over its members. Should Earth ever reach the point where we send colonists to other inhabitable worlds, or worlds in need of terraforming to fit our needs, it seems likely based on our history that one or several of the above systems will be required, even if it would just be "if you don't work, you don't eat (or get to breathe oxygen"). In the latter stages of colonization, when the need for economic growth and possible political claims to the land, there could be less of a requirement for social control on colonists. But is slavery, or some form of servitude, a requirement for the early stages of colonization?
2
1
How I Lost the Second World War and Helped Turn Back the German Invasion
In Gene Wolfe
mickjeco
Sep 27, 2019
Thanks for the podcast, which was enjoyable and thought-provoking as always. I think this might have been the first Wolfe story I read, back when it originally appeared in Analog in 1973 - I was a regular reader of Analof, F&SF, and Worlds of If back then. A lot of the political jokes and historical references went over my 15 year old head, but I remember enjoying it. One of the gags that you probably noticed but didn't have time to comment on is that the journal "All New and Logical, Original Games" to which the narrator is writing is, of course, an acronym for ANALOG. Analog was one of the most "hard SF" pro-technology magazines of the era, especially under John W, Campbell, and would have seemed a good fit for Wolfe, who combined literary skill with a professional knowledge of technology and engineering. But I don't think he actually had many more stories in there - I will have to check the ISFDB to see if he published anything else there. The podcast's comments on the current debate between globalism and protectionism, internationalism and nationalism is spot on. I was curious as to who "Lansbury" was meant to be, and suspect it was George Lansbury, the head of the Labour Party in the 1930s. Lansbury was strongly pacifist and opposed British rearmament in the face of the developing German threat (and in fact advocated for unilateral disarmament for all nations), so it was cheeky of Wolfe to make him the narrator's avid wargaming colleague. Re stephenfrug's comments above, I agree that it always a little disconcerting to see references to Hitler in pop culture, and alternative world stories in particular, that don't reference his antisemitism and the Shoah - but such references would have felt out of place in this story, which has a lighter humorous tone for all its darker humor references to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Fritz Leiber dealt with this in an interesting alt-history short story, "Catch That Zepellin!" I have a hard time considering Truman's escalation of WWII into our first (and I hope last) nuclear war as a war crime. My father was a young sailor on one of the Navy ships that were preparing for an invasion of the Japanese mainland, after the Navy and Marines had already suffered heart-breaking casualties in the earlier campaigns against Japanese-held territory, and no one expected amphibious and airborne landings in Japan, as well as naval and aircraft attacks, to involve anything less than massive loss of U.S. military personnel and both the military and civilian personnel of Japan. Arguably, it is likely that my dad would have been killed in the planned attack, and so neither I, nor my sisters, nor my children would ever have been born. I appear to owe my existence to the atom bomb.
4
1
Report of certain events - China Miéville
In Elder Sign
mickjeco
Sep 20, 2019
I haven't read anything by Mieville before this, but I want to find this story now - I love stories about secret societies and cabals,the whackier the better - like G.K. Chesterton's "The Man Who Was Thursday". Concerning "wild streets", they do exist in real life, sort of, or at least they did. In the days before Google Maps and Yahoo Maps and Apple Maps and Map Quest and Waze, we had to rely on commercially published street maps, with Thomas Brothers mapbooks for particular cities being a common sight inside cars. To protect against rival map-publishers copying their maps, publishers such as Thomas Brothers would insert non-existent streets in their maps, which they could use as evidence if another publisher pirated their works, These were usually short sections of streets, perhaps a block long, or alleyways. I found an article that mentioned the tactic here: https://laist.com/2018/06/22/thomas_guide_maps_the_rise_and_fall.php "There were also smaller companies that sometimes tried to copy Thomas Bros. Maps' cartography. So Thomas Guides put in fake streets or towns, so they could catch copycats. ""There were a lot of counterfeit operations out there... making smaller maps using our data," said Todd Nathanson, grandson of Warren Wilson, former president and CEO of Thomas Bros. Maps. "And we would put fake streets of people's [employees] kids' names...pets' names...in little cul-de-sacs, and that was one way we would be able to keep the copyright." I found a list of some of these notional streets in an article in an underground newspaper when I lived in Los Angeles in the 1990s, and when I was working in the area, would occasionally look to see what was actually in the area where the street was supposed to be, wondering what I would do if I actually DID find one of the fictitious streets on the map and what kind of people - or things - might be living on it.
3
1
The Lottery and the Holocaust
In Elder Sign
mickjeco
Aug 29, 2019
I enjoyed the podcast, as always. I don't see the story as a stand-in for the Holcaust. The Shoah, and the other holocausts of the last century (Armenian, Cambodian, Ukrainian) were targeted at specific groups, whether racial- or class-based. They were deliberate and calculated attempts at the destruction of another group. The horror of Jackson's story comes from the randomness, the arbitrary nature of the Lottery. I haven't heard it suggested in the literature as among the sources, but written not long after World War II, the draft lottery itself, which was grew more extensive as the WWII went on (about 10 million WWII soldiers were draftees, I'm not sure how many of those were killed or maimed in combat) may have been among the factors in Jackson's mind, particularly as she looked at her young sons. The military draft lottery, which seemed increasingly unfair and class-based during the Vietnam War years, probably also made the story feel more current when it was being taught in high schools in the 1960s. But I agree that Jackson was looking at the persistence of rituals and traditions long after they had outlived their use and purpose. The sense of betrayal at the end, as the lottery "winner"'s own husband and family turns against her, probably had something to do with Stanley Hyman's repeated infidelities. There was a feeling of estrangement by urban Americans from rural America that the very urban Jackson felt, as well as the anti-semitism the family experienced. That provided grist for a lot of suspense and horror, from "Deliverance" to "The Dunwich Horror" to "Straw Dogs" to T.E.D. Klein's "The Ceremony" and much more that I'm sure I have forgotten. Maybe the reason remote small towns are such a good location for horror is that we aren't really sure what is going on there. As Sherlock Holmes said, “They always fill me with a certain horror. It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside." "The Lottery" was probably an influence on Peter Schaffer when he wrote the script for "The Wicker Man" in the 1970s, with its story of old pagan fertlity rituals persisting into the present day (and requiring a blood sacrifice), and possibly on the lesser-known "Eye of the Devil" with a similar storyline. Encyclopedia Brittanica made a short film adaptation of the Jackson story in 1969, which I remember watching in English class in middle school. It was more effective by being made with a cast of unknown small-town locals and a docudrama feel. It's worth a look: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WVuFwLE5fo8&t=272s
3
1
Random Thoughts on 67 - 68 - 69
In Gene Wolfe
Random Thoughts on 67 - 68 - 69
In Gene Wolfe
mickjeco
More actions