Forum Posts

mickjeco
Jul 02, 2019
In Elder Sign
Some stories I would love to hear reviewed on The Elder Sign podcast: 1) Anything by T.E.D. Klein, whose output has been low but whose stories have been consistently excellent. Especially the meta-HPL novella "Black Man With a Horn" or the very frightening "Children of the Kingdom" or really, anything he has written, 2) Ambrose Bierce's "The Damned Thing". "Bitter Bierce" combined sardonic wit with what could almost be considered proto-splatterpunk in this story that is among his best. 3) Ray Bradbury, especially early in his career, wrote some really creepy stories - in addition to "The Veldt", "The Lake" or "The Small Assassin" or "The Skeleton", maybe. Or two of the creepier stories he wrote, in my opinion - "At Midnight in the Month of June" - a story about the serial killer that stalks unseen through the events in the collection "Dandelion Wine", whom we finally meet in this story that never appeared in that collection but who sits quietly in a room, bright-eyed and thinking, in this independent story that was included in the collection "The Toynbee Convector". Or "Heavy-Set", never collected in any of his collections but which I found in that surprisingly definitive anthology of the 1950s/1960s SoCal school of horror, "The Playboy Book of Horror and the Supernatural". 4) Fritz Leiber - Fritz was great at finding horror in big cities, especially his novel "Our Lady of Darkness" which uses the history of San Francisco admirably to create an antique occult science to threaten the hero, who was based not-so-thinly on Leiber himself; his short story "The Black Gondolier" does the same thing with 1960s Venice, California. Just some suggestions, I'm sure others have more. Loving the podcasts!
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mickjeco
Jun 14, 2019
In Gene Wolfe
It took me a while to catch up, but was able to listen to this last series of podcasts (still partway through 70) while on long drives the last couple of days. I have to say, I am largely convinced by your reasoning that the Abos did not exist, that "A Story" was authored by VRT, that his claims of Abo life during his time with his mother were attempts by her to conceal the dangers and darkness of life by resort to fanciful tales, among other arguments. Some thoughts that occurred to me: a) There was some discussion between the two of you whether the Dr. Marsch whom #5 initially meets is VRT or the real Dr. Marsch. My initial thoughts after first reading all 3 novellas is that on the first meeting, it is Dr. Marsch, gathering as much info on the Abos as he can and meeting Aunt Jeannine / Dr. Vail. He certainly seems to have a broader depth of knowledge (such as the unbound simulator information) than Marsch-impersonator VRT would be likely to have. On the second meeting, it is VRT. I think this is the reason #5 can confidently pronounce VRT to be (as they both believe) to be an Abo in the meeting just before the murder of Maitre. He realizes this is not the young man he met on the previous occasion, and presumes, based on the stories he has heard of Abo mimicry, that an Abo has taken his form. In addition, the true Marsch suggests during their first meeting that #5 is a clone. VRT, in their second meeting, makes the same announcement, as he is unaware that Marsch has earlier made the same pronouncement. It is the last piece of information that convinces #5 that this Marsch is, he believes, an Abo imposter. b) There is a lot of information from VRT's experiences on St, Croix that seems to be incorporated into "A Story" - I had thought earlier that the bureucratic secret police on St. Croix were Marshmen abos who had mimicked humans, based on the following reflection seen by VRT: "Mme. Duclose’s mirror was behind him, and I could see that his hair was cut short and that he Had a scarred head, as though he had been tortured or had had an operation on his brain or had fought with someone armed with some tearing weapon." I think now it is more likely that the bureaucrats who arrest and imprison him become the Marshmen of his story, which indicates that the date of composition is probably after his arrest, in prison. c) Certainly, the cat in the story reminds me of Poe's "The Black Cat", who bites its owner's hand as well ("One night, returning home, much intoxicated, from one of my haunts about town, I fancied that the cat avoided my presence. I seized him; when, in his fright at my violence, he inflicted a slight wound upon my hand with his teeth. The fury of a demon instantly possessed me. I knew myself no longer."). But the story that seemed to be the greatest influence on "VRT" was Algernon Blackwood's "The Willows" -the eerie tale of two men on a boat trip in a remote area who experience something difficult to describe - but the sense of something unknown and terrifying outside the tent runs through both stories. (And you should definitely review this story on your weird fiction podcast.) d) This was probably discussed sometime over the last year's podcasts, but the likely reason for the belief that the Abos took over the original French settlers is to justify the war against the French - if they are suspected of being aliens, or speaking animals, it justifies the horrors that were committed against them and the seizing of their land and property. This may have been a belief Aunt Jeanine promoted on behalf of the governmental elite, just as Maitre worked for them as an intelligence asset. e) I haven't listened to the section of podcast #70 that discusses religion within the story, but I would agree with the point upon which you touched - the Catholic response to the Nature vs. Nurture dilemma is that both Free Will and Grace are the two God-given gifts that enable us to rise above those two factors, and that in a world where those two gifts are apparently absent, you see the sort of societies that the novellas depict. I think the reason for the frequent references to the monotheistic conception of God in "A Story" is, again for VRT to throw shade on his father's claims about Abo culture, which is that they were polytheistic and believed in "gods". f) Two of the passages that discuss mimicry among the people presumed to be Abos are as follows: (Trenchard, discussing his wife): "But what my son says is true, she was a fine actress. We used to go about performing, she and I. You would not believe the things she could do! She could talk to a man, and he would believe her a girl, a virgin, hardly out of school. But then if she did not like him she would become an old woman—a matter of the voice, you understand, understand, and the muscles of the face, the way she walked and held her hands—(...) “When I married her, Doctor, she was a fine woman. (...). Then she was truly beautiful, magnificent.” (Kisses his fingers, releasing the oar with one hand) “That was not acting. But later when she slept, she could not conceal; every woman is her true age when she sleeps. " (And the military officer discussing Casilla) "“Maitre …” The officer looked up. Cassilla, yawning, stood at his elbow with, a tray, the slave behind her. “Coffee, Maitre,” she said. In the bright daylight he could see fine wrinkles near her eyes; the girl was aging. A pity. He took the cup she proffered, and as she poured, asked how old she was. “Twenty-one, Maitre.” The pot was one of the silver ones with Divisional, decorations, which meant the slave had insisted on it in the kitchen; otherwise they would have given him one of the plain ones from the junior officers’ tables. “You should take better care of yourself.” On first reading, I had presumed these were clues that the surviving Abo women still maintained some abilities of mimicry and to alter their appearance. But on further reading, this seems like ahead-fake by Wolfe, and it seems to simply reflect that after a night of sex with an abusive, alcoholic, older husband/pimp, or after a night of forced sexual service to two military officers (before beginning a shift serving officers in the mess hall), a prostituted woman or a sex slave is likely to look tired and haggard. Once again, I really enjoy the podcasts!
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mickjeco
Mar 24, 2019
In Gene Wolfe
Some thoughts after listening to the last podcast: 1) I missed a lot of the clues you referenced in "A Story" that would make it very likely that the story was by VRT, such as the issues of fatherhood and the oedipal conflicts, which point towards Victor as the author, or at least a Victor/Marsch hybrid. Also of interest were the clues that some artifacts of supposed Abo culture such as the massive tree observatory, were quite late in construction. 2) The St. Croix government seems kind of anomalous among the fascistic / socialist collectivist states of the 20th and 21st centuries in that most such governments with which we are familiar are cults of personality, whether Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Mussolini, Kim, Maduro, et al. But the leader of the St. Croix government is never referenced in the story. It seems to be based around an idea of government monopoly of power rather than an autocratic individual or even a ruling party. 3) I took the "Free People" name for the Hill People as a reference to their economy and their political structure, which seems minimal. They are quite clearly a hunter-gatherer tribe, occupying no fixed territory, with a minimalistic leadership. My understanding is that slavery does not usually exist in a human society at the hunter-gatherer level, as the need for each member to seek food for themselves and the frequent physical separation between tribal members would make it difficult to keep slaves from running off. It is not until a tribal group becomes an agricultural society with fixed territory, and which requires the kind of mind-numbing farm labor that tribal members would seek to avoid, that slavery becomes an institution. There's not a strong sense that the Marsh People have an agricultural society, but probably are largely a fishing society. They do take slaves, who are castrated and become their priestly sect. The Free People also do not practice cannibalism, which the Marsh People do, nor commit human sacrifice, which the Marsh People also do - in some ways, they seem similar to the Aztec culture of human sacrifice of captured prisoners. This is all based on what is probably Victor's idealized version of what he sees to be his ancestors, of course - although possibly based on folktales he heard as a boy from his mother, who may have been the shape-shifted cat who was following Marsch and Victor. 4) Abo culture as described in "A Story" combines elements of monotheism with animist beliefs (the beliefs about trees), which seems odd for the societies involved. To my understanding, hunter-gatherer cultures such as depicted are typically polytheistic or solely animist. Even the old con-man Trenchard appears to claim an animist/polytheistic religion for his supposed ancestors: "As my own ten-times decimated people would say, may the Mountains bless you and the River and the Trees and the Oceansea and all the stars of Heaven and the gods. I speak as their religious leader.” ("Ten-times decimated" is a clever phrase - to decimate is to execute a tenth of a military unit as Roman punishment, so to decimate 10 times would leave few survivors.) Could this monotheism be a gloss inserted by Victor? His religious education as a boy seems limited, at best. The elder Trenchard says that his son is legitimate and that he and his wife were married within the Catholic Church at St, Madeleine's, but the story indicates that he was educated in a secular school (unless Neil Armstrong was canonized at some point in the past), not a parochial one. Victor seems have at least a favorable attitude to Catholic culture, when he hears the bells of the Cathedral while in prison: "At home there was no cathedral, but several churches, and for a time we lived close to that of St. Madeleine. I remember the bells ringing at night—I suppose for a midnight mass—but it did not frighten me as other sounds did." Victor also notes, correctly, that "For all the time I lived in the city I cannot remember how often the cathedral bells rang, except that I know they did not strike the hours like a clock." Civic/secular clock towers often do strike the hour, but Catholic churches typically strike only at 06:0, 12:00, and 18:00, calling the faithful to recite the Lord's Prayer or the Angelus, which is a meditation on the Incarnation - which relates directly to St. Anne, I think. (The noon observance of ringing the bells was established by Pope Callixtus III to pray for, and later honor, the defenders of Christendom and their victory at the Siege of Belgrade against the forces of the Ottoman Empire in A.D. 1456, a practice which continues to this day. Among those defenders were the Hungarian nobleman Janos Hunyadi, St. John of Capistrano, and the historical Dracula, Vlad Tepes, who was one of the few European noblemen who answered the Pope's call for aid and whose forces prevented the resupply of the Janissaries in brutal fighting in the mountain passes. I doubt this has much to do with the story at hand, but I am always tickled by the fact that when I hear the bells of St. Mary ring at noon when I am downtown, they are partially honoring Dracula...) What could have made this reference more relevant to the story is that reference to "the bells ringing at night - I suppose for a midnight mass..." Wolfe always makes me a trifle suspicious when a character says "I suppose" or "possibly" or "maybe" - that always makes me want to dig a little deeper. Midnight Masses really only occur on one occasion in the Catholic Church - at midnight as Christmas Eve transitions into Christmas Day - again, Wolfe is signaling a reference to the Incarnation. There was, however, one other occasion when church bells were rung at night, at least before the Reformation - the practice in Catholic countries of ringing the church bells all night long (either from sunrise to sunset, or from midnight to sunrise) to signal to the souls in Purgatory that they were not forgotten, and that their loved ones were praying for their release. This occurred on All Hallow's Eve (Hallowe'en), the night before All Saints Day and All Souls' Day following the next day. Traditionally, the men of the village or town would take shifts pulling the bell rope, while the other men would fortify themselves for the next shift by drinking ale, usually supplied by the parish priest. There was usually a bonfire as well, and it was by all accounts a very festive observance, with the Church Militant reaching out towards the Church Penitent. It really sounds like something I would enjoy doing. (It also might have been an influence on the traditional use of noisemakers at Hallowe'en, a practice which has kind of died out, although I remember Hallowe'en noisemakers being commonly sold in the dime stores when I was a boy.) These observances linked to the doctrine of Purgatory became illegal after the Reformation in many countries, with Protestant authorities suppressing the celebrations which, being both heartfelt and fun, were pretty hard to suppress and kept re-appearing for decades before finally dying out. The bonfires continued to burn among the secretly faithful, and you can still find isolated fields named "Purgatory" on maps of Germany and England, I'm told. With St. Anne being linked to both the Incarnation and Purgatory, I think one or both of these references were probably intended by Wolfe. There are far less direct religious references in the first novella. In keeping with the Hell-like nature of St. Croix, the word "God" is used 32 times in the 3 novellas; it does not appear at all in "Fifth Head", has the most uses by far in "A Story", and is used only six times in "VRT" - ( two generic reference to the small-g gods/deities Victor claims to have seen in the outback, a specific invocation by the elder Trenchard (who immediately adds that he is not a Christian), a reference to the seat where acts are said to be invisible to God; and two off-hand (maybe) references by Marsch - "God knows how long he would be stuck in a tent , waiting for a storm to abate, and a final reference to the "God-forsaken hills" of St. Anne) (I bought a copy of the book on Kindle, which makes searching references much easier.) 5) #5's clonal father Maitre is described as wearing a red dressing robe; Victor's father Trenchard is repeatedly described as red-haired, red-bearded, and wearing a red-scarf. 6) It occurred to me today, when I thought about the narrative structures of the 3 novellas (First Person / Third Person / First and Third Person Epistolary) that a coherent reading of the 3 novellas as a whole could include the possibility that even as "A Story" could have been written by Marsch, Victor disguised as Marsch, or a Victor/Marsch hybrid, that the same could be said of the first novella. As readers, we have no evidence that the story could not have been concocted by Marsch/VRT, with the protagonist's nomen - "Number 5" - as a tip-off that it was written by John V. Marsch and/or Victor Trenchard, with the 5 being a sly reference to the Roman numeral V. From the "outside" information provided in the 3rd novella, the Maitre de Maison du Chien existed and was an intelligence operative of the ruling government, and a son was arrested and later released for his murder. And that's about it. It would easily explain why the second novella incorporates elements of David's comments in the lesson in the library regarding Abo culture, and #5's comments about prehistoric Earth expeditions to St. Anne. It could also explain why Dr. Marsch is such a Mary Sue character in his appearances in "Fifth Head" - expert on everything about which he is asked, brought in by the Maitre to reveal to #5 that he is a clone, romantic rogue with the Demimondaines... I don't think this was actually intended, though, from our knowledge of Wolfe's original intent to write the first novella as a stand-alone piece (and writing the two other novellas as part of a book deal) and in a literary sense, because "Fifth Head" is such a dense and rich and well-written story that I don't think Marsch/Victor could have written it. The references above, though, could be a Wolfeian head-fake. (I think Mark Aramini may have discussed this elsewhere, but are there major differences between the first appearance of "Fifth Head" in the Orbit anthology and it's appearance in the omnibus with the two other novellas?) 7) Re your comments on Wolfe's analysis of government and slavery, particularly the very creepy discourse by Constant about why St. Croix's form of government is so superior to any others. I agree with your observations, but also think that Wolfe is taking the Augustinian view that any human form of government, or any human-created organization, must ultimately fall short of perfection because it is a creation of fallible, fallen humans - as opposed to the Pelagian view, which seems to have informed most of the spectacular failures of modern nation-states, that we can make the state perfect if we just tweak it enough, and conform human will and dignity towards the need of the perfect state. A perfectly efficient political system, which is what Constant is claiming for his government, would not be perfectly desirable, but would likely be creating Hell on Earth, Or St. Croix. Wolfe also seems to be showing that one cannot develop an ideal society, or set of ethics, by reasoning ones way to them, as with Constant's claims of the perfect society. If we look at what we consider to be the most heroic examples of human virtue - as with those gentiles in Nazi Germany who placed themselves and their loved ones at risk of torture, mutilation, enslavement and ultimately, execution for hiding Jews - their rationales were never that their actions seemed "reasonable" or "logical", but that their actions seemed to be the "right" thing to do. Correct action does not seem to be achieved through logical analysis or man-created ideology, but through a Kierkegaardian leap of faith towards moral action.
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mickjeco
Mar 20, 2019
In Gene Wolfe
Some thoughts on the latest podcast: You'll probably mention this is the discussion podcast of this section, but the incident where Marsch,. Trenchard, and the boy see the enormous shark-like military airship is interesting: "The beggar [Trenchard] said, “Do not wave,” then whispered something to the boy of which I caught only the beginning and end: “Faites attention … Français!” I think the meaning must have been, “Remember that you are French.” The boy answered something I could not hear and shook his head." I'm not fluent in French, but my daughter is, and she said the meaning is more: "Watch out! (or "Be careful!", literally "Pay Attention")...French!" He could be warning him of the French people, which doesn't make sense in the context of what this and earlier sections reveal of the history of the French on St. Anne, where they are unlikely to be in control of the airship. Rather than the apparent presumption by Marsch that this is an reminder of ethnic pride, it seems more likely that he is reminding Victor that he is supposed to be French, or act like he is French, if they are being viewed or later questioned, not the Abo or part-Abo that Trenchard apparently knows him to be. Incidentally, the elder Trenchard reminds me quite a bit of Monsieur Thénardier in Hugo's Les Miserables, another French conman and scoundrel - who is also quite abusive to his own daughter, Fantine, and teaches her his conniving ways. The three novellas dip in and out of references to world literature throughout, as you've mentioned. Proust, of course, Capek, Dostoevsky (and maybe Solzhenitsyn, by way of "A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich", which may have influenced #5's prison camp narrative in the first novel - the English edition of "The Gulag Archipelago" would not be released until about two years after "Cerberus"), Rousseau, Greene, Poe, and in this section, definitely Kafka and Orwell. If there is a meld of #5 and Marsch/Victor, among others, instead of breaking out of the cycle of stagnation, the doubled melded consciousness in the prison is doomed on St. Croix to be under the thumb of another Maitre (who could even ironically be David), where he is again known as a number, as #5 was. "And I wondered why so much of what was being said was in numbers: TWO TWELVE TO THE MOUNTAINS … Then I realized that they, we, call ourselves usually by our cell number, which gives the location and is the most important thing, I suppose, about a prisoner anyway." As the Johnny Rivers song went, "They've given you a number / and taken 'way your name." "Dendritic Culture" is an interesting neologism - in Wolfe's story "Christmas Inn", one of the odd visitors to the B&B of the title refers to the Christmas tree in the lobby as "dendrolatry", which means the worship of trees. Good podcast!
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mickjeco
Mar 06, 2019
In Gene Wolfe
My take on the significance of the “5th of September” movement is that in France, it is the date popularly associated with the beginning of the Reign of Terror. It is the date when Bertrand Barère, a member of the Committee of Public Safety, made a speech supporting it, and ended with the exclamation, “Let’s make terror the order of the day!” From this, I would guess that the prisoner is, or is pretending to be, a member of a French insurrectionist organization, probably one that seeks to restore French rule on St. Croix and/or St. Anne through political violence. Given the limited amount of information we are given in the novellas, I don’t think it is possible to fully understand the nature of the political unrest that is the background of the 3 novellas, only that St. Croix and St. Anne appear to be in a state of armed hostility, if not quite war, and that the descendants of the French settlers and the anglophone settlers seem to be continuing their war. It’s not at all clear if the government on St. Anne (where we are told the original French settlers were defeated in a fiery battle) is a different group of terran settlers than the reigning faction on St. Croix - some of whom (on each planet) may be Abos, who are continuing the conflict between the Marsh People (controlling the government and secret police) and the Hill People (representing the criminal underclass), as I argued in another post. And/Or, the Abos could have assumed the political conflicts of the settlers they killed and mimicked, just as they assumed their features. Wolfe, I suspect, doesn’t make it clear exactly what is going on in these decadent backwater Earth colonies, because he wanted to create a sinister, murky, and hostile climate for the action of the novellas to take place, like an otherworldly version of the settings in Graham Greene’s novels, with paranoid bureaucracies and natives whose motives are often opaque. The nature of the political setting may be as unimportant as the nature of the unrest in "Paul's Treehouse". (Although Greene's writing style and Wolfe's differ markedly, and their politics grew apart as they grew older, they share quite a bit in terms of theme - both are Catholic converts (who converted upon marriage to Catholic wives), and a Catholic worldview is pervasive in both writer's works. I have to think that Wolfe was probably familiar with Greene. Fifth Head was published in 1972, and it's likely that Wolfe had read Greene's works "The Quiet American" (1955) "Our Man in Havana" (1959) and The Comedians (1966) (or seen the film adaptations) - all were immensely popular and feature settings with inept but sinister security bureaucracies and corrupt backwater, third world settings that might have influenced Wolfe's depictions of St. Anne and St. Croix.
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mickjeco
Feb 12, 2019
In Gene Wolfe
Another enjoyable episode. Some random thoughts on points which you brought up: 1) I had not read Capek's short-short about the cat and loved it. Cats start to show up as references and players in the 3rd novella; maybe as shape-shifting abos, maybe as symbols of the unknowable and often hostile natural world of the two planets. The dog references seem to drop out in the 3rd story, and there seems to be a polarity going on - Abos as cats and the Wolfe line as dogs? 2) Capek's other best known science fictional work (aside from the play R.U.R., itself an acronym like the 3rd novella V.R,.T., takes a very focused look at the pernicious effects of colonization, and the way it affects both the colonizer and the colonized - "War with the Newts". I've read it twice (once in high school, when its dark visions scared the crap out of me) and years later, and its probably time to dip into it again - there's a newer translation that is supposed to better preserve the literary devices Capek used. Like V.R.T., it's mostly an epistolary work. I'm curious if the novel has strong ties to V.R.T. 3) Probably getting ahead of your closed reading, but my impression on first reading VRT is that Vail's Hypothesis may be true, but it is only a partial truth, and that St. Croixian society has at least 4 or 5 components, each with their own genotype and phenotype: A) A wealthy anglophone merchant class B) the Wolfe clonal family, presumably part of the "A" class, and the discarded remnants of its genetic line which have become slaves, and the source of the "planetary face". This is distinct from the prostitutes who are employed at the bordello. C A wealthy remnant of the original French settlers of both planets. ("At one time, French was the lingua franca") D) The underclass society, which includes criminals, prostitutes, some of the non-Wolfeian slaves, and which are the transplanted (possibly shape-shifted) Hill People from St. Anne. Some of these remain in urban and rural society, as well as the outback of St. Anne in scattered remnants, where some may still practice the older shape-shifting skills as animals. #5 notes t0 Marsch that the "planetary face", which he seems to possess comes from a relatively small group of settlers ("Since on this world we are all descended from a relatively small group of colonists, we are rather a uniform population"), but is a different phenotype than the underclass: "Here, most of us have a kind of planetary face, except for the gypsies and the criminal tribes, and you don’t seem to fit the pattern.” {Marsch) said, “I’ve noticed what you mean; you seem to have it yourself.” These two off-hand comments leads to the question: If the common phenotype comes from the original genetic stock of the first settlers...what is the origin of the mysterious "gypsy" underclass, if not the Abos? The persistent description of the prostitutes, who can be presumed to be members of the underclass, emphasizes very long legs, narrow necks, and high shoulders: "Two of my father’s demimondaines were waiting in the hall, costumed and painted until they seemed more alien than any abos, stately as Lombardy poplars and inhuman as specters, with green and yellow eyes made to look the size of eggs and inflated breasts pushed almost shoulder high, their long, gleaming legs crossed before them like the varnished staffs of flags." "[T]he heads, the slender necks, the narrow shoulders, of a platoon of my father’s demimondaines"; "I have thought since, many times, of that girl as I saw her leaving: the high-heeled platform shoes and grotesquely long legs" "..an immensely tall and lanky woman who had been hawking pralines in the street came running toward us. It was Nerissa." In the descriptions of the second novella, we learn the phenotype of the Hill People: long wild hair, high foreheads, "hands—large and strong" "his skin the cold stone color of the dust, his wild hair breaking the telltale silhouette of his head". (107) “Your forehead is high and your eyes are far apart,” "wiping his long hair" (130). When he shape-shifts in some way into an otter's shape, it is noted that he is long-limbed, like the underclass of St. Croix: "...short, powerful swimming legs in place of his long limbs." The Hill People have green eyes, "Marsch" has vivid green eyes ("His eyes, I noticed, were a bright green, without the brown tones most green eyes have"), as do apparently all the Hill People, as do the the long-legged prostitutes of the Maitre's bordello, and the boy who hires out to Marsch. At least some of these phenotypical traits describe #5 and Maitre; while David is blonde, #5 is pale, brown haired and brown eyed. "Striding toward us was a tall, high-shouldered young man—who halted, with a startled look, just when I did. He was my own reflection in a gilt-framed pier glass, and I felt the momentary dislocation that comes when a stranger, an unrecognized shape, turns or moves his head and is some familiar friend glimpsed, perhaps for the first time, from outside. The sharp-chinned, grim-looking boy I had seen..." Maitre is described as "a tall, hatchet-faced man" ("hatchet face" generally means a thin face with sharp features); "My father’s hunched, high shoulders" The unnamed slave of the reviewing military officer in the 3rd novella is likely also a cast-off of the Wolfe clonal line: "slave—a high-shouldered, sharp-chinned man with a shock of dark hair". The Wolfes are described, then as tall, which would imply longer legs (not necessarily, of course - I am tall but much of that seems to be torso) although apparently not as long as the underclass whom #5 described; , the Wolves have sharp features that are described variously as mantis-like and hatchet-faced, but have brown eyes - unlike the Hill People, who have green eyes. E) The ruling governmental elite, which includes the military, police, and all members of the fraternal (and role-shifting) bureaucracy, and which are descended from transplanted (possibly shape-shifted) Marsh People from St. Anne, and which continues its battle for control and dominance over the Hill People on a new planet. Their phenotype of the Marsh People is described: "From behind him stepped two men. The people of the meadowmeres, he knew, drove their young men from women until fire from the mountains proved their manhood and left their thighs and shoulders puckered with scars. These men had such scars, and their hair had been knotted in locks..." On St. Anne, They also seem to have a larger, more organized and authoritarian society than the nomadic Hill People: "...and on the bank several hundred people waited—silent figures light-stained early morning colors of yellow and red, their features growing clearer, individuals, a man here, a child there " The Marsh Man Lastvoice is described as "very tall, and the blue light of rising sisterworld showed a bloodless face from which the few wisps of beard, as ritual required, were plucked daily. The sides of his head had been seared with brands kindled in the flows of the Mountains of Manhood, so that his hair, thicker than any woman’s, grew only in a stiffened crest." He is tall, and thus likely long-legged, but is also (as Eastwind) a snatched Hill Person (", although his appearance has been altered based on the puberty initiation rites of the Marsh Men. Lastvoice, the former Hill Man, is described as having a "bloodless face"; #5 is pale; and "Marsch" is described by #5 as "He wore a beard, very black and more full than the current style, if the skin of his face—what could be seen of it—had not been of so colorless a white as almost to constitute a disfigurement." Sandwalker is described as having skin " the cold stone color of the dust", which could mean pale but is a little ambiguous. There is the interesting moment when "Marsch" looks at the government functionaries in his rented room and sees one in a mirr0r - which Wolfe took pains to note earlier in the passage: "Madame Duclose, particularly, must have been concerned for the large, gilt-framed mirror in my room, which she had cautioned me about repeatedly. (Mirrors, I have found—I mean good ones of silvered glass, not polished bits of metal—are quite expensive in Port-Mimizon.)" Mirrors in folklore derive their ability to represent someone or something's true nature, such as the soulless nature of a vampire - due to its silver backing. And when "Marsch," who may have some slightly magical capacities himself, looks at the one of the arresting bureaucrats in his room he sees "Mme. Duclose’s mirror was behind him, and I could see that his hair was cut short and that he Had a scarred head, as though he had been tortured or had had an operation on his brain or had fought with someone armed with some tearing weapon." In other words, a Marsh Man. He later notes that all three look similar, with "pointed chins, black brows and narrow eyes, so that they might have been brothers," It's unclear to me if the Marsh Men imposters were the ones who returned to St. Croix, took control of the French-Speaking settlers there, and then returned to St. Anne to wage fiery war upon them and enslave the Hill People. 4) Just as a side note, you mentioned John Marsch's inventory of the supplies he took on his expedition, which noted that he would take vitamin pills. I've noticed a couple of times that Gene Wolfe seems to have been a life-long user of vitamin supplements. In his letters home from the Korean War, he asked his mother to send him some vitamins, and in an interview where he was asked about his daily routine, he mentioned taking his vitamins as part of it. He must be doing something right! 5) In another post, I suggested that David is the actual author of "A Story", both from the internal evidence describing the folk-ways of the Annians ("You might say they needed those obsidian arrowheads and bone fishhooks for getting food, but that’s not true. They could poison the water with the juices of certain plants, and for primitive people the most effective way to fish is probably with weirs, or with nets of rawhide or vegetable fiber... They killed their sacrificial animals with flails of seashells that cut like razors, and they didn’t let their men father children until they had stood enough fire to cripple them for life. They mated with trees and drowned the children to honor their rivers. That was what was important..") Yet, #5 also seems to be tied into authorship of the second novella, as he is the brother who stated in the library that "“because it is distinctly possible that the aborigines of Sainte Anne were descendants of some earlier wave of human expansion—one, perhaps, even predating The Homeric Greeks...I nevertheless gloss upon the Etruscans, Atlantis, and the tenacity and expansionist tendencies of a hypothetical technological culture occupying Gondwanaland." - predating the Old Wise One's peculiar comments about the origins of the Shadow Children on Earth. Unless #5 is in some way part of the Shadow Children's group norm... I'm not sure what all that means, still - either the young David and #5 had read the second novella after finding it in the library, and it is of much earlier composition than its title suggests, or the two brothers composed it, either in collaboration or singly as fan- fiction (could Marsch have stolen it from their home?), #5 composed it while in prison, or the unnamed officer reviewing the case in the 3rd novel is the true author, David, and he has used Marsch's name as the author to satisfy his own literary or political ambitions. There seems to be a specific reason Wolfe brought up those very specific allusions very early in the first novella, but it escapes me.
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mickjeco
Jan 05, 2019
In Gene Wolfe
I thought about this while driving around today. The middle novella is presented in situ, with no reference to its origin in either the preceding or following novellas. The prisoner in "V.R.T." makes reference to his intent to write a novel ("I was thinking of doing a novel, a great many books have been written in prisons—and it would only confuse my case. I will destroy the pages at the first opportunity") but that could be a Wolfeian head-fake. The best evidence this theory might be true relates to the unanswered question of just how David knew the details of Abo culture in his discussion with Number 5 and Mr. Million - the shell-flails, the use of roots to poison the water, etc. - would be easily explained if David included these ideas in a novella he wrote as an adult. David is the most likely character to have literary ambitions - he is well-read in literature from an early age. The story could in some respects be a retelling of the events of "The Fifth Head" from David's perspective. We aren't told how David reacted to the homicide of Maitre, but as we know he lost any inheritance ("...the court—so I was told much later—could find no proof that David was indeed my father’s son, and made my aunt his heir") and had sought "the political power that money could buy". We can guess that he might have been a little peeved at Number 5's homicidal actions. If this theory is true, it could be that Sandwalker is meant to represent the more athletic David, and the more bookish Number 5 is represented by Eastwind. Eastwind does kill (along with Number 5) his father figure Lastvoice, who like Maitre is a kind of mad-scientist (dissecting women and all), but also (by order of the two-person theological elite of which Eastwind is the junior associate) Eastwind's biological father Bloodyfinger - we are told by the Old Wise One that Sandwalker bears a considerable resemblance to Bloodyfinger (who also provided extra food to the young Sandwalker) - and since they are twins, of course he would be the father of Eastwind as well. Both Maitre and Lastvoice seek knowledge of why things are not going they way they should. The Old Wise One could well be an analogue for Mr. Million, in this retelling of events. I'm always suspicious of conspicuously unnamed characters in a story by Gene Wolfe, and of characters who drop quietly out of the narrative. The unnamed secret police officer examining the file relating to the prisoner in "V.R.T." could well be David, who we are told went to the capital (of St. Croix) after Number 5's imprisonment. The officer seems to be in the capital while he is examining the file, and could eventually have access to the novel the prisoner plans to write, which could be tweaked to include elements of David's family history. Why would the story be falsely attributed to John V. Marsch by David? I don't know, at this point, or if this idea holds water. Any thoughts or comments would be appreciated.
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mickjeco
Dec 24, 2018
In Gene Wolfe
Just a note of thanks for running a wonderful and thought-provoking podcast throughout the year. Happy Holidays and may the blessings of the season be upon you both, the readers of the forum, and of course, Gene Wolfe!
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mickjeco
Dec 05, 2018
In Gene Wolfe
Great series of podcasts on this novella so far. I binge-listened to them while on a long car trip, and thought I'd chime in with some thoughts, mostly pretty disjointed. I know you're doing a closed reading, but forgive me if I jump ahead to some issues from the rest of the story. If anyone on the forum hasn't finished the story and wants to avoid spoilers, you might want wait to read this. One of the mysteries (and I haven't read "V.R.T." yet) I can't quite figure out is exactly how many waves of colonization have hit St. Anne and St. Croix - we know there was at least one French one, and some kind of English speaking one, and from comments by the Wise Old One, one that perhaps brought the Shadow Children's ancestors from a supercivilization in ancient or at least antediluvian times, either Atlantis or Lemuria (Mu), or Gondwanaland before it split up, or Cabell's Poictesme or "The Country of Friends" - which I take to mean Texas, as the state's name comes from the Caddo Native American word "táyshaʼ "(friend), with the "S" added by Spanish colonists to make it a hispanicized plural. Texas is the only U.S. state that was once an independent republic (as Texans will often tell you, ( I've visited the site of the former embassy of the Texan Republic in London, not far from Churchill's War Chambers - there is a small plaque on the site), so Texas is literally the Country of "Friends". Or maybe the Shadow Children's ancestral memory, or the shared racial consciousness that the Wise Old One taps into from the spacefaring humans recalls the space base at Houston, when the Shadow Children dream of departures from the planet Earth. Oddly, Number 5 even suggests this antediluvian theory during the lesson with Mr. Million and David, when he says the Abos could be the "descendants of some earlier wave of expansion...even predating the Homeric Greeks." Although Mr. Million notes this as implausible, Number 5 glosses on the Etruscans, Atlantis, and the tenacity and expansionist tendencies of a hypothetical technological culture occupying Gondwanaland." That the Wise Old One should express the same idea as Number 5 in John Marsch's story is puzzling- the notion of interstellar colonizing missions launched from Atlantis or Gondwanaland (or even the Republic of Texas) is a fairly unusual idea, and how would John V. Marsch, the author of this story, be aware of the concepts espoused by Number 5 during this childhood lesson? One possibility is that (jumping ahead to the end of this novella), in the same way Eastwind either assumes the identity of Sandwalker or that Sandwalker and Eastwind are reunited in a single body after the Shadow Child bites him, in a similar fashion John V. Marsch, as an Abo assumes some aspect of the identity of Number 5 - which could be the significance of the (Roman numeral) middle initial. I don't know if that idea will be supported by the final novella, though. Or is the Wise Old One tapping into the human clone Number 5's theories as part of the human consciousness stream? If the first wave of colonists came from prehistoric Earth, as Number 5 and Marsch reports the Wise Old One as saying, and possibly carrying the ancestors of the Shadow Children, was there a later (Christian, monotheistic) one that imparted the monotheism (a religious concept that is rare in early civilizations on Earth) and the Christian names of John and Mary, and the "Go with God" salutation common to Germanic and Spanish Earth cultures - "Geh mit Gott" and "Adios") to the Abos before the events of "A Story" and the colonists who arrive at the end of the second novella? Does the German salutation of "Go with God" and the sort of rudimentary Calvinistic predestination that Sandwalker seems to profess indicate a German colonization wave? Like Glenn, I thought that the descriptions of the Shadow Children could just be the description of baseline Humans, as viewed from an outsider's perspective, which would probably tell us more about the Abos (or at least Sandwalker's Hill People - there obviously could be more than one race or species of indigenous, or near-indigenous people). If I describe an average-sized man as very tall, that will imply to others that I am short. The frequent descriptions of the Shadow Children as having short legs strongly indicates that the Abos are a very long-legged people - and this seems a strong clue why the women of the Maitre's bordello are so frequently described as long-legged. I would guess that the mimicry skills of the Abos are not absolute - they are basically bipeds and have two arms and two limbs, and can alter their facial features and perhaps skin color to resemble settlers but could not physically assume the shape of, say, a ghoul-bear. So in their "natural" state, they have similar body structures but are extremely long-legged and taller than us, a fact which is hard to conceal. The Shadow Children's description as having heads and necks with the mobility of owls and their "too-supple necks" might simply be normal human neck range of motion, implying that Abos have thicker, less mobile necks. Their "claws" and "talons" would simply be the long nails that humans grow if they are untended. The Shadow Children's faces, "dark and weak, huge eyes above sagging flesh, the cheeks sunken, the nose and mouth, from which a thick fluid ran, no larger than an infants" would imply that the Abos are lighter-complexioned, strong-featured, high cheekboned, with large mouths and big noses. The thick fluid running from their mouths might be simply snot or saliva. Later, Sandwalker describes the Shadow Children as too small, unhealthy-looking, ears too round and not enough hair - implying, perhaps, that the Abos have pointed ears. But later, the Old Wise One says the Shadow Children looked like the Abos look at the time of "A Story" - did the Abos initially mimic the Shadow Children, then the Shadow Children devolve over time? That seems to be what is meant; the use of the narcotic fiber that is chewed, like Dune's melange, seems to have reduced them in stature and health, as well as in corporeality. The essential weirdness of the Shadow Children, though, with their group mind and not-quite-solid presences and possibly venomous saliva doesn't seem to comport with an earthly Adamic origin, though. They might also be, literally, the Fair Folk who pop up regularly in Wolfe's work, from "Cabin on the Coast" to "Peace", who mounted their own space expedition in ancient times? Yet another possibility is that the Shadow Children of the story never existed, and that John V. Marsch is another Wolfeian unreliable narrator. (They do, however, seem to make an appearance again in Citadel of the Autarch.) In looking at any text forensically, we have to ask who the author is, who the intended audience is, and what the message is. I'm still trying to figure that out. Did John V. Marsch's name represent the "John" Christian first name of Sandwalker, and "Marsch" the Marsh-people of Eastwind's adopted tribe, and is John Marsch the twins, reunited in a single body, still alive? I have to read the final novella this week to see if any of this is supported. Re "Eastwind", I note that "Westwind" was Gene Wolfe's CB radio handle, and of course the title of one of his best-known short stories, but I don't know if that has any relevance. Going all the way back to the beginning of "Fifth Head", when David and Number 5 are getting a lesson in the library from Mr. Million, what is the source of David's (and 5's) knowledge of Abo history and culture. David seems especially well-informed about some aspects of Abo culture that show up in the second novella - has he read this story at some point, or as the naturally-born son of a prostitute (possibly the woman in pink) who is Abo or part Abo, has he obtained this information from some kind of racial memory? I'm thinking particularly of his statement that "they killed their sacrificial animals with flails of seashells that cut like razors," and how Sandwalker and Eastwind together flog Lastvoice to death, using the limbs of a tree with "little shells that slice the white flesh" of Lastvoice's back. Was there an even earlier, less-human form of the Abos before adopting the partially human template seen in "A Story"? I remember one passage saying the Abos lived in holes and were "longer" (but can't find it). Again, jumping ahead in the story past your close read (sorry), to the concept that the Shadow Children take different names based on how many are in the group - I'm trying to think about what significance the names chosen for each-sized group have, although of course, if there is only one in the group, that Shadow Child becomes (the lone) Wolf. I have a sneaking suspicion that the seed of that concept (name-by-number) may have somehow come from Walt Kelly's comic strip Pogo, of which Wolfe is a fan (as am I) - in his collection of "Letters Home" from the Korean War, he thanks his mom for sending him some Pogo strips, and asks her to send him some of the Pogo books. In Pogo, three little bats (themselves creatures of the shadows) are recurring characters. They don't possess individual names, but decide who they are going to be each morning by who wears which pair of pants - they have their three names stitched on the backside of each pair. Collectively, their names are Bemitched, Bothered, and Bemildred (sic, a take-off of the Rogers and Hart song) but like the Shadow Children, their identities of course are fluid. Contemplating all this has made my head hurt, but in a good way. (Thank you, Mr. Wolfe.) I'll post more later as I think on all this... Again, a great series of podcasts!
"A Story" by John V. Marsch content media
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mickjeco
Oct 10, 2018
In Gene Wolfe
I really like the in-depth treatment you've given TFHOC, which has given me a lot to think about and sent me back to the novella numerous times to re-read section in light of some of the questions you've raised. I can't wait for this in-depth treatment of The Book of the New Sun. Thought I'd start a fresh thread on issues raised in the final few episodes devoted to TFHOC. A thought occured to me today that there is an early tip-off to the theme of genetic stagnation - I can't remember if this was brought up in the podcasts or other scholarship, but in the first couple of pages, the Narrator describes the iron shutter that covered his bedroom window, and notes that it was overgrown with a silver trumpet vine (since dug up). He writes that, "I used to wish that it would close the window entirely and thus shut out the sun," but that David would break off the twigs of the vine and make panpipes out of them. The ancient Greek word for "twig" is "klon" from which we get the word "clone" (from the ability to grow a new plant from a twig of the original plant). Wolfe has studied Attic Greek, I think he intended the metaphor for the genetic stagnation of the family, growing over and shrouding the windows of the house, which the Narrator welcomes at some level for the darkness it provides, whereas David finds a way through art/music to find a path out through that.
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mickjeco
Sep 07, 2018
In Gene Wolfe
The podcast is my favorite explication for one of my favorite stories. I reread the story, listened to the podcast, and came here to see what else was posted before laying out my own thoughts..only to find this was one of the mysteriously disappearing posts. Hope you don't mind me starting one up again. I can't add much of substance to your comments or the the broad range of scholarship that has already been applied to this story by others, but some minor thoughts that popped up while listening to the podcast: 1) The pulp novel pastiche is wonderful, of course. I was thinking particularly not only of the obvious source of Dr. Moreau (although I had cleanly missed noticing that "Dr. Moreau" means "Dr. Black", but also Edgar Rice Burroughs (with his tales of lost cities in the jungles and mightily-thewed heroes), Doc Savage (whose exploits were being reprinted at the time this was written and whose cover art, by James Bama, always depicted Doc in conflict in a torn shirt, as the cover is described in the story), Sax Rohmer and Ian Fleming's Dr. No, and even Lovecraft - the stones in Ransom's confinement cell are described as "cyclopean", a word I have only ever seen used by H.P. Lovecraft and his acolytes, and of course the links to Lemuria. The phrase you mention as being a pastiche of Robert E. Howard ("like a thunderbolt of purpose") is dead on. 2) I love how Dr. Death progresses from being an evil character to being a helpful and even protective figure (perhaps even fatherly) by the end of the story. I like your comments that this represents how we use archetypal figures from fiction to understand the darkness within "real" life. 3) In Bruno, Wolfe shows a frequent motif of dogs (and cats) and other animals that have been genetically advanced (?) to human shape = the dog/policemen of "The Hero as Werwolf", "Sonya, Wessleman and Kitteh" of course, and the talking donkey and ox of "No Planet Fall". Wolfe's love of dogs often comes out in his stories. (My favorite photo of Gene is in Patti Peret's collection of photos "Faces of Fantasy", displaying a grin as wide as the horizon while a Marmaduke-sized dog luxuriates across his lap.) 4) The Freudianism is as prominent in this story as "House of Ancestors". The florid description of Dr. Death injecting "a fluid which by its very color suggested the vile perversion of medical technique" into her body seems to suggest the dawning awareness (in Tackman's case, probably prematurely accelerated by the sights to which he has been exposed in the house) that his mother is a sexual object to other men. 5) Tackman's literal dance of joy and anticipation at continuing the story is wonderful. 6) Really good catch on Jason's costume being that of a Nazi SS officer. I missed that completely. 7) Tackman recognizes the couple "making love" at the party, suggesting this is not the first time the child has been prematurely exposed to sexual situations. 8) I also like the suggestion in the podcast that Tackman seems to benefit from his relationships with both Ransom and Dr. Death - Dr. Death is his ability to recognize the darkness and dangers in the world, and Ransom in the model of courage to do something about it - I imagine him running out of the house like "a thunderbolt of purpose" to seek help for his mother.
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mickjeco
Aug 23, 2018
In Gene Wolfe
It looks like the original forum post for this story fell down the Time Hole, so I hope you don't mind if I re-introduce it for discussion. This was one of Wolfe's stories that I had inexplicably not read before, and as you said, it's classic Wolfe. There's a lot to unpack in the story, and in the controversy today over privately-run prisons and prison labor in America, as well as the resurgence of slavery in the Third World and the continuing controversy over the history of slavery and the Civil War, it remains quite relevant. Your comments in the podcast were absolutely spot-on regarding Wolfe (echoing Chesterton) and his examination of the need for a Third Way based on a Catholic understanding of mercy and compassion, It's interesting that ransoming the captive is one of the 7 Corporal Works of Mercy, and that the Pope abstains from voting to carry out yet another, burying the dead. The story seems to be based on several incidents of papal history, especially the 15th century reintroduction of the instutution of slavery in the New World, and the (largely fruitless) efforts of a succession of popes to end it, beginning with Eugenius IV and his 1435 bull Sicut Dudum which demanded that Christians free all enslaved natives of the Canary Islands within fifteen days under penalty of automatic excommunication; followed by Pope Paul III's bull, Sublimus Dei, which taught that natives peoples were not to be enslaved; in 1591, Gregory XIV 's Cum Sicuti, addressed the bishop of Manila in the Philippines and reiterated his predecessors’ prohibitions against enslaving native peoples. In later centuries, Urban VIII promulgated Commissum Nobis (1639) in support of the Spanish king’s (Philip IV) edict prohibiting enslavement of the Indians in the New World. Benedict XIV's Immensa Pastorum reiterated in 1741 that the penalty for enslaving Indians was excommunication; in 1839, Gregory XVI issued In Supremo to condemn the enslavement of Africans, and Pope Leo XIII promulgated two bulls condemning slavery in 1888 and 1890. Yet many, if not most of these efforts were ineffective, as by this point he papacy had little political influence over the Spanish and Portuguese and always held little over the antebellum American south, just as the Pope in the story has been stripped of all secular powers of persuasion. One can argue, though, that by keeping the doctrine of opposition to slavery alive, in whatever diminished political position the papacy held, it maintained one of the few primcipled bastions against slavery from the 15th to the 19th centuries, until it began to take hold in other countries and sects. Ideas, like seeds can remain dormant for centuries until they find fertile soil. So maybe there is something to the belief of the Pope in the story. Likewise, the papacy's resistance to the rising power of Hitler required a similar balancing of principled resistance to the Nazi program of euthanasia of the disabled and deformed, and the very real risk of the wholesale destruction of the Church and persecution of the Catholics in Germany and the occupied countries. Through history there has been a continual walk on a knife-edge between matyrdom and the repression or even destruction of the Church (and associated human misery) and a worldly accommodation with civil authority - a problem the current Pope is trying to balance in China. The Pope's notion that Bushnan could replace the last nun is interesting as well. If Wolfe is not using the color choice of blue ironically, could that reflect a hope for her redemption and the taking of Holy Orders? If I were to teach a class on the Catholic Imagination in Literature, this story would absolutely be one of the works assigned for reading and discussion along with Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, G.K. Chesterton, Evelyn Waugh, et al. A great story and a great podcast discussion. As a side-note, Sal's invitation Bushnan to upgrade his software for a nominal cost is probably the first appearance in literature of an all-too-common modern experience, as our computers continually remind us to upgrade our security software, upgrade to the most current OS, etc. (and, occasionally, we are asked to affirm that we are not robots.)
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mickjeco
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