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S.L. Harris
Jul 18, 2021
In Elder Sign
It's been many years since I read this, and I've really appreciated your discussion, particularly the centering of the theme of grief. This is all from memory and your recap, but I can see how grief could unite the home invasion and cosmic strands of the story. I don't mean to reduce the Recluse's defense against the pig creatures to crude allegory, but there was something that struck me about the relentlessness of the assault, the way in which the things that want to hurt you keep snuffling around and clawing at the door, and the need to be constantly on guard, that seemed very much like a certain mode of experiencing grief and loss, especially early on. Then the journeys across time and space and the wish to both preserve a moment for eternity and to escape present circumstances are more explicitly tied to the Recluse's sense of loss. Clearly that's not all that's going on thematically in this book, but your discussion drew that thread out for me. Thanks!
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S.L. Harris
Jul 10, 2020
In Gene Wolfe
Great discussion as always! I love this story. A few thoughts, with the usual caveat that I haven't read any Wolfe scholarship or interpretation beyond the podcast: The name "Cutthroat": whether or not the protagonist is a human or native of the planet (and I agree with you that he's human), in this ecosystem of northern totems I thought of a cutthroat trout or salmon - a creature whose great purpose in life is an arduous journey to lay the groundwork for the next generation. Along those lines, I agree with the reading that on the symbolic level, this is (like Pilgrim's Progress) a story of the soul striving to return to its home in God. That moment where the protagonist realizes that the Great Sleigh can hear him rings strongly of a mystical experience of prayer. And I do see Mantru as a descendant of a much older human presence on the planet, rather than a failed questor, although that's a nice interpretation as well.
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S.L. Harris
Jun 17, 2020
In Elder Sign
Really enjoyed your coverage of this one; I read the Dying Earth tales some years ago and am coincidentally reading the Demon Princes now. I remember being much more enthusiastic about the Cugel the clever stories than the Turjan ones, partly because the hilariously mannered dialogue is more polished in the Cugel tales and partly because they more satisfyingly (?) address some of the plot and ethical critiques you brought up: the Cugel stories are unashamedly picaresque, with one adventure screen-wiping into another with nary a look back, and the relentless up-and-down beats make that work pretty well. Then, the universe of Cugel is entirely amoral: "The rain it raineth on the just,/ And also on the unjust fella;/ But chiefly on the just, because/ The unjust hath the just's umbrella." Because nearly everyone is terrible and we know it, it's fun to root for Cugel to get his comeuppance and then to root for him to somehow land on his feet before going back to rooting against him.
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S.L. Harris
Apr 29, 2020
In Gene Wolfe
I missed the Fifth Head of Cerberus discussion as it was going on and listened to the podcasts in quick succession, so apologies if I missed this in either the podcasts or the forums, but in thinking about colonialism and psychology in Fifth Head, the work of Frantz Fanon came immediately to mind. The themes of the novella and of Fanon's work seem too closely connected to be coincidental, and if Wolfe was reading and thinking about colonialism in the early 70s, he almost certainly would have encountered Fanon. I need to revisit the texts in detail, but Black Skin, White Masks and The Wretched of the Earth both deal with the insidious and devastating psychological effects and concomitants of colonization on both colonizer and colonized. A few points in Fanon's thinking on colonialism that seem especially relevant: The necessity of total replacement of the colonized as the end goal of colonialism, regardless of the colonizer's stated aim or motive (this idea of replacement is obviously central to the book, and Fanon's concept is perhaps being either subverted through or concealed behind Veil's hypothesis). Speaking of "veil," the veil in Fanon's North African context is representative of the colonizer's (often highly sexualized) obsession with the "hidden" or "private" lives of the colonized, (embodied in the brothel and the demimondaines). The ways in which the colonized (especially the colonized intellectuals) become conditioned to take on the "masks" of the colonizers because they are consistently conditioned to believe in their own inferiority (a theme which runs deep through "VRT," and applies differently depending on how you interpret the story) The centrality of the liberation struggle to the formation of a true postcolonial identity (the hints of rebellion peppered throughout, especially in "VRT"). I'm sure there's more, but this is what comes immediately to mind from my dusty recollections of reading Fanon in college. Loved your coverage of this book!
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S.L. Harris

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