(urth) An Evil Guest: gold hunting

Gwern Branwen gwern0 at gmail.com
Fri Jan 8 11:22:40 PST 2010

On Thu, Jan 7, 2010 at 8:25 PM, James Wynn <crushtv at gmail.com> wrote:
>>> He's told that he is to be on the island alone, and within a couple hours
>>> of
>>> his family arriving on the island, Hanga singles out Baden's wife as a
>>> future meal. It's hard to ignore the coincidence.
>> Hold on. This is the second you've said he is ordered to be alone.
>> What is this based on?
>> His boss says 'you will be on your own', but this is a prediction
>> about other agency people, not white people or people in general
>> obviously Rob and the islanders are already there.
> It did *look* like merely a prediction, until his family arrived and they
> were immediately treated as an offering.
> I didn't say there would be no other white people, but there seems to be
> some limitations on who can safely come and go there. And family members
> seems to be part of the limitation.
>> Nor does he ever
>> think 'The agency won't like Mary coming here, but I sure hope she
>> does anyway!'
> No, he doesn't say that. Obviously Baden doesn't know the rules about being
> there anymore than we do. When he shouted at Hanga to stop killing his
> family, the Shark alien just looked at him without comprehension. Clearly
> Hanga has an understanding of the rules than Baden doesn't.
>>> That's the million dollar question.
>> They seem to get nothing out of it beyond shuffling off a burden.
> Once again, I don’t see that they have escaped a burden. They still have to
> pay him. If they had fired him...okay, lets pretend he has some kind of
> union rule that says they have to pay him 6 months or even a year after they
> fire him. Big deal. He's clearly just as useless to them on the island as he
> would be in a Chicago living room.  Except that they have extended the time
> they have to pay a totally unproductive employee. I just don't see it. If
> there is a job like this for anyone except the children of royalty, I'd
> really like to apply for it.
>> What is he hostage against? If Hanga saw Baden as a hostage against the
>> USG
>> attacking Hanga, or something, then *why on earth* would he make a
>> blood oath with Baden? That defeats the entire point! What is a
>> hostage you have sworn to never hurt or kill? Not a very useful one.
>> Similar for a sacrifice.
> He wasn’t sacrificed, so that's not it. I don't *know* what he's doing
> there. Neither does he. That's the point, right? That's what's so
> frustrating about this story. But I assume the Agency sent him there for
> *some* reason. Contacting Hanga is the only thing he does there. When he
> comes, Hanga approaches him. He doesn't approach everyone. Why him? When
> Baden's wife comes, he approaches her -- immediately. Then he attacks her.
> That's the story. It's clear the plot is developing according to some logic.
> But it is a logic that is as invisible to me as Hanga is invisible to
> everyone but Baden and his wife.
>> On the other hand, Baden going there for non-Hanga reasons and Hanga
>> taking a shine to this naive foreigner who is pasty-shark-white makes
>> perfect sense with the blood oath.
> I'm sorry, but I just don't see it. Way too random.

This is my interpretation.

1. Baden gets sick in Uganda, and becomes an impediment and danger to
all the other Agency workers doing good useful work there.
2. The agency doesn't want to fire him because as a government
bureaucrat/union/whatever, he's protected by all sorts of rules*, and
being fired for being sick plays poorly in Peoria, but indefinite sick
leave also plays badly because he could be made to look like a welfare
3. The only solution is dispatching him to a distant sinecure where
none of its other workers want to go (because of the lack of glory or
promotion to be had), where there's no real work his incompetence
might endanger, where there are no other Agency workers to infect or
obstruct, and where any reporters or outsiders would have to work
*really* hard to get to him or otherwise notice that it's a sinecure.
4. Baden is pasty white, shark-white, because he's new. And he spends
a lot of time on beaches and in the water. Hanga is being opposed by
the village chief, and is interested in humans in general, and Baden
is the one that looks most like him and spends the most time near
him** and has lots of free time to randomly encounter him. Hanga
befriends him and being a primitive god, this friendship takes the
form of the blood oath to not be in a predator-prey relationship.
5. Baden's wife comes looking for him. He's no prize, but
nevertheless, he is the father of her children. Love can be quite
blind. She makes it very clear she wants to bring him back - that's
practically all we see of her character, trying to manipulate Baden.
6. AEG mentions the analogue case of the gaffer who makes such an oath
but his family is eaten. Nothing about any Agency sending the gaffer's
family as a sacrifice - they were just in the wrong place at the wrong
time. Hanga gets hungry.
7. Either because Hanga is hungry, or because he is aware Baden might
leave and wants him to stay, Hanga attacks and attempts to eat Baden's

Note how this explains things beautifully.
- We don't need to warp the boss's statement into something it is not.
- We don't need to say 'but it's kindersortalittlelikeifyousquint some
scenes in some other works'.
- We don't need to explain how Baden or the Agency hide all their
equipment and plans and knowledge or 'real' work.
- We don't need to insist 'but Baden *must* be a sacrifice or
something because though I can't tell you what on earth he's doing
there, I'm sure it's not what it seems!'
- We don't need to say, 'Well, in TTIMH, Hanga understands human
families and relationships and his incomprehension is actually
incomprehension about why Baden is not playing by the rules, but
decades/centuries later in AEG, Hanga has simply forgotten and doesn't
understand why the gaffer is upset about his family.'
- we don't need to make extra-textual assumptions like 'TTIMH is not,
as one would naturally assume from the 8 or 9 years between TTIMH &
AEG, merely an early version of the AEG universe, but rather it is the
full and complete setting and must be interpreted as such, though it
appears to omit things and be said early version.'

And we leave room open for the buried-corpse theories, the theological
accounts (that the story is about a fall into damnation and
demon-worshiping), and even to an extent the "it's all a mental
illness" theories.

* You may not think this rules are excessive. But Wolfe is
conservative, and thus likely believes that government jobs are
uncompetitive, very highly compensated relative to duties, and in
general nepotistic & corrupt.
** Either because Baden lives near his buried corpse, if you like that
interpretation of the 'tree is my hat' comment, or because Baden
spends a lot of time near the water


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