(urth) Pirate Freedom notes

Gwern Branwen gwern0 at gmail.com
Sat Nov 24 22:13:24 PST 2012

Finally got around to reading it. Quick read, reasonably entertaining.
Sadly, I find myself even less interested than _The Sorcerer's House_
in figuring out the secret - but I am more interested, and I enjoyed
_Pirate Freedom_ more, than _An Evil Guest_. Faint praise, perhaps.
Reading through the old email threads to see what I missed, I'm not
sure about some of the ideas floating around.

First, where's this stuff about him being cloned coming from? The one
bit of evidence I've seen is a quote to the effect that "my father
made me"; I can't find this in my _Pirate Freedom_ EPUB (but FBReader
seems to have buggy search so this may not count). But at face value,
this seems completely unconvincing to me: he's a *Mafia* guy! All "my
father made me" means is that he's a "made man", as one would expect
of the son of a big Mafia figure. Chris even says at one point to a
new pirate something to the effect 'now you're a made man". Presumably
no one thinks Chris just zapped him with some tailored RNA viruses...
"Half-human monster" is more promising, but in context, there's no
mention of simply human: "The artists of the Middle Ages painted
allegories, we say. What really happened was that they saw more
clearly than we do, and painted what they saw—angels and devils,
beasts, and half-human monsters like me." The artists were painting
clones? Or is this just more Christian thought a la Pope? The best
line is "I am taller than most people—my father told me once he got me
engineered that way—and I was taller than he was by quite a bit." but
height has been known to be hereditable since Galton and a fair number
of genes have already been identified responsible for variance, so
even simple embryo selection (make multiple embryos, sequence the
genomes of each, implant the best-scoring one) would work for that.

Second, there's something really weird about the lack of attention
paid to the timeslips. Chris doesn't even explicitly mention anything
about time travel until like pg 80 where he says it just sank in
(?!!?!), and the implication is that the timeslip happened long before
he left for the entire monastery: the enrolled kids are, after the
closure of the school is announced, implied to be different from the
previous kids, and at some point Chris notices no one has
wristwatches. Now, this is the same Chris who after wandering around
colonial age Cuba and sailing ships still hasn't noticed what time
period he is in, so the safe assumption is that the wristwatches
disappeared when the school closed. So the entire monastery has been
timeslipped for many years, and we are told that some of the monks go
out to hear confessions each week, so the timeslip could not have gone
unnoticed for more than a week at worst. So what's going on here with
the monastery? The lack of contact is curious, as Chris points out and
as is emphasized when we learn that Chris thinks his house is so close
that he'll just walk there - he didn't sneak out at any point, or have
a vacation or break? (His father can't visit him, but nothing is said
of Chris visiting his father.)

His obliviousness and rationalizings are supposedly not that: he
claims to pump the farmer he meets with the horse, but  why didn't he
just turn around and go back to the monastery and ask 'hey guys what
happened?' He also then rationalizes blatantly: 'And it was not there.
I decided then that there were two Havanas, or maybe the city had
changed its name and this little town had taken it over.' Sure, Chris.

Having read a bunch of theories, I can't say any of them seem
especially plausible. No one has a good explanation of Jaime's
self-immolation or disappearance, Valentin & dog's murder, the
apparent foreknowledge of Lesage, Chris's father (if he is a later
Chris, why is he much shorter than his 'son'?) or the monastery's
behavior. Nothing that ties them all together. It's a little
frustrating, since once the various points are identified it feels
like there should be an obvious answer.

I feel a little like _The Sorcerer's House_or _An Evil Guest_ here: by
the end we've identified what the solution ought to look like (another
time traveler acting at various points in the story / Bax killing his
twin and usurping his identity / Cassie going to Woldercon and maybe
time-traveling herself), but we don't know how to go beyond that and
make the whole thing fall into a satisfying whole (who and how and why
/ how the letters were mistakenly or deliberately rearranged and the
deceptions before the final deception-letter / what Cassie actually


On a sidenote, the speech about the many Church sex abuse scandals is
disgusting. I don't take this as Wolfe deliberately giving us evidence
of Chris being a depraved monster, it reads too sincerely and is
consistent with the crankery I've documented elsewhere (although I
fully expect someone to reply saying 'no, don't confuse the text with
the author, let's interpret it as charitably as possible', just like
they did with the *non*fiction predictions I posted); the leadup to
his speech is itself misleading and slanted, completely ignoring the
central enabling coverup role the Church played for decades upon end.
There is no reason to not mention the Church's role, since the Bishop
is not otherwise portrayed sympathetically and mentioning it would
both be factually accurate and continue characterizing the Bishop...
The setup is also, shall we say, curious for making the victims
adolescents and not younger still as they so often were. It's also a
little strange that Wolfe expects the 'Communists to fall'. Even when
this was being written, Cuba's government had been substantially
liberalizing and privatizing. There's pretty much no reason to expect
them to 'fall' as opposed to follow a gradual transition to being,
like China, Communist in name-only.


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