(urth) Palgrave History of Science Fiction

Eric Bourland eb at hwaet.com
Wed Mar 7 19:34:11 PST 2018

An Evil Guest. Um, I'll try. This is a bumbling recounting from memory, 
of a book I have read several times but not in a few years. Maybe I'll 
make a list.

* It's well-crafted. There's a lot going on, but GW gives us just enough 
to make sense of all the working parts. I can tell that he put in a lot 
of work to make this one make sense. I think I can see him choosing what 
information to include, and where to leave the clues. He always does 
that of course, but in this story I can see him doing so with a sort of 
cheerful merriment.

And while I'm at it I'll add in a werewolf. Hee! And it will eat the guy.

* Maybe I like this story because I can tell that GW had a lot of fun 
writing it. His joy is infectious. The reader always knows when you're 
having a good time, and when you're struggling, or if you're bored or 
stuck. When I read this book I get a dumb grin on my face.

* Cassie. I just like her. Not in a I-have-a-crush kind of way. I 
respect how she managed herself in every jackpot she got thrown into. 
More about Cassie in a minute, because the eye-rolling usually starts 
when I start running my yap about how cool Cassie is. Hang on.

* Gideon Chase. I like him. "The tiger has told them they are tiger 
food, you see." (While eating sour cabbage.)

Chase is Wolfe . . . it took me a while to understand this. I think 
after I did understand, Chase made more sense to me. He's slightly 
sinister and we never really know about him. But also a magic man, and 
omnicompetent, but with those gifts comes uncertainty of intent.

Chase is yet another GW character that gets a leg injury. So many GW 
characters have injured legs. Silk - Severian - Chase - probably a bunch 
more I am not thinking of.

Crippled character usually = GW. It's a signal.

There's a better way to say that. Like any writer, GW puts some of his 
own ideals into characters he cares about. And he sends a characteristic 
signal to inform the thoughtful reader, hey, if you're interested, 
there's a lot of me in this fellow. I'm telling you by means of the 
crippled leg.

When Maugham wrote Of Human Bondage -- lovely, moving, wise book and I 
recommend it -- he gave his main character Philip a club foot. Some 
backstory: Maugham had a stutter. He wanted to identify Philip with 
himself, but he thought it might be hamhanded to just give Philip a 
stutter. So Philip got a club foot, as the kind of socially devastating 
discomfort and block that a stutter can be. A stutter really interferes 
with you, making even brief and simple, everyday interactions into 
events of hideous awkwardness, which in turn can lead to a lot of 
isolation. I would imagine that having an untreated club foot might 
mean, for some, a lot of isolation too.

* But Maugham, and Wolfe too, are modest about such signals. You don't 
have to admit the author into your reading at all. The story still works.

And this is neither here nor there. I just thought it was well-done.

* I'm not up on the onomastics of Gideon. Bible something something. 
Chase is a wealthy name I associate with money but also, I suppose, with 
the hunt, the pursuit of game.

* There's another wolf in the book that eats Scott Z, as retribution for 
Scott's being a horse's heinie. I can see GW writing that and smiling 
with satisfaction. It was not mean or especially gory. It happens 
offstage. It was a heartwarming, dignified assassination. Scott Z is 
gonna get the business, and it's gonna be a wolf that does the job . . . 
so I imagine Wolfe thinking.

* He did Harold Klauser just right, in only a few pages. I regard this 
as just good writing, essential GW. Klauser has a lot of important 
information to tell Cassie, and us too. He does so in a way that makes 
me like him right away. He eats those little anchovy things, I forget 
what they are. Anchovy toast. There's a lot of gustatory content in this 
book. Fine restaurants and lots of good food. That's something that 
struck me right away. I thought: These characters know how to eat. A 
little detail that just . . .  worked.

* He did Madame Pavlatos just right. There's just enough.

* The Storm God assassin was perfect and reminded me of an Ascian a 
little. Just how convinced she was. How certain.

* The various police were sufficiently goonlike yet likable for the most 

* There are a bunch of little details in this book that just worked. A 
lesser writer would have bungled these.


Wolfe adores Cassie, just as Gideon Chase adores Cassie. And I think he 
respects her. Both fellows respect her.

"Like eat?"

"Much too much," Cassie told her darkly.

That statement arrived at just the right time, later in the story. Given 
earlier, it's gratuitous. GW gives Cassie some time to earn this 
slightly funny and self-deprecating phrase. Just one way that he helped 
her be who she is, I think.

My wife, whose judgment I trust, says the book is sexist in places, and 
Cassie is sometimes deprecated by the author. She gave examples, some of 
which I was blind to as I read.

I reply with the usual arguments: she spears fish! Stands up to goons! 
Coped with the Storm God assassin! Takes a lot of initiative throughout 
the entire book! She's got a lot of pure bravery. And she really has a 
heart of gold.

My wife says: her chief ambition is merely to be a star in a show. She 
is otherwise shallow and relatively powerless. The author does not 
respect Cassie, or women. Not really. The author can write about women 
but there is a subtle, deep chauvinism there. Would the author treat a 
male character in such a way?

(I am paraphrasing, with customary clumsiness, the cogent thoughts of my 
wife, who has been a careful reader of thousands of books, including a 
few Wolfe books I have shared with her. When we discussed Cassie, she 
gave convincing examples, which I'm not relating here in any way nearly 
as convincing as her own words. I respect my wife as a reader. She is a 
wonderful wife, too. =) No, she does not read this Urth list, except for 
very rare occasions when I point out something to her.)

Chauvinism in Wolfe is a difficult topic. And it's very much beyond the 
scope of this hastily banged-out little posting to Urth. Wolfe sometimes 
identifies women by hair color -- Mdm. Pavlatos is a rake-thin brunette, 
for example. Yeah, that's chauvinistic. It establishes women as 
ornamental. I do have a problem with that. I'm glad to discuss it.

But I found Cassie very, very likable, esp at the end, when I think she 
showed her merit. Her heart was broken, but she acted with resolve and 

She loved her king (Reis, whose name is king, and whose meaning in the 
story is king) with a love much more profound than her love for Chase. 
Yet she flies to meet Chase in the end, on Woldercan. I think she 
expended her beauty in order to obtain a craft that will convey her to 
Chase . . . and out of the story. She fought her way out, with great 
sacrifice and peril, but fair and square.

I like to think about the things that Cassie wished for; what she 
actually got; what she got free of or escaped from; and what she was 
traveling to meet in the end.

It's chauvinistic! says my lovely wife whom I adore.

Wotta dame! I reply.

Other notes:

William Reis is the name of a character in another Wolfe story, I forget 
which one.

GW gave the lovecraft stuff just enough time. Exactly enough. Anything 
less or more would have been ineffective. Few other writers today can do 
this. To have that degree of trust.

There was a point in his career when Wolfe visibly allowed himself to 
relax and have a lot of fun. One result of that was An Evil Guest.

This is only my two sleep-deprived cents. I am sure I am missing much 
more than a lot. I need to go back and read Marc's writeup. I might read 
the book again. Silk for caldé!


On 3/7/2018 8:11 PM, Paul Rydeen wrote:
> Yes, let’s hear it!  AEG is one of my favorites, too.
> *From:*Urth [mailto:urth-bounces at lists.urth.net] *On Behalf Of *Marc 
> Aramini
> *Sent:* Wednesday, March 07, 2018 10:37 AM
> *To:* The Urth Mailing List <urth at lists.urth.net>
> *Subject:* Re: (urth) Palgrave History of Science Fiction
> Eric, I wouldn't mind hearing it if you wouldn't mind being quoted by 
> name, unless you didn't want it repeated. In which case I still 
> wouldn't mind hearing it. Robert Pirkola wrote a very large draft of 
> exegesis on it - I still haven't made up my mind on what to write 
> about that one. I know that There Are Doors and The Ziggurat 
> eventually revealed a pattern that pierced the unreliable third person 
> which I feel is the least justified of Wolfe's techniques because it 
> lacks a clear narrative reason save for hovering near its main 
> characters flawed perceptions.
Eric Bourland
eb at hwaet.com

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