(urth) Palgrave History of Science Fiction

Paul Rydeen rydeen at bellsouth.net
Thu Mar 8 13:47:35 PST 2018

Thanks for sharing.  This is one I’ll read again at some point.


I like how Wolfe handled Cassie’s behavior changing after she makes her deal, and how Margaret just drops out of the plot.


And how the ending leaves the reader having to figure out just a little bit, even if they’ll never dig into all the deeper stuff that Marc is so good at ferreting out.






From: Urth [mailto:urth-bounces at lists.urth.net] On Behalf Of Eric Bourland
Sent: Wednesday, March 07, 2018 9:34 PM
To: urth at lists.urth.net
Subject: Re: (urth) Palgrave History of Science Fiction


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 part.

* 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 decency.

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  <mailto:urth at lists.urth.net> <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 <mailto:eb at hwaet.com> 
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