S00E03. The Collapsium Transcript

Josh Woodward (singing) 0:00

Let’s pretend it’s the end, of this whole ugly story
We vanquished the foe and we triumphed in glory
There’s nothing but rainbows and blue skies ahead
Hallelujah, amen, it’s the end

We threw off the yoke, and we broke all the shackles
We tore down the walls, and we burned down the castle
The oppressors all scattered, and naked, they fled
Hallelujah, amen, it’s the end

Lucy Arnold 0:38
Welcome to Before the Future Came temporarily not a Star Trek podcast. We’re looking at the ideals of utopian science fiction as we voyage from one work to the next following a breadcrumb trail of motifs. This month, we’re talking about the Collapsium by Wil McCarthy published in 2000. I’m Lucy, and gods of fucking algebra, does it take a declarant to see that?

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:04
I’m Melissa and I represent an unbroken chain decades long.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:10
And I’m Gregory, a mad prophet combed over but hardly couth. So excited for this one.

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:17
Oh, god.

Lucy Arnold 1:19
Last episode, we discussed The Wild Robot which had information transfer as a crucial component of community and survival. Today we’re talking about The Collapsium, which is also concerned with collaboration and information sharing in order to survive. Melissa picked it, so please give us a summary of the book in your own words.

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:39
All right, y’all, fair warning. This is a, this is, this book is over 400 pages and so I did my best with the summary. All right. Buckle up. Captain’s log: eighth decade of the Queendom of Sol.

Gregory Avery-Weir 2:01
Which Captain?

Melissa Avery-Weir 2:03
Good question. Declarant Philander, Bruno de Towaji, a scientist with busted internet who works with a black hole-based material called collapsium is living alone with a bunch of robots on a tiny artificial planet in the Kuiper Belt. He’s interrupted from his work on finding the end of time by a visit from Her Majesty Tamra Tamatra Lutui, The Virgin Queen of All Things, requesting that he saved the kingdom from the impending collapse of the Ring Collapsiter, which is a still in-construction ring of these little black holes around the sun that would make communication and data transmission across the solar system far more efficient. Bruno agrees to help because humans are wired for monarchy, she is the queen, and he is one of her former lovers. Upon being faxed back to civilization with Tamra, Bruno meets fellow collapsium engineer-scientist Declarant Philander Marlon Sykes, a fellow who harbors not one bit of resentment over Bruno’s success as a scientist. None at all.

Lucy Arnold 3:17
Not even a little bit?

Melissa Avery-Weir 3:19

Gregory Avery-Weir 3:19
I immediately shipped them… and it turned out great.

Lucy Arnold 3:28
You got what you wanted.

Melissa Avery-Weir 3:31
All the philanderers… The Queen drags him to a fundraising dinner party where Bruno makes something of an ass of himself by being awkward, getting drunk, throwing his wealth around, and then getting sick at the table. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t talk to humans for over a decade. After suffering through dinner, Bruno goes on a walk up a long staircase along a mountain on Venus outside, no helmets. No helmets needed. With his fellow dinner companions trailing behind to see the spectacle of what this elusive scientist is going to do next. What he’s going to do is solve the engineering problem of the Ring Collapsiter or with Marlon Sykes helpfully at his side while the crowd looks on. He’s given an award for his trouble and faxed back to his little internetless planet. Then we find out ghosts exist, and that on a return fax, a copy of Bruno was made and was so terrified that he left a residual echo.

Gregory Avery-Weir 4:33
End of book one.

Melissa Avery-Weir 4:35
End of the book one.

Melissa Avery-Weir 4:37
Captain’s Log: ninth decade of the Queendom of Sol. Bruno is still on his planet and still searching for the end of time. Although this time by trying to use his baby black holes to create “true vacuum”. We do not have to care what that is. Queen Tamra shows up again with yet another disaster on the Ring Collapsiter project. After a lecture on Bruno’s troubling little experiment with freeing? a robot from its connection with the house that it normally gets its orders from, they have sex and then fax themselves back to civilization… because human genetics include a mechanism for awe in the face of celebrity. She is the Queen, and he is one of her lovers. This time, we meet Laureate-Director Deliah van Skettering, a manager of sorts ,on an effort to hold the Ring Collapsiter her up out of the sun using a set of cable winches, which we will probably also refer to as grapples in the course of this episode. We also rejoin Marlon Sykes who is now absolutely high-key hostile and jealous. No… Man lacks subtlety. Bruno, Tamra, and Deliah visit Marlon’s weird, unstable, ostentatious Greek house, drink too-sweet tea and deduce that the problem with the grapples—the cable winches—is due to sabotage. Then all but one of the Deliahs and Marlons are murdered.

Melissa Avery-Weir 6:07
A child cop named Commandant-Inspector Vivian Rajmon and her extremely loyal Lieutenant Cheng Shiao are on the case. The lieutenant shows the group a very cool, very unsettling, reenactment of the double murder of Deliah and Marlon, which is committed by a robot that was faxed in without leaving a record. As the murder investigation begins to merge with the sabotage investigation, Marlon’s weird house is destroyed, Bruno has a heart to heart with the weird child cop, and they are finally able to find a suspiciously hiding ship containing a weapon that was used to shoot the Ring Collapsiter cable winches. Bruno and Shiao have a conversation about what happens in a meritocracy if you don’t have merit. Aboard the ship—this suspicious ship—is a heavily modified man that is a copy of someone we met in the first book. Wenders Rodenbeck, who opposed the Venus terraforming project. He committed suicide—

Gregory Avery-Weir 7:08
Heavily modified as in like extra limbs. Like, this dude was weird.

Melissa Avery-Weir 7:13
Extra limbs, yes. We have not, up to this point, seen people that were quite so heavily modified. There’s been lots of talk of fashion, but not that sort of like… He committed suicide and his other copy who was more conventional-looking and recalls having met everybody has no idea how this all happened. He is not this kind of terrorist. Bruno leaves the gruntwork to the grunts and returns to his little planet to find that his robot Hugo can at least walk now. End of book two.

Melissa Avery-Weir 7:54
Captain’s log… Question mark, who is the captain? Tenth decade of the Queendom of Sol. Bruno is still on his planet, but has darkened his own little sun to have materials for his ring-based attempt to find the end of time. He decides he’s ready to hang out with humans again and has the house fix his internet connection. It takes nine seconds.

Melissa Avery-Weir 8:21
It’s been decades.

Gregory Avery-Weir 8:22
It’s the best joke in the book, I think.

Melissa Avery-Weir 8:24
It’s so good. It’s so good. As soon as the connection is reestablished, a very sickly and abused man falls through. It’s a copy of Bruno. He’s been held by: dun, dun, dun, Marlon Sykes for years and tortured into revealing how Bruno’s mind works in order to best get a leg up on Bruno in this intellectual race that Bruno isn’t competing in. Bruno and his fax copy, Muddy, realize that Marlon is destroying dangerous collapsitor ringing stuff to destroy the sun when one of those cable winch stations come, comes hurtling out of the system with Deliah on it. Bruno and Muddy rapidly devise a way to reduce inertia when traveling quickly in space, and build a little Wallace and Gromit-style ship. They fly off to save Deliah and the queendom.

Gregory Avery-Weir 9:19
It doesn’t have an airlock; it’s just got one door.

Melissa Avery-Weir 9:21
It just has a door.

Gregory Avery-Weir 9:22
Which becomes a problem.

Melissa Avery-Weir 9:24
It does. I mean, I honestly could not help the Wallace and Gromit image in my head of them going to get cheese. But along the way, Bruno faces what he considers to be his lowest self: a sniffling, scared, abused version of himself that starts out pretty hopeless and pessimistic.

Melissa Avery-Weir 9:44
I am leaving out an immensely boring amount of technobabble. There’s so much technobable.

Gregory Avery-Weir 9:53
I love the technobabble.

Melissa Avery-Weir 9:55
I love it too, but there is… there’s…

Gregory Avery-Weir 9:58
You could not be expected to summarise it. We know how all of these devices work. I’ll be talking about this.

Melissa Avery-Weir 10:04
Good. After collecting Deliah, the trio careens into the inner solar system in search of the Queen. They find the platform where the Queen was and are able to recover the two cops and one of the Queen’s aides, but not the Queen herself. She died an act of rashness, saving nobody. They communicate with Marlon via radio signals. Marlon is extremely ready to show off how smart he is and brag to Bruno about how Bruno has not discovered the end of time. They frantically search for Marlon’s secret base, which they find on Mercury, the closest planet facing the sun, readily available for close communication. They find the base. They invade it. They run a gauntlet of a sequence of rooms—just like a nice little dungeon—until they get themselves to the boss. The boss is not the ginormous spider with hands, who was once again their friend Rodenbeck. It is instead Marlon,

Lucy Arnold 11:14
It’s the curse of being a poet.

Melissa Avery-Weir 11:17
It is. You just get to be all the enemies, apparently. That poor guy.

Lucy Arnold 11:22
The mini-bosses, to be fair.

Melissa Avery-Weir 11:25
Yes, yes, the mini-bosses. Words are exchanged, monologuing occurs. Shiao subdues Marlon, and handcuffs him. Bruno successfully reenables the fax machine in the room in order to get help in and out. And then sits and cries for perhaps 10 weeks over the death of the Queen. Bruno is—by force, completely without his consent—crowned king. The queen is revived, although she is a copy several years old, and they live happily ever after? And we are given to understand that we have been in fact reading a history book this whole time. And that is the end of book three.

Gregory Avery-Weir 12:22
I loved this book. I thought this… I really enjoyed it all the way through. I want to read the sequel. It’s a whole series.

Melissa Avery-Weir 12:29
It is a whole series. I liked it too. I wasn’t sure that I would. The pacing was weird. It definitely felt like three books, three distinct stories.

Lucy Arnold 12:40
I have more mixed feelings about it.

Gregory Avery-Weir 12:43
Well, we can get into it. We have each brought a topic for discussion. Mine is technology hard science fiction and soft science fiction. So the Wikipedia article for The Collapsium opens with, “The Collapsium is a hard science fiction novel.”

Gregory Avery-Weir 13:04
And that’s a term, like, if you’re not a big sci-fi reader specifically, people talk about there being two kinds of science fiction: hard science fiction and soft science fiction. And like all taxonomies and all binaries, it doesn’t work. It’s a spectrum and also doesn’t mean anything. But generally speaking, people mean one of two things, and rarely specify what they mean when they say hard and soft sci-fi. Sometimes they mean hard sci-fi deals with sci-fi about hard sciences, physics and engineering and and chemistry and biology and things like that. And soft sci-fi does soft sciences like sociology and, I don’t know, Borges could be considered soft sci-fi, right? Like…

Lucy Arnold 13:59

Gregory Avery-Weir 14:01
Yeah, psychohistory, weird linguistic stuff, etc. Or, like anthropological stuff like The Dispossessed or something like that. So in that, in that sense, like Foundation would be considered soft sci-fi, even though it doesn’t have faster than light travel. Because the other dichotomy that people do is that hard sci-fi like, cares about whether its technology makes sense scientifically, or what can be justified scientifically and soft sci-fi doesn’t. So from that perspective, like, generally, if there’s not faster than light travel, it’s probably hard sci-fi. If there’s like a magical warp engine that makes lets you go faster than light that soft sci-fi. So Star Trek and Star Wars: soft sci-fi. We’re not talking about those because the strike is still ongoing, but hard sci-fi would be like the series of books called The Expanse, which doesn’t have faster than light travel.

Gregory Avery-Weir 14:58
And this book feels like hard sci-fi. And it’s very concerned with hard science, physics. But also, while that’s kind of the driver for the plot, the story of this book is about a bunch of people and how they interact and kind of bounce off of each other. And the, the science that explains it all is, I mean, we learn exactly what chemicals that these, these collapsium nodes are made out of. We, like, there’s theories about like, exactly how these weird grapples work that allow you to, to pull on, like, sling yourself around the solar system like Spider-man by pulling on planets and stuff.

Melissa Avery-Weir 15:42
So cool.

Gregory Avery-Weir 15:44
And like, that’s, that’s all soft sci-fi sort of stuff. That’s… the ability to travel in an inertialess ship by Spider-manning your way across the solar system, and faxing copies of yourself from place to place? That’s all soft sci-fi stuff. Like, the transfer, you’re… The way the fax machine in the book literally works is it disassembles your body, killing you, transmits the information about you to the other fax machine, which then reassembles you out of base matter. And like, that’s feels like soft sci-fi technology, even though it’s explained in technobabblely things that feel like hard sci-fi. And it’s this is a hypertech book witha a, with a plot that revolves around interpersonal drama. And yet it feels like a hard sci-fi book. And it’s a really interesting like, push and pull there. And it to me kind of exposes the the lie behind that that taxonomy.

Lucy Arnold 16:50
I actually didn’t, like, I wasn’t even familiar with those sorts of ways of defining hard science fiction. Yeah.

Gregory Avery-Weir 16:58
Yeah, if you read, like, I don’t know, a lot of old sci-fi short stories, like in magazines and stuff like that or in anthologies. They make a big deal about one or the other.

Lucy Arnold 17:12
Oh, yeah. I just sort of thought it was a way of being like a Sad Puppy and being like, “Well, this is why it’s really important that we only include old white men in things.”

Gregory Avery-Weir 17:20
Yeah, but like…

Lucy Arnold 17:21
Instead of things like Octavia Butler.

Gregory Avery-Weir 17:24
Ray Bradbury is a classic example of an old white man who is beloved by good and bad people alike. But is a soft sci-fi writer, 100%. Like Ray Bradbury doesn’t care how the Ghosts of Mars work.

Lucy Arnold 17:38
Well, yeah. I mean, I understand that you could have white men be soft sci-fi, but I think, it feels… It had felt—I’m not disagreeing with you, by the way. I just sort of thought it was a more like, here’s a way to be sort of gatekeepery.

Gregory Avery-Weir 17:52
Yeah, but I mean, it, it was initially like came out in the fan and critical sci-fi press at a time when like, they were still reaching for ways to talk about this stuff.

Melissa Avery-Weir 18:05
Yeah. And I think there have been at least, I will say, as, as a youth who read sci-fi, there was a gatekeepy aspect to it, there was an aspect of sort of masculinity associated with hard sci-fi. Especially with like, there being more of a chance to have things like romance in soft sci-fi books, I’m saying this as if these are a real thing, right? But it’s obviously it’s not. But there’s that association of like, “Oh, it’s closer to being a girl book if it’s sort of sci-fi.” So I definitely struggled with that at a tender age of internalized misogyny, et cetera, et cetera.

Gregory Avery-Weir 18:50
I think it also like another gatekeeping aspect is like there’s there’s that idea of like, soft and hard gender stuff. But there’s also like, if you’re sort of the geek cred thing, or the nerd cred thing of like, “Well, we were sci-fi fans back when you had to get a book out from the library and all of these people that are only fans of Star Wars and Star Trek that appear on you know, in movie theaters on television, well, they’re, you know, they’re Johnny Come Latelies the who only like soft sci-fi.” And…

Lucy Arnold 19:22
And to make matters worse, many of them are girls.

Melissa Avery-Weir 19:27
Yep. Yep. Because girls don’t like real science. They only like it if it’s—

Lucy Arnold 19:33
You like hard science? Prove it. Explain to me a theorem of space travel.

Gregory Avery-Weir 19:38
And this book is sort of like… It’s doing a little bit of… I don’t know if “deconstruction” is the right word. It’s riffing on the genre conventions of this sort of sci-fi because this is, it came out in 2000. But the, it very much feels like a Heinlein book. In the sense of like, there’s this reclusive genius who has, has fucked the Queen and has these rivalries and boy, if people keep dragging him to, to events when really he just wants to develop his special science and that, that sort of thing is examined and pulled apart and undermined over the course of the story. But it’s still like, it’s still the swashbuckling, science genius adventure story. And that’s, I don’t know, that’s an interesting, weird… This book feels like it’s on the cusp of a lot of things. Like, it’s not particularly overtly queer in representation. Like, there’s minor implications that some of these people might be gay or bi or whatever. But those are like very, very subtextual, and maybe just our our modern sensibilities reading into things. And that’s feels weird to me. Like, like to have this story, as even especially since it’s a being Heinlein, where Heinlein folks are often… Heinlein books have gay and pansexual people all over them, and trans people and so on. And this, this is very like, with all the body modifications and so on that happened, no one is like, “Ph, yeah, they… that person was was assigned male at birth.” There’s none of that, which is strange. But at the same time, like, its approach to the blending of, of technobabble and relationship stuff feels like it’s part of the sort of post 2000s sci-fi movements towards a more diverse sort of, of plots in sci-fi. So, I don’t know. That was weird to me. The, this, this has its feet in on both sides of many boundaries.

Melissa Avery-Weir 21:57
Speaking of boundaries that it is straddling, I want to talk about wealth and labor a little bit in this book. Maybe more wealth than labor? And the straddling that I want to talk about is sort of capitalism. So there’s this tension kind of throughout the novel, with regards to what the value of money is, like how much money is a lot of money? And what is it best used for and what labor is best used for? So the narrator, or our history/historian or whoever is telling this story, and therefore, Bruno, acknowledges the presence of plutocrats. There are still obscenely wealthy people; there is still a laboring class. It’s, it’s not clear though, if this is truly a capitalist society, but the touch points are ones, the references are ones that we understand courtesy of, I think, us living in a democracy, specifically a—put air quotes around this—a “democracy” in a capitalist structure, because these are kind of two things that get referred to. As one of the things that comes to mind is that almost immediately, we are aware that Bruno is revoltingly rich.

Gregory Avery-Weir 23:27
He’s, I mean, it’s established he’s the richest human being, period, because he invented collapsium.

Lucy Arnold 23:34
And right has a sun. Like, a personal sun, right?

Gregory Avery-Weir 23:38
Yeah. Like, like a star. Yes, he is, he’s built himself as a sun to orbit his tiny planet.

Melissa Avery-Weir 23:46
Yes. His artificial planet, right? Because the planet is, the planet is full of the building blocks of collapsium as well because this later get used in a scene that absolutely makes me cry. I should have mentioned that scene earlier, but.

Gregory Avery-Weir 24:05
Teah, they they build the Wallace and Gromit spaceship out of all of his, out of his home. They, like, disassemble every bit of his planet and his fake star, which is already burned out and so on, and make it into this fancy spaceship.

Melissa Avery-Weir 24:20
Right, and I guess I’ll divert to talk about that. One of the interesting things about Muddy, the fax clone, is that he is more… I don’t know. I don’t know how to talk about this because I think in some ways, Bruno can be considered autistic-coded. And so it is… I will say Muddy is much more emotive in the way he relates to people than Bruno is and so when Muddy realizes that the house is going to be destroyed. The house is what we would call it a smart house, right? Like, it talks, it has personality. It manages things and changes materials and does all sorts of things. It’s practically a person. And when Muddy realizes that the house is going to be destroyed in this final process as this planetoid is destroyed, he just has an absolute come apart as Lucy would say. Just has a complete sobbing, like, “How can we… shouldn’t we say goodbye? Shouldn’t we? You know, do that, and…” Oh, that scene got me. Anyway.

Gregory Avery-Weir 25:37
They they save the house. They save the AI; they put it on a disk and it ends up being the ship.

Lucy Arnold 25:45
Saving the day?

Gregory Avery-Weir 25:46

Lucy Arnold 25:47
It, like, comes in clutch at the end, right?

Gregory Avery-Weir 25:49

Melissa Avery-Weir 25:49
It does, because it is used to help control the fax machines in the base on on Mercury. I hope we start a tradition of one of us tearing up in each episode. Last time it was Lucy. Now it’s me. So when we see that, that Bruno was this rich, like right off the gate, and what he’s talking about are the difficulties of being a rich scientist-engineer out in the back beyond, which is that he has a limited supply of this very expensive material, these collapsons, this, these neubles. And because he has this limited material, he has to be really, really careful about how he uses it so he doesn’t waste it. Because it is, you know, he can afford to engage in this, this, this non… this, this labor that does not produce capital in a in a, in a distinct way.

Gregory Avery-Weir 26:55
It’s just sort of like exploratory research.

Melissa Avery-Weir 26:58
Right. He doesn’t have internet to send back his search result, like, what he’s coming up with. He’s just living alone doing the stuff, which is cool. But you know, he has enough material to eat for ever. You know, he’s, he’s set himself up in a particular way where he can spend his time doing this, and does not need—does not seem to need—the structures of the rest of society to get by. But when it comes to, like, the logistics of bringing in more of this material, that’s, that’s difficult, this is where he’s like, “Oh, gosh, here we’ve run into the difficulties of being wealthy. I could, but wow, I balk at the sticker price.”

Melissa Avery-Weir 27:40
And it’s just this weird tension of like, you know, he’s, we see later when he goes to this dinner party where he gets himself sick, getting drunk. That like, this is a place where people just buy planets. Someone owns Venus, and they want to terraform it, but they don’t have the money out of their pockets to do it, so they’re holding a fundraising dinner for it. And there’s this sort of “aww, shucks”, there’s a certain there’s a certain liberalism, to that fundraiser dinner of these sort of elites sitting around all of the monied, like even that artists, you don’t get the sense that this is a starving artist, right?

Gregory Avery-Weir 28:24
Like the most famous playwright in the solar system.

Melissa Avery-Weir 28:28

Lucy Arnold 28:31
He also has the most hands of any playwright.

Melissa Avery-Weir 28:35
He does.

Gregory Avery-Weir 28:36
By the end, yeah. Just keep adding limbs every time Marlon introduces a new version of this dude.

Melissa Avery-Weir 28:44
Actually, it’s six hands both times.

Gregory Avery-Weir 28:46
Is it six hands both times? He’s… he’s called a spider in the final dungeon crawl.

Lucy Arnold 28:52
I thought he only had an extra set in the first, but I’m not sure either.

Melissa Avery-Weir 28:55
Oh, you’re right. It might only be the extra set… the spider they say “spider but he only has six.”

Gregory Avery-Weir 29:02

Melissa Avery-Weir 29:02
So it seems like spider body configuration, but only six arms. It’s, it’s a lot of arms.

Melissa Avery-Weir 29:10
So in terms of the sort of this political system, you’ve got these plutocrats that are owning—I mean, they’re only X number of bodies in the solar system you can own, right? Only so many planets or moons or whatever size thing you’re looking at. And they’re being bought up. They’re being controlled. They’re willing to… They have already terraformed Venus to the point where you don’t need to wear protective equipment to go outside. In many of the areas—at least some of the areas where there are like—

Gregory Avery-Weir 29:41
High altitudes where it’s not too hot.

Melissa Avery-Weir 29:44
Exactly. And they talk about “bringing Venus to life”. They also talk about bringing planets “to heel”. The sense of wealth, like, even in this discussion in which we have this, we have a Rodenbeck saying like, “We should leave these things alone. We should leave something alone. We don’t have to change everything.” And then we have these rich people arguing about, you know, how do we best do this? Can you just give us the money? There isn’t a sense that like anyone else gets a say in this. And in fact, when the owners of Venus says like tells Rodenbeck, like, “When you buy a planet, you can do what you want with it, and no one will say anything.”

Melissa Avery-Weir 30:35
But there are going to be people living on that planet, ultimately. At least that’s the implication is that they’re not just terraforming it to turn it into, I don’t know, a ski resort for themselves. They’re going to want things on that planet. So anyway, my point is, this book is as confused as Bruno is I think about wealth. It is living in Bruno’s head about this. And Bruno has this real “aww, shucks” thing about it. He’s, he gets drunk. He offers—you know, he’s embarrassed himself, and he’s like, he offers to give $100 trillion to the terraforming of Venus, which he gave no shits about before he got there. Gives no shits about as he’s offering up this money. It’s just a number he comes up with that he can afford. But no pain.

Gregory Avery-Weir 31:25
You say “aww, shucks”. But I think that that scene in particular makes it clear that it’s not, it’s not that he is self-effacing about about his wealth, and like trying to play it off. I think his wealth is a deep source of shame for him. Because—

Melissa Avery-Weir 31:42
Yes, you’re right.

Gregory Avery-Weir 31:43
He, he bids too—like, he makes too high of a donation. And when, when everyone in the room stays quiet, that’s when he completely breaks down. And that might be when he’s sick on the table. And like, he’s like, “Oh, no, I’m too rich. And like, I don’t know how to, like… I just want to be an engineer, I don’t want to be a rich person.” And, like, I mean, that doesn’t excuse him, right? Because he could immediately stop being rich. Like, there are ways to do this.

Gregory Avery-Weir 32:13
But also, there’s, there’s this weird like, this is a world in which aging has been cured. You cannot die of old age anymore. Your… every disease has been cured. Because you can just go through a fax machine and have yourself cleansed. You… In fact, you can send yourself through the fax machine to not be drunk anymore if you want to. Or you can have the fax machine produce a drug that will counteract your alcohol. There’s the implication that presumably everyone has as much food as they want. You can build structures incredibly cheaply. And so like this probably is a world without poverty? But also is a world where people can be so wealthy, they can own planets. And I don’t know how that all works.

Lucy Arnold 33:04
You know, some of that discussion about democracy and wealth and monarchy made me curious, because I wasn’t sure all of a sudden, if Wil McCarthy was American or British, because some of that stuff sounds very British. He’s American, I did uncover. I also just want to share one thing though, apparently, he won the Prometheus Award, which is a big sci-fi award, in 2022, for a book called Rich Man’s Sky. So I do suspect that there is like some of these things must be percolating with McCarthy. I assume in his writing. He’s also by the way, an actual rocket scientist. Formerly worked for Lockheed Martin.

Gregory Avery-Weir 33:47
And he’s released a nonfiction book basically detailing the theoretical basis behind these… Like a, like a, “this is the way science could go”, kind of explaining all of this, and is big into programmable matter and stuff like that.

Lucy Arnold 34:03
While he was an editor for Wired in 2001, he wrote a story on programmable matter, objects that could be altered via an external input of some kind. And the, then the book he wrote was called Hacking Matter in 2003. And then, apparently… I’m reading this very quickly. He worked with the person who made Blackberries to create RavenBrick, which has something to do with solar power.

Melissa Avery-Weir 34:36
Oh. It’d cool if I can charge my phone in the sun.

Gregory Avery-Weir 34:40
There’s also a thread that runs through this book concerning capital and wealth that is especially apparent with the cops Vivian and Cheng, where Vivian is this highly experienced detective. And Cheng is like the second best cop in the solar system, and Cheng is, like, “I’m always going to be her number two, because she’s never going to die. And that’s fine. I’ve, I’ve come to terms with that.” And I know that the second book in the series is about the kids of Bruno and the queen, the son of them, and him being dissatisfied with the fact that he will never get to become anything other than what he is. Because, you know, he’s not gonna be able to replace anyone. And that feels to me like it’s talking about ancestral wealth. Like, the idea that like, well, they’ve got, they’ve got their position. And so they’ve got literal, monetary capital, but also social capital, that’s unassailable. Because like, if you work and work and work to get better and better at your job, as long as they’re continuing to get better and better, too, you will never get a promotion. Because they’re getting better at the same rate that you are, and they just started sooner. And that’s… the book, I think, think that, thinks that’s bad, but I’m not sure that the book has a vision of what it should be instead.

Melissa Avery-Weir 36:14
I agree, because I mean, this is, this book is also heavily examining ambition, right? And so what, what is ambition? We have two, we have two examples of that shown very, you know, forefront, obviously, is Bruno and Marlon. And Marlon wants to win and be smartest. That’s his ambition. Whereas Bruno, ostensibly wants to find out cool shit. He… The discovery is, purportedly, the, the ambition. Neither of these people seem to need to work to feed themselves. This book is listed as sort of a utopian fiction book, in part because I think it’s assumed that humanity… You know, everyone’s got fax machines, right, and the fax machines don’t cost anything or material for them doesn’t cost anything? The things at that level are not discussed. But once you… I feel like if you don’t address what ambition is good, then the question of, “do you care about promotion?” gets harder to unravel. This also seems like something that might just be percolating in Wil McCarthy’s head at this point, right, of like, what can you do in a society that has plutocracy? With things like ambition?

Gregory Avery-Weir 37:46
Yeah, I think the only worker we see, the only person who’s not a member of the ownership class—assuming that the queen’s handmaidens are kind of minor nobles—is Deliah. She seems to be the only, the only named character who ever does any work. Deliah, and I mean, the robots I guess. But, like everyone else—

Melissa Avery-Weir 38:10
And Deliah is a manager.

Gregory Avery-Weir 38:11
—is either a cop or a rich person. Yeah. Deliah is… I mean, Delia, is a, came up from being a laborer. So she’s, yeah, she’s a boss. But unclear where her political sympathies lie.

Lucy Arnold 38:25
I mean, I think it’s pretty unclear how the society is structured at all, right? Like I don’t, I don’t have a sense of is there an underclass? Is there of proletariat? Like, I don’t know. Like, I don’t think I can answer that question. I don’t think…

Melissa Avery-Weir 38:44
I think there are some things that give me clues that there is some sort of class. So for instance, these pages will not align with yours, but.

Gregory Avery-Weir 38:57
Yeah, Lucy has the, the original hardcover and we’ve got the Baen trade paperbacks.

Melissa Avery-Weir 39:04
Yeah, on page 133. They are talking about the… I think they’re talking about the the whole cable winch grapple system, and… Yeah, and Bruno says that he, or “Bruno can’t help but be impressed. Projects like this one, however ill fated, bespoke a queendom far bolder, far wealthier, and more ambitious than the one he’d left [decades ago]. With death a hunted quality, faxed away with every minor journey, perhaps civilization was finally able to take a longer view. Was it easier to make such pipe dreams come true when the benefits were for the builders themselves rather than some hypothetical posterity?”

Melissa Avery-Weir 39:50
“The builders themselves” part to me implies that there is some sort of working class and then later, when in sort of the democracy sections—the biggest one is right at the beginning of chapter 10, which in my book is page 153—they’re talking about like—

Lucy Arnold 40:11
Well, I just wouldn’t… One, I mean, I haven’t found the section yet that you were just reading in chapter eight. But I don’t, I don’t inherently read builders as being a class. I mean, we’re talking about engineers. So I do think they see themselves as builders in, in a way.

Melissa Avery-Weir 40:31

Lucy Arnold 40:32
I mean, Bruno is a builder.

Gregory Avery-Weir 40:33
He might be talking about the architects.

Lucy Arnold 40:36
Yeah, I mean, Bruno is literally a builder, right? Like he, he makes all these things and it’s Muddy, who builds the, the Wallace and Gromit ship in the end. So.

Gregory Avery-Weir 40:47
And even Muddy isn’t directly building it. Like Muddy is using robots and computers and, and—

Melissa Avery-Weir 40:53

Gregory Avery-Weir 40:55
—tools that are very, very far removed from being direct control.

Lucy Arnold 40:59
Right. But they are not using, like, peasants.

Melissa Avery-Weir 41:03
Right. Yeah.

Gregory Avery-Weir 41:04
There’s no sign of service workers. There’s no sign of, of, of crafts people. It’s all bosses and robots.

Melissa Avery-Weir 41:16
Yep. That’s a good point. Yeah. And okay, so I’m thinking about this democracy stuff, right, where they’re talking about the value of individual action. This is page 153, right at the beginning of chapter 10, the first paragraph. “Society, it was thought, should work to maximize the power and with it the accountability of each of its members, so that success and failure and happiness and misery might be had in direct proportion to the effort invested. Turns out this was a load of hooey all along. People hated that sort of self responsibility, always had,” et cetera, et cetera. And I, when it—

Gregory Avery-Weir 41:53
And that’s why they elect a queen.

Melissa Avery-Weir 41:56
Yes, it’s why they elect a queen. In addition to apparently the genetic inclination we have towards celebrities and monarchs. When, when this book talks about people, quote, unquote, this way, I kind of have to think there… I mean, it can’t be all playwrights sitting at fundraiser tables, right? They’re have to be normal-ass people.

Gregory Avery-Weir 42:21
Maybe, maybe anyone who’s not rich is just living a life of constant leisure?

Lucy Arnold 42:28
I mean, it does actually literally go on to say only when it was inescapably universal, when there were no more corrupt or “uncivilized third worlds” that’s in quotation marks to flee to, did it become clear that what people really wanted in their secret heart of hearts was a charismatic monarch. Which, right seems to imply something.

Gregory Avery-Weir 42:49
Yeah, that everyone’s at least fed and can take off work if they want to.

Melissa Avery-Weir 42:59
But Americans, for instance, don’t consider the unhoused population in America to be third world. You know what I mean? Like the, if this is a book by an American author written for an American audience, let’s say, “third world” means… doesn’t mean just poverty.

Gregory Avery-Weir 43:19
But, but the implication there is clearly that, like, once there weren’t big problems anymore, then that’s when people became dissatisfied and decided they wanted monarchy back. And like—

Melissa Avery-Weir 43:36
I’ll buy it, yeah.

Gregory Avery-Weir 43:37
I… the feeling of this book is not that like, there’s a secret, like, ghetto where all the poor people live and scrabble for food while all these rich people are getting around.

Melissa Avery-Weir 43:49

Gregory Avery-Weir 43:49
That’s not the implication. I mean—

Melissa Avery-Weir 43:51
I just think Bruno doesn’t give a shit.

Gregory Avery-Weir 43:53
Yeah, the, and the book doesn’t really give a shit about what normal people are doing.

Melissa Avery-Weir 43:58
And, yeah, so I started being fascinated by the fact that, to me, it is unclear what the economic system of this universe is. And then that, that had me thinking about other things. So anyway, thank you for this, this investigation. I want to read other books in the series almost just to find out what the fuck… who else is in this society?

Lucy Arnold 44:18
I’ll probably read Rich Man’s Sky just because I’m curious to know where he is in 2022.

Melissa Avery-Weir 44:25

Lucy Arnold 44:26
I feel like a case of appendicitis might be coming on. I’m gonna put myself in the fax machine really quick, just to fix it. I want to talk about the appendices to this book and how you are meant to read this book. I am fascinated by this sort of, I guess, text structure that McCarthy has chosen for this. So, um, my, my sort of inquiry question is: how are the appendices used in this book? And I guess I will first just share that there are four appendices. The first appendix, Appendix A, subtitle “In which an appendix is provided”, is basically a bunch of definitions. I’m gonna say more, I’m gonna say more in just a few minutes. They’re like, couple pages long, and they kind of get into the science of some of these terms that we’ve been bandying about. Appendix B is a glossary. Appendix C is technical notes, and Appendix D is titled Marlon. Only Appendix A is actually cued in the book. So you see in footnotes, that you can go and refer to Appendix A. Appendix B, C, and D are just appended and never referred to in the text of the book. That is interesting, an interesting thing. So when I think about how are these appendices used, it definitely provides us some additional science, I’ll say fun science facts. And then my initial reading of the appendices, actually Appendix A, I thought, you know, here’s some additional context for people who aren’t rocket scientists who used to work for Lockheed Martin, I guess you can, you know, to help us think it through. But then—

Gregory Avery-Weir 46:34
Appendex A is where we get like: here’s the chemicals involved. And here’s the molecular structure of a collapsium node and stuff like that.

Lucy Arnold 46:42
But even there, it’s not all that you get, because there are whole conversations that McCarthy perhaps thinks are going to disrupt the flow of the novel. One conversation between Marlon and Bruno is entirely included in an appendix, in Appendix A. The glossary also is really interesting to me because there are vocabulary words, but even in the glossary, we learn which things historically were attributed to which person. Notably, the arc de fin winds up being attributed to Bruno in the glossary. That’s a huge point of contention, contention in the novel, where Marlon wants to have the credit for having made the arc de fin, discovered the arc de fin.

Gregory Avery-Weir 47:23
The arc de fin is, is like a sort of time telescope that will let you see the end of time. And that’s what both of them are working towards. And that’s what the contention is.

Lucy Arnold 47:32
Yeah. So that attribution in the glossary is actually a pretty important revelation that’s in the glossary. And then Marlon, the antagonist’s backstory doesn’t actually make its way into the novel proper, but it is Appendix D, where we find out about sort of his backstory. So I would like for y’all to indulge me for a moment, I would like to play two games. And then—

Melissa Avery-Weir 47:58
Oh, god.

Lucy Arnold 47:59
—and then it’s going to be an interactive game. So—

Gregory Avery-Weir 48:02
We’re almost an hour into the recording, and we’re starting a game. Excellent.

Lucy Arnold 48:06
Well, these games come from composition studies, which is you know, some of my background as an academic. We’re gonna play two games they’re called the doubting game and the believing game. Peter Elbow, who is a composition theorist, and for anybody for to whom his name means something I just want you to know—this is only for those people to whom this means something—and you know who I’m talking about when I say Peter Elbow: he has sat in my car. He got Cheez-its on his butt from my kid who had left those Cheez-its there. And he was super cool about it. So Peter Elbow, real swell guy.

Lucy Arnold 48:41
Anyway. He proposes that when we read a text, and he’s particularly gearing this toward people who are maybe thinking about how to become critical readers, right? He proposes that we play two games when we read a text. We play the doubting game, and we play the believing game. So when we play the doubting game, we ask questions about it, we say, “Hey, what’s up with this? What’s this bullshit? What, why have you done this? This seems like a problem.”

Lucy Arnold 49:09
And when we play the believing game, we give them credence, and we like we take them in good faith. And we think it through and we believe with them. So I’m going to play both the doubting and the believing game with this whole appendix situation. For the doubting game, I wonder, are these appendices crucial to the book or are they extras? It’s arguable to me about the science. I think, in some ways, it is sort of extra. It’s fraught when it comes to the narrative components. I would say the conversation between Bruno and Marlon that I mentioned in appendix A and Appendix D. Marlon, in particular, those are two fraught narrative components that are included in the appendices. Also, and y’all can tell me what you think about this. If you review Appendix C, I feel super confused from a point of view perspective. Appendix C reads to me as McCarthy in the year 2000 In our timeline, whereas the other three appendices, appendices A, B, and D are from that future historian perspective.

Gregory Avery-Weir 50:13
Yes. I concur.

Melissa Avery-Weir 50:14
Yes. Richard Powers is like, I have books. Yeah, yeah.

Gregory Avery-Weir 50:18
I think C is out of character, if you will.

Lucy Arnold 50:21
Yeah. That’s weird, right, like Appendix C being out of character? But then I’ve got D on the end to explain the antagonist to me. What the fuck, what are you doing? I don’t get, like. And I should confess that I do have a bit of a pet peeve about point of view changes, like a few. I know we can have a go at Twilight on a lot of different notes. But that point of view bullshit in that fourth book is unforgivable. This, this is far less, we’re talking about Appendix C. But still, you’ve written whole book from this perspective—including Appendix D, notably!

Gregory Avery-Weir 50:55
Oh, from the perspective of this, his future historian.

Lucy Arnold 50:58
Why is Appendix C in your voice? Yeah, like that, to me is not… It does not work for me.

Melissa Avery-Weir 51:09
Okay, on the point of view stuff, as I was reading, and we’re, you know, fully in what Bruno was doing very deep in the story. There’s a point on… there’s a point at page 281—so about halfway through the book—and then there’s a point, I think the one that really struck me was very late. When the author suddenly switches back to that, “Hey, you, reader. Watch this thing,” like the opening pages. So let me read just the very opening for the listener. I’ll start in the third paragraph, “Walk with him. See his footpath cutting through the blossoming meadow. Feel the itch of pollens in your eyes and nose. Now pass through the midday forest,” etc, etc. The opening is like this for a, several pages and then, then it falls away. And then later, just a couple more bursts of that perspective, which really startled me I was like, “Oh, right, shit, right. Who is this narrator?” Does that point of view change irk you, Lucy?

Lucy Arnold 52:15
No, I think it’s, I think it’s fairly consistent. Like I have, half of my notes are “who are we?” Because it has it in been a bunch of times just like “we” are “reader” or whatever. I have no issue with it. Because I think it’s consistent. The only inconsistency is Appendix C, and it does irk me. Because,mainly because it’s Appendix C. And then there’s a D, like that—

Gregory Avery-Weir 52:39
We can play the believing game, but I’ve got an idea.

Lucy Arnold 52:42
Well, yeah, let’s play the believing game. And I will say this, it is genuinely clever to include the historical perspective as a component of the glossary. I think that unabatedly. I think the glossary is very clever. And I think those ideas about history that are included there is very clever. I also think there’s an argument to be made that by reading… including this way of reading the appendices, especially with the footnotes early on, McCarthy is arguing that all of the information in the appendices is actually pretty important, right? Like, he’s not, he’s sort of saying, “Well, these are appended, but they’re not extra,” right? “They are important, crucial components of the narrative. And this is a narrative structure that I have chosen for this text. Because I’m saying something about structure and what we call appendices. And what all that means that it’s part in some ways of the meaning of this text.” So that’s my believing game. So I guess I’ve kind of written an “Am I the Asshole” post on behalf of Wil McCarthy and I’ll invite you guys to judge, like, what do you think? Is this a clever narrative strategy? Or is it sort of a trick that doesn’t really hold up? AITA? Well, no, AWMTA.

Gregory Avery-Weir 54:12
Is… Am, Am Wil McCarthy an Asshole?

Lucy Arnold 54:16
Okay, just ignore this. Carry on.

Gregory Avery-Weir 54:19
So there’s, I’m going to put in a footnote here that will maybe help explain this. There’s an there’s a, a, an image that’s introduced, maybe in Book Three—it’s interested weirdly late in the, in the book—of the way that turbulence in, in various physical processes works. Where like, if you look at smoke rising from a candle, it’ll rise in a single thread, and then it’ll bifurcate into two and then it’ll split again and, like, make little swirls and so on, and then it’ll be very like kind of pretty and geometric. And then at some point, it just turns into chaos, it turns into a, an unstructured thing of smoke again. So it starts off unstructured and singular, then it splits and splits and splits. And then it becomes this cloud again.

Gregory Avery-Weir 55:14
And this is a book where people are constantly, like, returning to the same situation. Like, Book One: the sun’s broken. Book Two: the sun’s broken. Book Three: the sun’s really broken. People are copying themselves, splitting themselves in two, and then reintegrating themselves together, making their memories match up. There’s a whole lot of gravity imagery, people being pulled towards each other, people being pushed away. And the structure of this book, I think, is also exploring that idea of like, how, if you split something up too much, it just becomes chaos.

Gregory Avery-Weir 55:57
And the—this isn’t relevant to the summary, so it kind of got glossed over, but the reason why Bruno is trying to make… Well, Bruno is trying to make true vacuum because he thinks it’ll help him see the end of time. But the way that he makes true vacuum is he makes a box, and he removes all the air, all the stuff from that box and ends up with a vacuum. And then he makes a box around that and uses the same technique to remove even more stuff out of it. And then he makes a box around that, or maybe it’s inside, inside, inside inside. But he’s recursively making a vacuum in order to somehow try and get a true vacuum. And he never quite makes it because obviously, it’s a Zeno’s Paradox thing, right? You’re never going to get a perfect vacuum. You’re never going to get to distill information down to its details.

Gregory Avery-Weir 56:45
And so I think that, that like part of the appendices are the idea of like, things have been eliminated from this history. Things have been eliminated from this book. And some of the things that have been eliminated are super important. Like one of the most intimate discussions between Bruno and Marlon happens in a, an appendix. Heading: “Muon Contamination”. “Muons are short lived, Bruno noted, perhaps too gruffly. Time dilation has extended their lifespans?” And they have this whole discussion. Bruno says, “You see through the murk of my thoughts,” to Marlon. Like, Bruno thinks Marlon is super cool. Marlon—Bruno is like, “Marlon is a genius.” Marlon is like, “This jackass is constantly showing me up.” And like this is maybe the final conversation we see those two men have before Book Three starts and the, the solar system is breaking apart. And that’s something that this future historian decided just belongs in an appendix in a format screw in an appendix because like, for the first section of Appendix A is like, “let’s talk about exactly how these things work.” There’s no narrative, no characters are doing anything. There’s no dialogue. And then by the final section, “Defeating Inertia”, there’s, that’s entirely… It talks about Bruno getting, smoking some weed and getting a tray of bagels, like it is completely dispensed with that idea of like scientific detachment, and then—

Lucy Arnold 58:26
Damn, I can go for some weed and bagels.

Gregory Avery-Weir 58:29
It sounds good. But I think, I think that what they’re, what this book is doing is sort of looking at how details get lost if you look from too great a distance and, and like there’s, there’s this intimacy that’s, that’s often inaccessible. And it’s sort of reaching towards that vagueness. And the fact that Appendix D is Merlon’s backstory and like why is Marlon so upset? What, like, what was it like for Marlon trying to date the queen and had… Because Marlon was the first Philanderer… or Philander? Philander?

Melissa Avery-Weir 59:06

Gregory Avery-Weir 59:08
Philander. Marlon is the first Philander and then Bruno kind of come sweeps in and replaces him. And, but Marlon was also the queen’s, like, tutor. Like, when they I think they were both adults at that point. No, no, I’m sorry. She was eight.

Lucy Arnold 59:26
She was eight years old.

Gregory Avery-Weir 59:27
Yeah, Marlon met her when she was eight, and then left. And then long, long, much, much later, when they were both immortal met again, and he was selected.

Lucy Arnold 59:37
My Twilight reference was not entirely unprovoked by this book. There are lots of children who eventually marry people who knew them when they were children, which I guess is an inevitable side effect of people living forever?

Gregory Avery-Weir 59:50
Yeah, but but it’s also like there’s this constant implication that Marlon was just weird, like, in a bad way. Like, there’s all sorts of things about Marlon that are just off. He’s just not… He just—

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:00:03
I mean, he, his house!

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:00:04
—the things the creepiest way. I’m going to talk about his house later in, in Ten Forward.

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:00:11
So thinking about the the appendices, there’s something that—and I don’t know if this is the kind of reader that I can accidentally be sometimes but—if I’m reading a book, and it has footnote references that have me flip back to the back of a book, and I read some of them, and they are not interesting. They are just, you know, citations with no additional commentary. I’m gonna stop looking at them, unless I really think I’m going to note that reference. So someone reading this sees those first two appendices and is like, “I don’t need my sci-fi this hard.” And then stops checking the appendices. I think, I feel like that’s a trick. I feel like this is a thing that is, that is being done by the author, fairly or otherwise. But I see myself in this.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:01:02
And that’s why Appendix C is nonfictional from McCarthy’s perspective and D is about Marlon. Because these things are hidden, have been shoved away, like intimacy and interiority are things that are most… that are most quickly discarded into this sort of historical long view. And so like, in a way, the, the whole plot is driven by the fact that Marlon had this experience that no one else knew about. No one else knew how grumpy, how, like, toxically resentful Marlon was and it was just tucked away in the back of the book, because no one paid attention to it. And it’s in fact, like that story is, in terms of, like, all of the billions of people that died over the course of the story, that backstory is, like, one of the most important events that’s described in the book. And it’s just like, off in Appendix D because the historian has no way of accessing this, right? That historian can’t read Marlon’s mind.

Lucy Arnold 1:02:07
So that’s why you’re, you’re saying it’s outside of the point of view? Of—

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:02:11

Lucy Arnold 1:02:12
—that historian.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:02:13
Yeah. I think that we’re stepping with each appendix we’re stepping further and further away from this, this like, popular narrative historian. Like, Appendix A is like, “these are unimportant things”. B is like, “I’ll put a glossary”, and C is entirely out of character, and then D is this omniscient narrator. Unlike the omniscient historian, it’s this, this eye of god reaching reading the mind of Marlon.

Lucy Arnold 1:02:39
Here is why I am unconvinced. And that is because we are we are directly told in the text the time when we don’t know what was happening with Bruno, because he made it so that history could not access what was happening with Bruno. It is not my understanding that what is told in Appendix D is unaccessible to history. I don’t have that sense. This is not something that historians don’t have any access to.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:03:06
I think that, I think there’s the implication that this is assembled in part from Bruno’s writings afterwards, and Marlon doesn’t. Marlon pulls a—who’s the Shakespearean villain? Is it Iago? Who’s like, “I’m not going to say another thing.” That’s what Marlon pulls. He and Bruno have a, a one final night before Marlon’s exiled for all of this.

Lucy Arnold 1:03:33
Well, I was just… I sometimes one of my metrics for art, for like evaluating art is how much I think about it, after the fact. So we’ll see if this appendix thing continues to plague me. Because that might be… that it is, maybe it’s done something good. With the main topics covered, it’s time for a quick lightning round of other interesting things we spotted.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:03:59
Okay, so I talked about sci-fi. This is also kind of just, this is almost a fantasy book. So, it’s clearly doing alchemy stuff. Like there’s this, this genius locked away in this mystical this strange place, this planet that’s way too small, impossibly small, if not for his knowledge, and he’s refining things. He’s taking the fundamental building blocks of existence and linking them together. He’s, he’s clearing away the matter out of something, which is alchemy, like the, the idea of dissolution and amalgamation of, like, breaking stuff apart and putting it back together again. Of purifying things and then recorrupting them. Like, he’s an alchemist doing magic out on the edges of the solar system.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:04:50
This whole book is a big wizard battle. It’s two geniuses using their inexplicable powers to launch satellites at each other, to fire beams that no one else can detect, that, all this unexplicable stuff. And it ends in a dungeon crawl. Like, Lissa joked earlier. But it really is like, they go to Mercury. And they latch on. They, because they don’t have a door they have to melt through the ground in order to kind of create an airlock for themselves. And then like, go into a room where Bruno has a magic staff, he has a staff that you can poke at things to make them die. And his… is it a sword that someone else… What does Cheng have?

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:05:41

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:05:41
Does Cheng have a sword?

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:05:43
He has a sword and maybe a gun.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:05:45
Maybe also a gun. And they’re like fighting their way through waves of robots. And then they like bust through the wall into the next room, which maybe has different robots—I forget what the next room… maybe it’s traps, then robots. And then they break in and there’s a big spider monster they have to fight with their magic staff and sword. And then they finally—

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:06:05
And the familiar has to come help.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:06:08
Yes, yeah. Hugo comes! Good ol’Hugo, the robot who is trying very hard.

Lucy Arnold 1:06:13
The Sam Gamgee of…

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:06:15
Yeah. And then like they finally confront the wizard, and out-wizard him. And like, this, it’s like… I don’t know what this book is doing. Like, this is my appendicitis for this. Like, why is this book—that clearly is playing with hard sci-fi—why does it very clearly directly be like, “these are two wizards”? And this is one wizard invading the dungeon of the other wizard? Like, what’s… I don’t know what’s going on there. I don’t know what this book is doing in that part. And like the ghosts earlier mentioned, like, there’s the scientific explanation for how like future archaeologists can reconstruct a scene based on all of this stuff. But like, it really is a ghost. Like, they, it really is just like future archaeologists summon up the person’s ghost using object reading on the stuff nearby in order to figure out what happened.

Lucy Arnold 1:07:13
I will say, to his credit, his, McCarthy’s credit, I did appreciate that that wizard battle did not—it was, it was quick. Marlon was quickly deposed once they got there. And I was very grateful. So.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:07:27
It’s basically just punch him in the face and hold him down. Like, that’s about all it happens.

Lucy Arnold 1:07:34
He went down. Great.

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:07:35
Book Three was good, but it felt long. It felt fuller of non… fuller of explanations. Which again, good explanations, but I was kind of like, wow, this, like, almost half of the book, in terms of page count was Book Three, I think.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:07:54
It’s another example of the bifurcation where the, there’s a first book that’s size one. Second book, same size. Third book of the novel is the size of two of them put together; that splitting and coming back together.

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:08:07
Yeah. Speaking to the alchemy part of this, something that kept striking me is that, you know, we know that this, that, that Bruno has robots, will use them, will automate things. However, there’s quite a bit of time with his hands spent in special gloves, which remind me of like, I don’t know, what they’re called, Lucy. I think you’ve thought of them more recently, than me, but the glove box that you operate in a closed environment?

Lucy Arnold 1:08:37
Still air box?

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:08:38
Yeah, him manually manipulating these objects is such a—

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:08:44
Typically, I think he’s using Waldos. He’s using robotic hands that are controlled by his movements.

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:08:50
By his movements, right. It’s a very hands-on process of this breaking apart and reassembling and trying not to mess it up. And given how precise you would think this stuff has to be… We’re dealing with like, if anything falls into one of these tiny black holes, it will get bigger and start to consume everything around it because it becomes bigger than the size of one proton, right? Like, this is the kind of scale we’re working with. And he’s doing this shit by hand, effectively. I think that feeds into that alchemy idea of it being old-fashioned and rustic.

Lucy Arnold 1:09:26
You know, I did find it really… It was surprising when we saw the monstrous version of the playwright at the end of Book Two. But even after that it was surprising when we met the monstrous version of the playwright in the mini boss in the dungeon crawl. And it did, now that you mentioned it, like, that idea of having these sort of literal monsters did kind of feel like a weird element, you know, in this book. Especially since, and I think you one of you noted this earlier, you didn’t see a lot of people who are, like, changing their bodies in ways that maybe they would want to. Like, maybe I’d just like to have an extra pair of arms, you know? So it does kind of point to sort of a monstrousness that is being played with maybe here.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:10:25
Speaking of non-human things, Lissa you’ve got a fun topic here.

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:10:31
Speaking of familiars. Okay. My baby Hugo. Let’s talk about Hugo. So, in—

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:10:39
Hugo did nothing wrong.

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:10:40
Hugo did nothing wrong. I was, I was very concerned that… The, the angle of my concern changed over the course of this novel. So we meet at the beginning of the second book. We meet Hugo, who is a robot who has been detached from the house, detached from the network of this of this little planet, of Bruno’s planet. And Bruno did it very idly, very casually as an experiment. Just sort of detached, wanted to see what happens if a robot isn’t given direction. Because robots are sort of… they have a sense of purpose, which is to please humans, to please their humans or whatever. Generally, non-sexually. There’s a, there’s a whole thing about that the first book.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:11:32
Some people fuck robots. I think there’s a line that’s like, “some people fuck robots; it’s a little weird.”

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:11:37
It’s considered couth—or uncouth. There’s a whole couth and uncouth thing. But Hugo when freed and like—just put quotes around that every time—can’t even walk. Hugo is a pile on the ground and gets tripped over.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:11:59
And is talked about mewling. Like, making weird, like—

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:12:02

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:12:03

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:12:03
Like a cat.

Lucy Arnold 1:12:04

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:12:04
Or a baby.

Lucy Arnold 1:12:04
The mewling was too much.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:12:08
This is literally, he’s literally playing God here, right? Like—

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:12:11

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:12:11
It’s Bruno deciding to create life kind of arbitrarily and capriciously.

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:12:18
And also, as, as this progresses, we get these you know, these little snippets, Hugo also takes his limbs off. Removes his own arms and legs. So there’s, I don’t know… It’s unclear if that’s just exploration or if that’s mutilation, but the thing is Bruno doesn’t give a shit. Like, Bruno doesn’t really care which I think is incredibly problematic. So in this, when, when the queen comes in the beginning of Book Two, she’s like “Bruno, what the fuck did you do, man?”

Lucy Arnold 1:12:57
Oh, yeah, she definitely came in Book Two.

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:13:03
Did she? Unconfirmed.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:13:07
The book is I think very clear that Bruno is an excellent lover.

Lucy Arnold 1:13:10
Yeah, I think it’s very clear.

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:13:12
Oh, do you think so?

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:13:13
I think the queen explicitly is like, “it never was the sex was it was the problem. It was this other thing.”

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:13:18
Oh, yeah, that’s true. That’s true. So the queen says, “‘Robots have no volition, Declarant. No desire to do anything but fulfill. Nor do they possess intelligence unless you’d count raw intuition as such. You severed the link to its processor, its ability to grasp and assess the very needs it must fulfill?’ He nodded again, just so. She says, ‘How unkind. You leave it helpless and confused in an environment beyond its comprehension.’ Bruno shrugged. ‘Such as the nature of freedom, highness. I’ve often said that life is nothing more than the choices thrust upon us when ability and incident collide. Which of us truly knows our course? Generally, we don’t even know the landscape beneath our course. It’s a terrible gift in some ways, but a great one as well. Hugo is more fortunate than some.'”

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:14:13
Hugo at this point, is just laying on the ground. He returns later, and Hugo is walking. He returns later, and Hugo asked for a hug. There’s just this progression, right? And aside from this just tugging at my heartstrings, sci-fi—as we have read in The Wild Robot, et cetera—is considered, very concerned with the ownership and, and the contents of a robot’s brain. What is, what is in there by default? What is the intuition that a robot has or doesn’t have? You know, what is the constructed knowledge on top of that? And what does it mean for a robot to be free? And/or wild?

Lucy Arnold 1:14:13
Yeah, I mean, I think that question about what it means for Hugo to be free, really, I mean, to me was answered very problematically in Book Three when Hugo shows up to save Bruno, you know, and ends up fighting off all the bad robots, but being basically mutilated by them in that process. And it just, you know, it—

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:15:37

Lucy Arnold 1:15:38
It felt like, you know, what, what has, what has Bruno done to help Hugo aside from the severing, you know, this offering of what he calls freedom, which maybe. Like, I’m not. like, I do think there’s a possibly interesting exploration there. But Bruno has generally seemed very apathetic toward Hugo’s struggles. But then it’s like, oh, you know, “showed up in the end, old sport” or something like that. Like, yeah. And I don’t know, I mean, it actually reminded me in a, very strongly, I don’t know… Y’all can tell me, I’ll just say this and then y’all can tell me if we should cut it out. What it reminded me of strongly was a scene in the Harry Potter series where Dobby, who is a house elf who Harry Potter frees from slavery in an early book, is in the, one of the last books, basically sacrifices himself and gets killed to save Harry. …Right? Like, that is a very problematic… I feel like that’s very problematic to go around freeing people, and then they sacrifice themselves immediately for the people who freed them. I dunno, I don’t know that that’s as… I don’t know that that kind of narrative says something great about freedom, particularly, you know?

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:17:05
I think this book is much more aware of the problem than the Harry Potter books are. Like, the Harry Potter books are like, everyone was right house elves are meant to be slaves. Like, that’s textual in the in the books, that Dobby is weird because he wants freedom. But in this book, like it’s a) Bruno says he’s free and the robot clearly isn’t, right? Like, like he’s, he’s doing an experiment with it that he’s justifying to himself as, as freeing. And on a certain narrative level, Hugo and Bruno have the same arc in their lives. Like, Bruno existed in one space where he got to be a genius. And then he kind of came to the Court. And either the queen or god or some combination of that freed him from his, like, material needs; made him rich made him consort to the Queen of All Things. And he kind of was lost and self-destructive, and not sure how to act at court and kind of first hid his identity. And then like, went into self-imposed exile and became this weird hairy prophet.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:18:25
And as that, like, each of them comes to a point in their lives in their, in their struggle, where they choose to kind of give themselves up to the very like system that freed them against their will. Like, Bruno chooses to kind of sacrifice a whole lot—to give up his home, give up a lot of things in order to save the human race. And Hugo gives, like, allows himself to, to be harmed in order to let Bruno survive, and to save the human race ultimately, and like… There, there’s a parallel there that I think this book is like, “Hey, probably Bruno shouldn’t have been brought to court and Hugo probably shouldn’t have been freed. But once that happened, they became the new kind of person that they were. And that new person also deserves to exist and deserves to decide what they want to be.”

Lucy Arnold 1:19:33
Well, so the thing I want to mention a little bit, really, I’ve linked back to Gregory’s fantasy setting. I’ve titled this “The Princess and the Feminist Catastrophe”. Because it… the way Tamra—who was a princess when she was a child, and then becomes an unwilling queen—is portrayed in this book was often problematic to me. She’s a princess; she’s not interested in the science; she’s beautiful; and she’s powerful. But she’s not embroiled in the same kind of intellectual conversations that her suitors Marlon and Bruno are included in.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:20:24
She’s 100% a girlboss.

Lucy Arnold 1:20:27
100% a girlboss. And it’s like, does this, does her slot have to be filled, filled? Because when she’s dead, this handmaiden, who has never been mentioned, of any, like, is suddenly an important character, who’s—

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:20:43
The handmaiden that that is so important in Book Three is the one that puts Bruno and Marlon in the same outfit in Book One. That’s the same character. So she’s the, she’s the BFF of the of the queen bitch, who is trying to undermine the person she thinks is, is not good enough for her friend.

Lucy Arnold 1:21:08
I would still argue that she’s sort of in that role of princess when Tamra is not around to be the princess. And her, you know, both of them are there to be saved and comforted. And I do think, you know, especially when Lissa was reading their summary about Tamra and how she sacrifices herself unnecessarily. I mean, even that’s sort of problematic, right? Like, she doesn’t even get to save people, she can only be saved. She can only be that sort of passive role.

Lucy Arnold 1:21:45
And then, you know, Bruno only kicking into gear in order to save her? Like, you know, he could have had if he wanted a relationship with her, like, he could have not been on internet-free planet. He could have been doing other things, but when it’s about a matter of saving her, that’s really important. And then, I also, I don’t know, the whole Marlon as villain and he really is in appendix D—like another reason for part of my disdain for it—it’s like, oh, he really is motivated by resentment and jealousy. And, yeah, that’s unfortunate.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:22:30
I do want to say in the book’s partial credit, good representation does not somehow balance out bad representation, but there are two other women in this story that are, I think, real cool. The best character in the book, Vivian, who’s this… She was an expert detective. And then she, but she didn’t like having copies of her saved with the fax machine, so, so when she dies, they had mental records, but not physical records. So they, like, had to take her as a child and put her adult brain in—not in a, not in a creepy anime way. But like, there’s just like, she’s kind of struggling to be like, “Look, I’m physically eight?” Is that how young she is? Eleven?

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:23:16
I’m not actually, I’m not sure sure we get an age. He guesses her age. But it’s…

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:23:21
Yeah, but she’s like old, old enough to be able that you expect her to be able to speak like full, full English, but like just barely. And she’s really cool. And Deliah is also super cool. The, like, the mechanic basically of the crew. I mean, Bruno assembles a party for his, for his dungeon crawl. He, he, it’s Bruno, it’s Muddy, who’s the, the barbarian, I guess. He flies off into the outer reaches of the solar system to pick up Deliah and then he goes and Vivian is on the, is on the ship where, where the queen died. And like those two characters, I think, super cool. Yeah. Deliah could be, is the classic sci-fi character who happens to be a woman but is written just completely gender neutral. I think Vivian is, is definitely written femme and also is very cool.

Lucy Arnold 1:24:28
I agree with you. I really like Vivian. I think Vivian is a great character. Deliah also manages to have to be saved by Bruno, I would note. Maybe Vivian, too. Everybody gets saved by Bruno. So I guess… it’s not entirely about characters in some of my concerns about this book. It just kind of seems like the only, the only access that we get to see a lot of the important parts of the book, like, this whole quandary over science and how the collapsium works. And, like the important things about the book, it all just seems sort of only accessible to these sort of brilliant geniuses.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:25:21
There’s, there’s even an early part where, like, the (in Book One), the queen has an idea on how to save the planet. And both dudes are like, “Oh, ho ho, we both know that won’t work. Haha, she’s trying it anyway.” But…

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:25:32

Lucy Arnold 1:25:34
So it just feels very, I don’t know… It would probably have felt different if Marlon was written femme, for example, right? It just feels like, is this can, can this sort of either genius or villainy is this only the purview of masculinity, like, and, and to then to have, like, so much of femininity seem to be tied to being an object, in some ways. Just, I don’t know, this book felt in those ways to me much older than it is. It felt much older to me than 2000 in those kinds of gendered portrayals, and I think actually ties in with something that Gregory had said earlier, too, like about how little exploration… Like, you don’t see any pansexuality or bisexuality or queerness, or gayness, even, right? It’s just very hetero, and very masculine. And it does feel to me very much older than 2000. I don’t know.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:26:46
It’s, it’s looking at toxic masculinity, 100%, right? Like it’s examining masculinity being like, “What things are good? What things are bad?” but not with any perspective other than that masculinity.

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:27:01
Yeah, and I think it’s trying to put a bow on it by everyone finding out at the end that this is the historical narrative of the king of the solar system, right? Like, we don’t know what the bow on this on this package is until the very end when he’s crowned, and you’re like, “Oh, all right. Here’s the tale.” And so I think that’s the, that’s the hat put on it. Of like, well, of course, it’s, you know, this perspective, because, turns out, this is actually the only person we’re interested in. And everything else revolves around him. Which, now that I say “revolves around him”, there’s a scene in the first book when Marlon and Tamra and Bruno are together. And Bruno describes it as the two of them revolving around Tamra. As if she were a center and this whole, this whole story is that for Bruno, I guess.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:28:04
A lot of gravity and orbit imagery.

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:28:08
Yeah, I love when books explore various things symbolically as gravity. Culture as gravity or a particular person having gravity in a way that’s interesting. But that’s neither here nor there.

Lucy Arnold 1:28:24
If you, I mean, I think Copenhagen, I think does it in an interesting way. If you ever want to see, I think, a book that kind of parallels characters with maybe how molecules behave, like a nucleus and electrons and that kind of thing. I think Copenhagen is, is—which is about Heisenberg, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle—is really successful with it. Oh, I do have one thing that I’ve thought about a lot since I read it was that… and I believe we alluded to it once that you know, Marlon has been saving extra faxed copies of lots of people and torturing them. But he can’t successfully do that with Tamra. He doesn’t like keeping her and torturing her. And I think that’s interesting. I do think there’s something interesting there. Like, yeah, I mean, is it, does it point to a sort of romanticism, like, that he genuinely loves her and, and doesn’t like that experience, you know? Or is it something else? I’m not sure. But I did think it was pretty evocative.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:29:34
He keeps and tortures himself and is perfectly willing to do that, but not her.

Lucy Arnold 1:29:40
Yeah, Muddy says he is the worst to the copies of himself. Yeah.

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:29:46
Yeah, we could do we could probably do a whole section on sociopathy, perceptions and concepts of sociopathy in this book too, it’s, it’s wrestling with that. The romance in this book is bizarre to me, quite frankly, as someone who’s—

Lucy Arnold 1:30:02
I’m so with you.

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:30:04
Like, I’m a person who reads romance books. I have particular tastes and subgenres of interest, but I read romance books. And whenever I read romance stuff in traditional sci-fi, like not like, like, not like an urban fantasy equivalent, but like sci-fi-ass sci-fi, I am always like, “Is this written like a romance book? Is this pulling literary romance? Or is it endeavoring to emulate real world romance?” And this shit is… I don’t know what the fuck this is.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:30:41
This is pulp sci-fi romance.

Lucy Arnold 1:30:43
Yeah, this is neither of those.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:30:45
This is, this is the genius space hero gets to bed the princess sort of stuff. This is Buck Rogers.

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:30:52
Him finding out at the end that it was all about love all along is really just…

Lucy Arnold 1:30:58
So cringe.

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:31:00
Yeah, not my favorite. Not my favorite type of romance.

Lucy Arnold 1:31:04
Not the best. In addition to the deep stuff, we’re also big utopian sci-fi fans. So let’s head to Ten Forward to talk about stuff we geek out about. I’ll start with faxing. Because I think it’s, I think it’s one of the most genuinely fascinating things about this book is the concept of faxing. And it is, it is interesting to me that it only goes so far and no further, honestly. I mean, I would think there would be so much you could do with this concept that is unexplored and maybe it becomes more explored in the sequels. Because there’s so much going on with it. But I think as we were just talking about, Marlon’s brand of torture and control having to do with those faxed copies. That’s, that’s interesting. You know, that’s interesting villainy that he’s doing there. I think early on, Bruno talks about how he doesn’t like to make fax copies of himself, because they’ll just end up with some other projects. They become all focused on—

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:32:15
He can’t have someone help him because they’ll get distracted, because they’ll want to work on their own stuff.

Lucy Arnold 1:32:21

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:32:22
Yeah. And we’re only introduced that idea in a second book. First book doesn’t introduce the idea of copies this way. It’s only when we meet Deliah and Marlon and the second story that we get this idea of, well, the ghost, obviously, but like copies and copies and copies.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:32:42
Yeah, I have a note somewhere around the beginning of Book Two that’s like, “So has this society just fixed cloning? They just understand all the implications now?” and the answer is nope. Turns out they don’t.

Lucy Arnold 1:32:53
Definitely not. And in that, that, yeah, that scene with the double murder when Deliah and Marlon get murdered a whole bunch, I was thinking then, like, “How does one keep track of all the copies of oneself?” I mean, the answer the book has is you do not, you do not have access to your copies. So if you’re making a whole bunch of copies, I mean, good luck. They might go off and do some other shit and you wouldn’t even know about it. And apparently, people can make copies and you not even know about it.

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:33:11
Do y’all, do y’all know about the whole sort of medical situation with faxing, and sort of HIPAA and this, this whole thing? So before electronic—

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:33:35
No, like in our world, in our, in our—

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:33:37
In our actual, yeah. So in… for like, purposes of, like, HIPAA, there were certain ways you could only—I mean, I guess there are still certain—

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:33:47
This is the US health privacy law.

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:33:50
Exactly. Only certain ways you could transmit records. And before everything was electronic, one of those very commonly used was faxing. And if you have ever worked in a doctor’s office or hospital charting room or anything like that, and you look at that fax machine, and you see the quantity of refuse left of things received and never picked up, things sent and the originals not taken… Just the sheer mess of a fax machine and the, you know, you can abscond… Like, it’s a whole thing, it’s a whole thing, where people were like, “digital records can’t be safer!” And you’re like, Safer than what? This? This?!”

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:34:43
And so I thought about that as, you know, when… It took me a while to realize that the interstitial between Book One and Book Two where we see this we understand that ghosts are real. And it says, “Bruno was simultaneously diverted.” I, it took me probably 50 more pages—I kept coming back and going, “simultaneously diverted”, like, what does that mean? And then before I finally tied together, kind of what was happening there. But I, I worked at a doctor’s charting room at a major hospital here in Charlotte for years. And that image of that fax machine and copier/fax machine is burned in my image, in my head of just what a fucking mess it was. And, you know, the degree of security required to get access to that fax machine. So the fact that faxing, I kept wondering, were there going to be more layers pulled, like finding out that they were destroying people and transferring information was kind of one reveal that wasn’t immediately given. There’s this sort of mess that keeps on furling.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:35:55
For folks that haven’t read the book, the way that like faxing in the book looks and feels is that like, there are these black walls that you walk into. And as you walk into it, you are disassembled, and then you feel yourself just walking out on the other side. But in the meantime, a signal has been sent at lightspeed. So it’s kind of slow on solar system terms from one to the other. And they’re a copy there—when you leave, most people save a copy, a backup copy every time they walk through, so that that can be restored if something happens to you on the other side. But to you, as a continuous mind, you feel as if you’ve just stepped through a Stargate to the other side, except without the shrwoo shrwoo cutscenes that happens.

Lucy Arnold 1:36:51
I do think it’s an incredibly, it’s an incredibly well-chosen name to call it faxing, because I think it evokes all the right things and the technology of it. And you know, it’s not so old, that it’s like, you don’t have to look up, I don’t know, like how operator boards or something used to work. Like, I think it just is really apt, really appropriate. Anyway, thought it was super cool.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:37:18
And it’s so mundane to the characters. They’re like, “Yeah, just fax yourself. Oh, you’re feeling sick, you want to hop into the fax machine?” And it’s, they’re saying, “Oh, you’re drunk? Do you want to have your body destroyed and recreated in order to stop you from being drunk?” Like, that’s weird.

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:37:35
Oh, another thing that maybe folks might not know, if they weren’t around in 2000 and have, like, full experience with fax machines is that you lose quality when you fax things, because the data transmission rate is very low. So if you have… It’s like scanning a picture at a low, you know, a low resolution, you just lose stuff. And so you’ve seen copies of copies of copies of copies. When they started talking about that royal, there’s a, an institute that keeps the backups. And they, and which is what keeps failing when people are you know, when Vivian couldn’t be restored, they just, they’re still looking for her backup. This, and ultimately all their hard drives crash. But anyway, that also sort of fits into the fax concept. And one thing just to tie this whole fax thing into the broader technology: I mentioned in the summary that the ring collapsitor, this solar ring that’s being made, I think I might have framed it as information or communication being faster. But that information is faxing people. That is one of the primary things that they want that data bandwidth for. So that’s why it’s a huge deal to this, to these folks. Even if, like, I think we might think, Oh, you’re gonna make money on it, but it’s just data going faster.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:39:01
For another kind of duplication, the thing that I geeked about was rivals. I like the character dynamic of rivals in genre fiction. And like I said, as soon as Bruno and Marlon showed up, I shipped them. I was like, “Oh, I want these two to stop fighting over this queen and stop worrying about which one’s better than the other and just like hang out and be bros or fuck or you know, both. You know, whichever however, works best for them.” That’s what I wanted.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:39:38
And like, that obviously didn’t happen because Marlon’s terrible and Bruno’s not terrible—

Lucy Arnold 1:39:44
Also terrible.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:39:44
—but not great. He’s far, far better than Marlon. But the, the dynamic of rivals, the sort of formula of rivals as they must be both similar and very contrasting, right? You want two people who kind of are in a similar circumstance who are competing with each other, and they have this shared experience of the thing they’re competing over. And then very different backgrounds and different approaches to it. And it’s the ways in which those things are similar and different that makes their relationship interesting. And this is, you know, this is the, the, you know, the anime protagonist and his grumpy rival. This is like, your, your Horatio Hornblower, like, two captains of two ships at a meeting at sword point, this sort of thing.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:40:40
And this book, I think, does a really good job at setting up that rivalry. Because the, Bruno is sort of “the intuitive comes up with ideas and doesn’t know how to check them” person, or “doesn’t want to check them” person. Marlon is the person who has worked out all the details repeatedly in this book. Bruno will suggest an idea, or like, throw out an estimate off the top of his head. And Marlon will confirm that a week ago, he did the math, and that estimate is pretty much correct but Marlon’s able to give more detail on it. And their similarity is maybe most dramatically shown… I have a picture that I drew at the start of chapter nine. I drew a picture because Bruno, Bruno’s home is—I’m showing it—and it’s a stick figure representation of this. Bruno’s home is a tiny little, little prince planet that he can like walk around in the course of 10 minutes. So he is a, he’s a, he’s a person whose house is on the outside of his, of a little sphere. Marlon’s house is this weird Greco-Roman Escheresque structure that’s a sphere that Marlon lives on the inside of. And so Bruno lives on a sphere, looking out into space and looking out at the world. And Marlon lives inside a sphere, always looking inward, looking at himself. And that, like, that distinction, that duality where it’s like, they both live there, they’re, both of their homes are tiny spheres made just for them. But Bruno’s home is one where he’s looking out, and like, looking out of the void of space and wondering what his place is, is in it and wanting… something. And then Marlon is living inside a cave, that he is only concerned with his own stuff and looking at reflections of himself and, and his own failures and insecurities.

Lucy Arnold 1:42:51
And they both sacrifice those homes in order to pursue the ends that they think are important.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:42:58
Yeah, Marlon fires his weapon at it to, I guess, remove suspicion? And also wipe out as many copies of Deliah and the others as he can. In fact, I think, I think that’s supposed to kill the queen and Bruno, I think. Because they only leave Marlon’s home kind of coincidentally, that like Bruno has, has a sudden flash of insight and is like, we got to go check on a thing. And that’s how they avoid getting killed. I think.

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:43:28
I think they leave because they get the call about the murders. And the murders don’t all happen simultaneously.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:43:34
The murder were supposed to happen simultaneously, but don’t. Yeah.

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:43:38
Right. So the first double murder happens… And I was having trouble tracing which Deliah died, because Deliah was also with the house. Yeah, that whole thing. But yeah, there’s that first set. And then while they’re there, another Cheng runs up I think and it’s like, “Hey, more murders.”

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:44:00
I love that Cheng—Cheng Shiao is his full name—I love that Cheng is totally cool with copying himself. Like most other people are like, it’s a little weird to have copies. And Deliah is like, yeah, “I’ve got a copy of myself on every station.” But they don’t pretend to work together. Cheng will just like, be like, “Hey, Cheng! Hey, Cheng!” and just like be… work with himself in a way that none of the other characters seem to want to.

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:44:28

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:44:28
But, but yeah. Marlon and Bruno are these weird counterparts and, and one of the cool things about rivals in this sort of fiction is that often, your rival is the only person who really understands you. Like, they’re these two geniuses who are so different and yet like, no one else in the human race can understand what it’s like to be this groundbreaking scientist who’s fabulously wealthy and has dated the queen. Like, only Marlon and Bruno can really understand each other in that way. And so there’s you mentioned earlier, there’s this really touching scene at the end, weird and touching, like strange and creepy and weird, but also emotionally effective, where like… Execution isn’t a thing that they want to do for some reason, but they have to find out some way to get rid of Marlon. They sent him on a spaceship traveling relativistically off into the cosmos, so that he will get to see the end of time because his, his life will be stretched across all of history. And, but, but in a way where he will never be able to reunite with humanity. And before that, Marlon and Bruno have like, they smoke weed and get drunk together and, like, talk about science all night. And then in the morning, Marlon is sent off to permanent exile. Did you have thoughts about that, that scene, Lucy?

Lucy Arnold 1:46:05
I mean, I guess one of my big issues I have is that I don’t like Marlon at all. I don’t think he is relatable. I don’t think he is a good guy. I don’t think there’s… And I think Appendix D makes it even worse. So to read about Bruno like, “Yeah, let me have a party with this swell guy.” I feel like, what? I mean. I don’t know. I mean, it just, like, I understand… I don’t know, it kind of makes Bruno worse for me, too.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:46:37
Yeah, I mean, Bruno’s weirdly lonely. He’s a weirdly lonely character. And the fact that he really wants to one night with Marlon, even though—Muddy survives, right?

Lucy Arnold 1:46:54
Muddy does not survive. Muddy goes and sacrifices himself. That’s the reason why he has to go and get the last couple of pieces of it that we’re starting to already fall into the sun.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:47:04
That’s right. He goes off and sacrifices himself.

Lucy Arnold 1:47:06
He’s like I’m—he said, “I was meant to show you what a terrible coward you are. But now I’m going to also show you that you can be brave,” you know.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:47:13
Yeah, so Bruno has no one who understands him after Marlon leaves and like, to Bruno apparently that’s enough to make him be convivial with Marlon for just a little bit of time. And you get that other duality between Bruno and Muddy where they’re the same person initially but one is a copy of the other and or I mean they’re both copies, right? There is no real Bruno. Bruno was killed. That, if you think that there’s such a thing as the, “a clone” and “a real copy”, then that one died long, long ago the very first time Bruno was faxed. And every, they’re all just clones. And Muddy is like, Bruno brought to his lowest, but also somehow is Bruno… like, like Hugo was freed of his, of his, of his like, purpose and his guidance and his connection to society. Muddy was freed of all the things that are weighing Bruno down. Where like, Muddy doesn’t care about looking abject because Muddy thinks he is trash. Bruno cares about being perceived as trash and worries that he is trash; Muddy is like, “No, I am trash. I’m lower than dirt. Call me Muddy.” And so like there’s, there’s that duality there, too, where Muddy’s actions reflect on Bruno, but Bruno is not as brave as Muddy is and maybe never will be because he cares too much about himself.

Lucy Arnold 1:48:49
So this is gonna go back to Marlon again. Sorry for looping back to Marlon but I just recently reread Peter and Wendy about Peter Pan and there’s a scene in the book where Hook—Captain Hook who is the villain of Peter and Wendy—creeps into Peters room to poison him. And but in the paragraph before he puts the poison in Peter’s cup or whatever, Peter’s just sleeping, it talks about how Hook you know, he likes flowers. He thinks they’re pretty and he enjoys music. He’s great at playing the harpsichord. And it’s kind of like, he’s a real person. But also he’s gonna do this really heinous thing and you’re gonna, you know, he he’s so set off by the scene of seeing Peter Pan sleeping innocently. That really triggers something in Captain Hook because he’s, he’s envious of Peter’s, like, youth. He’s envious that Peter has a mother figure in Wendy who cares for him. He, he wants Wendy, you know. But it is a really powerful moment because it also, you know, you, you see that Hook is not just this one dimensional villain all that we see, you know, through Peter and Wendy’s and maybe Tinkerbell’s—who’s a bit of a brat in the book—perspective, you know. And we just don’t… I mean, I can’t think of what we get like that from Marlon. You know, I want to know that he loved flowers. You know, I want to know that he, he read one of Wenders’s plays and was deeply moved by the denouement, you know, like something about him that could make him in any way not like, horrible, would be, would be welcome.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:50:36
He’s joyless and awful. And that’s about it.

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:50:40
There is that, there’s a, when, when Muddy and Bruno are first talking about what Marlon is up to—in the mass paperback, it’s page 260, it’s kind of deep into chapter 15, I think—”Bruno felt a bomb burst of rage. ‘What in God’s name is driving this man? Why can’t he just accept things as they are? I could kill him. He pretends to be merely jealous, a little bit bruised and snooty, a little bit nasty when crossed, and it’s fine. People like him for it, or at least in spite of it. His wit and charm serve him well enough and his genius. Why can’t he just be that person? What’s so savagely difficult, so brutally unfair about that?'” And this, to me, in addition to highlighting some very questionable things about Bruno, it also highlights the lack of, it does highlight the lack of depth of Marlon. Like, all he can list here is “Marlon’s a petty bitch.” These are the, these are the character traits, and a petty bitch who can’t even be a good petty bitch, like.

Lucy Arnold 1:51:49
I feel like it’s really his own doing right? If he has no connections in, in this galaxy, outside of this terrible person, I guess partly on you, Bruno. Like, you made, you made that world for yourself.

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:52:03
And I think part of the arc of the book is him learning… Because like, by the third book, the reason he restores his internet connection is because he’s like, I should have some fucking friends like, this is bad.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:52:18
This book is constantly—Bruno’s constantly realizing that he’s awful.

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:52:24
Yeah. So I think on the flip side, one could look at that last party, the final night, and kind of say like, this is Bruno accepting a human connection, where he can have it and then being able to let it go. Because he could have put a stay of execution. he could have… He could have kept him around and talk to him and put a radio link in there. Like he could have done any number of things.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:52:48
Could have tortured a faxed copy of him for a while.

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:52:51
Right! So I think it could be a sign of growth that he is laughing and singing and doing joyful things that, like, the only real emoting we see from Bruno is anger in Book Three. And then we see Muddy and how, you know, Muddy’s version of emoting. So yeah. Okay, mine is short. It’s, it’s short, because it’s just a little thing. In each of the three books, there is a description of the light that comes off of the ring, or some sort of complex collapsium structure, and it’s called, I’m gonna say “Cerenkov” light, maybe Cherenkov light depending on the origin of the name. And in each book, it is distinct.

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:53:50
So in the first book, so this is the first time he goes to fix and he goes up to the mountain on Venus and sort of susses out the problem with the, with the ring twisting. It is once it’s fixed, it says “that haunting Cherenkov glow was gone, superreflected back into the body of the ring collapsiter.” So that’s book one.

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:54:15
In Book Two, okay, the bottom of page 145 it says, “on Bruno’s own slate, Marlon’s tracings were echoed and quickly became solid detailed three dimensional looking images. The sun blazed and the ring collapsitor, its thickness exaggerated by several orders of magnitude, glittered around it like like a two-thirds completed crown. Fully half the structure, though, showed not the soothing blue of Hawking Cherenkov radiation but a kind of dingy brown flow.”

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:54:46
And then in the third book, it is described as “glowing blue as the ghosts of drowned sailors”. And we get more ghost imagery, more haunting kinds of labels as we move through these books and have these different experiences. But I just like this recurring sense of, like, how Bruno is feeling about this thing he’s interacting with. Because we see, I think, maybe beginning of Book Three, where he’s starting to lose some of the joy of discovery. And maybe that’s the end of Book Two, where he’s wondering—which he later wonders about Marlon—like, what are you doing this for, my guy? And so these little bits of of description of whether the glowing is soothing, or scary, or something else.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:55:39
And if folks don’t know, turn Cherenkov light is a real thing that exists in our world. You can look up videos of nuclear reactors, and they will glow this weird eerie blue. That’s the result of some atomic process.

Lucy Arnold 1:55:56
It is lovely imagery, and it’s nice that you can see it sort of reflected through the three books.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:56:03
Well, at the end of each episode, we pick the next thing we’re reading based on some connection from this episode. So The Collapsium has humanity politically united in a society apparently without disease or death, with extensive use of teleportation for travel.

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:56:22
Oh, shit.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:56:23
So next time, we’ll be reading a story with a similar premise. This one’s a little bit of an unconventional work. We’re going to be reading “SCP-6001: Avalon”.

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:56:39
Fuuuck. I always want an excuse to read SCP.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:56:43
So yeah, this is part of the SCP collaborative writing project. The SCP wiki—that’s “Secure Contain and Protect” is one interpretation of that acronym. And since it assumes sort of a certain amount of familiarity with that world, there’s a lot of cross references, I’m going to prepare a short glossary, a real glossary. Not a cute glossary, like is in this book, just a normal one. To help anyone who’s hasn’t read much of it, including y’all two. You don’t have to read the story or the glossary to enjoy the episode or the, you don’t have to read the glossary to enjoy the story. But I think it’ll, it’ll help inform some of this. But I’ll link to both the story—which is freely available and real short—and the glossary in the show notes so you can get those and it also has a very good cat in it.

Lucy Arnold 1:57:37
I don’t think anyone’s going to enjoy the episode if Lissa and I don’t read.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:57:42
Yes, that “you” was to the audience. Y’all two, I expect you to read the story and the glossary if you want it.

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:57:50
Yes, professor.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:57:53
But yeah, you can check that out.

Lucy Arnold 1:57:57
So next time we’ll be discussing a “SCP-6001: Avalon” on Before the Future Came. You can find links and show notes at beforethefuture.space. Please rate us five stars on Apple Podcasts or wherever you found the show. If you have any questions or comments, comment on our website or write us at onscreen@beforethefuture.space, which is real. At least it’s a real email address.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:58:27
I’m Gregory Avery-Weir. And you can find me at ludusnovus.net or on cohost at cohost.org/gaw.

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:58:37
I’m Melissa Avery-Weir and I’m over at irrsinn.net and on Mastodon at @melissa.

Lucy Arnold 1:58:46
And I’m Lucy Arnold and sometimes blog at intertextualities.com Our music is “Let’s Pretend” by Josh Woodward, used under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. Thank you for listening.

Josh Woodward (singing) 1:59:00

I’m sure we’ll all live happily ever after
Surrounded by butterflies, children and laughter I
t’s a fairytale story, so let’s just pretend
Hallelujah, amen, it’s the end
Happily ever after, the end

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:59:23
There’s a lizard in my office.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:59:25
Oh, cool!

Lucy Arnold 1:59:26
I was about to say is anything, is everything all right over there?

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:59:29
It’s, it’s the color of the carpet. So I’m not… fuck, I just lost fucking track of it.

Gregory Avery-Weir 1:59:37
You should just, just cross your legs under your chair.

Melissa Avery-Weir 1:59:41
It’s fine. It’s a lizard. It’s, it’s fine. Anyway, okay. Freeing of robots.