Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Maddening Secret Cries of Lot 49: A Wold Newtonian Explanation

“That is not danger, it is inevitable destruction. You stand in the way not merely of an individual but of a mighty organization, the full extent of which you, with all of your cleverness have been unable to realize.” Professor Moriarty in “The Final Problem.”

The Crying of Lot 49 presents a problem for the Wold Newton researcher. It must logically be included in the universe due to crossovers found in the Nicholas Meyer Sherlock Holmes pastiche The Canary Trainer, the 1984 science fiction film The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension , and the television series Angel. So clearly this novel must take place in the confines of the Wold Newton Universe—despite the drug fueled nature of the work.

THRUSHing out the Nine
The main thrust of Pyston’s novel is that a woman, Opedia Maass, uncovers a long lasting war between two secret societies of postal carriers: Thurn and Taxis, and Trystero. The war supposedly began sometime in the sixteen hundreds. For what we know of the Wold Newton Universe (Henceforth WNU) there were two combative groups in operation during this time frame.

In Philip José Farmer’s The Other Log of Phileas Fogg, the Eridaneans and Capelleans had been in a secret war that began sometime in the sixteen hundreds. The battle between them ended, supposedly, in 1872 when the last of the Capellean Old Ones was killed. This seems logical, until certain facts come to light. Professor James Moriarty was one of the higher agents of the Capellean hierarchy; most of Moriarty’s agents joined him in his later criminal pursuits; during his meeting with Sherlock Holmes, Moriarty stated that he was the head of a “mighty organization” that even the heights of Holmes’ “cleverness [was] unable to realize” (“The Final Problem”); all indications point that the Capellean organization remained at work though Moriarty’s reign.

What then? Surely at the Napoleon of Crime’s death the group ended. Not so, in The Man From UNCLE: The Dagger Affair, a novel by David McDaniel, the true history of THRUSH is recounted. Shortly, the terrorist organization THRUSH (Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity) is the current face of the once Moriarty gang.

This is all well and dandy, you may say, but who in Hades were the Eridaneans? I believe they were the immortal Nine (from Farmer's Nine trilogy). During The Other Log of Phileas Fogg many references are dropped to immortality—just as are in the Nine trilogy, also by Philip Jose Farmer. (However, digging deeper into this theory goes far beyond the scope of this paper.)

I believe that Trystero—a representation of the chaotic subculture of the 1960s—is thinly veiled sub-division of THRUSH. Opposed to Trystero in its mission (to do what is never made clear in Pynchon’s novel) is Thurn and Taxis—a representation of the establishment. To continue the dynamic furthor: I propose for Other Logg, it seems likely that the “establishment” forces are, in truth, the Nine—secret rulers of the world. Thankfully, Pynchon seems to understand the evil of both groups, unlike many in the 1960s who built up THRUSH as the catalyst for the ultimate society (see “The Cap and Gown Affair” and my forthcoming article on THRUSH for full information).

The Ring of Thoth-Amon
During her investigations in chapter 4, Oedipa encountered the Alzheimer’s ridden Mr. Thoth. He gave her a “dull gold signet ring” engraved with the WASTE posthorn. In truth, this scene happened much as described. Only Mr. Thoth’s name was changed by Pynchon in order to give the careful reader a clue to the signet ring’s true nature. In the Robert E. Howard penned Conan the Barbarian novella “The Phoenix on the Sword” the enslaved Egyptian warlock Thoth-amon lusts after his lost ring, a thing with which he may free himself from his bonds, and in turn, enslave the world. “It was of a metal like copper, and was made in the form of a scaled serpent, coiled in three loops, with its tail in its mouth. Its eyes were yellow gems which glittered balefully.”

Admittedly, these two descriptions disagree on all counts except that the ring is of a yellowish metal. The reader may now make this objection to my statements: does not Lot 49 reference gold, while Phoenix references copper? The answer for this seeming dichotomy lies within the works of Plato. In his Critias, the dialogue where the legends of Atlantis originate, mentions how the sides of the city’s walls “flashed with the red light of orichalcum.” It is likely that Thoth-amon’s ring was, due to its great age even by the time of the prehistoric Conan stories, orichalcum. Some historians have theorized that the Atlantian metal was a gold copper alloy—this could possibly account for the ring’s seeming property change. The author takes this theory to be true.

A far more weighty matter is the shifting designs; the ring was a coiled snake with yellow gem eyes, to a plain ring with a muted posthorn. One passable idea is that over the many millennia the ring’s signature engravings were whittled away, but Robert E. Howard write a present-day set semi-sequel to Phoenix entitled “The Haunter of the Ring.” This story involves a man using the power of the ring in order to destroy the life of a former lover; the crux of the matter for us is that the ring remains true to the description from Phoenix. “Haunter of the Ring” was first published in 1934, leaving a thirty-two year gap between it and Lot 49; it seems unlikely that during that hiatus the ring’s engraving was filed down, though the possibility does exist.

I take the truth of the matter of the ring to be a combination of Howard and Pynchon. Oedipa did in fact receive the ring of Thoth-amon, as hinted by forcing the name “Mr. Thoth” upon the old man, and the ring did have the snake-line markings. However, “Mr. Thoth” was most likely an agent of THRUSH during his youth and had picked up the ring on a mission. Inside the orichalcum band he marked what he thought be the symbol of his masters. Perhaps he did this as a sign of adoration, or a warning against those who may discover the ring in the future. Whatever his intent, the influence of Alzheimer’s made him offer this trophy Oedipa Maass.

Dangerous Doctors
Dr. Hilarious is another issue. He is presented as a German mad scientist who was instrumental in devising ways to kill Jews by mental means. These included making faces that drove the watcher into a comatic madness. Clearly this cannot work in the real world, so another explanation is needed. The clue to Hilarious’ true identity is contained within Pynchon's express interest in one of the doctor's funny faces: the “Fu Manchu.”

In the 1950s, Atlas Comics (later Marvel Comics) published a short lived series entitled Yellow Claw. The main villain, the titular Yellow Claw, was a blatant a rip-off of Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu. The creators made Yellow Claw so close to the then popular Devil Doctor that from my stand point the two characters can be used interchagiblely. (It also helps that the comic stories slip neatly into the Fu Manchu chronology. Scholar Dennis E. Power disagrees and theorizes that the Yellow Claw is a soul clone of Fu Manchu.)

Returning to “Dr. Hilarious,” in the first Yellow Claw story “The Coming of the Yellow Claw” the Yellow Claw forces the Nazi war criminal Fritz Voltzmann into his service. Volzmann is a liability: a complete believer in Nazi ideology—but he is a scientific genius of that comic book kind, that man capable of work in any cutting-edge fringe science.

The end point of Voltzmann’s service to the Yellow Claw was chronicled in the first issue of the comic book Agents of Atlas—where the German only appeared for a few panels. Yellow Claw escapes the incoming American forces, leaving Voltzmann to either die or be captured. (In one panel he is seen being tied up by one of the Americans, yet in the closing interior shot of the American plane, Voltzmann is nowhere to be seen. Since it’s highly likely Voltzmann would be executed for his actions from WW2 to the late 1950s, it seems that he took the chaos of the self-destructing base to escape.) His trail after this event becomes blurred. From the sources I have been able to locate, it seems that he returned to America and set up a successful (hallucinogenic drug fueled) psyologist office. After he seemingly lost his mind and went on a shooting spree, he disappeared. Perhaps the Israeli agents he screamed about were after him.

The inconclusive ending to The Crying of Lot 49 causes more questions. Was Oedipa insane? Exactly what was the goal of Trystero? Who was the unknown bidder? These questions will forever lack answers. But hopefully I have shed some light into darkened corners.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Alex Rider: Revolution (Immortal) 9

The fifth Alex Rider [1] novel, Scorpia, penned by Anthony Horowitz, is an odd book; the focus switches from a youthful James Bond pastiche to a darker form of conspiracy fiction. In any case, the teenaged MI6 operative quickly gets in over his head when he attempts to uncover the organization his father worked for: Scorpia. However, for the Farmer-fan this novel takes on new dimensions. The whole organization of Scorpia seems to be closely modeled off of PJF’s the Nine and, from a Wold Newton perspective, slides neatly into the Nine saga.

The ruling council of Scorpia consists of nine people from different nations: an old German, an Israeli, a Welsh, a Chinese and several of unknown nationalities. As readers of the Nine Trilogy remember, there were several Germanics on the council of the Nine, as well as an Israeli. [2]

During the discussion that follows, it is uncovered that this group prefers the firearms built by the FN company (the weapon of choice for the candidates of the Nine), and that “Only nine were left. One had died of cancer. Two had been murdered” (page 5). This statement fits nicely with the body count from the Nine Trilogy. Xauxaz died of extreme old age [3]; Mubaniga and Jiizfan died at the hands of Lord Grandrith. The death that runs counter to this theory is Iwaldi, a traitor to the Nine who had perfected an immortality drug that not only retarded aging, but caused the user to de-age to his physical prime. However, as stated, he was a traitor, making unlikely the Nine would count him as a member in their histories.

Later in the novel, Rider attempts to sneak into a several hundred year old castle [4] where Scorpia is holding a meeting of all its members. As Rider goes poking about back rooms, he comes upon a white Bengal Tiger in a richly furnished bed room. The animal attacks him until a guard comes in the room and flips a switch on a remote control. “And then the impossible happened….[the tiger] slumped and lay still on the floor....and then it was asleep, it’s stomach rising and falling, its eyes closed.” This devise as described in the novel is nearly identical to the invention from The Mad Goblin which made implanted animals into somewhat autonomous soldiers by alternatively stroking their brain’s anger or fear impulses with a radio-wave machine.

After several minor adventures, Alex Rider is inveigled into joining the organization in memory of his father. After which he is then carted off to an island school for assassinations. During his stay on this small Italian isle, two events of note take place. The first is that in one of the classes, all of the other students were learning a lesson about cigar boxes (for more on the use of cigars in the Nine, I direct my reader to Christopher Paul Carey’s article “The Green Eyes Have It—Or Are They Blue?” contained in Myths for the Modern Age, Monkey Brain Books, 2005).

The much more important event of note is Rider’s mental health examination by a Dr. Karl Steiner. Another Dr. Karl has quite an interesting history, but at the moment we are only concerned with two of his many cover identities. During the first world war, he posed as Baron Karl von Hessel, the captain of the prison camp Loki (in Farmer’s Escape from Loki, Bantam, 1992). There he was obsessed with finding a potion for immortality; ultimately his efforts were destroyed by a young Doc Savage. The second moment of interest is from the final Doc Savage novel Up from Earth’s Center, where Karl poses as a psychologist in order to fulfill his goals (for complete information on these two adventures of Doc Savage and a fuller account of Dr. Karl please again look to Carey’s “The Green Eyes Have It—Or Are They Blue”). It is my belief that both of these Dr. Karls are one and the same man.

During the examination, Dr. Karl injects Rider with what he calls a “vitamin boost,” an amber colored elixir of unknown effect. Later in the novel Rider suspects that he has been injected full of a nanotech soup intended to kill him—but why would an organization that has spent so much money and time to develop a boy into a skilled killer wish to murder him during an unrelated a terror attack on London? Far more likely he was injected with the same strain of elixir that caused insanity in both Caliban and Grandrith—as will be seen below.

Immediately following his “vitamin boost” Rider is sent to murder one of his bosses at MI6, something he attempts willingly, despite it going against his character. This echoes Doc Caliban’s sufferings from the immortality potion throughout A Feast Unknown. The injection did not affect Rider in the same extreme ways, but it must be remembered that he is a pubescent boy and probably would not be physically able to exhibit some of the symptoms. His talk with his boss right before he tries to kill her plays like an encore to the finale of Feast where Grandrith attempts to talk Caliban down.

He is captured by government agents and sleeps off the effect of wanting to kill his boss. Within the context of the novel, this makes no sense as he wanted to murder her out of a mixture of revenge and hate. But within the context of the Nine trilogy, this makes perfect sense. A wounded Caliban slept off the effects of the potion after a nervous break down.

The final item of note is the goal of Scorpia. According to Horowitz, Scorpia is under contract by a Middle Eastern sheik to decimate the school age population of England and, possibly, cause war between England and America in the fallout. This seems plausible, but it is troubling that aside from three mentions, two by Scorpia and one by a British agent, no one seems to mention or care about this backer. I find it more likely that Scorpia, aka the Nine, were themselves responsible for this. Consider what the Nine wanted during the events of Lord of the Trees/The Mad Goblin: to return the earth to its ancient population levels. What better way to do this than start wars between two major countries?

Alex Rider was successful in his bid to end this Nine threat. After a lengthy recuperation from the mental and physical tortures of this mission he was forced into a return match against the Nine—thus time against their deadliest member: the immortal Dr. Fu Manchu. However, this battle goes far beyond the scope of this essay. (For complete information, please see my forthcoming article on the Alex Rider series.)

The ultimate question asked of this article is, did Anthony Horowitz knowing include all these seeming references to the Nine trilogy in homage to Philip José Farmer? This I leave for the reader to decide.

[1] It is worth noting that the Alex Rider series is filled with hints that it not only takes place within the same universe as the James Bond novels but that Rider is the grandson of James Bond by Honeychile Rider (the Bond girl from Doctor No). In The Man With the Golden Gun, Bond notes that Honeychile had twins some years before with a doctor from Philadelphia. Alex Rider’s father and his brother were twins. Two objections to this theory exist. The first is that the twins would have the same last name as Honey’s husband; this possibly resolved in Pearson’s Authorized Biography of 007 when Honey states that she is divorced, thus we may assume that her children took up the RIder name. The second objection is the question of whether Bond could have fathered the twins before Honey married and still leave her husband thinking the children are his own. Considering that Bond was going to take Honey to see an American doctor to fix her broken nose at the end of Doctor No, it is possible that she could have had a whirlwind romance and been married inside of a month.

Please see my forthcoming article on the Alex Rider series for a complete listing of the hints within the Alex Rider novels about Bond.

[2] Strangely, the Israeli wears an eye patch; the novel notes that he “accidentally” shot his eye out with his FN pistol. Perhaps with the death of Xauxaz in A Feast Unknown a new symbolic Odin was needed for the religious rights of the Nine.

[3] Death by old age is no longer recognized as a cause of death in the United States because there is always some deeper cause. It is possible that Xauxaz did die of cancer.

[4] It is worth noting that the castle was lit by candle power, perhaps they were used in place of torches to pass the immortality drug to the candidates. See Christopher Paul Carey’s “The Green Eyes Have it—or Are They Blue” (Myths for the Modern Age, 2004) for more information.

James Bojaciuk

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo--Stieg Larsson

I've given into the best-selling craze and read the first of Larrsson's mystery thrillers (Of course this had nothing to do with the fact that Amazon offered the book for a total of five dollars); Well I can't truly say if I loved it or loathed it.

The main set-up for the novel is the best materials for a locked room mystery I've seen; in Sweden there is an island owned by the billionaire Vanger family. The teenaged daughter disappeared during a time where nearly everyone on the island was attempting to clear the only possible exit from the island. Clearly, she had to have been murdered. The body was never found.

Larsson carefully builds two protagonists that meet my two critia for fictional characters, they feel real and I cared about what happened to them. But, they were both disgusting human beings.

This all said, the book has problems; the mystery isn't truly resolved. Near the end of the book, Larsson just pulls a solution out of the ether that just doesn't gel correctly with what we know. This is a pity, since all the building clues pointed in a beautifully devious solution to the case.

The other problem with the novel is the heavy sexual violence. It can be handled well (like in Eckert's The Evil in Pemberley House) or badly, like this. While reading what all happened to Lisbeth Salander, and on a different level the events missing Vanger girl was a part of, it never feels like Larsson cares about the characters and is having a good ol' time putting the poor girls though several rapes (making it worse is that Salander is slightly retarded). Perhaps I'm not stating clearly what exactly disturbs me about this; it's not just that he's having fun, it feels like Larsson is getting a sexual high of the misfortunes of his female characters. And that's just wrong.

Still, for pure page turning ability, I do give the novel points. I was hooked reading from the first page to the end.

Final Rating: B+

Wold Newton: Nothing that can be stated without research; but it seems this novel brings to light a slight interaction between THRUSH and the immortal Nine.

James Bojaciuk