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Author Topic: Pseudopod 263: The Republic of the Southern Cross  (Read 11420 times)
Bdoomed
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« on: January 09, 2012, 11:47:15 PM »

Pseudopod 263: The Republic of the Southern Cross

By Valery Bryusov.
This story was written in 1905 and published in Zemnaya Os (The Axis of the Earth) in 1907. The text is available online at the Gaslight website. A more modern translation can be found in THE DEDALUS BOOK OF RUSSIAN DECADENCE: PERVERSITY, DESPAIR & COLLAPSE (2007).

As for the real world - check this out.

Read by Eric Luke of the Extruding America podcast.

“A detachment of well-armed men passed into the town, bearing food and medical first-aid, entering by the north-western gates. They, however, could not penetrate further than the first blocks of buildings, because of the dreadful atmosphere. They had to do their work step by step, clearing the bodies from the streets, disinfecting the air as they went. The only people whom they met were completely irresponsible. They resembled wild animals in their ferocity and had to be captured and held by force.”



Listen to this week's Pseudopod.
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balderdash
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« Reply #1 on: January 10, 2012, 12:32:50 AM »

Okay, I worry this might ignite some bitter argument, but here we go: while I enjoyed the themes and ideas of this story, and I thought it was delivered reasonably well - a little list-heavy sometimes, but good - I couldn't get past the constant paternalistic misogyny.

I know we're supposed to look at history in the context of its time, not judge it by modern ethical standards, and obviously this was a product of Victorian-era (Russian equivalent, I suppose) notions of personal restraint as the basis of civilization. I get that. For that reason, I could pretty easily just accept it the first few times "promiscuity" and "half-naked"ness were offered as grievous consequences of this terrible event and the breakdown of society.

It only got worse, though, to the point where every time it came up it would just yank me right out of the story with a laugh or a cringe. I think the definitive point was at the absolute nadir of events, when all order had broken down, and people were killing one another, hoarding for no reason, the lights were out, and absolute anarchy reigned, and where any reasonable student of history, indeed anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the human condition, might then have braced himself for the next item in the list of ills to be "rape," instead it was... sluts. All the young ladies and dignified grandmas just tearing off their clothes and turning into sex-crazy she-fiends, while the men were, presumably, completely defenseless against their depredations.

What?

The absurdity of this completely fantastical misogyny aside - rape is as close as there is to a universal consequence of social breakdown, and the real percentage of female rapists is vanishingly small, and so the omission of men perpetrating it was pretty glaring - it was also delivered with a deeply awkward prurience that made its regular reiteration particularly unfortunate.

I'd put it right about on par with Lovecraft's virulent racism, except that in Lovecraft's case, that xenophobic tendency stayed mostly in the background, serving to fuel the paranoid dread that made his stories so good, and surfacing only occasionally in moments that were narratively consistent and only jarring upon a moment's pause and consideration. It's unforgivable, but also low-profile, and doesn't feature in a significant way in most of his stories. This was pretty offensively backwards too, but it was also front-and-center and presented without an ounce of subtlety, pounding on my modern sensibilities like hammer. It also had no particular purpose or redeeming value through commentary; this was not a Huckleberry Finn scenario.

Anyway, I'll close off the rant. I did really like the premise of the story, even more so after Al's outro made me think back on a few particularly choice pieces. The narration was well done, too - just enough of the old-style newsman persona to give it the right tone without it being gimmicky. I just think maybe this particular piece of fiction could stand a rewrite by a contemporary author before it's ready for presentation to a modern audience.
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iamafish
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« Reply #2 on: January 10, 2012, 05:51:58 AM »

You're forgetting the central reason for all this disorder. The women are suffering from Contradiction. They want to be all proper and demure, so they end up tearing their clothes off and going of rampant sexual adventures.

On a side note, I imagine the members of society who would normally be promiscuous and highly sexual, but were suffering from Contradiction would be acting very properly.

Actually that raises an interesting point. What if the hero (the guy who did most to protect the town, I forget his name) was actually a deeply terrible person, but was doing all that good because he was suffering from Contradiction? The same could be asked for all the do-gooders.
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« Reply #3 on: January 10, 2012, 10:58:30 AM »

I hadn't realized as I was listening (or just zoned out this detail) that this was written a long time ago.  I thought it was written in modern times. 

In any case, I couldn't get past the first 20 minutes.  The first part that interested me at all was the sudden uprise of Contradiction, but even that didn't really start happening until 15 minutes in--and although it was interesting, it was also hard to suspend my disbelief.  It seemed to me that these were not people actually suffering from an actual condition, but ones which were rebelling against the dictatorship and trying to cover it by acting as though they had some kind of disease to allow them to act out without being immediately murdered. 

By 20 minutes in, there had not been a SINGLE character.  I guess a story about a place or a society doesn't hold my interest, I want a story about a PERSON in that place or society.  Without that I'm just tapping my foot waiting for it to get to some characters so that I can give a crap.
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balderdash
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« Reply #4 on: January 10, 2012, 01:26:07 PM »

You're forgetting the central reason for all this disorder. The women are suffering from Contradiction. They want to be all proper and demure, so they end up tearing their clothes off and going of rampant sexual adventures.

A fair point, I suppose - although I thought it was left quite unclear, I assume deliberately, how much of the population was actually "infected" and how many were just running wild in the absence of governance. Indeed, I felt like that very fuzzy line was more or less the point... yes? I didn't feel like it was even a given that the Contradiction actually existed as anything other than an outbreak of furious, repressed disorder in a totalitarian society.

Anyway, even granting the Contradiction, the writing on the whole matter was just ludicrous. And besides, what you say raises another point: if the Contradiction turned the women into turbo-sluts, what of the men? They're not really mentioned at all. Are we to assume that there were no decent men in the first place to be turned into rapists? Or was it that everyone was equally proper before, but only the women have turned "shameful"? I don't know, man. It still doesn't work for me.
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slag
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« Reply #5 on: January 10, 2012, 03:08:04 PM »

I had just assumed that all the men who were brawling and even perhaps eating children and murdering people they had just had sex with were decent men to begin with. It was kind of hard to follow who started out as what especially when they brought up the issues with the robbers and even the people that were running the casinos and brothels, or what I assumed were brothels.
I do think it was a real disease though, not just some repressed want for anarchy. I don't think THAT many people would have died in so many horrendous ways if people were simply acting out against a repressive regime. I really liked this story though, and if tomorrow I wake up rooting for the football team I absolutely hated as much as I didn't want to, I think I'd be pretty freaked out, and there ain't even nobody dying around me.
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« Reply #6 on: January 10, 2012, 03:32:21 PM »

For me, this story was a relic of an elder time in fiction, when stories like this were quite common. Although I certainly had issues with it - the lack of characters, the... quaint views of sex and violence, and so on - I was generally charmed. The pacing was excellent, and the very idea - a memetic disease ripping apart a totalitarian society on the south pole! - was fascinating. I've written on my blog about how, for me, the best moments in horror are the realization that YOU are the enemy, that YOUR mistakes have led you to your current position. The calls are coming from inside YOUR BRAIN!

Ahem.

Anyway, this story didn't do exactly that, because of the detached narrative. However, it did tell a fascinating, almost Grecian tragedy of the horror that comes with things inexorably, implacably, falling apart.
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« Reply #7 on: January 10, 2012, 09:07:12 PM »

Quote
By 20 minutes in, there had not been a SINGLE character.  I guess a story about a place or a society doesn't hold my interest, I want a story about a PERSON in that place or society.  Without that I'm just tapping my foot waiting for it to get to some characters so that I can give a crap.

Yes, there are no characters in this story, unless you count the correspondent, but he doesn't really count (unless he's infected, or spreading the infection and even then, he's not much of a character).  Chalk it up to different ways of telling stories from all around the world.

re - the date of the story - anniversary Pseudpods (275, 300 coming this year) will still be be classic reprints, but there will also be occasional salting in of other classic throughout the year.  Saint Patrick's Day (the day before, technically) will see a WB Yeats story, if all goes well, and the May FLASH ON THE BORDERLANDS (or which we have one for each quarter of the year in 2012 - which I'd like to keep up as a tradition if I get enough related flash - they do have to theme) will have one of my favorite short pieces by Du Maupassant.  May brings another Thomas Owen (not sure if it's a "classic", as its old enough, but previously untranslated), and June will bring a piece by Fyodor Sologub.  Variety is the spice of death, so pay attention to those intros!


“My interest soon turned analytical. Tired of being confounded, I wanted to know: invariable and regrettable end to all adventures.”
Julio Cortazar, “Season Of The Hand”, AROUND THE DAY IN EIGHTY WORLDS
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Sgarre1
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« Reply #8 on: January 10, 2012, 09:35:41 PM »

Quote
I just think maybe this particular piece of fiction could stand a rewrite by a contemporary author before it's ready for presentation to a modern audience

But... then it wouldn't be Bryusov's story... it would be someone else's story.  I don't understand this request/statement at all.  Why run someone's "updated for modern reader's sensibilities" version of something, instead of the original? (Something like "The Not-Niceness at Red Hook", in which our narrator, a well-adjusted soul at peace with his multicultural surroundings, discovers dark deeds occurring in vast underground caverns below Brooklyn... but at least the fiends are inclusive in their depredations!)

I mean, I'm respecting our listeners' ability to place things in historical context and assuming interest in and enjoyment from exposure to complex and sometime problematic writings from the past.  We're all adults here, right?  You don't want me nursemaiding you, right?  (We do have a warning on the front page)  Is there some quality of supreme sensitivity that "the modern audience" has that will be damaged by the attitudes and ideas from the days of yore?  Horror is, as I've said before, very often a genre replete with reactionary attitudes, as it plunges into man's worst tendencies and exposes them, sometimes at the ugly root.  It's a genre of misogynistic psychopaths and licentious femme fatales, the return of the repressed, oedipal anxieties, eternal damnation for breaking the rules of the Judeo-Christian god, inherent repulsion at older pagan deities, and fascination with the dead and decay.  Taboos, man, not reassurance.

None of that means you have to like this particular story (I wasn't expecting complete acceptance - technically it's closer to sci-fi than horror, ignoring the wholesale slaughter) but... you actually want it replaced with something more in keeping with modern mores instead of, I don't know, waiting a few weeks for something different?  Really?

I'll have to think about that...
« Last Edit: January 10, 2012, 09:44:21 PM by Sgarre1 » Logged
balderdash
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« Reply #9 on: January 11, 2012, 01:17:10 AM »

Quote
I just think maybe this particular piece of fiction could stand a rewrite by a contemporary author before it's ready for presentation to a modern audience

But... then it wouldn't be Bryusov's story... ...

None of that means you have to like this particular story (I wasn't expecting complete acceptance - technically it's closer to sci-fi than horror, ignoring the wholesale slaughter) but... you actually want it replaced with something more in keeping with modern mores instead of, I don't know, waiting a few weeks for something different?  Really?

I'll have to think about that...

You don't think you might be overreacting a bit? I said I liked the story otherwise and that I recognized it was a product of its times. I also said that I found certain aspects of "its times" to be problematically distracting. Not shocking and offensive, which they might be from a modern source... just distracting.

Would you feel better about it if I rephrased my statement as "I'd like to see what a modern author might do with the same idea"?
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« Reply #10 on: January 11, 2012, 10:06:50 AM »

Yes, there are no characters in this story, unless you count the correspondent, but he doesn't really count (unless he's infected, or spreading the infection and even then, he's not much of a character).  Chalk it up to different ways of telling stories from all around the world.

re - the date of the story - anniversary Pseudpods (275, 300 coming this year) will still be be classic reprints, but there will also be occasional salting in of other classic throughout the year.  Saint Patrick's Day (the day before, technically) will see a WB Yeats story, if all goes well, and the May FLASH ON THE BORDERLANDS (or which we have one for each quarter of the year in 2012 - which I'd like to keep up as a tradition if I get enough related flash - they do have to theme) will have one of my favorite short pieces by Du Maupassant.  May brings another Thomas Owen (not sure if it's a "classic", as its old enough, but previously untranslated), and June will bring a piece by Fyodor Sologub.  Variety is the spice of death, so pay attention to those intros!


“My interest soon turned analytical. Tired of being confounded, I wanted to know: invariable and regrettable end to all adventures.”
Julio Cortazar, “Season Of The Hand”, AROUND THE DAY IN EIGHTY WORLDS

Yeah, I understand that there are different storytelling styles.  This is one that clearly doesn't appeal to me.  No big deal.

I wasn't complaining about this being classic fiction, and much of the style made more sense in that context.  I just hadn't paid close enough attention in the intro. I like some different time periods spiced in the mix.  Smiley
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« Reply #11 on: January 11, 2012, 10:11:33 AM »

You don't think you might be overreacting a bit? I said I liked the story otherwise and that I recognized it was a product of its times. I also said that I found certain aspects of "its times" to be problematically distracting. Not shocking and offensive, which they might be from a modern source... just distracting.

Would you feel better about it if I rephrased my statement as "I'd like to see what a modern author might do with the same idea"?

I didn't think he was overreacting.  It was unclear to me too what you had meant.  It sounded kind of like you were asking someone to line-edit this story to modernize it, which to me sounded sort of like George Lucas movie revionism, swapping in walkie-talkies for guns.  (Which I don't care for).  If they're going to present a story from 1905, I want to see the story from 1905.

But it sounds like you were more interested in just seeing a new modern story written with the same premise.  And, hey, no complaints about that.  And the story's old enough to be out of copyright, so one could borrow as closely from the original as one liked without legal worries.  I've got enough of my own stories to write that I don't feel inclined to write this one, but if it's something you'd like to do, I encourage you to do so.  Write it and submit it.  Smiley
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Sgarre1
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« Reply #12 on: January 11, 2012, 06:19:48 PM »

Quote
You don't think you might be overreacting a bit? ...

Would you feel better about it if I rephrased my statement as "I'd like to see what a modern author might do with the same idea"?

No and , since that statement means something different and much easier to agree with, yes.
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« Reply #13 on: January 16, 2012, 07:12:51 PM »

I thought this story was pretty great. I had never heard of the author, but the premise seemed a bit familiar... then it hit me: the plot from the video game BioShock, but written in 1905! It's this kind of gem from another culture that makes Pseudopod such a great source for stories. I'm really glad you guys are running historical stuff as well as current stuff.

My favorite part was the Contradiction; I love the idea of a philosophical plague. It raised the question: "Do people really follow social rules because they want to, or because they feel forced to?" Maybe some do because of the former, and some the latter. Thus, you could never tell who was sick and who wasn't.

Actually that raises an interesting point. What if the hero (the guy who did most to protect the town, I forget his name) was actually a deeply terrible person, but was doing all that good because he was suffering from Contradiction? The same could be asked for all the do-gooders.

FUCKING BRILLIANT! I bet the author didn't even consider that idea. He should have. If he had just put in one sentence expressing doubt about Horace McGivern's motivations, it would have added a whole other layer of complexity to the story.

Other than that, I guess I just liked the imaginative depth of the setting. Seemed like the author put a lot of thought into it. It would be great to see a movie made of this. Anything set at the South Pole is naturally creepy (cf. The Thing, At the Mountains of Madness, The Last Winter).

As for the weird little quirks of misogyny, they made me laugh more than anything else. The story's too old, and the objectionable parts are too minimal to be genuinely offensive. I agree, they took me out of the story, which was unfortunate, but there will undoubtedly be things in today's fiction that will irritate readers a hundred years from now. ("We just couldn't get into this story. All the characters wore clothes and had individual consciousnesses. Absurd.")

Also, great narration. Pseudopod has had a string of embarrassingly good narrators lately.
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Jesse Livingston
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« Reply #14 on: January 16, 2012, 07:18:43 PM »

My mistake. The Last Winter is actually set at the North Pole. I amend my statement: stories set in Arctic or Antarctic climes are naturally creepy. That way we can include films like Insomnia, which seems to me like a horror film masquerading as a police procedural.
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Jesse Livingston
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« Reply #15 on: January 18, 2012, 10:04:06 PM »

For me the most startling feature of this story isn't the scenes of individual suffering, but the strong undertone of social commentary.  Overall, the story chronicles the crumble of a society from it's lofty, utopian heights into the literal dark; the whole of human history run in reverse.

So that means to this author in Russia in 1905, the most fantastical, perfect society he could conceive of was an authoritarian dictatorship that would make a modern reader both bristle and laugh?  Electric trains, sure.  The entire economy of the country being devoted to provide wealth, leisure and comfort to retired workers and ruled not by their elected officials but the manufacturing company's board of directors?  It's enough to make this American chuckle nervously...

That's what I find fascinating about this story, looking at what the past thought the future would look like - what they considered positive and desirable versus what they considered abhorrent and degenerate.
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« Reply #16 on: January 19, 2012, 05:41:50 PM »

To use a completely inappropriate metaphor, what a breath of fresh air! There was so much to think about in this one, it has become one of my pseudopod faves.

To name a few of the things that stayed with me:

It felt like contemporary steampunk even though it was written as futuristic SF.

The world building was fascinating, especially when compared to the actual 'utopia' which emerged from the political theories that informed it.

That setting - a vast city buried beneath the polar ice, slowly going mad.

Classic stuff.
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« Reply #17 on: January 19, 2012, 09:40:30 PM »

So that means to this author in Russia in 1905, the most fantastical, perfect society he could conceive of was an authoritarian dictatorship that would make a modern reader both bristle and laugh?  Electric trains, sure.  The entire economy of the country being devoted to provide wealth, leisure and comfort to retired workers and ruled not by their elected officials but the manufacturing company's board of directors?  It's enough to make this American chuckle nervously...

That's what I find fascinating about this story, looking at what the past thought the future would look like - what they considered positive and desirable versus what they considered abhorrent and degenerate.

I wondered about that. He certainly spent a lot of the story describing every detail of the society and how well it functioned. Then he implied that the plague of Contradiction might have been caused by that very setup. This made me think maybe the story was a critique of capitalism. I don't know much about Russian history, but I know there were worker revolts in and around 1905. Wikipedia also states that Bryusov supported the Bolshevik movement.
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« Reply #18 on: January 24, 2012, 01:51:44 PM »

Quote from: iamafish on January 10, 2012, 05:51:58 AM
Quote
Actually that raises an interesting point. What if the hero (the guy who did most to protect the town, I forget his name) was actually a deeply terrible person, but was doing all that good because he was suffering from Contradiction? The same could be asked for all the do-gooders.

Yes! I agree! I was suspicious that Horace Deville was the sole source of information about what was happening during the outbreak. The character Whiting seemed to me to be a hint about how the best intentions can go very badly - I wondered if (when uninfected) that Whiting would at heart be a hero while Deville would at heart be a villain.

Quote from http://gaslight.mtroyal.ca/repsouth.htm

Quote
In these difficult days Horace Deville organised his fellow-workers into a military force, encouraged them with his spirit, and set out to fight the followers of Whiting. This affair lasted several days. Hundreds of men fell on one side or the other, till at last Whiting himself was taken. He appeared to be in the last stages of mania contradicens and had to be taken to the hospital, where he soon perished, instead of to the scaffold.
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« Reply #19 on: January 25, 2012, 06:00:50 PM »

Do you think that was the author's intent? I think it would have been really awesome if he put in a little hint about that, but I didn't see any.
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Jesse Livingston
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