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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. Matt Marshall
    June 11, 2015 @ 1:22 am

    That's interesting Phil, thanks for the transcript as someone who finds it tricky to get the time to listen to podcasts.

    That said, the Wasp Factory isn't my favourite book. I read the argument between you two in bemusement because you're both right and both wrong. Yes, it's an idiot plot. It's dishonest and a misreading to claim anything else. But at the same time that isn't necessarily a problem as all the characters involved ARE completely malajusted psychotics and so the fact the story is an idiot plot arises out of that and is sort of the point.

    No reasonable person would act like Frank does, but the point of the story is that Frank isn't a reasonable person.

    As for the ending, I read it more as Frank discovers the great injustice done to them still existed but was a different injustice to the one that had motivated them. But there is a big difference between being an 'incomplete' male and a 'complete' female and it's justifiable to look at in that light. I think what Frank identifies as is secondary to that point plot-wise, and while yes, someone growing up in a mysoginistic environment taught to hate women would potentially want to still identify as male (though I don't think she does at the end, does she) the rejection of reproduction in no way is a rejection of femininity; you risk falling into the Moffat trap there of 'women are wonderful because they are mothers, thus anyone who is infertile or trans or chooses not to have children isn't a proper female' that soured the 2011 Christmas special for a lot of people.


  2. Spoilers Below
    June 11, 2015 @ 7:08 am

    Oddly enough, Mark Millar of all people has torn the blind obedience to God aspect of religious worship to sherds in his works American Jesus and Superior. In both works (REALLY rough summary here), a young boy receives magical powers they assume come from God, and tries to use them for good. But, like all things of the world, they actually have their origin from Satan. The agent of Satan lies by omission until it is too late, and simply allows the young boy's faith to fill in the blanks. Surly such great power, which could be used for good, couldn't have an evil origin! They are mean stories, to be sure, but feel very much like the stripes of Christianity I recognize. Much more like Tolkien (The Ring with no Gandalf, basically) than what I've seen of Wright.

    Millar is a staunch, church attending Scottish Catholic who spends a ton of money on charity work, for those who don't know.

    It would be just as easy to read certain aspects of Wright's book in this way. A black cat that grants magic powers after you murder him? Couldn't Lucifer be the Bright Star mentioned in the title? A faith that isn't ruthlessly examined, questioned, and solved seems no faith at all.


  3. 9a9595ec-1060-11e5-a690-ffeb6268ee7c
    June 11, 2015 @ 8:40 am

    I wrote the essay on The Wasp Factory for Steve Jones and Kim Newman's HORROR: 100 BEST BOOKS back in 1988. This is how I concluded:

    "This may sound absurd in summary, but the novel’s strength is that it pursues its central character’s obsessions unflinchingly, and never steps outside Frank’s skull to allow in conventional reality or perception. Its weakest moment is its denouement, where we learn that Frank’s father has been lying to him all his life: he isn’t a mutilated boy, but a more or less normal girl, dosed with male hormones by his father, partly as an experiment, partly as a sort of practical joke. The problem with this is that it reduces the situation from an obsessional reality to a puzzle with a solution – which ties up the novel, but is less interesting than what has gone before.

    "Still, The Wasp Factory is a remarkable sustained performance; for all the grotesquerie of its content Frank’s narrative is written with tight control and a notable absence of sensationalism, and is sometimes very funny. Unsurprisingly, one of its greatest admirers is J.G. Ballard, himself probably the foremost chronicler of obsession in contemporary British fiction; like Ballard’s Crash, Banks’s novel shows the power of obsession to reform the world in its own distorted image."

    Well, entirely too much use of the word 'obsession' there — I blame the editors — but otherwise I'd stand by it. It's probably worth observing that when the novel was published in 1984 openly transgender people were extremely rare.

    I've tried to read Wright's story, but the poor copyediting has got in the way for me.


  4. camestrosfelapton
    June 11, 2015 @ 10:45 am

    I was going to write a comment about the 2+2 bit, but it got a bit long.
    It is here


  5. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 11, 2015 @ 12:45 pm

    Wasp Factory is not my favorite book either; just one he thinks is utter trash that I'm comfortable describing as great literature.

    But I do think it's a straightforward execution of the gothic novel. What matters really is just that his world is based on a lie; not the consequences of the lie's uncovering.


  6. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 11, 2015 @ 12:45 pm

    Or at least, not the details of who he becomes in the wake of its uncovering.


  7. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 11, 2015 @ 12:45 pm

    This is what I was getting at with Footnote 9.


  8. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 11, 2015 @ 12:46 pm

    Not only were they rare, but the range of what sorts of people they could be was much more limited.


  9. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 11, 2015 @ 12:46 pm

    Fair enough. I'd go with "I was at one point skeptical of it, but it has been proven to my satisfaction."


  10. David Ainsworth
    June 11, 2015 @ 2:09 pm

    Thanks for the transcript; that was indeed fascinating, and I find it easier to follow the discussion in text than "rewinding" the podcast. Perhaps it speaks something (positive, in my view) about science fiction and fantasy that Vox seems more familiar with the aspects of (the many) things he dislikes than Phil seems familiar with Christianity. He may resist and hate, but he has at least encountered. Presumably part of why he's upset involves the inner knowledge that has already been exposed to too many of the voices he claims are corrosive.

    Much like a closeted gay politician might vigorously pursue an anti-gay agenda, Vox's moral corrosion could partly account for the moral agenda he pursues.

    Paradise Lost is an interesting contact point: I think it strongly supports elements of both your arguments here, both Phil's skepticism and Vox's insistence in what I'll simply call "the real." The point of divergence comes in terms of the specific characteristics of the real: on what grounds can Vox (or Wright) claim superior access to that real, especially if it is by definition unknowable by human beings and it is impious to dictate to God (either what he believes or what he has created).

    That's the gateway to Vox's fascism: not just that the real exists, but that it is objectively establishable (by Vox) and that his access to it is superior to Phil's. The unskeptical obedience to "valid" authority goes hand in hand with the gender essentialism and the desire for order that makes him hate the Banks text.

    If I were to say I had a seven-year-old child who enjoys climbing trees, watching hockey and rewatching The Avengers every month, I honestly think Vox would believe those characteristics are intrinsically gendered.

    It's also hard to take entirely seriously any theological position which can be refuted by the ending of The Armageddon Factor.


  11. camestrosfelapton
    June 11, 2015 @ 3:08 pm

    I think you handled it very well – I'd have got distracted by it and gone off on a tangent.

    Still it is a weird insight into Day's thinking – i.e. don't doubt what is TRUTH. "TRUTH" in this context what has been declared true by our betters 🙂 I think you nearly cornered him on that point.


  12. Aylwin
    June 11, 2015 @ 3:10 pm

    Especially when it's a cat that shares a literary ancestry with Sauron.


  13. Kit Power
    June 12, 2015 @ 12:19 am

    Yeah, I have to admit, this was a 'yell-at-the-telly' moment for me. The beauty of 2+2=4 is it's a product of skepticism – it's proof that skepticism can lead to facts. Don't take my word for it – do the math FOR YOURSELF. The difference between 2+2 and Vox's faith is utterly stark, and that fact that his belief system dislikes or fears skepticism tells me all I need to know about it.


  14. Neo Tuxedo
    June 12, 2015 @ 3:57 am

    Mark Millar of all people has torn the blind obedience to God aspect of religious worship to sherds in his works American Jesus and Superior. In both works (REALLY rough summary here), a young boy receives magical powers they assume come from God, and tries to use them for good. But, like all things of the world, they actually have their origin from Satan.

    He's previously covered similar ground with Saviour (which I hope will be covered as part of the War) and Chosen, the difference being that the Antichrist in those stories knows what he is.


  15. Neo Tuxedo
    June 12, 2015 @ 4:01 am

    That's the gateway to Vox's fascism: not just that the real exists, but that it is objectively establishable (by Vox) and that his access to it is superior to Phil's.

    I had a similar reaction to John C. Wrong saying "truth is true, goodness is good" as if that were some kind of breathless epiphany and not an utter tautology. Once you speak the unspoken assumption "and I, John C. Wright, am on the side that holds the monopoly on both", it all becomes clearer. Dumber, but clearer.


  16. Adam Riggio
    June 12, 2015 @ 8:37 am

    What I find most fascinating about your interview is just how well it depicts that absolutist vision of faith. It reminds me of what I've learned about Jewish theology, now that I've spent several years as the spouse of a woman who had been a modern orthodox Jew for several years before. Essentially, Wright's and Vox's Christianities (and most of the Christianities in their various contexts) believe that prophecy is real.

    Prophecy in this case, is the ability to speak directly to God, understood in the broad context of the monotheism that (if I can describe it with a Buber-style turn of phrase) developed through Jerusalem. Judaism and Islam both believe that it's no longer possible for humans to speak directly to God. They differ on this question only on when the last dialogue happened. Christianity, because of how the concept of the Holy Spirit opens a route to mysticism that doesn't exist in the other Abrahamic religions, allows prophecy to happen.

    So a Christian can conceive of talking to God as genuinely talking to God, and the tradition of defining good conduct as submission to God's will in the present (common to Christianity and Islam) means that strange visions and horrifying instructions can legitimately be understood as divine orders. It's just what Kierkegaard described in Fear and Trembling: the voice in my head tells me to do horrifying, terrible things, but I have to do them if the voice really is God. The devout Christian would think this is possible, but not the Jew, Muslim, animist, or atheist.

    I love it when two people with utterly different world-views sit down for a generally civil chat about each other's. It's wonderfully illuminating.


  17. camestrosfelapton
    June 12, 2015 @ 1:08 pm

    Absolutely: skepticism is the immune system of veracity. It doesn't mean you have to sit in a fug of ignorance.


  18. imnotandrei
    June 12, 2015 @ 8:45 pm

    Thank you, Camestros — I hit the same moment, with much the same reaction.

    Then again, I ran across Dialethism first when I stopped to wonder if all the "laws of logic" a presuppositionalist apologist was citing were actually laws, so…


  19. Daru
    June 13, 2015 @ 8:33 am

    "the voice in my head tells me to do horrifying, terrible things, but I have to do them if the voice really is God"

    Of course, that voice could just be a very good and convincing actor.


  20. Daru
    June 13, 2015 @ 8:35 am

    Amazing podcast Phil (I still have to listen to the afterparty). I'm with Adam above when he speaks about how brilliant it is when people of opposing views have a sit-down chat and are actually able to exchange ideas. I personally would love to hear you do similar podcasts with other awful people, and those with whom you have opposing ideas.


  21. Tymothi
    June 15, 2015 @ 3:49 pm

    Oh, Jeebus. He was in Psykosonik. How did I not know that. That means I've been mocking him since the 90s, I might even still have some promos from them laying around (I used to DJ at several industrial clubs, I never played them). The answer to point 20 would probably be that they were definitely on the "generic, vaguely industrially tinged techno" side of things, not the "noisy, experimental" side of things. Although, that said, their music wasn't horrible, but what's the point of being a DJ if you can't be harshly judgmental to the merely adequate?


  22. encyclops
    June 22, 2015 @ 8:26 pm

    Well, this was a good read. I'm satisfied now that One Bright Star probably wouldn't be, and perhaps unfortunately I'm also pretty sure The Wasp Factory probably wouldn't be, but I see why you chose the two to contrast.

    I commend you for your ability to have a civil conversation with a guy like this, which is an impressive enough feat that it seems churlish of me to be slightly disappointed that you two didn't actually get into really any of the areas where I find his views legitimately frightening. I mean, blind obedience to god, gender essentialism, sure, but those views are not only not extreme, they're not even unusual. I don't happen to agree with either of them, but I'm not shocked people believe them.

    It's the stuff like that first footnote that really puts my heart in my throat. I think people will continue to believe boys are born to love guns and girls are born to love purses long after people stop believing there's anything radical and pernicious about female presidents and multi-ethnic societies, and the language he uses to talk about the latter is really the only reason this guy matters to me at all. "Gamma" indeed.


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