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From: "Robert Borski" <rborski@coredcs.com>
Subject: (urth) Forlesen
Date: Sat, 26 Sep 1998 22:23:11 

For a long time my favorite explanation for the events that transpire in
"Forlesen" was provided by the undertaker-type character at the story's
end--namely, that Emanuel Forlesen has been "revived by unseen aliens who,
landing on the Earth eons after the death of the last man, have sought to
re-create the life of the twentieth century." Kind of GW's version of THE
EINSTEIN INTERSECTION, so-to-speak, with Dilbert as Lobey. On the other
hand, for Wolfe to be so generous as to actually provide an explanation for
one of his more enigmatic pieces, seems so uncharacteristic of him that
this, as well as the other explanations offered, are almost certainly
misdirection. I've therefore gone back to the text to see if I could find
yet another platform for what happens--one more implicit and subtextual
than outright given to us. I guess--to use the parlance of the story--that
makes me an Explainer. Should you find my version wanting, you might
considering writing your own, and we can add it to those provided by the
novelist, aged loremaster, National Hero, warlock, actor, etc.

The first interesting datum, I'm going to argue, originates in the name of
the title character. As has been mentioned before, forlesen means "to lose
completely;" and "perdition." Valid as well is its German equivalent,
vorlesen (pronounced exactly the same, since v = f in German). But not only
does vorlesen mean "read aloud," (I believe Sgt. Rock mentioned this
earlier), but also "to read out; to retrieve information from a computer."
Is it therefore possible Forlesen somehow combines the ideas of damnation
and computers, a la Harlan Ellison's "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream"?
Given the plethora of both computer and hellish imagery all through the
story, I'm going to argue yes.

First, let's consider the hellish imagery.

One of the books that Forlesen finds in his house has a red cover with "a
group of men surrounding a winged being." It's supposed to tell you how to
be good, according to Edna, but its left side is printed in a scarlet
unknown language. The red book is later associated with Revelations, i.e.,
the Apocalypse.

Forlesen sees something upsetting under the concrete ramparts of the
highway, but is "not sure if the casters of these shadows (whatever they
might be) were themselves bowed, twisted and deformed." Could these be
demons or something akin to Hieronymous Bosch's various grotesques?

On the front of the factory into which the mustangs are being herded,
Forlesen sees a picture of "a dog's head in a red triangle on a field of
black." Could this be my old friend Cerberus?

Smoke from a stubby flue blows across Forlesen's parking place.

One of the passageways contains "the burnt metal smell of arc welding." Its
floor is suggestive of "charred wood."

The windows are boarded up.

A drill operator burns his hand on a smoking drill.

Company executives at Model Pattern Products have the option of being
cremated and interred on site.

The referee of Bet-Your-Life wears a red jacket.

Frick's fellow executives sit in his office smoking and knocking out pipes.

The undertaker tells Forlesen that he "may have been oppressed by demons."

And lastly the word "hell" itself is mentioned six times in dialogue, and
one of Forlesen's first utterances is "Where in hell am I?"

Now for the computer imagery.

Forlesen's eggs and coffee taste of motor oil.

The sidewalks are stenciled with the following: Go To Your Right--Not To
Your Left (which echoes an earlier guidebook caveat: Do Not Go To The House
On The Left). This same message appears nonsensical--well, upside down
anyway--to someone going sinisterly. Binary notation, of course, must be
read left to right in order to yield valid information.

The address of Model Pattern Products is incredibly high (19000370 Plant
Parkway) and reads more like a sector address on a huge mainframe.

On his way to work, Forlesen sees diamond-shaped signs that read Hidden
Drives. Not driveWAYS, but drives, as in disk drives.

The traffic signals alternate between red and green at 1/4 second
intervals, something a human would have trouble processing, but not a

All the character names follow a rigid, hierarchal pattern based on
alphabetization. Last names begin with one letter later than first names,
and each new generation appears to be named one letter later. E.g., G1=AB,
G2=BC, G3=CD, G4=DE, and G5=EF, which is Forlesen's generation. Similar
organizational trees are used by computers.  

[Curiously, while we meet members of generations both before and after
Forlesen's, we don't encounter any others, with the exception of Abraham
Beale (aka Adam Bean, the founder of MPP). Beale also has more of a history
than any other character, having been a lawyer, soldier, cowboy,
lumberjack, railroad worker and a farmer. He's also far exceeded his
lifespan since each generation seems limited to a single day's duration.
Since he's living a vagabondish lifestyle I'm tempted to identify him as
the archetypal Wandering Jew. "Abraham" and "Adam," on the other hand,
suggest paternity (I also note that each name begins with A and ends with
M, recalling Harlan's Ellison's cybermonstrosity, AM). Could he be the
engineer/programmer who created the computer housing the events in
"Forlesen"? Is he the embodiment of the computer itself? Or is he indeed
Ahasuerus, awaiting the Second Coming--"Emanuel" in the Bible is identified
as the future Messiah, but Forlesen seems a poor Christ.]   

The cop car which stops Forlesen is painted with wholly abstract symbols.
ASCII characters?

Driving, Forlesen imagines himself "a mouse descending a clear stream in
half an eggshell."

Abraham Beale mentions, "We had as tree once on the farm, a apple
tree--McIntoshes I think they were." He also remarks about his father's
farm, "That's Dad's farm, them little numbers in the book."

Numbers, indeed, run rampant through the narrative. We're also told that
"Waits and Measures" are much more important than any of the other
information provided by the guidebooks.

Also frequently mentioned once we reach MPP is its metallic nature, from
the building itself to various doors, desks and chairs. 

Forlesen's desk speaks to him, but he can find no speaker in it.

People appear differently when seen through glass: i.e., after they've been
siliconized. Are they electrons in motion?

Fairchild, in commenting on the Sample Leadership Problem Forlesen attempts
to solve, says, "I don't know what the right answer is, only the machine

A film on creativity is a re-creation of an actual meeting of real teachers
that they photographed and taped, "then had the actors reproduce the
debate." Are the events in "Forlesen" similar computerized re-creations?

"A glacial corridor, filled with quiet wind and memory of ice" very eerily
recalls the ice caverns of Ellison's "I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream."

As Forlesen is returning home, he sees orange and black machines eating the
houses just beyond the light. Anybody ever watch the visual representation
of their disk defragmenter at work?

Forlesen's coffin may be a little tight about the shoulders, "but it's got
a hell of a good engine."

And lastly there are the final words of the undertaker, in answer to
Forlesen's wanting to know if his life has been worth anything: "No," says
he. "Yes. No. Yes. Yes. No. Yes. Yes. Maybe." But surely, this mishmosh is
binary notation, where no=0 and yes=1, don't you think?

Robert Borski


*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

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