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Bewildering Stories

Challenge 351

Signs of the Times

O you hypocrites! You can discern the face of the sky, but can you not discern the signs of the times? — Matthew 16:3
  1. In Bertrand Cayzac’s “Figs and Riesling”:

    1. In what way are Jenny Appleseed and the Dutch banker similarly obsessed?
    2. The story refers repeatedly to 16th-century peasant revolts. What form does the story suggest they have taken in modern times?
    3. Anyone aware of the financial turmoil at the end of the first decade of the 21st century will find a presage and a warning in part 7 of “Figs and Riesling.” What is the warning? In what way is the story of the Dutch banker a “sign of the times”?
    4. Bonus question: At what point is Plato’s Timaeus quoted? To what apparent purpose?
  2. Thomas Lee Joseph Smith’s “The First Town Hall” satirizes the “town hall” meetings of August 2009 by transposing them to the signing of the Declaration of Independence:

    1. What anachronisms does the story contain? Do they really matter?
    2. What does the story imply about the duty of elected representatives? About the duty of citizens?
    3. At what point does a phenomenon such as the anti-health care demonstrations in the U.S. become so bizarre that it transcends all parody and satirizes itself?
  3. In Bill Bowler’s “Mrak’s Party”:

    1. Professor Mrak implies he took part in the Heydrich assassination. How old is Mrak likely to be when Wobble meets him?
    2. What does the list of names in Professor Mrak’s typewriter represent?
      Bonus question: What does mrak mean in Czech?
    3. What is your impression of Cynthia’s personality?
  4. In Kim Rush’s “Baby Doll”:

    1. Ian says to Baby May: “She looked like Aunt Bea on the Andy Griffith Show.” Does the story tell us what Aunt Bea looks like or must the readers who have never seen that TV show simply write off the reference as arcane?
    2. Does “Aunt Bea” ever tell Ian Dough her name?
    3. Ian sells his soul to the Devil before he finds the mysterious office and signs the contract with “Aunt Bea” and Mr. Scratch. How does he seal his own fate?
    4. At the end of the story, what two clues tell the reader what has happened to Baby May?
    5. Might the ending of the story allow the reader to speculate why Ian’s wife might be somewhat obsessed about acquiring a fancy doll?
  5. Bonus questions:
    Marina J. Neary’s “Hugo and Cromwell” gives a glimpse of Victor Hugo’s literary and political career.

    1. At Victor Hugo’s funeral in 1885, his coffin was transported on a simple laborer’s wagon to the Pantheon, which is inscribed Aux grands hommes la patrie reconnaissante. In what way does Hugo’s work justify the honor?
    2. When asked who was the greatest writer in French literature, André Gide replied, “Victor Hugo, alas.” Explain his ambivalence.

Responses welcome!

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