Escape Artists

PodCastle => Episode Comments => Topic started by: Heradel on July 29, 2008, 06:40:27 AM

Title: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: Heradel on July 29, 2008, 06:40:27 AM
PC018: Illuminated Dragon (http://podcastle.org/2008/07/29/pc018-the-illuminated-dragon/)

By Sarah Prineas (http://www.sarah-prineas.com/)
Read by Steve Anderson (http://sgacreative.com/)
First appeared in Strange Horizons (http://www.strangehorizons.com/2002/20020603/illuminated_dragon.shtml) (full text online.)

The neatly lettered sign hung askew. Shards of glass spilled out from the front window, and scraps of charred paper blew around the front door, which hung crookedly from one hinge. Rafe came closer and, shaking, peered into his shop.

Shredded papers lay everywhere, in drifts on the floor and the worktable. Any representation of human or animal, Rafe knew, had been hacked out and burnt; the hearth was choked with ash and half-charred pages. Across one wall was a splash of vivid vermilion. The other colors had been tipped onto the floor and ground underfoot. Rafe crept further in, shards of the broken window crunching underfoot. With trembling hands, Rafe opened the book.

The bestiary was missing from its wooden stand in the corner. Rafe fell to his knees, pushing tattered papers aside, searching for it. A shard of glass cut his hand, and he left bloody fingerprints on every page that he touched. At last he found the book underneath his worktable, and for a moment his heart leapt; it seemed to be unharmed. With trembling hands, Rafe opened the book. He looked at it for a long moment, then closed it and laid it gently on the floor.

Most of the destruction in the shop had been done by unsubtle thinkers, typical Men of Truth, all brutality and swagger and the knowledge that they were, absolutely and rationally, Right.

But someone else had done the book. Someone subtle, surgical. The pages were nearly untouched. Except that every illuminated picture, every dragon, pard, gryphon, or mermaid, had been carefully and neatly excised.

Rated G. Warning: contains mythical creatures such as dragons and mermaids. May be illegal in some jurisdictions.

Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: Listener on July 29, 2008, 08:13:30 AM
A pretty good reading, though I really don't like Steve Anderson's version of old men or females of any stripe.

I loved the idea... the world was just slightly off-kilter, just enough that we could imagine it being any generic fantasy-esque landscape without too much trouble, and then the author dropped in her little touches that made it unique.

This story lent itself to a lot of good titles throughout.  I wish I could remember them all, but I heard a bunch of nice ones.

I think the story would've been a better lady/tiger ending than "Erich Zann" or... oh, what was the other lady/tiger ending on Escape Artists recently? Damned if I can remember.  Anyway, when this happens:

Rafe dipped his finger into the blood that had puddled on the floor. Vermilion, almost, but congealing to a rustier red. He had repeated, as Neecer asked his questions, that there was no resistance. And there had not been. But maybe there would be.

Using his blood as paint, he began to sketch.


That would've been a really cool way to end the story.  Not that I'm unhappy with how it ended, necessarily.

There were parts of the story I didn't like -- most notably the way Rafe immediately KNEW Edward was the bad guy and the way he just sat and waited for him.  I felt like the rising action was on too steep a slope.  And I kind of knew what was coming from the moment Edward and Verity showed up.

Overall, though, I enjoyed it.
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: Void Munashii on July 29, 2008, 03:10:27 PM
  Wow, 1984 comes to fantasyland. As an aspiring (hack) writer, and story that deals with censorship strikes a chord with me, and this one was no exception. I liked the fact that with almost no effort at all, I was able to imagine this world (although my imagining may well be completely different than what the author intended).

  I don't know if it was intentional or not, but I saw a metaphor in this for the "battle" between science and religion. Of course I also saw some parallels to the holocaust in it as well.

  I would have liked to have seen more magic come into it sooner (maybe I missed something,  but I was a little surprised when he brought the butterfly to life). I also thought that Edward and Verity's appearance was a little too convenient as a way to get the story moving towards its conclusion faster, it would have been nice if that had come across a little more naturally.

Rafe dipped his finger into the blood that had puddled on the floor. Vermilion, almost, but congealing to a rustier red. He had repeated, as Neecer asked his questions, that there was no resistance. And there had not been. But maybe there would be.

Using his blood as paint, he began to sketch.


That would've been a really cool way to end the story.  Not that I'm unhappy with how it ended, necessarily.

  While this certainly would have been a dramatic ending, but I liked the image of the dragon busting through the tower wall. It still was somewhat uncertain (to me at least), but it had a sense of triumph to it.

  Of course if there were other people like Rafe in the world when logic started to take over, it seems like it would have been a good idea to use this ability to battle the rationals. What could people encumbered with logic and rationality do to fend off swarms of mythical creatures belching flames at them? It certainly would have been better than just letting the rationals pick off the fantastic one group at a time, which it what sounds like happened.
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: MacArthurBug on July 29, 2008, 05:49:08 PM
Overall I was absolutly floored by this story. The reading was mostly just "okay" but the story shone through wonderfully so it's all good. The appearing butterfly/show of magic did feel sudden and almost unexpected. The ending was gorgous, I personally like it as is and though the painting a dragon in blood is an interesting side for an ending- a potentially dying man off for one last battle/ or chance to be awe inspiring was even better for me. The giving of his existing work to his semi-apprentice also struck a chord with me. The whole there's hope in the future angle. Overall this one's getting a solid thumbs up, not my new favorite, but a new and wonderful find thanks to the Escape artists team.
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: Hatton on July 30, 2008, 09:03:46 AM
Loved it so much I have to beg, where's the rest of the story?!?

+1 to Void's comments on both the 1984 reference as well as the holocaust.
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: eytanz on July 30, 2008, 09:21:46 AM
There were parts of the story I didn't like -- most notably the way Rafe immediately KNEW Edward was the bad guy and the way he just sat and waited for him.  I felt like the rising action was on too steep a slope.  And I kind of knew what was coming from the moment Edward and Verity showed up.

Actually, that's what I liked the best about the story - the fact that Rafe was entirely aware of what was going on, and knew that he couldn't fight it. I would have hated it if Rafe would have fallen for the deception, exactly because it was so transparent to me as a listener.

Quote
  Of course if there were other people like Rafe in the world when logic started to take over, it seems like it would have been a good idea to use this ability to battle the rationals. What could people encumbered with logic and rationality do to fend off swarms of mythical creatures belching flames at them? It certainly would have been better than just letting the rationals pick off the fantastic one group at a time, which it what sounds like happened.

I think the point was that magic was uncontrolable and unpredictable - not in the sense that it was dangerous, but in that most of the time, it generates useless results. And it was said that Rafe's power was to create small creatures, not big creatures. The blood-dragon was the exception. There's quite a lot of stuff people can do, wielding logic, rationality, and wooden clubs, to an army supported by butterflies and kittens.
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: wintermute on July 30, 2008, 10:03:24 AM
And it was said that Rafe's power was to create small creatures, not big creatures. The blood-dragon was the exception. There's quite a lot of stuff people can do, wielding logic, rationality, and wooden clubs, to an army supported by butterflies and kittens.
Well, it seems that Rafe could create any creature, at any size he could draw it. Trace out a pride of lions at double-size, or maybe a T-rex or two, and you could build a significant army. But making large-scale drawing like that is tricky; moreso if you have to do it in secret (those big, empty fields are off limits).

On the other hand, scorpions and spiders are small and easier to draw, and more effective than "butterflies and kittens". And now I'm wondering how hard it would be to draw Yersinia pestis...
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: Void Munashii on July 30, 2008, 12:24:12 PM
There's quite a lot of stuff people can do, wielding logic, rationality, and wooden clubs, to an army supported by butterflies and kittens.

  But that's the point, facing offf against a swarm of dragons with wooden clubs is like bringing a knife to a gunfight. We are not shown any real technology in this world (which is not to say it does not exist), so I would think that fighting off the fantastic with clubs, swords, and logic would be quite the trick, especially if your creatures are limited only by imagination. Imagine someone creating an army of hentai tentacle monsters....

  On second thought, don't. Ew.

 
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: Ocicat on July 30, 2008, 02:00:39 PM
So very not impressed.  Calling the bad guys "the rationals" started me off on the wrong foot, and it just got worse.  Science vs. Magic/religion can be done well, but this was just... heavy handed and clumsy. 

I could go on, but I don't feel like ranting today.  And my thoughts on this piece pretty quickly devolve into rants...
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: Swamp on July 30, 2008, 02:22:37 PM
So very not impressed.  Calling the bad guys "the rationals" started me off on the wrong foot, and it just got worse.  Science vs. Magic/religion can be done well, but this was just... heavy handed and clumsy. 

I'm not trying to be contrdictory, but if the bad guys had been "the believers" and were using magic/religion to maintain a stranglehold on the populace, would you have objected to that.  Was it just the heavy-handedness that bugged you or the fact that "the rationals" were the bad guys.

In asking you, I am asking myself because I probably would have had a similar knee-jerk reaction to the story I just described, but I'm trying not to.  I think their is potential for any cause to become corrupt.
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: wintermute on July 30, 2008, 02:49:49 PM
So very not impressed.  Calling the bad guys "the rationals" started me off on the wrong foot, and it just got worse.  Science vs. Magic/religion can be done well, but this was just... heavy handed and clumsy.
They claimed to be rationalists, but I'm not sure that there's any evidence that they actually were, any more than the October Revolutionaries were communists, or Hitler was a socialist...
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: Ocicat on July 30, 2008, 03:44:12 PM
Ya, I would have been annoyed if the Rationalists were the good guys.  Maybe more so, and in large part because of what wintermute points out: they are in no way rational.  This story is setting up a very false dichotomy.
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: eytanz on July 30, 2008, 03:52:27 PM
Ya, I would have been annoyed if the Rationalists were the good guys.  Maybe more so, and in large part because of what wintermute points out: they are in no way rational.  This story is setting up a very false dichotomy.

No, I don't think it is - I think you are reading too much into the names. The story is setting up a very real dichotomy between two kinds of people. One side uses magic and appreciates art. The other side abhors magic and art. The fact that the second type of people call themselves "men of truth" and "rationalist" doesn't mean that the story is a comment on people who would use these labels in the real world.

(Note that by "very real" I mean real in the story's world. It is an entirely non-existent dichotomy in our world, that's true. But you could object to Star Wars on the same principle, or any fantasy world where two sides are divided by a fictional philosophy).
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: deflective on July 30, 2008, 04:47:47 PM
I think you are reading too much into the names. The story is setting up a very real dichotomy between two kinds of people. One side uses magic and appreciates art. The other side abhors magic and art. The fact that the second type of people call themselves "men of truth" and "rationalist" doesn't mean that the story is a comment on people who would use these labels in the real world.
I don't know if it was intentional or not, but I saw a metaphor in this for the "battle" between science and religion.

intentional or not, people will read it that way.

btw, i'm not sure that the story's rationalists were against all art or just fantastic representations.

So very not impressed.  Calling the bad guys "the rationals" started me off on the wrong foot, and it just got worse.  Science vs. Magic/religion can be done well, but this was just... heavy handed and clumsy.

I could go on, but I don't feel like ranting today.  And my thoughts on this piece pretty quickly devolve into rants...

you have more restraint than i do, i avoided posting since i would inevitably turn this direction. but since the can is already open...

the story does misrepresent society's rational/mystical conflict. it assumes that rationalism is against the ideas represented by mysticism rather than unsupportable beliefs in general. if it's objectively demonstrable that mythical creatures can be created and brought to life through a drawing and intonation then it's irrational to decide it's 'unreal'.

you'll probably find that rationalists would love to believe things like this but refuse to without evidence.


(http://www.worldofescher.com/jpgs/A36Lg.jpg)
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: Ocicat on July 30, 2008, 06:01:49 PM
I think you are reading too much into the names. The story is setting up a very real dichotomy between two kinds of people. One side uses magic and appreciates art. The other side abhors magic and art.

Sorry - no.  The "rationalist" side doesn't just dislike magic, they go around saying it's not real, and trying to convince everyone that it's not real, despite all evidence to the contrary. I think it's pretty clear than this allegorical conflict is the center of the story.

I'll grant that the image of the blood dragon was pretty inspiring.  But the story it was in service of - not so much.
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: JoeFitz on July 30, 2008, 07:29:01 PM
Sorry - no.  The "rationalist" side doesn't just dislike magic, they go around saying it's not real, and trying to convince everyone that it's not real, despite all evidence to the contrary. I think it's pretty clear than this allegorical conflict is the center of the story.

Actually, these "rationalists" do not even try to convince people of anything. They kill, burn and torture anyone they see as a reminder that magic is real.

I did not see a science/religion dichotomy but rather a conflict of religious dogma. Those who believe magic is real and those who do not (even in the face of empirical evidence). Ironically, this story names the group who denies reality "rationalists."   

Some religious leaders comments not withstanding, science is not about seeking out and destroying that which challenges, disproves and just baffles. Sadly that seems the bailiwick of organized religion.

Rather than the Holocaust, this story had echoes of the Inquisition and Salem witch trials.
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: Void Munashii on July 30, 2008, 07:46:56 PM
Rather than the Holocaust, this story had echoes of the Inquisition and Salem witch trials.

  The reason it made me think of the holocaust was Rafe's thought that the hand of the law would never fall on him, and how he kept his head down while those around him disappeared. It made me think of the Niemoller quote about keeping quiet while the Nazis came and took away one group after another. That's the only part that made me think about the holocaust.
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: Rachel Swirsky on July 30, 2008, 09:07:34 PM
Quote
Sorry - no.  The "rationalist" side doesn't just dislike magic, they go around saying it's not real, and trying to convince everyone that it's not real, despite all evidence to the contrary. I think it's pretty clear than this allegorical conflict is the center of the story.

My take on this:

One side calls themselves rationalists, but denies reality and is willing to manipulate circumstances into creating the appearance of their reality. They believe there is no magic; they want to prove there is no magic; therefore, they kill and destroy magical creatures.

How one interprets the story will be inflected by whether one is inclined to see atheism or materialism as favoring dogma over reality. For a materialist, the resonance may come as JoeFitz indicates, by looking at the Spanish Inquisition where the church attempted to disprove heretical but true beliefs with the cleansing of blood. For someone religious, the analogy may look more like rationalists denying the evidence of spiritual beauty due to their a priori assumption of materialism.

It is entirely possible to read this story as a critique of religion, or as a critique of materialism. I happen to know which the author intended, having discussed it with her.
But setting that aside -- the core of the story is definitely anti-dogma. This applies to more than a debate about religion and science, since it also applies to any other dogmatic pursuit where presumption is favored over something demonstrably true.

That said: I did not buy this story for its politics, but for its imagery, its character, and because it had a cool dragon. That's not to say the politics aren't worth debating, of course.
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: Windup on July 30, 2008, 10:18:04 PM

I took the title of "Rationalist" as intended irony on the part of the author, since by the point we see them in the story, they're not using rational argument but rather naked force impose their views.  Even in our world, political labels often suggest the opposite of what the group using the label is actually doing. 

We don't know how they started, of course.  They may have begun as a minority dedicated to non-magical "reality" that felt oppressed in some sense by the magical, argued against it and eventually acquired the levers of power, at which point, things got ugly.   They made me think of Oliver Cromwell's "Roundheads" as much as anything else, though you can certainly point to many examples of movements that began in idealism of one sort or another and ended in thuggery.

I thought it was a great story, though it wasn't completely clear to me why he didn't draw a larger dragon earlier.  I really thought that was what he was going to do when he went to the shop to await the arrival of the Men of Truth.  Maybe it was just that he had to be in extremis before he had the audacity to take on such a large project -- though I wasn't clear if magical drain of creating the red dragon took a lot out of him, or if his weakness was caused by lack of blood.
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: Swamp on July 30, 2008, 10:26:16 PM
That said: I did not buy this story for its politics, but for its imagery, its character, and because it had a cool dragon.

And I'm so glad you did.  To me, this story was very inspiring.  It actually gave me the opportunity to define something about myself.  As Raif struggled to hide in the shadows, he could not stop doing what he loved.  He still drew pictures, collected and created illuminated manuscripts, and of course used his creative magic.  Even when all was taken and he was beat and thrown in prison.  When he was at the bottom, all he could think of to do was create.  And that is what saved him.

As I internalized this story I realized that I am not happy unless I am being creative, whether it is through my work, or writing, or helping my wife with the scrapbook, or putting together family videos.  Being creative is what makes me happy and what makes me me.  It was quite profound.

A good story can do that and it did for me with this one.  And besides, it did have a very cool blood red dragon!
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: eytanz on July 31, 2008, 01:05:56 AM
I think you are reading too much into the names. The story is setting up a very real dichotomy between two kinds of people. One side uses magic and appreciates art. The other side abhors magic and art.

Sorry - no.  The "rationalist" side doesn't just dislike magic, they go around saying it's not real, and trying to convince everyone that it's not real, despite all evidence to the contrary. I think it's pretty clear than this allegorical conflict is the center of the story.

Well, sure - but as several people are saying, much clearer than me - why do you think that just because they call themselves "rationalists" they are supposed to represent actual rationalists? I think this is a pretty explicit inversion, along the line's of 1984's "ministry of peace" and "ministry of truth". The "rationalist men of truth" quite clearly are meant to represent irrational dogma.
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: ajames on July 31, 2008, 06:29:51 PM
My reaction to the story was very simple: very grim, but very, very good. More like this, please.

My reaction to some of what has been said on the boards:
[snip]  To me, this story was very inspiring.  It actually gave me the opportunity to define something about myself.  As Raif struggled to hide in the shadows, he could not stop doing what he loved.  He still drew pictures, collected and created illuminated manuscripts, and of course used his creative magic.  Even when all was taken and he was beat and thrown in prison.  When he was at the bottom, all he could think of to do was create.  And that is what saved him.

As I internalized this story I realized that I am not happy unless I am being creative, whether it is through my work, or writing, or helping my wife with the scrapbook, or putting together family videos.  Being creative is what makes me happy and what makes me me.  It was quite profound.

Brilliant observation!

It is entirely possible to read this story as a critique of religion, or as a critique of materialism. I happen to know which the author intended, having discussed it with her.
But setting that aside -- the core of the story is definitely anti-dogma. This applies to more than a debate about religion and science, since it also applies to any other dogmatic pursuit where presumption is favored over something demonstrably true.

I chose not to look for real world political meanings in this story beyond the very simple message (as Rachel points out above) of anti-dogmatism (and anti-intolerance, and anti-oppression). Otherwise, no matter what the author intended, I would have enjoyed the story far less. As a critique of dogma/intolerance/oppression, this story works extremely well. As a critique of either religion or materialism, IMO, it is far too heavy-handed. Perhaps so heavy-handed it borders on dogma itself.

[Edited to add intolerance and oppression to dogma, even though they are already there, at least inherently]
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: ryos on August 02, 2008, 03:37:20 AM
I enjoyed the story very much. I wouldn't call it my favorite PodCastle yet--more like tied for third--but it was still very, very good.

I for one liked the fact that Rafe immediately identified the "rebels" as Rationalists, because I thought it was rather obvious, and if he hadn't it would have been uncharacteristically dim of him. What I don't really get is why he chose to, in essence, give up and incriminate himself. Was he simply through with life in the dystopian world of the Rationalists? If so, I did not see that in his character.

It's worth noting that the Rationalists showed their irrationality in their every interaction with Rafe. They were as paranoid as tyrants and oppressors usually become, always looking over their shoulder for the avenger they know cannot be far behind.

Quote
I chose not to look for real world political meanings in this story beyond the very simple message (as Rachel points out above) of anti-dogmatism (and anti-intolerance, and anti-oppression). Otherwise, no matter what the author intended, I would have enjoyed the story far less. As a critique of dogma/intolerance/oppression, this story works extremely well. As a critique of either religion or materialism, IMO, it is far too heavy-handed. Perhaps so heavy-handed it borders on dogma itself.

This. I hate stories with political agendas. Agendas cheapen the experience, reducing a work of art to a common pamphlet. Whether the author intended to make this a diatribe or not, she did it in such a way that allowed me to ignore it and just enjoy the imagery, the character, and the cool dragons.
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: stePH on August 03, 2008, 12:41:38 AM
This. I hate stories with political agendas. Agendas cheapen the experience, reducing a work of art to a common pamphlet. Whether the author intended to make this a diatribe or not, she did it in such a way that allowed me to ignore it and just enjoy the imagery, the character, and the cool dragons.


If you've not already been warned, I suggest you avoid the works of Sheri S. Tepper.  Along with fascinating worldbuilding, her stories typically feature heavy-handed feminist moralizing.  (I happen to sympathize with her point of view, so it doesn't bother me so much -- plus I love her worldbuilding.)
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: ryos on August 04, 2008, 12:08:45 AM
If you've not already been warned, I suggest you avoid the works of Sheri S. Tepper.  Along with fascinating worldbuilding, her stories typically feature heavy-handed feminist moralizing.  (I happen to sympathize with her point of view, so it doesn't bother me so much -- plus I love her worldbuilding.)

Thanks for the warning. Axe grinding in fiction is one of my major pet peeves. (Yes, irony intended.)

It's not that I rarely sympathize with their agendas (or rather, it's not only that); even when, once in a blue moon, I find a story that's pushing a moderate agenda that I can agree with, I really just wish they'd focus on the story instead. Fiction, at least IMO, is an ineffective medium for political discourse, and I really wish all these authors would stop wasting people's time by promising them a story and giving them a pamphlet instead.

But this is a thread about the Illuminated Dragon, which, insofar as I can see, does not have an axe to grind.
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: SarahP on August 06, 2008, 09:12:38 AM
Greetings!  I'm psyched that the story has generated discussion.  It's raised questions about the purpose of art which, given the story itself, seem particularly apropos. 

As I said in the comments to the podcast (http://podcastle.org/2008/07/29/pc018-the-illuminated-dragon/), there's no agenda.  It's a story, not a treatise. 

Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: Void Munashii on August 06, 2008, 10:05:26 AM
Greetings!  I'm psyched that the story has generated discussion.  It's raised questions about the purpose of art which, given the story itself, seem particularly apropos. 

As I said in the comments to the podcast (http://podcastle.org/2008/07/29/pc018-the-illuminated-dragon/), there's no agenda.  It's a story, not a treatise. 

  I found your comments on the blog quite interesting.

  I think that part of the problem is that we live in a world where seemingly everything has some sort of agenda to it. We now have entire cable news networks that are known for slanting the news one way or the other to fit their political agenda, and as a result of this people expect to see a political agenda in everything.

Quote
It’s not my story, it’s the reader’s.

  That is both the gift and the curse of writing; regardless of what one does or does not intend to say it's ultimately up to the reader to decide what it means to them. The reader sees what the reader sees, and even if you tell them that was not the intention that does not necessarily change what the reader sees, as once something is seen it cannot be unseen.
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: zZzacha on August 06, 2008, 01:08:47 PM
This story I liked ... only at the end. I found the story so sad, with all the books and images being destroyed, the little dragon getting killed, I kept waiting for the magic that would make it all better, because to me, a fantasy story cannot be this sad. In all that sadness, the ending really lifted me up and gave me hope. Dragons and paint save the day! Again!

Still, the whole story left me kinda sad - with a small Dragonly hope for better days.

As for the 'deeper meaning' of stories, I never think about what agendas a writer did or didn't put into a story. As a matter of fact, most of the times those 'deeper meanings' fly right by me. To me, it's mostly tough enough to keep my mind with the story itself, let alone think about extra layers and agendas. So I suck up the story and wallow in it. I love being taken away from _this_ world for a moment and not being occupied with agendas, politics and so on.
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: Changwasteve on August 07, 2008, 09:34:13 PM
I believe Sara when she says she had no agenda, but I still can't help but see the story as anti-rationalist.  Someone resolve this cognitive dissonance quickly before my head explodes  ???
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: Windup on August 08, 2008, 12:17:11 AM

I believe Sara when she says she had no agenda, but I still can't help but see the story as anti-rationalist.  Someone resolve this cognitive dissonance quickly before my head explodes  ???


Lie down and repeat to yourself: "Labels do not always mean what they say, especially when talking about political parties."
Continue until the dissonance goes away...

All better??
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: deflective on August 08, 2008, 01:57:42 AM
i had some thoughts on this that seemed to make sense.

As I said in the comments to the podcast (http://podcastle.org/2008/07/29/pc018-the-illuminated-dragon), there's no agenda.  It's a story, not a treatise.

looking at SarahP's submition to the flash fiction contest (http://forum.escapeartists.info/index.php?topic=397.msg5591#msg5591) she appears to like to draw influence from other stories into her short fiction. this is definitely a valid technique, you have limited space to work with and invoking well known tropes can quickly set a scene so that you can get to the action.

unfortunately, when she invokes those images she seems to be using only the parts she wants and ignoring parts that don't fit. without some indication that she's doing this readers will try to fit the entire trope into the plot and have unintended results.

How one interprets the story will be inflected by whether one is inclined to see atheism or materialism as favoring dogma over reality. For a materialist, the resonance may come as JoeFitz indicates, by looking at the Spanish Inquisition where the church attempted to disprove heretical but true beliefs with the cleansing of blood. For someone religious, the analogy may look more like rationalists denying the evidence of spiritual beauty due to their a priori assumption of materialism.

It is entirely possible to read this story as a critique of religion, or as a critique of materialism. I happen to know which the author intended, having discussed it with her.

scientific rationalists are commonly used as antagonists in religious fiction (i'm thinking of the speculative fiction section of christian bookstore). they can act exactly as portrayed here, actively denying objective evidence of miracles because (in a fictional world) that's what their philosophy demands. it should be unsurprising that invoking these antagonists in a story could cause readers to find a political message.
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: Rachel Swirsky on August 08, 2008, 03:07:38 AM
Quote
they can act exactly as portrayed here, actively denying objective evidence of miracles because (in a fictional world) that's what their philosophy demands.

Absolutely.

Posters here may be aware that I'm a materialist and an atheist. However, my initial reading of the piece was close to Ocicat's.

Personally, I still think the story works like an optical illusion, though. You can look at it with one eye and get it to support the religious narrative you mention, or you can squint and see a picture of a young woman who's indicting the Spanish Inquisition. That's just my feeling, of course.
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: Changwasteve on August 08, 2008, 11:56:49 PM
Quote
looking at SarahP's submition to the flash fiction contest she appears to like to draw influence from other stories into her short fiction. this is definitely a valid technique, you have limited space to work with and invoking well known tropes can quickly set a scene so that you can get to the action.

unfortunately, when she invokes those images she seems to be using only the parts she wants and ignoring parts that don't fit. without some indication that she's doing this readers will try to fit the entire trope into the plot and have unintended results.


So she's not taking up the banner of anti-rationalism, she's using an old conflict to quickly set the scene for a fun story in the same way that directors re-use movie sets without intending to allude to previous films.  This explanation makes a lot of sense to me.  It also implies that she writes these stories at arm's length.  This isn't bad or good, just something I had not considered before.
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: Loz on August 13, 2008, 04:44:20 AM
I thought it was okay, however, not being given any information at all about what the Men of Truth believed, I don't think it was unfair to assume that they believed they were being rational as the dictionary defines it. I really needed an explanation for why they saw all forms of art as irrational. The advantage of religious tyrannies in fiction is that there is a lot of real-life examples from which you can begin to construct such a society, ultra-rationalist societies? Not so much, as any attempts tend to collapse into mirrors of religion with cult of personalities.

Also, when we have a Rationalist killing a dragon while apparently suffering no dissonant distress from that, and then this point being neither remarked upon or followed up in the story, well, then it lost a bit for me.
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: stePH on August 13, 2008, 08:17:12 AM
I thought it was okay, however, not being given any information at all about what the Men of Truth believed, I don't think it was unfair to assume that they believed they were being rational as the dictionary defines it. I really needed an explanation for why they saw all forms of art as irrational.

Probably an extreme interpretation of "thou shalt not make graven images" or sumshit.

Also, when we have a Rationalist killing a dragon while apparently suffering no dissonant distress from that, and then this point being neither remarked upon or followed up in the story, well, then it lost a bit for me.
I think they don't really believe that magic doesn't exist; they just want to stamp it out.  It's power they're after, plain and simple.
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: DKT on August 13, 2008, 10:35:53 AM
Also, when we have a Rationalist killing a dragon while apparently suffering no dissonant distress from that, and then this point being neither remarked upon or followed up in the story, well, then it lost a bit for me.
I think they don't really believe that magic doesn't exist; they just want to stamp it out.  It's power they're after, plain and simple.

I thought this was an extremely important aspect of the story and for me, it's why I don't buy that the Rationalists are really rational.  I mean, without hesitation, without any kind of awe at seeing the magic he claimed to disbelieve, the Rationalist sees the dragon and snaps its neck.  Without a second thought.  Absolutely cold.  He knew there was magic.  He just hated it.
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: Void Munashii on August 13, 2008, 04:03:07 PM
Also, when we have a Rationalist killing a dragon while apparently suffering no dissonant distress from that, and then this point being neither remarked upon or followed up in the story, well, then it lost a bit for me.
I think they don't really believe that magic doesn't exist; they just want to stamp it out.  It's power they're after, plain and simple.

I thought this was an extremely important aspect of the story and for me, it's why I don't buy that the Rationalists are really rational.  I mean, without hesitation, without any kind of awe at seeing the magic he claimed to disbelieve, the Rationalist sees the dragon and snaps its neck.  Without a second thought.  Absolutely cold.  He knew there was magic.  He just hated it.

  Just because you call yourself one thing does not mean you have to behave the way that group is supposed to. They may consider themselves "Rational" without behaving in a truly rational manner. In the same sense, I'm sure the "Rationals" consider themselves the good guys even though they are doing things that others consider evil.

Unfortunately I cannot come up with any good real world examples that would not start fights.
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: eytanz on August 13, 2008, 04:27:28 PM
  Just because you call yourself one thing does not mean you have to behave the way that group is supposed to. They may consider themselves "Rational" without behaving in a truly rational manner. In the same sense, I'm sure the "Rationals" consider themselves the good guys even though they are doing things that others consider evil.

Unfortunately I cannot come up with any good real world examples that would not start fights.

Communists?

... Anyway, it's worthwhile noting that they didn't call themselves "rationals", they called themselves "rationalists". The "-ist" suffix can often alter the meaning of words it attaches to...
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: Roney on August 13, 2008, 04:43:23 PM
He knew there was magic.  He just hated it.

This is where I could see their self-identification as Rationalists coming from.  It is all about power, and their power was the simple physical power of carrying the bigger stick.  Put this up against other measurable, predictable power and you can know in advance whether you will prevail, with a fairly high degree of confidence.

Magic really tends to screw with this world-view.  It makes life -- including the outcome of conflict -- irrational and unpredictable.  The Rationalists wanted to remove all the wildcards from the deck.

Fortunately, Fantasy teaches us that magic can never be eliminated in this way, and pushed to the edge of extinction it will only erupt more chaotically.  As this heart-warming tale confirmed.
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: Void Munashii on August 13, 2008, 06:49:43 PM
  Just because you call yourself one thing does not mean you have to behave the way that group is supposed to. They may consider themselves "Rational" without behaving in a truly rational manner. In the same sense, I'm sure the "Rationals" consider themselves the good guys even though they are doing things that others consider evil.

Unfortunately I cannot come up with any good real world examples that would not start fights.

Communists?

... Anyway, it's worthwhile noting that they didn't call themselves "rationals", they called themselves "rationalists". The "-ist" suffix can often alter the meaning of words it attaches to...

  I had not thought of that one, that does seem like one of the least likely to start an argument while still being a perfect example. Thank you

  I suppose the "ist" can change the meaning (most the of them examples I was coming up with were not ists), but I do not think it changes the meaningt much in the mind of the person using that label to describe themself.
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: Windup on August 13, 2008, 11:20:20 PM

  Just because you call yourself one thing does not mean you have to behave the way that group is supposed to. They may consider themselves "Rational" without behaving in a truly rational manner. In the same sense, I'm sure the "Rationals" consider themselves the good guys even though they are doing things that others consider evil.

Unfortunately I cannot come up with any good real world examples that would not start fights.


Well, you could note that, as generations of history teachers have exhausted themselves saying, the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.  And I doubt anybody with internet access would argue that the label People's Democratic Republic of Korea is accurate prior to the "of." 

And considering recent financial events you could probably get away with joining Slate in observing that the Royal Bank of Scotland is neither royal, nor Scottish, nor apparently, much of a bank....
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: eytanz on August 14, 2008, 02:26:24 AM
  I suppose the "ist" can change the meaning (most the of them examples I was coming up with were not ists), but I do not think it changes the meaningt much in the mind of the person using that label to describe themself.

Not in the minds of those who come up with the term, no. Their successors, though, are a whole different story.

One thing worth noting about the story is that we don't know what sparked the "rationalist" movement. We get to see magic from the perspective of a kindly old man who has survived because he was unthreatening. Maybe others were using magic in ways that were less pleasant for the people around them. I can easily imagine a backstory to the rationalists which starts with a group of philosophers/scientists thinking "magic is unpredictable and dangerous, and over-emphasis on magic has kept our society back. We should push the magic-users from power and rule based on reliable science" - that may be an entirely rational line of thought. It is also one that can very quickly become "let's exterminate all magic and all art because art leads to magic", which is not rational in any way.
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: yicheng on August 18, 2008, 12:29:13 PM
For me, this story was powerful for deeply personal reasons.  Elements of the story, for me (at least), brought back images of the Cultural Revolution in Communist China when anyone with ties to the west, religion, chinese feudal traditions, or just had the bad luck of being on someone's shit list, could be rounded up, beat up, publicly humiliated, tortured, killed, or sent to a labor camp for decades.  Anyone that was intellectual, a dissident, an english speaker, an artist, a monk, a homosexual, a christian, came from a bad political background, visited a foreign country, had money, had political enemies, or just didn't raise their little red books fast enough was rounded up.  Perhaps people in more developed worlds can hide behind Starbuck's Lattes and snarky attitudes, and construct some abstract treatise on how "enlightened" or non-religious people could/would never do this sort of thing.  I happen to know from first-hand accounts that this is not only plausible, but it can happen, and it has happened many times. 

My grandmother was a target of political struggle because, as a widowed mother in a male-dominated confucian society, the only job she could get was teaching Japanese during the Manchurian occupation.  My father was under suspicion of being a western spy because he liked to tinker with amateur radios.  My mother was sent down to the countryside, away from her family at 13 to work in the fields for no good reason than Mao said so.  I could go on and go.  My father happens to be good friends with a traditional chinese artist, Jinqing Cao (who's work is famous in China and Japan) who was barred from painting for 14 years because one of his paintings (of an owl) was interpreted by the politburo as being politically subversive.  If you walk through any city in China and talk to people in the age 55 to 75 demographic, they'll tell you a million stories like this.  There are a few movies that address this uncomfortable time in chinese history: To Live, The Blue Kite, Farewell My Concubine, etc, but I fear most of modern China has cast that memory aside in favor of making money as fast as humanly possible.

For my 2 cents, Prineas was spot on with her stories.  The destruction of bookshops, smashing of windows, and exculpating of pictures from books was something the Red Guards did on a regular basis.  And the final scene of Rafe painting a dragon with his own blood...  using his life as a last gesture of rebellion...  Wow!!!  That part just made my speechless.  In the chinese literary tradition to write something in blood was a powerful statement and oath, of sincerity so pure that you were literally sacrificing your own life to make it.

Gorgeous and poignant story, all in all, and definitely my all time favorite Podcastle to date.
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: Heradel on August 25, 2008, 06:11:34 PM
A discussion on Athism, Mao, and language that began in this thread has been split and moved here: http://forum.escapeartists.info/index.php?topic=1899.0
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: Talia on September 05, 2008, 08:45:44 AM
Just found this image and thought it was relevant ;)
No clue on who made it, I'm afraid.

(http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v319/queensowntalia/dragon.jpg)
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: zZzacha on September 05, 2008, 12:05:02 PM
Just found this image and thought it was relevant ;)
No clue on who made it, I'm afraid.

WoW. That dragon is awesome! So cute and he looks so... knowing.
I wonder who breeds them and how I can get one.. That would be awesome, a cute little dragon tickeling my shoulder with his tiny claws. And when someone asks if I have a lighter, I will scare the holy craps out of them when I send my dragon over.
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: Sandikal on September 05, 2008, 09:35:56 PM
That picture is so cute!
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: MacArthurBug on September 06, 2008, 10:21:06 AM
so cute! The wee little dragon picture has me enchanted. I'd bet tho- that overfeeding leads to terrible things. 
Title: Re: PC018: Illuminated Dragon
Post by: Unblinking on January 07, 2010, 01:49:57 PM
I liked this story and didn't see it as message-driven at all (if I had I doubt I would've liked it).  The world and the conflict was set up well, and the resolution with the blood dragon was outstanding!  It had crossed my mind to wonder why no one had thought to use the beasties as weapons before, but I suspect that this may be closely related to the question of how the Rationalist movement got started in this world.  It might've started when a magician got out of control and used his magic to conquer or kill, and so if the remaining magicians were to rampage as they so easily could it would only serve to strengthen the numbers of the Rationalists because so many more would be afraid of the magicians.  This man wouldn't even consider it under normal circumstances because he too may be afraid of the violence that had come before, and any magicians with violent tendencies likely got his head bashed in a long time ago.

I didn't see a problem with the "Rationalist" label in the story.  Remember that the label is what they call themselves, it's nothing but a propoganda tool, like a dictator calling his country "The People's Republic" despite the fact that nothing is really done by the government with the masses in mind.  By calling myself a Rationalist, that implies that anyone who opposes me is irrational and potentially dangerous, thus helping to justify brutal oppression.

I definitely don't see it as an argument for religion vs. magic.  If anything, I would argue the exact opposite.  The magic in this story is measurable, visible, clearly present, and could be measured in various ways, making the magicians more like scientists.  The rationalists, on the other hand, rely upon their faith that magic doesn't exist despite obvious evidence that it does exist.