Escape Artists

Escape Pod => Episode Comments => Topic started by: eytanz on August 26, 2016, 09:58:25 AM

Title: EP538: The Starsmith
Post by: eytanz on August 26, 2016, 09:58:25 AM
EP538: The Starsmith (

By Jonathan Edelstein (

read by James Odcombe


It took two years for Faji Doumbia to travel from Madankoro to Mutanda on the free trader Mweshi: two years of sleeping in cargo holds fragrant with spices and scented woods, two years of waiting on each world as the captain concluded his business, two years of jumping through the ichiyawafu and dreaming of the dead. He worked his passage, and there was time enough to learn the dead language that the ship’s computers spoke and discover how to tend machines that no living person could build. There was time enough to contract two ship-marriages, and by the time Faji came at last to Chambishi Port on the forty-ninth day of the Year of Migration 30,891, he had given a son to the ship-clans.

What he found when he took his leave of the Mweshi was both more and less than what he expected. Ninety thousand people lived in Chambishi Port, far more than any town on Madankoro, but forty million had lived there once, and the new city seemed like a collection of villages amid its former glory. Some of the towers north and east of the port were four kilometers tall: the war that destroyed the Union had gutted them, and after six hundred years forests grew in their upper stories, but they loomed over the thatched houses that lay between them, and from a few, the remnants of the High Streets and High Gardens hung crazily.

It was minutes before Faji could bring his eyes down from the towers to the ships – the ships hundreds and thousands of years old, that the Union had built and that now served its children. By then, the dockmen were well started in unloading the Mweshi. He stopped one and asked where the numusokala was, and when he got no answer, he remembered that the people here used different words. “Where are the… washiri?” he asked, remembering the word he’d been taught. “The blacksmiths?”

The dockman turned to the north. “You’re one of them?” he said. “Yes, you’ve got the look of one. That way, through the old city. You’ll hear the place, and even before that, you’ll smell it.”

There was a hint of distaste in the dockman’s voice, and he walked away as if he couldn’t leave quickly enough. That, too, wasn’t what Faji had expected.

( Listen to this week’s Escape Pod! (
Title: Re: EP538: The Starsmith
Post by: Frank Evans on August 26, 2016, 03:05:03 PM
This was a fine story and very well narrated. However, it left me wanting more, and not in the sense that I want to see more of this universe or more of these characters (although that is true as well). I was left with a feeling that something was missing from this story to take it to a level more than "fine". This story is basically a retelling of a very familiar tale (boy meets girl, boy needs to win girl's father's approval (because it's both thousands of years in the future and the 1950s), father throws up obstacle, love conquers all), albeit set in a very intriguing universe. I don't know that the author did enough to make the story their own. I suppose I was hoping to be surprised at some point, but that never happened. As I said above, the beats and plot points all felt very familiar, even if the setting wasn't.

Hmm, that's a pretty negative review considering that I did enjoy the story. Curious to know what others thought.

Title: Re: EP538: The Starsmith
Post by: TheArchivist on August 30, 2016, 11:35:22 AM
Yeah, this one left me rather non-plussed too. The story line is, as Frank says, very much a stock one, dropped into a universe that didn't feel like it mattered very much, to me. There wasn't enough world-building in evidence to make me truly believe in that version of the future, meaning that the total dominance of African names felt more like a politically-correct over-reaction to the "20th Century Americans in Space" model of original Star Trek et. al. than anything justified. But it was probably the author's own version of failure-to-look-wider-than-his-front-porch given the bio.
Title: Re: EP538: The Starsmith
Post by: bounceswoosh on August 30, 2016, 01:38:09 PM
So, anyway, I loved this story, thought the universe was intriguing (tell me more!), and it felt like an "origin story." I feel confident Faji will figure out the secret of the ... I've forgotten the terms, apologies, but I think he's going to figure it out and become a major player.

If I were going to complain, I could complain about the generic female love interest as catalyst, but that didn't strike me while listening to the story.

The one thing is I wasn't quite clear on the ending. Was she saying they would turn the remaining bits into jewels, given enough time?
Title: Re: EP538: The Starsmith
Post by: Frank Evans on August 30, 2016, 04:34:02 PM
It's always disconcerting when someone agrees with you and then uses that agreement to jump off in a direction you would never go yourself. As Thunderscreech says, words matter. Particularly in a place like this. So I want to make it very clear that my criticism of the story was related to what I considered to be a fairly generic plot line that I found underwhelming, particularly because the author has created a very intriguing universe. I just wanted a little bit more from the story than I got, but I have zero criticisms regarding how the author has built their universe.

For interest's sake, go read the author's website, which I did before my original post. He has a post on how he came to build these worlds and discusses potential criticisms regarding cultural appropriation among other things. This is clearly not a case of the author failing to look beyond his front porch. The Neil Gaiman quote at the end of the piece is especially relevant.

The one thing is I wasn't quite clear on the ending. Was she saying they would turn the remaining bits into jewels, given enough time?

That was my interpretation of it too and I agree with Bounceswoosh that there are bigger things in store for Faji down the road. I'm looking forward to seeing what those bigger things are.
Title: Re: EP538: The Starsmith
Post by: ElectricPaladin on August 30, 2016, 04:44:58 PM
I really liked this one, and there was a lot to love: cool Clarke's Law sci-fi, non-European cultural base, and an excellent fairy-tail-inside-a-scifi-story vibe. I would definitely love to hear even more from this author.
Title: Re: EP538: The Starsmith
Post by: eytanz on August 31, 2016, 03:30:54 PM
The general discussion of the use of African names in SF, and the believability thereof, has been moved to a thread in the "Science Fiction Discussion" forum. The posts requesting such a move have been deleted.

Note that there are some references to the discussion embedded in posts above that are mostly about the story, so I didn't want to move them.
Title: Re: EP538: The Starsmith
Post by: Unblinking on September 02, 2016, 02:43:34 PM
I liked the story well enough, but the overall plot did feel more than a little bit generic.  I like to see fairy tales in non-traditional settings but it didn't feel new enough to be something of its own.

And I just didn't get the ending--maybe that was where it got unique but I was like "wait, what? It's over?  What did that mean?"
Title: Re: EP538: The Starsmith
Post by: Father Beast on September 03, 2016, 12:27:57 PM
Well, I dug it.

I liked the fairy tale elements, and it was interesting how he went about fulfilling the impossible quest, and then how his girlfriend went and married him anyway after her father proved to be dishonorable.

This is another good example of a post apocalyptic world, with the apocalypse being the fall of a great empire. The setting reminded me of The Walking Drum by Louis L'Amour, which had a similar setting. The way that people still maneuvered for political advantage while other people struggled to build up something decent (thus demonstrating that they are people), was interesting.

Title: Re: EP538: The Starsmith
Post by: Dwango on September 07, 2016, 07:41:09 PM
The story was well told and written, with a lot of elements enticing me into it.  The fact the forgers were outcasts, but only they held the knowledge of forging and were considers wizards.  The special steel that could be made into gems, and the ancient technology that was forgotten yet all around them.

But the story falls flat by not exploring those elements more, revealing a few secrets.  It focuses on a standard theme to the detriment of so many interesting elements.  I was expecting the tale to end in a twist of sorts, maybe the father making him choose between his new found craft and the girl, or revealing something new.  The setting and world building was well done, the wording and name choices well told, but the ultimate story some what bland.
Title: Re: EP538: The Starsmith
Post by: Devoted135 on October 19, 2016, 06:46:06 PM
I enjoy a good re-telling of a fairy tale, especially when it takes place in an interesting world. Actually, I half expected the father to give a different daughter in marriage first, a la Jacob and Rachel (and Leah). So it was a bit of a relief when that didn't happen and the daughter married him in spite of her father's dishonorable conduct. I hope to hear more stories in this world, though. It seems like a cool place with a really interesting history!
Title: Re: EP538: The Starsmith
Post by: CryptoMe on November 28, 2017, 04:34:21 PM
I also found this story to be lack-lustre for me. And the ending left me very confused.