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Author Topic: EP131: Hesperia and Glory  (Read 27809 times)

Russell Nash

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on: November 09, 2007, 09:41:51 AM
EP131: Hesperia and Glory

By Ann Leckie.
Read by Frank Key (of Hooting Yard).
First appeared in Subterranean Magazine #4.

He told me then of the antiquity and superiority of Martian civilization, and of Hesperia, which was the greatest of Martian nations. Each Hesperian learned, from his mother’s knee and throughout his schooling, the importance of right thinking. “On Mars,” he said, “we understand that what one thinks makes the world.”

“Do you mean to say that each of us makes our own world with his thoughts?” I’d heard the idea before, usually at two in the morning from young men drunk with a heady mix of champagne and philosophy, and whose lives had yet to run up very hard against reality.

“No, no,” said Atkins testily. “Nothing so trivial. There’s only one universe. But that universe is formed by thought. If it were left to undisciplined minds, the world would be chaos.”


Rated G. Contains classic Martian action/adventure and potentially hazardous philosophy.



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Ocicat

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Reply #1 on: November 09, 2007, 07:59:21 PM
Quite fun, in a John Carter of Mars kind of way at the very least.  With a dash of Lovecraft for the framing story thrown in for good measure. 

I think the changing reality with your mind theme kind of got lost amid the swordplay and chase sequences, so it didn't leave me considering the idea much, or trying do decide what "really" happened to Atkins.  But it was still a fun yarn!



Listener

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Reply #2 on: November 09, 2007, 08:48:49 PM
I really liked this story, except for the fact that it was couched in a letter and had, IMO, an overly long denouement.

Frank Key sounds like a cross between Patrick Stewart and Robin Leach.  Very easy to listen to.

The story was very interesting to me, and I think the narrator's explanation at the end really explained a lot of what I wanted to say.  However, I wanted to add my opinion that the reason the dust and dirt et al was creeping up on the martian landscape was because when Atkins bent his will to destroy his enemy, he went so far back in his enemy's history that he ended the planet or caused a war in the past or something.

Anyway, like I said, I liked it.  Good stuff.

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eytanz

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Reply #3 on: November 09, 2007, 09:05:18 PM
I enjoyed this story a lot - I do agree that the letter format was a bit unnecessary.



bolddeceiver

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Reply #4 on: November 09, 2007, 09:59:28 PM
I think the epistolary format gave the story a feeling of period.  If you look at the kinds of stories this one seems to be trying to evoke, that was a very common device.



Ocicat

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Reply #5 on: November 09, 2007, 10:26:46 PM
I think the epistolary format gave the story a feeling of period.  If you look at the kinds of stories this one seems to be trying to evoke, that was a very common device.

Indeed.  That's why I said it had a Lovecraft type feel, because that's probably the period writer I'm most familiar with.  But really, Poe did it too, and Shelly, and ... well, feels like everybody!



Rachel Swirsky

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Reply #6 on: November 09, 2007, 11:37:20 PM
The voice in this story is really compelling. Its old-fashioned quality draws the ear. In my opinion, Ann's managed to do what most writers who attempt an archaic voice cannot -- she's nailed the actual cadence of the archaicisms, rather than creating something that merely sounds stilted or awkward. Thus, she creates something both melifluous and evocative of older work.



jonro

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Reply #7 on: November 11, 2007, 02:08:39 AM
This was probably my least favorite story of all of the Escape Pod episodes I've listened to. It wasn't a full story, just a story idea with a little wrapper around it. It's as though the author outlined a story about being a prince of Mars with a few notes and didn't write the story itself. It was also simply fantasy (which I usually enjoy) without any SciFi component. Finally, it seemed like a blatant ripoff of Edgar Rice Burroughs, who wrote similarly-themed stories about the royalty of Mars. This is the first Escape Pod episode that gets a thumbs down from me.



Rachel Swirsky

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Reply #8 on: November 11, 2007, 03:38:29 AM
It's an hommage to Edgar Rice Burroughs, technically.

From the SF Signal review of Hortons Year's Best Science Fiction, 2007, in which this piece was included: "Ann Leckie's "Hesperia and Glory", unassumingly written in Victorian style at the start, quickly evokes the glory days of pulp sf adventure in the spirit of Edgar Rice Burroughs."

Since the original Burroughs stories were considered science fiction, this play on them fits within that genre. Though I'd also point out that Escape Pod is still running fantasy until PodCastle starts.



Planish

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Reply #9 on: November 11, 2007, 09:05:47 PM
The comparisons to the Barsoom stories were rather hard to miss. Leader of men from The Losing Side is pursued by bow and arrow-wielding enemies and escapes to a cavern, wherein he is transported to another planet. He goes back after a while. Both occured inside a framing story, but it was more of a mirror image of A Princess of Mars.

If I was not familiar with the John Carter stories, I don't know if I would have enjoyed this story as much as I did. It's hard to say.

The Victorian setting was nice, and probably critical to the story, because back then they could not prove that Mars was any different than Atkins' description of it.

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ajames

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Reply #10 on: November 11, 2007, 09:25:41 PM
Planish, I'm not familiar with the John Carter stories, and I enjoyed this immensely, from start to finish, FWIW.  Sadly, I am not nearly as familiar with Edgar Rice Burroughs' other science fiction writings as I should be, either, which I shall begin to remedy shortly. 

Finally, I, too, wondered why Steve said this was both SF and F, but quickly decided I didn't care. 

And I am a huge fan of Frank Key's readings.

« Last Edit: November 12, 2007, 10:28:41 AM by ajames »



Planish

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Reply #11 on: November 11, 2007, 11:04:23 PM
Planish, I'm not familiar with the John Carter stories, ...

When I was in college (early '70s) there was a period when everybody in the house went through the entire series. They were like potato chips.

Here's a list of the titles in the series: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barsoom#The_series
Librivox has the first three, in mp3 format: http://librivox.org/newcatalog/search.php?title=&author=Burroughs%2C+Edgar+Rice&status=complete&action=Search

It helps to imagine Frank Frazetta's cover art and illustrations:






Swashbuckling sword fights, martian babes, anti-grav ships, cliff-hangers, and the occasional deus ex machina. What's not to like?

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ajames

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Reply #12 on: November 12, 2007, 10:36:38 AM
Thanks for the information and sharing the cover art, Planish!



gelee

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Reply #13 on: November 12, 2007, 03:02:31 PM
I'm not familiar with Burroughs' work, but also enjoyed this story.  The author did a great job of conveying the time period in the narration.  The narrators speech came of as completley authentic.
I don't know if it's fair to knock this as a "rip off" of Burroughs, or even as an homage.  Since this was a tale of Atkinson's fantasy of Mars, it only makes sense that it would resemble what was then contemporary fiction about Martian life.  At the time, no one really knew any better.  I can definately see the comparisons with Lovecraft.  He preffered to write in the first person, in an anecdotal style.  Supposedly, he wrote in first person because he felt his dialogue was stilted and awkward.  Obviously, that is not the case for Ann.  The dialogue featured in this story feels very natural.



DigitalVG

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Reply #14 on: November 13, 2007, 12:28:48 AM
Fun story!  I've read a lot of old sci-fi and pulp and this used all the stuff you see in them.  The letter that's a "This is too wild to be true but I swear it is!" and the romance with Mars and princes and princesses, right down to the authoritarian, "I destroyed the infernal machine/forsook my knowledge." at the end. :)  Great stuff!

So okay...  Aside from that, I too considered the possibility that in wishing death up on the other guy and all his ancestors, he might have destroyed Mars down to the first microbe.  Surely the will of a single microbe who is long dead hasn't the power to overcome the will of the living with millions of years of evolution on him.

Of course, the power of mind over matter has been considered a lot.  This was a fairly nice version of it.  Reasonably well thought out, except for the end of it.  The storyteller telling us not to believe in fantasy was a contradiction of telling us his story which he'd rather we not believe.  Also, his reality seemed kind of...  sad.  Instead of trying to unbelieve away all possibilites, why not believe in a world where everything works out?  Surely he could get a lot more people who would want to believe in that.  Or are we to take this as a 'Life's tough' message?

On the 3rd hand (We Martians like things in 3s, you know. ;) it was nice to hear the question about princes and princesses.  I've thought about that many times.  So many stories are about 'The One Special Person' and rarely do they consider the hundreds of faceless people/orcs/etc they slay in battle.  I remember something I read a few years ago which talked about how in super-hero universes, that if things can give you super powers, more often than not, you should end up as the ranging swamp beast.



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Reply #15 on: November 13, 2007, 03:53:56 AM
I just wanted to add another voice saying that, while I thought the story was okay, what really made this episode for me was the narration - Key's voice was a perfect fit for this story.



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Reply #16 on: November 13, 2007, 07:44:21 PM
Although the story was well done, I think that what put it over the top was the reader.  If I might paraphrase Orson Scott Card, some stories are meant to be spoken aloud, and I think that this is one of them.  Beyond that, a good reader or readers as the case maybe, are  key. 

I have to agree with several others, though I liked the story on the whole I think that it being in a letter, kind of ruined it.  It would have been better if the Cousin had come to visit and was told the story.  the 'cousin' could have even been the "evil" brother from Mars.  That would have put it over the top, allowing all of us to question our reality. 

All and all a good tale.

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eytanz

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Reply #17 on: November 13, 2007, 10:06:50 PM
I have to agree with several others, though I liked the story on the whole I think that it being in a letter, kind of ruined it.  It would have been better if the Cousin had come to visit and was told the story.  the 'cousin' could have even been the "evil" brother from Mars.  That would have put it over the top, allowing all of us to question our reality. 

While I'm still not entirely sure about the letter frame, I strongly disagree with your suggestion that the cousin also be Martian - that would totally change the entire point of the story, and not in a good way.



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Reply #18 on: November 14, 2007, 12:32:09 AM
Hey all, first time poster. :) I always listen to the feedback portion of the podcasts and think, Man, I wish I could get in on that. So this week I decided to.

I enjoyed this story far more than I, knowing myself, thought I would. I am not normally a fan of the old fashioned storytelling style. But I found the author to have (as I believe someone else put it) a compelling voice, unbelievably so. She was able to manipulate my thought processes, I could feel myself following the script in my head for reactions. I know that sounds bad, not every single reader will respond the exact same way, and "manipulation" is often a dirty word, but I mean it in the best of senses. When the men were out on the terrace, and Mars is brought up for the first time, I was right there with the narrator, "Oh boy. He really IS crazy. Mmmmmkay." And I caught myself doing it, and had to give the author a mental kudos.

I listened twice, and I really enjoyed the story. I was left with some questions, however, that maybe others can clear up for me...

First and foremost, WHY doesn't the narrator see the well? Does it disappear when it's not a portal? (I noticed that immediately after Atkins "fell down the well", when the neighbors and police were around, the narrator did not go downstairs. Did it disappear again between the time that the officials were buzzing around, and when the narrator was finally able to get down there himself?)

What's the deal with the ice? I figured when the narrator (sorry for the ambiguity, I'm crap with character names) refused to get Atkins ice he just didn't want to wait on him, but was it more than that? Did Atkins help himself to all of the ice, which would be amazing considering the narrator ordered enough for the week plus extra for his guests? Why mention it in the prose?

What do you think happened to Mars, exactly? I believe that somehow Atkins did it with his thoughts, but I don't understand why unthinking a man or his ancestors would have that kind of impact? I wished they'd cleared that up a little. I don't expect every story to wrap everything up for me in a neat little bow, but that bit confuses me. I hadn't thought about the microbe thing...I guess if you go back in ancestry enough eventually you get to the building blocks, and if you unthink those, you unthink the world....I could buy that. :)

Why did the narrator's friend know Atkins from boyhood? Is that more thought-manipulation? Can Atkins control other people's thoughts and memories? Did he erase the narrator's memories of the well?

And lastly (I promise!) WHAT is the narrator doing at the end? I don't understand exactly what he's hoping to accomplish by keeping watch on the basement.

Please note (since text isn't always the best for communication) that I'm not being petulant, or irritated in any way at all with any of these questions. I'm genuinely curious. I don't think it should have been done differently, I think this piece is pretty great just as it is. But these are things I was wondering about, and I was hoping someone else might have caught something I missed.

Oh and PS...if the Snotty-Martian-Prince is not actually named Atkins, forgive me. It's hanging around the tendrils of my mind. But typing "Snotty-Arrogant-Martian-Prince" is a little time consuming. :) So there you have it.

Thanks for giving me a few minutes of your time. I'm thrilled to be a part of the feedback finally!



Ocicat

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Reply #19 on: November 14, 2007, 01:24:10 AM
First and foremost, WHY doesn't the narrator see the well?

I wondered that one myself - no idea.

What's the deal with the ice?

The ice was "thought away".  Either when the narrator lied about it, or when Atkin's heard it.  Either way, the idea "The ice is out" was thought about, and reality bended to make it true.



gelee

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Reply #20 on: November 14, 2007, 12:35:23 PM
First and foremost, WHY doesn't the narrator see the well?
I wondered that one myself - no idea.

I think it was because the narrator's belief that there was no well in the cellar was stronger than Atkins' assertion that there was a well in the cellar.  Other people did not know one way or another about a well, so Atkins was able to adjust reality so that they saw the well.  The narrator, who had grown up in the house and was certain that there was no well in the cellar, was able to resist Atkins assertion, and therefore saw no well in the cellar.
I can't remember if the narrator was ever in the cellar with anyone else or not.  I'm thinking no.



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Reply #21 on: November 14, 2007, 06:19:58 PM
First and foremost, WHY doesn't the narrator see the well?
I wondered that one myself - no idea.

I think it was because the narrator's belief that there was no well in the cellar was stronger than Atkins' assertion that there was a well in the cellar.  Other people did not know one way or another about a well, so Atkins was able to adjust reality so that they saw the well.  The narrator, who had grown up in the house and was certain that there was no well in the cellar, was able to resist Atkins assertion, and therefore saw no well in the cellar.
I can't remember if the narrator was ever in the cellar with anyone else or not.  I'm thinking no.

That's exactly what I was thinking.  Everyone else could see it but when he went down there, he changed reality.  It was there all along until that point, because Stark had seen it, had told Atkins about it, and had told the narrator as much.  I'm not really sure if his belief was stronger than Atkins but once he was gone, his will became the dominant one.

A really great story.  I haven't read John Carter of Mars (yet) but I definitely thought of some of those covers and the idea of that story as I was listening to this.  The sword fights and chase scenes were great fun and the stuff that happened at the mansion was more than a bit creepy.  Oddly enough, I was also reminded of Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun series with the Sun Chamber and the ending.  I doubt that was intended, but I still thought it was pretty cool.  Excellent story, excellent reading. 


wakela

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Reply #22 on: November 14, 2007, 11:37:50 PM
First and foremost, WHY doesn't the narrator see the well?
I wondered that one myself - no idea.

I think it was because the narrator's belief that there was no well in the cellar was stronger than Atkins' assertion that there was a well in the cellar.  Other people did not know one way or another about a well, so Atkins was able to adjust reality so that they saw the well.  The narrator, who had grown up in the house and was certain that there was no well in the cellar, was able to resist Atkins assertion, and therefore saw no well in the cellar.
I can't remember if the narrator was ever in the cellar with anyone else or not.  I'm thinking no.

That's exactly what I was thinking.  Everyone else could see it but when he went down there, he changed reality.  It was there all along until that point, because Stark had seen it, had told Atkins about it, and had told the narrator as much.  I'm not really sure if his belief was stronger than Atkins but once he was gone, his will became the dominant one.
I think there was always a well in the basement, but the narrator no longer wants there to be one.  Maybe he doesn't want a Martian army to pop up behind his canned plums.  This interpretation makes the letter format critical, because it lets the narrator will-away the well before the story starts.  It worked on me.  I went the whole story believing there was no well.

That part of the story I enjoyed.  Also, I agree with Palimpsest that Leckie captured the period language very well without making it distracting.

My critique is that I couldn't get into the fight for the throne on Mars.  They are both ruthless monarchs, and I didn't care who won.  If I want to read about royal intrigues I'll read about real ones, and then I have the bonus of being educated. 



ajames

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Reply #23 on: November 15, 2007, 12:32:11 PM
I listened to this story again, and I absolutely love the language.  Both that it is 'true to period', and just how vividly it portrayed the settings and events of the story.  Whether in the narrator's home, or on mars, I felt like I was there.  And I still love the reading.

As to Nissa62's comments, I took the story more or less at face value. 

So, there was no cellar until Atkins changed reality, and the narrator never believed it was there because not everyone, just most people, need to believe in the alternate reality.

The narrator didn't get the ice because he was too tired to get up, and the author put this scene in to demonstrate how reality could indeed be changed, and that Atkins was not merely mad.

Atkins did indeed grow up on planet earth, but eventually discovered he could change reality, and did so over time to make himself a prince on the planet mars, presumably chosen because it would be easier to change reality more drastically on a planet without a large population of people more or less set in their beliefs [though this is not really delved into in the story]

Can't really say for sure why the narrator takes up camp in the cellar.  Perhaps to confirm to himself that there is no well, and keep his reality from changing.

There do seem to be some problems with the changing of reality through thought as presented in the story.  We are told early on that it this does not mean that we each make our own reality with out thoughts, suggesting that there is one reality.  On the other hand, as not everyone needs to believe in a thought for it to become reality, then multiple realities appear possible.  Or once enough people believe in it, does it become a reality for everyone?  Would the narrator have actually seen the well had he gone into his cellar before Atkins did?  Also, if indeed the destruction on mars was due to Atkins' willing away his foes and their predecessors, it seems highly unlikely that he could accomplish this against so many other people's strongly held beliefs in their own existence, and the existence of their families before them.

But I believe if you open the door to changing reality through thought, one possible outcome is a sometimes confusing universe where not everything makes perfect sense all the time.  Kind of like our universe.  Hey, wait a minute...  didn't everyone else reading this just get next Tuesday's paper?  Meeting in my basement tonight to figure out how we all get filthy rich!



ajames

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Reply #24 on: November 15, 2007, 01:53:40 PM
...And as I think about it more, it becomes more likely that the obvious reason the narrator continues to assert that there is not now, nor was there ever a well in his cellar is that he accepts that Atkins could change reality and did change reality, and that indeed there was a cellar there, but is attempting to change reality back to what he remembers as a child.

He accepts that reality can be changed through thought, but doesn't want reality to be changed in such a way, and wants to keep things as much as possible as they are.