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Author Topic: EP137: Citytalkers  (Read 9928 times)
Russell Nash
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« on: December 21, 2007, 05:20:21 AM »

EP137: Citytalkers

By Mur Lafferty.
Read by Deborah Green.
Closing Music: “O Come All Ye Faithful,” performed by Twisted Sister.

Gloria blinked. “Why do the people in Cleveland love Christmas more than anywhere else?”

Toby grinned and spread his hands on the bar, unadorned fingers splayed. He stared at them, “I didn’t say Cleveland’s people loved Christmas. I said Cleveland.”

“And you’re saying Charlotte doesn’t like Christmas?”

Toby took a deep breath and let it out. “Oh, no. I’m saying Charlotte flat out hates Christmas.”

Gloria kept her voice level, the best thing to do when dealing with a crazy person. “And why do you think this?”

“I’m an urban shaman. A citytalker. I’m here to talk to Charlotte to find out why it’s unhappy.”


Rated PG. Contains moderate violence and stronger weather.


Referenced Sites:
Heifer International
Podsafe Music Network (Terms of Use)




Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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Jhite
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« Reply #1 on: December 21, 2007, 12:28:40 PM »

Spoiler warning
Very good story!

I want to start with that.

I liked the reader but the audio quality was not what I have come to expect, not so bad I could not listen, but not as good as others.

So, on with the story.  I was very happy that it didn't end with another "School shooting" as I fear it might.  I don't think that we needed another bloody mess.  My thanks to the author.  It did open a world to me that I had never thought of before.  Thinking about things like, why would towns speak a different language? Do hamlets and villages also speak different languages? If so upstate NY should be filled with talkers that can't talk to each other.  Are there Planet talkers, great land mass talkers or even ocean talkers?  All in all I think it was great concept and well executed. 

The idea of lenient ability was pretty interesting as well.  Being draw to a career that you have a strange ability to control but didn't know you had.  Don't mind me I am just going to go whisper to the servers for a minute.  Hey it never hurts to try.

I have seen the idea of cities with personalties or really abilities of their own twice before, both my the same author, Terry Brooks, but this was certainly a different twist. 

I am trying very hard not to think of the social implications about how maybe all the shooters of late were not totally to blame.  Or how maybe some of the suicide bombers or just bombers might be being controlled by their city.  But these idea keep popping in my head.  I think it was out side of Ms. Lafferty's field of thought.  Or I should say I hope that it was.  I think I would like the story less if that were implied by her, but not enough to change my over all feeling that it was a very well written story.
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« Last Edit: December 21, 2007, 02:26:37 PM by Jhite » Logged

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Czhorat
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« Reply #2 on: December 21, 2007, 04:04:57 PM »

This one didn't stir up the passion in me that some recent Escape Pod stories have. I didn't hate it by any means, but didn't especially like it either. It was just kind of "eh".

I liked the concept of citytalkers and towntalkers and stormtalkers who can communicate with either forces of nature or man-made entities so large that they might as well be forces of nature, but the idea of citytalking in particular never seemed quite as mystical or exotic to me as it could have. The idea of someone with an affinity for storms ending up as a meteorologist made sense to me and worked within the scope of the story. The idea of cities going a little bit mad, getting depressed, etc also worked. I also liked the dream sequence in which the narrator felt herself both flying on the storm and getting all kinds of foreign ideas, but I wish the imagery in it had been a bit more evocative. The choice to withhold the actuality of the foreign thoughts also made the dream feel a bit too distant. I know Lafferty was setting it up for a big reveal later on, but that reveal didn't come quite close enough to the climax to make a real difference. I think that if we saw a hint of the violence in the dream it would have set up the final confrontation a bit better and built the tension in a more gradual, ominous way. As written, the idea of the gun and hostage confrontation felt thrown onto the stage at the last minute and resolved almost as quickly. Still, I can understand why Lafferty did it; if we had the narrator dreaming about murder she'd have been less sympathetic, and we'd have been robbed of the shock at realizing just what the city was planning. I'd still have preferred the reveal to happen sooner.

There were a couple of things I didn't much like. The coincidence of having the shaman happen to run into the meteorologist at a bar was a bit heavy-handed a coincidence, and his monolog about citytalking went on a bit too long for my taste. The idea that it started out as humoring a lunatic for the sake of a good story was nice, but the reaction went from humoring to plain belief very quickly. The reference to Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans fell very flat for me to the point that it was borderline offensive in that it blamed the victim for a disaster that ruined countless thousands of lives.

I also wasn't a big fan of the shadow organization that employed citytalkers and the like to protect the world for no visible gain and with no visible means of support. I don't feel that the existence of such an organization adds anything to the story, nor does it make much sense. It also made the storm-talker's road much too easy after she learned about her gift. Just sign up with the top-secret good-guy organization and get paid to run around saving the world! No more growth, thought, or initiative needed. Become a cog in a hidden wheel. If there were some hint that the organization wasn't the saintly group the citytalker saw it as but merely one side in some kind of shadowy war happening behind our backs that might have been interesting. As it was it just felt like a cop-out to save the citytalker from needing to have an actual job.

Overall the story was a fun lighthearted diversion for holiday week, but not much more than that. It did keep me entertained for the length of the podcast, which is all I can really ask for. It's just that Escapepod often gives me more, so I can't help but feel a tiny bit let down.
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eytanz
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« Reply #3 on: December 21, 2007, 04:26:29 PM »

I agree entirely with Czhorat's comments about the story. For me, this story was a real prototypical Mur Lafferty stor; I have exactly the same likes and dislikes in this story as with anything else of hers I've read/listened to - a great central premise and sympathetic characters, and an interesting storyline, but a real sense of impatience about the plot - as if it there was not enough time for events to actually develop, so instead they are rushed out. Everything just happens in a convenient sequence, motivated by the fact that it drives the plot. Czhorat gives good examples of this so I won't repeat them.
« Last Edit: December 21, 2007, 04:29:05 PM by eytanz » Logged
Darwinist
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« Reply #4 on: December 22, 2007, 01:12:26 PM »


I liked the story. I was expecting something Christmas-y and fun so I cringed a bit when guns, hostages, and homicide entered in to the equation. Like Jhite, I was glad to see things resolved without a bloodbath. 

Neat concept of the personification of cities.  I was thinking of the Twin Cities after the story and have concluded that St. Paul is a 30-something, Prius driving, Lutheran hockey mom with a WWWD (What would Wellstone do?) bumper sticker.  Or maybe not.
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Ocicat
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Anything for a Weird Life


« Reply #5 on: December 22, 2007, 04:55:44 PM »

Good episode - it reminded me a lot of EP052: Single White Farmhouse, another good anthropomorphization tale which I caught up on a few months ago going through the archives.  This one was just as much fun, but the universe seemed to make a lot more sense.

I would have liked a little bit more of a peek into the "mind" of the city, what had made it depressed, what it wanted from it's people, etc... I wouldn't have minded a bit more on the human characters either.  What was there on both counts was good, just a little sparse.  I also could have done without the shadowy good guy organization, since it didn't really add much other than a sense of paranoia.  It would have been better if it had just been a loose network of the citytalker and some friends.  He obviously didn't need the motivation of money to do his thing, so why bother to put it there?

Overall, a fun light story, just right for the holidays.
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Czhorat
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« Reply #6 on: December 23, 2007, 12:50:59 AM »

Just a couple more random thoughts that bothered me about this one.

First, for me the story had what I assume was an unintended message about mental illness. The city Charlotte was depressed to the point of suicidal ideation. The solution? A white Christmas. The idea that all that is needed to cure serious depression is one nice event strikes me as dismissive towards what is a real illness. It was just a very quick jump from "nearly suicidal" to "OK".

Second, has it occurred to anyone else that a blizzard nasty enough to knock out power throughout much of the city would likely kill more people than the little on-air hostage drama Charlotte had planned for Christmas Eve? If so, why do we see the meteorologist as a hero?

Finally, much was made of Toby repeatedly asking why the city hates Christmas. So far as I recall, we never really got an answer to that.
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eytanz
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« Reply #7 on: December 23, 2007, 02:24:34 AM »

Just a couple more random thoughts that bothered me about this one.

First, for me the story had what I assume was an unintended message about mental illness. The city Charlotte was depressed to the point of suicidal ideation. The solution? A white Christmas. The idea that all that is needed to cure serious depression is one nice event strikes me as dismissive towards what is a real illness. It was just a very quick jump from "nearly suicidal" to "OK".

I thought the whole point was that it was not a "nice event" - that it was a disaster, with people dying and generally having a pretty miserable time, which cauesd them to rally together which somehow made Charlotte better. I think part of the problem was that the story mixed metaphors - at some times the disease was equated to a cancer (and thus needed some sort of radical physical treatment), and at other times the same disease was treated like a mental illness.

Quote
Second, has it occurred to anyone else that a blizzard nasty enough to knock out power throughout much of the city would likely kill more people than the little on-air hostage drama Charlotte had planned for Christmas Eve? If so, why do we see the meteorologist as a hero?

Yeah, that didn't make much sense to me either. I think it was supposed to be less "meaningless".

Quote
Finally, much was made of Toby repeatedly asking why the city hates Christmas. So far as I recall, we never really got an answer to that.

I think the answer was simply "it was depressed, and depressed people hate Christmas". Which seemed to me to be one more case of lazy plotting - not exactly because it's a cliche. Rather, it's because the story seemed to rely on it being a cliche and thus familiar, rather than actually explaining it.
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ajames
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« Reply #8 on: December 24, 2007, 02:57:22 PM »

Up until about halfway through the story, I thought this was a mildly entertaining tale.  I found the idea of urban shamans interesting, and the idea of cities as sentient beings of a sort was fun to consider.  By the end, though, I was hooked and very entertained.

After reading some of the criticisms posted here, I am wondering if this is a very entertaining story but one that doesn't quite hold up to a high level of scrutiny.  There certainly are some questions raised here which need answering.  I don't think I have answers to all of them, but here are some thoughts I had~

1] The original meeting of Toby and Gloria was too convenient and unlikely.  This crossed my mind, too, but I thought perhaps the city was already drawn towards using Gloria for its plans, and somehow Toby picked up on this, and was drawn to Gloria too.  So not really a random meeting at all.

2]  The blizzard was a deadly event, so Gloria isn't such a hero after all.  I don't know what Mur had in mind, but the only way this makes sense to me is that Charlotte used Gloria to whip up the blizzard, planning a double-whammy [keeping the city hostage physically as well as psychologically].   Gloria zapped the powerstation to avert the hostage situation [no sense in going through with the initial plan if no one could watch the hostage crisis], thus thwarting Charlotte's plan but at the same time putting others in more danger.  This is certainly one of the ethical dilemmas of her power alluded to later in the story.  Gloria's actions may have led to the deaths of others, but they also definitely saved the lives of some, and saved the citizens of the city from a psychological blow, and evidently led the city itself to a quick recovery [and we have already been told how deadly a sick city is to its inhabitants].  Also, by ending Charlotte's grip over her, one assumes Gloria could then essentially stop or turn the blizzard away, thus making it less severe and prolonged than it otherwise would have been, and thereby perhaps saving lives.

3]  The shadowy good guy guild is unneccessary.  Agreed.  I wonder if Mur is leaving her options open to explore the ideas in this story, with city talkers and storm talkers etc. forming a sort of league of superfriends or union [as in Union Dues].
 
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qwints
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« Reply #9 on: December 27, 2007, 12:30:39 AM »

Hasn't there already been a escape pod story that personified cities? Like with bunches of ghosts? I had a strong sense of deja vu on a couple levels.

That said, I liked the story although I didn't find it spectacular.
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Czhorat
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« Reply #10 on: December 27, 2007, 06:01:41 AM »

2]  The blizzard was a deadly event, so Gloria isn't such a hero after all.  I don't know what Mur had in mind, but the only way this makes sense to me is that Charlotte used Gloria to whip up the blizzard, planning a double-whammy [keeping the city hostage physically as well as psychologically].   Gloria zapped the powerstation to avert the hostage situation [no sense in going through with the initial plan if no one could watch the hostage crisis], thus thwarting Charlotte's plan but at the same time putting others in more danger.  This is certainly one of the ethical dilemmas of her power alluded to later in the story.  Gloria's actions may have led to the deaths of others, but they also definitely saved the lives of some, and saved the citizens of the city from a psychological blow, and evidently led the city itself to a quick recovery [and we have already been told how deadly a sick city is to its inhabitants].  Also, by ending Charlotte's grip over her, one assumes Gloria could then essentially stop or turn the blizzard away, thus making it less severe and prolonged than it otherwise would have been, and thereby perhaps saving lives.

I don't think the story supports this idea. In the dream sequence the idea of storm fronts and the like clearly seemed to come from Gloria, while the mysterious "something she had to do" which we eventually learn is the kidnapping feels like it isn't her own. Also, when Toby asks Charlotte through Gloria about the weather, Charlotte has no answer for it. I also found knocking out power to just the TV station to be a bit of a cop-out; there's a long way between moving a front to redirect a storm and changing the wind to knock down a particular tree for a particular result. If you even know where all the trees in town are.
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contra
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« Reply #11 on: December 28, 2007, 08:29:37 AM »

I thought the point was that if the blizzard hit, the killing wasn't needed.  The blizzard was a bad enough event that it caused the city to no longer be suicidal.  We all know that through these horrible events that stories of hope come through; it always happens; people rally about that and it goes through them, making the people happier and more likely to also do good things and be happy.  Kind of like that "Pay It Forward" movie with Haley 'I see dead people' Osment ¬_¬ and various other ideas out there...

I took the tree taking out the power to be a random event that just happened that added to the plot.

As for the other things people have said
The guild was not needed.  The story could have been told without that.  Maybe it was to give an overall cohesion to the talkers; so they don't do something that hurts people as a whole, or multiple people don't take on the same issue and cause problems... however these sorts of issues dodn't come up in the story, and were therefore not needed.  Nothing was done with it.  so who knows.

As for meeting a talker randomly and talking to one and then becdoming one.  Many more people could be talkers without knowing it; however they don't have a conversation and never use their power.  Cities clearly know who talkers are, so maybe they can feel them, and influence their actions.  Maybe it makes them more subseptable to ideas.  Maybe talkers just attract hidden talkers.

In ending a recomendation.  This story reminded me of an awesome anime called 'Mushishi'; about a guru that goes around interacting and sorting out issues with these otherworldly creatures called Mushi that are the source of many urban legends and folk tales.  Each ep is pretty much stand alone and there is no action in the series like what happened in this story; however each tale is fantastic and isn't always happy. The series has no clear overall storyline, and you can talk each ep as a single dose easily.

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Czhorat
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« Reply #12 on: December 28, 2007, 07:09:21 PM »

I thought the point was that if the blizzard hit, the killing wasn't needed.  The blizzard was a bad enough event that it caused the city to no longer be suicidal.  We all know that through these horrible events that stories of hope come through; it always happens; people rally about that and it goes through them, making the people happier and more likely to also do good things and be happy.  Kind of like that "Pay It Forward" movie with Haley 'I see dead people' Osment ¬_¬ and various other ideas out there...

I got that idea. My point is that the blizzard was quite likely worse in terms of lives lost than the killing would have been in the first place. People would be expected to die or be injured in car crashes, of hypothermia when their heating fails after the power goes out, be injured in slips and falls, have heart attacks shoveling their driveways, or be injured or killed in the flooding accompanying the following snow melt. If you stop to think about it, Gloria saved a few lives but probably cost many more.

Quote
I took the tree taking out the power to be a random event that just happened that added to the plot.

I already cleaned the file off my iPod, but if I recall correctly the text of the story directly contradicts this. We were told that Gloria felt the storm, took greater control of it, and reached out. Then the tree broke the power line to the station.

Quote
The guild was not needed.  The story could have been told without that.  Maybe it was to give an overall cohesion to the talkers; so they don't do something that hurts people as a whole, or multiple people don't take on the same issue and cause problems... however these sorts of issues dodn't come up in the story, and were therefore not needed.  Nothing was done with it.  so who knows.

The only thing I saw that it did is give Toby and, later, Gloria the ability to wander about fighting the good fight with no visible means of support. It felt to me like a bit of a cop-out.
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ajames
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« Reply #13 on: December 30, 2007, 12:55:50 PM »

I'm still not sure Gloria was completely behind the blizzard - true her dream sequence seems to indicate this, yet she doesn't appear to be consciously aware of her powers until late in the story, leaving the possibility open that she may be under the influence of Charlotte.  But as far as I can tell the story is very vague on this point.

Are we ever told if the blizzard does in fact take any lives?  Sometimes whether or not someone is considered a hero depends more upon the outcome of their actions than the wisdom of their actions.

Also, I might as well state the obvious - Gloria appears to be named after Hurricane Gloria which hit NC in 1985.  It was a Category 4 heralded as the storm of the century at first, but weakened significantly before it hit the coast.
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Listener
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« Reply #14 on: December 31, 2007, 04:55:30 PM »

The beginning of the story was too slow to sustain a podcast audience, I think, and the reading, while capable, was of lower sound quality than we might expect.  But once the story picked up, it got more interesting.

I had similar problems with Lafferty's intro to Playing for Keeps that EP ran.  I think the story is good, but it doesn't really lend itself to audio.

The citytalkers and other-talkers ideas were quite cool and not out of the way.  I think maybe too much was given over to Katrina in an attempt to use a real-world example.

Anyway, not bad, but for what I said above.
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Kaa
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« Reply #15 on: December 31, 2007, 05:12:23 PM »

Everyone's pretty much said most of the stuff I would have said, but I will just add that I hope Mur considers expanding on this universe a bit.  Might be an interesting sandbox. Smiley
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Czhorat
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« Reply #16 on: January 02, 2008, 05:14:24 AM »

The beginning of the story was too slow to sustain a podcast audience, I think, and the reading, while capable, was of lower sound quality than we might expect.  But once the story picked up, it got more interesting.

I get what you were saying. I didn't mind the length of the intro quite so much as the speed with which Gloria shifted from humoring the crazy in hopes of a good story to complete belief in his crazy ideas. It rang a little bit false for me in that I don't think people's basic beliefs change quite so quickly with no real-world proof outside of fantasy stories.

The citytalkers and other-talkers ideas were quite cool and not out of the way.  I think maybe too much was given over to Katrina in an attempt to use a real-world example.

I really didn't like the use of Katrina here. It seemed to me to trivialize the disaster by making it into a plot point and not a very major one at that. I suspect that someone who really cares about New Orleans would look at the situation as one in which a city was neglected by those responsible for it (ie, levies not being rebuilt to a standard that would have held up to the storm) rather than as a not too mentally stable city self-mutilating.
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CammoBlammo
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« Reply #17 on: January 02, 2008, 06:50:15 AM »


I really didn't like the use of Katrina here. It seemed to me to trivialize the disaster by making it into a plot point and not a very major one at that. I suspect that someone who really cares about New Orleans would look at the situation as one in which a city was neglected by those responsible for it (ie, levies not being rebuilt to a standard that would have held up to the storm) rather than as a not too mentally stable city self-mutilating.

I thought a similar thing, but I arrived at a different conclusion. My job brings me into contact with people who harm themselves, and it is frequently a sign that they believe they are being neglected. And in many cases it has the right effect --- those around them start to realise there is a problem and the people concerned finally get the help they need. Assuming, of course, that they have survived the self mutilation.

I wonder if this was simply New Orleans way of making sure she (he? I don't remember) got the TLC she really needed.

As for trivialising the disaster... I don't know. Some time has passed, although maybe not enough. If Mur was to ask me to rewrite the story I would use Cyclone Tracey which struck Darwin in 1974. Not only did she obliterate the city, she hit on Christmas Day. How's that for a fit?  Smiley

<Edit: Fix the date of Cyclone Tracey>
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Kaa
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« Reply #18 on: January 02, 2008, 07:56:19 AM »

I get what you were saying. I didn't mind the length of the intro quite so much as the speed with which Gloria shifted from humoring the crazy in hopes of a good story to complete belief in his crazy ideas. It rang a little bit false for me in that I don't think people's basic beliefs change quite so quickly with no real-world proof outside of fantasy stories.

That bugged me, too, at first.  And, as I recall, it also bugged Gloria in the story.  Then, later, we find out that Gloria has her own abilities of stormtalking, and it makes a bit more sense. Even though she wasn't aware that she had special abilities, subconsciously, her powers made what the man was saying resonate and she took him seriously where any of us would have thought he was a crackpot.
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I invent imaginary people and make them have conversations in my head. I also write.

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Russell Nash
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« Reply #19 on: January 03, 2008, 02:23:40 PM »

I was into this one.  I liked the intro.  I was digging the concept.  It just wasn't tight.  I just don't think this story got the edit and rewrite time it needed.  It just felt like Mur had other things to do.
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