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Author Topic: Pseudopod 75: The Mill  (Read 6076 times)

Bdoomed

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on: February 02, 2008, 06:34:32 AM
Pseudopod 75: The Mill

By Tom Brennan

Read by Ben Phillips

Breathless from climbing, Iwan crested the hill and looked down on his village and its fields of yellow and green. He tried to blot out the mill beside the river but the dark stone building gnawed at him, just as in his dreams.

Again he remembered the words trickling from his father’s ruined face: “A little blood, son, a little pain…”

Iwan spun away from the edge and ran to the pool under the arching trees. As forbidden as mirrors and polished metal, the pool threw back Iwan’s pale reflection. He stared at his features in the clear water as if concentration alone could seal them there forever, make them indestructible. But now a breeze rippled the water and imagination dissolved his face; he saw the mill’s grindstones descending, lower, lower, felt the altar vibrating under his body, smelled powdered grit as the whirling stones inched closer. Closer.



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bolddeceiver

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Reply #1 on: February 02, 2008, 06:50:08 AM
Stories like this always make me think, and I believe should make everyone think, whether there are things we take for granted in our society that would appear barbaric to an outsider.

Pretty well written, and rather freaky in the imagery of the procedure and its results.



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Reply #2 on: February 02, 2008, 11:26:55 PM
Great story- one of my favorites.  I though the end was a bit rushed, but maybe that's just because I didn't want it to end.
The imagery is what made this story- Brennan did a great job of painting a terribly traqgic world that sacrifices personal identity for cultural identity.



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Reply #3 on: February 04, 2008, 12:36:07 AM
I really enjoyed this one.  Creepy, and dark, simple.  I could imagine those stones coming at that poor boy and smelled the dust.  Reminded me of the Twilight Zone where everyone had to "pick a model", the girl ended up picking 32 or something.  Similar, but this was far more creepy.  The stoic attitude made it very cold.



gelee

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Reply #4 on: February 04, 2008, 05:03:38 PM
Good story.  I like stories that take a hard look at cultural norms and cultural relativism.  The social conventions that reinforced the traditional male mutilation were established and supported well.
Maybe the best indicator of the quality of the story was that I found myself wondering if I could force myself to undergo a similiar torment if my family and community were counting on me to do so.
There were a lot of great atmospheric touches, like the smell of the grit and priests robes.
Great job, and another great read from Ben, too.



eytanz

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Reply #5 on: February 06, 2008, 03:44:29 PM
I, too, liked the story, and more or less agree word to word with gelee's post. I was, however, a bit confused by the ending - it wasn't clear to me what brought on the change of heart at the end - but that was a relatively minor nitpick.



wakela

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Reply #6 on: February 07, 2008, 02:17:12 AM
I, too, liked the story, and more or less agree word to word with gelee's post. I was, however, a bit confused by the ending - it wasn't clear to me what brought on the change of heart at the end - but that was a relatively minor nitpick.
Personally, I think it was the fact that his family showed they were willing to give up everything for him to escape, and he decided he should be willing to make this sacrifice for them. 



eytanz

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Reply #7 on: February 07, 2008, 07:11:45 AM
I, too, liked the story, and more or less agree word to word with gelee's post. I was, however, a bit confused by the ending - it wasn't clear to me what brought on the change of heart at the end - but that was a relatively minor nitpick.
Personally, I think it was the fact that his family showed they were willing to give up everything for him to escape, and he decided he should be willing to make this sacrifice for them. 

Maybe, but the story didn't say so - the story has him standing on the top of the mountain, knowing he can either return or move on to a different country, and then he sees the piece of paper fall down the cliff and he realizes he has a "third alternative", which I took to be suicide, and the next thing we knew he was on the mill.

There was something in the line of reasoning that's missing here - either there is some link I'm missing between realizing he can kill himself and deciding to go back, or there was a change of heart that was just not described in which case the last few sentences on the mountain are irrelevant and a bit confusing.

But I don't think it's important that I (or any listener) be able to follow the decision process here, wha'ts important is what the decision was.  But given how intimate our exposure to his thoughts was throughout the story, it was a bit strange to me that we were left out of this very important one.



Bump In The @

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Reply #8 on: February 08, 2008, 06:34:00 AM
Man, this one gave me the creeps in a way few other stories have. I was writhing as I listened; mutilation is a personal sticking point. I found myself sitting stock still, every orifice clenched as I literally prayed Iwan would manage to escape... Of course, what kind of horror story would we have had then?

...Unless something ate him for being an adult without a shredded face.

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deflective

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Reply #9 on: February 09, 2008, 02:53:15 AM
But I don't think it's important that I (or any listener) be able to follow the decision process here, what's important is what the decision was.  But given how intimate our exposure to his thoughts was throughout the story, it was a bit strange to me that we were left out of this very important one.
aye, that was a departure. i can't be sure about the intention but Orson Scott Card, when talking about his short story: eumenides on the fourth floor lavatory, said that a short story that focuses on a single concept usually benefits by removing any direct reference to that concept.

this story seemed to be entirely about what people are willing to accept for social acceptance. it made me turn an eye to what i consider normal and why i do it.

my daily face-scraping ritual is driven by society but it has practical benefits as well, the wallet on the other hand... purely societal. sometimes i wonder if i would have had the strength to go hatless in the forties. other times i know i wouldn't have.



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Reply #10 on: February 11, 2008, 06:37:01 PM
Another solid story from PP.  Wonderfully haunting imagery and very well told.  The third alternative threw me off a little, too, but it didn't detract from my overall enjoyment of the story. 


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Reply #11 on: February 12, 2008, 05:16:27 PM
I, too, didn't get the end, unless it was supposed to mean that his third alternative was an illusion. I thought just now that his third alternative might have been sabotaging the mill so that he would end up like his friend, which would save him from living his village's adult male life but not ruin his family's honor, but then I remembered there was a line something like "he didn't know how he would have the courage to look in that pool again afterwards" which seems to imply that he intended to survive the ceremony.

But it was definitely a good thought-provoking and imagery-laden story.

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eytanz

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Reply #12 on: February 12, 2008, 05:33:14 PM
I, too, didn't get the end, unless it was supposed to mean that his third alternative was an illusion. I thought just now that his third alternative might have been sabotaging the mill so that he would end up like his friend, which would save him from living his village's adult male life but not ruin his family's honor, but then I remembered there was a line something like "he didn't know how he would have the courage to look in that pool again afterwards" which seems to imply that he intended to survive the ceremony.

But it was definitely a good thought-provoking and imagery-laden story.

Given the fact that the "third alternative" line comes immediately after he sees the paper wrapper go over the cliff, I think it was supposed to be that he could just jump and kill himself, rather than face the mill or face the unknown at the other side of the border.

The way I interpreted it, the reasoning is something like the follows:

A - He's too afraid to go back, and therefore feels compelled to go forward, despite his father's warning about other customs being worse (which may or may not have basis in fact), and the fate of his family.
B - He realizes he could also kill himself and therefore avoid having to live with the consequences of each choice.
C - He now is in a strange case of non-transitive preferences: going forward was better in his eyes than the mill, BUT jumping is better than going forward - since the outcome is predictable and his troubles will be over; yet at the same time facing the mill is better than jumping, since he wants to live.
D - In other words, because he's making his decisions emotionally rather than rationally, adding the third option shifted the weight of the other options. The mill is now the best choice of the three.

Anyway, that's just how I've tried to reconstruct his mindset. But I think it would have been better if we would have seen a bit more of the process, as the above guess has its own problems.



Listener

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Reply #13 on: February 14, 2008, 03:34:28 PM
Little late to the party here...

This is one of the better PPs run lately.  The story was brief and vivid, and had a horrific element that everyone can imagine -- having your face ground off by a millstone.  Urgh.  The last fictional thing that was truly that vivid to me was when I saw American History X and the "curb-bite" scene (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=bite+the+curb).

Kind of a "The Village" aspect when Iwan's dad said the stuff on the other side of the hill was much worse.  I don't think Iwan's dad actually KNEW what was going on over there, but was just reinforcing what he'd been told.

My only real gripe, such as it is, is that Iwan kept referring to the bread and the tea.  I mean, okay, it's a comforting image, but it was a little overdone.  Though I guess you could see it as "is that really the only comforting thing in this little world?"

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Reply #14 on: February 14, 2008, 05:41:49 PM
My only real gripe, such as it is, is that Iwan kept referring to the bread and the tea.  I mean, okay, it's a comforting image, but it was a little overdone.  Though I guess you could see it as "is that really the only comforting thing in this little world?"

Yes, it was a little over-emphasized.  In fact, because the author had leaned so heavily on that image, when the mother showed up with the tea I was like "Don't drink it, Iwan!  It's poisoned!  They're going to put you to sleep and drag you back to the village and you're going to wake up with grindstone in your face!" because c'mon, how often do you get exactly what you've desired in horror and smackdown doesn't follow?

It was a false alarm, as we know, but I don't think I would have had that suspicion if the tea image hadn't been so prevalent. 

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Reply #15 on: October 13, 2009, 03:29:18 PM
This one really got to me.  I rooted for the kid to escape, even though it would ruin his families lives.  Mutilations of the face are second only to mutilations of the genitals regarding cringe factor.  And, I don't know if circumcisions were one of the "other things" his father was referring to, but I can imagine that could be the case.

As someone else said, The Village did come to mind (in a good way).  Also, Fiddler on the Roof because of the tight adherence to tradition.

I, too, was a bit thrown off by the third alternative being mentioned followed by his sudden return to the mill.  My only complaint about the story would've been to finish his line of reasoning there.  But really, that's just a quibble.



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Reply #16 on: July 29, 2010, 12:01:26 AM
Eh.  This one gets a mediocre rating from me.  It's told stirringly enough, but not exceptionally.  I was never confused, despite it's otherworld setting.  That being said, I certainly feel like I've read this story before: child has to submit to adulthood ritual, does not want to etc. etc.  There are only 2 ways for a story like that to end:

1. Submit (horror).
2. Refuse (fantasy).

I had this one pegged from the outset.  Maybe I'm just a jaded old cynic, but these sorts of stories are 50% heavy-handed message about the trials of adolescence and the cruel traditions (supposedly) all cultures inflict on their young and 50% nostalgia about childhood's innocence.  Since we all know the ending has to be one of the two choices above, there isn't a lot to hold one's attention except for a really good telling (which this one does not manage).

A couple things that really stood out badly:

1. "Oh God spare me..."

Ummmm... Aren't they polytheistic?  That sounds like a very Christian statement.

2. He cries a single tear at the end.

Give me a break.  Are you serious?

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