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Author Topic: PC003: Run Of The Fiery Horse  (Read 26708 times)
Heradel
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« on: April 15, 2008, 06:16:16 AM »

PC003: Run Of The Fiery Horse

By Hilary Moon Murphy
Read by Rachel Swirsky.
Introduction by K. Tempest Bradford.
First appeared in Realms of Fantasy, 2002.

His tongue flickered out, sniffing the river of dreams that swirled around him. He had studied humans long enough to be a connoisseur of their flavors: those born in the year of the Wooden Ox tasted faintly of wheat and nuts, Metal Pigs had the aroma of tart berries, and Water Dragons reminded him of the salty wines of Nippon. But the taste he sought remained elusive.

Then he found it: hot, almost peppery, with an underlying sweetness. Tsi Sha closed his eyes and hissed with pleasure. A female of the Fiery Horse, the rarest of flavors. Few of the girl children born in that year had lived past their first night. Tsi Sha had found them abandoned on country hillsides and city rubbish heaps as families rid themselves of their inauspicious newborn daughters.

They had tasted delicious.


Rated PG. Contains sensuality, serpentine twists, and a darting tongue that can taste your dreams.

Links:
The Angry Black Woman - A blog on Politics, Race, Gender, Sexuality, Anger


Listen to this week's Pod Castle!

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Sylvan
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« Reply #1 on: April 15, 2008, 07:30:38 AM »

What a lovely story!

I found it interesting that here we have a MacGuffin that isn't a MacGuffin:  the reputation of girls born under the sign of the Fire Horse.  At first I found this information to be mere stage dressing:  the excuse for the tale.  Chinese folklore and culture were never my strong suit and so I found this to be something added by the author to explain to readers what caused the situation to arise in the first place, and little more.

How enchanting to be wrong!

Maybe, on the long drive in to work, my mind was dulled, but I don't think so.  Despite having a very classic ending, I never saw it coming.  The hints were layered throughout but the author expertly avoided drawing too much attention to them.  Instead, we were treated to a very three-dimensional character and a living, breathing world.  What I thought was the basic excuse to get the story rolling was, indeed, its resolution.

I adore storytelling like this.  Perhaps it is too dependent upon the reader to be in just the right frame of mind, but I don't think so.  Perfected tale-spinning like this can't be just the luck of the draw.  No, I think this was a carefully sculpted and beautifully rendered tale that shows not only an understanding of the lore and culture of "Fiery Horse"'s China but of the genre of Fantasy it conveys.

My congratulations and thanks, both, to the author!

Yours,
Sylvan (Dave)
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Ramsey
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« Reply #2 on: April 15, 2008, 12:50:33 PM »

Very nice story! And even though it was mentioned several times in the story, I also didn't see the end coming. That's definitely the mark of a well written story. Loved it.

For anyone interested in reading more about and trying to figure out their element and sign things, the wikipedia has a pretty informative entry regarding Chinese astrology.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_astrology#Five_elements
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Ocicat
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« Reply #3 on: April 15, 2008, 04:35:45 PM »

An excellent story, and an engaging reading as well. 

I've been wondering if the dream serpent is an actual Chinese myth, or if it's the author's invention.  I'm more familiar with Japanese mythology, which has a dream eating creature called a Baku, which apparently came from Chinese mythology originally.  But the critter is far from serpent-like.  And if the story had used an elephant/tiger/pig thing, we wouldn't have gotten the nice touch of the scales being left behind occasionally. 

I really liked how the story managed a strong girl character and a feminist message without the character totally rejecting her culture or being rejected by it. 

By the way, glad you're giving summaries of feedback on previous episodes on the closers.  I always enjoyed that on EP, and it's certainly what brought me here to the forums.  But mostly it just gives the impression that you care about the listening community, and that we're all a part of this thing together.
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eytanz
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« Reply #4 on: April 15, 2008, 06:08:26 PM »

Let me add my voice to those who really enjoyed the story. It was well written, well read, and engaging throughout. I really enjoyed it.

I did find the intro a bit heavy on the explanation. I think the story did a good job of explaining the tradition it was predicated on and its consequences, I wasn't sure why I had to be told about it beforehand.

Let me second Ocicat's gladdness with the mention of the feedback in the outro.
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Thaurismunths
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« Reply #5 on: April 15, 2008, 07:36:20 PM »

I really enjoyed this story, and even learned a little about myself in the end.

First off, story was beautifully illustrated. I say 'illustrated' rather than written because (at least to me) everything was so colorful and vibrant. Ms. Murphy knew exactly when, where, and how much to sketch the scenes so that my minds-eye could paint it with its own shades and not lose track of the story.
Secondly, Rachel did a great job with the reading. You put a lot of passion and enjoyment in the production and it showed. I'm very impressed with how well you inflected the goings-ons, it sounds as though you spent a lot of time practicing.
Thirdly, I've never heard of "Tsi Sha" before, or any fables that closely resemble it. There are dozens of stories about any given creature, and dozens of variations on each story, so finding one that's new and different is really exciting for me. Does anyone know the background of this "Tsi Sha" creature or more stories about it?
Fourthly (I should have picked a better way to write this), it was nice to see a strong female character take charge of her destiny in her own way, rather than the very cliche route of taking over a man's role. Good example of this cliche would be Disney's Mulan: Girl subdued, revolts by assuming "Man's role", girl gets accepted as a man (not a woman).
Lastly, what I learned about myself is why I like faerie tales so much. In morality plays there are only so many ways it can turn out, and unless the author is feeling better, good always wins. I had a pretty good hunch on how this story would end by the mid-way point, but it was watching it unfold, seeing the mechanisms that lead to that ending (Her fiery spirit; Tsi Sha's kindled interest; the meddling of fate; exploitation his love and her sexuality, and the shibumi of the ending) that I enjoy so much.
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« Reply #6 on: April 15, 2008, 07:59:04 PM »

Let me add my voice to those who really enjoyed the story. It was well written, well read, and engaging throughout. I really enjoyed it.

I did find the intro a bit heavy on the explanation. I think the story did a good job of explaining the tradition it was predicated on and its consequences, I wasn't sure why I had to be told about it beforehand.

I certainly appreciated it.  I knew that the Chinese "horoscopes" had several animals associated with a cyle of years (Year of the Cock here Smiley) but the elemental aspect was new to me, and I'd have been a bit lost at the mention of "earth snake" and "wood pig" and whatnot.  (I'm already familiar with the five feng shui elements but not with their association to Chinese horoscopes.) 

I'd probably have been thinking more of the "Animal Attraction" episode of Kim Possible (Kim is a Blue Fox and is best suited to pair with a Yellow Trout.  Ron is a Pink Sloth, the worst thing anybody can be.)
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« Reply #7 on: April 15, 2008, 10:49:54 PM »

first of all i want to say that the story was good, exactly the type thing i come to podcastle for. a nice mixture of traditional beliefs and modern fantasy plot. it can be fun to compare actual traditions with those fantasy pantheons that are created purely for entertainment.

but there's one thing about podcastle that's beginning to bug me, all three stories have had a heavy theme of female empowerment. i typically enjoy that, it can be illuminating. the first week was very cool, both escape pod and pseudopod had similar themes and the idea of show-crossing theme weeks is appealing. but a reoccurring theme every week quickly hits a saturation point.

fantasy as a genre has had something of a checkered past with women. it's traditionally set in a patriarchal environment, the early works seemed to reserve leather bikinis for female roles. even as the genre evolves the leather bikini endures, acceptable so long as the woman also holds a sword. the backlash of female-centric fantasy is both necessary and welcome but there's so much more out there.
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Rachel Swirsky
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« Reply #8 on: April 16, 2008, 12:14:42 AM »

I expect it would be fairly trivial to find three weeks' worth of stories on Escape Pod that are all focused on male narrators. Why is it an agenda and a problem when it's women, but invisible when it's men?

In any case, the "female empowerment" theme is largely coincidental. (As a matter of fact, I don't think "Come Lady Death" is about female empowerment at all... in fact, the only way I can make that argument is to assume that "female empowerment" = powerful female characters, which seems patently not the case. If we're supposed to ration out how many powerful women characters appear in stories... well, that's not going to happen. I suppose the interpretation may be negotiable, however.)

There are three more female narrated stories coming up, two by women and one by a man: "Goosegirl" by Margaret Ronald, "Dead Girl's Wedding March" by Cat Rambo, and "The Girl with the Sun in Her Head" by Jeremiah Tolbert. After that, there are two male-narrated stories.

Our Halloween story arc will be six stories long, and if we're able to acquire all the pieces I'm currently in negotiation for, it'll be five male narrators and only one female narrator.

As to why our first few episodes are female-centered? Well, I urge you not to discount coincidence, and to remember that there are many male-centered stories on Escape Pod that may not catch your attention the way a series of female main characters does. However, I suspect there may be another trend. It is very, very difficult to find good high fantasy and sword and sorcery stories. Most of what we see in slush are purple prosed Tolkein rip-offs. Even most of what we see that plays with setting or places women at the center is not well-written -- but I think there may be a small chance that those writers who are responding to the sword and sorcery tradition, for instance with tales of female empowerment, are somewhat more likely to have a fresh approach than those who are trying to recreate Robert Jordan. (I have no problem with recreating Robert Jordan, but the unfortunate truth is that the original is probably better than the derivative.)

As soon as I figure out who to contact, I'll be trying to acquire some of the Kedrigern stories that have run in F&SF. These are diverting tales of a male wizard. However, they seem to be representatives of an increasingly rare breed of fiction -- and I note that the author passed away a couple years ago. Sad

For those who may have reservations about the fact that the magazine is edited by a woman, and an avowed feminist woman -- well, sure, we're going to run stories about women, and we're probably not going to run stories about women in chainmail bikinis, however mighty their swords. (Though it could happen.) Will there be more stories about women in PodCastle than Escape Pod? Maybe.

But remember, "Come Lady Death" and "For Fear of Dragons" were Steve Eley's picks, and they sit in company with several other tales he acquired for our stock that I suppose could be interpreted as female empowerment narratives or female-centered, for instance a Jim Hines' Sword & Sorceress piece. This may be a quirk of what's being written in high fantasy right now that's good, or perhaps a quirk of the fact that fantasy is associated with more female authors and a larger female readership than science fiction, or a quirk of what people are sending to us / what's coming to our attention -- but whatever it is, it's certainly not a phenomenon caused by my presence on the staff.
« Last Edit: April 16, 2008, 12:21:47 AM by Rachel Swirsky » Logged
deflective
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« Reply #9 on: April 16, 2008, 03:44:15 AM »

to be absolutely clear, i'm not talking about the sex of the narrator, author, or characters. it's stories concentrating on a woman struggling against an oppressive male dominated society that's been overdone recently. all of it so seriously too, maybe if we had a nina kimberly in the mix it wouldn't feel so homogeneous.

you're right to point out that come lady death doesn't really belong in the trend. it probably felt that way because it came out the same week that the other podcasts had their stories and a large part of the episode's discussion thread concentrates on death's sex.

i hope you didn't read me as accusatory, Rachel, podcastle compares favourably with any other new podcast. some part of me is always trying to figure out the story behind the story, imagine the atmosphere in the newspaper office by the stories it chooses to print. if this is a general trend for short fantasy fiction then it could be worse.
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Thaurismunths
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« Reply #10 on: April 16, 2008, 05:39:40 AM »

but there's one thing about podcastle that's beginning to bug me, all three stories have had a heavy theme of female empowerment. i typically enjoy that, it can be illuminating. the first week was very cool, both escape pod and pseudopod had similar themes and the idea of show-crossing theme weeks is appealing. but a reoccurring theme every week quickly hits a saturation point.

I have to admit, I was terribly distracted while listening to this story. It is an AMAZING story, and a great choice for Podcastle, but I couldn't help but wonder about the editor's motive while picking the piece. Rachel is known for going well out of her way on the topics of gender equality and women's rights. She is an outspoken feminist, and this story has another strong female lead (yes, Steve chose the first one but, from the outside perspective, you set the order). Is she using PC as her personal pulpit? Am I going to be brow-beaten if I speak out against a story I didn't like? Are we going to get crap stories, just because the good ones didn't have support the feminist agenda?
In the end I realized that it doesn't matter why she chose this story, it only matters that she chose a good story and presented it to us. Her personal views should not color my enjoyment of a piece nor my view of the podcast. Her actions will have to speak for themselves.
We're only three stories in, and two of them 'might' have had feminist appeal (Beagle's doesn't count). That's hardly a streak. Presenting stories that fit with the editors' (and there are more than one) personal political views only become an issue for us, the listeners, when they refuse to run stories that don't or run only pieces that have an agenda message.
If the editors don't run good fiction because the women are deemed too simpering, or refuse a well put together belly-bunny piece because the lead isn't wearing enough clothes, then we can all vote with our dollars and our downloads. Until then I think we should let Podcastle take its own course and keep our speculations relevant to the stories at hand.
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ajames
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« Reply #11 on: April 16, 2008, 05:46:43 AM »

The only disappointment from this story was in myself for not seeing the ending earlier. I mean, Hilary Moon Murphy practically gave us the ending in large neon letters, and still I didn't know what was coming until just before it happened.

This type of story is definitely what I hoped for from Podcastle. Rich in imagery and ideas, beautifully told.

[My two cents on the discussion regarding the female empowerment theme - I suggest we wait for more stories before discussing trends and underlying themes in any depth. I've spent too much time lately with statistics to make much out of three samples, and the only trend I care about right now is quality, however subjectively I may judge it. And from my perspective, 2 of the 3 stories so far have been FANTASTIC, with the remaining story still being a good listen.]
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« Reply #12 on: April 16, 2008, 07:28:50 AM »

This story had every single thing I love about fantasy in it, and I would be utterly shocked if it doesn't appear in some best-of somewhere.  (I don't remember the intro; maybe it has.)  It was beautifully illustrated, as Thaurismunths said; not too heavy on the details, but the words themselves painted the pictures without being overtly full of exposition.

The ending confused me slightly -- not the climax, where Tsi Sha basically punched his own ticket, but where Li Chi ran off into the dream world.  I'd like to know what happened when she got out of there... or if she did.  I can't remember the exact quote, but someone once said that the world in which you hold your reader is ephemeral, that the characters have lives to get back to after you're done with them, and a good story lets them do that and makes you wonder what's outside the covers of the book.  (I'm paraphrasing.)

If I had a gripe, it was that certain words were repeated too close together -- "turned" and especially "sighed".  Maybe I'm sensitized to notice these things because I write as part of my job; I don't know.  But I did notice it.

The reading was very good.

(The following is my opinion, and not based in fact.)

To briefly address the female-empowerment thing -- in a story like this, that takes place when this one does, in the culture in which it's set, the way Li Chi rebelled against society fit into the story without difficulty.  In Western culture, we are (I think) overly sensitized to the appearance of themes that empower those who were, for whatever reason, not empowered in the past.  At this point in the 21st century, those who were never unpowered (non-empowered?) are getting worn out on the empowerment themes.  Because it was not done overtly, IMO, I didn't notice it in the story.  As for the previous one (fear of dragons), that was less a story about empowerment and more a story about a girl who's tired of seeing girls sacrificed to a dragon and doesn't want to live in fear.  If anything, she's overcoming fear, not oppression.

I just deleted a massive paragraph with an example of sensitization to trends that run counter to one's own beliefs because it was a major tangent, and if a mod starts a thread about that to split off from this one, I will participate.

Anyway.

As a rule, I have no problem with strong female characters so long as they don't draw attention to the fact that they're strong female characters in an out-of-character fashion.  Li Chi was strong within her character, and that's why I didn't really see this as an empowerment story.

Enough rambling.

My final review:

"More, please."
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« Reply #13 on: April 16, 2008, 07:31:00 AM »

Quote
it's stories concentrating on a woman struggling against an oppressive male dominated society that's been overdone recently.

I think this—or the appearance of it-- is going to be a given with more or less traditional fantasy with a female main character.  Those traditional medieval cultures weren't much to write home about in terms of allowing women latitude for heroic deeds. Those "women struggling against an oppressive male dominated society" stories might have been written with an explicitly feminist theme in mind—or they might have been adventure stories and the author wanted to use female main characters.  There are a lot of female readers who kind of like heroic female characters.

I also think it's worth considering just what makes a story tick.  You want conflict, you want something for your main character to overcome.  Anytime you have a female character overcoming obstacles to achieve her goal, it's going to look a lot like Fiery Horse.  (Or, you know, if it's done right.  Cause Fiery Horse is a great story.)  Any time you've got a woman overcoming obstacles, it's going to read, from a certain angle, as explicitly feminist.

Consider Fiery Horse in particular.  She's actually succeeded with the help of her father.  She's not rebelling against her father, he's her ally the whole time.  She scores no points against the society that exposes baby girls because their horoscopes aren't right.  She manages to avoid footbinding—because of her father.  The thing she's fighting is a monster that will kill her and absorb her, and she kills it by following the dictates of her male-dominated culture:  agreeing to a marriage and outwardly submitting.

This isn't actually a story about sticking it to the patriarchy.  This is a story that has a woman protagonist.  The author has used the things that follow from that to her advantage—we all want Li Chi to avoid having her feet bound, that increases our sympathy for her.  The exposure of Fire Horse girls sets up the situation nicely.  The author has done an excellent job with her materials.

The author is clearly working from some assumptions—women are capable of being smart, strong, and heroic, for one—that have some political ramifications, in the sense of "all stories are political."  But look closer at this one.

Let's consider Fear of Dragons a moment.  That's not a "sticking it to the patriarchy" story either.  It's not boys who were sacrificed to dragons in the "knight saves maiden from dragon" template.  The author wants to play with that template—letting the "sacrifice" be heroic is a good way to do that.  And that story is more about the way governments and religions use fear to manipulate people.  The genders of the characters come straight from the original stories.  You could easily make the main character a boy.  Everyone would blink and say, "But it's girls who…"  But the story wouldn't be substantially different.  The biggest hurdle would be the virginity test, but hell, it's fantasy, there'd be a way around that.

Heroic, spunky, strong women who achieve their goals against all odds are not automatically "struggling against an oppressive male dominated society."

Rachel is right about the slush pile dynamics, by the way.  Ajames is absolutely one hundred percent right about statistics—three is just way too small a sample. And I also know that when Rachel emailed me about Fiery Horse and said "Do you like this story?  I think it's excellent" the gender of the narrator was not an issue.  It hasn't been, of any of the stories she's said she wants to buy.  Usually what she says is something like, "Wow, I love this!"
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Rachel Swirsky
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« Reply #14 on: April 16, 2008, 08:36:53 AM »

Quote
She is an outspoken feminist, and this story has another strong female lead (yes, Steve chose the first one but, from the outside perspective, you set the order).

It went second because it had a dragon in it.

Personally, I'm not fond of the story "For Fear of Dragons." I agree with those who say the believability is strained, it draws far too heavily on cliche, and the political agenda is awkwardly heavy-handed (although, for the record, I think the political agenda is anti-establishment in general, not anti-Iraq or anti-men). I was given the option of rejecting the story and sending it to be run in Escape Pod, but even though the story's not my cup of prose-form tea, I opted to keep it for PodCastle. I wanted to be very light-handed with turning stories away because while I dont always agree with Steve's taste, he's clearly an awesome editor. In the end, I only rejected two stories from PodCastle and sent them back to Escape Pod (both had female heroines and could be construed as female empowering). 

So, I kept this piece. It went early in the line-up because A) it's traditional fantasy, B) Steve picked it, and C) it had a dragon in it. Had the story come into my slush raw, I would have rejected it.

That's not to say anything negative toward Steve or Carrie Vaughn or anyone else who liked it. I just don't particularly. It's a story that split the audience, more or less, the same way it split me and Steve. I just want to be clear about my taste, and how it does or doesn't interact with my politics -- a story about a plucky heroine or spirited girl or what not is emphatically not enough to win me over.

By the by, I crunched some numbers last night, and looking at what we have in stock, we have, depending on what slice of stories you look at (scheduled or not, etc) somewhere between 43 and 55% stories written by and narrated men (oddly, the numbers for narration and writing are dead even, even though we have plenty of men writing as women, and women writing as men, and so on). As a point of contrast, Steve says last time he crunched numbers, only 30% of Escape Pod stories were written by women, and Ann tells me that only two of his last sixteen pieces had female narrators. Again, that's not meant as nasty or upset toward Steve at all; I'm just pointing out that PodCastle's numbers are closer to equal, and so it's going to be hard to convince me we're doing something wrong with our gender skew, since I haven't seen people saying the same of Escape Pod.

Anyhoo, I'm going to drop out of this thread. Friday's piece is female-written and male-narrated, and basically, IMO, awesome. (If it's about anything civil rights related, I suppose it's about ogre empowerment.) We're moving into our "fairy tale" phase for the next three weeks, and this has tended to be a subgenre dominated by women's voices -- although we are running a two male-written ones (Jeremiah Tolbert's "The Girl with the Sun in Her Head" and Gord Sellar's "Pahwahke"). On the other side, we'll be looking at modern folktales -- M. K. Hobson's "Hotel Astarte" (which I'm pretty sure Mary mentioned is nominated for some big award this year), and Ben Rosenbaum's "The Ant King." Both are available online, if you like to see text versions before your audio:

http://www.demimonde.com/SFWA/astarte.html
http://www.benjaminrosenbaum.com/biblio.html

I do appreciate the compliments in the thread, and that these critiques are offered in a spirit of helpfulness and desire to see PodCastle rockin'. But I've had my say, and it's probably best for y'all to be able to discuss without me. You can catch me in private message or at the podcastle email addresses.

See you Friday for "Giant!"
« Last Edit: April 16, 2008, 09:20:55 AM by Rachel Swirsky » Logged
birdless
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« Reply #15 on: April 16, 2008, 10:27:46 AM »

This has been my favorite of the three PC stories so far, and one of my favorites overall. It was beautifully illustrated by the author. I wasn't expecting to like it a whole lot, just because the small bit of Asian fantasy I've been exposed to usually ends tragically. On the other hand, it has all been beautiful, and this was no exception. I was very impressed how the author achieved such rich characterization of her cast in such a short piece. All of the characters felt very real to me.

I didn't give a lot of thought to the "politics" of this story, but I thought Thaur's comment contrasting this story to Mulan was very insightful (as well as that whole line of thought that was echoed by other posters, too). I think, even though I didn't realize it while listening to it, this treatment actually enhanced my enjoyment of the story.

The one moment that kind of jarred me out of the story for a bit was the father's dream of his daughter's glistening skin as she emerged from the bath... that's just a little weird. Tongue I hope it wasn't just gratuitous sensuality, but I'd rather think it was that than to follow the other direction those wonderings lead to. But, if it was gratuitous... well, this story just seemed above that.

And I have to admit that I noticed that the three stories so far have had female lead characters. It didn't bug me, but I did notice it, and I felt fairly certain it was just coincidence. But Rachel shamed me in correctly pointing out that if it had been three male lead characters, I wouldn't have thought twice about it. I guess an argument could be made that the demographic for SF/F is largely male, thus female lead roles stand out more starkly in contrast, but I'm not interested in trying to make that argument.

Anyway, great choice and very well read!

<edit>
Oh, one other thing:
It is very, very difficult to find good high fantasy and sword and sorcery stories. Most of what we see in slush are purple prosed Tolkein rip-offs.
I'm not sure what "purple-prosed" means, but if the Tolkien rip-offs are nevertheless good stories, I'd still like to hear them. But by "rip-offs," do you mean more or less the type of world they are set in (not an issue for me), or that a hobbit an elf finds this ring sword that needs to be destroyed before Sauron the Master of Darkness can get his hands on it (yeah, a bit of an issue).
« Last Edit: April 16, 2008, 10:38:36 AM by birdless » Logged
eytanz
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« Reply #16 on: April 16, 2008, 10:47:06 AM »

The one moment that kind of jarred me out of the story for a bit was the father's dream of his daughter's glistening skin as she emerged from the bath... that's just a little weird. Tongue I hope it wasn't just gratuitous sensuality, but I'd rather think it was that than to follow the other direction those wonderings lead to. But, if it was gratuitous... well, this story just seemed above that.

It wasn't gratuitous at all, and was meant to be uncomfortable. The serpent - who was sexually attracted to the girl - was making her father dream of her in an inappropriate manner, which is partially why he realized something was up. This follows the narrative path quite well, as the serpent's influence on her life grows more and more negative.
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Ocicat
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« Reply #17 on: April 16, 2008, 11:24:59 AM »

The one moment that kind of jarred me out of the story for a bit was the father's dream of his daughter's glistening skin as she emerged from the bath... that's just a little weird. Tongue I hope it wasn't just gratuitous sensuality, but I'd rather think it was that than to follow the other direction those wonderings lead to. But, if it was gratuitous... well, this story just seemed above that.

It wasn't gratuitous at all, and was meant to be uncomfortable. The serpent - who was sexually attracted to the girl - was making her father dream of her in an inappropriate manner, which is partially why he realized something was up. This follows the narrative path quite well, as the serpent's influence on her life grows more and more negative.

Agreed, I thought that was a great character moment, actually - both for the father and the serpent.  Thats when the father realizes that these dreams aren't his - they can't be, he doesn't think of his daughter that way.  And it's when we readers know that the serpent *does* think of his daughter that way (if only because he ate her suitor).  So that moment sets up the serpent's downfall from two different angles.
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birdless
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« Reply #18 on: April 16, 2008, 11:28:21 AM »

The one moment that kind of jarred me out of the story for a bit was the father's dream of his daughter's glistening skin as she emerged from the bath... that's just a little weird. Tongue I hope it wasn't just gratuitous sensuality, but I'd rather think it was that than to follow the other direction those wonderings lead to. But, if it was gratuitous... well, this story just seemed above that.

It wasn't gratuitous at all, and was meant to be uncomfortable. The serpent - who was sexually attracted to the girl - was making her father dream of her in an inappropriate manner, which is partially why he realized something was up. This follows the narrative path quite well, as the serpent's influence on her life grows more and more negative.
OOooohh.... yeah, that makes perfect sense... how did I miss that?!? Thanks for clearing that up.
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« Reply #19 on: April 16, 2008, 11:38:39 AM »

<edit>
Oh, one other thing:
It is very, very difficult to find good high fantasy and sword and sorcery stories. Most of what we see in slush are purple prosed Tolkein rip-offs.
I'm not sure what "purple-prosed" means, but if the Tolkien rip-offs are nevertheless good stories, I'd still like to hear them. But by "rip-offs," do you mean more or less the type of world they are set in (not an issue for me), or that a hobbit an elf finds this ring sword that needs to be destroyed before Sauron the Master of Darkness can get his hands on it (yeah, a bit of an issue).

Purple prose is a term for when someone is dragging out the thesaurus on every word to make their story seem mellifluous, dulcet and well-inscribed. Another example would be someone who uses every word but said (announced, informed, declared, articulated, uttered, surmised, posited, etc.). Pretty uniformly they get really annoying, really quick. I'm sure that if they're good at their heart she's sending them back to the writer with a note about it, and asking them to resubmit after a rewrite.
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« Reply #20 on: April 16, 2008, 11:45:52 AM »

Damn, that was a great story. One of the best that I've heard in the PseudoEscapePodCastleVerse. Touching upon many interesting themes, based on a very interesting historical and social setting, beautifully constructed and a kick-ass heroine.



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Cool story, bro!


« Reply #21 on: April 16, 2008, 11:47:22 AM »


It is very, very difficult to find good high fantasy and sword and sorcery stories. Most of what we see in slush are purple prosed Tolkein rip-offs.
I'm not sure what "purple-prosed" means, but if the Tolkien rip-offs are nevertheless good stories, I'd still like to hear them. But by "rip-offs," do you mean more or less the type of world they are set in (not an issue for me), or that a hobbit an elf finds this ring sword that needs to be destroyed before Sauron the Master of Darkness can get his hands on it (yeah, a bit of an issue).

Do we use the term "EFP" here?
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« Reply #22 on: April 16, 2008, 11:48:39 AM »

My 2 Eurocents on the feminism issue (which clearly beat your American cents, since the Euro stands at about 1.6 $):
I didn't think that either "Come Lady, Death" (which I loved) or "For Fear of Dragons" (which I didn't like) are about feminism or female empowerment at all. Imho, the first doesn't have a political or social message at all and the second is anti-religion or anti-establishment.
This story definitely has a component female empowerment , but I'd argue that it is not at the core of the story. It is only the reason why she strikes a deal with the snake demon. After that the story is about her conflict with the EVIL MONSTERtm which I don't read as feminist or political at all.     
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« Reply #23 on: April 16, 2008, 11:53:10 AM »

Oh and before I forget, the self-deprecating humor in the outro made me laugh out loud. Gooooo Rachel!
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« Reply #24 on: April 16, 2008, 12:07:20 PM »

Do we use the term "EFP" here?

Explosively Formed Penetrator? Not usually. I prefer the naturally formed ones myself.
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Cool story, bro!


« Reply #25 on: April 16, 2008, 12:16:21 PM »

Do we use the term "EFP" here?

Explosively Formed Penetrator? Not usually. I prefer the naturally formed ones myself.

I mean Extruded Fantasy Product.  Like Eragon for example.
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« Reply #26 on: April 16, 2008, 12:17:37 PM »

Just wanted to throw in my thoughts on this one. This is my first post on an episode so please forgive me if my skills at putting my thoughts on paper hard to follow.

I loved this story. I have always had a fondness for asian folktales and this story had the same feel. The idea of winning through submission is a common theme. I thought this was hinted at and revealed very well through her dealings with the courtasans. She gave the serpent everything he wanted and he choked on his own desires. Very nice.

I see what several people had mean by there being a "female empowerment theme" but I think it's really too early in PodCastle's life to say if it will continue.

Thank you for a good tale, well told.
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« Reply #27 on: April 16, 2008, 12:35:15 PM »

Just wanted to throw in my thoughts on this one. This is my first post on an episode so please forgive me if my skills at putting my thoughts on paper hard to follow.

I have no idea how you do with paper, but you get your point across with electrons.


Edit: fixed typo
« Last Edit: April 16, 2008, 02:01:26 PM by Russell Nash » Logged
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« Reply #28 on: April 16, 2008, 12:41:15 PM »

It is very, very difficult to find good high fantasy and sword and sorcery stories. Most of what we see in slush are purple prosed Tolkein rip-offs.
I'm not sure what "purple-prosed" means, but if the Tolkien rip-offs are nevertheless good stories, I'd still like to hear them. But by "rip-offs," do you mean more or less the type of world they are set in (not an issue for me), or that a hobbit an elf finds this ring sword that needs to be destroyed before Sauron the Master of Darkness can get his hands on it (yeah, a bit of an issue).

I believe it was Elmore Leonard (I could be wrong) who recently posted on a blog or something about how the only word you need to tag dialogue is "said", and that you should either use that or nothing at all.  Since I read that last year, I have been nigh-obsessive about using "said" unless the character was indeed yelling, shouting, screaming, whispering, and sometimes I still go with said and instead describe the person's voice.

The biggest recent offender of purple-prose-ism, in my mind, is JK Rowling, culminating in a scene in "Order of the Phoenix" where Ron, upset, "ejaculated" his words.  I about peed myself in hilarity.

Interestingly, this morning I just watched episode 1x03 of "Californication", and this phrase was used.  Go fig.
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« Reply #29 on: April 16, 2008, 01:53:40 PM »

The serpent - who was sexually attracted to the girl - was making her father dream of her in an inappropriate manner...

well said. even more accurately, it was the part of the serpent that was once her suitor.


i don't want to distract from the story but don't want to leave the overriding podcastle discussion either. it's continued in fantasy women.
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« Reply #30 on: April 16, 2008, 01:59:07 PM »

Just wanted to throw in my thoughts on this one. This is my first post on an episode so please forgive me if my skills at putting my thoughts on paper hard to follow.

I have no idea how you do with paper, but your get your point across with electrons.
Cheesy yaaay! i was going to say something to that effect.

fantasy women sounds dirty
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« Reply #31 on: April 16, 2008, 02:07:14 PM »

The serpent - who was sexually attracted to the girl - was making her father dream of her in an inappropriate manner...

well said. even more accurately, it was the part of the serpent that was once her suitor.

I don't think so. The serpent's attraction to the girl was pretty sexual even before he ate the suitor (indeed, he ate the suitor out of jealousy). And the suitor was a nice, gentle guy.
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« Reply #32 on: April 16, 2008, 03:00:34 PM »

i seem to remember a passage where the serpent found himself unsettled about new feelings after he had after consuming the suitor. there was something about the movement of her body when she ran.

and i resent the implication that a nice guy doesn't notice a woman's skin =p
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« Reply #33 on: April 17, 2008, 05:32:51 AM »

The ending confused me slightly -- not the climax, where Tsi Sha basically punched his own ticket, but where Li Chi ran off into the dream world.  I'd like to know what happened when she got out of there... or if she did.  I can't remember the exact quote, but someone once said that the world in which you hold your reader is ephemeral, that the characters have lives to get back to after you're done with them, and a good story lets them do that and makes you wonder what's outside the covers of the book.  (I'm paraphrasing.)

The ending definitely left me with questions, too. After wondering a bit about what happened next, I thought perhaps it was better to end the story this way - we know Li Chi is free to run, and that's the main thing.
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« Reply #34 on: April 17, 2008, 06:26:59 AM »

The ending confused me slightly -- not the climax, where Tsi Sha basically punched his own ticket, but where Li Chi ran off into the dream world.  I'd like to know what happened when she got out of there... or if she did.  I can't remember the exact quote, but someone once said that the world in which you hold your reader is ephemeral, that the characters have lives to get back to after you're done with them, and a good story lets them do that and makes you wonder what's outside the covers of the book.  (I'm paraphrasing.)

The ending definitely left me with questions, too. After wondering a bit about what happened next, I thought perhaps it was better to end the story this way - we know Li Chi is free to run, and that's the main thing.

If she's left running in this world that was inside the spirit snake, how long can that world last?  If she doesn't get back to the real world, isn't it over for her or isn't she at least all alone?
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« Reply #35 on: April 17, 2008, 06:36:14 AM »

The ending confused me slightly -- not the climax, where Tsi Sha basically punched his own ticket, but where Li Chi ran off into the dream world.  I'd like to know what happened when she got out of there... or if she did.  I can't remember the exact quote, but someone once said that the world in which you hold your reader is ephemeral, that the characters have lives to get back to after you're done with them, and a good story lets them do that and makes you wonder what's outside the covers of the book.  (I'm paraphrasing.)

The ending definitely left me with questions, too. After wondering a bit about what happened next, I thought perhaps it was better to end the story this way - we know Li Chi is free to run, and that's the main thing.

If she's left running in this world that was inside the spirit snake, how long can that world last?  If she doesn't get back to the real world, isn't it over for her or isn't she at least all alone?

My interpretation of the ending was that she was no longer within the snake, but she was still asleep and dreaming. I think it was meant to show that from now on her dreams are going to be happy. She will presumably wake up in the morning, but her real life will never be perfect - as an adult, she can no longer run freely, she will unlikely find a man who would make her happy, and so forth. But without the serpent, her spirit is now totally free whenever she dreams.
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« Reply #36 on: April 17, 2008, 10:32:52 AM »

The ending does seem a bit incongruous, but the line before last, "... the whole of the dreamlands lay before her ..." left me feeling that since she had defeated the dreamstalker she's somehow inherited the "dreamlands" over which he had reigned. Although, mostly, the point was probably just that she is now, free from her deal with the serpent, able to run to her heart's content.
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« Reply #37 on: April 17, 2008, 09:32:32 PM »

Always great discussion before I get here Wink

Ok, I only have one word for this story:

Beautiful.
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« Reply #38 on: April 18, 2008, 05:35:28 AM »

The ending does seem a bit incongruous, but the line before last, "... the whole of the dreamlands lay before her ..." left me feeling that since she had defeated the dreamstalker she's somehow inherited the "dreamlands" over which he had reigned. Although, mostly, the point was probably just that she is now, free from her deal with the serpent, able to run to her heart's content.
That's very much how I took the ending.
She destroyed the dreamstalker at his root, and now if she doesn't become the new dreamstalker then she at least has the powers to visit other peoples' dreams.

Oh and before I forget, the self-deprecating humor in the outro made me laugh out loud. Gooooo Rachel!
Totally overlooked, but absolutely right.
Great intros and outros.
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« Reply #39 on: April 18, 2008, 07:00:36 AM »

Brilliant story; thank you for "running" it.  Wink


As for the female empowerment theme, this story is a great example of doing it right.  The story is not "about" female empowerment - it is about the individual being true to their nature. 

Tsi Sha symbolized the male tendency to treat his conquests as prey - note that it wasn't about sex until he took human form - and while I got the impression that he didn't need to devour spirits in order to appreciate them, he felt he had to or risk having them "get away". 

You might argue (as Tsi Sha would argue) that it was "his nature" to devour them, but in fact, devouring his prey was an act of cowardice.  If he had been willing to risk losing Li Chi by sparing her (and not trying to dominate her), he would not have been destroyed.  They might have had a "happy ever after" ending!  (Not that we want THAT in a fantasy podcast! Wink )

And while a few of you claim to have seen the end coming, I wasn't sure until the "consummation" that we were going there.  Until that point, Tsi Sha could have decided to let Li Chi go, and spent her lifetime "enjoying her spirit"; after devouring Po Ta, he might have realized the wisdom of that approach.  I recognize a bit of Po Ta in myself, and my wife (who is a dragon, fwiw) certainly has a spirit that defies domination.  If I tried to dominate her (as many have suggested I should do over the years) we would NOT get along, and we would not be as happy as we are.

It is this sense of balance that appeals to me in Amy Tan's books, as well (though her stories are far darker than this one was).
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Thaurismunths
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« Reply #40 on: April 18, 2008, 09:27:59 AM »

As for the female empowerment theme, this story is a great example of doing it right.  The story is not "about" female empowerment - it is about the individual being true to their nature. 

Tsi Sha symbolized the male tendency to treat his conquests as prey - note that it wasn't about sex until he took human form - and while I got the impression that he didn't need to devour spirits in order to appreciate them, he felt he had to or risk having them "get away".
That's an interesting view.
My take was slightly different; I interpreted Tsi Sha as a 'typical' man who wanted to control all things, the more powerful (spicy of spirit) the better, in vain attempt to fill a void in himself (the stone in the center) that could not be filled through external means. If you remember, all the souls and their cacophony could not breach the demon's root, it was deafeningly quite in there.

For what it's worth Tsi Sha could have been a mortal warlord who wanted Li Chi as his bride, and if she didn't consent then her family/village would be destroyed. In the end she submitted, he made himself vulnerable, and she killed him, freeing both herself and the world in general from his tyranny.
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« Reply #41 on: April 18, 2008, 04:30:39 PM »


Consider Fiery Horse in particular.  She's actually succeeded with the help of her father.  She's not rebelling against her father, he's her ally the whole time.  She scores no points against the society that exposes baby girls because their horoscopes aren't right.  She manages to avoid footbinding—because of her father.  The thing she's fighting is a monster that will kill her and absorb her, and she kills it by following the dictates of her male-dominated culture:  agreeing to a marriage and outwardly submitting.



Perhaps it's because I'm a father of a feisty girl, but I loved this aspect of the story.  It's so refreshing to see fathers (and mothers) who love their children.  I understand why we see it the other way often, and I'm okay with that, too.   But stories like this one and the EP Death by Flaming Marshmallow get extra points from me. 

Great story.  I couldn't stop listening to it.  And the outro was one of the funniest I think I've heard.
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« Reply #42 on: April 18, 2008, 07:09:13 PM »

My take was slightly different; I interpreted Tsi Sha as a 'typical' man who wanted to control all things, the more powerful (spicy of spirit) the better, in vain attempt to fill a void in himself (the stone in the center) that could not be filled through external means. If you remember, all the souls and their cacophony could not breach the demon's root, it was deafeningly quite in there.



Ah!!  That's the line I missed while pulling into my driveway!!!

(The sign says "30mph" but the traffic sees "30mach".)
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« Reply #43 on: April 19, 2008, 07:37:20 AM »

Very well done story; great reader.

Just a small quibble, an intro that mentions the story "still makes someone cry every time they read it" was almost a show-stopper for me. That bothers me because the story was certainly worth the listen. I was worried it was going to be maudlin.

And a comment on the "empowerment theme":
a) So what if there were a theme? I am looking for good stories. If they have a theme, a moral, or whatever, I'm happy to play along. Call them chocolate flavored vitamins (or poison). As Master Li said - whether it is medicine or poison depends on whether you are the person or the disease.
« Last Edit: April 19, 2008, 08:22:58 PM by JoeFitz » Logged
coldwater
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« Reply #44 on: April 19, 2008, 09:37:07 AM »

Hello everyone,
For starters, I want to thank Steve Heely and all of the staff at EscapePod, Pseudopod, and Podcastle.  They have all enriched my life greatly.  Many an evening for me and my family have been filled and wonderfully entertained by the fantastic stories on Escape Pod.  OK, enough praise for the casts...

I really enjoyed Run of the Fiery Horse.  Having dabbled in Vietnamese astrology which is apparently quite similar I could follow the explanations quite easily.  One of the reviews here mentioned how richly illustrated the story was.  Well worded review!  I wholeheartedly agree.  I could actually see the snake in my mind!  Was it the story or the storyteller...  Who cares!  what an experience!

Thank you for a wonderful story that I can't wait to share with my wife.

Love, Chris 


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CammoBlammo
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« Reply #45 on: April 20, 2008, 04:55:34 AM »

A few thoughts:

First, this is one of the best stories I've heard on my iPod, period. I listened to it on my morning walk yesterday, and I got so engrossed I nearly tripped over a kangaroo. I don't know where they fit into Chinese astrology, but I do know they don't like collisions with humans.

Second, I haven't picked up on any of the sexual politics others have in the EPFVerse (?) of late. I take this as a good thing, because it means I really do accept the place of women in my society.

Third, I too wondered where this story might go. I remember early in the story the serpent called the dreamworld his dominion --- I assumed Li Chi was now ruler there, but she could only reach it in her own dreams. An interesting thought for a sequel occurs to me --- is it possible she is pregnant with the serpent's child?

Roll on Episode 4...
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gelee
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« Reply #46 on: April 22, 2008, 10:01:29 AM »

A good story, but not great.  The narration was a bit florid, but I guess that's appropriate for the "Fairy Tale" style.  Sure, the ending was obvious, but it's a fairy tale.  You're supposed to see it coming.
I'm a bit dissappointed to hear that we're in for a run of three "Fairy Tales" in a row.  They're OK, but get old in a hurry.
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« Reply #47 on: April 22, 2008, 07:10:32 PM »


As a sometime storyteller, this is the sort of thing I love -- a throughly modern tale built entirely from traditional parts.

It's a difficult trick -- it's so much easier to slip into irony, or juxtaposition of ancient and modern, or easy humor.  All those things can work, but the sheer craftsmanship of maintaining the fairy-tale world view and ancient culture while still telling a story modern readers find highly engaging is a beautiful thing to behold.  The prose equivalent, I think, of some of those steampunk gadgets that are so popular right now. 

So for the story: Bravo, good job, let's hear more!!

FWIW, my interpretation of the end was the she inherited the worlds and power of Tsi Sha, though she will presumably exercise it in a more benevolent manner. 

I also thought the narrator was well-matched to the story, and did a wonderful interpretation -- I particularly liked the voice rendering of Tsi Sha.

The only part of the episode I didn't like was the fan introduction.  For me, it was like hearing a toast at the wedding of someone you don't know very well -- you realize that there was something very meaningful there for them, but it just doesn't carry over. 

If you're going to add material to the intro/outro, I'd like to see author comments.  One of the things I like about buying anthologies of previously-published stories is that they usually add comments from the author about where they got the idea, how it fits into the larger scheme of their work, details of their life at the time, etc. that sort of thing would interest me, but a relatively spare intro/outro may be the best choice. Length does get to be a problem, at least for me.
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« Reply #48 on: April 23, 2008, 04:49:38 PM »

Amazing! When I first read the little blurb in iTunes, I thought it was just going to be another campy riff on Asian mythology with some horoscopes thrown in.

I listened to it on the bus on the way to school--only got about halfway, and was made to suffer through 6 periods before I could finish. Wow. I'm still thinking about it, and wishing I could read/listen to more like it.

Quote
Contains sensuality, serpentine twists, and a darting tongue that can taste your dreams.

Very accurate description Smiley

More please!
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« Reply #49 on: April 23, 2008, 11:25:34 PM »

I was completely surprised that it didn't end tragically. Tempest said " It still has the ability to make me cry" in the intro, and the story was based on a Chinese legend, so I fully expected the heroine ( I won't attempt to spell her name ) to die.
I'm mostly kidding, but I'm glad she didn't.
 Smiley
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« Reply #50 on: April 30, 2008, 02:35:17 PM »

Thankyou for a wonderful story full of wonderful imagery and well developed characters brought to life by great narration.
My favourite episode so far(yes I know there have only been 5).
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Roney
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« Reply #51 on: April 30, 2008, 04:18:49 PM »

The only part of the episode I didn't like was the fan introduction.  For me, it was like hearing a toast at the wedding of someone you don't know very well -- you realize that there was something very meaningful there for them, but it just doesn't carry over.

If you're going to add material to the intro/outro, I'd like to see author comments.  One of the things I like about buying anthologies of previously-published stories is that they usually add comments from the author about where they got the idea, how it fits into the larger scheme of their work, details of their life at the time, etc. that sort of thing would interest me, but a relatively spare intro/outro may be the best choice. Length does get to be a problem, at least for me.

I agree with everything Windup said, but I want to second this.  Forewords aren't a problem in print because the reader can skip past them and return to them later if they're interested.  I strongly prefer an afterword in audio: even when I trust the podcast not to include any spoilers, a foreword is X minutes of chat that won't really mean anything to me until I've heard the story.  An afterword can be stopped if I wasn't interested in the story, paused if I want to think about it some more myself before continuing, or played if I know I want to hear some reaction.

So I'd prefer extra comment at the end, and I'd prefer it to be something really worth listening to.  Author comment should be the gold standard, insightful analysis is silver and a distant bronze is general praise.

Of course the risk is defusing the forum comment by saying all the clever stuff in the podcast.

I loved the story, by the way.  And the telling.
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« Reply #52 on: May 01, 2008, 06:39:55 AM »

The paragraph or so that HMM gave us on Fiery Horse when we asked (we always ask) is actually included in the introduction.

--R
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« Reply #53 on: June 20, 2008, 07:38:15 AM »

Interesting story. Is it just me or was the main character very luck to get away with her plan? It didn't seem likely and then 'with one might leap' she was free...not so sold on the ending but a nice ride.
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« Reply #54 on: June 23, 2008, 02:17:18 PM »

I was completely surprised that it didn't end tragically. Tempest said " It still has the ability to make me cry" in the intro, and the story was based on a Chinese legend, so I fully expected the heroine ( I won't attempt to spell her name ) to die.
I'm mostly kidding, but I'm glad she didn't.
 Smiley

I was expecting a very sad ending as well.  Most chinese legends (like Irish stories) have either sad endings, or at least not the happy fairytale-endings.
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« Reply #55 on: November 13, 2009, 01:11:35 PM »

This story was alright.  I don't want to reopen the whole can of worms of whether this was feminist or not, but it did seem a tad message-heavy for my tastes.

The main reason I couldn't really get into the story is not really the author's fault, but my disbelief in astrology, particularly astrology that is so coarse-grained (classifying people by the year of their birth as opposed to the individual day).  That would mean that everybody born in 1981 would have the same personality traits as me, which would be half of my senior class in high school, which wasn't the case at all.  Classifying by date I can at least believe in somewhat because I don't know many people with the same birthday as me.  I did go check out to see what my birth year is classified as, and I'm a metal rooster, in case anyone cares to know.  Cheesy

Two things that are terrible to me were the foot-binding (which I'd heard of), and the killing of girls born in a particular year (which I hadn't heard of).
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--David Steffen
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