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Author Topic: PC005: The Ant King: A California Fairy Tale  (Read 41856 times)
Heradel
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« on: April 28, 2008, 11:18:55 PM »

PC005: The Ant King: A California Fairy Tale

By Benjamin Rosenbaum
Read by Stephen Eley.
Introduction by Rachel Swirsky.
First appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction (Prime Books).
Also by the Author: The Ant King: and Other Stories (Paperback)

Sheila split open and the air was filled with gumballs. Yellow gumballs. This was awful for Stan, just awful. He had loved Sheila for a long time, fought for her heart, believed in their love until finally she had come around. They were about to kiss for the first time and then this: yellow gumballs.

Stan went to a group to try to accept that Sheila was gone. It was a group for people whose unrequited love had ended in some kind of surrealist moment. There is a group for everything in California.


Rated PG. Contains surrealism, involuntary cohabitation, strong language and characters with unconventional genders. Also, an extremely large number of geek culture easter eggs.


Listen to this week's Pod Castle!
« Last Edit: April 29, 2008, 10:19:02 PM by Heradel » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: April 29, 2008, 10:12:05 AM »

This story, oddly, frustrated me.  It wasn't that I couldn't follow it; after a while, I just didn't care.  I found the narrative style too disjointed to develop any real empathy with the characters.  Everything was strange but the setting had enough in common with the real world that each unusual note ended up conflicting with the setting rather than contributing to it.  While the reader is expecting a strange storyscape right from the beginning -when the damsel in distress falls apart into a pile of gum balls- we are never offered any insight into the mechanisms or methods of this madness.  It is the opposite of "show don't tell":  we aren't told enough.  At the same time, as I'll note in a second, we are told, rather than shown, some very key elements.

A surreal story can be excellent but the fundamental need of the reader to connect with someone -anyone- is still there.

I'm afraid I have already forgotten the main character's name in the tale.  The only names I really recall are the very unique "Corpse" and "Vampire" along with the relatively grounded character "Monique".

Perhaps I also balked at what I saw to be an unhappy ending.  True, the protagonist still has -as we see- the things that truly make him happy but those items -numbers and corporate America- aren't things I can identify with loving.

At all.

I more identified with his professed love for the damsel-in-distress.

And here's the odd thing:  about his motivations, we are told, not shown.  The only thing we have shown to us about what drives him is his quest to save his girlfriend ... the one thing for which he fails to reap any reward or validation.  Everything else about what drives him is told to the reader.

This contrasts with the shown-not-told, surreal world elements which are maddeningly dropped into the narrative without elaboration.

Sure, this means I can construct my own interpretation and get a feel for the story on my own terms, but in much the same way that I don't go to the "modern" wing of an art museum very often, I find it lacking.  It is as if the creator of the piece wanted to let the audience decide what it means without realizing that -for any piece of artwork- the audience already does just that.  Adding purposefully vague and surreal elements, without giving justification or grounding for their presence, smacks of pretension or merely adding things for the sake of adding them.

In any event, I did not care for this story despite it's uniqueness.  There just wasn't anything I could latch onto or identify with in any meaningful way.

I look forward to future stories on this podcast, even those that are somewhat experimental or strange.

Yours,
Sylvan (Dave)
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Ramsey
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« Reply #2 on: April 29, 2008, 10:44:21 AM »

You give Ben Rosenbaum's web site as "benrosenbaum.com" in the podcast, but it's actually www.benjaminrosenbaum.com as it's correctly posted on your thread.
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Rachel Swirsky
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« Reply #3 on: April 29, 2008, 11:55:35 AM »

Presented without comment (but with great affection): http://thcnet.net/zork/index.php
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eytanz
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« Reply #4 on: April 29, 2008, 01:40:10 PM »

I'm undecided about this one. I found the characters and events hard to relate to. Not because of the surreal nature of some of the events; on the contrary - the surreal parts where the ones I most enjoyed. It was when things settled down and became more coherent that they lost momentum for me.
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cuddlebug
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« Reply #5 on: April 29, 2008, 02:52:25 PM »

Wow, how weird was that. I am not sure I LIKED it. I certainly laughed out loud at times and cringed at others. But I loved the attention given to details: names (Pringles, Corpse, Vampire), foods, textures, colours, especially colours – there were so many, yellow, grey, black, ochre, mahogany-coloured, pink … that ‘orange sofa’ stands out in my memory, I have to admit, …. oh, and not to forget the ‘Black Roach of Death’, hilarious. I really feel like drawing that one now, or photoshopping something, …. maybe that could be my avatar – a cuddly cockroach, I know one, actually.  Cheesy
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stePH
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Cool story, bro!


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« Reply #6 on: April 29, 2008, 02:59:13 PM »

Maybe I'm just easy to please, but I enjoyed this story.  It was fun.
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« Reply #7 on: April 29, 2008, 03:05:59 PM »

Wow, I've lived there.  Ya, I'm a Californian too, and lived in Silicon Valley during the .com boom (I'm up in Seattle now, where things are a tad more grounded).  And I was laughing out loud at all the references to the old text based computer games (Adventure/Zork) that were all through the second half the text.  So for me, the story was a lot of fun. 

The story was about the unreality of that place and time, and the even more unreal interests of the people there (be it computer games or putting NetBSD across several DNS servers).  Beyond that I'm not sure it was a great story, but it was certainly fun.
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Sylvan
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« Reply #8 on: April 29, 2008, 04:26:50 PM »

Wow, I've lived there.  Ya, I'm a Californian too, and lived in Silicon Valley during the .com boom (I'm up in Seattle now, where things are a tad more grounded).  And I was laughing out loud at all the references to the old text based computer games (Adventure/Zork) that were all through the second half the text.  So for me, the story was a lot of fun. 

The story was about the unreality of that place and time, and the even more unreal interests of the people there (be it computer games or putting NetBSD across several DNS servers).  Beyond that I'm not sure it was a great story, but it was certainly fun.

Perhaps we know each other.  I knew a guy named Shayne who lived in Silicon Valley at that time who also had an Ocylot character he played occasionally.  Ring any bells?

Yours,
Sylvan (Dave)
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« Reply #9 on: April 29, 2008, 05:57:56 PM »

Sorry no.  Also: not a furry.
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« Reply #10 on: April 29, 2008, 06:03:46 PM »

  I loved this story for a lot of the same reasons other people seemed to dislike it. It was a wonderful blend of dot-com era reality and utter and complete nonsense.

  I liked the main character, he reminded me a lot of Arthur Dent or Richard Mayhew. I enjoyed how he loved the most boring of things, was somewhat clueless, and was both totally incapable of coping with the oddness surrounding him while being totally willing to go along with it.

  I enjoyed the cartoonish quality of the other characters. Their lack of depth actually made this story more fun for me. Monique, Corpse, The Ant King, Pringles, and Vampire had no layers to them at all, they were exactly what they appeared to be. In most stories I would complain about such simplistic characters, but it really worked here.

  Being a gamer, I really enjoyed the video game references. I alwasy hated the mazes that Sierra put into their adventure games to make the last twenty minutes stretch out to an hour unless you had a walkthrough.

  I have enjoyed the more serious stories that have been done so far (some more than others), but I really hope we get more silliness like this every once in a while.
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stePH
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Cool story, bro!


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« Reply #11 on: April 29, 2008, 08:03:17 PM »

Wow, I've lived there.  Ya, I'm a Californian too, and lived in Silicon Valley during the .com boom (I'm up in Seattle now, where things are a tad more grounded).  And I was laughing out loud at all the references to the old text based computer games (Adventure/Zork) that were all through the second half the text.  So for me, the story was a lot of fun. 

The story was about the unreality of that place and time, and the even more unreal interests of the people there (be it computer games or putting NetBSD across several DNS servers).  Beyond that I'm not sure it was a great story, but it was certainly fun.

I didn't quite live there (Silicon Valley/SF Bay area), but lived in the equally surreal Los Angeles area from 1987 to 1998 (and prior to 1982, grew up in the San Fernando Valley).  And from '87 to about '90, hung on the fringes of the goth club scene in Hollywood, so used to know a few people like Corpse.  Smiley

Oh, and the bridge (run to the end and jump at the last second) seemed to me more like something out of Dragon's Lair than Zork.
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« Reply #12 on: April 29, 2008, 08:36:39 PM »

Oh, and the bridge (run to the end and jump at the last second) seemed to me more like something out of Dragon's Lair than Zork.

The bridge wasn't an Adventure Text game reference.  But the rod and the bird puzzle was directly from the game, as was the maze of little passages that all look alike (which you solve by dropping different objects), and several of the text descriptions.  That game was great - it's the grand-daddy of all fantasy games, and was on all the college mainframes in the 70's and early 80's (Zork was a direct descendant that more people have played, since it had PC versions).  The programmer lived in the Bay Area, of course.  My housemate used to game with him.  A lot of the Bay Area subcultures were rather small, and had CEOs and goths alike bumping about in them...

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« Reply #13 on: April 29, 2008, 10:00:31 PM »

The story was a delightful romp. It doesn't expect too much from the listener. Silliness for the sake of silliness: sometimes smiles are all you need from a story.

My suspension of disbelief ended when Vampire didn't know that you needed the cage to catch the little bird.

The old Adventure game came back to me just 2 weeks ago when someone prompted me to put something obscure as my IM status. I posted "plugh" for a time, but gave up after having to explain it too many times. What kind of geeks do I work with, anyway? I never did do well with Dungeon, but I had a lot of fun hacking the original FORTRAN code.
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Heradel
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« Reply #14 on: April 29, 2008, 10:14:58 PM »

Was it just me or did anyone else keep seeing Richmond Avenal as Vampire?

I did like the beginning, it felt like one of Phillip K. Dick's more trippy stories (I seem to remember one of them being about gumballs incidentally).  It took a little while for the plot threads to cohere, but I enjoyed it while everything was in it's pre-blended state. I'll need to listen to it again to really think about the fairy tale aspect, but I liked it.
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« Reply #15 on: April 30, 2008, 08:43:06 AM »

Presented without comment (but with great affection): http://thcnet.net/zork/index.php

Awesome! That really takes me back to the old BBS days!
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Rain
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« Reply #16 on: April 30, 2008, 09:01:17 AM »

More Weird Please. I loved this story, ever since China Miéville blew my mind with Perdido Street station, i have had an urge to read stories that are content to be interesting and new without defining themselves as fantasy or science fiction and this story did all that, a really fun ride and hopefully the first of many weird Podcastle stories
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deflective
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« Reply #17 on: April 30, 2008, 12:00:32 PM »

i enjoy an odd (erm, meaning occasional) story like this. big thumbs up for including it.

the story probably makes more sense once you know what the gumballs represent (like the suitcase in pulp fiction). maybe computer gaming? addictive, dissolves relationships, online companies built around them. it would fit in with the rest of story.

Was it just me or did anyone else keep seeing Richmond Avenal as Vampire?

he isn't all that tech savvy. as much as i pictured anyone, it was sort of a Seth Green in the italian job.
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Rachel Swirsky
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« Reply #18 on: April 30, 2008, 12:36:47 PM »

Quote
the story probably makes more sense once you know what the gumballs represent (like the suitcase in pulp fiction)

I don't have a particularly literal reading of this aspect of the story, and certainly my guess is only as good as anyone else's, but I assume they're pomegranate seeds.
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Heradel
Bill Peters, EP Assistant
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Part-Time Psychopomp.


« Reply #19 on: April 30, 2008, 12:48:57 PM »

Quote
the story probably makes more sense once you know what the gumballs represent (like the suitcase in pulp fiction)

I don't have a particularly literal reading of this aspect of the story, and certainly my guess is only as good as anyone else's, but I assume they're pomegranate seeds.

That's what I was thinking too (especially with the "don't look back" part), which I wasn't really expecting because Greek lit/mythos doesn't come up in my head when I think fairy tales.
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