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Author Topic: EP157: A Small Room in Koboldtown  (Read 12648 times)
Russell Nash
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« on: May 09, 2008, 06:09:29 AM »

EP157: A Small Room in Koboldtown

2008 Hugo Nominee!

By Michael Swanwick.
Read by Cheyenne Wright (of Arcane Times and Girl Genius).
First appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, April/May 2007.

That Winter, Will le Fey held down a job working for a haint politician named Salem Toussaint. Chiefly, his function was to run errands while looking conspicuously solid. He fetched tax forms for the alderman’s constituents, delivered stacks of documents to trollish functionaries, fixed L&I violations, presented boxes of candied John-the-Conqueror root to retiring secretaries, absent-mindedly dropped slim envelopes containing twenty-dollar bills on desks. When somebody important died, he brought a white goat to the back door of the Fane of Darkness to be sacrificed to the Nameless One. When somebody else’s son was drafted or went to prison, he hammered a nail in the nkisi nkonde that Toussaint kept in the office to ensure his safe return.

He canvassed voters in haint neighborhoods like Ginny Gall, Beluthahatchie, and Diddy-Wah-Diddy, where the bars were smoky, the music was good, and it was dangerous to smile at the whores. He negotiated the labyrinthine bureaucracies of City Hall. Not everything he did was strictly legal, but none of it was actually criminal. Salem Toussaint didn’t trust him enough for that.


Rated PG. Contains dark, seedy places and dark, seedy characters, only a few of them alive.


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eytanz
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« Reply #1 on: May 09, 2008, 07:21:04 AM »

I'll write proper feedback later (short version - liked it a lot, though more for the setting than the mystery itself), but I have a quick question - I must have missed something, because I didn't understand the line at the end about Will not having a driving license. Can anyone please explain?
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« Reply #2 on: May 09, 2008, 08:24:00 AM »

I'll write proper feedback later (short version - liked it a lot, though more for the setting than the mystery itself), but I have a quick question - I must have missed something, because I didn't understand the line at the end about Will not having a driving license. Can anyone please explain?

A reference to the cops saying if Toussaint wanted to drive, Will would bend over and take it, I believe.
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« Reply #3 on: May 09, 2008, 08:33:25 AM »

I hate to say this, but I think the story would've been a lot better if there had been fewer accents, or they hadn't been as authentic.  I've never been to New Orleans, and I started to get lost between Will and Ghostface.  For the first few minutes of Ghostface's figuring out how the crime happened, I thought that was Will.  Also, for a short while, the narrator used an accent to narrate, but the rest of the time he didn't.  I found myself getting continuously lost in the telling.  And finally, the narrator sped up (or the producer sped him up/cut him oddly) in at times, and I noticed that more than the story.

As for the story... I thought the ending was too easy, like Will just put all this stuff together and Encyclopedia Brown'd the entire mystery for us.  The denouement -- Touissant driving the limo and knowing everything already, that was great -- but the stuff before that felt too much like "I didn't feel like writing anymore, so I ended the story here."

A great world was built.  I feel bad that I missed most of it because of the reading.

But the idea of a supernatural New Orleans was pretty cool.
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Darwinist
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« Reply #4 on: May 09, 2008, 08:41:57 AM »

I originaly read this in Asimov's and thought the story was OK.  I liked the accents but towards the end had to think about who was talking.   Looking forward to a return to science fiction.   
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« Reply #5 on: May 09, 2008, 12:15:24 PM »

I really enjoyed this one.  I haven't read much of Swanwick's stuff before, but I'm really tempted to hunt down some more of it now.  I loved the world that was built and I thought the characters were interesting. 

I'm always mildly fascinated by procedural-type TV shows -- I'm not a huge fan of them, but if the story's good I can very easily get sucked in.  This episode could've been one of those types of shows, but I found it a lot more intriguing than most of what's actually on TV.

A couple of other things I find interesting:

1) That this piece, as much dark fantasy/horror as anything else, was not only nominated for a Hugo, but first appeared in Asimov's.  I didn't realize Asimov's published anything remotely like this.  Is it just because Swanwick is the author?  Either way, I might have to check out Asimov's again soon.

2) Are supernatural procedurals the new trend?  I haven't actually read Shadow Unit (although I did start to read the first episode) but I did listen to Memories of the Knacker's Yard on Pseudopod (which I actually enjoyed a lot more than this one.  Given that I really liked this one, that's saying something).  If they are the new trend, I really hope some TV network picks up a show, sometime. 

Anyway, really cool story.  I thought some of the dialogue was great, especially the way Cheyenne Wright delivered it.  It's not the kind of story we usually get here anymore, now with Pseudopod and Podcastle, so I'm very happy it got picked up for a Hugo. 
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eytanz
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« Reply #6 on: May 09, 2008, 12:19:32 PM »

I'll write proper feedback later (short version - liked it a lot, though more for the setting than the mystery itself), but I have a quick question - I must have missed something, because I didn't understand the line at the end about Will not having a driving license. Can anyone please explain?

A reference to the cops saying if Toussaint wanted to drive, Will would bend over and take it, I believe.

Oh, you mean that the line meant that Toussaint won't be able to drive. I interpreted the line as meaning that Will will not be allowed to drive because he somehow lost his license, which was the source of my confusion.

Thanks!
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qwints
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« Reply #7 on: May 09, 2008, 12:53:57 PM »

I liked it, but agree that the accents were distracting.
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« Reply #8 on: May 09, 2008, 01:00:02 PM »

I did enjoy the story. It was a nicely written mystery, and I managed to keep up with the plot well enough, but I continually felt like I was a step or two behind on the setting. I continually found myself asking questions like "Wait, what's a haint?" "Huh? Toussaint is a ghost, too?" "A Bogart? Like Humphrey? Or do they mean a boggan?"

To be fair, more exposition would have probably ruined the flow, but I too often found myself too confused to concentrate on the story properly.

Story: 4/5.

As others have said, the narrator seems to have been more concerned with getting the accents authentic than making it easy to distinguish between the speakers. It got confusing in places, but other than that, it was well read.

Narration: 2/5.
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eytanz
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« Reply #9 on: May 09, 2008, 01:07:22 PM »

My opinion is much like the general consensus so far -  I loved the world building, and I found the level of detail wonderful. I think it did an excellent job of making a fantasy world alive and exciting in my mind.

The story itself was a pretty pedestrian mystery. I figured it out as soon as the hand-washing was first mentioned, and just needed some of the details fleshed in. The characters were also pretty humdrum. But the setting more than made up for that.

I can't decide whether I liked the narration or not. It added a lot to the story, but it added a barrier to comprehension early on. If it was consistent, then I would have easily forgiven that, but because the accents weren't attached to characters but rather shifted semi-randomly, I feel that it was just a bit too much.
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DaveUnique
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« Reply #10 on: May 09, 2008, 02:13:48 PM »

I must have missed something, because I didn't understand the line at the end about Will not having a driving license

I thought it was emphasis that Toussaint already knew everything.  Toussaint offered to drive because he already knew Will could not even though Will never mentioned his inability to drive.

It was an interesting story and I found it enjoyable for many of the reasons already mentioned.  I had to listen twice to understand what was going on.  I am not sure I would have bothered listening a second time without the rich narration.
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cuddlebug
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« Reply #11 on: May 09, 2008, 04:28:59 PM »

This one left me absolutely cold and I have to wonder how it ended up being a Hugo nominee, or did I miss something?

I was straining to pay attention form the very beginning, I listened to it twice now and still feel nothing but regret at having waisted all this time on it. Sorry, but it is a matter of taste and this storry just did not taste good at all, had to spit it back out unfortunately.

Maybe I was just not in the right frame of mind, and did not concentrate properly on it (the fact that my reaction to the new PP episode is not very positive either, might be used as evidence for that). The reading did not help either, instead of drawing me in and helping me identify characters ..., it seemed to alienate me and I have to say, there were so many 'slurred' (for lack of a better word) passages, on purpose obviously, but it made actually understanding what was said very difficult at times.

Sorry, but this is a big *meh* from me today. (Think I have to work on my frame of mind, if so many other listeners liked the story.)
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goatkeeper
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« Reply #12 on: May 09, 2008, 05:52:32 PM »

I think I've personally overdone enough story narrations  by now to be able to occasionally recognize one here and there.  At least for me, I  had a very hard time focusing on the story because of the narration here.
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Nobilis
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« Reply #13 on: May 09, 2008, 07:13:57 PM »

The story was marvelous.  It left me hoping that there are other stories with these characters.

The narration could have been better.  I, too, had trouble keeping the characters straight.
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williamjamesw
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« Reply #14 on: May 09, 2008, 09:40:08 PM »

I think there have been others set in the same apparent universe over the last couple of years in the same magazine.  Huh Or else Haints are some old mythological creature that has suddenly started appearing lately in fiction by multiple authors.

I usually get half way through a story before I realize that it's a continuation/sequel to a story from months ago (unless it's spelled out in an intro).
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deflective
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« Reply #15 on: May 09, 2008, 11:36:14 PM »

i did have trouble figuring out who was speaking near the beginning but, to be fair, that was a tough section of story to narrate. there were long blocks of back and forth dialog with few if any flags to indicate who was speaking. reads ok on the page but tough to listen to. if it had come later i may have had time to connect characters and their accents.

as previously mentioned, sacrificing authenticity for distinction would have cleared up confusion.

my take on the story follows general opinion, setting was the best part.
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Chivalrybean
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« Reply #16 on: May 10, 2008, 12:03:40 AM »

I was pretty much lost until they started talking about the heart getting torn out in the apartment. Before that point I had had a really hard time tracking the narrator and what he was saying. I caught on eventually though, even if I wasn't sure who was who for most of the story, voice wise and part wise.

I think what confused me the most in addition to the narration at the beginning was getting so many new ideas at once in a short time and not being able to see the words, I wasn't sure what was going on. I thought a haint was a person's name for a while, I knew they put fennel on the doors as a ward, but I wasn't able to catch why at first. Not until they started talking about the crime, about the heart and who could or could not have removed it, did I start piecing things together. At this point, the narration seemed to get better as well.

Once the story was over and done, I found that the idea of the story was great, reminded me a bit of Pseudopod 067: Memories of the Knacker’s Yard, a cop story in a world where ghosts walk the streets. Er, well, float, or something. If you aren't a regular Pseudopod listener not only should you check out that story if you liked the idea of this one, you might get more sleep than me {;0p If the narration was clearer, I might have had less trouble with the story, but I liked it anyways when it was over and I had at least enough of the picture to see what it was.
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« Reply #17 on: May 10, 2008, 12:38:25 AM »

Although I thought audio quality was a little lacking, I really enjoyed this episode. Like most others have said, I found the world building to be the richest part of the story. The story itself was okay, but the setting and characters more than made up for what it lacked in plot quality.

Being from the South, I had no trouble understanding the dialect and accent, but the audio quality was pretty poor. I wished I knew the terminology in that field better to be able to describe precisely what was wrong with it, but all I can say is I know bad audio when i hear it. I submit that those who had a difficult time understanding the narrator was more due to that than the accent. At any rate, he did a great job of it, which is saying a lot, as getting it to sound authentic isn't easy. I admit that I listened to it twice, too, though. The first time I was half asleep, but I think I retained enough that making the differentiation between character voices wasn't too difficult, even though they did sound too similar (or at least Will and Ghostface's did). But I loved the narrator's voice for Toussaint.

Was New Orleans mentioned specifically? Because i felt this took place there, too, though I don't remember any specific reference to that fact. If it is, then therein would lie my one complaint: it doesn't get very cold in New Orleans in the winter. It's relative, I suppose, but until the story mentioned that it was winter, I had it pictured in the summer, so that took me out of the story for a few seconds.

And for those of you confused by the term "haint," it's an old Southern word for ghost (originating from "haunt"). You don't hear it used much nowadays. But the term is not original to any fictional universe.
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milo
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« Reply #18 on: May 10, 2008, 12:55:50 PM »

I found the narration of this story to be both frustrating to understand and delightful to listen to, if such is possible. I enjoyed the use of accents very much, and the different voices really helped to bring the various characters to life. That said, the narrator spoke far to quickly for me to catch everything. I found myself rewinding frequently, and sometimes I still could not understand the dialog or descriptions. This was also due in part to some jargon used by the author that I found unfamiliar. I would appeal to future narrators to take this into account, and to slow down when they are using heavy accents or reading jargon-laced text.

As far as the story itself goes, I found it enjoyable enough, although not really my cup of tea. I prefer stories more on the “science” side of science fiction, rather than the fantastic or the macabre. Of the three Hugo-nominated stories presented so far, Elizabeth Bear’s story is by far the best, in my opinion.
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deflective
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« Reply #19 on: May 10, 2008, 07:16:44 PM »

I interpreted the line as meaning that Will will not be allowed to drive because he somehow lost his license, which was the source of my confusion.

you had it right the first time.

relevant parts from the text:
Quote
They waited for the elevator, though the stairs were handy and it would have been faster to walk. Salem Toussaint would no more have climbed those stairs than he would have driven his own car. He made sure you understood what a big mahoff he was before he slapped you on the back and gave your nice horse a sugar cube.

...

Will carried the cardboard tray out to where the police stood stamping their feet to keep warm. They accepted the gift with small nods. The oldest of the lot said, “Working for the spook, are you?”

“Oh, Salem’s okay.”

The cop grinned on one side of his oak-brown face. “You’re what the micks would call his Hound of Hoolan. You know what that is?”

“No, sir.”

“It means that if he says he wants to drive, you bend over and bark.”

...

Will and the alderman strolled back to the limousine, parked two blocks away. As they walked, Will worried how he was going to explain to his boss that he couldn’t chauffeur because he didn’t have a license.
...
“You done good, boy,” Salem Toussaint said. “I’m proud of you.”
...
“You knew,” Will said. “You knew all the time.”
...
“The police liked hearing the story from a solid boy better than they would from me. I’m not quite a buffoon in their eyes, but I’m something close to it. My power has to be respected, and my office too. It would make folks nervous if they had to take me seriously as well.”

“Alderman, I…”

“Hush up, boy. I know everything you’re about to say.” The alderman opened a door for Will. “Climb in the back. I’ll drive.”

so the pompous image of Toussaint's is consciously created. he is capable and willing to drive for himself but it puts people at ease to be able to put him into the 'pampered politician' box.

similarly, Will is publicly seen as a Toussaint's lackey but he's actually a valued agent (or is becoming a valued agent).
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