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Author Topic: PC008: The Osteomancer’s Son  (Read 27422 times)
Heradel
Bill Peters, EP Assistant
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« on: May 20, 2008, 07:22:20 AM »

PC008: The Osteomancer’s Son

By Greg van Eekhout
Read by Ben Phillips (of Pseudopod)
Introduction by Ann Leckie
First appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction

“What’s that?” I ask.

His smile reveals several gold teeth. “Come from dragon turtle. You see giant dragon turtle wash up in San Diego? You see that on news?”

“I’m not really up on current events.” Especially not as regurgitated by state-controlled news organizations.

He nods enthusiastically and edges more powder into the envelope. “This come from San Diego dragon turtle. Wife’s younger brother, he lifeguard. He scrape some turtle shell before Hierarch’s men confiscate whole carcass.”

“What’s it for?” I ask, indicating the powder-filled envelope.

“All sorts of stuff. Rheumatism, kidney stones, migraine, epilepsy, bedroom problems … All sorts.”

“No, thanks,” I say as I try to shoulder my way back into the crowd.

“Get you girls,” he calls after me. “Make you animal! Guaranteed!”

Dragon turtle can’t do any of those things, of course. Not that it’s genuine turtle he’s selling. I figure it for flour and sulfur, with maybe the tiniest pinch of rhinoceros horn thrown in. You can’t even put a street value on the genuine stuff these days.

I know. I’ve experienced the genuine stuff. It’s in my bones.


Rated R. Contains yellowed bones and violence against children.


Listen to this week's Pod Castle!


« Last Edit: May 20, 2008, 08:51:28 AM by Rachel Swirsky » Logged

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Sylvan
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« Reply #1 on: May 20, 2008, 09:18:38 AM »

Now this is what I consider to be a great story!  I was afraid I was being too negative in recent posts on these forums, especially after I missed the deeper symbolism of "The Ant King: A California Fairy Tale".  No fears!  This time, I can relate my unabashed love of the PodCastle story...

"The Osteomancer's Son" felt like the love-child of Niel Gaiman and Jim Butcher:  I really felt myself carried along with the flow into the dark sides of this magical world where the arcane was frequently disturbing and deeply personal.  The color of the bones, the depth of the aromas, and the description of the feelings the osteomancer's endured with their magic were the pulse of the story.  But if the adjectives were the pulse, the pacing was the heartbeat and the depth of the characters was the skeleton.

The relationships between the osteomancer's son, his father, his mother, his daughter, and the larger community of the occult were what drew me into this tale.  I could identify with the character not because I crack bones for their spiritual power but because he had real emotional ties and bindings with these people.  His emotions were real and that pulled me into the domain of osteomancy more than any spells or enchantments could have.

The story was straight-forward and gradual; with tiny elements unfolding piece by piece.  I found myself worried about Miranda until the very end.  Was she alive?  Was she dead?  What would happen to her?  She was off-camera for 99% of the tale and, yet, I cared about her through the main character's actions.

If I were asked to find a flaw with this remarkable story, I think it would be that the final confrontation with the Heirarch resolved itself too quickly with more of a display of brute force than the subtlety I think the main character was capable of.  Still, how else could you beat such a powerful enemy?  I got the impression that the Heirarch was well-prepared to defend himself against just about anything.  The only way past that is to strike suddenly and overwhelmingly in such a way as preparation is reduced to a negligable thing and sheer force can take the day.

In the end, this is my favorite PodCastle story, yet:  even moreso than the enchanting story, "Run of the Fiery Horse".

The resolution was powerful and I'm definitely looking forward to the author's future work in this amazing universe.  "The Osteomancer's Son" has truly captivated me!

Yours,
Sylvan (Dave)
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DKT
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« Reply #2 on: May 20, 2008, 10:46:39 AM »

I absolutely loved this story.  It grabbed me right away at the opening lines and wouldn't let me go.  I can't wait to see what Greg van Eekhout does with a novel set in the same world(!?!?)!  I'm hopeful Miranda plays a key part in it, because I imagine her experience (off-camera) in this story shapes her future.  There's so much room in this story for a novel to explore, what with the war in Southern California.

I thought the confrontation at the end was incredibly well written.  At pretty much the same time we got hit with terror, humor, horror, and then the thrill when Daniel beat the Hierarch. 

"If there's anything left of you, I'll drink you with Green Tea" had me cracking up.  Finally, it was great to hear Ben Phillips reading here.  He's one of my favorite readers of all the Escape Artists podcasts. 

Great story.  I'm looking forward to listening to it again!  I hope we get more of Greg van Eekhout's stories here soon.
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ajames
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« Reply #3 on: May 20, 2008, 07:03:12 PM »


Hot damn!!!!! THAT'S what I'm talking about!!!!!

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birdless
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« Reply #4 on: May 20, 2008, 11:45:49 PM »

Now that was an excellent story!!! I think I'm chalking this one up as my favorite EP/PC ever (still haven't become a regular listener to PP). This restored my faith in the short-story format. I love to get invested in the characters, but with very, very few exceptions lately, it just hasn't been happening for me, partly because the format is, well, so short. Extremely well written, great world building was implicit without me having to know every detail of this world, sympathetic and fleshed out character in Daniel, and the incredibly cool and inventive arcane art of osteomancy! And while the Heirarch may have been slightly cliché in the "charming but evil motif," it didn't bother me at all as it worked so well in this story.

And the reader was excellent!
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Darwinist
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« Reply #5 on: May 21, 2008, 08:34:09 AM »

Really cool story and well read by Ben.  It had an underlying creepiness and held my attention the whole time.  The intro seemed too long to me.  Easily my favorite Pod Castle story.   
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gelee
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« Reply #6 on: May 21, 2008, 10:04:03 AM »

Great story!  Nicely complicated, but not confusing.  Multiple levels of conflict.  The characters have understandable and believeable motives, and react consistently to the things that happen to them.  I think Sylvan's remarks about the protag's personal relationships were right on target.  I got a great impression of depth from the setting, and that seems to be the case since Greg has more material in this universe.  I'll definatley keep an eye out for it in print.  Great reading from Ben, as always.  Yay!
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Biscuit
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« Reply #7 on: May 21, 2008, 05:03:18 PM »

Yup, great story. Great world building. Loved it.

On a little geek note, I was all "OMG, I did that!" when the MC talked about walking through the Farmers Market. Really resonated for a person living a world away from LA. BTW, I LOVED that market - it was a great day. I remember eating my very first gumbo there. And I'm rambling.
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« Reply #8 on: May 21, 2008, 05:07:55 PM »

I hate to make "me too" posts but...

Me too!

Great story. It has everything I need.
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crowsdream
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« Reply #9 on: May 21, 2008, 06:14:38 PM »

So far this has been the best story in PC. I was taken in by the exquisite attention to detail and world building. To me, science fiction and fantasy are about exploration. This story was the first one in the history in this podcast that left me wanting more. Although I really enjoyed Hotel Astarte, and Fear of Rain (it is always great to hear Mur's voice), I didn't feel like I could get lost in their respective worlds. Once they ended, their worlds ended for me, but TOS transported me in to a place worth exploring. I knew that there was more to this universe than the author was telling me, and I wanted unpack the mysteries within in. All good fiction, at least for me, has to have a good and solid sense of place. This tale did, and I enjoyed it immensely.

Also, the reader was very good, and his voice prefect for the story. 
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eytanz
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« Reply #10 on: May 22, 2008, 02:24:57 AM »

I enjoyed it, though not to the overwhelming degree that some of the other posters here have. While the writing and Ben's reading were both excellent, and the story really enjoyable, it suffered a bit from hollywood logic, especially at the final confrontation. A small-time, powerless guy who one brush with power in his childhood facing the biggest, baddest wizard around. The Heirarch never stood a chance. And why did he totally ignore the army of ultra-powerful security people he had around and come to investigate a threat - which he believed to be entirely unimportant - himself (and without backup)? I guess he must have a lot of free time on his hands. Just because the story lampshades this, doesn't mean it's not stupid.

But again, a very enjoyable story. Just one that is vulnerable to some silly nitpicks.
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cuddlebug
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« Reply #11 on: May 22, 2008, 06:50:26 AM »

I'm sorry but, what??? I must be in the wrong film --- äh, sorry, podcast, but I don't get it, what made this story so GRRREEAAAAT? It left me absolutely cold. I think I'll have to check whether iTunes screwed up the feed or something, maybe I listened to something entirely different. I certainly seems like I got a different story altogether. I can't believe everyone loved it so much.

OK, the protag's relationships were not bad, but felt slightly superficial to me. Maybe I just didn't hear the depth, you all got from it, maybe I was distracted, who knows. And 'Magic in bones', nice but a bit *blah* and it didn't seem like the story brought a lot of new things to the genre. And I have to agree the conflict with and description of the Heirach seemed clichéd, as eytanz pointed out.

Ok, I will listen to it again. But seriously, I am still in shock at how our understanding of the story differs.


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« Reply #12 on: May 22, 2008, 07:23:35 AM »

  I love stories that take the normal world I recognize, and make some subtle alterations to the way it works. I normally refer to Turtledove's "Case of the Toxic Spelldump" when talking about this type of story, but the changes to reality were far more subtle in this story. Van Eekhout seems to be very good at this,  given my limited exposure to other stories of his (basically the ones that have been on EP)

  This story doesn't quite edge out "Ant King" as my favourite PC so far, but it is close. What keeps it from being the best is the sort of lack of depth of the characters. Everyone seems to fit into some basic stereotypes. The protagonist is the cool tough guy who doesn't let anyone in (which makes me wonder how he ended up with a kid really). There's his idealistic dad who seems more interested in his ideals than his son. There's the slimy criminal who blackmails the protagonist onto his quest, and of course there's the big bad guy who seems like he was cloned directly from Randall Flagg, and is killed way too easily for someone supposedly so powerful.

  Still, this was a great and engaging story that hinted at a large and well developed world. The imagery of federal agents with the Hierarch's symbol on their windbreakers instead of the name of their agency flooding into the house of someone using magic illegally came into my mind very easily, and while I didn't particularly like the main character, I was still rooting for him. Plus, this story had cannibalism, and that always gives a story a couple of extra points  Wink

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« Reply #13 on: May 22, 2008, 08:35:06 AM »

I liked it, but I found it a little hard to follow in places.  That may just be me.  Also, Ben Phillips's voice can sometimes be soporific when going through exposition.

I agree with Sylvan that the final confrontation was too fast, and I kept feeling like I missed something.

I was confused as to whether or not Daniel's daughter was still alive until the end, and I felt it was an unnecessary additional piece of tension.

I'd rather read the longer version that's going to come out in novel form, as was mentioned in the intro.

The intro was a little too long; too much background, I think.  Interesting, yes, but still long.
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birdless
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« Reply #14 on: May 22, 2008, 09:22:14 AM »

This story doesn't quite edge out "Ant King" as my favourite PC so far, but it is close. What keeps it from being the best is the sort of lack of depth of the characters. Everyone seems to fit into some basic stereotypes. The protagonist is the cool tough guy who doesn't let anyone in (which makes me wonder how he ended up with a kid really). There's his idealistic dad who seems more interested in his ideals than his son. There's the slimy criminal who blackmails the protagonist onto his quest, and of course there's the big bad guy who seems like he was cloned directly from Randall Flagg, and is killed way too easily for someone supposedly so powerful.
It's interesting to me how differently we viewed the characters in this story. I'm not saying either one of us are wrong, I just find it engaging that we saw them in such a different light. I didn't feel Daniel was a basic stereotype at all. While I found him somewhat confusing at first, the more I found out about his backstory, the more I understood him. I didn't view him as the "cool, tough guy," but scared and insecure and uncertain of his own power.  And while the dad was distracted by his passion for osteomancy, I felt he also desperately wanted to share that passion with Daniel because he loved him (that's an easy mistake for any dad). As far as the defeat of the Heirarch, my take on it was that a large part of the power Daniel got from his father's bones was because it was family, that the love he had for Daniel that was so deep it had actually penetrated his bones. Plus I felt that Daniel's father was a very powerful osteomancer, too. Powerful enough, at least, to make the Heirarch feel threatened. I agree that the antagonist was a bit clichéd, but it really didn't bother me at all. I preferred it to many of the other options the writer could have chosen.
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eytanz
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« Reply #15 on: May 22, 2008, 09:31:08 AM »

Plus I felt that Daniel's father was a very powerful osteomancer, too. Powerful enough, at least, to make the Heirarch feel threatened.

I thought so for most of the story, but was taken aback a bit when the Heirarch didn't recognize the father's name. I mean, if you have someone on your inner circle who turns traitor and becomes a rival powerful enough to threaten you, and order his execution, his name should be at least somewhat familiar after a decade or so. The way the Heirarch reacted, it sounded more like the father was below the Heirarch's personal attention.
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DKT
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« Reply #16 on: May 22, 2008, 11:01:06 AM »


I'd rather read the longer version that's going to come out in novel form, as was mentioned in the intro.

From what I'm understanding, the novel will be set in the same world and have some of the characters, but won't be a retelling of this story.  I think. 

Listener, why do you think not knowing whether Miranda was alive or dead added unnecessary tension?  I thought that was pretty smoothed, and was really relieved to find out she'd survived everything.
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DKT
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« Reply #17 on: May 22, 2008, 11:03:30 AM »

Plus I felt that Daniel's father was a very powerful osteomancer, too. Powerful enough, at least, to make the Heirarch feel threatened.

I thought so for most of the story, but was taken aback a bit when the Heirarch didn't recognize the father's name. I mean, if you have someone on your inner circle who turns traitor and becomes a rival powerful enough to threaten you, and order his execution, his name should be at least somewhat familiar after a decade or so. The way the Heirarch reacted, it sounded more like the father was below the Heirarch's personal attention.

Wait, I thought the Heirarch did know his name.  After Daniel told him who was in the bowling bag (heh, just typing that sentence made me grin), didn't the Heirarch make the connection, and ask, "So you're his son?"  Or something like that?
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eytanz
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« Reply #18 on: May 22, 2008, 12:03:47 PM »

Wait, I thought the Heirarch did know his name.  After Daniel told him who was in the bowling bag (heh, just typing that sentence made me grin), didn't the Heirarch make the connection, and ask, "So you're his son?"  Or something like that?

No, it was stated that the Heirarch just assumed this was about revenge - he figured out that there was a personal connection and guessed what it was, but that doesn't mean he remembered the father. It was strongly implied (by the "you got further than most") that the Heirarch had a lot of Osteomancers killed, and that this isn't the first time one of their children attempted to break in and steal their bones. I think the Heirarch was thinking "oh, another one of those", not "oh, I know who this is".
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Rain
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« Reply #19 on: May 22, 2008, 12:15:33 PM »

Great story, one of the best Podcastle has had
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