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Author Topic: PC010: Magic in a Certain Slant of Light  (Read 29103 times)

Heradel

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on: June 03, 2008, 01:13:26 PM
PC010: Magic in a Certain Slant of Light

By Deborah Coates
Read by Cat Rambo
Introduction by Ann Leckie
First appeared in Strange Horizons (full text at link.)

“If you could wish for something magical, what would you wish for?” Jeff asks Nora as he enters the kitchen.

Jeff has been gone all day, helping a friend fix the plumbing in his basement. There’s no “Hello,” or “How was your day?” Just Jeff, in the doorway, asking about magic. “It can’t be about yourself,” he continues. “I mean, like making yourself immortal. Or about world peace. It has to be—”

“Talking dogs,” Nora says.

Jeff smiles in that way he has that seems to change his face. He’s wearing faded jeans and a sweatshirt that’s been washed so many times its cuffs are all unraveled; it’s a change from pin-striped suits and crisp white shirts. “You know, Dexter made a dog talk once and it didn’t work out like he figured it would. That dog was annoying.”

“Well, I don’t know how to tell you this”—Nora chops onions under running water, then transfers them to the frying pan on the stove—”but I don’t rely on Dexter’s Laboratory for my scientific knowledge.”

“Talking dogs are not scientific.”

“Yeah, magical.” Nora turns the heat up on the pan and looks through the cupboards for the spices that she needs. She swears that they’re never where she put them, no matter how often she returns them to their proper place. “That’s what we were talking about, right? Magic? You tell me, what would you wish for?”

“Zeppelins,” he says without hesitation.

“Uhm, zeppelins actually exist.”

He stands in the kitchen doorway, slouched against the frame, and she knows that he will leave her. There is something in the way he looks, a shadow in his eye, that wasn’t there yesterday or even this morning. And it almost kills her, like being stabbed right through the heart, because he’s the only one she ever really loved.

“Zeppelins,” he says, crossing to her and putting his arms around her waist from behind as she turns back to the stove, “are a collective figment of the imagination.”

“Zeppelins are totally possible. Plus, you can ride in one.”

He kisses the back of her neck and it feels like the soft brush of sun-warmed honey. “Bring me a zeppelin,” he says. His words murmur against her skin as he talks and she can feel his smile through the small hairs along the nape of her neck. “Then I’ll believe you.”


Rated PG. Contains zeppelins. Of a sort.


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Listener

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Reply #1 on: June 03, 2008, 01:29:37 PM
Just curious... why did it sound like Cat Rambo was recording this in her bathroom?  Or possibly the underpass where Harry saved Dudley from the Dementors?  There were parts that got too soft, parts that were too fast, and at least one audio artifact (I believe around the word "hammer").

As for the story... not what I was expecting, though once we got to the end, I understood the title.  I personally might have called it "Zeppelins and Talking Dogs", but then, I'm no good at titles. 

Sarah (the English Professor) was a tad too MarySue for me. 

I didn't like Nora at first, but once we got to know her as a professor, I started to warm up.  The whole Dr. No/Dr. Know thing was kind of cool.  Her magic was more Holmesian (I'm reading the complete works, so it's kind of influencing the way I think about other stories) -- Holmes could look at you and tell a LOT about what you did, where you lived, your monetary status, et al, and Nora, I think, takes it one step further.  Meteorologists can read patterns in the weather and tell you when/where storms will be to a certain degree of accuracy, and the really good meteorologists (ie: My Husband Was a Weatherman) can tell you even more.  I imagine Nora just could read the patterns in things -- hyper-observant -- which is magic, in a certain slant of light.

(See what I did there?  ;D )

Anyway, aside from the reading, I enjoyed the story for the most part, especially the grass/bottle zeppelin* and how Nora saw Jeff's pro bono case progressing.  That was an entire story in and of itself that I'm betting the author has already written in her head, even if she never puts fingers to keyboard.  But the dog on the table?  Neither Jeff nor Nora struck me as the kind of person who would let a dog jump up on a table.

* Due to the reading, I was really garbled on what she was doing out in the field at first, and didn't figure it out until she gave it to Jeff.

Not my favorite PC so far, but not bad.

(I'm sorry... I keep getting distracted by my coworker as he walks by -- he's got on an Aquafina-bottle-blue shirt, black slacks, and he's rocking the white belt and white loafers. *headshake*)

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Void Munashii

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Reply #2 on: June 03, 2008, 02:58:00 PM
Just curious... why did it sound like Cat Rambo was recording this in her bathroom?  Or possibly the underpass where Harry saved Dudley from the Dementors?

  The sound really made an impression on me as well, I thought that maybe she was recording in her bathtub, and that perhaps she had two mics, and was talking directly into the one that was not turned on. I was also getting this really high pitched tone through most of the story that was making my head hurt.

  Sound quality aside, I found the story to be enjoyable if not remarkable. It was a bittersweet story to me, showing Nora as the ultimate pessimist, she doesn't just think things will go badly, she knows they will. I liked her as a character, but I couldn't really care about any of the characters too much. Also, the ending felt a bit awkward, I like the bit about the dog and all, it just seemed a little awkward.

  This story did make me think of one thing as Nora was thinking about how Jeff was going to leave her. If there is one thing I have learned in my life, one truth I am certain of, it is that everyone leaves eventually.

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Chivalrybean

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Reply #3 on: June 04, 2008, 12:16:40 AM
It took me a while to like this one, but I did. At first I was disappointed that there wasn't zeppelins flying around, but I started to enjoy the story a lot around 20 minutes into the podcast. I was just hoping she would buy a toy zeppelin, build one, something. It took her thinking outside the box to solve her problem and she did it, and in the end I liked the characters a lot. they listened to each other and made their lives work together.

Took me a bit to like it and I still want a story with real zeppelins flying around doing neat stuff, but I can always go watch Castle in the Sky if I want.

I was also thinking a great ending for the story would have been the dog standing on the table when they were having an argument suddenly going "There ain't no ticks on me, there ain't no ticks on me! There may be bugs on some of your mugs, but their ain't no ticks on me!"

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hautdesert

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Reply #4 on: June 04, 2008, 12:39:57 AM



stePH

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Reply #5 on: June 04, 2008, 12:47:21 AM
I was kind of left wanting by the ending.  More than anything, I wonder whether her "knowing" that Jeff would leave her within the year was an immutable fact, or if it could possibly change based on something she might or might not do -- particularly since she provided him with his "zeppelin".

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Chivalrybean

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Reply #6 on: June 04, 2008, 01:09:16 AM

The Space Turtle - News that didn't happen, stories to entertain.


deflective

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Reply #7 on: June 04, 2008, 02:09:57 AM
despite the worst audio quality ever from escape artists i really enjoyed the story.

i particularly liked the way that the information constantly suggesting itself kept getting in the way of conversation. made me think that Cassandra may have been one of the worst conversationalists in history.



Rachel Swirsky

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Reply #8 on: June 04, 2008, 04:09:41 AM
Quote
despite the worst audio quality ever from escape artists

Unfortunately, we had some trouble with this one, as you've all correctly identified.

Steve ran this file through audio editing and came up with the version you hear. I tried to back up by giving it to Ben, who's produced some (IMO) very nice readings by Cat Rambo for Pseudopod. Unfortunately, by the time Ben threw up his hands in defeat, there wasn't enough time to get a new recording.

We'll try to make sure it doesn't happen again.



Chivalrybean

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Reply #9 on: June 04, 2008, 04:43:16 AM
Quote
despite the worst audio quality ever from escape artists

Unfortunately, we had some trouble with this one, as you've all correctly identified.

Steve ran this file through audio editing and came up with the version you hear. I tried to back up by giving it to Ben, who's produced some (IMO) very nice readings by Cat Rambo for Pseudopod. Unfortunately, by the time Ben threw up his hands in defeat, there wasn't enough time to get a new recording.

We'll try to make sure it doesn't happen again.

I noticed it right away, but it wasn't bad that it bugged me the whole episode, just for a minute or so.

The Space Turtle - News that didn't happen, stories to entertain.


Chivalrybean

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Reply #10 on: June 04, 2008, 04:45:59 AM
Can't forget this:

The Space Turtle - News that didn't happen, stories to entertain.


eytanz

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Reply #11 on: June 04, 2008, 08:58:26 AM
I really liked this story. Not really much to say about it beyond that. I think it edged out "Fiery Horse" as my second most favorite PC story ("Lady Death" still holds number one for me).

I was kind of left wanting by the ending.  More than anything, I wonder whether her "knowing" that Jeff would leave her within the year was an immutable fact, or if it could possibly change based on something she might or might not do -- particularly since she provided him with his "zeppelin".

I certainly got the impression from the ending that she stayed - the future with the hidden valley and the dog that doesn't bark seemed to be her new future, rather than something that would happen before he leaves.

Though actually the ending was my least favorite part as well. I think a more straightforward ending - or maybe a more carefully ambiguous one - would have worked better than the over-elaborate prediction at the end.
« Last Edit: June 04, 2008, 09:00:53 AM by eytanz »



Darwinist

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Reply #12 on: June 04, 2008, 05:41:03 PM
I liked this one.  I would've liked it much more if there would've been real zeppelins and talking dogs in it as I thought there would be when it started.   I guess I'll have to reread City for my talking dog fix.   Another Podcastle winner. 

For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.    -  Carl Sagan


ieDaddy

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Reply #13 on: June 04, 2008, 06:26:00 PM

I was kind of left wanting by the ending.  More than anything, I wonder whether her "knowing" that Jeff would leave her within the year was an immutable fact, or if it could possibly change based on something she might or might not do -- particularly since she provided him with his "zeppelin".

I certainly got the impression from the ending that she stayed - the future with the hidden valley and the dog that doesn't bark seemed to be her new future, rather than something that would happen before he leaves.

Ok, maybe I took the ending a bit differently, because from my point of view Jeff "left" to go discover the hidden valley where there wasn't any maps showing them.  I took it to mean it was a spin on "oracle of Delphi" proclamations that can be taken several ways.  i.e. "the enemy will be defeated" but they never say which enemy.  Jeff left, went somewhere that nobody had ever been, but he also came back.  Nora's sense of knowing seems to be somewhat time limited, she knows he's going to leave in a year, she knows people are going to blow up at someone else, or are necking in class or will write a story, but it doesn't seem to go much beyond that event.

This morning I left my wife.  Tonight I will go back.  I do this every day I go to work.

If I had only written that first statement, or if you could know certain things about me but only one or two specific things, it's easy to see why some people might jump to the wrong conclusion.



eytanz

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Reply #14 on: June 04, 2008, 08:01:19 PM
I don't think you can explain her initial premonition that way - it wasn't a prophecy with wording that can be reinterpreted - I think it was pretty clear that she had a sense of what he will do, not what she can say about what he will do. Plus, she had a clear sense that he will break her heart, which the ending seemed to contradict.



cuddlebug

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Reply #15 on: June 04, 2008, 08:55:35 PM
It took me some time to make up my mind about this story, …. don’t get me wrong, I knew right away that I LIKED it, but I had to figure out what that bitter “aftertaste” was.

Though it is just sooooo obvious, I really identified with Nora, so much so it almost scares me. She felt so real and familiar and so did the story itself, down to the setting, characterization, behaviors, feelings....

We all had our heart broken before, and the more we love the more it hurts, the more we struggle with it and the longer it takes us to get over it. But it is not just that, it is also that everything in the story felt so tangible to me (actually, I think that is the perfect word for it, tangible or maybe tactile?), even down to the ‘premonitions’. 

…… NO, I am not clairvoyant, but I am sure everyone had that feeling before that we just KNOW what is going to happen, and I don’t mean we have a hunch, no, we actually can feel it, nothing major, usually just small things, but still. That is what made we shiver a bit when I listened to the story, almost like Nora, when she felt Jeff’s smile on the hairs at the back of her neck. Wow, I’ll certainly remember that image.

Great story. Almost too REAL to be true.



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Reply #16 on: June 04, 2008, 09:59:52 PM
I liked this one.  I would've liked it much more if there would've been real zeppelins and talking dogs in it as I thought there would be when it started.   I guess I'll have to reread City for my talking dog fix.   Another Podcastle winner. 

Well, I had a zeppelin story up my sleeve, but I can't think of any talking dog stories, offhand. 

Now I'm going to be wondering all night if I know of any...

eta--Okay, not fantasy, and not talking dogs as such, but animal people--have you tried Cordwainer Smith?  I don't think he's available online, but you might be able to find him used at amazon, or at the library.
« Last Edit: June 04, 2008, 10:02:59 PM by hautdesert »



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Reply #17 on: June 04, 2008, 10:03:34 PM
I liked this one.  I would've liked it much more if there would've been real zeppelins and talking dogs in it as I thought there would be when it started.   I guess I'll have to reread City for my talking dog fix.   Another Podcastle winner. 

Well, I had a zeppelin story up my sleeve, but I can't think of any talking dog stories, offhand. 

Now I'm going to be wondering all night if I know of any...

"A Boy and His Dog" by Harlan Ellison.  :D

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hautdesert

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Reply #18 on: June 04, 2008, 10:41:59 PM
D'oh!  Of course!   :D



deflective

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Reply #19 on: June 04, 2008, 10:50:15 PM
I can't think of any talking dog stories, offhand. 

eta--Okay, not fantasy, and not talking dogs as such, but animal people

before the restrictions i was thinking of Gaspode and Barnabas. Gaspode's thoughts on the difference between a tame wolf and a wild dog were particularly poignant.

i'm sure there's an debate to be had whether or not a story about talking dogs is, by definition, fantasy.


from the story:
Quote
A memory six years gone flashes into Nora's head: her first postdoc in Finland. "Why would you want to go there?" her mother asked her nearly every time they talked on the telephone in the weeks before she left.

"For the lights," Nora told her.

"The lights? What lights? Are you insane?"

"I mean the research," Nora said.

"All right, then," said her mother.

Nora has been telling people she means the research ever since.

i was wondering if anyone had thoughts on the lights?

my first thought was the aurora but there's that whole angle about how your views & reality can change under a different light. then there's the precog side to Nora. were there rare / unusual lights that appeared in norway she may have anticipated?



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Reply #20 on: June 04, 2008, 10:54:40 PM
I liked this story I think O_o.  i'll have to listen again.


As for the ending.  I took it that she had trouble predicting and knowing it will happen events that she could change.  He would leave her.  She becomes paranoid about it and tried to find the fault.  I assumed from there it would be her self destructinf the relationship and her seeing they would break up was the cause of it...

I'm very glad that didn't happen.  +10 points there.

She began acting irrationally while he still cared about her.  This lead them to go down a different path than the one she looked down.  He still went away, only for a while though.  The universe goes on slightly better. 

Whatever gave that power maybe was trying to tell her she didn't always know everything.  Or if she acts upon it it may change the outsome.

ie if she learned lottery numbers, different ones would come out.  If she picked a horse, it wouldn't get past the start line due to an error. 

Interesting ideas.

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eytanz

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Reply #21 on: June 04, 2008, 10:57:57 PM
I think what really struck me about Nora was that she noticed everything about what was around her - including stuff normal people cannot - except actually what people were trying to say to her. I know people like that, who spend so much time listening to/for the subtext of what people are saying they forget they also need to listen to the actual text.



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Reply #22 on: June 05, 2008, 02:23:23 AM
I think what really struck me about Nora was that she noticed everything about what was around her - including stuff normal people cannot - except actually what people were trying to say to her. I know people like that, who spend so much time listening to/for the subtext of what people are saying they forget they also need to listen to the actual text.

Good observation, that.

I am having a hard time with this story. I want to like it, as there is a lot to like. Nora's character grew on me, I loved the premonitions (or whatever they are), the image of the soda bottle zeppelin, all great stuff as far as I am concerned.

And yet I am left with the impression that this story conveys a message that science is good for "knowing" certain things but misses the point of life, the magic of life if you will. In other words, science and magic are two separate paths, and science is the wrong path.

This is the message that Newton's prism destroyed the beauty of the rainbow. Nonsense, Newton's prism allowed him to appreciate the beauty even more. Science and magic aren't mutually exclusive, especially this magic "in a certain slant of light". Yet by the end of the story I no longer see a place for Nora's science.

However, that's just my interpretation, and it may not be the author's at all. Which is why I'm having a hard time with this one.



cuddlebug

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Reply #23 on: June 05, 2008, 08:49:17 AM
I think what really struck me about Nora was that she noticed everything about what was around her - including stuff normal people cannot - except actually what people were trying to say to her. I know people like that, who spend so much time listening to/for the subtext of what people are saying they forget they also need to listen to the actual text.

Good observation, that.

I am having a hard time with this story. I want to like it, as there is a lot to like. Nora's character grew on me, I loved the premonitions (or whatever they are), the image of the soda bottle zeppelin, all great stuff as far as I am concerned.

And yet I am left with the impression that this story conveys a message that science is good for "knowing" certain things but misses the point of life, the magic of life if you will. In other words, science and magic are two separate paths, and science is the wrong path.

This is the message that Newton's prism destroyed the beauty of the rainbow. Nonsense, Newton's prism allowed him to appreciate the beauty even more. Science and magic aren't mutually exclusive, especially this magic "in a certain slant of light". Yet by the end of the story I no longer see a place for Nora's science.

However, that's just my interpretation, and it may not be the author's at all. Which is why I'm having a hard time with this one.

Oh no, how can you say that. I thought we were in a SCIENCE Fiction forum !!! Science is sooooo magical, it all depends on what you do with it and how you use it to 'further' the magic, as it were.

And I don't see Nora's science as a barrier at all, in the beginning of the story it was, yes, because she interpreted everything around her using scientific knowledge alone to understand what was going on rather than instinct. Maybe her very keen perception was based on scientific observations, BECAUSE she had a hard time trusting people, and what they actually said to her. We know that people barely every say what they think and they usually hide their feelings, or we have been disappointed before and just don't know anymore what to believe and what not.

In any case, I admit she seemed too focused on all the wrong bits of information, but towards the end, we see how imaginative she is and how she can use the science to come up with 'magical' ideas. The zeppelin from a water bottle, that is so magical, but it also reminds me of what scientists do, use familiar ideas/objects to come up with something new, something original. I loved that about the story. I DO that all the time, actually. Try to CREATE something new based on something familiar.

Anyway, I think the Science in the story/character was incredibly important (and without Nora being a Scientist, the character development would not have worked at all). To me it seemed a very well-crafted turn of perspective to show how the Science in Nora's life changed and became something new, something that does not necessarily stop her from living her life but rather made her change her outlook a bit and turn things around. At least that is how I saw the ending. It left me rather hopeful, actually.



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Reply #24 on: June 05, 2008, 09:10:48 PM
Just want to say that I think this story is simply beautiful, and was beautifully narrated.  So much unspoken, so much implied.  Fiercely intelligent and deeply moving. Whatever 'fantasy' may be, this transcends such limitations of genre - this is literature.