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Author Topic: PC018: Illuminated Dragon  (Read 26311 times)
Heradel
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« on: July 29, 2008, 06:40:27 AM »

PC018: Illuminated Dragon

By Sarah Prineas
Read by Steve Anderson
First appeared in Strange Horizons (full text online.)

The neatly lettered sign hung askew. Shards of glass spilled out from the front window, and scraps of charred paper blew around the front door, which hung crookedly from one hinge. Rafe came closer and, shaking, peered into his shop.

Shredded papers lay everywhere, in drifts on the floor and the worktable. Any representation of human or animal, Rafe knew, had been hacked out and burnt; the hearth was choked with ash and half-charred pages. Across one wall was a splash of vivid vermilion. The other colors had been tipped onto the floor and ground underfoot. Rafe crept further in, shards of the broken window crunching underfoot. With trembling hands, Rafe opened the book.

The bestiary was missing from its wooden stand in the corner. Rafe fell to his knees, pushing tattered papers aside, searching for it. A shard of glass cut his hand, and he left bloody fingerprints on every page that he touched. At last he found the book underneath his worktable, and for a moment his heart leapt; it seemed to be unharmed. With trembling hands, Rafe opened the book. He looked at it for a long moment, then closed it and laid it gently on the floor.

Most of the destruction in the shop had been done by unsubtle thinkers, typical Men of Truth, all brutality and swagger and the knowledge that they were, absolutely and rationally, Right.

But someone else had done the book. Someone subtle, surgical. The pages were nearly untouched. Except that every illuminated picture, every dragon, pard, gryphon, or mermaid, had been carefully and neatly excised.

Rated G. Warning: contains mythical creatures such as dragons and mermaids. May be illegal in some jurisdictions.

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« Reply #1 on: July 29, 2008, 08:13:30 AM »

A pretty good reading, though I really don't like Steve Anderson's version of old men or females of any stripe.

I loved the idea... the world was just slightly off-kilter, just enough that we could imagine it being any generic fantasy-esque landscape without too much trouble, and then the author dropped in her little touches that made it unique.

This story lent itself to a lot of good titles throughout.  I wish I could remember them all, but I heard a bunch of nice ones.

I think the story would've been a better lady/tiger ending than "Erich Zann" or... oh, what was the other lady/tiger ending on Escape Artists recently? Damned if I can remember.  Anyway, when this happens:

Rafe dipped his finger into the blood that had puddled on the floor. Vermilion, almost, but congealing to a rustier red. He had repeated, as Neecer asked his questions, that there was no resistance. And there had not been. But maybe there would be.

Using his blood as paint, he began to sketch.


That would've been a really cool way to end the story.  Not that I'm unhappy with how it ended, necessarily.

There were parts of the story I didn't like -- most notably the way Rafe immediately KNEW Edward was the bad guy and the way he just sat and waited for him.  I felt like the rising action was on too steep a slope.  And I kind of knew what was coming from the moment Edward and Verity showed up.

Overall, though, I enjoyed it.
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« Reply #2 on: July 29, 2008, 03:10:27 PM »

  Wow, 1984 comes to fantasyland. As an aspiring (hack) writer, and story that deals with censorship strikes a chord with me, and this one was no exception. I liked the fact that with almost no effort at all, I was able to imagine this world (although my imagining may well be completely different than what the author intended).

  I don't know if it was intentional or not, but I saw a metaphor in this for the "battle" between science and religion. Of course I also saw some parallels to the holocaust in it as well.

  I would have liked to have seen more magic come into it sooner (maybe I missed something,  but I was a little surprised when he brought the butterfly to life). I also thought that Edward and Verity's appearance was a little too convenient as a way to get the story moving towards its conclusion faster, it would have been nice if that had come across a little more naturally.

Rafe dipped his finger into the blood that had puddled on the floor. Vermilion, almost, but congealing to a rustier red. He had repeated, as Neecer asked his questions, that there was no resistance. And there had not been. But maybe there would be.

Using his blood as paint, he began to sketch.


That would've been a really cool way to end the story.  Not that I'm unhappy with how it ended, necessarily.

  While this certainly would have been a dramatic ending, but I liked the image of the dragon busting through the tower wall. It still was somewhat uncertain (to me at least), but it had a sense of triumph to it.

  Of course if there were other people like Rafe in the world when logic started to take over, it seems like it would have been a good idea to use this ability to battle the rationals. What could people encumbered with logic and rationality do to fend off swarms of mythical creatures belching flames at them? It certainly would have been better than just letting the rationals pick off the fantastic one group at a time, which it what sounds like happened.
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« Reply #3 on: July 29, 2008, 05:49:08 PM »

Overall I was absolutly floored by this story. The reading was mostly just "okay" but the story shone through wonderfully so it's all good. The appearing butterfly/show of magic did feel sudden and almost unexpected. The ending was gorgous, I personally like it as is and though the painting a dragon in blood is an interesting side for an ending- a potentially dying man off for one last battle/ or chance to be awe inspiring was even better for me. The giving of his existing work to his semi-apprentice also struck a chord with me. The whole there's hope in the future angle. Overall this one's getting a solid thumbs up, not my new favorite, but a new and wonderful find thanks to the Escape artists team.
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« Reply #4 on: July 30, 2008, 09:03:46 AM »

Loved it so much I have to beg, where's the rest of the story?!?

+1 to Void's comments on both the 1984 reference as well as the holocaust.
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« Reply #5 on: July 30, 2008, 09:21:46 AM »

There were parts of the story I didn't like -- most notably the way Rafe immediately KNEW Edward was the bad guy and the way he just sat and waited for him.  I felt like the rising action was on too steep a slope.  And I kind of knew what was coming from the moment Edward and Verity showed up.

Actually, that's what I liked the best about the story - the fact that Rafe was entirely aware of what was going on, and knew that he couldn't fight it. I would have hated it if Rafe would have fallen for the deception, exactly because it was so transparent to me as a listener.

Quote
  Of course if there were other people like Rafe in the world when logic started to take over, it seems like it would have been a good idea to use this ability to battle the rationals. What could people encumbered with logic and rationality do to fend off swarms of mythical creatures belching flames at them? It certainly would have been better than just letting the rationals pick off the fantastic one group at a time, which it what sounds like happened.

I think the point was that magic was uncontrolable and unpredictable - not in the sense that it was dangerous, but in that most of the time, it generates useless results. And it was said that Rafe's power was to create small creatures, not big creatures. The blood-dragon was the exception. There's quite a lot of stuff people can do, wielding logic, rationality, and wooden clubs, to an army supported by butterflies and kittens.
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« Reply #6 on: July 30, 2008, 10:03:24 AM »

And it was said that Rafe's power was to create small creatures, not big creatures. The blood-dragon was the exception. There's quite a lot of stuff people can do, wielding logic, rationality, and wooden clubs, to an army supported by butterflies and kittens.
Well, it seems that Rafe could create any creature, at any size he could draw it. Trace out a pride of lions at double-size, or maybe a T-rex or two, and you could build a significant army. But making large-scale drawing like that is tricky; moreso if you have to do it in secret (those big, empty fields are off limits).

On the other hand, scorpions and spiders are small and easier to draw, and more effective than "butterflies and kittens". And now I'm wondering how hard it would be to draw Yersinia pestis...
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« Reply #7 on: July 30, 2008, 12:24:12 PM »

There's quite a lot of stuff people can do, wielding logic, rationality, and wooden clubs, to an army supported by butterflies and kittens.

  But that's the point, facing offf against a swarm of dragons with wooden clubs is like bringing a knife to a gunfight. We are not shown any real technology in this world (which is not to say it does not exist), so I would think that fighting off the fantastic with clubs, swords, and logic would be quite the trick, especially if your creatures are limited only by imagination. Imagine someone creating an army of hentai tentacle monsters....

  On second thought, don't. Ew.

 
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« Reply #8 on: July 30, 2008, 02:00:39 PM »

So very not impressed.  Calling the bad guys "the rationals" started me off on the wrong foot, and it just got worse.  Science vs. Magic/religion can be done well, but this was just... heavy handed and clumsy. 

I could go on, but I don't feel like ranting today.  And my thoughts on this piece pretty quickly devolve into rants...
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« Reply #9 on: July 30, 2008, 02:22:37 PM »

So very not impressed.  Calling the bad guys "the rationals" started me off on the wrong foot, and it just got worse.  Science vs. Magic/religion can be done well, but this was just... heavy handed and clumsy. 

I'm not trying to be contrdictory, but if the bad guys had been "the believers" and were using magic/religion to maintain a stranglehold on the populace, would you have objected to that.  Was it just the heavy-handedness that bugged you or the fact that "the rationals" were the bad guys.

In asking you, I am asking myself because I probably would have had a similar knee-jerk reaction to the story I just described, but I'm trying not to.  I think their is potential for any cause to become corrupt.
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« Reply #10 on: July 30, 2008, 02:49:49 PM »

So very not impressed.  Calling the bad guys "the rationals" started me off on the wrong foot, and it just got worse.  Science vs. Magic/religion can be done well, but this was just... heavy handed and clumsy.
They claimed to be rationalists, but I'm not sure that there's any evidence that they actually were, any more than the October Revolutionaries were communists, or Hitler was a socialist...
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« Reply #11 on: July 30, 2008, 03:44:12 PM »

Ya, I would have been annoyed if the Rationalists were the good guys.  Maybe more so, and in large part because of what wintermute points out: they are in no way rational.  This story is setting up a very false dichotomy.
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« Reply #12 on: July 30, 2008, 03:52:27 PM »

Ya, I would have been annoyed if the Rationalists were the good guys.  Maybe more so, and in large part because of what wintermute points out: they are in no way rational.  This story is setting up a very false dichotomy.

No, I don't think it is - I think you are reading too much into the names. The story is setting up a very real dichotomy between two kinds of people. One side uses magic and appreciates art. The other side abhors magic and art. The fact that the second type of people call themselves "men of truth" and "rationalist" doesn't mean that the story is a comment on people who would use these labels in the real world.

(Note that by "very real" I mean real in the story's world. It is an entirely non-existent dichotomy in our world, that's true. But you could object to Star Wars on the same principle, or any fantasy world where two sides are divided by a fictional philosophy).
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« Reply #13 on: July 30, 2008, 04:47:47 PM »

I think you are reading too much into the names. The story is setting up a very real dichotomy between two kinds of people. One side uses magic and appreciates art. The other side abhors magic and art. The fact that the second type of people call themselves "men of truth" and "rationalist" doesn't mean that the story is a comment on people who would use these labels in the real world.
I don't know if it was intentional or not, but I saw a metaphor in this for the "battle" between science and religion.

intentional or not, people will read it that way.

btw, i'm not sure that the story's rationalists were against all art or just fantastic representations.

So very not impressed.  Calling the bad guys "the rationals" started me off on the wrong foot, and it just got worse.  Science vs. Magic/religion can be done well, but this was just... heavy handed and clumsy.

I could go on, but I don't feel like ranting today.  And my thoughts on this piece pretty quickly devolve into rants...

you have more restraint than i do, i avoided posting since i would inevitably turn this direction. but since the can is already open...

the story does misrepresent society's rational/mystical conflict. it assumes that rationalism is against the ideas represented by mysticism rather than unsupportable beliefs in general. if it's objectively demonstrable that mythical creatures can be created and brought to life through a drawing and intonation then it's irrational to decide it's 'unreal'.

you'll probably find that rationalists would love to believe things like this but refuse to without evidence.


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« Reply #14 on: July 30, 2008, 06:01:49 PM »

I think you are reading too much into the names. The story is setting up a very real dichotomy between two kinds of people. One side uses magic and appreciates art. The other side abhors magic and art.

Sorry - no.  The "rationalist" side doesn't just dislike magic, they go around saying it's not real, and trying to convince everyone that it's not real, despite all evidence to the contrary. I think it's pretty clear than this allegorical conflict is the center of the story.

I'll grant that the image of the blood dragon was pretty inspiring.  But the story it was in service of - not so much.
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« Reply #15 on: July 30, 2008, 07:29:01 PM »

Sorry - no.  The "rationalist" side doesn't just dislike magic, they go around saying it's not real, and trying to convince everyone that it's not real, despite all evidence to the contrary. I think it's pretty clear than this allegorical conflict is the center of the story.

Actually, these "rationalists" do not even try to convince people of anything. They kill, burn and torture anyone they see as a reminder that magic is real.

I did not see a science/religion dichotomy but rather a conflict of religious dogma. Those who believe magic is real and those who do not (even in the face of empirical evidence). Ironically, this story names the group who denies reality "rationalists."   

Some religious leaders comments not withstanding, science is not about seeking out and destroying that which challenges, disproves and just baffles. Sadly that seems the bailiwick of organized religion.

Rather than the Holocaust, this story had echoes of the Inquisition and Salem witch trials.
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« Reply #16 on: July 30, 2008, 07:46:56 PM »

Rather than the Holocaust, this story had echoes of the Inquisition and Salem witch trials.

  The reason it made me think of the holocaust was Rafe's thought that the hand of the law would never fall on him, and how he kept his head down while those around him disappeared. It made me think of the Niemoller quote about keeping quiet while the Nazis came and took away one group after another. That's the only part that made me think about the holocaust.
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« Reply #17 on: July 30, 2008, 09:07:34 PM »

Quote
Sorry - no.  The "rationalist" side doesn't just dislike magic, they go around saying it's not real, and trying to convince everyone that it's not real, despite all evidence to the contrary. I think it's pretty clear than this allegorical conflict is the center of the story.

My take on this:

One side calls themselves rationalists, but denies reality and is willing to manipulate circumstances into creating the appearance of their reality. They believe there is no magic; they want to prove there is no magic; therefore, they kill and destroy magical creatures.

How one interprets the story will be inflected by whether one is inclined to see atheism or materialism as favoring dogma over reality. For a materialist, the resonance may come as JoeFitz indicates, by looking at the Spanish Inquisition where the church attempted to disprove heretical but true beliefs with the cleansing of blood. For someone religious, the analogy may look more like rationalists denying the evidence of spiritual beauty due to their a priori assumption of materialism.

It is entirely possible to read this story as a critique of religion, or as a critique of materialism. I happen to know which the author intended, having discussed it with her.
But setting that aside -- the core of the story is definitely anti-dogma. This applies to more than a debate about religion and science, since it also applies to any other dogmatic pursuit where presumption is favored over something demonstrably true.

That said: I did not buy this story for its politics, but for its imagery, its character, and because it had a cool dragon. That's not to say the politics aren't worth debating, of course.
« Last Edit: July 30, 2008, 09:15:13 PM by Rachel Swirsky » Logged
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« Reply #18 on: July 30, 2008, 10:18:04 PM »


I took the title of "Rationalist" as intended irony on the part of the author, since by the point we see them in the story, they're not using rational argument but rather naked force impose their views.  Even in our world, political labels often suggest the opposite of what the group using the label is actually doing. 

We don't know how they started, of course.  They may have begun as a minority dedicated to non-magical "reality" that felt oppressed in some sense by the magical, argued against it and eventually acquired the levers of power, at which point, things got ugly.   They made me think of Oliver Cromwell's "Roundheads" as much as anything else, though you can certainly point to many examples of movements that began in idealism of one sort or another and ended in thuggery.

I thought it was a great story, though it wasn't completely clear to me why he didn't draw a larger dragon earlier.  I really thought that was what he was going to do when he went to the shop to await the arrival of the Men of Truth.  Maybe it was just that he had to be in extremis before he had the audacity to take on such a large project -- though I wasn't clear if magical drain of creating the red dragon took a lot out of him, or if his weakness was caused by lack of blood.
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« Reply #19 on: July 30, 2008, 10:26:16 PM »

That said: I did not buy this story for its politics, but for its imagery, its character, and because it had a cool dragon.

And I'm so glad you did.  To me, this story was very inspiring.  It actually gave me the opportunity to define something about myself.  As Raif struggled to hide in the shadows, he could not stop doing what he loved.  He still drew pictures, collected and created illuminated manuscripts, and of course used his creative magic.  Even when all was taken and he was beat and thrown in prison.  When he was at the bottom, all he could think of to do was create.  And that is what saved him.

As I internalized this story I realized that I am not happy unless I am being creative, whether it is through my work, or writing, or helping my wife with the scrapbook, or putting together family videos.  Being creative is what makes me happy and what makes me me.  It was quite profound.

A good story can do that and it did for me with this one.  And besides, it did have a very cool blood red dragon!
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