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Author Topic: PC020: Cup and Table  (Read 32176 times)
Lionman
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« on: August 13, 2008, 12:08:32 PM »

PC020: Cup and Table

By Tim Pratt
Read by Stephen Eley (of Escape Pod)
First appeared in Twenty Epics (All Star Stories)

The Old Doctor welcomed Sigmund, twenty years old and tormented by visions, into the library at the Table’s headquarters. Shelves rose everywhere like battlements, the floors were old slate, and the lights were ancient crystal-dripping chandeliers, but the Old Doctor sat in a folding chair at a card table heaped with books.

“I expected, well, something _more_,” Sigmund said, thumping the rickety table with his hairy knuckles. “A big slab of mahogany or something, a table with authority.”

“We had a fine table once,” the Old Doctor said, eternally middle-aged and absently professorial. “But it was chopped up for firewood during a siege in the 1600s.” He tapped the side of his nose. “There’s a
lesson in that. No asset, human or material, is important compared to the continued existence of the organization itself.”

“But surely _you’re_ irreplaceable,” Sigmund said, awkward attempt at job security through flattery. The room shivered and blurred at the edges of his vision, but it had not changed much in recent decades, a few books moving here and there, piles of dust shifting across the floor.

The Old Doctor shook his head. “I am the living history of the Table, but if I died, a new doctor would be sent from the archives to take over operations, and though his approach might differ from mine, his
role would be the same — to protect the cup.”

“The cup,” Sigmund said, sensing the cusp of mysteries. “You mean the Holy Grail.”


Rated PG. Contains mysteries, religious and philosophical.


——————————————————————————————————


I rather enjoyed this story.  It felt as if it had a touch of 'Indiana Jones' and some 'League of Extraordinary Gentlemen' feel to it.  It felt gritty and seedy, and enough touch of reality to make you wonder, but then know it was still fiction.

There was, in my thinking, a little jerkiness with the time-travel, but not so much as to turn me off.

What I liked most, was the build up to the finale, this character who knew he was unprepared for asking the question, making a request.  And it's topped off with a request better, than any of the other characters could, or would have made.
« Last Edit: August 13, 2008, 04:15:45 PM by Heradel » Logged

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stePH
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Cool story, bro!


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« Reply #1 on: August 13, 2008, 12:14:28 PM »

BOOBIES!  Grin

I enjoyed this story right up until the end, which seemed unsatisfying to me. 

I've noticed recently that I have a strong predisposition for stories with endings that leave me something solid to hold to -- I don't like stories that end with ambiguity.

Apart from that complaint (but it's a pretty big one to me) I thought the characters were intriguing; I particularly wanted to know more about the "phage" who ate live scorpions and wasps.

And I was reminded of Gallagher saying "If I ever meet God, I want to kick him in the nuts." Grin
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Void Munashii
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« Reply #2 on: August 13, 2008, 12:22:04 PM »

  I loved this story. This almost knocks Ant King out as my favourite PC yet, and it is certainly my favourite serious story. Like Lionman, I too thought of "League of Extraordinary Gentleman" but also of "Hellboy" if the BPRD was composed entirely of despicable and detestable bastards.

  I thought the other agents of The Table were very well represented even though none of them really got a lot of time; i found their powers and reasons for wanting the cup to be very interesting and believable. I would love to see more of these characters (Carlsbad in parrticular), but I don't suppose there would be much point to it seeing as everyone dies.

  I liked how Sigmund did not have enough evil in him to keep Carlsbad alive, proving him to be, if not a good guy, at least less of a complete bastard than everyone else. I liked the ending, trying to shwo what happened between Sigmund and God probably would have been less satisfying than making us guess.

  This story did something that many writers fail horribly at, it managed to jump back and forth in the chronology of its world without ever making it confusing as to what was happening and when. I definitely want more like this.
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Brian Deacon
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« Reply #3 on: August 13, 2008, 12:57:01 PM »

Wow.

So I listen to the Escape Artists trifecta, but am almost always a lurker, but this line right near the opening made me decide I was going to post even before I had finished the story:

Quote
He stepped around the spreading shadow of his best friend, Carlsbad, who had died as he'd lived, inconclusively, and without fanfare.

Okay, so you can have a great line in an otherwise crap story, but this was a great line in a great story, and made me insecurely wonder what it meant to live an inconclusive life, and if I was busy doing it. 

Other people may or may not go on to gush about the other things I could go on to gush about, and I think there's much gushing to be done. But the one other thing I wanted to get out is that, while I don't like it, I'm normally plagued by not letting stories "get to me" enough on an emotional level.  The one's that do get to me seem like strange exceptions, (eg. Kurt Vonnegut).  So a story about God-with-a-capital-G was definitely in danger of riding entirely in my frontal lobe and I was quite enjoying the ride at that level most of the story.  And while I'm sure there's a mess of people that thought the last line was cheesy, I was totally sucker-punched.  It completely worked on me.  Somehow it took a hard left turn and linked up spiritual-navel-gazing-ennui with "I just broke up with my girlfriend".

I didn't burst into tears (that's happened like twice in my life), but I did feel the physical sensation of the tear ducts firing up.

So bravo.  I don't like playing the game of "Best. Story. Ever." But I do like thinking of my favorite 3 or 5, and this definitely made that list.

Brian

« Last Edit: August 13, 2008, 01:00:53 PM by Brian Deacon » Logged
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« Reply #4 on: August 13, 2008, 01:07:17 PM »

   I thought the other agents of The Table were very well represented even though none of them really got a lot of time; i found their powers and reasons for wanting the cup to be very interesting and believable. I would love to see more of these characters (Carlsbad in parrticular), but I don't suppose there would be much point to it seeing as everyone dies.

I have to say, this is also an incredibly difficult thing to do (at least for me), and I can't believe how well it Tim Pratt did it, especially in such a short space.  And he gave just enough for each agent of the Table to come into their own.  They all had their own personal motivations for why they wanted to chase down God and they all stayed true to them. 

This story knocked me out, from the first line to the last.  It felt gritty, yet whimsical.  And despite not really liking who any of the characters were, I loved them.  Incredible writing.  I can't wait to listen to it again.
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Listener
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« Reply #5 on: August 13, 2008, 01:14:00 PM »

Another Tim Pratt story, another one that, which I didn't like it right away, I definitely liked it toward the end.

The reading was good -- no "Mounted/Saved/People's Justice" but about normal.  A little audio repeat toward the end, which given it was a story about time travel kind of almost fit.

I think that most people will probably want to know more about Carlsbad.  I know I wanted him to win, but with Sigmund being the main character, it was clear who would find the cup at the end.  But Carlsbad was the most interesting character (other than Ray, who was pretty cool for being such a dick), and I really would like to know what the Creator intended when He* created a being of pure evil.

I wonder how many other people thought that Carlsbad would have to kill Sigmund before he could die.

Making Sigmund a speed addict was an interesting twist.

In the beginning, I pretty much figured out that Sigmund was their Merlin, if Merlin really did live time in reverse.

Sigmund and the New Doctor having sex was a little jarring.  The reasoning made perfect sense, but I think it could've been addressed more humorously, the sort of "needs must" or "lay back and think of England" angle.

The Table seemed a bit of a throwaway, a reason to keep them all in business.  It made the story more complicated than I think it probably had to be.

I enjoyed this story right up until the end, which seemed unsatisfying to me. 

It was to me AT FIRST.  But after I had a moment to let it sink in, I was all "wow, that was pretty cool."  All Sigmund wanted was for the Creator not to leave after He pooped out the world or whatever.

Overall, I liked it.

* or she; whatever.
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ryos
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« Reply #6 on: August 13, 2008, 01:19:42 PM »

I really like the imagery and settings in this story. The characters were pretty good too. It all sort of reminded me of the Merovingian's mansion filled with medieval castoffs in the second Matrix movie.

I'm glad the story stuck to fantasy as far as its religious elements are concerned; or, in other words, that the religion portrayed in the story was fake. If there was any analog to a real-world ideology I'd say it was moral relativism: everyone's belief is literally true. The God in the story was unlike any I've heard of; he was not like the Judeo-Christian God, nor was he like Allah. As far as I know, only monotheistic religions call their god God, and I know of no monotheistic religion that believes God created and then abandoned the world.

My biggest gripe against the story is a problem I have with a lot of Escape Artists productions; that is, that it was hard for my imagination to keep pace with the reading. When a story has as many fantastical elements as this one, I find that I would need to pause for a moment, slow down my reading a bit, to wrap my imagination around what's going on. I found myself rewinding a lot, especially towards the beginning.

I don't mean that as an indictment of the reading; it's just a comment on the nature of the beast.
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dogpurse
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« Reply #7 on: August 13, 2008, 01:25:48 PM »

All of Tim Pratt's stories are on my favorite EA list so, yeah, this one gave me the warm fuzzies, too. Still, I feel cheated. Halfway through the reading, I was longing for the book, or graphic novel, or 26 episode anime.
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stePH
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« Reply #8 on: August 13, 2008, 01:26:00 PM »

I'm glad the story stuck to fantasy as far as its religious elements are concerned; or, in other words, that the religion portrayed in the story was fake. If there was any analog to a real-world ideology I'd say it was moral relativism: everyone's belief is literally true. The God in the story was unlike any I've heard of; he was not like the Judeo-Christian God, nor was he like Allah. As far as I know, only monotheistic religions call their god God, and I know of no monotheistic religion that believes God created and then abandoned the world.

Look up "Deism" some time.
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eytanz
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« Reply #9 on: August 13, 2008, 03:40:51 PM »

I really loved the story - and I agree with all the praise above - the writing was wonderful, providing exactly the right amount of time for the characters to all be rich without taking over, enough clues of great mysteries to make the world seem wonderous without taking attention away from the main plot - heck, for having a story that jumped around chronologically without being confusing.

And I loved the ending. I loved how both doctors wanted to use their one wish with god to have him tell them why he left, while Sigmund simply asked him not to leave. There's a world of difference in that alone.
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hautdesert
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« Reply #10 on: August 13, 2008, 03:52:21 PM »

In the beginning, I pretty much figured out that Sigmund was their Merlin, if Merlin really did live time in reverse.

The "living in reverse" thing was, if I recall correctly, an innovation of T.H. White's.  It doesn't appear in any older adaptations.

I take Sigmund, for fairly obvious reasons, to be a Perceval/Galahad figure.  The old doctor is a Merlin analogue--Nimue/The Lady of the Lake did away with Merlin and then took his place.
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Void Munashii
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« Reply #11 on: August 13, 2008, 03:56:52 PM »

All of Tim Pratt's stories are on my favorite EA list so, yeah, this one gave me the warm fuzzies, too. Still, I feel cheated. Halfway through the reading, I was longing for the book, or graphic novel, or 26 episode anime.

  The whole time I was listening I was thinking "This would make an awesome ongoing series", especially as it flies through all the adventures actually gathering up the peices of the map. I would love to see this done as a limited run series, although an anime, if done well, would be awesome as well.
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« Reply #12 on: August 13, 2008, 03:57:43 PM »

  Oh, is this the official thread then?  Wink
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Heradel
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« Reply #13 on: August 13, 2008, 03:58:53 PM »

I'm trying to merge the threads and maintain post order, but it was looking pretty ugly. Work In Progress.
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Ocicat
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« Reply #14 on: August 13, 2008, 04:02:07 PM »

Big thumbs up from me too.  Not a perfect story, but very fun.  Reminded me a lot of a Grant Morrison comic, with big ideas thrown out there in a sentence, and not explored.  And fitting lots of those into one short story.  I'm not sure if the result was really that coherent a story in and of itself, but it was very fun, and left me wanting more. 

Starting the story with the protagonist stepping over his team mates bodies and then revealing that the world was ending and he was the only one left alive... good choice.  Talk about a hook!  I really wanted to know how we'd gotten to that point.  And if the story left characters only roughly sketched, and side adventures alluded to, it didn't bug me, because I wanted to hurry up and get to that end of the world bit. 

I also really liked how the order (once the knights of the round table?) seems to slowly have turned from a group dedicated to protecting the cup (ie, seeing that no one used it) to one with exactly the opposite goal.  Because organizations - even ones with immortal members - grow corrupt over time.  Usually while espousing their old ideals, but doing the opposite.  Left as an exercise to the reader to find parallels in the real world.

And I'll go on record as saying I really enjoyed the intro.  The PC staff has been getting a lot of flack about overlong intros that spoil story content or themes.  This intro was long, and tangentially related, but I think Ann did it right.  She gave solid background material that gave a context for the story in the history of literature, without saying anything about this story in particular or it's take on things.  And the intro was enjoyable in it's own right, as the story of her growing appreciation of the Arthurian legends.  Maybe it helps that I'm also a bit Arthur obsessed, and have also read a lot of the modern versions and original sources. 
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stePH
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Cool story, bro!


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« Reply #15 on: August 13, 2008, 04:02:54 PM »

I'm trying to merge the threads and maintain post order, but it was looking pretty ugly. Work In Progress.

I reacted to Lionman's thread too quickly.  I saw that a thread was up and had no replies, so I pounced.
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« Reply #16 on: August 13, 2008, 04:05:02 PM »

I'm trying to merge the threads and maintain post order, but it was looking pretty ugly. Work In Progress.

I reacted to Lionman's thread too quickly.  I saw that a thread was up and had no replies, so I pounced.

  I don't have any lofty excuse like "BOOBIES!"; I was just being a smartarse, sorry.  Grin
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eytanz
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« Reply #17 on: August 13, 2008, 04:26:06 PM »

I'm trying to merge the threads and maintain post order, but it was looking pretty ugly. Work In Progress.

Wow, I didn't even notice that it wasn't a regular thread until now. How was Lionman able to create it?
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Heradel
Bill Peters, EP Assistant
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« Reply #18 on: August 13, 2008, 04:30:18 PM »

I'm trying to merge the threads and maintain post order, but it was looking pretty ugly. Work In Progress.

Wow, I didn't even notice that it wasn't a regular thread until now. How was Lionman able to create it?

Apparently this section's tag that says Mods-Only got left off. It's great that he, and all of you, want to talk about the story, but trying to merge threads gets really ugly because we can't change post order (it's locked to the time of the posting). Anyway, this is the best solution without going into the DB and changing post times, so this interlude over, back to the story.
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stePH
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Cool story, bro!


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« Reply #19 on: August 13, 2008, 04:45:09 PM »

I'm trying to merge the threads and maintain post order, but it was looking pretty ugly. Work In Progress.

Wow, I didn't even notice that it wasn't a regular thread until now. How was Lionman able to create it?

Apparently this section's tag that says Mods-Only got left off. It's great that he, and all of you, want to talk about the story, but trying to merge threads gets really ugly because we can't change post order (it's locked to the time of the posting). Anyway, this is the best solution without going into the DB and changing post times, so this interlude over, back to the story.

I deleted my duplicated post at least; it's the best I can do.
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