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Author Topic: PC024: It Takes a Town  (Read 13670 times)
Heradel
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« on: September 09, 2008, 11:08:44 AM »

PC024: It Takes a Town

By Stephen V. Ramey.
Read by Bill Ruhsam.
Introduction by Deborah Coates.
First appeared in Strange Horizons (full text online).

“They ain’t really going through with this,” Tom said. “Are they?” The pig smell intensified, driving off more pleasant fumes of paint and honest sweat. “First the casino. Then the amusement park. Now a rocket?” He chuckled. “Won’t you crazy townies never learn?”

“This is different. This will really put Thornhope on the map.” Anthony turned back to his work. “The whole town is pitching in.” He finished outlining the final T and selected a sash brush from his tool belt. The brush’s upper portion was crusted but the tips were flexible enough. He dipped it into black paint.

“What about materials?”

“Folks are donating–”

“And what about the rocket? Where you gonna get that?”

Anthony licked his lips, trying not to lose concentration. “There’s talk about that old silo on your property–”

“My silo!” Tom laughed hard and slapped his thigh. “What in hellfire makes you think a bunch of morons and a queerball crossdresser can launch a silo to Mars?”

Anthony rolled his eyes. This was exactly the attitude he hoped to escape. “Who’s to say we can’t?”


Rated PG. Contains impossible science and a skyward thrust.

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stePH
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« Reply #1 on: September 10, 2008, 08:05:09 AM »

BOOBIES!  Grin

I hate to be the one to start this conversation, but:
This wasn't fantasy, it was sci-fi.  It wouldn't have been out of place on Escape Pod, but I couldn't help wondering what qualified it to be on Podcastle.  Unless the very end is Tom fantasizing that his wife and kids have come back to him. Tongue

Admittedly, the notion of townies building a Mars rocket out of stuff they've got lying about is farfetched, but there was no magic about it.  The girl pilot was even using a computer simulation to practice landing.  "Impossible science" is still sci-fi, not fantasy.

As for the story itself, it was an amusing half-hour's  diversion.
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SWright
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« Reply #2 on: September 10, 2008, 08:53:00 AM »

That was a very nice story. I like the idea of everyone doing their part for the common good. That is a very rare idea in this day and age, and it seems to only happen when you can fire up the imagination of many to believe in the impossible. Man would not have achieved all the advances we currently enjoy if it was not for the ability to imagine.

I agree with Steph that this wasn't Fantasy in the sense of magic happening, but it was fantasy in the sense of a fantastic situation created by ordinary people.

So this was basically a feelgood piece based on a science situation, but I think it dwelt more on the fantasy in the minds of the people of the town rather than your standard sword & sorcery, hack & slash story.

Bravo!

Small technical note: The intro music seemed a bit loud. It made it difficult to hear Deborah Coates



« Last Edit: September 10, 2008, 09:08:21 AM by SWright » Logged
Rachel Swirsky
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« Reply #3 on: September 10, 2008, 09:02:20 AM »

"This wasn't fantasy, it was sci-fi.  It wouldn't have been out of place on Escape Pod, but I couldn't help wondering what qualified it to be on Podcastle."

The author, Stephen V. Ramey, submitted the piece specifically to PodCastle rather than Escape Pod. I read it and thought, "huh, this looks like Sci-Fi -- but I love it. It's beautifully written and enrapturing."

So I wrote back, "Why do you feel this is fantasy?"

And he wrote back saying that the technology was deliberately fantastical and impossible. Here's what he said in response to the introduction questions I asked him, "The other issue we had discussed was why I consider this fantasy as opposed to SF since it obviously has SF trappings. It might be interesting to get listeners thinking on this topic. In my opinion, this is clearly fantasy (more precisely, magic realism) since the emphasis is on character over idea credibility. SF ought to focus on what is possible, leaving fantasy to explore what SHOULD be possible."

I wrote back, "That's good enough for me," and sent him a contract.

I actually asked Deborah Coates to do this introduction because she writes a number of pieces that are on the border between science fiction and fantasy. She calls them science fiction, and the editor at Asimov's (which publishes a number of them) agrees. Periodically, however, some irate reader will write in with a rant about how she's ruining science fiction by making it too "soft." So I thought Deborah (who you may remember wrote the story "Magic in a Certain Slant of Light") would have a unique perspective on the situation.

She chose to go another route with her intro -- and I think her perspective on farm life is fascinating, so it's nice to have discussion arenas open for both questions.
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stePH
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« Reply #4 on: September 10, 2008, 09:43:23 AM »

Small technical note: The intro music seemed a bit loud. It made it difficult to hear Deborah Coates


I don't think the music volume was at issue; it was the recording of Coates herself.  She seemed to be overloading the mic input, causing distortion due to clipping.  There was also a bit of phase shift; I'm not sure why it was in there.


Quote
"The other issue we had discussed was why I consider this fantasy as opposed to SF since it obviously has SF trappings. It might be interesting to get listeners thinking on this topic. In my opinion, this is clearly fantasy (more precisely, magic realism) since the emphasis is on character over idea credibility. SF ought to focus on what is possible, leaving fantasy to explore what SHOULD be possible."

Fantasy to me means having some element of the supernatural.  To borrow again from the warning, the only fanatastical element in this story was "impossible science" which includes the like of FTL and time travel, both of which are standard sci-fi tropes.  There was nothing supernatural in this story. 
Okay, I think I'm done with the subject now.
« Last Edit: September 10, 2008, 09:48:20 AM by stePH » Logged

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« Reply #5 on: September 10, 2008, 11:12:19 AM »

I also was wondering "This seems a lot like sci-fi". I agree that it certanly isn't hard science, it isn't really space opera either, but the rocket could actually have been for real if the advances in silo and water heater technology was sufficiently advanced when this story took place. (note the hint of humor in my text as I typed that)

I'd put it more in the category of a kids book, the kind where silly stuff happens, but we don't care because it was a great story and it had some deeper meaning in it.

I suspect the "This isn't sci-fi!" argument would have been louder if this had been on Escape Pod.

It was a good story, and since there is no Escape Castle, it had to go somewhere.
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« Reply #6 on: September 10, 2008, 11:43:30 AM »

Were it my job to classify this, I wouldn't put it in either "sci-fi" or in "fantasy". For that matter, I wouldn't put it anywhere in speculative fiction.

The science is wrong -- Mars doesn't orbit a red star, and getting plants to grow in a near vacuum is the thing you really need to be working on -- but that's an error made by the characters, not a difference in the way the world works, surely?
Quote
the technology was deliberately fantastical and impossible
The technology to get a probe to Mars is not merely possible, but has been historically demonstrated. It's unlikely that the population of a random small town without any prior expertise would be able to properly compute orbits, or fuel-to-payload ratios, but with determination and persistence it's well within the realm of the possible.
Quote
In my opinion, this is clearly fantasy (more precisely, magic realism) since the emphasis is on character over idea credibility.
That puts the majority of "chick lit" (much as I dislike that term) into the category of "magical realism"
Quote
SF ought to focus on what is possible, leaving fantasy to explore what SHOULD be possible.
Which would eviscerate some of the best stories in both genres.

Having said that, I liked this story. The details of small-town life, of everyone doing their own small part to be part of something larger than themselves... it made me smile.
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stePH
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« Reply #7 on: September 10, 2008, 12:05:31 PM »


Quote
In my opinion, this is clearly fantasy (more precisely, magic realism) since the emphasis is on character over idea credibility.
That puts the majority of "chick lit" (much as I dislike that term) into the category of "magical realism"

Indeed, that line struck me as so many different kinds of wrong that I just didn't know what to do with it.  So I let it go.
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« Reply #8 on: September 10, 2008, 12:56:13 PM »

I was immediately thinking the common thought: Is this fantasy? Science fantasy is a word I suppose could apply. The tech was absurd, the ideas outlandish, the world existed in a (frighteningly near) potential future that I CAN see as possible. One is sent to wonder if this were posted simply because of it's controversial idea matter. All this aside I truly and honestly enjoyed the story overall. The pig farmer in women's panties was.. odd. Otherwise: good story, good read. I was almost fully put off my listening by the intro babble. The sound levels and music mixing were severely wonky. I have issues with vertigo set off by various outside influences, and this set my vertigo all asunder. I literally had to skip past, take a breather, get back my "balance" and hope the story itself didn't have similar sound issues. It didn't, thank goodness. Overall, interesting. Can we now return to the "true" fantasy?
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« Reply #9 on: September 10, 2008, 01:09:26 PM »

The pig farmer in women's panties was.. odd.
It was the hardware saleman who wore women's underwear.
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« Reply #10 on: September 10, 2008, 01:09:29 PM »

" Can we now return to the "true" fantasy? "

Next week's story is in a contemporary setting by Greg Van Eekhout. The week after that we have a traditional fantasy setting in a piece from Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine by Dawn Albright. The intervening flash piece is a fable by Peter Beagle.
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« Reply #11 on: September 10, 2008, 04:33:39 PM »

A few thoughts:

1.  Doesn't this story violate the traditional literary technique of Chekhov's Transvestite?  If you have a cross-dresser is Act One (Act Ten?) then there has to be a lacy brassiere hanging off of the rocket at the closing curtain.

2.  This story worked better for me if I imagined that it was a kid's story, where the kids use their imagination to make things happen, despite the crotchety grown-ups who don't know what's possible.  Except that everyone was a kid, except for the one grown up.

3.  The story had a little too "Power of Positive Thinking" about it, and I was sometimes imagining I was sitting in a Self-Help Seminar, or a Business Retreat, surrounded by "Successories" posters saying "If You Believe It, You Can Achieve It!"

4.  I can see how it qualifies as "Fantasy," but if it does then there was just too much science in it.  If it's going to be impossible science, make it even more impossible.

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« Reply #12 on: September 11, 2008, 09:00:42 AM »

I would argue there is no such thing as "true fantasy" just as the definition of "science fiction" is highly debatable. I suspect everyone's definition of what fantasy is differs.

Liked the story well enough, although it probably won't stick out in my mind too well.
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Chivalrybean
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« Reply #13 on: September 11, 2008, 11:04:50 AM »

Quote
Wintermute: The technology to get a probe to Mars is not merely possible, but has been historically demonstrated. It's unlikely that the population of a random small town without any prior expertise would be able to properly compute orbits, or fuel-to-payload ratios, but with determination and persistence it's well within the realm of the possible.

They mention that humans, or I suppose at least probes, have been to Mars.

The bit about things growing in red light, yes, that was out of whack, but could have been the townsperson's ignorance.

Quote
Ragtime 3.  The story had a little too "Power of Positive Thinking" about it, and I was sometimes imagining I was sitting in a Self-Help Seminar, or a Business Retreat, surrounded by "Successories" posters saying "If You Believe It, You Can Achieve It!"

Or a Dispair poster that has a picture of the water heater flying with the caption

Mars Missions
You might get to Mars, but a water heater isn't going to work in space

Ok, so that wasn't my best shot, but I had to try.
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« Reply #14 on: September 11, 2008, 01:51:26 PM »

First off, let me say that I really don't care about the "is it fantasy" question.  Whatever.  I think if it had run on Escape Pod, people would have said it wasn't SF, so sure, it belongs here.

But this story didn't work for me.  On so many levels.

I did not care one whit about the people. 

I didn't think the Mars mission was a good idea, but not because of the rocket problems or anything, but just because they kept thinking Mars would be a better place, with lots of opportunity - as opposed to where they were now.  Uh, it's Mars.  You think your town is a dustbowl?  Wait till you see that place.

I wanted to slap the Pig Farmer upside the head too.  Just saying "can't be done" with no reason why makes me want to scream just as much as blind optimism.

We didn't stick with any of the characters (besides the pig farmer) long enough for their bits to pay off.  As someone mentioned, the women's underwear bit just never came up again.  And it wasn't interesting to me as slice of life.

I never bought how this whole town got infected by the Mars mission fever.  Sure, I get why it needed something, but I don't think the writer really put us there enough for us to feel it.
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« Reply #15 on: September 11, 2008, 08:29:12 PM »

I'm with everyone who said it was SF and not fantasy. I understand the author's POV, but I disagree with it.

The reading was average, but I think the reader tried too hard to be optimisic. I'd like to hear him read a story that isn't rife with optimism, see how he does with it.

No more guest intros please, and if there are any, make sure the introducer has professional (or at least semi-professional) audio equipment. It sounded like Coates was talking through a cheap computer microphone and a Skype connection. Also, the intro went on WAY too long; I was listening to this on the way to lunch and it was STILL going when I pulled into the restaurant parking lot. Didn't really interest me at all.

As for the story itself...

Tom Piper as the main character who is defined by the people around him just didn't work for me. Very few of the characters ever came back, and in the beginning, I honestly thought the story was about Anthony, That would've been more interesting to me. Tom Piper was a cookie-cutter character who is, rather predictably, affected by a major event and changes his mind.

I felt cheated by the way the author introduced all these interesting characters but kept making the story about Tom. I wanted to know more about Anthony, and Giovanni's train experiments, and the babe who measured the roofs. Why would she go to a relatively-depressed area to open a ceramics shop? Didn't care so much about the teacher or the family who bought her cake.

I think that was part of the underlying problem for me: the author meandered around. The story felt loose, like a dress that needs to be taken in for a better fit.

Pretty sure the ending -- where he goes to Mars sometime in the future, ostensibly -- reminded me of the American ending of Evangelion.  "Congratulations! Congratulations! Congratulations!" (et al)

I understood what the author was trying to do, but I don't think he did it very successfully. So this one gets a less-than-meh from me -- usually, for me, a "meh" means I appreciated the art and craft but didn't like the story; this one, I didn't really think the craft was up to par.
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stePH
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« Reply #16 on: September 11, 2008, 09:52:51 PM »

Just for you, Chivalrybean:

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« Reply #17 on: September 12, 2008, 11:19:19 AM »

Both Listener and Ocicat summed up my feelings about this story, and why it did not work for me.

But as to whether it was SF or Fantasy -- * shrug * -- I am happy to see a wide genre definition in Podcastle.  Rachel is doing a pretty good job of exposing us to a range of fantasy, from magical realism to surrealism to sword and sorcery to revised fairy tales to urban fantasy.  I don't care whether stories are fantasy or SF so long as they are good stories.

Hmm
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« Reply #18 on: September 12, 2008, 12:20:02 PM »

  I know I am late to the party, but my initial reaction was very much of the "You got EscapePod in my PodCastle" variety. It seemed like the sort of sci-fi story one might find in an old collection in a used book store, the sort of stuff written before we ever really got into space. I acccept the justification for it being on PC though/

  I give this story a solid "Meh+", and that plus is mostly due to the panty-wearing hardware store owner, and the image of the water heater rocketing into the sky at the end.

  A big "LOL" to stePH for the de-motivational poster. I'm saving that one.
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Heradel
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« Reply #19 on: September 12, 2008, 12:47:02 PM »

I believe you guys are underestimating the rocket potential of the home water heater. Please consider the following: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pu3FwgIHsQA
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