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Author Topic: PC026: Black Ribbon  (Read 11543 times)
Heradel
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« on: September 23, 2008, 07:54:52 PM »

PC026: Black Ribbon

By Dawn Albright.
Read by Heather Welliver.
Introduction by Rachel Swirsky.
First appeared in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine.

The woman measured three drops of poison into the milk and then poured the milk into the first baby’s bottle. She picked up the first baby, the twin wearing the black ribbon.

“Hush, sweetheart, hush,” she said, as she fed the baby girl the poisoned milk. The baby made a face at first, like she wanted to spit the cloth nipple out, but then she tasted the milk and drank everything in the bowl.

The woman gave the baby one of the last kisses she would ever feel and then she picked up the sister, the baby wearing the red ribbon, and fed her pure milk. The nurse wore no gloves, but in a few weeks she couldn’t touch the black-ribboned baby without protection.

Rated R. Contains poison and prostitutes. May not be suitable for the young or immature.

Intro Links:

Chasing the Bard by Phillipa Ballentine
Heather Welliver’s band The Shillas
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Ocicat
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« Reply #1 on: September 24, 2008, 03:14:25 PM »

Well, it was a different kind of story about a prostitute.  I'm not sure it was actually good, but I don't think it was bad.  Really, it might need another listen to digest it.  Everything seemed pretty straightforward (as these things go) until her keeper kissed her on the cheek and ran off.  I had no clue why she'd done that, and perhaps as a result didn't really understand the motivations for the sudden killing spree.  Were they meant to be related?  Guess I just didn't quite get it.

Unfortunately there were sound issues that got in the way.  Almost all the sound was coming out of the left speaker, which made listening in the car somewhat less than ideal. 
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Nobilis
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« Reply #2 on: September 24, 2008, 03:34:12 PM »

This is a story about a strange woman.  She starts out a sad, quiet, passive girl, who knows that she is being used as an assassination tool and seems to accept it, until the day comes when it is time for her to strike.  After witnessing the only woman she ever loved commit suicide using her body as the weapon, the woman's psyche completely transforms.  At this moment she becomes a cheerfully vindictive sociopath, who not only kills her target, but also everyone she has ever known.

This is a tale of sudden insanity.

As such, it is not so much a story about people as they are, or people as they might be, as it is a story about people in service to a plot.  In a short story we can expect most of the characters to be cardboard cutouts and archetypes, there to provide the setting for the main character to play out their story, but when the main character is herself a marionette, jerked about by the whims of the author, I see the strings and I am unimpressed.

This story was poorly chosen.  Boo, PodCastle, Boo.  I lob rotting vegetables in your general direction.
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deflective
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« Reply #3 on: September 24, 2008, 06:08:22 PM »

my point is similar to Nobilis'. the story didn't provide proper motivation for the things that were done.

the incredibly difficult and longterm method of assassination was unnecessary since she can meet with the ambassador without being searched and he immediately follows her through the city. i was expecting courtly intrigue & paranoia along the lines of dune instead of a scenario where any schmuck with a stick could get the job done.

and why kill someone to break a hymen?

events seemed disproportionate to their justification. i'm not going to lob rotten vegetables but the story doesn't deserve reward either. all carrots withheld.
« Last Edit: September 25, 2008, 01:00:06 PM by deflective » Logged
eytanz
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« Reply #4 on: September 24, 2008, 06:41:31 PM »

I agree entirely with Nobilis. The story seemed great for about 75% of the way, and then it was entirely clear the author had no idea how to end it, and the way she chose to end it made it clear that the beginning didn't really hold together either.

As for the "why kill a man to break a hymen" question - a more important one would be "why bother?" Wouldn't it be far too late for the ambassador at the time when he was in a position to notice? Especially since it seemed that the poison was fast acting enough that he'd be sick long before her clothes were off her.

Also, this is a really minor nitpick, but didn't the fact that this whole plot was designed to murder an ambassador bother anyone? I mean, sure, he seemed to be more of a colonial governor than ambassador in position if not title, but still. Doesn't either imply that there are more where he came from? Kill a conquering king/emperor/president, and maybe you de-stabalize his country enough to get under their grasp. Kill an ambassador/governor and all you get is a pissed off foreign nation that has already proven its dominance over you. What's the point?
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Rachel Swirsky
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« Reply #5 on: September 24, 2008, 07:18:33 PM »

Hmm. Well, since I'm the one standing in the hail of rotten fruit, I'll respond -- I disagree that the story doesn't establish character psychology. I know I'd go mad if the only person who ever loved me had just kissed me to kill herself.

But more than that, I think the ultimate problem here is that this is a character who has been prepared for her entire life for the execution of a single task. The priestesses think they've got control of her. They think it's safe to manipulate her into someone who has no knowledge of the world, but will kill at their command. But what do they expect to do with her after she's killed? There's no way for her to become non-poisonous; she will always be deadly. It seems fairly clear that the priestesses will kill her when her task is completed. Does Keriss know that consciously? I'd doubt it. But she does know that she has been sheltered from the world, kept and honed like a weapon, and that now she has been "detonated" -- the sense of strange, dizzying freedom she seems to feel comes across to me in her hesitance at the governor's mansion, her invention of the sacrificed hens. She's jealous of red Keriss, and she's angry at the people who've turned her into what she is -- both the invading force that the priestesses would kill, and the priestesses themselves. The only person who she isn't mad at, who might put a face of humanity on the equation, is already dead, and Keriss hasn't had to "see her vomitting in the streets." What has Keriss, who has been focused on this one task, ever thought about "after?" Suddenly, she has both a great deal of motive to kill an enormous amount of people, but also the opportunity both physically -- she's been physically let out of those rooms for the first time in her life -- and psychically -- she's lost the things that kept her sane, her nurse and her "reason for existing" (which was always murder in the first place).

I think all this is established subtextually, both in the creation of the circumstances, and also in the ways in which the plot, mood and language shift over the course of the piece to mirror Keriss's increasing mental turbulence.
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stePH
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Cool story, bro!


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« Reply #6 on: September 24, 2008, 07:38:18 PM »

Unfortunately there were sound issues that got in the way.  Almost all the sound was coming out of the left speaker, which made listening in the car somewhat less than ideal. 


This is my complaint as well.  Unbalanced sound is a pod peeve of mine. 

I tried to listen to this one on the ride home from work, but listening on the bus is trying even given the best audio quality.  I had to abandon the story two minutes in and listen to something else instead.
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eytanz
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« Reply #7 on: September 24, 2008, 07:50:14 PM »

(responding to Rachel, stePH posted while I was writing) That makes sense. And it is consistent with the story. But if it's hinted at subtextually, well, it's done badly, given that so far, four out of four posters didn't get it, and I don't think any of us (with the possible exception of myself) is particularly obtuse.

It may be that this the fault of the reading, rather than the author. Maybe this story reads differently on paper than in audio. But the story as given - the story I heard - does not provide enough to justify the explanation given above.

Not to mention that the explanation does account for the main character's actions in the context of the assassination plot, but it still doesn't alter how mind-numbingly stupid the plot is. In fact, it makes it moreso - what was supposed to happen after the ambassador was poisoned? Was she simply to return home, touching no-one, and submit to her fate? Wouldn't there be an investigation anyway? Would anyone but an utter moron fail to connect the woman who showed up at the ambassador's door with his poisoning, and through her the priestesses? Why not poison him at the brothel, for that matter?

And as deflective pointed out, she could just have easily killed him with a dagger, given the lax security. Or she could poison his wine while her visited the brothel. Or if you feel like being fancier- as we know stray dogs are available - why not raise a poison puppy, and get the ambassador to pet it (or be bitten by it)? Note that the priestesses's plot involved waiting for a girl to grow into adulthood. That's what, 16 or 17 years of keeping your country under opression just to have a plan that could be easily stopped by a servent touching her flesh and getting sick en route to calling his master?

Anyway, this story - at least as presented in the PC version - layers thin, though consistent, character psychology on a totally implausible edifice of a plot. With a premise as silly as this story, even good psychological development wouldn't be enough - it would have to be utterly brilliant to make the story actually work. This story failed to supply that, by a long shot.

« Last Edit: September 24, 2008, 08:03:09 PM by eytanz » Logged
hoyajon
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« Reply #8 on: September 24, 2008, 08:35:15 PM »

A poorly written story, by any measurement.  Really just unoriginal.  This idea was first used by Hawthorne in "Rappacini's Daughter".  And a poorly executed twist on that story -- Nobilis hit it on the head, that it had a deus ex machina ending.  There was no reason for the black ribbon to kill the red ribbon.  I enjoyed the reading, and only the reading.
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wintermute
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« Reply #9 on: September 24, 2008, 08:38:20 PM »

I pretty much agree with the consensus so far. It wasn't bad, but the high quality we've seen so far means that it might just be my least favourite PC so far.
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Ocicat
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« Reply #10 on: September 24, 2008, 09:49:55 PM »

You know, I get that she had reason to go on a rampage - I do - but big deal.  What left me scratching my head was why the nurse killed herself?  She was in on the plot from day one, so I don't buy that she was remorseful about black ribbon's fate. 

And ya, the assassination plot was pretty outrageous.  Reminds me of Valdemort's plot in Goblet of Fire: "We'll put a false teacher into the school and elaborately rig a contest so that Harry will win it, so that he'll touch the trophy, which we've magic'ed to teleport him to me!!!"  ... uh, why didn't you just, I don't know, magic up his shoes to teleport him there?
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Nobilis
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« Reply #11 on: September 25, 2008, 05:43:53 AM »

If a story needs to be explained in order to make sense, then it doesn't make sense.
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Rain
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« Reply #12 on: September 25, 2008, 09:36:10 AM »

I liked this story for what it was, which wasnt much since it didnt really seem like a complete story, something a lot of short stories suffer from.

Here is what i want to know :

Why did they want to kill the ambassador?
The act of making Black Ribbon poisonous was interesting, but it seems to be an overtly complicated way of killing a guy, why not just stab him with a sword or something?
What was the point of the sister? Why not just have Black Ribbon go to that ambassador and just touch him?
What was the point of the random killings at the end?

Overall it was a great idea, but all the plot holes really lowers my opinion of the story
« Last Edit: September 25, 2008, 09:40:36 AM by Rain » Logged
Rain
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« Reply #13 on: September 25, 2008, 09:42:19 AM »

Given the recent debate maybe you should just go all out an make a 4th Escape Artists podcast : PODstitute!  Cheesy
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DKT
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« Reply #14 on: September 25, 2008, 12:19:29 PM »

I thought the suicide kiss and the closing line were pretty good, actually.  As well as the character's motivation.  But the plot to kill the ambassador, raise to twins for 16-17 years to do it, and go to the lengths they did seemed a bit far-fetched, or maybe just far-sighted, for me.  I don't know really why they wanted to kill him.  Was he really that bad of an ambassador almost 20 years ago?  What was the thing he did that was so bad that they would spend this long plotting to kill him, and in such a fashion.  (For that matter, was he really an ambassador for that long?)   

I can imagine why someone would wait that long and put together as nutty a plot as this one (see the movie: Oldboy).  But I have a hard time when I never find out the motivation behind it all.
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Heradel
Bill Peters, EP Assistant
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« Reply #15 on: September 25, 2008, 02:52:22 PM »

I thought the suicide kiss and the closing line were pretty good, actually.  As well as the character's motivation.  But the plot to kill the ambassador, raise to twins for 16-17 years to do it, and go to the lengths they did seemed a bit far-fetched, or maybe just far-sighted, for me.  I don't know really why they wanted to kill him.  Was he really that bad of an ambassador almost 20 years ago?  What was the thing he did that was so bad that they would spend this long plotting to kill him, and in such a fashion.  (For that matter, was he really an ambassador for that long?)   

I can imagine why someone would wait that long and put together as nutty a plot as this one (see the movie: Oldboy).  But I have a hard time when I never find out the motivation behind it all.

So basically: "Hello, My name is Inigo Montoya ... Prepare to die."
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DKT
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« Reply #16 on: September 25, 2008, 02:57:32 PM »

I thought the suicide kiss and the closing line were pretty good, actually.  As well as the character's motivation.  But the plot to kill the ambassador, raise to twins for 16-17 years to do it, and go to the lengths they did seemed a bit far-fetched, or maybe just far-sighted, for me.  I don't know really why they wanted to kill him.  Was he really that bad of an ambassador almost 20 years ago?  What was the thing he did that was so bad that they would spend this long plotting to kill him, and in such a fashion.  (For that matter, was he really an ambassador for that long?)   

I can imagine why someone would wait that long and put together as nutty a plot as this one (see the movie: Oldboy).  But I have a hard time when I never find out the motivation behind it all.

So basically: "Hello, My name is Inigo Montoya ... Prepare to die."

I think I'm missing the "basically."  It might be the cider I'm drinking Wink Are you saying Princess Bride is a good example of motivation or a poor example of it?
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Heradel
Bill Peters, EP Assistant
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Part-Time Psychopomp.


« Reply #17 on: September 25, 2008, 03:13:05 PM »

I thought the suicide kiss and the closing line were pretty good, actually.  As well as the character's motivation.  But the plot to kill the ambassador, raise to twins for 16-17 years to do it, and go to the lengths they did seemed a bit far-fetched, or maybe just far-sighted, for me.  I don't know really why they wanted to kill him.  Was he really that bad of an ambassador almost 20 years ago?  What was the thing he did that was so bad that they would spend this long plotting to kill him, and in such a fashion.  (For that matter, was he really an ambassador for that long?)   

I can imagine why someone would wait that long and put together as nutty a plot as this one (see the movie: Oldboy).  But I have a hard time when I never find out the motivation behind it all.

So basically: "Hello, My name is Inigo Montoya ... Prepare to die."

I think I'm missing the "basically."  It might be the cider I'm drinking Wink Are you saying Princess Bride is a good example of motivation or a poor example of it?

I left out the part of the speech where he states his motivation, rendered in full it's "Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die." I wasn't trying to make a direct parallel to the PB, just illustrate what you were saying when you said "I don't know really why they wanted to kill him.".
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deflective
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« Reply #18 on: September 25, 2008, 03:29:43 PM »

i assumed (rather groundlessly) that the twins were raised as assassins and their services sold to a bidder. i didn't really think too much about the ambassador... though this could all make sense if we make up a new plot!

the madam was actually their mother! she raised them in a twisted revenge plot against a runaway fiance who left her pregnant with twins. moments before finishing her plot she was overcome and kissed her daughter for the second, and last, time.

is there no story that can't be forced to make sense by making the characters crazy? =)
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JoeFitz
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« Reply #19 on: September 25, 2008, 04:14:20 PM »

I was thoroughly unimpressed with this story.

Firstly, the 'girl who cannot be touched' is a tired plot device. So is "lover who can't tell twins apart."

I was also not impressed with the "unloved child turns into killer but it's okay because she had a bad childhood" vibe.

You don't wake up and become a socio/psychopath (antisocial personality disorder), especially not because of some overt act of love. If anything the "twist" demonstrates that this girl is and always was such a person. Like her sister said: "don't play innocent."

Although her violent turn has marks of catathymic criminality (an emotional trauma, delusional thinking that violence/killing is the only option, and putting a plan in motion) the author seems to be attempting to garner sympathy. Lots of people have traumatic childhoods but don't end up murderers: heck her own sister was raised as a sex worker who had work to feed both herself and her sister.

I think the story that the editor(s) outlined above would have been an okay story. But this one was not great.

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