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Author Topic: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant  (Read 22820 times)
Heradel
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« on: February 06, 2009, 08:33:33 AM »

PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant

By Ted Chiang
Read by James Trimarco

It was an unexceptional visitation, smaller in magnitude than most but no different in kind, bringing blessings to some and disaster to others. In this instance the angel was Nathanael, making an appearance in a downtown shopping district. Four miracle cures were effected: the elimination of carcinomas in two individuals, the regeneration of the spinal cord in a paraplegic, and the restoration of sight to a recently blinded person. There were also two miracles that were not cures: a delivery van, whose driver had fainted at the sight of the angel, was halted before it could overrun a busy sidewalk; another man was caught in a shaft of Heaven’s light when the angel departed, erasing his eyes but ensuring his devotion.

Neil’s wife Sarah Fisk had been one of the eight casualties. She was hit by flying glass when the angel’s billowing curtain of flame shattered the storefront window of the café in which she was eating. She bled to death within minutes, and the other customers in the café — none of whom suffered even superficial injuries — could do nothing but listen to her cries of pain and fear, and eventually witness her soul’s ascension toward Heaven.

Nathanael hadn’t delivered any specific message; the angel’s parting words, which had boomed out across the entire visitation site, were the typical Behold the power of the Lord. Of the eight casualties that day, three souls were accepted into Heaven and five were not, a closer ratio than the average for deaths by all causes. Sixty-two people received medical treatment for injuries ranging from slight concussions to ruptured eardrums to burns requiring skin grafts. Total property damage was estimated at $8.1 million, all of it excluded by private insurance companies due to the cause. Scores of people became devout worshipers in the wake of the visitation, either out of gratitude or terror.

Alas, Neil Fisk was not one of them.


Rated R. Contemplates existential issues.
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Zathras
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« Reply #1 on: February 06, 2009, 09:03:28 AM »

Yay!  A giant!  I'll get to listen to this on my way from Phoenix to Albuquerque today.  I just wanted to squeal in delight this morning. 

::squeals in delight::
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izzardfan
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« Reply #2 on: February 06, 2009, 02:43:25 PM »

I'm halfway through this, and the story is so-so, but I really don't like the reading.  There's little to no emotion in his voice.


Edited after this.
« Last Edit: August 24, 2009, 01:20:08 AM by izzardfan » Logged
Zathras
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« Reply #3 on: February 06, 2009, 05:09:03 PM »

Make it stop.  I don't think I'll finish this anytime soon.  I made it to about 27 minutes.  It's dragging.  I'll try to listen to it another time, but I'm going to have to take notes.  The shift from one person's story to another's is confusing and I thought the girl with the deformed legs was whats-his-name's wife and the story was flashing back.

I absolutely love longer audio when it's good.
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izzardfan
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« Reply #4 on: February 06, 2009, 06:15:08 PM »

Make it stop.

Amen!

I finally finished it.  The story, while unequivocally fantasy, was the worst I've experienced.  Unlike Zathras, I wasn't confused, but kept waiting for something to liven things up.  It was incredibly boring.  And the topic itself wasn't the problem for me.  I consider myself a somewhat devout Christian, and had nothing against the views expressed.

From the intro:  "... by Seattle-based author Ted Chiang, the winner of an amazing number of awards, among them the Hugo, the Nebula, the Theodore Sturgeon Award, and the John W. Campbell Award."  After hearing this story, I have to wonder what happened.

I can only hope that this week's expected Escape Pod story will be better.
« Last Edit: August 24, 2009, 01:53:11 AM by izzardfan » Logged
MacArthurBug
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« Reply #5 on: February 06, 2009, 06:21:04 PM »

In the general: I did not like this story at all.

All this story really did for me was provoke thought. How would I react in a world where Gods presence was a given? It's an interesting Metaphysical question. It was just handled so drudgingly! The ideas of this story just got bogged down by a) the very flat reading b) the actual horrid subject of the story in general. All that and he still didn't get to his goal. SUCK! As someone whose religious ideology is flawed and convoluted at the best of times I am in no place to pass judgment on the religious views of the story but there was a general Preachy but not in a good way feel to the whole.
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izzardfan
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« Reply #6 on: February 06, 2009, 07:07:59 PM »

there was a general Preachy but not in a good way feel to the whole.

That's it exactly!  I wasn't sure how to describe how I felt without sounding defensive of my own views, but you did a perfect job.
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« Reply #7 on: February 07, 2009, 01:02:18 AM »

I didn't have a problem with the reading myself--I prefer too little intonation to too much, and I thought the matter-of-factness was a nice contrast with the fantastical events.

But wow, that was a bleak ending. It reminded me a little of Immortal Sin by Jennifer Pelland. It made up for the bits in the middle when I wondered where the story was going.
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« Reply #8 on: February 07, 2009, 10:16:32 AM »

I was beginning to loose faith in Podcastle until I heard this. This is one of the best stories I've ever heard and the way people interpret such conflicting messages really rings true about how holy texts like the bible can be interpreted a million different ways and different for each person.

Very good Podcastle episode.
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« Reply #9 on: February 07, 2009, 02:11:17 PM »

I have mixed reactions to this one.  While I enjoy an examination of people's reaction to God based on their life experience, I don't think it served this story very well.  The frequent dramatic public visitations of angels was a unique idea, but for most of the story, it didn't drive the plot, but served as a backdrop for documentary-style case studies about religious faith.

I also don't feel that Janice and Ethan served any real purpose, either, other than to provide more case studies.  They very much distracted me from the main protagonist, Neil.  The author says that Janice and Ethan played a big part in Neil's life, but that isn't the case.  That they were physically there for Neil's transformation it's true, but that's it.

If you want to listen to a great story, listen from time 45:45 to 1:02:47.  I really liked this part.  The imagery of pilgrims gathering at a holy place to witness a visitation and then chasing the angel down in ATV's and pickups so they could be blinded by Heaven's Light was very cool.  The first 45 minutes could have been summed up very breifly, especially without Janice and Ethan.  However, even just Neil's story for the first 45 minutes seemed repetitive.  And then the last 7 minutes of the story were spent wrapping everything in a bow when it should have been left up to the reader/listener how to interpret the events.

I understand why some felt the story is preachy.  I see it more as too much information and speculation from the author.  I think the best use of religion and faith in stories is to present the events as a foundation for questions, and then let the audience come to its own conclusions.
« Last Edit: February 07, 2009, 03:33:40 PM by Swamp » Logged

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MacArthurBug
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« Reply #10 on: February 07, 2009, 03:08:41 PM »

I understand why some have felt that the story as preachy.  I see it more as too much information and speculation from the author.  I think the best use of religion and faith in stories is to present the events as a foundation for questions, and then let the audience come to its own conclusions.

Perhaps it was the TMI aspect. And I wholly agree with letting the audience come to it's iwn conclusions.
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« Reply #11 on: February 07, 2009, 03:50:20 PM »

Just commented on the blog & realized this should probably go into the forums, too - I always wanted to chime in here, so here's my first on  Smiley

I just don’t know what to say about this story. Some of its basic assumptions just don’t add up - wouldn’t there be more of an organized Church in this world? If it’s reflecting the Christian believe and traditions, where is the actual figure of the Christ (and the main teachings of the Gospels) or the Messiah? Are there any other religions at all?

I can go with the story’s concept of living with the proven presence of angels, Heaven and Hell, but this seemed somehow bleak. Probably religion works different in a world where you get visitations on a almost-weekly basis, but this isn’t really addressed in the story. The ending was disappointing - personal opinion, of course.

I really enjoy PodCastle and appreciate all the work the team puts into acquiring stories, getting people to read them and distribute them on the net; I also always enjoy the quality of the readings and the stories themselves. That said, this one was not a highlight.
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« Reply #12 on: February 07, 2009, 08:05:42 PM »

That was beyond words. I can’t express the idea of it in any form of language. I stuck with because I liked the idea of the life changing angels appearing in the world. I am in no way religious, but the idea of a god that both loved and didn’t care struck home to me. The way that it was read was phenomenal, just enough emotion to not sound like a robot, and less than to sound like an over-enthusiastic ten-year-old. The ending was very, well, depressing. I wouldn’t want every podcastle episode to be this deep, but it is a fairly good change in scenery. Good Job
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« Reply #13 on: February 08, 2009, 07:41:30 AM »

I really enjoyed this too, at first the narration felt too flat and the quality of sound bugged me (it sounds as though it were recorded in a bathroom it's so tinney) but about 10 minutes in I found myself hooked. The idea of these random? manifestions having such a profound effect, not just on the individual, but on the society appealed to me greatly. In many ways the whole piece felt slightly more Science Fiction Fantasy as opposed to straight fantasy (which is perfectly fine) as the lack of regard for their manifestations by the angels had an almost alien feel to it. I guess in this context the angels were truly aliens though, at least to the world that they manifested in. Although the story obviously had overtones of "Christian" religion, underneath it felt a little like a parallel world where this wasn't necessarily the traditional Christianity that was being used, it was just that the names were the same, almost as if this religion had been created by society to explain these manifestations rather than it being an extention of the western church. I also applaud the autheor for being brave enough to give a "hopeless" ending, for Neil and Janice to have got what they wanted would have been too neat, too twee. I much preferred the idea that "God" didn't really care.

Another one that was good enough to make me sit in the car on the drive for the 12 minutes that I had left to listen to when I got home.

Was it just me or were the manifestations of Hell slightly reminiscent of the Hell open to the public in Piers Anthony's Incarnations series.
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« Reply #14 on: February 08, 2009, 05:47:36 PM »

I seem to be in the minority here, but this was probably my favorite PodCastle episode yet. I found the combination of the surreal situation and the real dramatic tension to be very complimentary. The world seems based on a thought experiment, but I think some very interesting elements came out of it. One of the big things that I liked about the world is that even though it's so different, people are still obviously people, and they deal with very different situations in the same way that we do. That's why I thought that the light runners were the weakest element in this piece. It seemed as if the story was shrugging off its feeling of normalcy, and becoming an adventure. Although, I suppose there are people that chase tornadoes, so this could be the other world version of that.

The recording quality bugged me quite a bit at the beginning, although I was able to ignore it as I got more into the story. It sounded very tinny and kind of bleh.
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« Reply #15 on: February 08, 2009, 09:36:31 PM »

Someone on the blog said they thought Chiang was an atheist. I responded:

Is he?

I am, personally. The story made me uncomfortable in parts — particularly the ending. But I showed it to several people with various religious beliefs, both atheistic and theistic. It made us all uncomfortable (I think the story is profoundly uncomfortable, which is one of the things I like about it), but we couldn’t come up with a consistent reading on the story’s opinions about religion. I, personally, find it the opposite of preachy — it presents events (very uncomfortable ones) and draws conclusions in the voice of an unreliable narrator whose conclusions are, at best, biased. There’s an enormous space of strangeness, ambiguity, and discomfort in the narrative.

In any case, I don’t know whether Chiang is an atheist or a theist. I’d find that information interesting, but I think the story works well in an ambiguous space without it.

--

Also, just in case anyone finds the information interesting, this piece won both the Nebula and Hugo awards for the year in which it was published. It's interesting that it's reception here is so rocky, since theoretically the Hugo and Nebula cover two very broad bases of fandom. The fact that other people think it's award-worthy shouldn't sway anyone's opinion, of course. I just think it's interesting to look at.
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« Reply #16 on: February 08, 2009, 10:42:10 PM »

I share the mixed feelings about this story. Having been on both sides of the Great Debate myself (usually against my will, but that's a whole nother topic), I was both fascinated and disturbed by it. On the one hand, it's an interesting thing to see a world where the existence of God is a given, and manifestations of the divine are commonplace...and yet, these manifestations and their effects are random, akin to simple natural disasters. They are reduced to just another unfair thing about this unfair world that individuals having crises of faith must reconcile.

I disagree that the characters of Janice and Ethan were unnecessary. Our three main characters are good representatives of people at different stages in their spiritual life: we have one trying to reconcile his great personal loss with the notion of a loving God; another trying to make sense of a miraculous happening; and another striving to find his place in the Grand Design. I've met all three of these people before, and I think they were quite believably drawn.

That being said, the ending is still a punch in the gut.  The story puts forth a rather unappealing world view: that the afterlife is just as random and unfair as this life, and even God doesn't care. I was bothered that there wasn't even an explanation. Not even a reason given for why things happen. Ultimately it paints a picture of a God that is undeserving of the love and worship given Him by His children.

Maybe I'm just a softie, and prefer an ordered universe...
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« Reply #17 on: February 08, 2009, 11:57:04 PM »

This piece had me thinking long and hard for a long time after I heard it. It has so many layers to look at. I think it does poke fun at how people will interpret mretty much anything to fit their own outlook. Like how the parents use the death of the wife as further conviction of their dislike for the husband for example. (The proper nouns of the story are escaping me at the moment)
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« Reply #18 on: February 09, 2009, 09:06:11 AM »

Also, just in case anyone finds the information interesting, this piece won both the Nebula and Hugo awards for the year in which it was published. It's interesting that it's reception here is so rocky, since theoretically the Hugo and Nebula cover two very broad bases of fandom. The fact that other people think it's award-worthy shouldn't sway anyone's opinion, of course. I just think it's interesting to look at.

You should talk to Mike Resnick, the most awarded of Hugo and Nebula Awards, about the some of the feedback his stories have received on EscapePod.  I like most of his stories, but some of the comments were brutal.

I disagree that the characters of Janice and Ethan were unnecessary. Our three main characters are good representatives of people at different stages in their spiritual life: we have one trying to reconcile his great personal loss with the notion of a loving God; another trying to make sense of a miraculous happening; and another striving to find his place in the Grand Design. I've met all three of these people before, and I think they were quite believably drawn.

I agree that these characters represented different spiritual models of how different people respond to God and religion, and I actually liked hearing their viewpoints.  Trust me, I'm all up for spiritual discussion.  I just didn't think the characters were tied together very well, or intertwined into Neil's story.  Like they were just put in to represent different viewpoints, and that's it.  What I think would be cool, would be a series of stories showing these different characters in their own stories, sharing the same visitaion.
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« Reply #19 on: February 09, 2009, 10:23:12 AM »

I would probably have picked another story since this is his weakest short story imho and it would have worked better if spoken with a little more energy, but i still liked it.

For anyone who didnt hate the story completely i suggest cheking out Ted Chiang's book of short stories, it is quite amazing
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