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Author Topic: PC055: Bottom Feeding  (Read 4212 times)
Heradel
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« on: June 05, 2009, 05:38:59 PM »

PodCastle 55: Bottom Feeding

By Tim Pratt
Read by Kip Manley (of the serialized fantasy novel City of Roses)

The salmon of knowledge lived a long time ago, in the Well of Segais, where the waters ran deep and clear as rippling air. He swam there, thinking his deep thoughts, coming to the surface occasionally to eat the magical hazel-nuts that fell into the water from the trees on the bank. Every nut contained revelations, but the salmon was not a mere living compendium of knowledge — he was a wise fish, too, and so chose to live quietly, waiting for the inevitable day when he would be caught and devoured. The salmon dimly remembered past (and perhaps future) lives, experiences inside and outside of time, from the whole history of the land: being blinded by a hawk on a cold winter night, hiding in a cave after a flood, running from a woman who might have been a goddess, or who might have been a witch.

The salmon did not look forward to being caught, and cooked, and eaten, but knowing what the consequences would be for the one who caught him, he had to laugh, insofar as fish (even very wise ones) are able to laugh.

Rated R. for fish-related hijinks.
« Last Edit: June 11, 2009, 06:53:30 AM by Heradel » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: June 05, 2009, 06:33:14 PM »

  Oh my lord, what a horribly sad story. I really liked the story, it was just really really depressing.

  The only criticism I have is that the ending didn't feel complete to me, I wanted more, I wanted to see the repercussions of Rebecca tasting the fish beyond just her eyes getting wide. I know there probably wasn't anything more to tell, I just wanted more; I'm greedy like that.
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Cerebrilith
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« Reply #2 on: June 06, 2009, 06:10:30 AM »

Got about half of the way through this one before it bored me to sleep and I turned it off.
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Anarquistador
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« Reply #3 on: June 06, 2009, 08:50:10 AM »

I liked it up until the end. I liked that they worked in the old Irish legend of the Salmon of Knowledge (which, like many of my people's myths and legends, sound more ridiculous than it actually is). But the ending was abrupt and somewhat unsatisfying. I mean, what happened next? What were the consequences? ARGH!

...on a more selfish note, I'm honored that I was quoted in the reader feedback section of the podcastle. Hooray, I exist!
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internalogic
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« Reply #4 on: June 06, 2009, 11:45:17 AM »

The story was excellent, in its way.  Not boring at all to me.  Well-written and well-told.  I did not like how the ending was handled, although I can recognize that it was intentional.  (Intentionality is one of my top requiremetns for art; hard to have integrity without it). 

Still, while the ending did feel intentional to me, its abruptness struck me as less than skillful.  It was annoying, after the slow, gradual, and detail-rich build-up/rising action of the story, to have the climax occur in about one paragraph.  And to have that be the final paragraph of the story made me a bit angry. 

On the other hand, the story is, in a fundamental way, about the narrator's emergence from timelessness into time.  Maybe the only appropriate way for that to happen is for it to be sudden and jarring. 

Whereas he was in a morass of faded memories throughout most of the story, in the final paragraph the present-moment comes into super-sharp relief.  Originally, the story was meandering back and forth through years and years; but at the end an entire paragraph is devoted to events that occured in only a few seconds, the blink of an eye.  For better or for worse, and in part through the sacrifice of his friend, the narrator is now officially back in 'real-time'.  In other words, things are happening in the present that he actually cares about.

And yes, it's quite irritating not to know what she saw when she looked at him at the end of the story. 
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internalogic
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« Reply #5 on: June 06, 2009, 11:56:30 AM »

Although, on a less thematic level and on a more pragmatic level, let's think about what she probably saw. 

We're given a lot of clues throughout the story, by the details of how the salmon's wisdom worked.

The salmon eats and knows wisdom all throughout its life.  and whoever first tastes the salmon, after it is killed, gets the knowledge of all the wisdom and lessons that the salmon has experienced in its life.

Now what does the catfish eat?  It eats the memories of people.  It eats their abandoned dreams and their buried desperations.  It consumes the detritus of the spirit, so that our souls and our passing through this world will not leave clutter.  The catfish populate the river Styx, and so they eat waht people leave behind as their souls make the transition to beyond this world.  Thus it eats our identities and our connections to the world of the living.

So perhaps all of these are what is known by the catfish.  The narrators says the salmon is very wise, but the catfish never forgets.  It's those comparative paragraphs that give us the clues as to what the catfish knows. 

And of course, the final and most poignant clue is the reaction of the friend after, having tasted the catfish's flesh, she looks upon the protagonist.  Her eyes widen in shock. 

What a terrific image.  I have to admit. 

Still, it's left deliciously and irritatingly vague.  What caused her eyes to widen in shock?  Something specifically shocking about the narrator?  (That's my favorite).  Or some general knowledge she has now gained about whomever she happens to look upon? 

To discern the soul of another would be a shocking experience.  But what has she seen?
« Last Edit: June 06, 2009, 11:59:07 AM by internalogic » Logged
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« Reply #6 on: June 06, 2009, 11:36:26 PM »

I liked this story a lot ...


... until the end.  Now I hate it.  I don't tend to favor ambiguous endings, and this one really rubbed me the wrong way.  I'm with VoidMunashii and Anarquistador on this one.  The catfish is not the Salmon of Knowledge, so the effect of tasting it is not really made clear enough for me.
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« Reply #7 on: June 07, 2009, 12:12:47 AM »

I liked this story a lot ...


... until the end.  Now I hate it.  I don't tend to favor ambiguous endings, and this one really rubbed me the wrong way.  I'm with VoidMunashii and Anarquistador on this one.  The catfish is not the Salmon of Knowledge, so the effect of tasting it is not really made clear enough for me.

  I've been thinking on it (this story has really stuck with me; I think mostly due to the immense sadness of it), and I think what she saw was exactly how hurt and damaged her friend and former lover is. If what the catfish eats sorrowful memories, loss, and desperation, and if Gray has been feeding it a steady diet of his own sorrows then what Rebecca may have seen was the real him, and not the mask he usually wears around her.

  I know that if I found out that someone I thought I knew well, and thought was more or less mentally stable was suddenly revealed to be practically suicidally depressed (in no small part directly because of me) it would certainly make my eyes go wide and my jaw drop.

  Oh, and byt the way, "Rated R. for fish-related hijinks"? How about language since the phrase "Shit Eater" is used a few dozen times? Not really an issue for me personally, but I found it kind of funny when I saw that on the blog.
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Hilary Moon Murphy
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« Reply #8 on: June 07, 2009, 12:53:56 PM »

This is a stunningly beautiful parable of grief.

I remembered, after the death of my father, drifting for a time, exploring his life through old saved letters and going through all the crap he had saved trying to make sense of it, and what all of the junk he collected meant to him.

If I had met shit eater, I would have surely found myself throwing stuff into the pond for the catfish too. 

This worked for me, ambiguous ending and all.  I think that Rebecca just got a taste of Gray's grief, despair and hopeless love.  That would cause me to pause too.

Hmm
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eytanz
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« Reply #9 on: June 07, 2009, 02:05:07 PM »

I'm a bit on the fence on this one. Like quite a few others, I was bothered by the ending, but not by its ambiguity - rather, as internalogic pointed out, the aburptness stood in a sharp contrast to the deliberately slow pacing. I think the story would have been better served with an ending - could be equally as ambiguous - that was more drawn out.

That said, the overall story was really cool, and I like its depths a lot. I would like to thank internalogic for his (second) post above - it really made me think about things in the story I missed and I appreciate it more now.
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Rain
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« Reply #10 on: June 08, 2009, 09:52:12 AM »

I had a little problem with the ending as some of the others did, but i didnt mind as much since i Loved the rest of the story. Dont really have much to say about it other than it is another Great Tim Pratt story
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« Reply #11 on: June 10, 2009, 10:22:29 AM »

The last three Pratt stories I've heard have all had really abrupt endings -- "Cup and Table" (which was a 'wait about three seconds and you'll get it and it'll be awesome' ending), "Komodo", and now this. I guess being an established author lets you get away with doing that more (glares at editor of Asimov's, but only slightly, because I still want to be published there...  Grin ).

Anyway, other than the MC's name and his brother's, which I've never heard anywhere in rural Georgia (Grayden and Alden? Really?), I was fine with the story. I allow fantasy to develop slower because that's what fantasy tends to do. Sure, it can be fast and rollicking, but there's a lot of good long stuff, whereas long-form horror feels like the author's racing to top him/herself and long-form SF can sometimes be overly full of infodumps -- even Greg Bear's "Slant", which I really like, has a few too many of those, and Neal Stephenson is a major offender despite being an amazing author.

I liked it. Good "new myth" story. I was a little let down by not getting a BIT more information about what Rebecca learned, but I can live with it, I guess. Also, I don't buy Rebecca laying all that crap on Grayden and then sleeping with him. It felt like pity-sex. I think it would've been more real for him to turn her down.

Good reading. I appreciated the lack of put-on voices.
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« Reply #12 on: June 10, 2009, 10:28:03 AM »

The last three Pratt stories I've heard have all had really abrupt endings -- "Cup and Table" (which was a 'wait about three seconds and you'll get it and it'll be awesome' ending), "Komodo", and now this. I guess being an established author lets you get away with doing that more (glares at editor of Asimov's, but only slightly, because I still want to be published there...  Grin ).

The difference, I think, is that both "Cup and Table" and "Komodo" clearly ended at the ending. "Cup and Table"'s ending may have been a bit too clever for its own good, but it did tie up all the remaining threads. "Komodo"'s ending was not, in my opinion, abrupt - it was fast, but it was consistent with the overall pacing of the story. This story proceeded at a very deliberate pace, and then just cut off mid-scene. I think this was the right point to end, but I think it could have been arrived at better.

Quote
Also, I don't buy Rebecca laying all that crap on Grayden and then sleeping with him. It felt like pity-sex. I think it would've been more real for him to turn her down.

I read it more like self-pity sex - earlier, Rebecca was being more in control of herself and thinking of what was best for Grayden. As she got drunker, she was less concerned with what was best for them and more with a way to vent her frustrations. And I've been close enough to Grayden's position here to know that I probably would have not refused in his position - well, I'd like to think that if this came up now I would have, but ten years ago, I would not have said no.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2009, 10:32:54 AM by eytanz » Logged
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« Reply #13 on: June 11, 2009, 10:33:56 PM »

I read it more like self-pity sex - earlier, Rebecca was being more in control of herself and thinking of what was best for Grayden. As she got drunker, she was less concerned with what was best for them and more with a way to vent her frustrations.

  That's pretty much how I understood it too; she was using Grayden to satisfy her own needs. In her defense, I think she thought he was using her too. She was way too wrapped up in her own situation, desires, and self-pity to even notice what bad shape her friend really was in. She was being selfish, but given how her and Grayden's relationship ended, that is probably just the way it is with her.

  Is it just me, or is Grayden a pretty cool name?
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« Reply #14 on: September 25, 2009, 02:59:04 PM »

It took me a while to post about this story, because I lost my Dad this year.

Anyone who has suffered grief can really identify with this story. How grief can consume your life, no matter how you try to get rid of it. The anger you feel, the hopelessness the feeling you have at times to do something, anything. Then at times a sudden jolt of understanding and acceptance. Really interesting.

Poor Shit Eater, though!
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« Reply #15 on: December 14, 2009, 02:49:01 PM »

This could've been one of my favorite Podcastle stories, but for a couple things that really brought down my enjoyment:

1.  The opening scene telegraphed too much by showing him with the harpoon gun, and the bait of his brother's stuff.  I had a pretty good guess on what was going on already by that time, so most of the next 40 minutes was feeding me information that seemed pretty obvious all along.  Maybe I picked up on it a  little too quickly because some of the concepts are a bit similar to "Bait" that ran on Pseudopod a while back.

2.  The cop-out ending.  Especially considering the rest of the story was telegraphed by the first scene, the only interesting question left was "What happens when he eats it?"  the suspense up until the ending was handled well with a clue here and there, and then it ends without finding out.  I mean, her eyes widening could be anything, she could be about to say "This tastes like Early Grey tea."  If that's what a fish tasted like, I would be wide-eyed too.  To wait and then have no resolution is like waiting in line at an amusement park for a ride--the line's really long so it must be good!--and finding out it's the line for a bathroom.  I'm not even convinced that the author knew what the answer is.  But whether the author knew the answer or not, I didn't like it.
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« Reply #16 on: December 16, 2009, 02:48:27 PM »

2.  The cop-out ending.  Especially considering the rest of the story was telegraphed by the first scene, the only interesting question left was "What happens when he eats it?"  the suspense up until the ending was handled well with a clue here and there, and then it ends without finding out. 

You mean you don't know what she saw?   ;-)
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« Reply #17 on: December 20, 2009, 03:30:56 PM »

I really enjoyed this story.  I agree that the ending was abrupt, but I do not believe that it was unclear . . . but then again, I saw it coming (I'm pretty good at figuring out what the twist will be).  Like the the servant did in the Celtic legend of the Salmon of Wisdom, she tasted the fish first and thus gained all it's knowledge.  At first, I wanted this spelled out for me and was frustrated at the ending.  But why spell out something, which we already understand?  It would be redundant.
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« Reply #18 on: December 21, 2009, 04:01:58 PM »

I really enjoyed this story.  I agree that the ending was abrupt, but I do not believe that it was unclear . . . but then again, I saw it coming (I'm pretty good at figuring out what the twist will be).  Like the the servant did in the Celtic legend of the Salmon of Wisdom, she tasted the fish first and thus gained all it's knowledge.  At first, I wanted this spelled out for me and was frustrated at the ending.  But why spell out something, which we already understand?  It would be redundant.

But there were several passages dedicated to telling us that salmon and catfish are different, so to me it was not clear that the passing of knowledge was what would occur.  In fact, since they are different, the only thing I seemed to know was that it would not be like the salmon, but what it would be like was unclear (to me).
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