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Author Topic: PC057: In Ashes  (Read 3819 times)
Heradel
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« on: June 16, 2009, 09:24:44 PM »

PodCastle 57: In Ashes

by Helen Keeble.
Read by Marie Brennan.

From the time my twin brother and I were four, our mother only gave us raw food. Before then I can remember sometimes eating cold, cooked things—porridge congealed onto the bottom of my bowl, soups with a white floating scum of fats—but that stopped after our fourth birthday, when my brother laughed and said “Hot!” as he tasted the cake that my mother had spent an hour baking and three days cooling. She whipped him for that, while I howled and hung onto her arm, and sent us both to our beds in the cowshed. Later she came out with two handfuls of dried apricots and hugged us in the dark, her great rough hands pressing our faces against her chest—but the next day there was only raw food for dinner, withered apples and sliced turnip, and the day after that, and the day after that.

The next time our birthday came round, I whined for a cake, but she said we could only have one if my brother would blow out a candle. For me, he tried, drawing in huge breath after huge breath while I gripped his crippled hand under the table, squeezing encouragement; but each lungful of air trickled out unused as he stared rapt at the flickering light. My mother sat opposite us, expressionless and still, the flame reflected in her eyes. The candle burned down to a melted pool of wax and went out. My mother never made another cake. I never saw her cook anything ever again.

Rated R. Contains potentially disturbing imagery and unkindness toward children.
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« Reply #1 on: June 17, 2009, 03:55:28 PM »

Tried to leave my comment on this last night, but the forum hadn't been opened yet.

An astoundingly good story--really well written (and brilliantly read), and with a range of tone and atmosphere that shouldn't be possible in a piece as short as this. The beginning reads like a horror story, and for a while there's nothing to say that it's set in a "fantasy" setting rather than any other (past, present, future...). The arrival of the raiders and the revellation that the mother isn't just mad, but her abuse has a more pitiful, tragic cause is a huge turning point, almost changing the genre and style at the same time as the subject matter, but this change isn't jarring... the story never skips a beat. The (internal) narrator is a powerful voice and carries the story from beginning to emotionally gruelling end.

Very good work from both Helen Keeble Marie Brennan--one of my favourite PCs for a long time.
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« Reply #2 on: June 17, 2009, 07:52:03 PM »

A dark story, but the good kind of dark. Very cool and creepy. Especially the description of the female Elementalist. Both her body and her mind. Dang. That's my kind of woman.

I found myself hungry for answers, though. I wanted to know more about the universe this story took place in, about what Elementalists do, about what they're used for. Which, I guess, is the sign of a good story.
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Heradel
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« Reply #3 on: June 17, 2009, 08:24:18 PM »

Tried to leave my comment on this last night, but the forum hadn't been opened yet.

Er, sorry on that one. I'm doing an internship now that's fulfilling and what I want to be doing, but also takes up large amounts of time that during the school year I spend studying and screwing about online.

Feel free to message me if there's an episode up that I haven't posted yet — I have the forums set to email me every time I get a PM so I'll see it fairly immediately and take care of it forthwith.

So, er, not dead, just busy. And being inconvenienced by the likes of the President of South Korea, who really knows how to mess with well laid plans.

(Not kidding on that last one. 20510 can be crazy.)   
« Last Edit: June 17, 2009, 08:29:06 PM by Heradel » Logged

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Listener
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« Reply #4 on: June 18, 2009, 06:37:27 PM »

I think the beginning of the story had too much left out, and in the beginning I wasn't terribly drawn in. I think it affected me for the rest of the story, because I wasn't really impressed overall. Cool idea, but too small a story for this kind of world. Once the author finally revealed the elementalist angle, I wanted to know more about the world than this little family. Basically, the twin sister as the narrator made it too hard to keep track of what else was going on.

Reading was fine.
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« Reply #5 on: June 22, 2009, 04:59:07 PM »

I enjoyed this story as it was a-going along.

And then......it ended and the brother and mother left. 
It wasn't explained why, I think.

This isn't the first time I've listened to an EA story where the main thing seems to have been exploring the situation or the premise or the fact that you have a sculptor creating something magical, etc. etc. but when you get to the end it's as if the writer didn't really know what they wanted to happen to resolve the plot.

Maybe it is a specific problem for genre fiction choices and writing though, since they always need to have a strong something element, rather than being just a story.
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Talia
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« Reply #6 on: June 25, 2009, 07:42:46 PM »

I enjoyed this story as it was a-going along.

And then......it ended and the brother and mother left. 
It wasn't explained why, I think.

This isn't the first time I've listened to an EA story where the main thing seems to have been exploring the situation or the premise or the fact that you have a sculptor creating something magical, etc. etc. but when you get to the end it's as if the writer didn't really know what they wanted to happen to resolve the plot.

Maybe it is a specific problem for genre fiction choices and writing though, since they always need to have a strong something element, rather than being just a story.

Hm? Plot seemed quite resolved to me. Boy discovered that his obsesion with fire would become all consuming and his sister, who he obviously loved to no end, would cease to matter to him. Presumably he didnt want to have her witness him being eaten alive by fire, so he chose to save his mother's life and spare his sister seeing him being eaten up by his power at the same time as he went off to battle.  its true they never exactly explained what they were fighting, but the implication was there was an ongoing war and they needed these kids with these powers to keep fighting "the enemy."

It was him accepting his fate but opting to save his sister. Sad and kind of touching.

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eytanz
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« Reply #7 on: June 28, 2009, 09:54:06 AM »

I really liked this story. I especially liked how the story says so much without saying it - everything Talia said in her post above, as well as the mother and father's motivation, the fact that they had to be cruel to the child to try to protect him. This was made doubly poignent by the fact that the narrator, as a child herself, did not understand any of this, not until long after the story was gone, and resented the treatment  - and the fact that the brother, for all that he had to go through, understood it better.

A darker story, perhaps, than I would have liked to hear today, but a very well-written one.
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MacArthurBug
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« Reply #8 on: June 29, 2009, 11:59:38 PM »

Strange, wonderful, weird, and dark. YAY!
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« Reply #9 on: August 05, 2009, 11:14:24 PM »

Umm. I felt the preface about smoke alarms kind of telegraphed what the story was about. Could have done without it.

Interesting story.
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« Reply #10 on: December 29, 2009, 02:42:57 PM »

Excellent story!  It was clear that this world was much more complex than we are given to completely understand, but this was a perfect method with a child protagonist with a sheltered life.  The metered revealing of details was splendidly done to carefully reveal the setting.  At the beginning the mother seems cruel, but my view of her changed pretty fluidly throughout, always a good effect. 

The one thing I didn't understand while listening was why he chose the mother over the sister.  It seems that he chose her because he didn't love her and he did love his sister, but why is that the deciding factor?  Talia's answer makes sense, that he doesn't want his sis to be forced to see him burnt to a crisp, but I was confused in-story.  That didn't hurt my liking of the story, it seemed clear to me that I just didn't make the connection, not that the author had made any mistakes.
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