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Author Topic: PC069: The Olverung  (Read 9109 times)
Heradel
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« on: September 09, 2009, 12:20:53 PM »

PodCastle 069: The Olverung

by Stephen Woodworth.
Read by Paul S. Jenkins (of the Rev Up Review).

The Olverung is an ugly bird.  Its bulbous head juts from the spout of a scrawny neck, and warts dot the bridge of its fat beak.  When it struts upon the ground, its pot-bellied body waddles with the ludicrous gait of a town drunkard.  Its plumage has the black iridescence of a fly’s abdomen and is too coarse even for pillow stuffing.  Yet the fowl possesses one singular attribute that princes and popes have coveted for centuries, and it was for this sole virtue that Lord Atherton entreated me to steal the creature from the King.

Rated R for tugged heartstrings.
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ellejayoh
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« Reply #1 on: September 10, 2009, 09:35:03 AM »

The romantic side of me wanted so badly for this story to end with the bird at last realizing a measure of peace, but the realist knew better. This was very engaging and wonderfully read - my first in what I anticipate will be many amazing journies with Podcastle. Thank you!
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Scattercat
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« Reply #2 on: September 10, 2009, 11:58:58 AM »

I loved the idea of the Olverung, and the story was certainly well-written in terms of things like characterization, flow, and so on, but oh mercy me, that man was the worst "master thief" I have ever seen.  He left two clear witnesses who can finger him - his old mentor who knows he purchased the Grey Gentlemen (and even used that same name during his show!) and the footman who personally led the rogue magician directly to the king's quarters with knowledge that said magician was specifically interested in the Olverung.  Plus he thinks Lord Atherton might have recognized him or realized who he was.

Now, the fooferah at the end, yeah, unfortunate, bad luck, somewhat unavoidable, and that left lots more witnesses, though most wouldn't have gotten a clear look at his face.  But his plan was terrible on the face of it.  What if they'd turned him away at the gates?  He didn't have any tokens from the lady or any sign of being in her employ.  Why wear a mask during meetings at night in a graveyard but NOT during a magic show, when one could presumably get away with it fairly easily?  For that matter, why do a magic show at all?  He could have just bribed the footman from the get-go.  You want to avoid visibility and drawing attention to yourself when pulling a heist.  I mean, it's great to have a magic show as a distraction, but then you need a minion to pull the actual theft.  Plus, leaving a pigeon behind is going to kind of clue everyone in on who pulled the crime if you just used those pigeons in a magic show.  Oi.

And he maintains a public identity with a very large house.  That's only a good idea if you're stealing money from your own corporation.  If you're a second story man, you need to either live in quiet opulence or have a good reason why you're wealthy.  "Poor orphan" isn't a great background for that.

Perhaps this is a sore point of mine.  I've read several fantasy novels with a "master thief" protagonist who doesn't take even basic common sense precautions when pulling heists and whose "brilliant plans" are full of terrible holes.  (I remember one rather vividly, save for the actual title, in which the super-genius hero's Big Secret Plan involved just crashing a party, snatching the valuable MacGuffin, and running.)  I think it's just a weakness of the genre. 

Let me see if I can think of what I'd call a good example, just so this whole post isn't whining.  Hm.  Juliet E. McKenna's series starts with "The Thief's Gamble" and, while it's not without flaws, does have a thief protagonist who approaches the job with the right mindset.  And it's been a while, but I don't remember facepalming at any of the plans in Martha Wells' "Death of the Necromancer," which even has a super-master-thief (complete with Sherlock Holmes analogue chasing him) as a protagonist instead of just a standard cat burglar.

So yeah.  Loved the idea of the bird and the general story arc, but frustrated by the bad-idea-on-the-face-of-it plan from a supposed career criminal.  That about sums up my reaction.
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ajames
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« Reply #3 on: September 12, 2009, 12:49:56 PM »

Excellent story and superb narration. Rather disturbing commentary on love, though.

Scattercat, I don't think the master thief angle was quite as bad as you portray it, for the following reasons. First, although he is introduced as an accomplished thief, we learn right away that his interest was not in money, but in fighting ennui. A better plan that removed the elements of excitement to a large degree would therefore have been less preferable. He seemed to be the type of character who would revel in calling attention to himself, relying on his wits and fortune to best his opponents, and would yawn at a plan which didn't depend on him personally pulling the wool over his victim's eyes. Second, I believe the magician make-up was meant to conceal his identity. Lord Atherton may have realized that this magician must be the master thief, but that doesn't mean Atherton could pick him from a line up with his make up removed. I believe the key was that anyone could trace the crime to the magician, but no one could trace the magician to the master thief. As you note, his previous mentor is a bit of a weak link there, but again, his mentor has no idea who he is now, and its not clear that the mentor would ever learn of the details of the crime, or be trusted by anyone if he did, or go to the authorities (as he might just be killed or imprisoned for his role in the crime). Anyway, not the crime of the century in terms of planning, but in terms of gumption a daring crime (even if one man's daring is another man's stupidity).
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Scattercat
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« Reply #4 on: September 13, 2009, 04:42:38 AM »

I just have a hard time believing that someone who comes up with plans like that on a regular basis isn't already imprisoned and/or dead.  I mean, if nobles are hiring him by reputation alone, he's obviously been wildly successful.

Like I said, it's probably mostly a personal quirk, but I do get irritated by bad plans, especially when they succeed.  A good plan that goes bad is exciting drama; a bad plan that fails is entertaining poetic justice, but a bad plan that succeeds is like a spray bottle to a cat for me.
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« Reply #5 on: September 13, 2009, 03:52:32 PM »

When it comes to historical fantasy this is as good as it gets; a wonderful story which really takes you to pre-Enlightenment England. And Paul Jenkins was just perfect as narrator.
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wyrder42
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« Reply #6 on: September 15, 2009, 09:04:36 AM »

Now that's a pretty twisted piece of work.

I like it!  :-)
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« Reply #7 on: September 15, 2009, 10:56:42 AM »

Very good narration, except for some parts where I think more emotion was called for.

I think with some tweaking this would make an excellent horror story -- if Olverungs existed, but there were more than one (they were just rare) and there were whole groups of people who play them as orchestral instruments.

The story was interesting, but the more I think about it the less I really like it. Great details, alternate history (there was some, right? I seem to think there was), decent characters, but in the end it's a story about stealing a bird. Perhaps it was the denouement that soured it for me; I would've been much more satisfied if the MC had simply put the bird in a cage in his trophy room and the story had ended.

Overall not bad, not awesome.
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« Reply #8 on: September 15, 2009, 11:00:58 AM »

Out of curiousity, why would that ending have satisfied you more? I can understand it making you less upset with the protagonist, but for me personally, it's the horrible actions at the very end of this story that will make it stick with me, as opposed to just being an amusing heist story.
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Talia
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« Reply #9 on: September 18, 2009, 12:37:18 AM »

, but in the end it's a story about stealing a bird.

I disagree. It's a story about a person doing what they NEEDED above doing what they thought was right. It really wasn't about the theft, it was about a person's fundimental weakness.
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bamugo
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« Reply #10 on: September 18, 2009, 08:16:05 AM »

I liked this story, and I liked the reading.

I did find it sad - I'm an animal lover and I found my gorge rising a little each time the Olverung was "played" (to use the deliberately crass term the author used).

But I don't think I would have changed a thing - this was a very good observation of the human condition. I'm a crusader against happy endings (well, at least in EVERY story).
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« Reply #11 on: September 21, 2009, 06:55:08 PM »

Quote from: Stephan Woodworth in The Olverung
The melody trembled between major and minor keys, angelic and anguished all at once.  First ringing one's head with dizzying ecstasy, then clamping it in the vise of unbearable grief.  It promised delight beyond measure, yet, an instant later, dashed all hope of happiness.  It was the sound of love.

Men and women alike sobbed openly.  The queen let out a strangled cry and buried her face in her hands.  The king dabbed daintily at his eyes with a handkerchief.  Some wept for joy; some wept for sorrow; but all wept for love.

Even I was not immune.  I, who have known neither a mother's tenderness nor a friend's loyalty in my wretched existence.  I, who have never wooed a woman for more than a night's dalliance.  A stranger to love, I recognized its voice as surely as if seeing my own twin for the first time.  Terrible and glorious; beautiful and cruel; eternal yet fleeting.  My ice-bound heart shivered to the point of shattering; and tears turned the flour on my face into trails of paste.

Disturbing commentary on love, ajames says.  Perhaps, but also a beautifully written commentary on love. 

Worst master thief ever, Scattercat says.  I see your point.  I wondered about leaving the pigeon myself.  However it didn't bother me, mostly for the reasons ajames mentioned, and that I was so caught up in the story.

Addiction metaphor tainted by cruelty, says epilonious.  Very true.  I felt for the poor bird and hoped for its release.

While all these things are true, I thoroughly enjoyed this story.  It was both a fun adventure and a disturbing look at human nature.  This may be the first heist story that has given me so much to think about.
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« Reply #12 on: September 22, 2009, 11:51:25 AM »

Out of curiousity, why would that ending have satisfied you more? I can understand it making you less upset with the protagonist, but for me personally, it's the horrible actions at the very end of this story that will make it stick with me, as opposed to just being an amusing heist story.

I just don't think we needed to see the MC's downward spiral into Olverung-addiction. I think by stealing the bird simply to add it to his own collection, that creates a Twilight-Zone-y vibe that I would have found quite strong. He has all these other trophies... does he handle them? Play with them? Or just have them in a room? It would IMO create new questions to ponder.
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eytanz
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« Reply #13 on: September 22, 2009, 12:10:07 PM »

Out of curiousity, why would that ending have satisfied you more? I can understand it making you less upset with the protagonist, but for me personally, it's the horrible actions at the very end of this story that will make it stick with me, as opposed to just being an amusing heist story.

I just don't think we needed to see the MC's downward spiral into Olverung-addiction. I think by stealing the bird simply to add it to his own collection, that creates a Twilight-Zone-y vibe that I would have found quite strong. He has all these other trophies... does he handle them? Play with them? Or just have them in a room? It would IMO create new questions to ponder.

I have to entirely disagree. The story establishs the protagonist as being a master thief, who steals things for his collection - but at the same time, is basically a good, compassionate man (as seen in his treatment of the young magician's apprentice). The ending is necessary, as it shows that neither of these are true anymore - the collection is meaningless to him now, as is thievery. And his need to hear the olvernung's song overcomes any compassion he may have. Without the ending, the story is just a by-the-books caper.

That said, I do think the ending could have been trimmed a bit sooner - say, after he twists the bird's wing the first time. The last few lines were a bit redundant. But I would have hated it to end where it appears you want it to end.
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Benjamin
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« Reply #14 on: September 23, 2009, 05:14:24 AM »

Well, this point might be obvious to many, but it just hit me:

The cruelty necessary to elicit the beautiful song from the bird is analogous to the treatment some of our great artists are put through when they reach a certain level of fame and esteem.

Some artists want to express their art, but don't want to be picked apart in the public's cruel spotlight. We the public, though, can never just let them be.

Others become artist to express a fundamental hurt within themselves that needs to get out and we, their audience, become their tormentors in a way. We do not try to help them resolve that pain, rather we encourage it and the self-destructive behavior that results from it, in order to squeeze more creativity out of them.

Elvis, Jackson Pollock, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Janis Joplin, Jimmi Hendrix, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Curt Cobain - the list of our society's Olverungs is long.
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« Reply #15 on: September 26, 2009, 07:59:30 AM »

Overlung was one of my favorite stories in RoF last year, so I'm very happy it got picked up here. I'm surprised comments have been so divided on it, because it is a story I love from start to finish. The reading was perfect. I love historical fantasy and always enjoy seeing more!
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LaShawn
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« Reply #16 on: October 19, 2009, 11:56:51 AM »

I found the ending to be that of a mirror of the MC life. I found it interesting in that he mentions sometimes he is able to resist hurting the Olverung. That made it all the more tragic to me.

Good story. Had me on the edge of my seat by all the mistakes and mishaps he made.
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« Reply #17 on: October 21, 2009, 01:13:08 PM »

Wonderful! I want more like this one! I am tempted to use slews of exclimation points just to prove my point, but I'll behave. I deeply enjoyed the feelings expressed in this piece. This was like a fine painting or a carefully prepared meal. You could feel the art in this story. I enjoyed it's strange horrid little twists. I, like many others, kept expecting something better for the poor ugly bird. But, I wasn't suprised he kept it, tormented it. In his place I may have as well. We all have dark terrible gardens in our heads, places where we enjoy the very things that disgust and frighten us (PP's tenticled castle comes to mind for some reason).

Very good work!
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« Reply #18 on: November 11, 2009, 09:30:13 AM »

I thought the idea of the Olverung was original, interesting, and compelling.  The idea of that poor bird being tormented to produce its wonderful sounds is horrible indeed.

The heist itself was kind of blah for me.  Pretty much standard heist material until he actual hit the bird with the basket.

I do agree with Scattercat that for a master thief, he did not seem to be on top of the planning department.
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« Reply #19 on: October 28, 2010, 10:12:34 PM »

This was a nicely told story whose flaws didn't come to light until much later. I accept this as a tall tale that was well served by the audio presentation. The unhappy ending makes is a good recommendation to Pseudopod folks.  Smiley
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