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Author Topic: PC081: On Bookstores, Burners, And Origami  (Read 7845 times)
Heradel
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« on: December 08, 2009, 08:17:26 AM »

Podcastle 81: On Bookstores, Burners, And Origami

By Jason D. Wittman

Read by Brian Rollins

Originally published in SciFi.com (Yes, we know. We’re still pointing at it and calling it Fantasy)

Hitomi waited on the sidewalk, uncomfortably aware of the police dirigibles hovering overhead.  Their hulking mass was made even more ominous by the glare of their searchlights, fueled by kerosene, panning back and forth along the streets.  A constant hiss of steam emanated from their engines, softer now that they were idling, but all the more menacing for that.

It was a chill autumn morning, and Hitomi’s breath misted in the air, colored orange by the sun peeking over the Minneapolis cityscape to the east.  Likewise colored orange were the smoke and steam rising from the bookstore across the street — the bookstore where Hitomi worked.  The store had been broken into last night and set afire.  As far as anyone could tell, no money or merchandise had been stolen.  This was all in accordance with the modus operandi of the Burners.

Rated PG: Contains dirigibles, printing presses, and Edgar Allan Poe
« Last Edit: December 22, 2009, 01:19:03 AM by Heradel » Logged

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cdugger
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« Reply #1 on: December 09, 2009, 12:01:49 PM »

And, another PC I liked.

I love books, and hate the burning of them. Anytime a burner gets his, I'm there.

Liked the Japanese Golem, too. Elegant and imaginative. Perfect way to picture it.

Did not like the reading. The pacing was non-existent, and there was absolutely no character differentiation! I mean, c'mon! There was a Japanes character with no accent! Sounded like a child was doing the read. You guys can do better!

Edit: corrected my spelling error!
« Last Edit: December 09, 2009, 08:40:37 PM by cdugger » Logged

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HexD
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« Reply #2 on: December 09, 2009, 01:03:11 PM »

Good story. I'm a sucker for Alternate History and this used it to good affect (it was part of the setting, not the plot).

I liked the read. Very smooth and simple. He let the story unfold without overacting it. Too many readers try to do foreign accents, especially Asian ones and just come out sounding "me likee flied lice" and not actually Asian. My $0.02. Your mileage may vary.
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #3 on: December 09, 2009, 02:59:26 PM »

I actually didn't like this story that much. I've got a bit of a thing against sloppy alternate history fiction, which is what I thought this was. If you're going to write alternate history, write alternate history! Resist the urge to make shit up.

Alternate history where a media magnate president is exercising a democracy-endangering (and literature-endangering) stranglehold over printing? Great.

It's kind of steampunky, what with p-mails and police dirigibles... ok, it's stylish enough that I can overlook the silliness.

...and magic origami golems. Lost me.

That's not to say that I have anything against a steampunky setting where strange ideologies clash and paper golems stalk the streets, it's just that that's not alternate history. That's fantasy. Awesomely over-the-top fantasy, but fantasy nonetheless. I prefer my alternate histories very tight. Change one, maybe two things, and then carry out those changes over time, with imagination. Settings where the South won the civil war... and that means somehow they created an enormous steam-powered computer... which develops sentience... and learns magic... and you lost me.

That said, I'll concede that I thought the story was wonderfully written. The character were a little flat - but they weren't a lot flat - and the setting was both imaginative and well-described. I might not have liked it very much, but I don't regret the time I spent listening to it.
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Gia
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« Reply #4 on: December 09, 2009, 03:37:55 PM »

Parts of this (literary censorship, book burnings, guys memorizing books) reminded me of Fahrenheit 451, but those things just don't seem to work as well together in this story. Reflecting on it afterward, I don't see why the book store had to be menaced by both President Hornbey and the Burners. They threatened the book store for very different reasons, so which are we supposed to be more worried about? Even though the story talks more about Hornbey and what a big, literary jerk he is, he doesn't actively do anything and the story could have gotten along pretty well without him. The Burners were much more interesting. I liked the leader's illiteracy was juxtaposed with Hitomi's struggle to understand her grandfather and, while Alternate Poe didn't like Lincoln (I am unsure of how regular Poe felt), his discussion with the Burner reminded me of a really good Lincoln quote. I think it went something like "You can't make a weak man strong by making a strong man weak." This applies to writing and so many other things.
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stePH
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« Reply #5 on: December 09, 2009, 11:27:33 PM »

Hour and three minutes ... this isn't a Giant?  Undecided
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Heradel
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« Reply #6 on: December 09, 2009, 11:41:31 PM »

Hour and three minutes ... this isn't a Giant?  Undecided

Giants are based on word count, not length when spoken.
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« Reply #7 on: December 10, 2009, 08:27:06 AM »

If you're going to write alternate history, write alternate history! Resist the urge to make shit up.

I... What? This is PodCastle. It gives us fantasy stories, not History Channel what-if documentaries.
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« Reply #8 on: December 10, 2009, 10:48:16 AM »

I really enjoyed this one, and I'll tell you why.

It was steampunk, but it wasn't about being steampunk. It was about Hitomi and the other characters. It worked as a story with a setting that didn't intrude too much on the real action.

I have to admit, though, I kept thinking of Fahrenheit 451.
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« Reply #9 on: December 10, 2009, 11:21:28 AM »

If you're going to write alternate history, write alternate history! Resist the urge to make shit up.

I... What? This is PodCastle. It gives us fantasy stories, not History Channel what-if documentaries.

In that case, maybe the kind of alternate history I'd prefer doesn't belong on podcastle at all.
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« Reply #10 on: December 10, 2009, 11:49:05 AM »

I thought this was a fantastic story, a well thought out hodge-podge of alternative history, cultural relativism and literary commentary all wrapped up in a big Age of Steam bow.  I love universes where the author makes a few simple changes and allows them to permeate through everyday life, like ripples from a single pebble drop.  (I call it the Myst Effect, based on the Myst videogames and more importantly novels.)  Illustrative details, like the boarding house and my favorite, p-mail!, keep the reader well-grounded in the setting.

Every character was an essential part of the story - except Ms. Stacy, who mostly seemed there to provide another body when one was called for.  She was so unremarkable I had to re-listen to the story to remember her name.  My favorite scene was the debate, where the Burners transformed from faceless hatemongers to the anguished outcry of a man suffering from what sounds like genetic illiteracy.  His struggle for equality for all, head to head with the experiences of a former slave, was very well handled.  The two groups agreed in principle, but not in method - a theme even for today.

What makes this story fantasy is Hitomi's ability to imbue books and paper with life.  The magic was again, Myst-like: one power, with lots of possibility.  I particularly liked the explanation of why the bookstore's volumes were able to take matters into their own hands when her practice tome was not.  The golem story was a fantastic both dove-tail and impetus, and supported the main group of character's casual, comfortable position of supporting the equality of all in a time when the notion is far from mainstream.

The only thing I didn't like about this story was it's narration.  The voice was fine, and I agree with the previous comments about it benefiting from the reader not trying to do ethnicity-appropriate accents.  But the stumbling over words, mispronunciations, and inappropriate pauses and emphasis made this feel more like a first read then a finished product.
« Last Edit: December 10, 2009, 11:51:48 AM by MuseofChaos » Logged

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« Reply #11 on: December 10, 2009, 02:01:20 PM »

There was a lot going on here. The readers pacing left a bit to be desired, however perhaps it was the slow unfold of the story that left me mildly bored at moments. I have an inkling of an idea how the burner felt. My daughter, when struggling with her Dyslexia went through an "I hate books" phase. After all, if she couldn't read them- what were they worth? It took patience, reading aloud, graphic novels, and slow slow exausting hours of struggling through to help her at least grasp how important paper books can be.

The Alt history aspect of the story left me a bit bewildered at first, and I'm still not compleatly sure I understood it's use. Overall, I think this felt like edited down bits of a much bigger better story. Not that this was terrible! This was actually pretty good- However I'd like to read the non shrinky dink version.
« Last Edit: December 11, 2009, 10:03:20 AM by Ms_Mac » Logged

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stePH
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« Reply #12 on: December 10, 2009, 07:03:17 PM »

I'm about twenty minutes in and so far I'm enjoying the story, but the reader is just phoning it in. 
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cdugger
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« Reply #13 on: December 10, 2009, 08:53:16 PM »

I... What? This is PodCastle. It gives us fantasy stories, not History Channel what-if documentaries.

So, define FANTASY.

While it is a little restrictive, I prefer Isaac Asimov's definition:
FANTASY is something that it impossible.
SCIENCE FICTION is something that is at least possible, even if extremely unlikely or improbable.

I think that these definitions hold throughout history. A documentary today would have been sci-fi 50 years ago. Probable, even if determining the odds of probability is difficult or impossible.

Magic inscriptions on mundane paper, bringing it to a semblance of life? Pure fantasy.
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« Reply #14 on: December 10, 2009, 11:36:35 PM »

I prefer the definition that I believe Steve Eley espoused at one point, although he was talking about sci-fi at the time: Fantasy is whatever I point at and say "this is fantasy." Smiley
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stePH
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Cool story, bro!


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« Reply #15 on: December 11, 2009, 12:06:22 AM »

...just remembered... what's this (in the intro) about Jeremiah Tolbert? Did I miss some important bit of news? Is he dead or something? Huh
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« Reply #16 on: December 11, 2009, 01:10:27 AM »

JT has resigned as EP Managing Editor.
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« Reply #17 on: December 11, 2009, 11:28:57 AM »

I... What? This is PodCastle. It gives us fantasy stories, not History Channel what-if documentaries.

So, define FANTASY.

While it is a little restrictive, I prefer Isaac Asimov's definition:
FANTASY is something that it impossible.
SCIENCE FICTION is something that is at least possible, even if extremely unlikely or improbable.

I think that these definitions hold throughout history. A documentary today would have been sci-fi 50 years ago. Probable, even if determining the odds of probability is difficult or impossible.

Magic inscriptions on mundane paper, bringing it to a semblance of life? Pure fantasy.

Thank you for your timely definition-fu. This is a definition I also hold to, with a sideline in Bradbury's Corollary: "fantasy is what I want to be true but probably won't be, science fiction is what I don't want to be true and probably will" (please forgive my mangled quoting). By that definition, my kind of alternate history belongs on Escape Pod (unless you consider that if it's in the past, it can't possibly still become true, and is therefore fantasy.
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Help my kids get the educational supplies they need at my Donor's Choose page.
cdugger
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« Reply #18 on: December 11, 2009, 07:33:10 PM »

Thank you for your timely definition-fu. This is a definition I also hold to, with a sideline in Bradbury's Corollary: "fantasy is what I want to be true but probably won't be, science fiction is what I don't want to be true and probably will" (please forgive my mangled quoting). By that definition, my kind of alternate history belongs on Escape Pod (unless you consider that if it's in the past, it can't possibly still become true, and is therefore fantasy.

Two things:
1. I originally mis-read your first sentence, and thought you were vehemently disagreeing with me. Sorry about jumping to a conclusion, there.

2. I don't remember ever hearing/reading Ray's definition. That's strange, because I nearly idolize him. And, I happen to think that is a very acceptable definition of the two genres.
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stePH
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Cool story, bro!


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« Reply #19 on: December 12, 2009, 12:26:01 AM »

Now finished... I really enjoyed this story, except for the reading... my cat could have done better.  Any of them.
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