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Author Topic: PC087: Narrative Of A Beast’s Life  (Read 7603 times)
Heradel
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« on: January 19, 2010, 07:43:33 AM »

PodCastle 87: Narrative Of A Beast’s Life

by Cat Rambo

Read by Paul Jenkins (of the Rev Up Review)

We were taken to a market in a city. None of us had ever seen such a place before and there were sights and sounds and smells such as I had never witnessed. The buildings were made of clay brick, laid together so snugly that no mortar or cement was necessary. Some buildings were built on top of each other, and stairs meant for no Centaur led up and down the outside.

Here we were sold, each to separate masters. Mine fastened me in a coffle with other beings: a Sphinx of that city that had committed murder, two Djinni, and a snake-headed woman. Oxen drew the cart to which we were shackled, and chained on it was a Dragon, not a large one, but some eight feet in length. A small herd of goats marched behind us in turn, intended for the Dragon’s sustenance.

Rated PG: Contains the Enslavement of Magical Creatures
« Last Edit: February 02, 2010, 12:43:59 AM by Heradel » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: January 20, 2010, 12:29:47 PM »

Regarding the intro:
Did I miss something?  Which story was it that people said was a historical with no fantasy elements?  For my part, I think the only story I'm on record saying didn't belong on Podcastle was "It Takes a Town", which some of us agreed was more of a sci-fi tale written by somebody devoid of the most rudimentary knowledge of science...



So which one was the pure historical?
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« Reply #2 on: January 20, 2010, 10:09:48 PM »

Really? Wow, I know I was playing it straight, but I thought my sarcasm was turned up to 11. Undecided
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« Reply #3 on: January 20, 2010, 10:43:16 PM »

Really? Wow, I know I was playing it straight, but I thought my sarcasm was turned up to 11. Undecided

I thought you might be exaggerating actual feedback, not fabricating it entirely. Smiley
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« Reply #4 on: January 21, 2010, 01:21:45 AM »

I certainly caught the sarcasm in the intro, but still... you were more or less right - it was just a history story.  In my opinion the allegory was pretty transparent and ultimately didn't add much.  Don't get me wrong, yes, it was fantasy - and it was also a good solid story.  But it was a story about a slave, not a centaur.  I sometimes forgot to visualize the protagonist as a centaur at all, and just pictured - well, a black guy.  Story didn't change much at all.  His centaur-ness didn't add much to it.

Now, if you want a real fantasy alternate history of slavery in America, pick up Steven Barnes' excelent novel Lion's Blood.  There, instead of "magical creatures" (who's magical nature is irrelevant to the story) being the slaves, it's Europeans.  Being enslaved by the dominant African nations that are colonizing the new world.  It's a straightforward role reversal, but the differences in the cultures is throughly explored and the world looks very different than our actual history.  Great stuff.

But back to this story... as I said, it was good.  Put you in the shoes of the slave very well.  I just kind of wish the fact that they were horseshoes was a little more explored.
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« Reply #5 on: January 21, 2010, 12:04:45 PM »

Really? Wow, I know I was playing it straight, but I thought my sarcasm was turned up to 11. Undecided

I thought you might be exaggerating actual feedback, not fabricating it entirely. Smiley

Well, to some degree, I was exaggerating and fabricating. I like to bullshit!  Cheesy 

There actually have been a couple stories that have been criticized for being more historical fiction than fantasy, but the intro was more a reaction to the "This isn't fantasy" theme that occasionally pops up here.
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Peter Tupper
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« Reply #6 on: January 23, 2010, 01:09:23 AM »

This story was a pastiche of the works of Harriet Beecher-Stowe, Frederick Douglas and Harriet Jacobs and other slave narratives and abolitionist works, just with a thin layer of fantasy on the outside. I honestly forget that the narrator was supposed to be a centaur. This puts it on the same level as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: a cute variation on classic material that adds nothing and detracts from the source.

If you want to put this story on trial for not being fantasy, I say, "Not guilty on a technicality."

Now, compare this to Cat Rambo's "'I’ll Gnaw Your Bones,' the Manticore Said". That took familiar fantasy tropes, applied lessons learned from real world history about treatment of animals and supposed "inferior" races, and raised some very disturbing questions about how this would work. That was a memorable and meaningful story.

This story is putting Roots in a pantomime centaur suit.
« Last Edit: January 23, 2010, 01:19:15 AM by Peter Tupper » Logged
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« Reply #7 on: January 23, 2010, 01:24:31 AM »

Now, compare this to Cat Rambo's "'I’ll Gnaw Your Bones,' the Manticore Said". That took familiar fantasy tropes, applied lessons learned from real world history about treatment of animals and supposed "inferior" races, and raised some very disturbing questions about how this would work. That was a memorable and meaningful story.

Looking back at the list of Cat Rambo stories that EA has run, I've been lukewarm on most of them (and I've just plain disliked a couple).  But "Manticore" was a notable exception.
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« Reply #8 on: January 24, 2010, 02:49:15 AM »

I enjoyed the story quite a bit.  I get what others are saying about the similarities to real historical slave narratives, but I never really forgot that he was a centaur.  Or that he was transported with griffins, dragons, and ghouls (oh my).  I think the story paid homage to the works mentioned above and effectively brought them to remembrance (and they should be remembered).  However, I also feel the fantasy elements brought attention to it with a new, fresh perspective.
« Last Edit: January 25, 2010, 03:57:49 PM by Swamp » Logged

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« Reply #9 on: January 25, 2010, 11:06:50 AM »

I kept forgetting he was a centaur as well, because it wasn't really relevant to anything that happened.  And the story was just overly long for its content.  Each numbered section wasn't particularly different than the one that came before it.

For the human vs. beast philosophical question, I thought Cat Rambo did much better with "I'll Gnaw Your Bones, the Manticore Said"
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« Reply #10 on: January 25, 2010, 03:19:14 PM »

Is this story fantasy? Only in the shallowest, least interesting of senses. The fact is, as others pointed out above me, the fantasy elements played no role beyond the cosmetic, and the end result is a by-the-numbers account of a slave's life, a pale immitation of more powerful literature, with a thin veneer of fantasy painted above.

Slavery is a true horror of human history (and present), and there is a lot more that can and should be said about it. But this story made no attempt at that. 
« Last Edit: January 25, 2010, 03:22:49 PM by eytanz » Logged
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« Reply #11 on: January 25, 2010, 05:29:43 PM »

This was mostly a downer for me, not redeeming in my mind. It went along sadly then stopped. On the long side too as someone else commented.
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« Reply #12 on: January 28, 2010, 12:47:10 AM »

I enjoyed the story a bit, but I do have to agree that the fantasy elements added almost nothing to a very straightforward slave's narrative.  I've read at least one of that genre (though it didn't stick with me very well) and this, while a nice example of that genre (which was, indeed, often fictionalized in order to sell more readily) didn't really need the fantasy creatures.  It's not much good to do an allegory that isn't... well, allegorical in any meaningful way.

This is obviously set in the same "world" as the Manticore story with the long title, but I have to say that it hardly feels like the same author writing it.  Manticore was resonant with interesting themes and complex interactions.  This was a straightforward bid for pathos, as subtle as a sledgehammer.  Manticore's resolution relied on the fantasy elements and on the crucial distinction between beast and man.  This story might as well have just replaced all the fantasy creature names with African tribes and it would have been a story of the early US. 
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« Reply #13 on: January 28, 2010, 07:13:50 AM »

I didn't forget that the centaur was a centaur.  Wasn't too hard.

I did like the Neil Gaiman quote regarding what makes fantasy.

I'm not particularly OCD about whether or not "fantasy" elements were more important than "real" elements or vice vice-versa.  Genre's are so you can organize books on a shelf.  The story is the thing, for me, and I enjoyed this one well enough.
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« Reply #14 on: January 29, 2010, 04:42:12 PM »

I was constantly distracted with the section titles.  Giving a summary at the start of each section simply made me look for each of the elements in the section, sometimes missing part of the story.  "The person said X, Y, and Z.  We hard about X and Y, now we are looking for event Z to happen", instead of just enjoying the story.

I also agree that the centaur portion had little to do with the story.  It did make it fantasy, but there was nothing really fantastical.  If he had been taught how to cast healing spells, that would at least have been something outside of our own world.

Who knows, maybe "centaur", "dragon", and the other names were just code words the article writer used in order to protect his location and situation.  I think, given the lack of any other fantastical elements, that a simple substitution of "new species" for "nationality" to protect the innocent could be claimed.  "I'm not African, I'm 'centaur', yeah, that's it."
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« Reply #15 on: January 29, 2010, 04:53:38 PM »

Who knows, maybe "centaur", "dragon", and the other names were just code words the article writer used in order to protect his location and situation.  I think, given the lack of any other fantastical elements, that a simple substitution of "new species" for "nationality" to protect the innocent could be claimed.  "I'm not African, I'm 'centaur', yeah, that's it."

In which case, I wonder who the article writer knew who needed to eat dead bodies to survive, or who died because they were too far away from their tree Tongue
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« Reply #16 on: January 29, 2010, 07:55:27 PM »

I was constantly distracted with the section titles.  Giving a summary at the start of each section simply made me look for each of the elements in the section, sometimes missing part of the story.  "The person said X, Y, and Z.  We hard about X and Y, now we are looking for event Z to happen", instead of just enjoying the story.

Such a style is better left to the printed page; I've read some old novels that have such summaries at the beginning of each chapter.  But it was clunky in audio form.
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« Reply #17 on: January 29, 2010, 09:45:05 PM »

Who knows, maybe "centaur", "dragon", and the other names were just code words the article writer used in order to protect his location and situation.  I think, given the lack of any other fantastical elements, that a simple substitution of "new species" for "nationality" to protect the innocent could be claimed.  "I'm not African, I'm 'centaur', yeah, that's it."

In which case, I wonder who the article writer knew who needed to eat dead bodies to survive, or who died because they were too far away from their tree Tongue

There are cannibalistic societies out there, and some people who have intense, crippling psychological attachments to a particular location.  I'm not saying that is how i feel about the story.  With a longer format, i expect the world could be fleshed out more.  I was just postulating different ideas.
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« Reply #18 on: January 29, 2010, 10:09:22 PM »

OK, this one was fantasy. Good.
The quote about defining fantasy. Loved it.
The narration. Great.
OH MY GOD IT'S A STORY ABOUT SLAVES WITH SOME CLEVER TWISTS ON THE PEOPLE!!! Who cares? 99% of the stories you will ever read/hear is some kind of lesson, or example, or whatever, only the names have been changed to protect the innocent/guilty. So, you gonna complain about every one of those? "Oooo, it was a thinly veiled retelling of X." They're ALL thinly veiled retellings. OK, not all, but most.

As to the story itself, I just wanted to go hang myself by the time it was over. Not enjoyable. Well written, well delivered, but not something I will revisit.
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« Reply #19 on: January 29, 2010, 10:59:47 PM »

OH MY GOD IT'S A STORY ABOUT SLAVES WITH SOME CLEVER TWISTS ON THE PEOPLE!!! Who cares? 99% of the stories you will ever read/hear is some kind of lesson, or example, or whatever, only the names have been changed to protect the innocent/guilty.

For me, it becomes a question of "Why bother?"  I'd quite honestly rather have heard a straight-up recounting of a slave's narrative than have the constant distraction of the fantasy elements that were never utilized for much of anything.
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