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Author Topic: PC105: Honored Guest  (Read 5022 times)
Heradel
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« on: May 25, 2010, 03:02:05 PM »

PodCastle 105: Honored Guest

by Ellen Kushner
Read by Eugie Foster

Originally published in The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales.

I have met very few evil people in my life, but my grandmother is one of them.  When my mother died, Omama told my father that she would support him and my brother and me, but only if he gave up all his and my mother’s friends, her family and his work in their studio, to return to Omama’s family compound.
 
There was no reason for this.  She already had other sons and cousins working for her.  There had been one more, but my Uncle Great Light had taken his own life right before the Harvest Festival.  Maybe she needed father back to make up a propitious number.  That’s not what he says.  When I asked why we could not visit my weaver grandmother and all the cousins anymore, he sighed, “Omama has never learned to share.”
 
“She’s so rich she never had to.”
 
“Wealth is not a disease, Bright Phoenix,” my father said sternly.  “You may be rich yourself some day, so I want you to remember that.”
 
That may be so, but I think being rich can make you selfish. It’s like a cold: you have to fight it off by wrapping up warm and keeping your head covered.  I don’t care so much about being rich, but I might like to be famous.  I think I have a pretty good shot at it, because since I was five I have played the kchin, and even my brother Great Joy, who is good at games and doesn’t like to lose, knows that I play better than he does.  I like to practice.  When I kneel before my instrument, and my fingers bend and dance on the strings, I feel as if I know things no one has every known before.  It isn’t just pretty sounds, it’s like entering another world.  Some of the great kchin players played for years in solitude before letting anyone else hear them, but I don’t mind playing for others. I like their admiration well enough, but even better I like to think that somehow my music has changed them, as it changes me.

Rated PG for Evil Grandmothers and Music from the Heart
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Wilson Fowlie
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« Reply #1 on: May 26, 2010, 11:15:47 AM »

After "The Fiddler of Bayou Teche" - and, to a lesser degree, "The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change" - I got my local library to order The Coyote Road.  It finally came late last year and I read through it.

When Dave said that this story was from that collection, I thought, Oh, I'll just listen until I recognize what story it is and know what's going to happen, then skip to the feedback.  Not that I don't like listening, but I have a lot of podcasts I follow and I fell behind over the long weekend.

Anyway, I ended up listening to it all the way through.  This wasn't one that stayed with me at the time, though I don't think that makes it bad.  I just didn't identify quite as strongly as, say, Dave did with Bright Phoenix.

So, I'm glad you ran this story - it was good to be reminded of it.

I did find Jessica to be a rather unlikely Trickster character, though she pulled it off in the end.  I would have liked to have learned more of the backstory involving the ruby, too.  I kept expecting to, and then it never happened.

Meta-comment regarding feedback:  Personally I find it quite difficult to remember the stories being talked about after 2 months.  When Podcastle started, feedback was for stories from 4 weeks previous; this has gradually slid, a week here, a week there, until here we are at a 9 week delay.  I assume the delay allows the feedback to be recorded in plenty of time and that's fine, but in that case maybe Dave could give slightly richer reminders of what the stories were about?  I've listened to an awful lot of stuff since episode 96 aired...
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« Reply #2 on: May 26, 2010, 03:07:30 PM »

Minor correction to Ann's intro: Eugie Foster's pet skunk Hobkin passed away a month or two ago; I remember seeing the news on Facebook.  Sad

Okay, listening to story now...
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« Reply #3 on: May 26, 2010, 06:11:54 PM »

Meta-comment regarding feedback:  Personally I find it quite difficult to remember the stories being talked about after 2 months.  When Podcastle started, feedback was for stories from 4 weeks previous; this has gradually slid, a week here, a week there, until here we are at a 9 week delay.  I assume the delay allows the feedback to be recorded in plenty of time and that's fine, but in that case maybe Dave could give slightly richer reminders of what the stories were about?  I've listened to an awful lot of stuff since episode 96 aired...

Wilson, I appreciate the comment. I'd like to close the feedback gap some, and I imagine we will in the not-too distant future. But I'm skeptical we'd be able to get it tighter than 6 weeks or so. Not only because we try to have all the elements ready a month ahead of time, but also because it generally takes at least a couple weeks to get enough feedback.
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stePH
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Cool story, bro!


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« Reply #4 on: May 26, 2010, 07:50:32 PM »

Finished the story; not quite satisfied with the ending, but only because I like things resolved a bit more solidly.

Like Dave, I've never had a relative as evil and oppressive as this story's Omama, but tales of this kind of situation, a helpless youth under the thumb of a spiteful senior family member, always brings a strong emotional reaction out of me.  I always get a strong feeling of empathy for the protagonist(s) and utterly despise the antagonist.  The most major example I can think of is V.C. Andrews' Flowers in the Attic
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« Reply #5 on: May 27, 2010, 12:25:54 PM »

I REALLY didn't like this story when it started. It was slow, and very expository (to my ears), and it really took a while to get rolling. But then, once it did, I enjoyed it.

I felt like Jessica having a "normal" name kind of hung a lampshade on the fact that Bright Phoenix and her family are from a different culture. It jarred me out of the story quite a bit, perhaps because I don't know the world the story is set in based upon the novel (novels?) that has (have) already been written. I also found that Jessica kissing Bright Phoenix was a little discomfiting -- isn't BP supposed to be 10? 12? And Jessica, while (we are led to believe) relatively immortal, is already in her late 20s/early 30s physically... I realize it's a different world, but I feel as though Jessica was completely manipulating and taking advantage of BP -- not by kissing her so much as by showing her kindness and then snatching it away from her grasp.

BP defeating the "trickster" character was a trickster trope that I think everyone enjoys, and I did like that BP won, at least in her way... but it was a little unsatisfying. I would've been happier had the trickster just taken her away from Omama. That's sort of the storytelling convention, isn't it? Qui-Gonn/Obi-Wan taking Anakin, Captain Pike taking Kirk (in ST:Abrahms), and so on. I would've felt more fulfilled had that part of the story been more conventional.

Seems like a strange thing to say, but there you are.

Riverworld (that's the name of the planet, right?) seems to be one step to the left of ours in many ways -- or, at least, that's how I read it -- so that helped with the worldbuilding.
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« Reply #6 on: May 27, 2010, 12:36:14 PM »

And the record for the shortest time I've spent listening to a story on Podcastle before giving up goes to...
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Alasdair5000
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« Reply #7 on: May 27, 2010, 03:23:44 PM »

And the record for the shortest time I've spent listening to a story on Podcastle before giving up goes to...

There's a difference between not liking a story and explaining why and taking a cheap shot at a story.  This reads like you're taking a cheap shot.  If that's the case, don't take another one.  Consider this the thread civility warning.
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yicheng
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« Reply #8 on: May 27, 2010, 04:13:46 PM »

I liked the story, although I didn't love it.  To tell the truth, it felt more like a prelude to a novel or a broader sweeping tale.  Maybe that's a good thing.  There were several plot turns that seemed a bit murky to me.  1) It wasn't really clear why exactly the Bright Phoenix and her dad were forced to live with Omama after the wife died.  They didn't have enough money?  What as the father doing?  2) The attraction between the Redhead and Bright Phoenix felt a bit forced at first, although it was pretty well written.  Also, what was the magical significance of the ruby earring, or the cloth?  It was mentioned they were special in someway, but we don't really know what they did or why they were special.

I did enjoy the Omama character as the greedy matriarchal character, although I wished she wasn't so one-dimensional.  She sort of reminded me of my grandma, to be honest.  It's a weird thing about the ancient male-dominated chinese society that, as an old family matriarch, a woman can be actually very powerful, both in terms of controlling the family's wealth as well as social influence and respect.

The inclusion of the Guqin as such a crucial part of the main character's identity seemed to never be fully explored, especially for a fantasy story.  I kept on waiting for something like this to happen:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5SCihtqwxY

 Grin Grin Grin Grin Grin Grin Grin Grin Grin Grin Grin
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Talia
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« Reply #9 on: May 27, 2010, 04:37:31 PM »

Also, what was the magical significance of the ruby earring, or the cloth?  It was mentioned they were special in someway, but we don't really know what they did or why they were special.

I thought the earring was just a valuable family heirloom that the redhead was particularly attached to. The cloth it wasn't implied it actually WAS magical, just that there were many beliefs in such regard about such things, and such pieces were hard to find outside of the family. Thus it was extremely valuable, not necesarilyi because it was magic, but because people believed it could be, and it was generally very hard to get such items away from the families they were made by.

So it wasn't suggested either item actually was magical, which why no powers were ascribed to them.

That's how I see it anyway
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blueeyeddevil
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« Reply #10 on: May 28, 2010, 07:01:04 AM »

This story kind of seemed to stumble to its feet. The lead-in was too exposition-heavy, though the tone did reach a workable pace once the real action started.
O-mama was too one dimensional, I agree. I find it hard to believe that such a mindlessly spiteful creature would be an effective leader for a family of traders.
Perhaps because of the verbose beginning, I found the speed with which the ending was reached to be a bit forced. A little less poetical wandering at the start would have left more room for development of the main character and the con around which the whole story was based;
Pheonix's transformation from utterly hapless to savvy and hopeful has little buildup, and the power of the embroidery and its significance as a prize isn't established well enough beforehand or explained enough after. The romantic bit comes out of nowhere, too, (no, it isn't homophobia) if Jessica had been James, Pheonix's complete acceptance of the first kiss would have been astonishing considering how little indication of attraction she had given throughout the story.
 
So, in summation: it needs to be faster in the beginning, slower in the end, and just a bit tighter overall.

(p.s. this is a very small personal personal peeve, but does anyone else find it annoying in narration when eastern words are over-enunciated and given such pronounced pauses around them? This is nothing against the narrator, she did a great job. It is just a convention that almost everyone follows.)
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Listener
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« Reply #11 on: May 28, 2010, 08:17:10 AM »

To tell the truth, it felt more like a prelude to a novel or a broader sweeping tale.  Maybe that's a good thing. 

As Ann said in the intro, this takes place in an existing world which I think spans at least two novels. I don't remember the exact wording.
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« Reply #12 on: May 28, 2010, 08:20:12 AM »

O-mama was too one dimensional, I agree. I find it hard to believe that such a mindlessly spiteful creature would be an effective leader for a family of traders.

The Emperor was pretty one-dimensional in the original trilogy, and the Empire was doing pretty well for itself until he was killed...

Khan was pretty one-dimensional, but he kept his people alive on a hellish planet...

Just sayin'...
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yicheng
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« Reply #13 on: May 28, 2010, 08:41:14 AM »

To tell the truth, it felt more like a prelude to a novel or a broader sweeping tale.  Maybe that's a good thing. 

As Ann said in the intro, this takes place in an existing world which I think spans at least two novels. I don't remember the exact wording.

Yeah, I got that, but my point was that the story didn't seem to stand on its own two legs, and that it felt more like an excerpt.  It's possible for a story to be set in the same universe and yet still be a complete story in and of itself.
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Wilson Fowlie
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« Reply #14 on: May 28, 2010, 03:17:40 PM »

O-mama was too one dimensional, I agree. I find it hard to believe that such a mindlessly spiteful creature would be an effective leader for a family of traders.

The Emperor was pretty one-dimensional in the original trilogy, and the Empire was doing pretty well for itself until he was killed...

Khan was pretty one-dimensional, but he kept his people alive on a hellish planet...

Just sayin'...

Are there any real-world examples, though?

Those are good fictional examples, and there are probably others (Thorin Oakenshield comes to mind), but it's possible (nay, likely) that people have pointed to Palpatine or Khan and said something to the effect that "I find it hard to believe that such a mindlessly spiteful creature would be an effective leader..."
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« Reply #15 on: May 28, 2010, 03:29:39 PM »

I would beg to differ on Khan being one dimensional - I'm no TREK fan, but part of the reason WRATH is so good is down to Khan being an interesting bad guy - with what you see of him in "Space Seed" and WRATH, he comes across as extremely charismatic, confident and proactive (and why not, he's been bred to be a member of the Master Race). All qualities that make him a believable leader.  Of course, the subtle distinctions between confidence and arrogance, persistance and zealotry, have been the fodder of stories since the days of Ulysses.
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lisavilisa
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« Reply #16 on: May 29, 2010, 09:55:53 AM »

I really enjoyed this story.  The attraction between the main character and Jessica wasn't overwritten, but it didn't come as a surprise.

 I enjoyed seeing Jessica manipulate the grandmother with compliments and falsely dropped hints for the crystal turtle, gently steering her to hand over the cloth.  Maybe it is because I'm such a straight forward klutz when it comes to conversational intrigue but I really enjoy smooth con artist stories.
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Gamercow
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« Reply #17 on: June 01, 2010, 09:34:17 AM »

I missed the boat on this one.  I found myself drifting off several times, not really caring about the characters, as they seemed somewhat 1 dimensional to me.  The more I think about it, the more I think this story read like a fan-fic of a very well established world that I was not familiar with.  Someone that IS familiar with the world would have chuckled and instantly known who the red-headed stranger was.  Since I was not familiar, I pretty quickly guessed that she would end up winning in the end, would have her way, and would somehow save Phoenix from the clutches of her Omama. 
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« Reply #18 on: June 03, 2010, 06:22:25 PM »

Like a lot of commenters above, I found the pacing odd - it starts very slow and then the resolution comes around very abruptly. But I wasn't bothered by this as much as other people; the story did keep my interest, and I did enjoy the subtle war of words between the grandmother and the Western woman whose name I forgot.

However, there were certain points I didn't like about the story. For all that our sympthies were supposed to lie with Bright Phoenix, she was quite self centered herself; for example, she seemed to only be concerned about her brother when his actions could inconvenience her. Also, one thing that really bothered me about the ending was the whole "you are too young to come with me, but not too young for me to make out with you" attitude from the Western woman. It's one thing when both people in a situation are young, but it seems to me that older people shouldn't start kissing sessions with people they consider too young to make their own choices. I haven't figured out if the woman was really older than she appeared, with life magically extended, or whether that was just a lie to trick the grandmother, but even if she was merely ten years older than Bright Phoenix, this was still creepy.

Overall, an ok story, but not a particularly great one.

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« Reply #19 on: June 04, 2010, 11:34:14 AM »

I liked some parts of the story.  The oppressive grandmother made a worthy antagonist, though I disagree that she was "evil"--spiteful, mean, uncaring, narcissistic, certainly.  But since the story is from Bright Phoenix's point of view, I can believe that she believes Omama is evil.

I've got to agree with eytanz that it was weird for Jessica to be willing to kiss but not to take her away.  I guess that was just all part of the con.

The pacing was the main thing I think could've been better.  Very slow beginning, then suddenly the resolution comes out of nowhere, and then after the resolution it keeps hanging on for a bit that didn't really seem to add anything.  The conflict was interesting enough to keep me going but I would've preferred a little faster plot development at the beginning and slowing down the resolution.
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