Author Topic: PC110: The Alchemist’s Feather  (Read 6612 times)

Heradel

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PC110: The Alchemist’s Feather
« on: June 22, 2010, 09:00:10 AM »
PodCastle 110: The Alchemist’s Feather

by Erin Cashier
Read by Dave Thompson
Originally published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

I have always done as I have been told, and most of my actions have not been kind ones. I know because the Alchemist did not always tell me to forget and so, trapped inside my jar, I was cursed to remember.

I dreamt the dreams of dolls, and those were the times I could see the past most clearly. I remembered the time I crept inside a true man’s workplace to hide false evidence. And when I delivered a botched love potion into a poor serving girl’s tea and hid behind a jug of milk to watch as she retched black blood and green bile across the floor.

Tonight as I dreamt, I became aware that these were horrible things. They did not bother me at the time, and they do not bother me now, but I am aware of them in a way that I have never been before. And in the morning I realize one of my fingers is gone.

Rated R for Violence
« Last Edit: July 14, 2010, 09:58:49 AM by Heradel »
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Talia

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Re: PC110: The Alchemist’s Feather
« Reply #1 on: June 22, 2010, 09:33:05 AM »
It's like Pinnochio with an evil Gepetto. Nice.

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Re: PC110: The Alchemist’s Feather
« Reply #2 on: June 22, 2010, 04:41:08 PM »
Just finished listening. Already plugged it on my Live Journal page. Love, love, LOVE this story.

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Re: PC110: The Alchemist’s Feather
« Reply #3 on: June 22, 2010, 05:03:27 PM »
I loved this story in BCS, but I want to say that Dave Thompson's reading really brought it to life from me, turning a good experience into a great experience. Dave really brought out the brutality of the alchemist, the innocence of the girl, and the sad, frustrated love of the homonculous. Seriously, on BCS, the story was striking; here it was tear-jerking. Great job!
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Re: PC110: The Alchemist’s Feather
« Reply #4 on: June 22, 2010, 05:24:11 PM »
Aw, thank you Electric Paladin. That really makes my day :)

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Re: PC110: The Alchemist’s Feather
« Reply #5 on: June 22, 2010, 06:16:53 PM »
 :)
This was a charming story!
It just shows that you never know where you'll find a friend.

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Re: PC110: The Alchemist’s Feather
« Reply #6 on: June 22, 2010, 06:34:58 PM »
I really loved this story.  I love the part where homonculous realized he doesn't have to forget as ordered.  Was his new spark of life caused by Maria's blood, or briefly becoming a phoenix, or a combination of both.  I also liked the subtle relationship with the girl, especially once the other girls were remembered.  It's another reminder that small things can change the world, or at least our world.

And, yes, Dave's reading was top notch.
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ElectricPaladin

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Re: PC110: The Alchemist’s Feather
« Reply #7 on: June 22, 2010, 06:41:41 PM »
I really loved this story.  I love the part where homonculous realized he doesn't have to forget as ordered.  Was his new spark of life caused by Maria's blood, or briefly becoming a phoenix, or a combination of both.  I also liked the subtle relationship with the girl, especially once the other girls were remembered.  It's another reminder that small things can change the world, or at least our world.

And, yes, Dave's reading was top notch.

Personally, I prefer to think that it was the homonculous's love that broke his connection to the Alchemist and forged a stronger connection to the girl, but probably it was meant to be a combination of all three: love, blood, and a moment of phoenixhood.
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Katie

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Re: PC110: The Alchemist’s Feather
« Reply #8 on: June 22, 2010, 11:05:00 PM »
Great reading, great story. I especially adore a story that invites you to imagine what comes next, hinting but not drawing in the details. For me, I imagined Maria becoming a vengeance forest witch with a band of lost girl groupies that play with Allred and wreak havoc on those who think they can hurt kids.   

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Re: PC110: The Alchemist’s Feather
« Reply #9 on: June 24, 2010, 08:35:10 AM »
This story rocked, and more so because of Dave's reading.  His voice is extremely well-suited for particular stories, and those particular stories are usually the ones he narrates, so good job suiting the narrator to the story.

The one thing I'm not sure I understood is why the homunculous kept losing fingers?  Was that an ingredient in the alchemy or something? 

Anyway, lots of great story elements here, used to great effect, between the alchemist, the homunculous, the phoenix.  I love seeing from the point of view of an artificial being when done well (and when it avoids too many of the "robot learning to love" cliches), and here it is done VERY well.


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Re: PC110: The Alchemist’s Feather
« Reply #10 on: June 24, 2010, 08:42:27 AM »

The one thing I'm not sure I understood is why the homunculous kept losing fingers?  Was that an ingredient in the alchemy or something? 

As I understood it that was because the alchemist kept plucking feathers - apparently the feathers matched up to his fingers in his "natural" form, or something.

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Re: PC110: The Alchemist’s Feather
« Reply #11 on: June 25, 2010, 08:33:14 AM »

The one thing I'm not sure I understood is why the homunculous kept losing fingers?  Was that an ingredient in the alchemy or something? 

As I understood it that was because the alchemist kept plucking feathers - apparently the feathers matched up to his fingers in his "natural" form, or something.


Oooooohhhhh.  Okay, that makes sense. 

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Re: PC110: The Alchemist’s Feather
« Reply #12 on: June 25, 2010, 09:55:48 AM »
Dave is a good reader, although sometimes he sounds overly sinister.

I didn't love the story. I thought it was well-told, but I don't know if it brought very much new to the table for me -- evil smart person? Check. Pinocchio-like creature that longs to be more than it is? Check. Child not cared for very well by evil smart person? Check. Using the child for nefarious purposes? Check. Good guys escape? Check.

The switching from bird to bird in the effort to get to the Phoenix was interesting, but we didn't know WHY the local lord wanted to be one. It was like there's this whole other story going on, and we just zoomed into the part about the Phoenix and the alchemist.
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Re: PC110: The Alchemist’s Feather
« Reply #13 on: June 25, 2010, 10:34:38 AM »
Dave is a good reader, although sometimes he sounds overly sinister.

I didn't love the story. I thought it was well-told, but I don't know if it brought very much new to the table for me -- evil smart person? Check. Pinocchio-like creature that longs to be more than it is? Check. Child not cared for very well by evil smart person? Check. Using the child for nefarious purposes? Check. Good guys escape? Check.

The switching from bird to bird in the effort to get to the Phoenix was interesting, but we didn't know WHY the local lord wanted to be one. It was like there's this whole other story going on, and we just zoomed into the part about the Phoenix and the alchemist.

Maybe I am sometimes overly sinister  ;)

We do actually know why the local lord wants a Phoenix feather. In the first scene with the Alchemist, they essentially say that the prince has contracted some kind of STD and wants to be rid of it before his wedding night. A phoenix feather is the only thing that can cleanse him. Thus the "If the prince hadn't stuck his sword in every whore in Vienna line..."

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Re: PC110: The Alchemist’s Feather
« Reply #14 on: June 25, 2010, 12:33:53 PM »
Dave is a good reader, although sometimes he sounds overly sinister.

I didn't love the story. I thought it was well-told, but I don't know if it brought very much new to the table for me -- evil smart person? Check. Pinocchio-like creature that longs to be more than it is? Check. Child not cared for very well by evil smart person? Check. Using the child for nefarious purposes? Check. Good guys escape? Check.

The switching from bird to bird in the effort to get to the Phoenix was interesting, but we didn't know WHY the local lord wanted to be one. It was like there's this whole other story going on, and we just zoomed into the part about the Phoenix and the alchemist.

Maybe I am sometimes overly sinister  ;)

We do actually know why the local lord wants a Phoenix feather. In the first scene with the Alchemist, they essentially say that the prince has contracted some kind of STD and wants to be rid of it before his wedding night. A phoenix feather is the only thing that can cleanse him. Thus the "If the prince hadn't stuck his sword in every whore in Vienna line..."

Oh right. I sometimes miss details at the very beginning of stories as I get myself into the story-listening mood.
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Re: PC110: The Alchemist’s Feather
« Reply #15 on: June 25, 2010, 09:27:26 PM »
Thus the "If the prince hadn't stuck his sword in every whore in Vienna line..."

And here I thought he was on some kind of moral quest to get rid of the red-light areas... ;-)

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Re: PC110: The Alchemist’s Feather
« Reply #16 on: June 28, 2010, 08:49:27 AM »
Dave is a good reader, although sometimes he sounds overly sinister.

I didn't love the story. I thought it was well-told, but I don't know if it brought very much new to the table for me -- evil smart person? Check. Pinocchio-like creature that longs to be more than it is? Check. Child not cared for very well by evil smart person? Check. Using the child for nefarious purposes? Check. Good guys escape? Check.

The switching from bird to bird in the effort to get to the Phoenix was interesting, but we didn't know WHY the local lord wanted to be one. It was like there's this whole other story going on, and we just zoomed into the part about the Phoenix and the alchemist.

Maybe I am sometimes overly sinister  ;)

We do actually know why the local lord wants a Phoenix feather. In the first scene with the Alchemist, they essentially say that the prince has contracted some kind of STD and wants to be rid of it before his wedding night. A phoenix feather is the only thing that can cleanse him. Thus the "If the prince hadn't stuck his sword in every whore in Vienna line..."

What, Phoenix feathers don't always revive the dead?  Though I guess that's phoenix down, these sounded like pinfeathers...

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Re: PC110: The Alchemist’s Feather
« Reply #17 on: July 04, 2010, 12:10:06 AM »
I'm actually kind of sad that the story didn't end with the phoenix feather used as ultra-penicillin on some nob's wobbly bobber.  I strive for mythic, but I am forever sidetracked by irony.

It was a good story, though.  I liked the mouthlessness most of all; it verged on the eerie at times, of which I heartily approve.  Echoing the kudos for the reading; I don't always like DKT's readings, but this one worked very well indeed.
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Re: PC110: The Alchemist’s Feather
« Reply #18 on: July 06, 2010, 12:55:22 PM »
is it only me that didn't really get this? i enjoyed the reading but the story was staid and plodding: dare i say wooden? the alchemist was too broad brush "evil villain" without further characterisaton. sorry, just didn't work for me.

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Re: PC110: The Alchemist’s Feather
« Reply #19 on: July 27, 2010, 12:11:27 AM »
I, too, was rather 'meh' on this story. From the moment it was revealed the Prince wanted an Phoenix's feather, it became blindingly obvious either the homunculus or the little girl would get the use of it. There was little in the way of twists or turns after that, just the plodding on till the end. However, it was a rather well written story, I just wish something more interesting had happened.

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Re: PC110: The Alchemist’s Feather
« Reply #20 on: August 14, 2010, 01:35:50 PM »
I love this story. It balances so many things so beautifully; awful but gorgeous, sinister but also sentimental (without ever quite tipping over into manipulation). Yes, it is familiar in many ways, but since when has that detracted from a fairy story?

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Re: PC110: The Alchemist’s Feather
« Reply #21 on: October 27, 2010, 10:49:23 AM »
It was okay overall.  Good reading and execution.  I enjoyed the relationship between the little girl and the homunculus.

I was a bit confused at the plot twists towards end, as to why the homunculus was about to break free of the alchemist's will, and why the little girl was suddenly plump instead of starving to death after turning back from a Phoenix.  And how exactly did they survive afterwards?

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Re: PC110: The Alchemist’s Feather
« Reply #22 on: January 09, 2012, 10:08:02 AM »
Nice story. Not certain that it will make a favorites list, but it made my morning commute better.

To answer some of the questions lingering here, my listening of the story indicated that the free will and memories started with the drop of blood. Blood magic is a strong theme and powerful agent with homunculus stories. It also tends to lead to unintended consequences when the blood is provided by someone with passion or in a moment of passion, as it becomes a literary mechanism to transmit emotions and passion. With the drop of blood, the perspective altered slightly.

The fingers disappearing coordinated with different feathers being plucked - crow, swan, peacock, and pelican. The fifth one, the thumb, was the phoenix. After being reborn while a phoenix, the homunculus regained his four previously lost fingers. This would fuel his logic in that turning into a phoenix would heal the child.

Something that makes the story all the more tragic is the suffering that will continue after the story is over. A child in thin clothing in the woods two days from town in the winter doesn't have great odds of survival. Also, there's room to turn around the alchemist as a character. Yes, children died before during failed experiments, but he fixed the flaws and the experiment works with the subject surviving the ordeal. While the child was the victim of neglect and abuse, an argument can be made that it was the only method the alchemist could devise to keep the child weak and therefore controllable during the painful experiment. He only needed a phoenix feather, not phoenix blood, so the girl would have been alive and whole at the end of the process with or without the escape. I'm not sure the escape was a good thing. The alchemist will likely be killed by the prince for failure to produce a feather. The child will die in the snow due to exposure. The homunculus will have his shiny eyes pecked out by birds, and wander blindly as he slowly falls apart. What a horrible tragic story.
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Re: PC110: The Alchemist’s Feather
« Reply #23 on: January 09, 2012, 10:14:43 AM »
Nice story. Not certain that it will make a favorites list, but it made my morning commute better.

To answer some of the questions lingering here, my listening of the story indicated that the free will and memories started with the drop of blood. Blood magic is a strong theme and powerful agent with homunculus stories. It also tends to lead to unintended consequences when the blood is provided by someone with passion or in a moment of passion, as it becomes a literary mechanism to transmit emotions and passion. With the drop of blood, the perspective altered slightly.

The fingers disappearing coordinated with different feathers being plucked - crow, swan, peacock, and pelican. The fifth one, the thumb, was the phoenix. After being reborn while a phoenix, the homunculus regained his four previously lost fingers. This would fuel his logic in that turning into a phoenix would heal the child.

Something that makes the story all the more tragic is the suffering that will continue after the story is over. A child in thin clothing in the woods two days from town in the winter doesn't have great odds of survival. Also, there's room to turn around the alchemist as a character. Yes, children died before during failed experiments, but he fixed the flaws and the experiment works with the subject surviving the ordeal. While the child was the victim of neglect and abuse, an argument can be made that it was the only method the alchemist could devise to keep the child weak and therefore controllable during the painful experiment. He only needed a phoenix feather, not phoenix blood, so the girl would have been alive and whole at the end of the process with or without the escape. I'm not sure the escape was a good thing. The alchemist will likely be killed by the prince for failure to produce a feather. The child will die in the snow due to exposure. The homunculus will have his shiny eyes pecked out by birds, and wander blindly as he slowly falls apart. What a horrible tragic story.

Or maybe the homonculous will help the child reach safety. It's not beyond possibility.
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Re: PC110: The Alchemist’s Feather
« Reply #24 on: January 16, 2012, 04:37:00 PM »
Even animated dolls can love. This almost seemed too scary to be a Pod Castle, but I loved it. Elaberating on
Phenixes and making them little girls. It's amazing how putting a little girl into the cross fire makes it ten times worse. If this
had been a story where he was using cats or puppies it would have been sad, but not nearly so monsterous. From stuffing them
into a jar to burning them alive, this story is horrific, but some how pails in conparison to Peagent Girls, when we are talking to
the horrors we put little girls through. This story has little basis in reality, but still has an ability to hit home in the worst kind
of way, and all through wooden eyes.
« Last Edit: January 21, 2012, 06:54:12 AM by justenjoying »

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Re: PC110: The Alchemist’s Feather
« Reply #25 on: January 30, 2012, 01:40:55 PM »
It's amazing how putting a little girl into the cross fire makes it ten times worse. If this
had been a story where he was using cats or puppies it would have been sad, but not nearly so monstrous.

I'm not so certain about this. I've seen and heard a lot more visceral reactions to descriptions of bad things happening to animals. There's a handful of threads of on the PseudoPod side of things where animal cruelty was part of the story, and the topic gets a lot of traffic. Another example a little closer to home for me is that my wife has a high tolerance for horror. That is, until they stick the dog in the microwave (e.g. American Horror Story) or chop up the kitten (e.g. Drag Me to Hell). After that it's like a switch for her and the product is unredeemable.
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Re: PC110: The Alchemist’s Feather
« Reply #26 on: January 30, 2012, 03:33:22 PM »
I'm not so certain about this. I've seen and heard a lot more visceral reactions to descriptions of bad things happening to animals. There's a handful of threads of on the PseudoPod side of things where animal cruelty was part of the story, and the topic gets a lot of traffic. Another example a little closer to home for me is that my wife has a high tolerance for horror. That is, until they stick the dog in the microwave (e.g. American Horror Story) or chop up the kitten (e.g. Drag Me to Hell). After that it's like a switch for her and the product is unredeemable.

I can relate to that reaction.  For me the difference between a human being the victim, and a pet, is that the pet has no control over its life.  Its life can be wonderful or terrible on the whim of its owner.  The humans in charge have a responsibility over this creature, and not fulfilling this responsibility is violating a sacred trust.  Your average adult generally has control over their own lives and their own choices, so I don't feel the sense of betrayal for a human being who is hurt as I do for a pet.  (which doesn't cover children, I realize, but speaking on the difference in general)