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Author Topic: PC111: And Their Lips Rang With The Sun  (Read 15256 times)
Heradel
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« on: June 29, 2010, 12:51:24 PM »

PodCastle 111: And Their Lips Rang With The Sun

by Amal El-Mohtar
Read by N.K. Jemisin
Originally Published in Strange Horizons.

There was once a Sun-woman, glorious as any of them, named Lam. She was nimble, lithe; she was all of eighteen, quite in her prime, while her bright-eyed acolyte had only just learned the sacred alphabet off by heart. She was a sensible teacher, and differed from her sisters in only one respect.

It was her custom, once the dawn-dance was done, to look out to the very farthest reaches of the horizon and imagine how far the fingers of the Rising Sun could reach, what they touched where her gaze failed. And when the evening was shaken out like a sheet between the arms of her sisters, then, too, rather than look to the closing of her palms, she would chase the last ray of the Sun as it vanished over the desert and the mountains, and wonder where She went, where She slept, and in whose bed.

These were unnecessary thoughts for a Sun-woman to have, to be sure, but perhaps none had loved the Sun quite so completely as she.

It happened one afternoon that Lam looked out, as was her wont, towards the west, and wondered. But while she thought her puzzle-thoughts, she became aware of eyes on her, and looked down to the great square before the temple of the Sun.

Rated PG: Contains Stories for Travelers Who May or May not be Passing Through

Read the text here.
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DKT
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« Reply #1 on: June 29, 2010, 03:47:39 PM »

For anyone interested in reading the interview mentioned in the outro, it can be found here.

Enjoy!
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Talia
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« Reply #2 on: June 29, 2010, 03:50:58 PM »

Oh goody, my favorite author from the short fiction contest. *hop*
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« Reply #3 on: June 29, 2010, 06:27:01 PM »

*Grumble grumble*... lose my post, will you? Well, I'll post it again. That'll show you!

*Ahem*

This story is with only very little doubt, the best story I've heard on Podcastle in a while. It had everything! It was sexy, sad, striking, touching, and beautiful. The craft was excellent - each word was perfectly chosen and perfectly placed. The setting it presented was wonderfully compelling, the kind of place I'd love to read or hear more of. Most importantly, the author did an extraordinarily good job of giving us an idea of the characters in a very short time.

All-around wonderful. I give it five Zeppelins out of five.
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Unblinking
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« Reply #4 on: June 30, 2010, 08:33:24 AM »

I'm very glad to see Amal here after reading the 2 Podcastle flash entries.  Cool!

That being said, this story didn't do much for me.  It's certainly well written, but I just didn't get a sense of tension.  From the very beginning it seemed like a tale told to a stranger by the woman, nothing that evokes real tension from me.  The tie-in at the end came too late to make much difference to me, and also the wording made it seem rather sinister "You say you're moving on, but I'm quite strong, remember?"  One thing that bugged me is that the fact of her strength was not revealed until that trait became pivotal.  She sneaks up behind him and incapacitates him.  Oh by the way, she's super buff.  It explains this by her being a dancer, and a professional dancer would certainly be athletic, but there's no reason she would have developed the particular muscle groups or skills for hand to hand combat, especially when she lives in a posh palace and he lives on the street.  I'm sure she could crack walnuts with her legs but that doesn't instantly translate to combat against a larger opponent used to life on the street.  In any case, if this had been revealed early on in the story instead of at the exact moment it was needed, then it would've been easier to accept.
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Reed
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« Reply #5 on: June 30, 2010, 02:43:26 PM »

Hi! So, this is my first post here. I've been listening to PodCastle for quite a while and left a comment once in a while when it was still possible without registering, and just felt like hitting the forum today.  Wink

I liked the story quite a bit, though at first I thought I would not. The beginning seemed like one of those stories that wallowed in describing a metophorized culture without any plot, which is not the type of fantasy I enjoy very much. I still think this part could have been shorter, but the whole thing improved greatly when the story of Nam started. At that point the rich language really built up tension beautifully.
The ending was fine, though I felt it could have been a bit shorter as well. Perhaps the story could even have stopped when the traveller unbinds his head - the resolution was clear enough at that point.

As for Nam's physical strength, it didn't bother me. I didn't get the impression, the moon man put up much of a fight anyhow, so it would be sufficient for her to be fit - which is plausible -, not super strong.
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Talia
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« Reply #6 on: June 30, 2010, 10:03:37 PM »

I shoulda guessed she was a poet. Smiley

Beautifully written, although the whole "narrator talking to the audience" style is not one of my personal favorite styles. An interesting world setup. So many cultures of our present world have had or do have rituals involving things like the sun rising, seasons turning, etc, and its a neat twist to offer "well.. what if that isn't just superstition?". An elegantly portrayed world. I dug the bit of Arabic linguistic/cultural insight in the outro as well.
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« Reply #7 on: July 01, 2010, 09:16:32 AM »

Welcome, Reed!

As for Nam's physical strength, it didn't bother me. I didn't get the impression, the moon man put up much of a fight anyhow, so it would be sufficient for her to be fit - which is plausible -, not super strong.

I didn't really have a problem with her being strong, but the choice to reveal this only at the moment when her strength is important.  Imagine a different story: 
Bob is walking down the street, distracted by thoughts of his upcoming date later that evening.  He's not walking anywhere in particular, just letting his feet carry him wherever they want to go.  Suddenly he realizes he's turned down an alley, a dead end.  He turns to go back to the street, but a burly man with a knife stands in his way.  Bob tries to talk to the man, but he doesn't listen, eyes glazed, as he waves his knive with frenetic energy.  Oh no, he thinks, what am I going to do?  The man with the knife lunges and Bob pulls out the gun from the waistband of his jeans and shoots the mugger between the eyes.

If I were reading this I would say at this point "What gun?"--if the gun had been mentioned earlier on, then its presence wouldn't suddenly be sprung at the moment it's needed.  I'd say the same is true of this story (though not to this exaggerated degree).  It would've been easy to mention her strength earlier in the story, in a more natural way instead of adding a "by the way, she was super-buff" right at the moment of her NEEDING to be super-buff.
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nojojojo
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« Reply #8 on: July 01, 2010, 10:17:00 AM »

Okay, wasn't going to say anything in this thread since I was the reader for the story, but I'm kind of puzzled here.

Unblinking, what point in the story are you referring to when you say that Lam's strength was hidden 'til the last minute?  The line you reference, her saying "I am still strong, you see, still quite strong for my age, and will not hear of your only passing through" -- she's an elderly woman, trying to assure him that she's still healthy and not about to keel over dead.  She's trying to encourage her long-lost son to stay with her for awhile and tell her about his father and everything of his life.  Is that the line you're reading as "sinister"? 

Or are you talking about the moment when, as a younger woman, she jumped her lover-to-be as he emerged from the Moon cultist house?  (Reed, I think this is the moment you're referring to?)  That was about halfway through the story.  But the story says from the beginning that the girls are trained in dance practically from birth, and Lam was in her prime, so why would it be a surprise that she's strong?  All dancers are strong.  (Look at this woman's arms.)  So I can certainly buy that Lam was strong enough to overpower her lover.  This didn't need to be stated because it was obvious to me.  Dancer in her prime = top notch athlete.

Not that she really needed to overpower him, though. The story doesn't mention him struggling at all, once he figures out who she is.

And since I'm here, I might as well mention my own thoughts on the story -- I loved it.  And hopefully people can hear that in my reading, because I found this story an absolute joy to read out loud.  Like reading poetry, which is especially apropos given Ms. El Mohtar's other calling. 

I was kind of confused by the intro, though.  If I hadn't known what was coming, I think I would've been thrown by all the description of Cahokia, the ancient pre-Columbus American empire, prior to a story set in an ancient fantasy Arabic culture.  The intro had me craving a story set in a fantasy mound-building society.  (Hn. Maybe I should try writing one of those.)
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hautdesert
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« Reply #9 on: July 01, 2010, 10:32:58 AM »


I was kind of confused by the intro, though.  If I hadn't known what was coming, I think I would've been thrown by all the description of Cahokia, the ancient pre-Columbus American empire, prior to a story set in an ancient fantasy Arabic culture. 

I didn't want to talk about the stuff Dave mentioned in the outro, cause I thought that would be better after the story, and I was sort of free-associating "sun, sun...hmmm" and my brain landed on Cahokia.  They show a short film at the Interpretive Center (you can see it on the website, too) called "Cahokia: City of the Sun."  And I thought, "well, the connection is very, very tenuous, but more people should know about Cahokia."  So I went with it.

 
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The intro had me craving a story set in a fantasy mound-building society.  (Hn. Maybe I should try writing one of those.)

My work here is done!

edited to add---Here's a pretty good book to check out if anyone's interested:  Cahokia: Ancient America's Great City on the Mississippi.
« Last Edit: July 01, 2010, 10:37:57 AM by hautdesert » Logged
DKT
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« Reply #10 on: July 01, 2010, 10:46:37 AM »

Regarding Lam's strength: Aside from being incredibly strong and agile just from being trained as a dancer (which I think both Nojojojo and Unblinking have acknowledged), here's a line from the second paragraph of the story.

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These girls, these women with their slender necks and sloping shoulders, they heft their spears high into the air as they sing the morning up, clash shaft against head in a dawn dance that scatters clouds and rains light on the city below.

Knowing that these dancers are hefting spears and clashing them against other spears wielded by other dancers, well, it just emphasizes they're hella tough to me. And like I said, that's in the second paragraph. (Link to the text in the original post.)

That said, I took from the story pretty much what Nojojojo did. At the end, she's not suggesting to fight her long lost son, and in the middle, her lover didn't put up much of a struggle - in fact, he was totally up for being ambushed by her. Look at this section:

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How else to say that she gleaned the knowledge of how his teeth made a flute of his breath the way her bells made music of hers? They kissed till she tasted his blood where her bells cut him, till his back warmed the stone she pressed him against, till she knew the shape of his limbs like she knew her alphabet. She pushed him back into the house with the strange domed roof and tore the black from his body, kissed his page-pale skin until she'd inked a scripture of cuts and bruises along it.

Jealous lovesick troubadors indeed.
« Last Edit: July 01, 2010, 10:48:31 AM by DKT » Logged

Unblinking
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« Reply #11 on: July 01, 2010, 01:36:35 PM »

Unblinking, what point in the story are you referring to when you say that Lam's strength was hidden 'til the last minute?

In the middle when she sneaks up on him.  At that moment she takes an aside in the middle of the action to say something like "by the way, the girl was very strong".  The way she says it implies to me that this was new and important information, important enough to interrupt an action sequence to tell me about it.  the way she says it also seemed to imply that she was unusually strong, even for a dancer.  If she had simply said nothing about her strength, I would not have thought twice about it since she is physically fit and had the element of surprise to boot.  If she had mentioned earlier that she was quite strong, then I would've already had this information.  But since the first mention is within the "ambush" (I use quotes because she didn't exactly have harmful intentions) it implied to me that this was information was of vital importance to the actions at hand, and it was jarring for me.

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Is that the line you're reading as "sinister"?

The line at the end when she is elderly is the one I read as sinister.  I understand why she doesn't want him to leave: he's her long lost son after all.  But her way to convince him is "Don't try to leave, or I'll hurt you."  At least that's how I read it.  It seemed very out of place with the rest of the story.

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So I can certainly buy that Lam was strong enough to overpower her lover.  This didn't need to be stated because it was obvious to me.

I can buy that dancers are strong, no problem there.  I would've thought the strength would've been primarily concentrated in her legs, but DKT's mention of the spear-hefting makes perfect sense--not that strength necessarily translates to skill in combat, but that's another discussion entirely.  But if there's no reason that this needs to be stated why does it need to be stated in the middle of an action sequence?  That flagged it in my mind as making her unusually strong, inhumanly strong.  If her strength is unnatural/unusual, then it could've been mentioned earlier on during the long introduction (the fact that it was unusual was further backed up by the threat at the end).  If it wasn't unnatural/unusual, then why mention it at that action-packed juncture at all?
 
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Not that she really needed to overpower him, though. The story doesn't mention him struggling at all, once he figures out who she is.

Which just made it all the more jarring for me.  If you're sneaking up behind someone who really wants to see you, why is the unnatural strength even relevant?   It's therefore even more out of place.

Anyway, you certainly don't have to agree with me.  It just seemed to me that the strength was set up to be a major plot point, and unusual, as it was mentioned during an action sequence and repeated again at the end as the resolution of the story.  And if it was meant to have that importance, it didn't make sense to first mention it during the action sequence.
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Unblinking
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« Reply #12 on: July 01, 2010, 01:38:43 PM »

At the end, she's not suggesting to fight her long lost son,

So... why does she once again mention how strong she is?  It struck me as a threat for what she would do to him if he didn't agree to stay and talk some more.  I'm not sure how else it can be interpreted.
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Talia
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« Reply #13 on: July 01, 2010, 01:50:11 PM »

I believe at the end she meant to imply she had the stamina to deal with a longer visit, but the story is suggesting she's trying to reassure herself she has the emotional strength to deal with the sudden and unexpected reunion.
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DKT
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« Reply #14 on: July 01, 2010, 01:57:40 PM »

I believe at the end she meant to imply she had the stamina to deal with a longer visit, but the story is suggesting she's trying to reassure herself she has the emotional strength to deal with the sudden and unexpected reunion.

Just jumping into say essentially what Talia said. I personally didn't read (or hear) that last line as a threat. Just more of a "I'm strong enough to deal with finally finding you, my son: and want you to stay for much longer."
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mbrennan
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« Reply #15 on: July 01, 2010, 02:00:59 PM »

I was confused by the intro bringing up Cahokia, too.  Somebody write me a mound-builder fantasy, stat!

(Now I'm trying to remember the name of the novel I read, that was set at Cahokia.  I don't think it was fantasy, though.  This was for an archaeology class.)

Anyway, I thought this story was just beautiful.  I don't mind leisurely, semi-plotless openings -- here is this fantasy world; I will now describe it to you -- if the description is elegant enough, and what's being described is interesting enough.  This one more than qualified.  And the outro, about the letters, was fascinating.
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« Reply #16 on: July 01, 2010, 02:12:59 PM »

Just jumping into say essentially what Talia said. I personally didn't read (or hear) that last line as a threat. Just more of a "I'm strong enough to deal with finally finding you, my son: and want you to stay for much longer."

That makes much more sense in context, but wow I didn't glean that meaning in the slightest.  If I remember correctly, she started the line with "let me remind you", which for me harkened back to the original mention of physical strength.  I don't remember her explicitly mentioning herself having emotional strength/stamina, so if that was the intent then the reminder seems to be a null pointer (seg fault!).
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Unblinking
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« Reply #17 on: July 01, 2010, 02:16:04 PM »

Unless the reminder is saying that physical strength implies emotional strength... But that seems to be both counterintuitive and unsupported by many people I've known.

So the end still sounds like a threat to me.  It'd be interesting to hear what the author's intent was.
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nojojojo
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« Reply #18 on: July 01, 2010, 04:40:50 PM »

Unblinking, what point in the story are you referring to when you say that Lam's strength was hidden 'til the last minute?
In the middle when she sneaks up on him. 

Ah, gotcha.  The specific line you paraphrased is at the very end, so I was confused.

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The line at the end when she is elderly is the one I read as sinister.  I understand why she doesn't want him to leave: he's her long lost son after all.  But her way to convince him is "Don't try to leave, or I'll hurt you."  At least that's how I read it.  It seemed very out of place with the rest of the story.

Wow, that's so far from the reading I took that now I'm worried there was something wrong with the way I read it.  I was trying so hard to do justice to the story that maybe I overdid it.  Sad

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I can buy that dancers are strong, no problem there.  I would've thought the strength would've been primarily concentrated in her legs,

Not a dancer, though I had ballet inflicted on me for 3 years in childhood... but this much I do know:  dancing is a total body workout.  A dancer's strength has to be spread evenly over the whole frame, including the core, or injuries result.  (That's partly why I quit ballet, actually -- weak abs, could never handle en pointe.  The other reason I quit is that I hated ballet and wanted to take kung fu instead, but my mom wouldn't let me.  I digress.)  It really doesn't matter whether the dancers heft anything; the simple act of holding the arms in various positions for the length of a dance is a high-strength activity -- resistance training rather than weight training, though since Lam and her sisters used a spear then they were actually doing both.

The sense I got was that the storyteller mentioned Lam's strength because (as the outro noted) in this society everything having to do with the sun involved qualities that we typically associate with masculinity:  strength, aggression, violence, high status, etc.  But the sun here is female.  While here the moon is masculine, but easily injured, scorned by society, passive. So I think Lam's strength was mentioned for the same reason that Qaf's passivity and injuries are noted -- to emphasize the femininity = strength, masculinity = delicacy dichotomy.

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That flagged it in my mind as making her unusually strong, inhumanly strong.  If her strength is unnatural/unusual, then it could've been mentioned earlier on during the long introduction (the fact that it was unusual was further backed up by the threat at the end).  If it wasn't unnatural/unusual, then why mention it at that action-packed juncture at all?

Wow, I didn't even notice that her strength had been mentioned in that scene, until you pointed it out -- and I read the story five or six times before doing the reading.  But then I didn't think of that scene as remotely "action-packed", either.
« Last Edit: July 01, 2010, 04:44:14 PM by nojojojo » Logged
Unblinking
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« Reply #19 on: July 01, 2010, 04:49:40 PM »

Wow, that's so far from the reading I took that now I'm worried there was something wrong with the way I read it.  I was trying so hard to do justice to the story that maybe I overdid it.  Sad

I wouldn't worry about it.  I didn't think that your voice sounded sinister, only the words, a veiled threat if anything, and apparently I'm in the minority thinking even that.

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A dancer's strength has to be spread evenly over the whole frame, including the core, or injuries result.

Fair enough, I am no dancer, and I don't know any professional dancers, so that was a hole in my knowledge.  I would still argue that strength does not imply combat skill in the way that line seems to imply.

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Wow, I didn't even notice that her strength had been mentioned in that scene, until you pointed it out -- and I read the story five or six times before doing the reading.  But then I didn't think of that scene as remotely "action-packed", either.

Well, action-packed is a relative term of course.  Smiley  The action is certainly implied since she is sneaking up on him and apparently incapacitating him--though there's no specific mention of resistance, I still got the impression this took some work.  So far I'm the only one here who's made a big deal about it, so it's probably just me.   Grin
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