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Author Topic: PC118: Sugar  (Read 14932 times)

Heradel

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on: August 18, 2010, 12:16:35 PM
PodCastle 118: Sugar

by Cat Rambo

Read by Rachel Swirsky

Originally Published in Fantasy Magazine

They line up before Laurana, forty baked-clay heads atop forty bodies built of metal cylinders.  Every year she casts and fires new heads to replace those lost to weather, the wild, or simple erosion.  She rarely replaces the metal bodies.  They are scuffed and battered, over a century old.

Every morning, the island sun beating down on her pale scalp, she stands on the maison’s porch with the golems before her.  Motionless.  Expressionless.

She chants.  The music and the words fly into the clay heads and keep them thinking.  The golems are faster just after they have been charged.  They move more lightly, with more precision.  With more joy.  Without the daily chant they could go perhaps three days at most, depending on the heaviness of their labors.

This month is cane-planting season.  She delegates the squads of laborers and sets some to carrying buckets from the spring to water the new cane shoots while others dig furrows.  The roof needs reshingling, but it can wait until planting season is past.  As the golems shuffle off, she pauses to water the flowering bushes along the front of the house.  Placing her fingertips together, she conjures a tiny rain cloud, wringing moisture from the air.  Warm drops collect on the leaves, rolling down to darken pink and gray bark to red and black.

Rated PG: Contains a Rush of Sugary Sweetness (No Corn Syrup or Artificial Flavoring!)
« Last Edit: September 08, 2010, 11:01:37 AM by Heradel »

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Reply #1 on: August 18, 2010, 02:12:48 PM
I haven't listened to the story yet, but I notice a "food ingredient" theme between this week and last.  I hope next week has "Pepper" in the title.  :)



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Reply #2 on: August 18, 2010, 02:42:31 PM
So will the next story be Sour and the one after it Bitter, or vice versa?

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Reply #3 on: August 18, 2010, 03:25:14 PM
No, it's gonna be booze!

Okay, maybe not - actually, we unfortunately don't have any more food-based episode titles coming up (that I can think of). But I am glad you all seem to be appreciating the pairing up of these two episodes  :D


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Reply #4 on: August 18, 2010, 04:01:41 PM
No, it's gonna be booze!

Okay, maybe not - actually, we unfortunately don't have any more food-based episode titles coming up (that I can think of). But I am glad you all seem to be appreciating the pairing up of these two episodes  :D

Perhaps the author of next week's story would consider a title change?  "Come on, man.  Take one for the team.  We've got a good thing going here.  I don't CARE that your story has nothing to do with pepper."   :D



Listener

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Reply #5 on: August 18, 2010, 04:53:18 PM
I've made no secret of the fact that I haven't really enjoyed this author's work in the past, for varying reasons that you can review on other comment threads if you like. However, for the first... oh, let's say 75% of this story... I was right there with the MC, right in the story, enjoying the descriptions and the details and the magic...

And then I started to realize that nothing much was actually happening. By the end, I'd distilled the plot down to these six words: "Sorceress's old lover dies. She's sad."

I felt very much let down by the fact that entire conflict of the story -- which doesn't really get introduced until too late -- was Laurana trying to resolve her own emotions about loving Christina while her old lover is still alive, though dying... and then she dies, and Laurana is unexpectedly sad in the same way that everyone who bottles up their emotions and then experiences a crisis event and everything spills out gets sad. I don't think I missed anything in the story that would invalidate that opinion.

All that said, I really loved the worldbuilding, and the magic, and the exotic locale, and the hints of the Flame Plague and sorcery wars and all that stuff. Plus, golems replacing slaves, which was a nice way of getting around the slavery politics of the sugar plantations in the Caribbean (and if this wasn't the Caribbean, then whatever Caribbean-like place the story occurred in). I wouldn't be averse to trying out more stories set in this world, as long as there's more plot and it arrives MUCH sooner.

The reading was... mostly okay, except when she got excited and loud and read faster, breaking her pace. Also, she redlined several times, especially in the beginning, and I could hear the waveform topping out. However, given that she seems to have obtained new equipment, I'll give it a pass this time. I just didn't think there was a need to quicken the pace in the places she did.

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Talia

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Reply #6 on: August 19, 2010, 03:12:05 AM
Sad story. Seems to me there was a greater degree of subtle emotional complexity than you see in a lot of stories; I enjoyed that aspect of it. Very much a "quiet" piece- no real action - just a study of this one woman's tragedy. Nice.

Reading sounded good to me, I didn't hear any of what Listener noted. I was listening on headphones, no idea if that made a difference.



soapturtle

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Reply #7 on: August 19, 2010, 09:05:01 PM
The reading was... mostly okay, except when she got excited and loud and read faster, breaking her pace..[snip]... I just didn't think there was a need to quicken the pace in the places she did.

This.

The speeding up when it switched to the talking about the meetings with the new girlfriend... way too fast.  So much so, that even though I was doing nothing else at the time, it was a bit hard to follow. 


Otherwise, what Talia said.

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Reply #8 on: August 20, 2010, 01:39:23 PM
Loved the setting, with the sugar plantations, sorceress, and golem slaves.

The engineer in me did keep wondering why they put clay heads on the slaves if they wear down so easily.  I'm guessing there's an in-world reason for it, but it was never shown (and probably shouldn't have been).  Maybe the mental centers of the golem have to be cast in clay for them to think properly?  Even if so, you still might be able to put a metal casing around it to protect it from the elements.  Or cook the clay with a glaze to protect it better from water and erosion.

Beyond the setting, though, this just didn't have enough happening.  Throughout the whole thing it was nothing but mope, mope, mope.  Not that characters can't mope, but I find a story where they do nothing BUT mope to be dull, dull, dull.  The golems were by far the coolest part of the story and they were never really relevant to anything.



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Reply #9 on: August 20, 2010, 02:29:34 PM
This one was lost on me. I'm not sure if it was just this story, or if it's Cat Rambo's work in general that I have no great opinion of, but I can't bring to mind any of her stories that made an impression on me... for that matter, I can't recall any of her other stories at all.

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blueeyeddevil

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Reply #10 on: August 26, 2010, 12:42:24 PM
The irony of this story, for me, is that object of the title, sugar, and the references to it, took me out of the story.

If you know a little about the history of sugar, which in and since the period (effective alternate-world period? do fantasy writers have a term for this?) of this story has been a bloody and inhumane trade.
On the list of fates into which you don't wish to be born, (if you believe in that sort of thing) a worker on a sugar plantation -virtually any time in the last three hundred years- should have a high rank.
I know, magical world: everything's fixed by Golems, yaay. But that would drastically change the economic and social factors of this world, something which isn't really addressed.
Also, the reference to pure white sugar was off-putting, because white sugar wasn't really available until the late ninteenth century; sugar until then tended to be either brown sugar or near-brown sugar like turbinado or the referenced muscavado ("Sugar in the Raw" for you modern coffee-house frequenters, is turbinado sugar).

I know, again, it's a magical world: they can have white sugar if they want. Why evoke the spirit of a time period if not to use what was going on then? Was this solely so the author could write in a butch pirate?

There was potential, as I see it, for a much cooler story buried here: something more earthy and bloody, like sugar itself was in this era.
Instead we got something kind of thin and too-sweet, like sugar is now.



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Reply #11 on: August 27, 2010, 04:38:49 AM
This was a beautiful, contemplative piece.  My only complaint is that it was, if anything, too direct.  F'r ex, when Lorana got up and started turning off all the wind-charms in the room, I was close to tears, but then the story went on to say that the "figure on the bed" never breathed again, and I went, "Well, yeah, I *know.*  You just *told* me."  I like a moment like that to be left to speak for itself.

As someone very intelligent said of one of my contributions to the EP flash contest, action doesn't have to be physical to be a conflict and get resolved.  :-P  There was a big old fight that happened in this story.  It just didn't happen externally.



Heradel

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Reply #12 on: August 27, 2010, 08:41:32 AM
The discussion on how you pronounce Golem has been split off and moved to this thread.

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Reply #13 on: August 27, 2010, 04:09:11 PM
Good.  :)

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Reply #14 on: August 27, 2010, 04:48:38 PM
The irony of this story, for me, is that object of the title, sugar, and the references to it, took me out of the story.

If you know a little about the history of sugar, which in and since the period (effective alternate-world period? do fantasy writers have a term for this?) of this story has been a bloody and inhumane trade.
On the list of fates into which you don't wish to be born, (if you believe in that sort of thing) a worker on a sugar plantation -virtually any time in the last three hundred years- should have a high rank.
I know, magical world: everything's fixed by Golems, yaay. But that would drastically change the economic and social factors of this world, something which isn't really addressed.
Also, the reference to pure white sugar was off-putting, because white sugar wasn't really available until the late ninteenth century; sugar until then tended to be either brown sugar or near-brown sugar like turbinado or the referenced muscavado ("Sugar in the Raw" for you modern coffee-house frequenters, is turbinado sugar).

I know, again, it's a magical world: they can have white sugar if they want. Why evoke the spirit of a time period if not to use what was going on then? Was this solely so the author could write in a butch pirate?

There was potential, as I see it, for a much cooler story buried here: something more earthy and bloody, like sugar itself was in this era.
Instead we got something kind of thin and too-sweet, like sugar is now.

This post reminds me of...

<John>: Sugar?

<The Doctor>: Ah. A decision. Would it make any difference?

<John>: Would make your tea sweet.

<The Doctor>: Yes, but beyond the confines of my taste buds would it make any difference?

<John>: Not really.

<The Doctor>: But-

<John>: Yeah?

<The Doctor>: What if I could control people’s taste buds? What if I decided that no-one would take sugar? That would make a difference to those who sell the sugar, and those that cut the cane.

<John>: My father – he was a cane cutter.

<The Doctor>: Exactly. Now, if no-one had used sugar, your father wouldn’t have been a cane cutter.

<John>: If this sugar thing had never started, my great-grandfather wouldn’t have been kidnapped, chained up and sold in Kingston in the first place. I’d be a African.

<The Doctor>: See? Every great decision creates ripples like a huge boulder dropped in a lake. The ripples merge and rebound off the banks in unforeseeable ways. The heavier the decision, the larger the waves, the more uncertain the consequences.

<John>: Life’s like that. Best thing is just to get on with it.

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Reply #15 on: August 30, 2010, 05:05:07 AM
This one didn't really move me.  I think it may partly have been a setting/narration/plot mismatch: certain aspects of the first two seemed to be promising me a rollicking adventure story, but then it turned out to be largely personal in nature.  There's nothing wrong with the latter, but that isn't the kind of thing I engage with automatically, and especially not when half my brain keeps expecting something else.



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Reply #16 on: August 31, 2010, 05:01:28 PM
I think what Cat's doing here is really interesting, and to me, really compelling. She's taking her gorgeous fantasy world-building skills and telling a quiet, literary story about the complications of grief. Rather than having something happen, it's the exploration of a moment in someone's life, exquisitely drawn and realistically rendered. My guess is that because a lot of podcastle peeps come to the fantasy table with expectation of big plot and dramatic changes, it feels uneventful. It's not, at least by literary short story standards. I want more fantasy fiction like this. More, more, more!



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Reply #17 on: August 31, 2010, 05:44:55 PM
I think what Cat's doing here is really interesting, and to me, really compelling. She's taking her gorgeous fantasy world-building skills and telling a quiet, literary story about the complications of grief. Rather than having something happen, it's the exploration of a moment in someone's life, exquisitely drawn and realistically rendered. My guess is that because a lot of podcastle peeps come to the fantasy table with expectation of big plot and dramatic changes, it feels uneventful. It's not, at least by literary short story standards. I want more fantasy fiction like this. More, more, more!

There's something to this.  For me, it was like staging a soap opera scene in front of an epic space opera battle.  Not that the emotions aren't interesting, but dammit you're blocking my view!  Aw, I didn't even get to see the Dreadnought explode cuz they were standing in front of it.  Artificial servants, whether of technological or magical variety, are very intriguing to me, so filling the stage with golems and then having them serve no purpose was a big let-down for me.

Also, even with stories that center around emotions, I like it when there's some choice, some change in the viewpoint character.  To me, there was neither.



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Reply #18 on: August 31, 2010, 07:14:58 PM
So, I started listening to this one about a week ago and then had to stop mid-way. It took me a week until I picked it up again. I was rather reluctant to - my first hearing didn't really engage me that much. But I found that when I resumed, I really loved what I was hearing. And also, I noticed that I remembered what I had heard last week pretty well. This story wasn't action filled, but it had quite a lot to say, about relationships and about humanity. I didn't love it at first, but I do now.



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Reply #19 on: September 01, 2010, 11:57:09 PM
Maybe it was just me, but I couldn't get over the implication that Laurana's serfs were mind-controlled somehow, thus making her a villain in my mind, and therefore hard to sympathize with.

As a rule, I like magic that is either technical in nature, or completely metaphorical; but either way, internally consistent. This story couldn't make up its mind about the trappings of its magic, and that was another distraction for me.

Other than that small detail, it was pretty good, I guess. The prose was nice enough. I kind of feel like the sexy pirate queen was a bit gratuitous, but then, there was nothing explicit, so maybe not.

I didn't dislike this story, I'd just like to say, I'm just nitpicky.

-Dave (aka Nev the Deranged)


eytanz

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Reply #20 on: September 02, 2010, 08:33:01 AM
As a rule, I like magic that is either technical in nature, or completely metaphorical; but either way, internally consistent. This story couldn't make up its mind about the trappings of its magic, and that was another distraction for me.

Could you explain this in a bit more detail, please? I'm not sure I understand what about the magic in this story is inconsistent.



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Reply #21 on: September 03, 2010, 01:24:27 PM
As a rule, I like magic that is either technical in nature, or completely metaphorical; but either way, internally consistent. This story couldn't make up its mind about the trappings of its magic, and that was another distraction for me.

Could you explain this in a bit more detail, please? I'm not sure I understand what about the magic in this story is inconsistent.

I didn't notice inconsistency, though the design of the golems weren't very well thought out since their heads erode so easily.  But bad design just means bad design, not that the magical system is inconsistent, so I'm not sure I see either.



Dave

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Reply #22 on: September 04, 2010, 12:56:49 AM
In this particular case, it was less that it was badly inconsistent, and more that its applications varied so widely, and while some parts were detailed just enough to intrigue me, other parts seemed to function on a different scale and weren't explained at all. It was more an implication of inconsistency that could have been remedied with more description of method or whatever.

The golemcraft, in particular, seemed to have been thought out, while the weather effects and such seemed to just be handwavey.

So, I guess my complaint in this case is about the inconsistency of the level of detail rather than the inconsistency of the magic itself, which may or may not have been consistent.

Have I run enough circles around this yet? >_<

-Dave (aka Nev the Deranged)


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Reply #23 on: September 04, 2010, 10:56:48 AM
Thanks for clarifying - that makes sense, though for me it wasn't a problem. I saw this as a world where magic is very ubiquitous. The fact that it existed on many levels was a fact about the world, not about the story, if you see what I mean. It's sort of like if you'd write a realistic story about the 21st century and someone would point out that "technology" exists on many different levels and can do many different things.



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Reply #24 on: September 04, 2010, 05:23:13 PM
It's sort of like if you'd write a realistic story about the 21st century and someone would point out that "technology" exists on many different levels and can do many different things.

By the same token, you'd expect to see different levels of detail devoted to descriptions of that technology in such a story, as we do in this one.

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