Author Topic: PC130: Chemical Magic  (Read 10158 times)

Heradel

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on: November 09, 2010, 12:21:58 PM
PodCastle 130: Chemical Magic

by Katherine Sparrow

Read by John Meagher (from the Tales of the Left Hand audiobook)

Originally published in Fantasy Magazine! (Read the text here!)

Two months earlier the magician stood on the dance floor wondering how to magic his feet into graceful motion rather than the choppy glitched movement of a thirteen-year-old boy. He hated his dancing, but hated more those men who stood in the club’s shadows and watched without ever moving their bodies. So he bounced and swayed while his elbows jerked backwards in a hopeless gesture.

He hit something soft that squished and said “Ow.” He turned around to see a woman holding her breast and glaring at him. She had the kind of breasts he loved: round and droopy.

“Sorry,” he mouthed over the bass boom. She rolled her eyes.

He tried to elbow himself in the chest; it only seemed fair. But the laws of physics only allowed him a blow to the belly. At least it made her smile a little. It turned her hard-edged face lovely for a moment.

Rated R: Contains Adult Themes
« Last Edit: November 09, 2010, 12:25:38 PM by Heradel »

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DKT

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Reply #1 on: November 09, 2010, 04:51:34 PM
Just wanted to say: in the intro I said John Meagher's Tales of the Left Hand Book 2 would be up and running and a couple of months. I lied! It's available to listen to now!


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Reply #2 on: November 10, 2010, 05:15:30 AM
I liked this story, but not a huge amount.  I enjoyed the metaphorical play, but it started to feel a little forced by the end of it.  Hmm.  Not quite forced... that's not quite the right word.  A little... repetitive, maybe?  I just sort of went, "Okay, got it.  Got the metaphor.  Yup.  Thanks.  Yeah, I think I... yes, I see.  Yes.  Mm-hm.  Yeah.  Mm.  Okay."  

I like metaphor.  I like symbolism.  I like magical realism.  However, I also like subtlety and brevity.  

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Reply #3 on: November 10, 2010, 09:42:46 PM
Dave... NOT FUNNY. Don't scare me like that again; your Podcastle hosting is nearly Eley-level.

Oh... liked the story, too.

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blueeyeddevil

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Reply #4 on: November 11, 2010, 01:58:13 PM
I started writing an entry about this story, then transferred it to a word document so I could have the room to see the entire thing. The word count is above 400, and I'm not done yet. I've already referenced Asimov, Shakespeare, TNG, and O. Henry, maybe I'm going overboard. Rather than write an entry that may end up being longer than the story, I'll try to boil down the main thoughts...

This main part of this story, for me, is about noumenal/phenomenonalogical understandings of existence in general. The point seems to be: you cannot understand anything fully without being that thing.
This is one of issues I've always had with stories that involve telepathy (I know this story didn't, but it spoke quite well to the idea). Because neurons are actual objects that are changed by thought, it seems to me you cannot share the thoughts of something without, in a sense, making your brain identical to the brain having the thoughts, and the act of separating one's own mind back from the other would, to some degree, erase and/or skew the thoughts read.
In this story that is what happens quite literally. In seeking to understand something fully, the Magician becomes that thing, and loses his ability to access the other self that wished for the understanding. Identity precludes universality.

The other interesting idea that gets a treatment here is the idea of love as possessiveness. The magician is an entirely earnest creature, his desire is a pure and strangely loving thing. He is, in a twisted way, an innocent. His acts are not made any less reprehensible by this fact...

I didn't especially enjoy this story, but I will probably make friends listen to it for reference purposes.
   



Talia

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Reply #5 on: November 12, 2010, 04:22:20 AM
I loved all the imaginative little details in this story. I found it deliciously surreal and a bit poetic. Just lovely!

Ending seemed abrupt, but I suspect it comes across better in text. Overall two thumbs up. :)



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Reply #6 on: November 13, 2010, 11:50:46 PM
After The Petrified Girl (PC 83) and Pirate Solutions (EP 226) I had judged myself to not be a Katherine Sparrow kind of person and I really wasn't anticipating liking this one, but I listened to it anyway. I'm glad I did. From the beginning I found both the magician and the alchemist to be flawed yet likable and I wanted their relationship to succeed. It didn't, but I was okay with that because of how it failed. As Dave said, the stuff at the end has several different aspects and shadings, and I can connect all of the ones I see back to their earlier flaws so that the two parts of the story fit together and I can see why they can't live happily ever after.



Loz

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Reply #7 on: November 14, 2010, 06:15:41 PM
WEEEEEEE LOVE YOOOOOOOOU DAVE!

Although the opening was odd and made me think I wasn't going to like it I found that by the end I did, it certainly handled the issue of rape in a way that interested me a lot more than this weeks Escape Pod offering. I find magic realism to be a tricky genre to enjoy and I was confused somewhat by the little people that seemed to live in the Alchemists' legs. I also was really brought up short by the sudden ending, turning the Magician into the Alchemist so he could really understand her, except he wouldn't, because the story seemed to say that, being the Alchemist, she wouldn't be aware of being any different because she wouldn't remember being the Magician. But no, a dark and clever little story.



Obleo21

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Reply #8 on: November 14, 2010, 06:58:46 PM
So the magician is a socially stunted, immature, magic rapist.  I am a little surprised that after all the time that they spent together that the alchemist didn't see something like this coming. 

I feel a little dirty for liking this story.  Good job!



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Reply #9 on: November 15, 2010, 10:37:25 AM
I liked this story. It was kinda fun.
But then, I like that thing where they have magic and stuff in modern day life.
I just have one question: where can I find this alchemist and what does she charge for lessons?

OK, that was two questions, but only one question mark...

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Reply #10 on: November 15, 2010, 03:09:22 PM
I liked this story, but not a huge amount.  I enjoyed the metaphorical play, but it started to feel a little forced by the end of it.  Hmm.  Not quite forced... that's not quite the right word.  A little... repetitive, maybe?  I just sort of went, "Okay, got it.  Got the metaphor.  Yup.  Thanks.  Yeah, I think I... yes, I see.  Yes.  Mm-hm.  Yeah.  Mm.  Okay."  

I like metaphor.  I like symbolism.  I like magical realism.  However, I also like subtlety and brevity.  

This summed up my reaction pretty well.  It was a cool idea, but seemed to keep repeating itself, and by the time it was half over I was checking the remaining time pretty frequently. 

Regarding the intro--Geez, Dave, don't scare me like that!  Sheesh!  It did have it's funny moments, like "You said I gave good plot."  But the "oh crap!" moment was not fun, in an already not-fun week.  I'm glad to hear you're still around!



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Reply #11 on: November 15, 2010, 09:00:18 PM
And Dave (or someone who knows), what were you referring to in the intro?  I was reasonably (though not 100%) sure you were pulling our chains (and like Unblinking, found the innuendo moments amusing), but when the reveal came, I didn't know what it was about.

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Reply #12 on: November 15, 2010, 09:28:59 PM
I could be wrong, but I think what Unblinking was referring to as the "Oh crap moment" was just the "Dave's leaving PodCastle" gag. ("Not fun in a week of not fun." - I'm sure he'll correct me if I'm wrong.) It wasn't in reference to anything specific, really. I just thought a pretend break-up letter to PodCastle and the forums might be an appropriate introduction to this story, without giving anything away.

And thanks to Loz and stePH and everyone else for the kind words. In truth, I love all of you, and the forum in general. And I'm just as giddy about working this gig with Anna as I was a year ago...if not moreso  ;D


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Reply #13 on: November 16, 2010, 01:07:19 AM
I just thought a pretend break-up letter to PodCastle and the forums might be an appropriate introduction to this story, without giving anything away.

And once, someone thought a dramatic radio drama version of War of the Worlds would be a fun event.  Look how that one turned out.

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Reply #14 on: November 16, 2010, 04:28:44 AM
I just thought a pretend break-up letter to PodCastle and the forums might be an appropriate introduction to this story, without giving anything away.

And once, someone thought a dramatic radio drama version of War of the Worlds would be a fun event.  Look how that one turned out.

 :D You said it.

I got called away halfway through the intro, and although I thought it sounded a bit suss I did spend ten minutes in a state of semi-anxiety wondering what I could have done differently. ;D




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Reply #15 on: November 16, 2010, 05:07:43 AM
I just thought a pretend break-up letter to PodCastle and the forums might be an appropriate introduction to this story, without giving anything away.

And once, someone thought a dramatic radio drama version of War of the Worlds would be a fun event.  Look how that one turned out.

We all have our role models  ;)


Unblinking

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Reply #16 on: November 16, 2010, 02:37:30 PM
I could be wrong, but I think what Unblinking was referring to as the "Oh crap moment" was just the "Dave's leaving PodCastle" gag. ("Not fun in a week of not fun." - I'm sure he'll correct me if I'm wrong.)

Yup, that's what I was referring to.  Glad to hear you're still here!



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Reply #17 on: November 16, 2010, 02:58:38 PM
I could be wrong, but I think what Unblinking was referring to as the "Oh crap moment" was just the "Dave's leaving PodCastle" gag. ("Not fun in a week of not fun." - I'm sure he'll correct me if I'm wrong.)

Yup, that's what I was referring to.  Glad to hear you're still here!

Hear, hear!  ;D

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Dave

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Reply #18 on: November 17, 2010, 01:59:57 AM
Rather a disturbing little tale. Mostly I kept thinking "they must be really far north for the magic to work that well..." =P

(That's an inside joke that will only make sense if you listen to Tales of the Left Hand. Which you absolutely should, it's excellent!)
« Last Edit: November 17, 2010, 02:02:55 AM by Dave »

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Reply #19 on: November 18, 2010, 07:11:13 AM
I must confess that I didn't like this one too much. I really think that I just don't like this author; I didn't like The Petrified Girl very much, either. I find that Katherine Sparrow - at least in these two stories - tends to use men and maleness as the butt of her plots, and it annoys me. Some people aren't bugged by this, and some people don't see it at all, and I respect that point of view, but I see it and I don't like it. Straw people of any kind make for shallow conflicts and weak stories.

In this case, I was particularly annoyed by the Alchemist. I don't think she was right. In fact, I think that her attitude towards romance was just as adolescent as the Magician's... and yet, somehow, the Magician is the one who is punished and demonized for it (in the narrative sense - I know that in the literal sense he only got what he deserved). As a happily-married-for-all-of-four-months dude, I don't find it necessary to intentionally hold back parts of myself to maintain the "magic." Rather, my wife and I continuously and fearlessly explore each other, and we are both confident enough in our and each others' depth and complexity to know that we will be endlessly fascinating and fascinated. That's what love really is - not keeping your distance.

On the other hand, I concede that the Magician is a bit crazy and definitely made a poor choice. So, it isn't that the Magician is right and the Alchemist is wrong. It's that, in my mind, the Magician and the Alchemist are both wrong, but for some reason there has to be a bad guy. And in (the two) Sparrow stories (that I've experienced so far), badness comes from from the dude.

You know, I might have enjoyed this story more if I hadn't known it was by Katherine Sparrow. The connections between what I didn't like in Chemical Magic and what I didn't like about The Petrified Girl were a little too easy to see, the two points forming a line too easy to draw. A third story will either break the spell (establishing a new plain!) or confirm what I suspect.

Uh... geometry reference ftw? Sorry, I just came back from a credential class where we got taught a sample geometry lesson. The other lesson was a high school cell biology lesson, so we're all lucky I didn't try to compare the story to a ribosome. Or a mitochondria. Man, mitochondria are creepy.

Jeez, I feel dirty if I don't manage to say something positive about the story. How's this - I really enjoyed the Alchemist's innards. They were neat. Evocative, weird, dreamlike, and neat. That scene was probably the best part of the story, and I liked it a lot.

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Reply #20 on: November 19, 2010, 05:20:00 PM
I must confess that I didn't like this one too much. I really think that I just don't like this author; I didn't like The Petrified Girl very much, either. I find that Katherine Sparrow - at least in these two stories - tends to use men and maleness as the butt of her plots, and it annoys me. Some people aren't bugged by this, and some people don't see it at all, and I respect that point of view, but I see it and I don't like it. Straw people of any kind make for shallow conflicts and weak stories.

In this case, I was particularly annoyed by the Alchemist. I don't think she was right. In fact, I think that her attitude towards romance was just as adolescent as the Magician's... and yet, somehow, the Magician is the one who is punished and demonized for it (in the narrative sense - I know that in the literal sense he only got what he deserved). As a happily-married-for-all-of-four-months dude, I don't find it necessary to intentionally hold back parts of myself to maintain the "magic." Rather, my wife and I continuously and fearlessly explore each other, and we are both confident enough in our and each others' depth and complexity to know that we will be endlessly fascinating and fascinated. That's what love really is - not keeping your distance.

On the other hand, I concede that the Magician is a bit crazy and definitely made a poor choice. So, it isn't that the Magician is right and the Alchemist is wrong. It's that, in my mind, the Magician and the Alchemist are both wrong, but for some reason there has to be a bad guy. And in (the two) Sparrow stories (that I've experienced so far), badness comes from from the dude.

You know, I might have enjoyed this story more if I hadn't known it was by Katherine Sparrow. The connections between what I didn't like in Chemical Magic and what I didn't like about The Petrified Girl were a little too easy to see, the two points forming a line too easy to draw. A third story will either break the spell (establishing a new plain!) or confirm what I suspect.

Uh... geometry reference ftw? Sorry, I just came back from a credential class where we got taught a sample geometry lesson. The other lesson was a high school cell biology lesson, so we're all lucky I didn't try to compare the story to a ribosome. Or a mitochondria. Man, mitochondria are creepy.

Jeez, I feel dirty if I don't manage to say something positive about the story. How's this - I really enjoyed the Alchemist's innards. They were neat. Evocative, weird, dreamlike, and neat. That scene was probably the best part of the story, and I liked it a lot.

EP, I respect your opinion, but I think you're giving Katherine Sparrow a bad rap regarding: maleness as the butt of plots. As you pointed out, both the characters were well drawn. And I think it's fair to suggest they both had flaws. But I think the Magician's flaws, or at least his actions, outweigh anything the Alchemist did.

Both this story, and The Petrified Girl, are about women who have been, or who become, wounded, and how they cope. IMO, in horrible ways. It is not surprising to me that the person who did the wounding was a man.

That said, if you're looking for more Sparrow, you might want to check out her flash fiction story "Hello, I Love You" or her "Pirate Solutions", both over at Escape Pod. I think both of those stories would cause the line you've drawn to be less flat and more wavy.  ;)


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Reply #21 on: November 19, 2010, 08:44:32 PM
To

EP, I respect your opinion, but I think you're giving Katherine Sparrow a bad rap regarding: maleness as the butt of plots. As you pointed out, both the characters were well drawn. And I think it's fair to suggest they both had flaws. But I think the Magician's flaws, or at least his actions, outweigh anything the Alchemist did.

And

That said, if you're looking for more Sparrow, you might want to check out her flash fiction story "Hello, I Love You" or her "Pirate Solutions", both over at Escape Pod. I think both of those stories would cause the line you've drawn to be less flat and more wavy.  ;)

I'd actually not noticed that Sparrow wrote Pirate Solutions, so the line is wavier already. I quite liked that one.

Both this story, and The Petrified Girl, are about women who have been, or who become, wounded, and how they cope. IMO, in horrible ways. It is not surprising to me that the person who did the wounding was a man.

Well... yes and no. Men and women hurt each other in many ways. Not all the wounds I carry came from women. Or men. Or hamsters. I guess it does surprise me that the person who did the wounding in The Petrified Girl was a man, because there are so many choices, so many possibilities. Any of them would have been surprising. But, as I've said, it has to be someone, so really I have no business being annoyed that it was a man in either story. And that's not it, it's something a little subtler. Let me see if I can explain myself. The caffeine will help.

I felt that The Petrified Girl was kind of simplistic. Lesbian girl runaway meets sad old lesbian woman, falls in love with a mysterious girl trapped in a mythic loop (also lesbian, or at least bisexual). And how does the narrative signify that their love has broken the cycle and freed Lesbian #3? Her twins are born girls this time instead of boys. The way that story was going, it wouldn't surprise me if the twins grew up to also be lesbians. It isn't any of the choices alone, it's all of them together. If lesbian girl runaway had been a boy, if the twins had stayed male but something else had signified the breaking of the cycle, if the sad old lesbian woman had been a sad old man, we would have had some example of maleness in the story that wasn't heaped with negative connotations.

It wasn't that I thought the story was bad, it was that I thought it was simple. And I'll be straight up about it; it's totally possible to appreciate simple stories that point the finger - allegory is a proud and respectable literary tradition - but I just can't do it when they point the finger at me.

By the way, if it's at all interesting, my wife also disagreed with me about The Petrified Girl. So, maybe it really is just me, and not you (her, it, whatever).

Anyway, as to the story we're actually talking about...

Standing entirely on its own merits, Chemical Magic bothered me a lot less than The Petrified Girl. The latter actually annoyed me, while the former and I just didn't connect. Ultimately, what bothered me was this: the Magician's character was primarily composed of three parts. He was insecure, he desired intimacy, and he was a dude. The Alchemist, by contrast, was secure, desired space, and was a chick. From those three parts came a sin and a (apparently just) punishment.

The trouble for me was that I didn't see the Magician's insecurity as being as strong as the author did, because I didn't see his approach to relationships as being any more wrong than the Alchemist's equally immature stand-offishness. As a result, I only have one thing to pin his crime - and therefore, his punishment - on: his maleness. Maybe for someone who bought the Alchemist's approach to relationships it would have been different.

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Reply #22 on: November 19, 2010, 09:03:08 PM
That said, if you're looking for more Sparrow, you might want to check out her flash fiction story "Hello, I Love You" or her "Pirate Solutions", both over at Escape Pod. I think both of those stories would cause the line you've drawn to be less flat and more wavy.  ;)

I'd actually not noticed that Sparrow wrote Pirate Solutions, so the line is wavier already. I quite liked that one.

Cool  :)

Both this story, and The Petrified Girl, are about women who have been, or who become, wounded, and how they cope. IMO, in horrible ways. It is not surprising to me that the person who did the wounding was a man.

Well... yes and no. Men and women hurt each other in many ways. Not all the wounds I carry came from women. Or men. Or hamsters. I guess it does surprise me that the person who did the wounding in The Petrified Girl was a man, because there are so many choices, so many possibilities. Any of them would have been surprising. But, as I've said, it has to be someone, so really I have no business being annoyed that it was a man in either story. And that's not it, it's something a little subtler. Let me see if I can explain myself. The caffeine will help.

Sorry; I guess I didn't write that as clearly as I meant to. I should've have said "Women who have been, or who become, wounded...as a result of intimate relationships."

I agree that wounds happen all the time, and can be inflicted by anyone. I meant to say, I wasn't surprised that since the wounds these women have are the results of intimate relationships, they're also the result of men. (Although, yes. Even in these circumstances, it could've been a woman who did the hurting, too.)


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Reply #23 on: November 22, 2010, 06:42:00 PM
(Although, yes. Even in these circumstances, it could've been a woman who did the hurting, too.)

Like in The Belated Burial.



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Reply #24 on: December 01, 2010, 05:36:30 AM
This one was just too...yeah. Didn't fire for me on any cylinders. The images of the alchemists insides were interesting, but she was such an ice-cold and aloof character I have no idea why the magician would even care about her in the first place. Maybe because she was magical too? The author went to great lengths to describe how inadequate the magician was and how awesome the alchemist was, although I can't really see any difference between the two.