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Author Topic: PC138: Balfour And Meriwether In The Adventure Of The Emperor’s Vengeance  (Read 8940 times)
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« on: January 04, 2011, 04:55:17 AM »

PodCastle 138: Balfour And Meriwether In The Adventure Of The Emperor’s Vengeance

by Daniel Abraham.

Read by Paul S. Jenkins.


Originally published in Postscripts #19: The Enemy of the Good.

“Assistant Curator Olds,” the man said. “I was working with Lord Abington on behalf of the museum. I was supposed to have been present at the unsealing, but Lord Abington ordered me out at the last moment.”

“Lead on, young Mr. Olds,” Meriwether said. “There may not be a moment to lose.”

The halls of the museum rose above the men in a gloom darker than the autumn sky. The scent of dust and still air gave the great triumph of English culture the unfortunate aspect of a necropolis. Their footsteps echoed against the marble and stone, dampening even Meriwether’s gay affect. Mr. Olds led them down a long corridor, up one long flight of stairs, and then another to a hall designed around a pair of great oaken doors. Two other men, clearly minor functionaries of the establishment, huddled in the harsh light of a gas sconce. The hissing of the flame was the only sound. Balfour stepped immediately to the closed doors, scrutinizing them with an expression so fierce as to forbid speech. Meriwether paced back and forth some length down the hall, his pale eyes moving restlessly across every detail, his footsteps silent as a cat’s.

“Something’s happened,” Balfour said, stepping back from the doors with a nod. Meriwether strode to Balfour’s side licked his fingertips and held them before the doorway.

“Yes, I see,” he said.

“What are you talking about?” Lord Carmichael asked. “What do you mean something’s happened?”

“The room within is not sealed,” Meriwether said, his voice unnaturally calm. “All through the museum, the air has been still as the grave, but here there’s the faintest of breezes. What other access ways are there to this workroom?”

“None, sir,” one of the functionaries said. “There was a back way, but it was bricked up years ago to make more storage room for the collection.”

“Light?” Balfour asked.

“Gas lamps, sir,” the functionary said. “Same as the rest.”

“And during the day?” Balfour said. “Are there windows?”

“Well, yes sir. But they’re set at the rooftop. The workrooms are high as a cathedral, some of them sir.”

“We’ll want rope,” Meriwether said. “And ladders that will reach the roof. There’s little time.”

“What do you suspect?” Lord Carmichael asked as the functionaries scattered to Meriwether’s command.

Meriwether shook his head silently and gave no other reply. A few minutes work brought the discovery that the window high above the workroom had indeed been breached, and less than a half hour more allowed the pair of special agents to be lowered into the stygian darkness within.


Rated PG
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Heradel
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« Reply #1 on: January 04, 2011, 09:46:47 AM »

You know, it had been far too long since the last improbably long story title.
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« Reply #2 on: January 05, 2011, 04:56:34 PM »

I kinda enjoyed this. Nothing sticks in my mind as something that I didn't like about the story now (many hours after I listened to it).
In general it was a very nice steampunk story, made all the better by that wonderful British accent of Paul's.
The beginning sounded a lot like a Sherlock Holmes story, and I kept trying to compare Balfour and Meriwether to Sherlock and Dr. Watson (respectively). But I eventually realized the error in this, since one of them is not a bumbling idiot. More a sort of Sean Connery as James Bond duo.
I liked that.
I also liked the well-researched Jewish mythology bits.
I know something about Jewish mythology, and to the best of my knowledge such a conspiracy theory doesn't exist, but it was based on true stuff that do appear in Jewish mythology. For example, every generation has 36 righteous people, on whose merit the world stands (I think that one is in the Talmud), the beginning of Genesis mentions that the Nephilim were walking the Earth, and they could very well be alien masters, mechanical or otherwise.
I think it's a really cool conspiracy theory. The Jews are protecting the world from the Iron Masters.
Now we know why Indiana Jones wanted to find the Ark. He needed a steampunk mecha.
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« Reply #3 on: January 06, 2011, 12:29:58 AM »

What we have here is steampunk done right. Fight scenes! World-spanning conspiracies! Awesome killer robots! Creepy dum dum DUUUM ending! At no time did it set off my yeah-right-o-meter. Too bad for Mr. Detective, though -- Bat-Kohen don't date goyim.  Cheesy
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« Reply #4 on: January 06, 2011, 04:08:56 PM »

I really enjoyed this.  And I'm glad I did, because otherwise I might be complaining that this was more sf than Fantasy.  Smiley

(In my opinion, it was more sf than fantasy, but since I enjoyed it, that's not a complaint.  Besides, EP ran Dave's fantasy story for Hallowe'en, so why not the occasional fantasy-like SF here?)

The one element that I did feel was Fantastical - or at least really stretched the bounds of credibility - was that the humans could (presumably correctly) interpret the facial expressions of the (presumably) alien metal monsters because they matched ours so much.  First of all, it seems unlikely.  Second of all, even if it were possible (i.e. the monsters were clever enough to do so), why would they give humans the ability to outguess them like that?

Happily, though, I didn't think of that point while actually listening to the story, but when I was thinking it over afterwards.

And really, it's just a quibble.  The story itself, I really quite enjoyed.

I don't consider this story to be especially Steampunk, because it doesn't posit an alternate history in which Steam devices (computers, etc.) precede/replace the mechanical/electronic ones we have.  Instead, it gives Steampunk (or something Steampunk-like) to the ancient Egyptians as an explanation for the technology we did get.  So, sort of an alternate/secret/steampunk-history.  Wow, is that a whole new sub-sub-subgenre Abraham has invented? Wink

I really like Paul Jenkins's reading, though maybe it hasn't been quite long enough since the Carnacki The Ghost Hunter story; it was several minutes into this story before I was able to convince myself I wasn't still in that world.
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« Reply #5 on: January 06, 2011, 07:02:28 PM »

Back in PC 114 for "Wolves Till the World Goes Down" I was wowed by the trifecta of having a Greg van Eekhout story, about Norse mythology, read by Dave Thompson.  The combination was magical.

Well, Podcastle has done it again.  This time we have Daniel Abraham writing a quaisi-steampunky story that involves mechanical monsters that date back before the Dawn of Man and delve into our religious origins.  All told through the reserved and pleasant sounds of Paul S. Jenkins.

I really need to listen to this again, first because I am sure I missed something in there, and also because it will be fun.  I like the title characters; and I am glad to know there are more stories with them.  Maybe they will show up here again.  nudge, nudge, wink, wink
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« Reply #6 on: January 06, 2011, 09:32:34 PM »

That was a very well told tale.
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« Reply #7 on: January 06, 2011, 09:55:59 PM »

The one element that I did feel was Fantastical - or at least really stretched the bounds of credibility - was that the humans could (presumably correctly) interpret the facial expressions of the (presumably) alien metal monsters because they matched ours so much.  First of all, it seems unlikely.  Second of all, even if it were possible (i.e. the monsters were clever enough to do so), why would they give humans the ability to outguess them like that?

Maybe they didn't.  Maybe we just adopted their facial expressions ourselves and gradually evolved to use them more fluidly and clearly.

I liked this story.  I didn't lurve it, but it was fun and amusing as a sort of weird-history thing.  The burning coals at the heart of the contraptions was a lovely little image, I thought.  The whole thing reminded me of those Aztec-magic-steampunk stories that the Dunesteef occasionally runs.  Honestly, I slightly prefer the Aztec guy; these were some pretty bland main characters, all told.  (What was with the knives?  I kept expecting him to suddenly start referring to "Mister Vendemar.")
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« Reply #8 on: January 07, 2011, 10:30:05 AM »

This is probably in my top 3 favorite Podcastle episodes for its cool ideas.  It got to a bit of a slow start, but when the revelation of the murderous automaton from the coffin became clear I was hooked from then on.

I'm very glad to see a "robots ruled ancient Egypt" premise that wasn't entirely ruined by Michael Bay's ineptitude.  I liked that the original automaton had dismantled itself for parts--it's goal was not preservation of its lowly self but of the supremacy of its race.  The revelation of the Jewish pact to protect the world was also very cool, and I liked the unease with which the story ended.
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« Reply #9 on: January 07, 2011, 11:24:51 AM »

That was a very well told tale.

My only complaint was that it was too short!  Honestly, the quality of the story, and the reading thereof, is something that could be put on BBC Radio 7, and fit right in.  It's an exemplary radio drama.
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« Reply #10 on: January 07, 2011, 03:24:26 PM »

Oh man oh man oh man. This was probably my favorite podcastle yet.

I say that a lot, don't I?

Anyway, allow me to disclose a little: you all know that I am an electric paladin, but what you probably don't know (unless I've mentioned it before) is that I was called to the knighthood by the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That's right - I'm an electrical paladin Jew.

There was a time in my life that I felt like Jews and Judaism were invisible in fantastic fiction. Fantasy religions are more likely to be Crystal Dragon Jesuses (Jesi?) than Crystal Dragon Moseses and, I have found, characters in modern and urban fantasy are usually atheists, vaguely agnostic Christians, or some kind of pagan/wiccan/spiritualist mashup. There was a time that I was infamous in my writing/roleplaying circle for creating Jewish rpg characters, inventing fantasy religions and cultures similar to Judaism, and writing modern fantasy stories with Jewish characters. I wouldn't say I've gotten it out of my system - I've got this great idea for a modern fantasy stories with the Seal of Solomon and demon/djinn binding - but I no longer have the same manic need to see myself represented in what I read. In realizing that I can write it myself, I was freed to explore more and different points of view.

Anyway, the long and the short of it was that this story made my inner 14 year old jump up and dance around. Jewish conspiracies for goodness, fighting the evil legacy of the clockwork phaoronic masters of the world? Solid awesome. The story was also fantastically well written - I mean, let's face it, you can appeal to my inner 14 year old without actually being any good - with wonderfully evocative characters, set pieces, and a plot that was fast-paced but controlled. I really want to read more in this universe, especially if it features the lovely Rachel Cohen and the Clockwork Pharaoh.

As others have stated, I also enjoyed the note of unease with which the story ended. After all, this is a secret war that has stretched on for years; why should it be over after this one skirmish? Why should the defenders of the world expect that it will ever be truly over.

Finally, Paul S Jenkins' reading was top notch. Truly excellent.
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« Reply #11 on: January 07, 2011, 03:26:58 PM »

The one element that I did feel was Fantastical - or at least really stretched the bounds of credibility - was that the humans could (presumably correctly) interpret the facial expressions of the (presumably) alien metal monsters because they matched ours so much.  First of all, it seems unlikely.  Second of all, even if it were possible (i.e. the monsters were clever enough to do so), why would they give humans the ability to outguess them like that?

Maybe they didn't.  Maybe we just adopted their facial expressions ourselves and gradually evolved to use them more fluidly and clearly.

Studies with babies in multiple cultures have shown evidence that, for the basic emotions - sadness, anger, disgust, happiness, perhaps one or two others - both the sending and receiving signals  (i.e. making and recognizing the associated faces) are hard-wired into our brains.  Other, secondary emotions are more culturally based (e.g. wry humour), and are believe to be passed on socially rather than neurologically.

Given how quickly the automatons worked, I can't imagine that they were on Earth enough generations (i.e. thousands to millions) for these expressions to be as hard-wired into our neurons as they are.  If they'd been here that long, their machinations (har!) would have succeeded and we wouldn't be here.
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« Reply #12 on: January 07, 2011, 03:37:58 PM »

I wouldn't say I've gotten it out of my system - I've got this great idea for a modern fantasy stories with the Seal of Solomon and demon/djinn binding

Don't know if you've already read them, but Jay Lake's Mainspring books have got some Solomon-Seal activated clockwork people in them. (And they are also excellent.)
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« Reply #13 on: January 07, 2011, 04:37:06 PM »

Oh man oh man oh man. This was probably my favorite podcastle yet.

I say that a lot, don't I?

Possibly. But it never gets old  Grin

There was a time in my life that I felt like Jews and Judaism were invisible in fantastic fiction. Fantasy religions are more likely to be Crystal Dragon Jesuses (Jesi?) than Crystal Dragon Moseses and, I have found, characters in modern and urban fantasy are usually atheists, vaguely agnostic Christians, or some kind of pagan/wiccan/spiritualist mashup. There was a time that I was infamous in my writing/roleplaying circle for creating Jewish rpg characters, inventing fantasy religions and cultures similar to Judaism, and writing modern fantasy stories with Jewish characters. I wouldn't say I've gotten it out of my system - I've got this great idea for a modern fantasy stories with the Seal of Solomon and demon/djinn binding - but I no longer have the same manic need to see myself represented in what I read. In realizing that I can write it myself, I was freed to explore more and different points of view.

Have you read much of Michael Chabon's stuff? Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is my favorite (not incredibly fantastical, but fantasically incredible - especially if you like comic books). At one point he was toying with calling Gentlemen of the Road (a short novel) "Jews With Swords." Personally, I think "Jews with Swords" makes a better title, but I'm not Pulitzer Prize winner, so YMMV. (And I admit that book didn't completely satisfy me, but you might feel differently about it.) I have the Yiddish Policeman's Union on my bookshelf and will read it one day soon - soon being a relative term, of course  Grin
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« Reply #14 on: January 08, 2011, 09:49:11 AM »

not surprisingly, this one tops my list as well.  Way to go, PodCastle!  Starting another year off on a VERY high note! 

The steampunkyness of this, plus the Sherlock-Holmesian detectives, the Jewish lore and the ancient Egyptian mythos all equaled just literary brilliance.  And, once again, Paul Jenkins reading was spot-on.

Perfect!
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« Reply #15 on: January 08, 2011, 10:55:16 PM »

Excellent. Evoked gaslit London very well, some cool ideas, some great protagonists and even a beautiful, tough, capable female as well. What more could you ask for?

I was initially misled, thinking this was going to be a Holmes ripoff, what with the London apartments, two gents sharing a place, said gents being retained by the Government on occasion, and the kindly landlady. Thankfully, it wasn't!

Paul's reading was, as always, great. For mine his readings are just a little flat and expressionless, but that's merely personal taste in reading style.

Another great story PodCastle, well done.
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« Reply #16 on: January 10, 2011, 03:00:28 AM »

Pretty cool but was I the only one bugged by the 12 plagues?
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« Reply #17 on: January 10, 2011, 03:05:59 AM »

Pretty cool but was I the only one bugged by the 12 plagues?

Haven't you ever been to a seder? Just count yourself lucky she didn't say "fifty plagues," and then start listing each one and the logic by which there were that many.
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« Reply #18 on: January 10, 2011, 03:07:15 AM »

Oh man oh man oh man. This was probably my favorite podcastle yet.

I say that a lot, don't I?

Possibly. But it never gets old  Grin

There was a time in my life that I felt like Jews and Judaism were invisible in fantastic fiction. Fantasy religions are more likely to be Crystal Dragon Jesuses (Jesi?) than Crystal Dragon Moseses and, I have found, characters in modern and urban fantasy are usually atheists, vaguely agnostic Christians, or some kind of pagan/wiccan/spiritualist mashup. There was a time that I was infamous in my writing/roleplaying circle for creating Jewish rpg characters, inventing fantasy religions and cultures similar to Judaism, and writing modern fantasy stories with Jewish characters. I wouldn't say I've gotten it out of my system - I've got this great idea for a modern fantasy stories with the Seal of Solomon and demon/djinn binding - but I no longer have the same manic need to see myself represented in what I read. In realizing that I can write it myself, I was freed to explore more and different points of view.

Have you read much of Michael Chabon's stuff? Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is my favorite (not incredibly fantastical, but fantasically incredible - especially if you like comic books). At one point he was toying with calling Gentlemen of the Road (a short novel) "Jews With Swords." Personally, I think "Jews with Swords" makes a better title, but I'm not Pulitzer Prize winner, so YMMV. (And I admit that book didn't completely satisfy me, but you might feel differently about it.) I have the Yiddish Policeman's Union on my bookshelf and will read it one day soon - soon being a relative term, of course  Grin

I have read Kavalier and Clay, and I loved it. That's... uh... all I've read of his so far, though I do own and want to read Gentleman of the Road. I'll probably get to it presently.
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« Reply #19 on: January 10, 2011, 02:40:38 PM »

A great tale!  Nice mashup of multiple period history, ET, mystery, and action.  And the awesome characters of course.  I didn't quite get as solid a picture of them in my mind as I would have liked, but maybe my imagination was still a little bit asleep when I listened this morning.
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