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Author Topic: PC139: To Follow the Waves  (Read 26856 times)
Talia
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« on: January 11, 2011, 09:18:26 AM »

PodCastle 139: To Follow the Waves

by Amal El-Mohtar.

Read by Marguerite Croft.

Originally published in Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories.

Building a dream was as complex as building a temple, and required knowledge of almost as many trades—a fact reflected in the complexity of the braid-pattern in which Hessa wore her hair. Each pull and plait showed an intersection of gem-crafting, metal-working, architecture and storytelling, to say nothing of the thousand twisting strands representing the many kinds of knowledge necessary to a story’s success. As a child, Hessa had spent hours with the archivists in Al-Zahiriyya Library, learning from them the art of constructing memory palaces within her mind, layering the marble, glass, and mosaics of her imagination with reams of poetry, important historical dates, dozens of musical maqaamat, names of stars and ancestors. Hessa bint Aliyah bint Qamar bint Widad…

She learned to carry each name, note, number like a jewel to tuck into a drawer here, hang above a mirror there, for ease of finding later on. She knew whole geographies, scriptures, story cycles, as intimately as she knew her mother’s house, and drew on them whenever she received a commission. Though the only saleable part of her craft was the device she built with her hands, its true value lay in using the materials of her mind: she could not grind quartz to the shape and tune of her dream, could not set it into the copper coronet studded with amber, until she had fixed it into her thoughts as firmly as she fixed the stone to her amber dopstick.


Rated R.

Editors’ Note: Anyone interested in pre-ordering/purchasing Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories, please check out editor JoSelle Vanderhooft’s LJ. There’s also a Facebook page.

ETA: Updated the LJ link, which has some specific instructions on how to pre-order a copy of Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk stories.


Latest Update: SteamPowered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories is now available! Go order it!
« Last Edit: February 01, 2011, 07:54:50 AM by Talia » Logged
amalmohtar
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« Reply #1 on: January 11, 2011, 09:32:12 AM »

I am claiming first comment in order to declare my adoration for this reading. Thank you so much, Marguerite! I'm not even all the way through it and it's making me teary to listen.
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kibitzer
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« Reply #2 on: January 11, 2011, 05:04:08 PM »

That was simply beautiful. Amal's use of language is quite extraordinary; I love a story that makes me feel and this one certainly did. The sense of desire and longing was quite palpable. For me, it's one of those stories where I need to stop the mp3 player at the end of the story (before the outro), so its presence in my head is undisturbed for a while.

Wonderful.
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Schreiber
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« Reply #3 on: January 11, 2011, 06:35:39 PM »

I really love this story. The language, the arc, and Miss Croft's reading were entrancing and agonizing in turn. But what really struck me was the reveal that Hessa had pulled Nala -the real Nala- into her clients' dreams. While I certainly wouldn't go so far as to say the author was hitting the reader over the head with the metaphor, the tearful confrontation in the dream realm felt very meta to me. The question of what us scribblers are entitled to put our grubby little paws on isn't just academic and it definitely doesn't have to be dry or bloodless. The consequences of desire, the eroticism of power, the crushing sense of guilt that comes from telling a story the only way you know how to tell it no matter the cost...all that touches a nerve.
« Last Edit: January 11, 2011, 06:47:18 PM by Schreiber » Logged
ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #4 on: January 12, 2011, 01:22:39 AM »

I really liked this one. It was smooth, sexy, and unique. I particularly enjoyed... damn, everything. My psychic landscape has been colonized and oppressed by Steampunk Damascus. We'll have to wait and see what comes of it.

My only vague critique is that I kind of found myself wanting the relationship to not work out. I don't know if it's my narrative sadism, some echo of homophobia that managed to survive the purges of '98 and '99 (rough years for my brain) ("go back to the shadow!"), or just plain contrariness, but I wanted Hessa's obsession to have lasting and painful consequences.

That said...

I also loved the ending. It was dark, sinister, hopeful, and just a little kinky, and basically satisfied my desire to have the best of intentions lead to complicated conclusions.

So, I guess there's just no pleasing some people, if by "some people" you mean "me." I would have liked the story differently, except I also liked it just the way it is. Jeez Undecided. So, in my roundabout way it comes to this: the story was perfect because it got me coming and going, leaving me wanting everything and nothing. And that's really the point, isn't it? Some stories you read, other stories read you.
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« Reply #5 on: January 12, 2011, 10:21:29 AM »

Neat ideas, but overall I didn't really like it.

I think it's a good idea to dispel the common misconception that all steampunk must be Victorian, but this story didn't do that for me because I would never have connected it with steampunk but for the intro and outro.  The stonework seemed like straight up fantasy to me.  *shrug* 

I liked the idea of the dream "songs" captured in stones, and other details of the stonework like "every stone can sing" and things like that.  But the first part with the stonework just seemed to go on too long even though I liked some of the details.  Then, once she constructs the amethyst dreamstone, the construction and dreaming and re-dreaming was analagous to masturbation (and her physical masturbation increased the connection for me)--mind you, I don't have anything against the character masturbating, but I guess I don't find reading about masturbation particularly riveting and so this went on pretty long for me.

The ending itself, with the other woman taken on as an apprentice and presumably a lover as well, struck me as pure wish fulfillment on the part of the character.  This was only reinforced by the protagonist saying in narration that she felt like it was probably part of a dream.  So to me, it seems much more likely that this is all part of a new masturbatory dream, crafted specifically to seem entirely real.  Granted she doesn't remember crafting this dream, but this selective forgetfulness could just be part of the dream parameters.  The ending was probably not meant to convey this, but that seems the most likely interpretation to me, and is well within the realm of possibility of the world as described.  Unfortunately, with the ending interpreted this way, nothing really happens in the story but the character finding new and exciting ways to masturbate.
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Void Munashii
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« Reply #6 on: January 12, 2011, 10:57:24 AM »

  A very pretty story set in an interesting enough world, but it just didn't do much for me. Perhaps part of my problem is that I have certain expectations of what steampunk is, and this did not really meet any of them. Of course this could be part of the point the author was trying to make; breaking those preconceived notions about what is and is not steampunk. If there had not been any mention of steampunk during the intro I would never have thought of this as being in that sub-genre. Even then I do not think the story would have worked for me.

  The story portrayed some really interesting ideas, but it did not really pull me in until right at the end when it became clear what was really happening. The idea that Hessa was inadvertently causing pain to the object of her affection as a result of her obsession with Nala was an interesting twist.

  As far as the masturbation goes: I'm just not a big fan of sex in science fiction or fantasy. I usually find myself at the very least being pulled out of the story, if not just completely squicked out, by it. I suppose it is appropriate to this story, but it still pushed me farther away from the tale.

  The reading was fantastic, and story is well written, but I clearly am not part of the target audience for this one.
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« Reply #7 on: January 12, 2011, 12:03:52 PM »

First off, I really liked the story.  It had beautiful language and flowed very naturally.  Given the subject matter, to say it was sensual seems a bit of a given, but what I mean is we have a real sense of what Hessa is feeling emotionally and physically.

I may have missed something at the beginning, but I'm not sure where the steampunk was in the story.  It's more than location.  I like the fact that steampunk doesn't have to take place in London.  But was there anything technology based about it?  I saw a lot of magical/metaphysical stuff with the dream making and the quartz.  Is that the anachronistic technology I am looking for?  Otherwise, it seemed pure fantasy to me, despite the anthology it came from.
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« Reply #8 on: January 12, 2011, 01:21:58 PM »

A lesbian steampunk story by one of my favorite authors and read by my all time favorite narrator?
You had me from the intro!
Cheers to escape artists for having LGBT fiction stories when they are sadly lacking on the shelves (at least at my local library and barnes and noble Undecided
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« Reply #9 on: January 12, 2011, 02:27:50 PM »

Absolutely lovely language, a story that resonates with the echoes of poetry.  I agree with basically everything ElectricPaladin said, actually, right down to not really wanting the relationship to work out and getting a satisfying sense of mixed outcomes from the ending.

I think this story speaks both to the creators, who must perforce put a little of themselves and thus their secrets into everything they make, and to the outcasts.  Lord knows I used to feel quite a lot of yearnings that I would never have dared to act on, though in my case the bars were social rather than simply being unable to find that chance stranger again.  It is a strange feeling, to know that you are thinking of someone who knows and cares nothing of you, and that moment when Nala confronts Hessa and there is that shock of, "OMG SHE KNOWS," that was a real gut-wrencher of a moment, exactly the sort of nightmare that would come from dwelling too long on an unattainable object of affection.  To think that such an eidolon would bring you to the notice of the one you idolize, and the inevitable anger and scorn that would follow... that's a dark place to go, it really is.
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Mister Freign
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« Reply #10 on: January 12, 2011, 03:30:06 PM »

I was very excited; I agreed so much with the author's statement of intent, and the story was fairly well written....

[brace for the but]

... so, all a work really needs in order to be steampunk is goggles?

Sigh.  I love fantasy; but, I look to steampunk varieties to provide that plausibility of mechanical cleverness, science / physics, intelligent and informed speculation on what might have been different in this world.

This story did not do it for me.  I beg the author to try again, because I really had high hopes for a vision of a Steampunk Syria.  I think it would have been truly fantastic - had it been completely believable.  This one suffered from too much magic.
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #11 on: January 12, 2011, 03:50:37 PM »

I really don't want to get into the genre discussion, because I think such distinctions are usually artificial and the ensuing discussions are stupid, but here are my 2 piastres:

For me, Steampunk is any story that combines anachronistic technological, cultural, and design elements with technology that achieves supernatural or sem-supernatural feats. Blatant magic (and semi-magic, like psychic powers or theurgy) may or may not be present. Steampunk is also a purely visual style - remember that Steampunk started as an outgrowth of Goth subculture and was originally purely a costume style and a set of "Victorian" affectations - and can present itself as such. So yes, sometimes all it needs is goggles to be Steampunk.

To respond to Mister Freign, I don't think that Steampunk has anything to do with plausibility. Space 1889? Girl Genius? "Laputa: Castle in the Sky"? Boilerplate? "Steamboy"? These are not works of fiction and rpg design that dwelled much on plausibility. I think you're talking about science fiction, which - while overlapping with Steampunk - in my mind remains its own genre.

I believe that To Follow the Waves is Steampunk. It combines:
  • Anachronistic elements, in the form of a re-imagined independent Damascus in the 1800s. The technology, design, and cultural elements all stemmed from this setting
  • A technology, despite its anachronistic feel (old school gem cutting) achieved supernatural feats (the shaping of dreams). Other similarly anachronistic technologies in the piece included airships and automaton chefs.
  • Numerous nods to the purely visual/stylistic/costume roots of Steampunk, including zeppelins, robots, ornate braids with metal accents, and, yes, goggles.

So, yes, this is Steampunk. I can't imagine how it could be anything else.
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« Reply #12 on: January 12, 2011, 06:10:58 PM »

This one suffered from too much magic.

I could be wrong, but I think this is the first time PodCastle's been criticized for a story involving too much magic Grin
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Schreiber
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« Reply #13 on: January 12, 2011, 06:22:43 PM »

I could be wrong, but I think this is the first time PodCastle's been criticized for a story involving too much magic Grin

Fantasy is what we point our wands at when we say it?
« Last Edit: January 12, 2011, 06:24:33 PM by Schreiber » Logged
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« Reply #14 on: January 12, 2011, 07:21:02 PM »

Hey all - I've updated the original post and the PC page with some more information on how to order a copy of Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories. In short, go here!
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« Reply #15 on: January 12, 2011, 08:12:07 PM »


To respond to Mister Freign, I don't think that Steampunk has anything to do with plausibility. Space 1889? Girl Genius? "Laputa: Castle in the Sky"? Boilerplate? "Steamboy"?

  Wait, you're saying that "Steamboy" isn't plausible? Well that's five years of work on a steam-powered robot armour down the tubes.
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« Reply #16 on: January 12, 2011, 09:56:17 PM »


To respond to Mister Freign, I don't think that Steampunk has anything to do with plausibility. Space 1889? Girl Genius? "Laputa: Castle in the Sky"? Boilerplate? "Steamboy"?

  Wait, you're saying that "Steamboy" isn't plausible? Well that's five years of work on a steam-powered robot armour down the tubes.

Don't let me get in your way. You could always prove me wrong.
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« Reply #17 on: January 13, 2011, 06:53:48 AM »

I liked this one.  I didn't love it, because I didn't like the character of the woman with the hair whose name I never quite understood...she was mean and I don't think she would make a good apprentice. But, I did like it a lot.

I really loved the idea of dream casting.  when i was younger, i would lie in bed while trying to fall asleep and try to craft the dreams I would have that night.  It never worked, as far as I can remember, but I tried nonetheless.
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« Reply #18 on: January 13, 2011, 02:28:14 PM »

Amal El-Mohtar is a genious. I've absolutely loved both her stories on PodCastle. The hair in this one fascinates me. I love intricate braids, and wish I could see those that she keeps referencing. The long free hair, and the mystery associated also enchants me. And that mystery is left open... I'm going to be wondering about this for a while Smiley
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Rain
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« Reply #19 on: January 13, 2011, 03:40:19 PM »

I thought the story was kinda meh, it had some interesting elements with the dreamstone and i would have liked to hear more of that, i didnt really care for the romance/sex bit, as for the two womens relationship, the story ended with Nala threatening Hessa, and promising to torture her, i dont really see anything positive happening from that.

I have to agree with some of the others, there was nothing Steampunk to this story. Steampunk is about Victorian england, gadgets, gears, gigant analytical machines, steam engines and the like, a Steampunk story doesnt have to contain all of that, but of there are none of those elements in a story and it also features magic then its not Steampunk, but simply fantasy.

It may sound like nickpicking, but i just think its a very specific sub genre of science fiction, it is a style and a feel, it isnt enough to just put on some victorian clothes and add gears.
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