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Author Topic: PC153: The Ghosts Of New York  (Read 6344 times)
Ocicat
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« on: April 19, 2011, 02:35:01 AM »

PodCastle 153: The Ghosts Of New York

by Jennifer Pelland.

Read by Rashida Smith
.

Originally appeared in the Dark Faith anthology. Read the story here.

She remembered flailing at the air, as if she could somehow sink her nails into it and cling there until help arrived. She remembered the crash and pop of the people who were landing mere seconds before her. She remembered a fleeting moment of shame when her dress blew up over her head, exposing her underwear to the crowds gathered below. She remembered the burst of shit and piss as she crashed through the awning just a split second before she hit–

The only people who find clarity in certain death are those who somehow cheat it, those who can reflect back upon the experience and use it to goad them into living a better life.

For the ghosts, there is only terror.

After her first fall, she stood by the roadkill smear that was her body, not recognizing what she was seeing at first, until two more bodies rained down from above, splattering on pavement with a crash of glass and a sickening splat.

Then she knew.

Then the North Tower collapsed.

All around her, people screamed and ran while she stood helplessly by the wreckage of her body. Debris flew through her, burying her corpse, leaving the ghost of her untouched.


Rated R for strong violence and disturbing imagery.
« Last Edit: May 10, 2011, 06:13:35 AM by Talia » Logged
danooli
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« Reply #1 on: April 19, 2011, 07:28:58 PM »

well now.

I still need some time to digest this one, but I feel the need to say that at first, I was very upset.  I live on Long Island and it seems that every single person I know, including myself, knows someone or is someone who was affected by 9-11. The thought of those people who felt they had no option but to jump feeling tortured forever and ever was heart-wrenching.  I understand that there was a disclaimer, but that imagery was...oppressive. 

But then she had an epiphany.  And she found some peace.  And I found some peace. But my cheeks were still drenched and I was still sobbing.

Beautiful story.  Wretched story.
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Rain
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« Reply #2 on: April 20, 2011, 07:30:17 AM »

As a non-American it's hard commenting on a story like this without offending anyone, since i clearly dont have the same emotional feelings about the event in the story. So i will just say that i thought it was interesting overall, but i dont think it deserves an R rating.

It was interesting that it was written by Jennifer Pelland, i associate her with fun stories like The Burning Bush & Snow Day, so this was something very different
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Kaa
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« Reply #3 on: April 20, 2011, 10:25:17 AM »

It's hard to say "I enjoyed this story" when the subject matter is so...unpleasant. But yet...in a way I did enjoy this story. The thought of ghosts only existing as long as people remember them is one that I've thought about using for my own fiction.
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« Reply #4 on: April 21, 2011, 08:40:50 AM »

I appreciated the warning, but I decided I'd give our illustrious editors the benefit of the doubt.  I wish I hadn't.

I gave it ten minutes, as I generally give any podcast story to catch my interest.  It bothered me, and not in a compelling fiction-that-gets-under-my-skin kind of way.  I knew from the warning that it was a September 11 piece, so I'd even braced myself for that.

I've never been to NYC, and I don't believe I know anyone who knew people who died that day.  But it really bothered me that people who had been much closer than I was could come across this story, which began with the very true terrifying and premature end to their loved ones' lives, but goes on to postulate that their suffering and fear didn't even end at death.  Oh no, they went on and on to suffer further, to experience the crash over and over again with all of the emotional wounds and pain fresh in their minds while their surviving friends and relatives are on the outside grieving and trying to heal.

It bothers me that this is considered entertainment, postulating on torturous afterlives after a recent tragedy.  It bothers me that Pelland wrote it, and I won't be going out of my way to find her other fiction.  It bothers me that multiple editors bought it, and I suspect this will leave a sour taste in my mouth when I think of Podcastle for a while.  It bothers me most of all that it's a Nebula nominee.  Nebula/Hugo noms often leave me scratching my head, wondering what anyone could have seen in it, but this is the first that's really offended me.
« Last Edit: April 21, 2011, 08:46:25 AM by Unblinking » Logged

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Cool story, bro!


« Reply #5 on: April 21, 2011, 09:15:29 AM »

If being forgotten is what will give them final rest, I'm doing my part.
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danooli
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« Reply #6 on: April 21, 2011, 09:58:08 AM »

If being forgotten is what will give them final rest, I'm doing my part.

wow. Thats cold.
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stePH
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Cool story, bro!


« Reply #7 on: April 21, 2011, 10:22:15 AM »

If being forgotten is what will give them final rest, I'm doing my part.

wow. Thats cold.

What, you want them to keep falling forever?
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Talia
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« Reply #8 on: April 21, 2011, 10:44:56 AM »

I'd suggest people go gently on the jokes here because the subject is so sensitive.

I appreciated the warning, but I decided I'd give our illustrious editors the benefit of the doubt.  I wish I hadn't.

I gave it ten minutes, as I generally give any podcast story to catch my interest.  It bothered me, and not in a compelling fiction-that-gets-under-my-skin kind of way.  I knew from the warning that it was a September 11 piece, so I'd even braced myself for that.

I've never been to NYC, and I don't believe I know anyone who knew people who died that day.  But it really bothered me that people who had been much closer than I was could come across this story, which began with the very true terrifying and premature end to their loved ones' lives, but goes on to postulate that their suffering and fear didn't even end at death.  Oh no, they went on and on to suffer further, to experience the crash over and over again with all of the emotional wounds and pain fresh in their minds while their surviving friends and relatives are on the outside grieving and trying to heal.

It bothers me that this is considered entertainment, postulating on torturous afterlives after a recent tragedy.  It bothers me that Pelland wrote it, and I won't be going out of my way to find her other fiction.  It bothers me that multiple editors bought it, and I suspect this will leave a sour taste in my mouth when I think of Podcastle for a while.  It bothers me most of all that it's a Nebula nominee.  Nebula/Hugo noms often leave me scratching my head, wondering what anyone could have seen in it, but this is the first that's really offended me.


"recent tragedy" - It will be a decade come September. Just sayin'.

People react to tragedy in different ways. Art is one of those ways. As 9/11 has become a major point in our history, inevitably it will find its way into different artistic mediums, just as other major catastrophes have (Pearl Harbor, for example). In my opinion 10 years isn't "too soon" but of course that's totally subjective. I am sorry you were upset by the story - I personally found it tasteful and sad, but recognize people are going to react differently to it (though I really don't get why its specifically offensive. Unless you're just saying "too soon.."). Can be risky to run stories that touch on sensitive subjects, but I personally would rather have the risk taken than have to avoid all stories about certain subjects, ever, regardless of quality of story.
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« Reply #9 on: April 21, 2011, 11:33:01 AM »

I'd suggest people go gently on the jokes here because the subject is so sensitive.

I appreciated the warning, but I decided I'd give our illustrious editors the benefit of the doubt.  I wish I hadn't.

I gave it ten minutes, as I generally give any podcast story to catch my interest.  It bothered me, and not in a compelling fiction-that-gets-under-my-skin kind of way.  I knew from the warning that it was a September 11 piece, so I'd even braced myself for that.

I've never been to NYC, and I don't believe I know anyone who knew people who died that day.  But it really bothered me that people who had been much closer than I was could come across this story, which began with the very true terrifying and premature end to their loved ones' lives, but goes on to postulate that their suffering and fear didn't even end at death.  Oh no, they went on and on to suffer further, to experience the crash over and over again with all of the emotional wounds and pain fresh in their minds while their surviving friends and relatives are on the outside grieving and trying to heal.

It bothers me that this is considered entertainment, postulating on torturous afterlives after a recent tragedy.  It bothers me that Pelland wrote it, and I won't be going out of my way to find her other fiction.  It bothers me that multiple editors bought it, and I suspect this will leave a sour taste in my mouth when I think of Podcastle for a while.  It bothers me most of all that it's a Nebula nominee.  Nebula/Hugo noms often leave me scratching my head, wondering what anyone could have seen in it, but this is the first that's really offended me.


"recent tragedy" - It will be a decade come September. Just sayin'.

People react to tragedy in different ways. Art is one of those ways. As 9/11 has become a major point in our history, inevitably it will find its way into different artistic mediums, just as other major catastrophes have (Pearl Harbor, for example). In my opinion 10 years isn't "too soon" but of course that's totally subjective. I am sorry you were upset by the story - I personally found it tasteful and sad, but recognize people are going to react differently to it (though I really don't get why its specifically offensive. Unless you're just saying "too soon.."). Can be risky to run stories that touch on sensitive subjects, but I personally would rather have the risk taken than have to avoid all stories about certain subjects, ever, regardless of quality of story.

Not really "too soon", exactly. Or not completely.  The Columbine shootings were longer ago, and I would not want to read a story reframing the dead to have torturous afterlives either.  Nor the Kent State shootings, actually, which happened before I was born.  Or concentration camps, which were before my parents were born.  It's not about the time period it's about the nature of the speculation taken here.

Perhaps it is my constantly shifting view of religion and the afterlife that makes this especially offensive to me.  Until I die, I can't prove what happens after I die.  As a result, I contemplate possible afterlives a lot, both those based on organized religion's beliefs, and ridiculous ones of my own devising.  And, no matter how ridiculous they are, they're all equally plausible or implausible, because there is no knowing.  I tend to like stories that postulate different afterlives because this is a very interesting avenue of thought for me.  But this story illuminates a line that exists for me that I hadn't realized was there between entertaining and offensive.  I want a degree of separation between the story and reality, particularly if the afterlife described is torturous .  I think What really makes this story offensive to me is how it framed its speculative element carefully so that it didn't vary provably from actual events, yet added ongoing torture for these actual people that already had a decidedly shitty ending.  Do that to fictional characters in a fictional event, whatever, that's fine--whether I like it or not will depend on the cleverness of the afterlife idea and the details of the execution.  Do that to actual people in an actual historical event, and my reaction is very different.  Inventing the torture of  fictional people to create a story arc is one thing.  Inventing the torture of real people to create a story arc is entirely different.
« Last Edit: April 21, 2011, 11:36:38 AM by Unblinking » Logged

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« Reply #10 on: April 21, 2011, 12:11:53 PM »



Quote
The Columbine shootings were longer ago, and I would not want to read a story reframing the dead to have torturous afterlives either.



OK, I see what you're saying, but I don't think that's what the story was doing.
The story suggested at the end that in fact it was that moment of terror that had been excised from the memories of the souls who went on to the afterlife. Remember, the protagonist didn't recall anything of who she was, because the protagonist of this story was a ghost of the  memory of the death, rather than the person. Would YOU want to go on in the afterlife with the memory of your horrific end? I sure wouldn't...

« Last Edit: April 21, 2011, 12:13:25 PM by Talia » Logged
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« Reply #11 on: April 21, 2011, 12:56:34 PM »

I respect the editors decision to produce this episode.  It was a bold decision, and one they obviously struggled with.  

I also respect Unblinking's opinion that it is offensive to him.  I personally wasn't sure if I wanted to listen or not.  But I did.  And while I also found it apalling that these ghosts were perpetually reliving their horrible deaths, something compelled me to listen on, maybe some hope that there was a release or resolution for this dead woman.  I cared about her.  

And she ultimately was able to obtain some peace from it, and reach out to comfort the mourning.  The story also speculates that this ghost is not the actual spirit of the woman, but some kind of psychic residue left over from the horrific death that actually allowed the spirit to obtain its rest.

This, combined with the idea that these ghosts could escape their fate if forgotten, led me to view this story as a metaphor for the greif suffered by loved ones, as well as the nation (specifically) and the world (in general) when these tragedies occur.  Also, how many times did the news programs show these people falling and dying, making us relive the horror over and over again.  It brings up questions about how much we should hold on to these horrific memories.  Should we forget about these events?  I don't think so.  But we should come to peace with them and move forward.
« Last Edit: April 21, 2011, 12:59:59 PM by Swamp » Logged

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« Reply #12 on: April 21, 2011, 01:27:51 PM »

Unblinking -- thank you for your honest words about the piece. You have every right to be offended, and you have every right not to seek out any of my other work. The only reason why I'm posting is to let you know that I had a lot of concerns about the potential offensiveness of the story after I finished writing it, so before I started trying to sell it, I had a friend from NYC read it to see if he thought I should trunk it. After getting his encouragement not to, I started sending it out and also ran it by a second NYC friend, just to be safe. She also said I should keep trying to sell it. If either of them had said the story crossed the line, I would have pulled it from circulation. That said, I've had five walk-outs to date when I've read the story at conventions*, so I know that the position of "the line" is different for every reader. I'm sorry this piece crossed yours.

(*For the record, I warn people in advance what the story is about when I read it. The walk-outs all happened immediately after the warning.)
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« Reply #13 on: April 21, 2011, 04:38:16 PM »

And she ultimately was able to obtain some peace from it, and reach out to comfort the mourning.  The story also speculates that this ghost is not the actual spirit of the woman, but some kind of psychic residue left over from the horrific death that actually allowed the spirit to obtain its rest.

This is why I ultimately found the story beautiful.

Although it ripped me to shreds along the way, and two days later I find myself obsessed with this story, I love that it was written.  And that PodCastle had the proverbial balls to run it.
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« Reply #14 on: April 22, 2011, 08:41:57 AM »

Quote
The Columbine shootings were longer ago, and I would not want to read a story reframing the dead to have torturous afterlives either.
OK, I see what you're saying, but I don't think that's what the story was doing.
The story suggested at the end that in fact it was that moment of terror that had been excised from the memories of the souls who went on to the afterlife. Remember, the protagonist didn't recall anything of who she was, because the protagonist of this story was a ghost of the  memory of the death, rather than the person. Would YOU want to go on in the afterlife with the memory of your horrific end? I sure wouldn't...

To me that doesn't really sound much different than it being the person themselves.  Call it an echo or a memory or a ghost, but whatever it is, it is a conscious being able to tell this story, who is a facsimile (if an imperfect one) of the real person.  Another version of that person may have moved on, but this is still a person who is pretty darned similar to the original person reliving the experience.  Would YOU want to go on in the afterlife knowing that a conscious replica of yourself was in for unending torture in your stead?  That's like giving your clone up for torture to save yourself.  That's not really much better than the way it seemed at the beginning of the story.

Maybe I would've bought the explanation in story but it rings pretty hollow to me as explained here.  The story turned me off before I got to any of that so I guess I'll never know.

This, combined with the idea that these ghosts could escape their fate if forgotten, led me to view this story as a metaphor for the greif suffered by loved ones, as well as the nation (specifically) and the world (in general) when these tragedies occur.  Also, how many times did the news programs show these people falling and dying, making us relive the horror over and over again.  It brings up questions about how much we should hold on to these horrific memories.  Should we forget about these events?  I don't think so.  But we should come to peace with them and move forward.

Suppose these ghosts of grief, these echoes of lives, actually exist.  Then wouldn't the publication of this story prolong their suffering?

[Edited to combined a couple of posts into one, and to say that I think I'd best go silent in this thread now as I've said what I had to say and I don't want to make others feel like they can't respond however they want to.  So if anyone posts something addressed to me here and I don't respond, that is why.]
« Last Edit: April 22, 2011, 09:35:22 AM by Unblinking » Logged

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« Reply #15 on: April 22, 2011, 08:07:02 PM »

I honestly don't know what to say here, other than this:  I will not be looking for any Jennifer Pelland fiction, and if any more Jennifer Pelland fiction is published here, I will not listen.  I came close to this decision after reading "Captive Girl", and have fully made this decision now.  Jennifer is not a bad writer, her writing is just not for me.  This can be interpreted as whoever wants to in whatever way they will.  

Also, certain comments by certain people have cemented my view of them, and I will filter their comments through this view from now on.  Doesn't matter who, what, or why, nor do I expect them to change.

Other than that, I will not be entering in to any discussion of this "story".  

Edited to add: Rashida did a wonderful job reading this piece.
« Last Edit: April 22, 2011, 08:10:15 PM by Gamercow » Logged

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« Reply #16 on: April 24, 2011, 08:01:45 AM »

The story just isn’t good enough to justify its use of the subject matter.  I think a story about 9/11 ghosts could potentially be very moving and cathartic, this story just didn’t earn it and so comes across as milking a too-recent tragedy in order to give itself weight.

That said, I think a few people really didn't understand this story.

... but goes on to postulate that their suffering and fear didn't even end at death.  Oh no, they went on and on to suffer further, to experience the crash over and over again with all of the emotional wounds and pain fresh in their minds while their surviving friends and relatives are on the outside grieving and trying to heal.

The whole point of the story is that this did NOT happen, that the 9/11 jumpers are living their afterlife cleansed of this memory and that living it for them is the gift the protagonists of the story are giving them.
« Last Edit: April 24, 2011, 08:06:40 AM by BlueLu » Logged

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« Reply #17 on: April 26, 2011, 05:18:00 AM »

I didn't mind the subject matter so much. It's inevitable that it's going to be written about, and it was a horrific event deserving of horrific imagery. Having been a member of the news media at the time, believe me, I've seen more than my fair share of bodies falling and planes hitting buildings. Of course, being so heavily involved in reporting on the event may have helped me deal with it better than others simply due to oversaturation.

That said... I didn't really care for the story. According to my podcatcher, it took until 23 minutes for anything to actually HAPPEN other than the MC undergoing a lot of pain and anguish as her ghostly self fell over and over and over. It wasn't until 23 minutes (out of a 38-minute podcast, IIRC) that we learned about the world, the rules for these ghosts, etc. THAT was interesting.

And then we get to the saccharine part at the end where the ghost learns to help others. Which felt like it went on FOREVER.

On that part -- I wonder if the author borrowed any of that from people visiting the Vietnam Memorial or other similar locations. When I was 17, we took a family trip to DC, and at the VM my dad picked out names of his friends and people he knew to pay his respects. To me that had more impact than any 9/11 victim list, or even the Holocaust Museum (on the latter -- more oversaturation, having grown up Jewish).

So, while some had problems with the story for its subject matter... my problem is that I just don't think it was that great of a story. Sorry.
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« Reply #18 on: April 26, 2011, 12:41:38 PM »

I think it took too long to get to the point, as I listened to it I was thinking 'get on with it!'  but otherwise I liked it. It did seem a little arbitrary that people who die from falling end up as ghosts, maybe they don't see ghosts of people who die in other ways, and to quite why they exist like that at all, maybe it's the psychic energy of people thinking about them that stops them escaping, but I thought the endpoint, of finding some sort of positive thing from such an event to be quite moving.
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« Reply #19 on: April 26, 2011, 12:49:55 PM »

Count me in among the people who didn't really get this story. I thought it was well-written, and well-read, but I'm not sure I fully understood what was going on with the ghosts. But I think that lines up very well with the subject matter of the story. I think it really taps into the frustrated, confused rage that Americans had when 9/11 happened. WHY did this happen? Why was it allowed to happen? And what can we do about it? These are questions we're STILL asking, of ourselves and of other nations. This conversation here proves that people still have very strong feelings about the tragedy, and what a "proper" response to it should be.

::gets up on soapbox::
I don't think it's really fair to call this a piece of exploitation. It's an artistic response to a real-life tragedy. It's an author's attempt to reconcile an unanswerable question. I never got the sense the author was "inventing" tortures for real-life people for the sake of entertainment. No more so than, say, a biopic of Joan of Arc is resurrecting her just to burn her at the stake again. Fictionalizing or allegorizing a real-life tragedy is nothing new in the long sad history of real-life tragedies, and while this particular one is still so fresh in our minds, this doesn't make it in bad taste.  
::gets off soapbox::
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