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Author Topic: PC156: Household Spirits  (Read 4331 times)
Talia
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« on: May 10, 2011, 06:11:42 AM »

PodCastle 156: Household Spirits

by C.S.E. Cooney.

Read by Bob Eccles and Brian Lieberman.

Originally appeared in Strange Horizons. Read the text here.

This here’s ghost country, just like you said. Can’t imagine a more haunted place on all Athanore, no, nor at the bottom of the nine seas where the nine old cities fell. Frontier, we call it. Makes it sound like it’d never been lived on, never been worked. But you look hard enough, you see signs everywhere.

Ten years is long enough for the wild to grab back at the dirt, but the bones of the old Kilquut settlements still show through.

Rated R for violence and thematic material.
« Last Edit: May 31, 2011, 07:25:15 AM by Talia » Logged
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« Reply #1 on: May 10, 2011, 10:24:46 AM »

Um... hello? Does this make me the King Under the Mountain?

Well then...

KNEEL BEFORE ME, SUBJECTS, AND TREMBLE AT MY MIGHTY FEEDBACK!

(That would've worked a lot better if this wasn't such a low-key story.)

I enjoyed this story quite a bit. It took me a while to get into it, but once I did, it moved along at a nice pace. Other than the fantastical elements, the "son of a frontiersman bonds with a young native tribesman and eventually joins his tribe" trope was pretty much the entire story. The fantastical parts were cool, as was Mimo's description of just how angry he was... and that he was angry all the time. At first I wasn't sure how ghostly the ghosts were, and I think that may have been the intent.

I didn't mind the epistolary format so much, but given how much Hal talks about not knowing his letters, he certainly did use some big words. I checked the text and it wasn't written in dialect or with typos, and that takes me out of the story a little, about as much as writing in dialect would have, or with the typos left in.

I do think the switching scene was a little too drawn out and could've been shortened somewhat -- it felt like it went on, and on, and on even though it was maybe a minute and a half. I just felt like the pacing crawled to a halt, like a sudden red light in the middle of a long stretch of road.

The ending was satisfying, although if it's going to take Hal six weeks to get to Del's boarding-house, one would think she'd have fixed the hole in the wall by then, or paid someone to do it.

I enjoyed the readings, although Brian's first part seemed a little distorted, at least in the beginning -- either that or my brain was still trying to adjust to his performance. It cleared up nicely though.
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« Reply #2 on: May 10, 2011, 07:27:27 PM »

This is one of my favorite CSE Cooney stories, and you guys did a fantastic job with it. The dual narration was perfect, what a great touch!
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« Reply #3 on: May 10, 2011, 07:36:28 PM »

I didn't mind the epistolary format so much, but given how much Hal talks about not knowing his letters, he certainly did use some big words. I checked the text and it wasn't written in dialect or with typos, and that takes me out of the story a little, about as much as writing in dialect would have, or with the typos left in.

I read this as Hal's own modesty more than any actual ignorance on his part. He comes across to me as a quietly self effacing man who does what needs doing and doesn't complain about his hardships or brag about his successes.

The ending was satisfying, although if it's going to take Hal six weeks to get to Del's boarding-house, one would think she'd have fixed the hole in the wall by then, or paid someone to do it.

Of course she could. But she's not going to. The hole itself isn't important, it's an excuse for her to invite Hal back into her life on her terms, without being obvious about it. At least that's how I read it.

Despite the straightforwardness of the plot, I found a lot of subtlety in the relationships that really made this story rise above the "frontier boy finds acceptance with the natives" trope; and, especially important in my opinion, steers it well clear of the "magical white boy" trope that's worn a tired groove in our cultural consciousness (with Avatar being merely the latest and most hackneyed example).
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« Reply #4 on: May 11, 2011, 09:53:18 AM »

First of all, I love stories in the epistolary format.  Yes, there is always more detailed information than one would actually write in a letter, but that doesn't bother me.  From Dracula to the Screwtape Letters, it is a highly enjoyable and effective method of storytelling, for me at least. 

Such is the case with Household Spirits.  This was great storystelling regardless of form.  I loved what we learned about the ghosts and also what we didn't.  Still so much mystery surrounds them, and we are only givien a glimpse. 

The readings were good as well; I liked the different voices.
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« Reply #5 on: May 11, 2011, 09:11:55 PM »

I too like the epistolary (nice mention on The Screwtape Letters).

I liked this story for many of the reasons mentioned above, particularly what we are not told about these "ghosts". I loved the description the ghost made about how angry he was. I also enjoyed when one of the two narrators (I think it was the son) was speculating what an angered ghost might do...like conjuring vipers in your lungs.

The story is indeed a trope, but I didn't take notice of it until after I had listened and said, "Oh, that was a trope." I agree that it was good despite that. I think in our ultra-deconstruction-savy society, we may be too quick to jump to our handy, checked-off list of Them Things What Make Fiction Bad (tropes included) and get too caught up in counting check marks before we even get into the story. Good stories are good stories, and maybe they don't transcend their genres and tropes so much as not give a crocodile's cloaca about the rules that supposedly explain them.
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« Reply #6 on: May 12, 2011, 07:01:17 AM »

I love the epistolary format. I'm not sure why, but something in it just calls out to me.

Format aside, this was a very nice story and I enjoyed it.
The only thing that bothered me was, what makes these kids dead? Why are they called ghosts? Their people as a whole may be dead, but they aren't. They grow, they eat, they have babies... and here's the clincher, they never died.
They were just natives. No more, no less. Oh sure, they have a different culture, different laws and morals and different abilities, but that's what makes people different. It doesn't make them dead.
I suppose that people would call them ghosts because they are the last hangers-on of a (mostly) dead people. But that doesn't excuse Anna from the intro discussion about death, what comes after death and where it is.
The "household spirits" were simply native children who were magically bound to a specific domicile. Not even a geographic location, just a physical structure. And that bond can easily be broken, when the domicile is destroyed. That does not make them ghosts.
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« Reply #7 on: May 13, 2011, 09:06:36 AM »

Loved, loved, loved this story!

I'm a fan of the epistolary format in small doses. I found that it got to be a bit of a drag by the end of Dracula. In a short story like this one, it works really well.

I like understated stories like this in which the world building happens off in the background somewhere. We got all these subtle hints at what life is like beyond the story - throw-away comments about religions and such - without them ever really being explored in depth, which just left me salivating for more. We got the sense of something much bigger behind the story, without loosing focus on the relationships which made the story so good.

I loved how the relationships between both Hal's son and Memo, and Hal and his son changed as the story went on, but not in the way they might expect. Hal acceptance of his son for who he became was really beautiful - it would have been easy for this to have created tension, but it didn't, which really ennobled Hal's character. Likewise the way Memo was changed by his relationship with Hal's son made it a far more complex relationship that 'frontier son learns the beauty of the simple, native life.

I'm not sure exactly what influenced the Kilquut culture, but the actually reminded me a lot of the Australian Aboriginals. The children left behind in particular reminded me of the lost generation. their situations are very different, but somehow the end result seems eerily similar. Likewise, the mysticism the surrounded the Kilquut in general put me in mind of the dreaming. I don't really know much about Native Americans, but it didn't seem to me like there were too many parallels being drawn between the Kilquut and any common Native American troupes I'm aware of. No doubt someone will with a little more knowledge will be able to gainsay that.

To top it all off, the reading was absolutely fantastic. Good job everyone!
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Gamercow
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« Reply #8 on: May 13, 2011, 09:22:27 AM »

I liked the story, but had a few questions:

Why kick Hal out at the end of the story?  Because he was human, and always would be?  He seemed to get along with the genii well enough. 

Why did Hal's wife divorce him?  Because he was gone for so long?  Because she found a new lover?  And if so, why take him back?  Maybe this is more of a relationship question, something I've never been too good at.

Truly enjoyed the epistolary format, and the narration by both of the readers. 
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« Reply #9 on: May 15, 2011, 04:13:26 AM »

Bdoomed -- nice one, dude. You did well.
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« Reply #10 on: May 15, 2011, 09:54:08 PM »

Also: epistolary. Just thought I'd chuck that in as I don't think it's been said enough in this thread ;-)
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« Reply #11 on: May 24, 2011, 02:35:20 AM »

Definitely a good story.  I pretty much second all of the positive comments so far.  The only issue I had with the story, really, was how awesome Hal was.  That is, he's modest, honest, friendly, non-judgmental, thoughtful, and all these other really great traits, and I started wondering why on Earth Del was divorcing him.  It seemed a bit out of place, and in trying to figure out the wherefores of that, I ended up unsure whether to treat Hal as an unreliable narrator or not.  That is, was he just flat-out lying about everything to make himself look good?  Was it him that impregnated the native girl?  What's going on here?  Then, at the end, it's implied that he's slowly working his way back into Del's good graces, and so I guess he really is supposed to be a good guy overall, which takes me back to my initial wondering as to what could have come between him and his wife to send him all the way out to the frontier.  It niggles at me, even now.

This is by way of complaining about the color of the shoelaces in my otherwise beautiful new boots, but it did bother me while I was listening.
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« Reply #12 on: May 24, 2011, 03:06:47 PM »

I took Hal and Del's divorce to be more of a legal separation than a falling out of love/due to some dark secret in Hal's past. It's not spelled out explicitly, but in the letter where Hal mentions it, he says that having the paper signed by him, Jessemee, and Mimo should satisfy the justice, and then asks Del to write and explain "all the stuff the solicitor told you." So, it could be Del fell in love with someone else, but my interpretation of it was that Del needed to be the head of her household (and not someone's wife) in order to be able to run her business.

That said - like so much else in this story, that's certainly open to interpretation.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #13 on: May 26, 2011, 09:08:45 AM »

I had a hard time getting in to this story, I think because I kept expecting to be seriously creeped out at every turn. Never mind that it never actually got creepy, just the anticipation of it made listening difficult. (Have I mentioned that I scare easily?) Definitely my problem, not the story's. Anyway, between that and having to listen between the lines all the time made this one less of a success for me.

As a side note, knowing that large numbers of people in this world were that angry all the time just made me really, really sad. Oh, and apparently we're required to use the word epistolary whenever we post in this thread, so there it is. Epistolary. :-P
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« Reply #14 on: May 26, 2011, 11:02:03 AM »

I took Hal and Del's divorce to be more of a legal separation than a falling out of love/due to some dark secret in Hal's past. It's not spelled out explicitly, but in the letter where Hal mentions it, he says that having the paper signed by him, Jessemee, and Mimo should satisfy the justice, and then asks Del to write and explain "all the stuff the solicitor told you." So, it could be Del fell in love with someone else, but my interpretation of it was that Del needed to be the head of her household (and not someone's wife) in order to be able to run her business.

That said - like so much else in this story, that's certainly open to interpretation.

I agree, mostly - I also took it partially as a signal from Del to Hal that it's futile to ask her to follow him. My impression was that he left because of the financial oppotunity, and his wife was simply not willing to come.

What I really liked about this story was Hal's character - he was a good man who was clearly out of his depth but trying to do the right thing. He was accepting of his son, and of his wife, even when they made decisions that he didn't understand, and even when those decisions hurt him. I agree that it's perhaps a bit too good to be true, but I think Hal did not really come out as smart enough to have a deliberate deception, and I think the story made an explicit effort to avoid this interpretation by giving us two writers on the letters, and making it clear that the son wrote at list some of his sections when he was not supervised by the father.
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« Reply #15 on: June 16, 2011, 02:12:50 PM »

Despite the straightforwardness of the plot, I found a lot of subtlety in the relationships that really made this story rise above the "frontier boy finds acceptance with the natives" trope; and, especially important in my opinion, steers it well clear of the "magical white boy" trope that's worn a tired groove in our cultural consciousness (with Avatar being merely the latest and most hackneyed example).

This.

I liked this story. The epistolary narration worked well for me. (Yeah, guess I better keep using the word). I think for me, the chilling part was when Memo tells Jesseme the depths of his anger, and if it was for Memo's mother...I also had to wonder if some part of that anger was directed towards her and the rest of his people who all died and left these children behind.
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« Reply #16 on: September 18, 2011, 01:15:29 PM »

Good story. Good narration. Good production. Solid all the way around.
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« Reply #17 on: October 03, 2011, 01:11:44 AM »

I liked this story a lot. I don't tend to go for frontier tales, so I probably had less of an issue with it being a trope than most others.

 That said, what makes it a trope? Is it the well worn situation or the lack of complexity in the characterisation? Having the father be such a great guy and all round good egg did rather drag me away from what was happening and have me constantly remember he was a fictional character. Plus seeing these mystical native children be so easy to exploit and shy of violence, well, it just made it a bit too black and white for me. I'm a sucker for storiees that shower us with shades of grey.

Also, doesn't there always seem to be a family of ne'er do well, wicked boys living next door, quite happy to fulfil their role as black hat wearing bad guys?

That said, I really, really did enjoyed listening to it. Absolutely brilliant piece of pod. Thank you.
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« Reply #18 on: October 24, 2011, 08:38:06 AM »

That is, he's modest, honest, friendly, non-judgmental, thoughtful, and all these other really great traits, and I started wondering why on Earth Del was divorcing him. 

Because he's absent.  I got the impression, at least, that they were divorcing because he wasn't there, not that he wasn't there because of a divorce.


Anyway, I enjoyed this story pretty well.  I tend to like "letter-writin'" formats (Must not say the E-word!), and the dual narration helped this a great deal, good job on both their parts.  Having the entire story told through two people's letters to the same person, without the replies, kept it very interesting as I tried to puzzle out the other half of the conversation.  I'm not sure that I totally grasped everything perfectly.  Others in the thread said that the legal document was pertaining to proof of divorce.  I thought it was an official adoption of Mimo as his son had asked.

Anna's intro kind of threw me off though.  There is almost nothing I enjoy more in a story than speculation on the afterlife, so she had me all revved up, and then there seemed to be nothing about the actual afterlife.  It was made clear from the first that the ghosts were not actually dead people, and that the name was just an incorrect convention.  The boy didn't have to die to become one of them, and if death made these ghosts than the other ones who were pulled underwater would've become ghosts too.  So I kept waiting for the "afterlife" reveal that never came and that left me pretty bummed out, through no fault of the story.
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« Reply #19 on: October 24, 2011, 09:55:14 AM »

I tend to like "letter-writin'" formats (Must not say the E-word!)

You mean epistolary?
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