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Author Topic: PC163: The Landholders No Longer Carry Swords  (Read 14975 times)
Talia
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« on: June 27, 2011, 11:56:07 PM »

PodCastle 163: The Landholders No Longer Carry Swords


by Patricia Russo

Read by Ann Leckie

Originally published in GigaNotoSaurus. Read along here!

The elders claim life is better now.

Since the ascension of the young dukes, the landholders no longer carry swords, and we are no longer obliged to kneel in their presence. Taxes have been lowered; we can keep more of our grain, our olives, our limes. Obligatory civic work days have been decreased to five per month. Smile, the elders say. Raise up your heads. The sun has emerged after long, long years of rain.

Raise up your heads. That is the way they speak, on warm nights when work is over, and dinner has been plentiful, and a wineskin is moving from hand to hand. They laugh, and boast, so proud of themselves for having survived to old age. But let a landholder walk through the square, or ride to the fields to inspect the crops, or make an appearance at a wedding or a festival, jovial and swordless, and the elders duck their heads and mumble, the same as the rest of us.

You see? the Younger Son-in-Law says. They themselves do not believe that all is well.

Rated PG
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #1 on: June 28, 2011, 04:07:25 PM »

Well, this was ... interesting. It threw me until I realized that social structure was basically Chinese. I think I would have liked it a lot more if I knew what the heck the landlords were really after. ARE they kid-eating monsters? What's their motivation (other than the obvious answer of "greed")? That bothered be more than the lack of a resolution, which I was OK with.

As for Anna's opening comments, I think

1) the reason so much of Fantasy - and especially so-called High Fantasy - has monarchy is because of its roots in the past. Ok, that looks like really obvious statement, but look at it really thoroughly. Fantasy draws on all sorts of things that we modern people simply aren't supposed to believe in.. it revels in Magical Thinking. Isn't it only natural that it also looks backward for a political order?

(natural, but not preferable for me. Probably another reason I tend to prefer Science Fiction over Fantasy. Not that all men - or aliens- are created equal *there*, either)

2) for Revolution, the only thing that springs to my foggy mind is the video game Fable III... which I've not actually played. I'm sure I'm forgetting stuff...

3) you'd think Magic was used more often in support of revolution or revolt, wouldn't you? Seeing as how it subverts the natural order of things....

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Spindaddy
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« Reply #2 on: June 28, 2011, 10:04:14 PM »

The story was ok. It didn't move me, but it kept me interested for the whole ride to work. I liked the narration a lot and found it pleasantly soothing.

As for Annas questions:

1. Fantasy has its roots in Monarchy because it's easier to write about evil kings, tyrants, and despots that want to take over the world. We love hearing about how Prince Charming or Princess Aurora will save the day through grace and beauty and gosh-darned wholesome goodness. Its easy to believe that one kingdom will stand against an evil horde. It's also much easier to put all the blame on single evil person and then kill them. Yay evil person death!

2. For revolution... there are tons of books about revolt. Hell, I can't think of a single book that doesn't have to do with either overthrowing the evil kingdom or thwarting the plans of evil swallowing a good kingdom. All good books have conflict, and nothing sets the scene for conflict better than some sort of revolt or threat of conquer. Brandon Sanderon's "Mistborn trilogy", Glenn Cooks "The Black Company", David Edding's "The Mallorian" and Terry Brooks "Scions of Shanara", hell even Terry Goodkinds Sword of truth series... Ok I horribly misspelled half of those. Toppling a monarchy is fun and it feels right!

To be honest, I hate when stories get all preachy and self-righteous. I get turned off and bored. I don't read SF/F because I want political commentary and draw some sort of parallel between my world and this land of magic dragons. I read it b/c I want a brief escape from the likes of "Representative Weiner", "The Governator" and other completely corrupt officials that feel its just fine to live above the law. If you've ever seen the sitcom "Bones" I'm very much like the character of "Cam" in the sense that I hate taking work home with me and I dislike spending the few precious moments of 'me time' stressing myself unnecessarily.
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« Reply #3 on: June 29, 2011, 06:17:59 AM »

This story moved me and captured my interest. Perhaps this is because I have spent so much of my life with ex-revolutionaries. I felt that I got so much insight into how news and rumors spread and how revolutionaries are created. It is not important for me as a reader to know what is true or false about the landlords, what is important is the POV of the narrator, her growing understanding of other narratives, and the changes she goes through herself. This piece had urgency and nuance that really drew me into the world.

This was one of my favorite pieces on podcastle. Thanks for publishing it.
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Gamercow
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« Reply #4 on: June 29, 2011, 06:53:26 PM »

This one fell in the middle of the road for me.  I liked it overall, but I think it put forth rather simplistic characters, and there wasn't enough flavor or substance there to overcome the very simple and straightforward plot.  Granted, the plot is not used much in fantasy fiction, but it is certainly used in other genres, and could have used some spice or twists. 
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« Reply #5 on: June 29, 2011, 07:57:33 PM »

The way I read this story, I feel sorry for the landlords. It seemed to me that the landlords are going about some business that the general public didn't quite understand. As people are want to do when they don't understand something, they fear it. Their fear led to irrational, and eventually destructive behavior. It is even more insidious, because the son-in-law manages to convince the rational mother character, and using her influence, the whole village.

I'm not sure if the ambiguity, whether the landlords or the people were evil, was intentional, but I would like to know. As it is, the story is a good social commentary on the danger of giving into fear without having any real evidence.
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danooli
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« Reply #6 on: June 30, 2011, 06:13:54 PM »

I feel sorry for the landlords. It seemed to me that the landlords are going about some business that the general public didn't quite understand.

I would agree with this, if it weren't for the beating doled out to the two older farm hands.

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« Reply #7 on: June 30, 2011, 07:18:34 PM »

What will I do when the landholders come for my children? Let's see....

First, I will make sure they actually ARE coming for my children. And that the revolution I've thrown my lot in is more than just the paranoid delusions of a unhygenic lunatic.

Second, I will do a little recon beforehand, to determine whether or not the reason the landholders stopped carrying swords is because they started carrying GUNS.

I couldn't get into this one. Maybe it was just the weird naming conventions for the characters that just took me out of it.
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« Reply #8 on: July 01, 2011, 03:07:40 PM »

I would agree with this, if it weren't for the beating doled out to the two older farm hands.

This scene initially made me reconsider my theory as well, but the landlord was described as young and the men old. Young men tend to have hot heads and old men tend to be set in their ways. You could read it, as follows:

The old men were bowing, as that is how they have always treated landlords. The young landlord tells them to stop bowing, as new laws treat them more as equals. The old men don't stop, as bowing is what they were taught to behave, and how they have always behaved. The young landlord gets angry, and in his frustration beats the men trying to get them to stop bowing. While, this is abhorrent behavior on the part of the landlord, and the ends don't justify the means, we never know `why` the landlord attacked the old men.
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olivaw
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« Reply #9 on: July 03, 2011, 07:09:07 AM »

This was a lovely elegy for heroes preparing for a revolution that they almost certainly can't win.

In our world, the landholders stopped carrying swords because they had better weapons, professional disciplined soldiers, and a cowed and ignorant working class.

It's good to see that Younger Son-in-Law is stirring the spirit of the people, although the chances are it will be crushed again by the Young Dukes' new armies, and it's good to see that Mother-in-Law has enough wisdom to both overcome her prejudices and cast doubt on some of the more dubious accusations. The family will need both bravery and brains to survive what's coming.

The rumours and fears about the landholders, though... they might be a predatory alien race feeding upon the people like cattle; or it might be a fitting metaphor for the economic reality; but it may also be a nasty blood libel, in which case I can see the aftermath of a successful revolution being just as horrific as the result of an unsuccessful one.
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« Reply #10 on: July 05, 2011, 05:42:42 PM »

I'll leave this discussion to others, just mark me down for the "enjoyed it!" category and I'll be on my way.  I love a good story about the underdogs fighting a battle that all logic and reason says they cannot win.  Regardless of if they are actually victorious or not, at least they fought.
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« Reply #11 on: July 05, 2011, 05:54:34 PM »

The only thing that bugged me about this story was the implication that the landholders really were nonhuman. I personally enjoy the complications that arise from such revolutions - rich people are people, too, no matter how hard they might try to make us forget it! - but this story made the power class out to be completely unsympathetic and possibly monsters. I'm about as left-leaning as you get, but this was a little simplistic.

Other than that, however, I also enjoyed the evolution of a modern political consciousness in a fantasy context. I might need to start thinking about writing my own take on the concept...

Finally, I want to say that I think I know the answer to the question posed in the introduction. Why does fantasy favor feudal governments? Two reasons:

Firstly, it's traditional. We're used to it. This is a bad thing, because it's boring. I happen to think that fantasy is, in general, plagued by a little too much Business As Usual.

Secondly, it allows individuals to be more heroic. This is a good thing. Consider that in the real world, no matter how heroic a president is, there's only so much he can do if the various offices of democracy are arrayed against him. How many wonderful, well-intentioned politicians have been rendered completely ineffective by congressional obstructionism? Lots. A story about a heroic prince who claims a magic sword and sets off to reclaim his father's kingdom... well, that's neat. A story about a heroic prime minister who makes speeches... and waits... and writes letters... and waits... well, I suppose that could also be neat in the hands of the right writer, but it certainly isn't fast paced, sexy, or adventurous.

I think there will always be a place for feudal systems in fantasy. That said, I hope we see a little more diversity in the future. As I wrote, fantasy has gotten pretty repetitive of late.
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« Reply #12 on: July 05, 2011, 07:59:06 PM »

Once I got over the rather annoying way that no one had a name (though it was explained later in the story) and stopped trying to pick the story apart for political short-story tropes (confabulation from the introduction), I enjoyed it a little.

Ann's reading was good, although a bit fast at times, especially when the story wrapped up.
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olivaw
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« Reply #13 on: July 05, 2011, 08:09:48 PM »

Why does fantasy favor feudal governments? Two reasons:

Firstly, it's traditional. We're used to it. This is a bad thing, because it's boring. I happen to think that fantasy is, in general, plagued by a little too much Business As Usual.

Secondly, it allows individuals to be more heroic. This is a good thing. Consider that in the real world, no matter how heroic a president is, there's only so much he can do if the various offices of democracy are arrayed against him. How many wonderful, well-intentioned politicians have been rendered completely ineffective by congressional obstructionism? Lots. A story about a heroic prince who claims a magic sword and sets off to reclaim his father's kingdom... well, that's neat. A story about a heroic prime minister who makes speeches... and waits... and writes letters... and waits... well, I suppose that could also be neat in the hands of the right writer, but it certainly isn't fast paced, sexy, or adventurous.

I agree.  In particular, fantasy seems to be about the power of the individual, while SF seems to be about the power of the group. Or, more precisely, the power of the idea; but ideas tend to work best when they propagate through groups and societies.
A single hero can realistically defeat a monarch; that same hero can't really defeat a society (unless he's Erekose). It takes an idea to defeat/transform a society, and a story about an idea will always feel more like SF than fantasy.

Discworld is an interesting compromise; Ankh-Morpork famously has no monarch, yet it has the despotic Patrician, who, it turns out, is mostly willing to let the city follow its fads and innovations so long as public order is maintained, and yet will stand in as an object of villification when the need arises. It's a lot more SF than it pretends to be.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #14 on: July 06, 2011, 12:02:33 PM »

Attempting to get back on topic (lest I go all "moderate" on you...Tongue) I'm not sure how I feel about this story. There was a lot of ambiguity about whether or not the landholders were actually evil and were actually trying to steal the children, so the conclusion of the story left me feeling pretty discomfited. I mean, what if the MC was right all along and now they've just incited the whole town to a lot of bloodshed and the inevitable punishments for their unwarranted rebellion? I definitely wanted more evidence that Younger-Son-in-law was right about all of his accusations. Plus, I couldn't shake the feeling that this was actually a thinly-veiled story about the controversial enclosure of common lands in England in the 1700s. Undecided
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Spindaddy
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« Reply #15 on: July 06, 2011, 12:29:36 PM »

Plus, I couldn't shake the feeling that this was actually a thinly-veiled story about the controversial enclosure of common lands in England in the 1700s. Undecided

Really? For some reason I was picturing a twist on the Greek city-states. They kept referencing the mainland, I just thought they were speaking of Athens and Sparta.
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #16 on: July 06, 2011, 12:58:09 PM »

Plus, I couldn't shake the feeling that this was actually a thinly-veiled story about the controversial enclosure of common lands in England in the 1700s. Undecided

Really? For some reason I was picturing a twist on the Greek city-states. They kept referencing the mainland, I just thought they were speaking of Athens and Sparta.

And I found it entirely Chinese. I suppose the author should be complimented for so completely detaching it from an actual historical context -- or blending in a number of historical contexts.
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Wilson Fowlie
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« Reply #17 on: July 06, 2011, 04:56:59 PM »

So, I'm basically with the person above who complained that the characters were acting with little to no evidence, other than the beating (which, as someone else pointed out, was never explained, only described, and so isn't evidence of much of anything. I did, in fact, assume cyberlogi's explanation for it and was somewhat surprised when that was never made clear).

My perception of what the story was going to be about was very much influenced by Anna's intro (I'm too often much too easy to sway, though in this case it was also that I've got just about as big a liberal dick as either she or ElectricPaladin, thanks!) and so I kept expecting the story to be about that, but at the end I was seriously hoping that there was a ton of untold story that explained why these people suddenly took Younger Son-In-Law's (?) word for it all, rather than (say) sending messengers to neighbouring villages to confirm his stories, or possibly getting the elders to ask the Landholders why those two old men were beaten (and attempting to corroborate the veracity of the answer), and so on.

Because based on the rumours and paranoid panic-mongering they were going on, they were on pretty thin ice.

That said, I would love to see more fantasy stories that deal with (as opposed to simply taking place in) more up-to-date political realities. The Russian story was an interesting example.

Are you sure? I'm basically a communist. I also think that not only should gay and polyamorous marriage be legal, I also don't think the government should be in the business of marrying people at all. And I think that pot should be legal (but probably not cigarettes...).

So the government has no say in who or how people get married and pot should be legal, but no one should enjoy cigarettes?  Anna might be more liberal...

I'm all for the legalization of most illegal drugs. Not that I think they're a good thing*, but that the amount of money we (as a society) spend on trying to prevent their use would go a lot farther if we spent it on preventing the harm they cause instead. As it is, I believe the (attempted) enforcement of drug prohibition, not to mention the price inflation - and subsequent attraction to get into the business - cause more harm than the drugs themselves do.

On the other hand, I shouldn't have to be non-consensually exposed to them. No drinker would consider forcing my jaws apart and pouring part of their bottle of beer down my throat, but smokers think nothing of contaminating my air supply. Go ahead and smoke 'em if you got 'em, but keep 'em in your own house, thanks.



*I don't subscribe to the notion that legal necessarily equals good, and illegal necessarily equals bad, nor its converse.

ETA: Link to political one-upmanship discussion.
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« Reply #18 on: July 07, 2011, 09:16:31 AM »

I would wager that the ambiguity was purposeful.  The whole point of the story was about how a revolution gets started, not whether or not a revolution is justified or wise.  I particularly liked that the young landholder beat the old workers apparently because of their bows.  Were they not bowing enough, or were they bowing too much?  It's not stated, and the care the story took to AVOID stating it leads me to conclude that the uncertainty was purposely fostered.  It's a feature, not a bug, in other words.

I was reminded a bit of "Interesting Times," an otherwise medium-to-good Discworld book that does do a good job portraying the various factors tugging on someone living in a repressive society, including the desire to just get on with their lives and not have to deal with the horrors of civil war or revolution.  After the fact, we like to assign the white hats to one side and the black hats to the other, but in the moment it's often muddled, confusing, and generally hard to know what to do.  Often, authors will go to the old "guerrilla insurgents or freedom fighters?" trope when they want to explore this dynamic.  I liked seeing a "repressive regime or struggling progressivism?" meme crop up instead.

There is a natural human tendency to want to sort things into categories.  It's one of the most basic algorithms our brains perform, in fact.  We like to see good guys and bad guys, a clear winner and a clear loser.  I think that ties into the enduring paradigm of monarchy in fantasy, as well; as others have noted, it enables a much more simple binary dynamic to form the basic structure of the conflict.  It also hearkens back to several other regrettable tendencies of the brain, such as the belief that our actions have significant effects on the complex systems they interact with, and thus one strong and potent leader (that you agree with) is "better" than seeking consensus.  People want a Big Man to come and lead the way to truth and right and happiness forever.  That's simple.  That's clean.  That's easy.  And most importantly: that makes sense to our befuddled monkey-brains.  Bad things and good things need to have clear and obvious causes.  We don't deal well, as a species, with ambiguity (though we're better at it than most other species, admittedly, in that we can perceive it at all) or complex events in chaotic systems.  We can process ambiguous situations, but we don't like them.  It makes us uncomfortable.  The idea that a Good King can solve all the problems is very, very tempting to the monkey and the lizard that live in your head, underneath that thin layer of human.
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« Reply #19 on: July 07, 2011, 09:59:25 AM »

It also hearkens back to several other regrettable tendencies of the brain, such as the belief that our actions have significant effects on the complex systems they interact with, and thus one strong and potent leader (that you agree with) is "better" than seeking consensus.  People want a Big Man to come and lead the way to truth and right and happiness forever.  That's simple.  That's clean.  That's easy.  And most importantly: that makes sense to our befuddled monkey-brains.

Makes sense to MY befuddled monkey-brain. Seeking consensus in any system of government is a fool's errand: even in the best of times, you can't get everyone to agree. That's why most democracies run on a majority vote rather than a unanimous one, otherwise nothing would get done. Of course that means that no matter what decisions a government makes, it's going to offend SOME part of its body politic, which leads to further dissent, which leads to instability, which leads to...well, we've seen it before. The alternative to this state of affairs is not much better: trying to reach a compromise to make everyone happy, which almost always results in some half-measure that doesn't really satisfy anyone or accomplish anything. It almosts makes you wish for some Thomas Carlyle-esque Great Man to knock some heads together and get things working right.

Of course, that has its own laundry list of problems too...so...I don't I have a solution. Erm, were we talking about a short story? Oh yes...
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