Author Topic: PC164: A Hunter’s Ode To His Bait  (Read 17286 times)

Ocicat

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on: July 05, 2011, 04:30:41 PM
PodCastle 164: A Hunter’s Ode To His Bait


by Carrie Vaughn

Read by John Trevillian

Originally published in Realms of Fantasy. Read the story at Fantasy Magazine.

After a week of sitting in the cold, the creature came.

It stepped out of the trees, out of the twilight mist, head low to the ground and nostrils quivering. A silver shadow in the form of a horse, seemingly made of mist itself. The long, spiral horn growing from its forehead reflected what little light remained in the world and seemed to glow.

The girl’s gasp carried all the way to Duncan’s blind. The unicorn’s head lifted, ears pricked forward hard, and he feared that she’d startle the thing away. But no, her scent was strong, and its instinct was powerful. Instead of cringing in fear, she got to her knees and reached toward it with both hands, whispering to it.

It leaned toward her, like a horse would to a bucket of grain. It made careful, silent steps, not even rustling the fallen leaves. Its thick mane fell forward, covering its neck. It huffed quick breaths at her, stretching forward to sniff at her fingers. The girl cupped her hands. The unicorn rested its muzzle on her palms and sighed.

Duncan shot his arrow, striking the creature’s neck.


Rated R: Contains Sexuality and Graphic Violence
« Last Edit: July 26, 2011, 11:08:56 AM by Talia »



Lionman

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Reply #1 on: July 05, 2011, 06:22:06 PM
I have to say, I was waiting for the offensive part, but I'm not sure it really ever materialized.  There was some skirting of the subject at the end as both of the jaded old men were excited by the young maiden, but the violence wasn't something I didn't expect by the time we'd jumped in the story to where they were packing up their 9th kill.  Hunters hunt.  They kill prey, it's a circle of life sort of thing.  Then again, perhaps that's why it didn't bother me as much, because in the genre of fantasy, the circle of life is just a little bigger than it is in the real world.

I liked the story, the gentle, gradual building of it.  The various events weren't terribly surprising, considering how the story was building.  However, that didn't make the story any less enjoyable.

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Reply #2 on: July 05, 2011, 09:49:07 PM
 I actually really enjoyed this story.  Wait for it....no, the world is not ending. Okay good. I was waiting for the really offensive part that would send me off on yet another crazy feminist rant, but I didn't find it all that offensive. The only offensive thing I can think of is that there is definitely a form of Stockholm syndrome going on here, and that old men will always find young wild nubile virgins attractive, but I would be really surprised if someone didn't see that coming.  She was sold to a man, essentially raised by him, he gave her everything (food, clothes, morals, a sense of belonging and purpose), he secluded her from the world, and gave her the appearance of choice, if not real choice, over her future.  It makes sense that she would not only choose to stay with him but be attracted to him because that is all she has ever really known. Disturbing, yes, but not really offensive. 

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Spindaddy

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Reply #3 on: July 05, 2011, 11:26:30 PM
I figured there was gonna be a weird 'unicorn on man on girl thing' going on, but in the end, it was just a man and woman on a dead unicorn...

Ok, that was kinda weird, but hey Rule 34, right?

To be honest, I was waiting for the girl to be turned into a unicorn or perhaps she would lure the giant unicorn to somehow kill Duncan or maybe even turn Duncan into a unicorn in some sort of strange twist.

I think what I really enjoyed about the story is that there were no excuses made for the "human" aspect of everyone involved. Moreover, I'd love to hear more about the Duncan character. It seems quite clear he is deliberately hunting Old Magic for a specific reason. I think that aspect intrigued me most and I kept waiting for some sort of darker aspect to come out.

I was also sad that the Legend of legendary unicorns died. I have a soft spot for unicorns ever since I read a few stories that spun the 'unicorns digging virgins' on it's head. I had hoped the unicorn was gonna win and ride off into the sunset.

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olivaw

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Reply #4 on: July 06, 2011, 12:51:58 AM
A sweet story about an abusive relationship.
Elenor's not far off the mark when she says she's being used as a prostitute; her sexuality made a commodity, she's not allowed to develop any other natural relationships. And yet it's clear she has long since taken command of her relationship with Duncan, or at least promoted herself from slave to working partner, by the time of the dance.
Here's hoping she ditches the loser.



InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #5 on: July 06, 2011, 04:38:17 PM
My first reaction with the intro was "Oh my God, It's "My Little Pony!!!"

Ok, no fear of that... thankfully.

I, too, waited for the shocking offensive part. Probably because I don't shock or offend very easily. I have yet to be shocked or offended by anything here or on Escape Pod. Occasionally creeped out, or "oh... WOW! (que lastima!)" but that's about it.

(Dave ... perhaps you shouldn't give away the game with "you will be SHOCKED!! by this ending!!"" ? Just a suggestion....)

Otherwise, it was a good story. The author did a good job with the emotion of desire (glad I was listening alone), and, yeah, the relationship between the hunter and the bait was more than a little twisted, but I thought it was plausible (Lord knows stranger things have happened in real life). I liked that Unicorns are not, in a twist, equated with "good" but are rather attracted to human sexuality.

Which of course begs the question ... are there gay unicorns?

But THAT will probably offend somebody....



Spindaddy

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Reply #6 on: July 06, 2011, 05:44:40 PM
Which of course begs the question ... are there gay unicorns?

But THAT will probably offend somebody....

Alan Dean Foster wrote a couple of books called the "Spellsinger series". At one point there is a gay unicorn, but I read it so long ago, I can't remember what happens. It wasn't in the fist book, but I think it might have been in the third or fourth book.

Personally I've always wondered if there are FEMALE unicorns. All the stories I've ever read have usually referenced unicorns being male for some strange reason.

And... honestly... was anyone else kinda creeped out by the two humans coupling on the carcass of the Uber Unicorn? I understand the culmination of the 'love story' but really? On the carcass? Just ewwww.

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Reply #7 on: July 06, 2011, 09:23:34 PM
Yeah, "doing it" in spilled Unicorn blood, against the remains of the old one...a bit twisted.  Not that twisted is bad!

I'm just lukewarm about this one.  I liked it well enough, it didn't shock or offend me.  (Although the details of the first dying unicorn did make me sad.) This one falls in the middle of my personal list of favorite PodCastles.  Not at or near the top, but certainly not at the bottom either...

Maybe it's because I didn't particularly like Duncan and Eleanor.
« Last Edit: July 06, 2011, 09:26:59 PM by danooli »



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Reply #8 on: July 06, 2011, 11:49:56 PM
Chalk me up as one of those who enjoyed the story, but was waiting to be offended and was slightly disappointed when it didn't happen. I mean, yeah, the relationship was slightly disturbing, but not really as messed up as I expected.

Although, I am a little depressed that Duncan basically destroys magic for a living. Making the world more mundane one creature at a time. And it's not even like he's doing something cool, like dragonslaying or mime-crushing. No, he's killing frigging unicorns! On the other hand, the unicorns were pretty bad-ass, which is something I wasn't expecting and found to be a refreshing change. No little pink Anime characters dying needlessly here, no sir.

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Julio

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Reply #9 on: July 07, 2011, 12:26:52 AM
I think the hunting just killed it for me. The killing of magic. Making the world more of a normal place.



Anarquistador

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Reply #10 on: July 07, 2011, 02:36:38 PM
Personally I've always wondered if there are FEMALE unicorns. All the stories I've ever read have usually referenced unicorns being male for some strange reason.

Well...would we be able to identify them if there were? Think about it: in the animal kingdom, horns are almost exclusively the province of the male of the species. Female unicorns probably wouldn't have horns, or at least they wouldn't be as prominent as they are on a male. So then...a female unicorn might just look like a regular horse...

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InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #11 on: July 07, 2011, 05:14:11 PM

Although, I am a little depressed that Duncan basically destroys magic for a living. Making the world more mundane one creature at a time.

Yeah, what's up with that? I wish Vaughn has expanded on that at least a little more.


Well...would we be able to identify them if there were? Think about it: in the animal kingdom, horns are almost exclusively the province of the male of the species.

Um ... actually, no. Goats, sheep, musk-ox, caribou, bison, water buffalo, cape buffalo, most antelope I can think of, rhinos.... all have horns on both sexes..
« Last Edit: July 07, 2011, 05:26:36 PM by InfiniteMonkey »



Spindaddy

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Reply #12 on: July 07, 2011, 05:23:17 PM
Personally I've always wondered if there are FEMALE unicorns. All the stories I've ever read have usually referenced unicorns being male for some strange reason.
Well...would we be able to identify them if there were? Think about it: in the animal kingdom, horns are almost exclusively the province of the male of the species. Female unicorns probably wouldn't have horns, or at least they wouldn't be as prominent as they are on a male. So then...a female unicorn might just look like a regular horse...
I disagree! Cows have horns... both males and females. There are other examples in nature as well with the female of the species also possessing horns. I believe Antlers are the exclusive province of males, but antlers fall off. Maybe female unicorns are just not dumb enough to get caught messing around with young virgins.

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Anarquistador

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Reply #13 on: July 07, 2011, 06:29:08 PM
I must have been thinking of antlers, not horns. I stand corrected.

...which opens up the can of worms as to whether a unicorn's "horn" is a horn at all, or an antler-like structure. I don't know, does there exist a comprehensive study of the biology of fantasic creatures that I can consult on this matter? If not, could somebody write one?

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Reply #14 on: July 07, 2011, 06:46:04 PM
I too was waiting for disturbing and shocking and then the music played and I was left wondering what part of the story I was supposed to be disturbed about....

Good story.  I like the slow build and my interpretation of events is that Eleanor has long since realized what she wanted and set about getting finally.  The WHY of her want might be disturbing I guess, but really, it made sense in the context of the story.  I feel like this story wasn't so much about taking down the Ubercorn but more about Eleanor capturing Duncan.

Also, hooray for non-weak unicorns.  Now if you'll excuse me, I have to convince Charlie to go with me to Candy Mountain.

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Reply #15 on: July 07, 2011, 09:01:43 PM
I have to say, I was waiting for the offensive part, but I'm not sure it really ever materialized.  There was some skirting of the subject at the end as both of the jaded old men were excited by the young maiden, but the violence wasn't something I didn't expect by the time we'd jumped in the story to where they were packing up their 9th kill.  Hunters hunt.  They kill prey, it's a circle of life sort of thing.  Then again, perhaps that's why it didn't bother me as much, because in the genre of fantasy, the circle of life is just a little bigger than it is in the real world.

I liked the story, the gentle, gradual building of it.  The various events weren't terribly surprising, considering how the story was building.  However, that didn't make the story any less enjoyable.

Have to agree. I was expecting a different kind of ending. As it is, it is a bit predictable but you promised a shocker so I thought there'd be a twist.

Loved the story, all in all. The character of the Hunter intrigued me and the girl was described in sufficiently vague detail that one could fill in the blanks with one's own preferences.



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Reply #16 on: July 07, 2011, 09:20:37 PM
Heh. Sorry I misled you all :) It really was not intentional.

Personally, I thought a) the killing of unicorns, b) that those killing the unicorns (and magic) managed not only to survive, but c) have sex against the corpse of a unicorn to consumate their relationship was shocking (in a good way). At least, that's why we gave this one a warning at the beginning of the episode.

You all are a hard lot to predict sometimes, but I dig that about you  :D


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Reply #17 on: July 08, 2011, 02:11:21 AM
I liked it, it was gritty fantasy.  Like everyone else I was primed to be shocked, and when the unicorn became aroused I thought "here it comes" but it didnt happen. 

I liked this story partly because it left me thinking about the world the characters live in (what else do they have that is magical? how is the society organised?), and the unspoken motivations of the main characters (why does Duncan want the power that comes with the hunt, and is that even true seeing that it was a minor character that stated it?  What drives the girl to want to kill that last unicorn?  Is she seeking power herself to raise herself above her current situation?). 

Just as an aside my 13yo son tells me a unicorn without a horn is called a nullacorn.  :-\



Spindaddy

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Reply #18 on: July 08, 2011, 03:05:17 AM
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to convince Charlie to go with me to Candy Mountain.
Charrrrrrlieeeeee.... come to candy mountain with us!

Unicorn is definitly a horn. Antlers fall off.

I dunno... I've listened to the story 3 times now and I gotta say I dig it enough to go looking for the authors other works. Its weird, its wacky and its totally deviant. I hate the fact Duncan is being a jerk and killing the magic in the world, but there is something compelling about him at the same time. What drives this guy? How can he treat Elanor the way he does and still live with himself at the end of the day? What Power is he getting? Is it the rush of the hunt so to speak?

Arg!

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Reply #19 on: July 08, 2011, 05:15:31 AM
Interesting story.  The warning made me expect it to get a lot darker than it did.  I was seriously expecting, like, I dunno, the unicorn to actually rape the girl or something appalling like that, because it was explicitly billed as worse than the Conan story about unrepentant goddess-raping and as dark or darker than "Mermaids' Tea Party," which featured (implied) necrophiliac fish sex and (unconsummated) pedophiliac urges.  Fade-to-black sex on an animal carcass?  Eh. 

Man, the Internet has really pushed the bar on "disturbing" way, way up for me.  I'm not exactly happy about this.

Olivaw has basically covered my overall reaction with "A sweet story about an abusive relationship."  That was really, really NOT a healthy dynamic those two had going there, and I foresee tears and bitter recriminations in their future, followed by a slow spiral into maudlin regret.  When you spend THAT long hankering for something and restraining yourself, reality will NEVER be able to live up to it. 

I'm troubled by the thematic implications, as I usually am by unicorn stories that delve into the idea of virginity qua virginity.  Her sole - or at least her primary - attractive quality is her unattainability, and the story never questions the inherent dynamic of woman as provider-of-sex for man as seeker/attainer-of-sex, which is one that I think isn't tremendously positive or helpful, however much it might be modeled by biology.  At this point, culture trumps biology in terms of selection pressure for humans, and I'm lukewarm on celebrating the Old Bad Ways.  The specific relationship within the story is ameliorated somewhat by the hints that Duncan is, in fact, attracted to her as a person in addition to a prize or object - he admires her pride and her bearing, for example - but the story's climax (no pun intended) doesn't leave much room for Eleanor to function as anything other than bait.  She lures the ultimate unicorn, and immediately afterward lures the ultimate man, and thus... fulfillment!  Hurrah for womanhood!  It's all about getting the choicest horn, the one that's hardest to attract and entrance.  Does the horn respect you as a person or care about you in any meaningful way beyond its immediate desire for you?  Who cares!?  It's huge!

Unicorns are always about sex, though, and specifically about female sexuality as seen through the prism of the male perspective.  Virginity is a strong attractor because, biologically speaking, you're guaranteed that children you get on a virgin are yours (Biblical cuckolding aside).  For the male, who - again, biologically speaking - doesn't care about a partner so much as just getting as many receptacles for his seed as possible, a virgin at peak fertility is about as good as it gets.  Thus, the traditional patriarchal control over women's body parts, iron-fisted and released slowly and with much backpedaling, if ever accomplished at all.  Unicorns are the mythological embodiment of the Male Gaze, a walking phallic symbol that mystically recognizes these reproductive treasures; the woman in these stories is naturally just thrilled to have attracted such a rare beast as a unicorn.  After all, says the Male Gaze, looking smugly upon its fantasy version of itself, who wouldn't be?



Wilson Fowlie

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Reply #20 on: July 08, 2011, 05:43:34 AM
Scattercat, I had English teachers like you.

I hated English class.

Just saying. :)

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Reply #21 on: July 08, 2011, 08:09:11 AM
Hi! I'm de-lurking. I blame it on the phase of the moon.

Scattercat, I could've used a few more English teachers like you. :D That said, I disagree that this story doesn't question or at least engage with "the Bad Old Ways." I liked the way Eleanor plays with the archetype of sheltered and feminine and virginal, because she is all of those things while still being a hunter with an agenda of her own and motives which aren't entirely sympathetic. (What have the unicorns ever done to them?) I mean, I wish that weren't a semi-novel approach a millennium and a half after the development of the Marian cult, but there you have it. And it's not all about luring "the ultimate man" because, as you say, it's a totally unhealthy dynamic they have. The story practically dares you to root for them as a couple, but never lets you forget how dysfunctional that coupling is.

Anyway.

I'm with everyone who was expecting something a lot more traumatic after the build-up in the introduction. It seems like storytellers have always had a weird, conflicted relationship with unicorns and the virgins who are supposed to lure them in. It makes sense that the hunter's relationship with his bait would be just as complicated.



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Reply #22 on: July 08, 2011, 08:16:37 AM
I must say that this was an excellent story. I, too, was waiting to be offended, because I love to be mildly offended by good fiction. The offense never came, but I still loved the tactful naughtiness of the story. It opened up and I was expecting pedophilia, but it quickly became evident, to my relief, that that wasn't the case. Then a unicorn died, and I thought of the canned unicorn meat that's sold over at Think Geek. When he "took her" at the end, I thought of the canned unicorn meat again, but with nudity. But I think the best part of the episode was the "horny unicorns" joke. I LoL'd.



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Reply #23 on: July 08, 2011, 09:34:47 AM
@Wilson

Well, given that I WAS an English teacher, it's not really surprising that I sound like one.  BA in English Literature with a concentration in Theater, Masters of Education.

I liked the way Eleanor plays with the archetype of sheltered and feminine and virginal, because she is all of those things while still being a hunter with an agenda of her own and motives which aren't entirely sympathetic.

While I understand that there really can't be many other options, given her background, it still rankles that all we get in terms of female sexuality is Eleanor being really tempting and using that to trap an unwilling man.  I agree that it's not an unthinking paean to Passive Woman/Pursuing Man, but from a broader perspective, it makes me feel a little tired and unhappy.  My dissatisfaction is not so much with this story specifically, which isn't particularly appalling or regressive on that front and, as you say, does feature at least some agency on Eleanor's part, but rather with the way unicorn stories always end up reinforcing that pattern whenever they examine it, even when written with a clearly more modern perspective.  I would argue that this is because the unicorn, in its symbolic mode, is inherently about the way men look at female sexuality, and thus has a very hard time being anything other than patriarchal unless wholly subverted, which it was not here. 

For example, the line about "men pay more for virgins" is twisted from men taking virginity as an abstract matter of property to being about the power of tamping down desire and delaying gratification, with Eleanor being the ultimate temptation because she's repressed herself/been repressed for so long that her sexuality has become weaponized.  While that is better than just being a wallet for a pristine vagina, it still leaves Eleanor with her only role as a lure rather than a hunter, a trap rather than an ambush.  And once she does act, she loses her power, whereas Duncan retains the worldly experience and money that make him a powerful man.  Eleanor is potent femininity, but she's still functionally passive and reliant on the more powerful male (beast or human) choosing her; she can offer, but she cannot force or choose for herself.  That's what I mean about the old patterns reamaining; not reversed or broken, just tweaked a little.

(To clarify, when I said "ultimate man," I meant ultimate in Eleanor's eyes.  She was raised by him from her preteen years, and while he's hardly an ideal parent, he's clearly at least better than her biological parents and far from overtly abusive; of course she idolizes him and views him as hers to catch.  The whole episode with the final unicorn is Eleanor's last and strongest bid to win his heart, which she does by offering herself as bait, but this time doing it extra sexily.)



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Reply #24 on: July 08, 2011, 02:03:15 PM
I'm not sure where the outrage came from in the original posting of this story, I didn't see it.  Duncan treated Eleanor better than her own mother, if you take out the controlling nature of their relationship, which probably would have existed no matter what relationship she got into, given her background and status in society.  He fed her well, kept her company without sexually abusing her, kept her away from predatory men, and was willing to give her half of their earnings.  He's definitely not an ideal parent or partner, but was probably better than she would have ended up with otherwise. 

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