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Author Topic: PC171: The Island Of Doctor Death And Other Stories  (Read 5250 times)
Ocicat
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« on: August 23, 2011, 01:10:51 PM »

PodCastle 171: The Island Of Doctor Death And Other Stories

by Gene Wolfe

Read by Ben Phillips

Originally published in Orbit 7

Winter comes to water as well as land, though there are no leaves to fall. The waves that were a bright, hard blue yesterday under a fading sky today are green, opaque, and cold. If you are a boy not wanted in the house you walk the beach for hours, feeling the winter that has come in the night; sand blowing across your shoes, spray wetting the legs of your corduroys. You turn your back to the sea, and with the sharp end of a stick found half-buried, write in the wet sand Tackman Babcock.

Then you go home, knowing that behind you the Atlantic is destroying your work.


Rated R: Contains Adult Themes

Check out a podcast a listener did for his High School Senior Project: https://public.me.com/chrisnkris (click on “RatCasts”).
« Last Edit: September 13, 2011, 09:36:37 AM by Talia » Logged
iamafish
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« Reply #1 on: August 23, 2011, 03:28:46 PM »

I am the king under the mountain (joke about fish) and this is the first comment on this thread.

Loved this story. At first I was a little confused when Dr Death and his strapping adversary made an appearance, but once I got that they were just figments of my imagination, I warmed to them. I loved how Dr Death was much more complex that your average evil mastermind.

The use of the second person was a little odd and seemed somewhat arbitrary (there are very few instances in which it is not in my experience). But i'm not sure that really detracted from the story too far.

Great to hear Ben again. He is a fantastic reader and differentiated between the different sections of story really well. Although I though he made the main character sound a little too thick. I would have preferred a slightly less childish voice (yes, i know he was a child, but still)
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Seekerpilgrim
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« Reply #2 on: August 23, 2011, 06:46:43 PM »

I didn't get into this one. While I found the overlapping of multiple realities (or Tackman's imagination) interesting, is turned out to be another overused plot (just like Escape Pod's most recent, "Radio Nowhere"), in this case the tribulations of childhood, escaping into fiction to deal with growing up, etc. etc. Serviceable, but common.
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childoftyranny
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« Reply #3 on: August 24, 2011, 06:18:50 PM »

I enjoyed this story, the reading was enjoyable and who doesn't love imaginary friends with minds of their own, yet I ended up listening in two pieces. The comment from the whatever-he-was in the car to the child about the mother seemed pointless in the story. I understand its to give us an idea who the guy was although I don't think anyone was thinking of him as Prince Charming anyway but it seemed a distraction to me.

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LaShawn
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« Reply #4 on: August 26, 2011, 10:58:29 AM »

Ahhh, Gene Wolfe. When I heard Podcastle had this story I knew I had to bump it to the top of my playlist. Ben did an awesome job of conveying the loneliness and strong imagination of Tackman, and the characters of the Island truly did come alive for me. For me, it's not so easy to get into Gene Wolfe stories, but the ones that do stick touch me deeply. This story is one of them.
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #5 on: August 26, 2011, 11:22:44 AM »

I thought this story was an incredibly charming tale about the power of fiction to preserve and empower. My life growing up wasn't quite as unstable as poor Tackman's, but I had my share of bad stuff. I often felt like the characters I loved were becoming a part of me, making me strong, teaching me right from crazy in a way that my parents couldn't - my wife likes to say that she has Captain James T. Kirk and Frodo Baggins to thank for me being a decent person, and she's only half joking.

I particularly liked how the villains were, in their way, also Tackman's protectors. They might not have been good, nice, or appealing, but they existed to teach lessons and provide an escape.

Anyway, the long and the short of it is that I loved this story. More Gene Wolfe, please.

Oh, incidentally I also loved the shit out of the torturer series. I recommend it without reservation to everyone, right now.
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« Reply #6 on: August 26, 2011, 11:29:29 AM »


More Gene Wolfe, please.

Ask and you shall receive! In the not-too distant future Smiley

Oh, incidentally I also loved the shit out of the torturer series. I recommend it without reservation to everyone, right now.

That series...I've read it once and listened to it once, and am gearing up to listen to it again. And it's blown my mind both times, and yet I'm conscious that there's so much I'm missing.

(FWIW, the audio book is phenomenal. AMAZING. If you can get a copy of it, I highly recommend it. Despite it being such an incredibly complex story, Jonathan Davis's reading makes it seem so accessible. One of the best audio book purchases I've made.)
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Spindaddy
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« Reply #7 on: August 26, 2011, 02:56:21 PM »

Excellent story! I've never read Gene Wolf (that I can remember) and I'm definitely going to hunt down some of his other stories now. I found the story itself fascinating because (for me at least) some of the scenes in the story seemed plucked from life experiences. When I was growing up (about Tackman's age) all of the kids in my neighborhood were either older than myself by several years or younger than myself by several years so I often wandered about alone with my imagination in similar fashion to Tackman, though only the heroes randomly appeared to offer advice or insight. The story hit a sentimental part of me and I really felt for the poor kid as he gets shuffled about.

I think what I enjoyed most about the story is the crazy love triangle going on between the mother, Jason and Dr. Black. To be honest, the sisters all seemed more like spiders drawing the juicy Dr Black Fly into their den to suck the money out of him as well. It seems sad, but for a few moments I wondered if the kid might not be better off without his uncaring parents.

my wife likes to say that she has Captain James T. Kirk and Frodo Baggins to thank for me being a decent person, and she's only half joking.
This made me chuckle. I used to call my daughter's cat "Fluffy T. Cat" and my daughter asked me what the "T" stood for. So I told her it stood for "the" and it was my silly way of calling the cat "Fluffy the cat". Fast forward a few months and I'm over at my parents house with the family and we are watching an old Star Trek episode. When my daughter hears "This is James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise" she turns to me and says "Is a Kirk an alien? Whats a kirk?" When I asked her to elaborate, she wanted to know why the Captain's name was "James The Kirk."
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« Reply #8 on: August 27, 2011, 06:50:14 AM »

I really loved this story right from the opening line. It beautifully evoked the slightly decadent, louche but grubby world in which the adults live in contrast to the innocence of Tackman who is just beginning to realise things aren't quite right at home. His imaginary world that comes to life from the book is his way of coping with it and trying to make sense of it.

I loved the ambiguity of Dr Death not a black & White villain and this was mirrored by the Dr Black character whose intentions and actions are equally ambiguous especially when viewed from Tackman's perspective.

My only criticism is the use of the 2nd person narration. Every time I heard "you" it jarred and took me out of the story. I've never yet read a story in 2nd person that wouldn't have been better in 1st or 3rd.

I'm definitely going to seek out more Gene Wolfe to read.
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danooli
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« Reply #9 on: August 28, 2011, 08:56:30 AM »

This was wonderful! Tacky seems like a boy I would have wanted to know when I was a kid. He's got a pretty sucky life by the looks of things, but his imagination was there to help him get by.  This was my first Gene Wolfe, but probably won't be my last.  Great narration by Ben Phillips as well.  One of the many reasons why I love PodCastle so much Smiley
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kibitzer
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« Reply #10 on: August 28, 2011, 10:22:50 PM »

my wife likes to say that she has Captain James T. Kirk and Frodo Baggins to thank for me being a decent person, and she's only half joking.

Not to ignite a controversy but...

Kirk??? Srsly???
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #11 on: August 29, 2011, 12:24:59 AM »

my wife likes to say that she has Captain James T. Kirk and Frodo Baggins to thank for me being a decent person, and she's only half joking.

Not to ignite a controversy but...

Kirk??? Srsly???

The context is twofold:

Firstly, the value that defined my childhood (read: mother) was selfishness. Captain Kirk embodies a certain kind of selflessness. Say what you want about the man's philandering ways, but he was a leader of men, someone who cared for his people, deeply. Captain Kirk said "if I'm not back in half an hour, break orbit and report the incident to Starfleet." My mother was all "if I'm not back in half an hour, you're damned well going to risk every single life on this ship to save me."

Secondly, my father was a big fan of the original Star Trek, so it's what I grew up with. I originally got into The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and (God have mercy on me) Voyager. I see all the ways that Picard and Sisko are better written and better acted than Kirk (I also see all the ways that Janeway was inferior in all ways to either of them subtracted from each other, but that's a different story for a different thread). However, Kirk's heroism and selflessness - his willingness to put himself between his crew and danger, and his willingness to risk everything for the right cause - have always stuck with me.
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« Reply #12 on: August 29, 2011, 08:40:35 AM »

It took me a laughably long time to figure out the structure of this story (specifically, until Dr. Death showed up the first time on the balcony; more specifically, during the scene right after when he's disappeared because an adult showed up) so I was fairly confused for a while. But I'm so glad I stuck with it because this was a beautifully written story of a kid's pain and confusion. I've known kids just like Tack, and adults who are Tack all grown up and it broke my heart to watch him try to just make the best of his situation. And I agree that Ben's narration was really well done.
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« Reply #13 on: August 29, 2011, 05:25:51 PM »

The use of the second person was a little odd and seemed somewhat arbitrary (there are very few instances in which it is not in my experience). But i'm not sure that really detracted from the story too far.

I would disagree and say that the use of the second person is actually a great choice because this is a fantasy story directed at fantasy readers about fantasy stories/readers. Just like Tackman, we also let these other worlds bleed over into our reality by opening our minds and hearts to fantastic places and characters. It saves us, it helps define us (I'm with you all the way there ElectricPaladin), it lets us get away from our problems or maybe realize our problems aren't as insurmountable as we might have supposed.

Again I have to back up ElectricPaladin in saying MORE GENE WOLF! Great story, I particularly loved Doctor Death and how even though he was the villain, he still seemed to be looking out for Tackman (but maybe that was just what Tackman wanted since it was possibly all in his head). Another great piece to the story is that you can never be quite sure if the characters from the book magically appear in our world or if they're just imagined.
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Sgarre1
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« Reply #14 on: August 29, 2011, 06:43:52 PM »

Perhaps they will purchase the two other Island/Doctor/Death stories by Wolfe...
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childoftyranny
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« Reply #15 on: August 29, 2011, 10:07:19 PM »

ote]
(but maybe that was just what Tackman wanted since it was possibly all in his head)

Forgive me for slight contrarian ways but a theory I've been mulling over about this suggests that since everything we experience through our senses must be filtered through our mind, everything could be a hallucination of sorts. Thinking thusly I wonder what it would matter if it was all in his head or not, we all must live our lives somewhat in our heads. Obviously this isn't a terribly important point simply a minor conceit of mind, since if it was true...it bears little effect on our lives since knowing it doesn't mean we could have any effect on it. Anyway, I just wonder if that matters all that much, we can learn so much from literary friends, perhaps even as much as some of our literal friends, or enemies for that matter.

Oh, I like the idea of literary vs literal for friends...
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« Reply #16 on: August 29, 2011, 10:11:31 PM »

However, Kirk's heroism and selflessness - his willingness to put himself between his crew and danger, and his willingness to risk everything for the right cause - have always stuck with me.

OK. I'll buy that.
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« Reply #17 on: August 30, 2011, 02:13:27 PM »


I would disagree and say that the use of the second person is actually a great choice because this is a fantasy story directed at fantasy readers about fantasy stories/readers.

But the situation is someone telling you a story, in audio that's even more applicable than reading it off a page, if someone keeps saying "you did this, you felt that" doesn't one find oneself thinking "no I didn't, that's not me etc?" Whereas if it is "he did this, he felt" one doesn't get that. Similarly if it is "I did this, I felt that" one believes it's the narrator who has had that experience.
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Wilson Fowlie
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« Reply #18 on: August 30, 2011, 03:52:49 PM »

I would disagree and say that the use of the second person is actually a great choice because this is a fantasy story directed at fantasy readers about fantasy stories/readers.

But the situation is someone telling you a story, in audio that's even more applicable than reading it off a page, if someone keeps saying "you did this, you felt that" doesn't one find oneself thinking "no I didn't, that's not me etc?" Whereas if it is "he did this, he felt" one doesn't get that. Similarly if it is "I did this, I felt that" one believes it's the narrator who has had that experience.

The thing that saved this story from that (for me, at any rate) was the line "If you are a boy not wanted in the house...".  That made the whole rest of the story into shorthand for something like it at the beginning of every sentence: "If you're a boy whose mother's boyfriend has taken you into town..." etc.

I'm not such a boy, but with that line, the author was inviting me to imagine being one for a time (rather than forcing me to do so by simply using second-person POV from the get-go).
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« Reply #19 on: August 30, 2011, 07:31:07 PM »

I'd heard about Gene Wolfe for years and one or two of the titles Dave mentioned rang a few vague and distant bells (with Mr. Gaiman's high praise, I shall now look for these).

So I was actually surprised by how "postmodern" (what ever that really means) this story really was. I kept waiting for something truly horrible to happen to Tackman, and I was glad that it was only moderately horrible. I also liked the fact that the analogies between the pulp Tacky is reading are not an exact match to his reality.

I think Jim Kirk is a fine role model... so long as he comes with a warning label "Sexually Compulsive, Regressive, and Criminally Unable to Commit". It was 1960s TV. Whaddya gonna do?  Wink
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