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Author Topic: PC173: Who in Mortal Chains  (Read 7836 times)
Talia
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« on: September 06, 2011, 12:22:56 PM »

Podcastle 173: Who in Mortal Chains

by Claire Humphrey

Read by Julia Rios (of the Outer Alliance Podcast)

I almost had friends in 1965.

Ryder was a brewer in those days, when brewing was a thing no one much cared to do. He was well loved among a circle of twenty or so, every one with a lost art. Mylene was a weaver; Tom worked leather; Eskil kept bees. Up on the mountain, Andy ran a print shop, with a hundred fonts of lead type, sorted by letter into a hundred wooden trays. Clifton made images with light: albumen prints, salt prints, silver negatives on glass.

I suppose I could have taught someone the art of the bayonet, or the language of signal-flags, but I was mostly just hanging around getting drunk with them. It was almost like hanging around people my own age, except that everyone my age is an asshole.

I did teach Ryder how to bake bannock over coals. We ate his first attempt with some of Eskil’s honey, and mugs of beer pulled from the cask. Clifton took a daguerreotype of all of us seated on blankets under the arbutus tree behind Ryder’s house.

He made copies for everyone, but I wrecked mine, of course.

The only thing I’ve managed to keep from that time is a rough forging from the shop of Jason the blacksmith. Steel, and therefore tempered against my temper. Jason would have made it a blade, but I told him I’d only end up cutting someone.

The rough forging sits now on the windowsill in my kitchen, half a continent away and four decades later. The window itself has been replaced by an ill-fitting piece of Plexiglas held in place with duct tape. The things I break, I cannot always fix.

Rated R for violence.
« Last Edit: September 27, 2011, 11:24:02 AM by Talia » Logged
danooli
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« Reply #1 on: September 07, 2011, 05:52:22 AM »

This was great!  I love that we have NO idea who Gus really is/was or why she is immortal.  I love that she is a woman who kicks ass.  (Even if she does seem to have berserker tendencies.) 

Great reading, great story.
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Scattercat
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« Reply #2 on: September 07, 2011, 08:11:40 AM »

Kick ass.
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #3 on: September 07, 2011, 08:30:49 AM »

Yeah. I... uh... didn't like this one much.

It seemed kind of plotless. I'm all for stories that leave lots of questions or focus more on feelings than EVENTS (tm), but I also like my stories to be a little significant. This one just seemed like yet another sad episode in the endless progression of sad episodes that are Gus's life. Gus herself has so little agency as to be almost irrelevant to the story. She makes no choices - her nature rules her completely. She could have been replaced by a sad hurricane.

And on a related note, I guess I have too much awareness of the victim/perpetrator/witness cycle to really view this story as much of a "f^ck-yeah" moment. Not only does Gus make no choices, I doubt she really achieved anything in this situation. Husband man isn't an avatar of evil, he's just a dude with a problem. Beating him up probably just made it worse.

That's where the real irrelevancy lies. Abusers aren't evil, they're just stuck acting out a part in a play that previous experiences with violence have carved into their brains. They need help to break out of it, because they would have stopped already if they could; especially abusers who clearly also love their victims as much as this guy does. Gus isn't good or evil, she's a force of nature who's incapable of making choices when it comes to handing out beatings. In a significant way, this story lacked characters.
« Last Edit: September 07, 2011, 10:16:02 AM by ElectricPaladin » Logged

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Scattercat
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« Reply #4 on: September 07, 2011, 09:13:59 AM »

I think you're taking Gus' claim to lack agency too seriously.  She seems to me to be using as a self-defeating shield, claiming to herself that things couldn't have gone any differently, that it isn't her fault her life is fucked up, that she was the 'wrong person' to gain immortality.

The key, to me, was the fight with the two jerks at the bar.  She prefaces it by saying that it wasn't her fault, but theirs for offering violence.  Then we see the scene... and it was totally her fault.  She could have avoided it.  She had enough self-control to set the keg down; that's enough self-control to walk out of the immediate area, too.  She didn't.  She chose to stay until a fight started and her berserk kicked in.  Sure, she's got a bit of the werewolf curse thing going, but if you're a werewolf and you purposely stay out late during the full moon, well...

That's why I loved this one.  Gus is so screwed up that she doesn't realize, fully, what she's done to herself, what she's doing to herself.  She might never figure it out; she still thinks it was that place that was special, unique, magical, as shown by her unwillingness to go back and risk it failing her idealizations.  She could have that again, but she won't let herself do it.  That makes it really poignant for me.
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raetsel
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« Reply #5 on: September 07, 2011, 11:45:23 AM »

I thought this was an interesting story especially for all the bits it left out about Gus.

I started to think of her not as a person but a personification of violence, maybe human once but now taken over by Violence (capital V) so less and less of her soul remains. I see this Violence as a force of nature that is neither good nor evil per se.

I found it a bit odd that alcohol kept her from being more violent as there are strong associations between alcohol and violence. Check a few city streets at pub closing time. This also often plays a part in domestic violence which is one of the themes of the story. That said there are happy drunks and melancholy drunks too I suppose.

Aside from these themes I loved the description of the community, sounds like a cool place to be, even though there is a worm at the core of this particular apple.
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Wilson Fowlie
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« Reply #6 on: September 07, 2011, 03:38:02 PM »

The question of Gus's agency really is central to this story. If she is as powerless (to alter her behaviour) as she claims, she's an damned unpleasant person to have to be.

Unlike Scattercat, I'm not willing to utterly discount that she is that powerless, though I accept that she might not be. We know nothing about her, after all. We have no idea how strong the compulsion to hurt is in her, nor its exact nature.

Obviously, she has some self control: besides the beer keg, she was able to keep from reflexively hurting the baby she was holding. But the nature of her compulsion may be that she cannot keep from being violent in the presence of ... not sure how to put it. Injustice? Oppression (the strong injuring the weak)? Simple asshole-ness?

In that scenario, neither the baby nor the keg did anything wrong to anyone, so she was able to keep from hurting them. Gary? The rednecks? Not so much.

Her curse/power is ancient, presumably given to her (who would take that on oneself?) in a time when ideas of 'justice' were much less nuanced than they can be today*.

Maybe Scattercat is right that she has as much agency as she wants, but doesn't (or can't?) see it. Maybe. To me, it's not that clear.



*But sadly, often aren't. 'Justice' is too often code for 'revenge'.
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« Reply #7 on: September 07, 2011, 09:14:52 PM »

I would also cite her behavior toward Tom and Mylene.  Even knowing that Tom beats Mylene, she's not forced to attack him on sight.  When Mylene asks her, she goes very calmly to his house, and even says something to the effect that it was good when he struggled and fought back because she wasn't sure she'd be able to "do it cold."  And even then she is able to hold herself back enough not to kill him.  Yes, she seems to have trouble stopping once she starts, but every time we see her go berserk in the story, she does it because she has specifically chosen to do so.  There are a lot of notes I see that strongly indicate she is not as much a victim of fate as she likes to pretend.  And each time she tells the lie to herself, she reinforces it, because that's one more terrible thing she's going to have to claim if she ever admits her responsibility; the same vicious cycle is at work in people struggling with addiction, with much the same love/hate relationship.
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« Reply #8 on: September 08, 2011, 12:22:44 AM »

This story was ok, but Gus was so detached from everyone else that I had a hard time really feeling anything for her. I think that the disconnection for me was the whole "controlled berserk" thing. Maybe I'm wrong, but you can't be a berserker and control yourself. The whole point of a berserker is to lose 'civilized human control' and go with the primal/animal 'rip shit to pieces with your hands and teeth'. I feel that Gus was more some sort of destructive force. She could easily destroy and kill the people around her, but managed to hold off. The fact that she was so old and ancient made that a little easier to accept. Wisdom would have taught her that "normal people" will band together to hunt down and kill something that commits too much wanton destruction and murder.

On a side note, I've known plenty of people that 'self medicate' with alcohol or pot to keep themselves easy going. When they are sober, they are way too intense and confrontational. When I was in college I had this one fraternity brother that was wound tight as a clock spring and you had to watch what you said around him when he was sober because he would take offense to the slightest comment. Give him a few beers and suddenly he'd relax and be a very chill dude. Then again, I've also seen too many cases of beer muscles....

In the end, the story was ok, I liked the narration a lot, but i don't think that I will listen to it again anytime soon.
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l33tminion
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« Reply #9 on: September 08, 2011, 02:25:33 PM »

I really liked this story, had to wipe away tears at the end.  People fighting against their (apparently) unchanging nature is a deep source of existential tragedy, tricky to do because where's the character development if the characters are unable to change.  This piece worked for me, though.  Really captured that sense of nostalgia.  Managed to end on that perfectly bittersweet note.  Despite all evidence to the contrary, perhaps the bad things can change, the good things remain the same.  That hope may be enough.
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Mav.Weirdo
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« Reply #10 on: September 08, 2011, 02:57:43 PM »

I liked the story. Not all stories require a character arc.

It is interesting that we don't know how she is immortal. She could be a vampire, a fae, or a Highlander type immortal. We can infer she is not unique because she says "everyone my age is an asshole". By the end of the story it is clear that she includes herself in that category. This story is not about how she became immortal, it is about how she deals with being immortal. It is all about the opening an closing sentences, the rest is just context.

As far as choice goes, I feel she has all the choice of any addicted person when faced with both outward and inward pressure to give in to their addiction.
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grokman
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« Reply #11 on: September 08, 2011, 08:17:55 PM »

Very intriguing story, reminded me of the movie The Man From Earth. I liked that Gus was a bad-ass woman, and that she had to go feral to calm down. And I especially liked that we don't know very much about her - how old she is, WHAT she is, why she is the way she is. Not everything needs to be explained. I like stories that give me an excuse to come back to them later.
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« Reply #12 on: September 09, 2011, 08:48:22 AM »

"Everyone my age is an asshole." She's the only one?

Pretty much all I have to say about this story is YES. And thank you, and may I have another?

Ok actually I also want to say that I loved the way it showed so clearly the difficult choices Mylene had to make. How she still loved him and didn't want their son to grow up without a father, and yet...

I wondered if she'd go back to him. It wasn't a ""f^ck-yeah" moment" except that it kind of was, for me, because sometimes just saying how things are, how they really feel, is powerful. More powerful than changing them would be, because that clarity of sight gives us the foundation we need before we can get to the changes that are so desperately needed.
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LaShawn
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« Reply #13 on: September 09, 2011, 11:38:38 AM »

I'm going to go against the grain and say I'm finding it very, very hard to listen to this one. I can't pinpoint why. Maybe it's because I'm going through this rage-against-all-hipsters phase. Wow, all her so-called friends has such *eclectic* skills! They brew their own mead and honey! Look at them being so artsy! One of them even has a forge--Oooo! I know that this is the 60s, so actually they'll qualify for hippies, not hipsters, but still...

Or maybe I because I found most of the characters unlikeable. Tom was a jerk and Mylene...sigh...I'm sorry. She came across to me as a weak airhead. Normally, I wouldn't get so down on characters like this because I can empathize, but with Mylene, I just couldn't empathize with her at all. She was just so...weak. And Gus just sort floated through it all, with the occasionally kick-someone-ass and I-must-go-rage-NOW hikes, but that's it. She doesn't allow herself to get close to any of the characters, and after she delievers her justice to Tom (which feels hollow, which I know that was probably the intent), she takes off without seeing the consequences of her actions. Nor do we, for that matter. It's all so bleak and angsty.

Sigh. Or maybe I just picked the wrong day to listen to this. Maybe I need to listen to this on a rainy, gloomy day, not when the sun is shining and my mood is yearning for something fun.
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #14 on: September 09, 2011, 06:17:10 PM »

I liked the sketchiness of this story. Not as in the nature of the characters, but the nature of the narrative. I'm guess Gus is some sort of Fey, and not human (she mentions the Folk), but that's not 100% clear. And she seems nearly a force of nature, violence personified. She is what she does.

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Fenrix
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« Reply #15 on: September 09, 2011, 06:42:29 PM »

I appreciate the variety of stories run at EA, as there's something for everyone. This was for people other than me, as it felt to me that this was a slice of life story where nothing really happened, and that no one really changed or grew. Good thing I have a big backlog to work through. I can always look forward to the next one. Smiley
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« Reply #16 on: September 14, 2011, 05:03:11 PM »

I'm going to go against the grain and say I'm finding it very, very hard to listen to this one. I can't pinpoint why. Maybe it's because I'm going through this rage-against-all-hipsters phase. Wow, all her so-called friends has such *eclectic* skills! They brew their own mead and honey! Look at them being so artsy! One of them even has a forge--Oooo! I know that this is the 60s, so actually they'll qualify for hippies, not hipsters, but still...

I'm going to agree with you here. You want to know what this stuck-up mentality does to people, read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. The entertainingly told real life story of parents too stubborn to keep steady jobs or provide their children with food and shelter, because of their "art" and their hippy "ideals". Now there's a story.

As for this story, it was mostly a filler episode. But filler episodes are for television shows with recurring characters, which makes me wonder why the author even bothered to write it. It's a "slice of life" but the lives are so mysterious as to be empty and meaningless. I listen to a story like this, and I say "so what?" Mean girl rolls into town, wrecks abusive husband, disappears. So what?
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Gamercow
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« Reply #17 on: September 14, 2011, 06:55:29 PM »

This piece should have been named "Don't make me hurt you, baby", for what both Tom and Gus do. 
I'm with LaShawn on this one.  Though I did like the homebrewer.  Not sure what the homebrewing laws were in Canada in 1965, but in the US at that time, it would have been illegal for him to sell his beer.

DKT, what did you take a drink of during the intro?  And more importantly, what style of beer would be a good Podcastle beer?  Podcastle Porter, full of both dark swirling depths, and foamy white clouds?  Podcastle Pale Ale, good for sitting down with friends in the pub?  I may need to do something about this. 
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Talia
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« Reply #18 on: September 14, 2011, 10:19:31 PM »

So what?

Seems to matter to the protagonist who was forced to leave her friends behind because of her nature. I found that sad.
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NomadicScribe
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« Reply #19 on: September 15, 2011, 06:14:55 AM »

Seems to matter to the protagonist who was forced to leave her friends behind because of her nature. I found that sad.

Only, this is the protagonist whose nature was well known to herself by this point, and who should have known better than to form attachments if this is her condition for living. I find it hard to have sympathy for such a character. The type of character who does not learn.
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