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Author Topic: EP315: Clockwork Fagin  (Read 4049 times)
eytanz
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« on: October 20, 2011, 05:03:36 PM »

EP315: Clockwork Fagin

By Cory Doctorow

Read by Grant Baciocco

First appeared in Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories

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Monty Goldfarb walked into St Agatha’s like he owned the place, a superior look on the half of his face that was still intact, a spring in his step despite his steel left leg. And it wasn’t long before he *did* own the place, taken it over by simple murder and cunning artifice. It wasn’t long before he was my best friend and my master, too, and the master of all St Agatha’s, and didn’t he preside over a *golden* era in the history of that miserable place?

I’ve lived in St Agatha’s for six years, since I was 11 years old, when a reciprocating gear in the Muddy York Hall of Computing took off my right arm at the elbow. My Da had sent me off to Muddy York when Ma died of the consumption. He’d sold me into service of the Computers and I’d thrived in the big city, hadn’t cried, not even once, not even when Master Saunders beat me for playing kick-the-can with the other boys when I was meant to be polishing the brass. I didn’t cry when I lost my arm, nor when the barber-surgeon clamped me off and burned my stump with his medicinal tar.

I’ve seen every kind of boy and girl come to St Aggie’s — swaggering, scared, tough, meek. The burned ones are often the hardest to read, inscrutable beneath their scars. Old Grinder don’t care, though, not one bit. Angry or scared, burned and hobbling or swaggering and full of beans, the first thing he does when new meat turns up on his doorstep is tenderize it a little. That means a good long session with the belt — and Grinder doesn’t care where the strap lands, whole skin or fresh scars, it’s all the same to him — and then a night or two down the hole, where there’s no light and no warmth and nothing for company except for the big hairy Muddy York rats who’ll come and nibble at whatever’s left of you if you manage to fall asleep. It’s the blood, see, it draws them out.


This one is a long one! This is considered appropriate for kids 12 and up – it’s a YA story with one murder.

Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
« Last Edit: October 21, 2011, 06:13:53 AM by eytanz » Logged
Kittiwake
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« Reply #1 on: October 21, 2011, 01:45:28 PM »

Loved it, loved it, loved it!  All of it!

My expectations of a tragic ending were not met, and I was very happy about that! But it took me a while to realise that the protagonist was worried about being hanged at the local prison, as the narrator didn't realise that gaol is an alternate spelling of jail and kept pronouncing it 'gowl'.
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #2 on: October 21, 2011, 01:55:44 PM »

I normally find Cory Doctorow stories very disappointing. They're usually conceptually great and narratively lame.

This one blew me out of the water.

I thought that his characterization was uncharacteristically brilliant. The narrator's journey from depression to confidence, from lostness to a sense of mission and passion, was exquisite. In addition to the character development, the world building was also solid. Doctorow created a sense of a world of steam and brass, cruel and majestic. He also did an excellent job of playing with tone, from bleak beginning to the fun and excitement of St. Aggie's in her heyday to the tense climax and optimistic denouement. I was on the edge of my seat at the end (and I was driving, so not fun). I needed to know how it turned out, how those poor kiddies at St. Aggie's would get out of their jam. The excellent reading really drove it home, bringing the Dickensian language to life.

If this is part of a new trend in Doctorow's writing, I'm going to have to seriously rethink my opinion of him.
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #3 on: October 22, 2011, 01:05:37 PM »

I think this is also a case of my reading too much of the sub-genre recently. There was nothing really wrong with the story, and I don't mind that it doesn't have a dark ending. I  think I've just had too much steampunk recently.


the narrator didn't realise that gaol is an alternate spelling of jail and kept pronouncing it 'gowl'.

This was my biggest problem with this. I wasn't impressed by the faux English accent. I was a little mollified when I realized it wasn't taking place in England but in our New York, but - really. You should know that "gaol" is "jail". Including in pronunciation.

(all caught up with Escape Pod! on to Podcastle!)
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washer
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« Reply #4 on: October 22, 2011, 02:22:47 PM »

I didn't know that gaol is pronounced jail til today.  It's one of those words like eponymous or callipygean - you can see it written a hundred times and you never heard it spoken aloud.  Well, you do with gaol I guess, since technically it's exactly the same as jail... but you catch my drift.

Anyhow.  I loved the story, I LOVED the reading!  Grant made this one for me with his enthusiasm and the accent.  Loved every second.  I think even without him though, heckuva story.  I felt like I was running downhill the whole story trying to catch up to myself, so eager was I to finish.  Yep.  Bad sentence there.  Anyhow... yeah!  Doctorow wrote a great story with just enough details sketched out that you could imagine the world without being bogged down with exposition, and Grant did a great reading.  All 'round greatness.
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« Reply #5 on: October 22, 2011, 08:15:30 PM »

This story marked a few firsts for me: my first stew punk, my first Cory Doctorow, and my first post on these forums. Hi.

I liked most of it.  I thought it was a quaint, charming tale. The tension between the narrator and Monty was setup well, I wasn't put off by the murder at all. There was a feeling for the first 2/3 that Monty was truly dangerous and could have ended up worse than Grinder  I thought the excitement fizzled out a bit when it became clear that Monty was squarely on the side of the kids.  All the danger became external, and the St. Aggie's crew was already painted as infinitely resourceful. I felt no worry at all, so things seemed flat when I'd hoped for a more dramatic climax.

Was there a plot hole?  I'd think that since Grinder bought so much and caroused with the orphans' begging money that he'd have a few scoundrel friends to wonder where he went.  Maybe I give too much credit to his social circle.

The narrator seemed plucky. I don't know if that's the feel Doctorow intended, since I could see how an orphan revolution story could have more gravity and less lighthearted charm.  Also, Sault St Marie is pronounced like "Sue Saint Marie."

Maybe this is a general steampunk issue, but are Victorian era phrases common to the sub-genre?  Sorry, I couldn't help thinking of Conan O'Brian playing olde tyme baseball--or that SNL skit of him being a pugilitory fisticuffsman.  So, the language was a little distractin for me.
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« Reply #6 on: October 23, 2011, 01:25:32 AM »

Great story and I thought the narration was great.   I was a little worried when I saw the length of the pod cast but it flew right by.   The only nit pick I had was that Sault Ste Marie is pronounced "soo seynt muh-ree", at least the Michigan location I am familiar with is. 
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« Reply #7 on: October 23, 2011, 06:04:12 PM »

Loved it, loved it, loved it!  All of it!

My expectations of a tragic ending were not met, and I was very happy about that! But it took me a while to realise that the protagonist was worried about being hanged at the local prison, as the narrator didn't realise that gaol is an alternate spelling of jail and kept pronouncing it 'gowl'.

Since I was walking I took it to be "Gallow" which worked with the references to "dancing at the end of ropes" etc. (i.e. passing cars covered it well)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gallows

Good story... and the universe set up was such that the suspension of disbelief was even throughout. I also liked the fact that there wasn't the feeling of the "poor helpless little orphans" which I was kinda bracing for nor the "Helpless cripples" which I was also bracing for. There were a few passing mentions about how it was a bit annoying, but the children used it to their advantage, which also made me happy.

Overall good story.
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« Reply #8 on: October 24, 2011, 04:08:15 PM »

An all-around enjoyable story, if a bit long-winded and heavy-handed on the usual Doctorow points of "make cool stuff" and "kids are pretty fricking smart". It could've been shorter if he'd laid off some of that.

The narration was good. A bit fast in places.
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« Reply #9 on: October 25, 2011, 11:53:11 AM »

What a brilliant story. I loved it from start to finish. The world building was excellent and the journey we go on with the characters was enthralling.

The narration was excellent especially the youth that was inflected into the voices. According to IMDB Grant the narrator is 37 so I'm quite impressed by this. This accent I liked too once I realised it the story wasn't set in England. To me it sounded like what American English might have sounded like when it wasn't that long separated from British English.

Two minor drawbacks for me. Firstly I was surprised the story did not detail the scene of the clockwork Grinder up on the scaffold taking his death dive it just cuts from Sean saying his line straight to the mourning afterwards.

Secondly I couldn't quite picture how the 64 bits system with rods etc would actually work as a remote computing engine with the centralised "counting frames"

Of course we really had two stories here as the closing song was a tale all in itself and I really loved it. I didn't know if you could have Steampunk as music before this but according to Wikipedia there are quite few bands http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Steampunk_music. Though Clockwork Quartet aren't listed in there so maybe they don't think they are steampunk but to me it was a perfect encapsulation of the world the story represented. I heartily recommend checking out their Creative Commons music at their website. http://clockworkquartet.com/music.php
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« Reply #10 on: October 25, 2011, 12:51:15 PM »

Just loved it!  I've had a really busy fall and haven't been able to comment very much, but I really wanted to make a point of stopping by because I think EP has been hitting them out of the park lately--I loved Night Bird Soaring and Movement as well.

This one was so much fun!  Funny, clever, heart warming without being saccharine, and with great characters to boot.  I thought it odd that the narrator was using a British accent when the story was about Canadians (and I did notice the mispronunciation of Soult St. Marie) but I thought the characterizations were so good that I very soon stopped worrying about it and enjoyed the ride.
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Lena
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« Reply #11 on: October 25, 2011, 11:58:00 PM »

Man, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. I was a little worried, at first, because of the title I thought it was going to be a steampunk re-imagining of Oliver Twist. Don't get me wrong: I find steampunk beautiful and fascinating, but I wasn't wanting to hear someone else's better idea retold. I have very little negative to say about this EP, and this one will be one of the rare ones podcasts that make a permanent home on my iPod. I felt some of the steampunkishness was a bit heavy handed (more so at the beginning ("yeah, I get it, it's steampunk; there's no need to use the word 'brass' again.")), but it calmed down a bit after the story got it's rhythm. Totally loved this one! Thanks heaps, EP people!

Oh, for the record, I must have thought the narrator said "gallows," too, because I didn't catch the gaol mispronunciation (on either that or the Sue/Sault thing). I thought he did a great job with the accent, especially considering the setting.
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« Reply #12 on: October 26, 2011, 08:54:48 AM »

I really enjoyed this one as well! The world building was really well done, giving you just enough of the world and letting the listener's imagination fill in the rest.  The kids were a bit larger-than-life in an "Oliver/Newsies" sort of way, but that definitely fits the setting. I was particularly touched by the scene where they all spontaneously mourn the loss of the timid newcomer.

For what it's worth, I simultaneously thought the narrator was saying "gallows" AND was under the impression that gaol is pronounced "gay-ole." So there's that. Tongue
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« Reply #13 on: October 27, 2011, 08:38:28 AM »

Firstly, I absolutely loved the story, it was the ever-increasingly rare example of Steampunk that didn't throw its steampunkiness at your face like a bucket of water.  Sure, it was there, but it was functional, a real working machinery rather than just putting goddamned brass on everything. My only hangup was that there was not much conflict once Grinder was dead, it seemed more like engineering problems than conflict.  Mind you, I do like a good engineering problem. 

Some comments about questions in the comments here:  The story was based in Toronto.  I got this from the use of King Station/street, and more importantly references to travel to and from Montreal and Sault St. Marie.  I'm not sure why Toronto was part of "Upper Canada" in the Canadian war, but that's what I gathered.  Secondly, the MC could have had an accent, it sounded like he was first(?) generation Irish-Canadian. 
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jenfullmoon
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« Reply #14 on: October 27, 2011, 04:00:55 PM »

I normally find Cory Doctorow stories very disappointing. They're usually conceptually great and narratively lame.

This one blew me out of the water.

If this is part of a new trend in Doctorow's writing, I'm going to have to seriously rethink my opinion of him.

Ditto. I was really impressed with this one and "Shannon's Law" from the new Bordertown book too.
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Wilson Fowlie
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« Reply #15 on: October 27, 2011, 04:37:22 PM »

I was a little mollified when I realized it wasn't taking place in England but in our New York

Actually, as Gamercow pointed out, it took place in an alternate Toronto, Canada, presumably in a universe in which it wasn't renamed (from 'York' to 'Toronto') in 1834. In the universe of this story, the city seems to have the rather odd official name of "Muddy York" (which was one of the nicknames of the real city in the days before asphalt streets).

(I suppose it's also possible that the story took place before 1834, but I don't think so. It's not just that the whole thing felt like later Victorian times, but also the fact that while Babbage did initially propose his Difference Engine in 1822, even if he had finished it, it's extremely improbable that it would have been done and copies of it built across the ocean in Toronto within a dozen years.)

As to the accent; Canada was still mostly influenced by Britain in the 19th century - it didn't become its own nation until 1867 and even after that still recognized the UK monarch as its sovereign. There were no mass media to disseminate the US accent to us to the degree that happened once radio came in, and most of our immigration was from the UK (mainly England and Scotland, as the Irish mostly - though not entirely, as the main character in this story attests - went to Newfoundland, which wasn't part of Canada yet), so accents would, I suspect, have been more similar to English ones than to US ones.

Whether they would have been of the rough street variety that I kept wishing to hear while I was listening to it, is hard to say.



ETA: Credit where credit is due, and a grammar correction
« Last Edit: October 28, 2011, 09:05:11 AM by Wilson Fowlie » Logged

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« Reply #16 on: October 28, 2011, 12:04:06 AM »

I loved this story! To me it was a wonderful "steampunk" Oliver Twist. I love stories where the heroes overcome seemingly hopeless social expectations. This is one of my favorite Escape Pod stories ever.
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« Reply #17 on: October 28, 2011, 08:51:48 AM »

I enjoyed this quite a lot.  Doctorow tends to be very hit-and-miss with me, but I tend to like his stories if he doesn't get too heavy into a message (it seems like most of his stories are just advertisements for information-sharing and that sort of thing which gets pretty predictable).

For me most of the tension was felt in the beginning up until the point where they presented the first clockwork Grinder.  That Monty kid is a bit of a psycho but, well, that's what they needed at that time, and I can't say I felt any remorse for the old SOB when he died.  After that it seemed rather slow, but interesting in an engineering problem kind of way.  I had no doubt they'd work their way out of the whole situation, unlike the beginning where the tension was very clear.


I was a little mollified when I realized it wasn't taking place in England but in our New York, but - really. You should know that "gaol" is "jail". Including in pronunciation.

That's an incredibly hard pronunciation to pick up.  I've seen it written before, but typically I just mark it in my mind as "word I don't know" and try to pick up what I can from context.  Last year my wife was reading a translated book about a criminal trial and she asked me what the hell "gaol" meant and I didn't know.  If I've seen it written, then I just assume it's some dialect word I'm unaware of.  If I hear it said, then I just think "jail".  And my wife thought the same.  Only if there's an association created between the two that the link is fully formed.  For me, that didn't happen until the Podcastle episode "The Fairy Gaol" some time recently-ish, in which the narrator pronounced it like "jail" and it was clear from the context that it meant the same thing too.

Along similar lines, I did not know until this prior year that the British pronunciation of the letter "Z" is "Zed" rather than "Zee".  I think I'd heard jokes about this, and heard some British folk say "From A to Zed", but I'd thought it was a joke.  I always think of Men in Black, for which the leader of the MiB is named Zed.  Now that I realize that it's a letter name, it makes much more sense.  Everyone else is called only by a single letter--I thought Zed had broken the pattern, but he hadn't.  I only realized that "Zed" was a letter when someone explicitly told me so.


  Sorry, I couldn't help thinking of Conan O'Brian playing olde tyme baseball--or that SNL skit of him being a pugilitory fisticuffsman.  So, the language was a little distractin for me.

Thank you!  I rather enjoyed the accent, but it made me want to laugh and I couldn't figure out why.  I think it was because of Conan, and that fisticuffsman role is the association I think I was having, now that you point it out.
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« Reply #18 on: October 28, 2011, 09:12:36 AM »

I was a little mollified when I realized it wasn't taking place in England but in our New York, but - really. You should know that "gaol" is "jail". Including in pronunciation.
That's an incredibly hard pronunciation to pick up.  I've seen it written before, but typically I just mark it in my mind as "word I don't know" and try to pick up what I can from context.

That's fine as an individual reader. But I think a narrator needs to go beyond that and take a moment to look up the pronunciation of words and names they have never heard. (I know, because I was taught the same lesson.) If we didn't have a near-infinite information resource at our disposal, that'd be one thing, but we do.
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« Reply #19 on: October 28, 2011, 09:18:32 AM »

I was a little mollified when I realized it wasn't taking place in England but in our New York, but - really. You should know that "gaol" is "jail". Including in pronunciation.
That's an incredibly hard pronunciation to pick up.  I've seen it written before, but typically I just mark it in my mind as "word I don't know" and try to pick up what I can from context.

That's fine as an individual reader. But I think a narrator needs to go beyond that and take a moment to look up the pronunciation of words and names they have never heard. (I know, because I was taught the same lesson.) If we didn't have a near-infinite information resource at our disposal, that'd be one thing, but we do.

I'm not arguing with you there, just pointing out that it's pretty common to not know how to pronounce that word.   Smiley
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