Author Topic: PC180: We Were Wonder Scouts  (Read 12120 times)

Ocicat

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on: October 25, 2011, 09:12:59 AM
PodCastle 180: We Were Wonder Scouts

by Will Ludwigsen.

Read by Christopher Reynaga.

Originally published in Asimov’s Science Fiction.

My parents, Father especially, had little interest in the imagination. “Why would you read things that someone else made up?” he always wanted to know. We had no books of fiction in the house or a radio, and I didn’t have many toys.

What I had was Thuria, and it was better. In the shadowy crawlspace beneath my house where only I could fit, I built a kingdom out of discarded sardine tins, thread spools, and cereal boxes. A wide boulevard wound between four hills to a colander capitol dome. There, King Wemnon and his twenty wise councilors benevolently discussed and executed their national affairs. Sometimes they called the men to arms to repel giant invading animals, usually the neighbor’s cats. Often, they built elaborate fortifications along the frontier to defend against the evil Count Pappen and his massing armies. At least once, they sent lone heroes across the dusty wasteland to rescue poor Princess Annabella from the Tower of Eternal Woe.

A strange sensation of stretched time would overtake me when I visited Thuria, started by a sort of whispering trance, and I could perform whole epochs of its development in just a few stolen moments before dinner. Have you ever felt that way? It’s a feeling of total absorption, the kind that seems to hum and fizz against the edges of your brain.


Rated PG.



Scattercat

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Reply #1 on: October 26, 2011, 12:19:33 PM
How come Fortean stories always seem to end, "And then nothing much actually happened, but wouldn't it have been cool if it did?"

It wasn't exactly a bad story, but as soon as it name-dropped Fort, I had a feeling it was going to be one of those trailing-off-suggestively plotlines.  In that sense, I suppose, I wasn't disappointed.  Perhaps I was just crabby because dowsing rods and EMF equipment were mentioned in a positive light (and with the suggestion that they were still using such tools after eighty years, which should be more than enough time for a dutifully "skeptical" Wonder Scout to notice that they don't work.)



ElectricPaladin

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Reply #2 on: October 26, 2011, 04:12:27 PM
Everything 'Cat said occurred to me, too, but I'll be damned if I didn't love the story anyway. You see, that was me. My mother was a rabidly anti-fantastic crazy person. I had my Thurias - Monolthia, the Ten Kingdoms, the Great Desert and the Lion Tribes - and their stories, in addition to the stories I read, are what kept me alive and sane through long, lonely days at school and long evenings of my mother's abusive bullying. Now that I'm a writer (and a teacher), I can continue to play on a whole other level. Anyway, I can't help but be sucked in by a story that starts where I started, especially when it's generally as well-written as this one, whatever inconsistencies it might contain.

That said, I agree that the story might have been better without the name-dropping. It would have given the story a little more flexibility when it came to the practices of the Wonder Scouts. I didn't mind the trailing-off at the end, because this was much more and atmosphere-and-character piece than a plot piece. No criticism here - it worked for me and the mood I was in, and I can see how it might not work for other folks in other moods.

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raetsel

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Reply #3 on: October 26, 2011, 08:07:16 PM
I really enjoyed this story. It started off as a real slow burn and I was starting to get a little frustrated with old man's rambling anecdote ( though maybe that was intentional ) but this all helped build feeling for the character and when the hammer came down and the "weirdo o' the woods" turned up it really got me. The timing was perfect as my commute ended just as the tarp' was drawn back on the igloo of sticks. I couldn't wait until lunch to be able to listen to the rest and find out what was inside.

I liked the ambiguity of interpretation of what was going on at then and all in all it was a deliciously dark tale. October has been pretty cool here at PC

  Perhaps I was just crabby because dowsing rods and EMF equipment were mentioned in a positive light (and with the suggestion that they were still using such tools after eighty years, which should be more than enough time for a dutifully "skeptical" Wonder Scout to notice that they don't work.)

I bridled a bit initially at this too but then I remembered I was listening to Pod Castle not Escape Pod and so that made it much more palatable.



Scattercat

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Reply #4 on: October 27, 2011, 07:25:50 AM
I bridled a bit initially at this too but then I remembered I was listening to Pod Castle not Escape Pod and so that made it much more palatable.

I DEMAND SCIENTIFIC ACCURACY IN MY FANTASY FICTION!

I WILL NOT BE DENIED!



Listener

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Reply #5 on: October 27, 2011, 08:50:23 PM
I found the story enjoyable to listen to. I too wanted a little something more to happen -- and how exactly did this kid find the bodies (that is what happened, right?) when the whole area had been previously combed by many better-trained searchers than him? But beyond that, no real qualms.

My only knowledge of Charles Fort, other than a vague impression of who he was, is the references to him in "Good Omens".

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danooli

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Reply #6 on: October 27, 2011, 09:25:42 PM
It seems I'm sheltered, as I've never heard of Charles Fort until I heard this story and will be going to wikipedia....

OK, the story still seems pretty cool to me.  I bet we all grew up dreaming of other worlds, better worlds.   I liked this a lot.



Umbrageofsnow

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Reply #7 on: October 28, 2011, 09:21:52 AM
I like the storytelling tone of the story, and the story within the story, and particularly the tale that Fort told the narrator around a campfire, when the Scouts asked for a scary story. It's a bit creepy, in a traditional ghost story sort of way, but it's also really, really sad. It's about regretting your lack of courage and curiosity, and the fear that maybe you aren't special, but other people are. I can see kids not getting excited about it as a ghost story, but that makes it more special as a sad adult story.  That campfire tale gives so much sympathetic characterization to Fort, and that same longing is the whole story in microcosm.

That's the real take-home message I get: the narrator experienced something terrifying and dangerous, but he went back into the woods later in life, and he doesn't regret it. And maybe if he'd been afraid and stayed safe at home, or stayed with the group, he'd have been safer, but he'd have regretted it. Curiosity is important, as is the courage to indulge it. And we can always hope for a more fantastic answer, somewhere out there.

Also, this didn't get nearly as dark as I was expecting when creepy-guy showed up.  I listen to too much Pseudopod...
« Last Edit: October 28, 2011, 09:24:39 AM by Umbrageofsnow »



raetsel

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Reply #8 on: October 28, 2011, 06:33:09 PM

I DEMAND SCIENTIFIC ACCURACY IN MY FANTASY FICTION!

I WILL NOT BE DENIED!

Oh! Why didn't you say?  :D

In that case the jury will please disregard my last statement.



Devoted135

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Reply #9 on: October 31, 2011, 02:32:45 PM
Apparently this was a case where ignorance truly is bliss. I've never heard of Charles Fort before, so hearing his name didn't raise any expectations in my mind.

The deliberate pacing did a great job of evoking the feeling of sitting around the campfire listening to a storyteller weave his tale. I also really appreciated the wistfulness of the young narrator's longing to be a part of something special, and then the bittersweetness of remembering the one time he felt that he was truly a part of a larger, more fantastic story.



Talia

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Reply #10 on: November 02, 2011, 02:33:43 AM
As a child (oh and what the heck, to some degree as an adult as well) I lived in my imagination a lot, inventing fantasy lands to which I wanted to escape, so this story really resonated with me. I was a Girl Scout as well, so I too had the scouting experience, minus this particular troop's fantastical bent. :)

I enjoyed the main story with the creepy guy and all, but what really stuck with me was the setting, because it made me reminisce.



InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #11 on: November 02, 2011, 05:42:18 AM
I've heard Fort mentioned before on Escape Pod and now Pod Castle, and I don't feel I have enough of a hold on him to really appreciate this story. Was this like the "Five Ways Jane Austen Never Died" story, where people felt they needed to understand the central person to really "get it"?



raetsel

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Reply #12 on: November 02, 2011, 09:38:32 PM
I've heard Fort mentioned before on Escape Pod and now Pod Castle, and I don't feel I have enough of a hold on him to really appreciate this story. Was this like the "Five Ways Jane Austen Never Died" story, where people felt they needed to understand the central person to really "get it"?

Personally I don't think so. I only knew of Fort through knowledge of the existence of the magazine Fortean Times. I think the intro by Anna  gave me all I needed to know. Whether anyone who knew more of Fort got more out of the story I don't know. If they did I'd be interested to hear what they thought.



rotheche

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Reply #13 on: November 05, 2011, 01:17:03 AM
I bridled a bit initially at this too but then I remembered I was listening to Pod Castle not Escape Pod and so that made it much more palatable.

I DEMAND SCIENTIFIC ACCURACY IN MY FANTASY FICTION!

I WILL NOT BE DENIED!
I see this with that little kittycat-going-raaar avatar and it makes me want to pinch your cheeks and tell you how cute you are.

Ahem. Story.

This one did it for me, with that sense of wistfulness and what Umbrageofsnow said about curiosity and regret.



Balu

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Reply #14 on: November 06, 2011, 12:22:24 AM
How come Fortean stories always seem to end, "And then nothing much actually happened, but wouldn't it have been cool if it did?"

It wasn't exactly a bad story, but as soon as it name-dropped Fort, I had a feeling it was going to be one of those trailing-off-suggestively plotlines.  In that sense, I suppose, I wasn't disappointed . . .

You say that like it's a bad thing.

I know that trailing off isn't how the form is supposed to work according to the literary rule of the moment, but I like it anyway. Gives you an invitation to keep the story going on in your own head.

Which is kind of what the wonder scouts were being taught how to do. Could the form of this story have been shaped by the content or am I just reading things into it?

Either way, it was definitely one worth logging on to praise up. As somebody above mentioned, we wouldn't be here if we weren't all wonder scouts too.



Scattercat

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Reply #15 on: November 06, 2011, 11:51:36 AM
It's more that they tend to be prone to "It was all a dream" or else a subjective experience that might be mystical if you squint at it, and they tend to end inconclusively within the main character's plot arc as well.  I liked "Hard Rain at the Fortean Cafe," but in this case I heard "Fort" early on and went, "Oh.  Nothing's going to happen but it will change his life forever anyway," and then it did.  *shrugs*

I think it's more that I heard "Wonder Scouts" and wanted something like this



ElectricPaladin

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Reply #16 on: November 06, 2011, 03:38:56 PM
It's more that they tend to be prone to "It was all a dream" or else a subjective experience that might be mystical if you squint at it, and they tend to end inconclusively within the main character's plot arc as well.  I liked "Hard Rain at the Fortean Cafe," but in this case I heard "Fort" early on and went, "Oh.  Nothing's going to happen but it will change his life forever anyway," and then it did.  *shrugs*

I think it's more that I heard "Wonder Scouts" and wanted something like this

Except that I basically go through my days always wanting something like that, I agree with you.

You vile chicken.

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Gamercow

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Reply #17 on: November 08, 2011, 08:13:05 PM
I happened to listen to this one while I was walking down a wooded trail with my dogs, so the setting was perfect.  The story was enjoyable, and the ideas were good, but overall, I think it is a fairly forgettable story. 

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Spindaddy

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Reply #18 on: November 10, 2011, 03:50:44 AM
I liked this story. Since I'm now commuting to work via train, I've been trying to catch up on all the episodes I missed. I gotta say that once they were on the bus and Fort started to recount all the missing persons I said to myself "Oh no... theres a pedobear killer on the loose." All  missing persons were young girls... yeah, there isn't a magic kingdom portal there, only a hellmouth.

Still, I liked this story mainly because growing up I too had my magical kingdom of Thuria, though mine was named differently.

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eytanz

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Reply #19 on: November 13, 2011, 05:04:23 PM
I liked this story, but I didn't love it quite as much as I expected to when it started. I usually really love these slow burn stories, where it's never left entirely clear whether anything supernatural had occured or not. But on the other hand, a lot of little things didn't work for me - especially the boy's relationship with his parents seemed to be very two-dimensional. And I don't think that central conciet of the whole thing being a speech to the current generation worked. I never really bought into that, even though the narrator did as good a job as he could of selling it.

It was good, yes, but I couldn't help think at the end that it should have been better.



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Reply #20 on: November 29, 2011, 02:53:31 PM
I didn't have any expectations from the name of Fort.  I've heard of him before in other stories, and I've looked him up before, but somehow as soon as I take my eyes off his Wikipedia page I immediately forget what namedropping him represents and I have to go look it up again.  So at least I didn't have any expectations.

As far as the story itself, I thought it was pretty good.  I really liked the idea of the Wonder Scouts, and I would've been eager to join that if it were available.  Once it mentioned that all the missing were girls I figured it would be something more mundane.

I liked the parts, too, about an imaginary world.  I and my childhood best friend Josh had one of those that we called the Neaterworld (I think he came up with the name, a spin on the Neitherworld that existed in the Beetlejuice cartoon that we were both watching at the time).  It mostly existed in the playground of Eugene Field elementary where we went to school together.  It was a parallel world where monsters lived, the first of which were Puffball (Josh's first creation) and Scalehead (my first creation).  A door on the side of the school was a vending machine that dispensed anything you wanted.  A weeping willow was a "rocket tree".  The half-bananas they served in the cafeteria were witch noses.  There were periodic lava tides.  I moved to a different town when I was in 4th grade, but we kept visiting each other and playing for a while.  I still remember one time I went to visit him and I admitted to him that I didn't really know how to play Neaterworld anymore.  Whatever childhood spark kept it alive in my brain had faded.  I was still reading fiction as much as I could my hands on, and I still love to create things to this day, but I remember that being a very sad day.  We kept whole notebooks with character profiles complete with colored pencil drawings, and I still have them in my office.  I pull them out once in a while.  I should give Josh a call, I haven't seen him in 7 years since he was a groomsman at my wedding.

Anyone else have childhood lands to tell about?  :)



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Reply #21 on: November 29, 2011, 04:18:31 PM
I did the same thing.  I spent most of third grade in an elaborate fantasy world that revolved around genies and ghosts in bottles.  I had a friend, and we spent all of recess every day just walking around the corners of the blacktop, keeping notes in a little flip-top spiral notebook.  So much so that I nearly failed out of elementary school, actually.  (My reasoning went, "I already know this stuff, so why should I have to do any homework problems to prove it?"  Basically, I aced all the tests and had zeroes for pretty much everything else.)

I never really lost the tendency, though.  I was always making up new worlds.  I remember spending hours and hours with Waffle Blocks, building a boat that had a house and all the amenities one would need to sail down the Underground River, which was of course full of monsters and demons.  My favorite games to play were basically freeform LARPs (before I knew what LARPs were) where everyone had a power of some kind and we basically just ran around fighting each other or imaginary bad guys.

I'm probably the only person ever to aspire to being able to play D&D.



Umbrageofsnow

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Reply #22 on: November 30, 2011, 02:27:57 AM
1.  I had a friend, and we spent all of recess every day just walking around the corners of the blacktop, keeping notes in a little flip-top spiral notebook. 

2."I already know this stuff, so why should I have to do any homework problems to prove it?"  Basically, I aced all the tests and had zeroes for pretty much everything else.)

3. building a boat that had a house and all the amenities one would need to sail down the Underground River, which was of course full of monsters and demons. 

4. My favorite games to play were basically freeform LARPs (before I knew what LARPs were) where everyone had a power of some kind and we basically just ran around fighting each other or imaginary bad guys.

5. I'm probably the only person ever to aspire to being able to play D&D.

You're not alone scattercat.  It seems we had pretty much the same childhood (on 5 points anyway).  Except I used LEGOs for my fantasy houseboats (really more fortress-boats).  But yeah, college was a revelation in that I could finally play D&D with people, it was a bit disappointing.



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Reply #23 on: December 04, 2011, 08:24:26 PM
my brother and i had countless lego stories, mostly involving cowboys fighting pirates, because that was just what we had.


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Reply #24 on: January 25, 2012, 06:32:21 PM
This one has me thinking on the nature of imagination, the supernatural, and reality, and how all three are needed.

The author goes through great pains to show that the father's POV of reality is cold and hard. Yet at the very end, the MC and the Wonder Leader are confronted with not a fantasy portal where girls are whisked away to fantasy lands to become princess, but the cold, hard reality of death. It shakes them both up, perhaps with the adult moreso. On the other hand, if the MC hadn't gotten involved in his fantasy play, those girls would've never been found. The Christian part of me would say "This is God using that boy's gift of imagination", whereas the skeptical part would say serendipitous coincidence. It could be both. It could be neither. Then again, it's not real anyway. It's just a story....right?

Ah, I would love to bring this story to my next Bible study. :-D

Anyhoo, I liked it. It reminded me a lot of the initial wonder I had as a child. We had a backyard that had a slice of forest in it, which is pretty impressive considering it was on the South Side of Chicago. I would go tromping around looking for fairies or sprites. There was also a forest preserve nearby that had a big hill--if you searched through the trees, you'd find a staircase with a canal next to it. Because it was hidden, I always thought it was magical, not that it was just really hard to get to. I haven't been back in years, but I still consider it a pretty magical place.

I'm now introducing my 7-year-old son to the Narnia Chronicles, which was my first real foray into fantasy. Listening to it again, there's so much stuff that I'm questioning and having a hard time with (A Horse and His Boy--really? All brown skinned folk are savages? Reeeeeeally?!). But for my boy, he is absolutely charmed and delighted and wants to hear more. I miss having that wonder sometimes.

::looks under her desk to see if there's a magic portal. Nope. Sigh.::

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