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Author Topic: PC181: Still Small Voice  (Read 6210 times)
Talia
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« on: November 01, 2011, 11:31:41 AM »

PodCastle 181: Still Small Voice

by Ben Burgis.


Read by David Rees-Thomas.

A PodCastle Original!

Jack slipped on his invisibility shawl as he entered the café. Henry sat at a table by himself, reading a handsomely leather-bound book.

A few patrons looked up at the sound of the door opening and closing, then turned back to their business when they saw no one there. Under his cloak, Jack luxuriated in the artificial cool of the café.

Outside, it was a sweltering summer day, the kind of day that felt like all five of the Gods had lit five flames behind the clouds and the heat from those flames drowned out even the heat of the suns. It was the kind of day when even the wild dragons stayed out of the sky. Inside, it felt cool as autumn.

The heating and cooling control of the Island’s cafes and taverns, half-magic and half-mechanical, were one of the things Jack had almost forgotten to miss in his years in the West.

Henry turned the pages of his book, running his finger over the lines in a picture of intent fascination. Jack sat down across from him. Henry looked up, then shook his head and went back to the book.

Jack giggled. Henry looked up again. He closed his book, placed it ever so gently on the table and stood up. Jack forced himself to be quiet. Henry glanced to the left and then to the right, his lips set in a frown of deep suspicion. Then, at last, Jack took pity on the man and pulled off his shawl.

Henry staggered back. His chair clattered to the floor. Patrons at other tables turned to stare. Jack doubled over with laughter.

“So.” Henry picked up the chair and, with a show of dignity, sat back down. “I take it this is one of the Western marvels you wrote me about?”

“It is.” Jack folded the shawl as he spoke.

Henry stared at him. “How are you doing that? Can you see it?”

“Not a bit. I can feel it. If you stare at the damn thing for long enough, you can make out a sort of outline, but I find it’s best to remember where you left it.”


Rated R for profanity, sex.
« Last Edit: November 22, 2011, 09:43:57 AM by Talia » Logged
Seekerpilgrim
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« Reply #1 on: November 02, 2011, 12:04:43 AM »

Outstanding! At first the slightly hollow audio quality of the recording turned me off, but despite this distraction I eventually got sucked in, and enjoyed one of the most interesting and thoughtful stories I've heard on PodCastle. This was an excellent narrative about how religion, like myths and other tools of man's quest for meaning and purpose is a double edged sword....it can give comfort and structure, but it can also hurt and destroy. I felt the ending was a little too "happily (or at least adventurously) ever after"; nevertheless November is starting off well...
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raetsel
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« Reply #2 on: November 02, 2011, 04:32:44 PM »

What a great story. So much depth and so many layers.

Loved the alternative world building and mashing together of ideas. The Island being Britain, the continent Europe and the West being the Americas ( at least that's how I had it in my head ). The king was a cross between Henry VIII and King James of the bible fame.

There's a whole bunch of discussion to have over the many messages the story gives about faith, religion and power and I look forward to reading what people took from this episode. For me it was that religion and scripture will be bent to men's ends, another tool to control the masses and excuse the behaviour of the ruling classes but when looked at rationally the inconsistencies show it for what it is words written by men for men. ( I guess that is Men with a capital M to include women as well though perhaps they would prefer not to be associated with it.  Cheesy)

Bishop Henry was like a cross between Thomas More and Richard Dawkins. In the end the small still voice wasn't the gods it was rationality.

I loved the narration, David Rees-Thomas reading was enchanting partly perhaps because of the lyrical Welsh lilt so well suited to a story like this.

The audio quality was a bit off putting I agree. In the car it sounded like David had a tin bucket on his head, in headphones it was better and I'd started to not notice it. One thing though, please tell me other people could hear faint tinkling whistles now and then. I'm not sure if it was background noise or a digital artefact but I hope it wasn't just an auditory hallucination.
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Seekerpilgrim
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« Reply #3 on: November 02, 2011, 05:39:19 PM »

raetsel, I heard the whistles or tinny echoes as well. When so much depends on sound because of the very nature of podcasts, audio quality is imperative, and seems to me glitches like that are avoidable if there were a little bit more QA.
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niallmor
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« Reply #4 on: November 02, 2011, 06:10:23 PM »

Meh. This is yet another example of the tired old, "Religion is superstitious nonsense" trope apparently so beloved by too many writers of fantasy and science fiction. There are readers and writers of fantasy and SF who are also religious believers. I am one. This story was little except a thinly disguised and poorly allegorized retelling of the Wars of Religion in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. Just once, I'd like to see a fantasy or SF story on Escape Pod or Podcastle that dealt intelligently and respectfully with issues of religious faith and belief. It can be done: Walter M. Miller's Canticle for Leibowitz, Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow and The Children of God, and Michael Flynn's Eifelheim are examples.
« Last Edit: November 03, 2011, 11:45:52 PM by niallmor » Logged
raetsel
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« Reply #5 on: November 03, 2011, 12:55:06 PM »

Meh. This is yet another example of the tired old, "Religion is superstitious nonsense" trope apparently so beloved by too many writers of fantasy and science fiction writers. There are readers and writers of fantasy and SF who are also religious believers. I am one. This story was little except a thinly disguised and poorly allegorized retelling of the Wars of Religion in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. Just once, I'd like to see a fantasy or SF story on Escape Pod or Podcastle that dealt intelligently and respectfully with issues of religious faith and belief. It can be done: Walter M. Miller's Canticle for Leibowitz, Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow and The Children of God, and Michael Flynn's Eifelheim are examples.

Interesting point, Canticle for Leibowitz is a great book.

We might argue the toss on whether the story dealt with its issues intelligently, but in what way do you think it dealt with issues of religious faith and belief that was not respectful?
« Last Edit: November 03, 2011, 12:57:03 PM by raetsel » Logged
ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #6 on: November 03, 2011, 01:41:02 PM »

I really don't think it's fair to simplify this story as "religion is superstitious nonsense." It's not possible to be a person of faith and not acknowledge that the spiritual dimension of the universe does not intercede at every possible juncture. The fact that there was no intercession at this point of the story does not make the story anti-religion. In fact, that one of the characters was intensely spiritual, of not quite sure how he fit into the faith of his people, in my mind gives this story a very balanced perspective.

In my mind, this story was about a setting encountering one of the beginnings of modernity: the introduction of choice into the matter of religion. For most of ancient history, people didn't get to chose. You had the religion of your parents, or the religion that was forced on you by the victorious invaders. Then modernity - with its ideas about rights and consciences and freedoms - showed up, and people started to imagine that they could pick. Of course, if the question is "which religion?" the question can also easily by "why religion at all?" This story applied that cultural transformation - and the birth of the Anglican Church - as its jumping-off point to ask that question of a fantasy world.

I'm happy to say that this is NOT one of those posts where I find myself intellectually defending a story I didn't like. I loved this one. I really enjoy applying an intellectual approach of culture, politics, religion, and economics to fantasy settings. I enjoy how the settings mutate under the pressure, and the stories that result. This tale was, in my opinion, an examplar of the subgenre, with excellent characters and a nifty (if, perhaps, not inspired) setting.

I suppose the setting was a little generic. That's probably what the author was going for - fewer details to distract from the plot and theme - but I enjoy those details, and that choice rarely satisfies me. That said, it was still an excellent story and a pleasure to listen to.
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #7 on: November 03, 2011, 04:23:48 PM »

I really liked the straightforward nature of the story, and the Anglo-Saxon names were easy to keep track of.

And I did not hear this as "Religion is superstitious nonsense". If it were, Jack would have ended on a definite viewpoint, and he does not. He merely seeks to escape religious intolerance. This point is also underlined by the late conversation Jack has with the shaman in the West, who points out that the both have their own science and magic and religion, and neither has the whole truth.

Loved the alternative world building and mashing together of ideas. The Island being Britain, the continent Europe and the West being the Americas ( at least that's how I had it in my head ). The king was a cross between Henry VIII and King James of the bible fame.

Yes, yes. That's what I heard too.

I loved the narration, David Rees-Thomas reading was enchanting partly perhaps because of the lyrical Welsh lilt so well suited to a story like this.

The audio quality was a bit off putting I agree. In the car it sounded like David had a tin bucket on his head, in headphones it was better and I'd started to not notice it. One thing though, please tell me other people could hear faint tinkling whistles now and then. I'm not sure if it was background noise or a digital artefact but I hope it wasn't just an auditory hallucination.

No. Or at least, I heard them too. Very eerie, and would have been welcome in one of the Halloween stories. They weren't completely out of place here, though distracting, and I do not think they were intentional.
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slag
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« Reply #8 on: November 03, 2011, 05:09:10 PM »

After a couple of miinutes listening to the story I had the feeling that at some point one of the characters would say something like "there are no gods, is no god, can't be no gods." Something.  I think actually hearing it from Henry sort of turned me off towards the end.  Not because I saw it as some kind of pro-atheist, religion-bad science-good story.  I think that it was just the predictability of it.  It ended the only way that it could have without pissing anyone off, with a metaphor for where the world is today: a nonbeliever who will most likely turn all his attention towards the sciences, and the still faithful yet not really religious guy, who is now a bit more open minded making their way towards tomorrow.
What I did like about that scene is the fact Henry and Jack make their escape on a dragon, a creature that's something of an icon of fantasy and magic, but will probably be examined by a zoologist in this world's future to determine just how "magical" it really is.  Stupid science. Invading my fantasy like that. Jerk.
But in the end, the message I still believe is an important one.
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"Just remember what ol' Jack Burton does when the earth quakes, and the poison arrows fall from the sky, and the pillars of Heaven shake. Yeah, Jack Burton just looks that big ol' storm right square in the eye and he says, "Give me your best shot, pal. I can take it."
Umbrageofsnow
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« Reply #9 on: November 03, 2011, 06:44:40 PM »

So in the intro, it was mentioned that this is the fifth full length Podcastle Original.  I looked through my iTunes and I can only find 3 others.  What was the fifth???

#1: PC97: Smokestacks Like the Arms of Gods (Mentioned as first ever I believe)
Mini 54: A Spot of Bother, High Above the Undead Sea
#2: PC124: Squonk and the Hoarde of Apprentices
Mini 57: Apex
#3: PC141: Bear in the Cable-Knit Sweater
Mini 58: Before the Uprising
Mini 59: Rainmaker

#4: HuhHuhHuhHuhHuhHuhHuhHuh

#5: PC181: Still Small Voice

I don't want to miss out on original stories, or knowing that they are original, if they might be up for any awards...
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DKT
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« Reply #10 on: November 03, 2011, 07:03:58 PM »

Aw, crap. My mistake. You're right, this is actually the fourth. Sorry!

That said, we do have a fifth coming next month...
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #11 on: November 03, 2011, 07:06:05 PM »

Stupid science. Invading my fantasy like that. Jerk.

Did you know that there are creatures living on the sea floor that are giant cells? As in, several inches long, visible to the naked eye, and still just one cell?

Also, there are sea slugs that can jack chloroplasts from algae and learn how to photosynthesize. Animals that can photosynthesize by stealing parts and DNA from plant cells they eat.

Also, did you know that the universe is shaped like a saddle? Or possibly like a giant swiss cheese.

And also the universe is a solid when viewed from the 4th dimension, so time is an illusion and everything is certain.

Except that everything in reality is probabilistic, which means that a thing less "exists" than simply "has a high probability of existing," including yourself, so maybe everything is uncertain.

And also, black holes bleed gamma rays until they die. Why do they do this? Because sometimes particles that only kind of exist fall in.

Have you heard that we've invented a drug that makes traumatic memories fade?

Did you hear the one about the guy with a tumor wrapped around his liver? They saved his life by removing his internal organs from his body cavity, unwinding the tumor, and then painstakingly replacing the organs, all without damaging or detaching any of them.

Did you know that science moves so fast that half of the things I just wrote are probably in question, if they haven't been disproven already?

It's ok. Science still loves you.

</science teacher>
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slag
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« Reply #12 on: November 03, 2011, 11:54:18 PM »

Please don't have me burned by the dragon.

I like Discovery Channel too.

I just kiss three fingers for it.
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"Just remember what ol' Jack Burton does when the earth quakes, and the poison arrows fall from the sky, and the pillars of Heaven shake. Yeah, Jack Burton just looks that big ol' storm right square in the eye and he says, "Give me your best shot, pal. I can take it."
ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #13 on: November 04, 2011, 03:47:49 PM »

Please don't have me burned by the dragon.

I like Discovery Channel too.

I just kiss three fingers for it.

Lol.

I don't think science is the end-all be-all of the universe. I just get miffed when people talk as though knowledge destroys wonder. I suppose maybe it's true for some, but asserting it as a universal truth "that darn science, destroying my sense of wonder, joy and magic in the universe!" rather than owning it as a personal preference - "so, I'm one of those people who can't find something beautiful and magical if I know to much about it..." - annoys me.

I played Mage. I fought in the Ascension War. Those were the bad old days - a lot of good men and women died needlessly - and these days I'm proud to be one of those who tries to make peace between magic, science, and faith.
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raetsel
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« Reply #14 on: November 05, 2011, 04:45:56 AM »

In my mind, this story was about a setting encountering one of the beginnings of modernity: the introduction of choice into the matter of religion. For most of ancient history, people didn't get to chose. You had the religion of your parents, or the religion that was forced on you by the victorious invaders. Then modernity - with its ideas about rights and consciences and freedoms - showed up, and people started to imagine that they could pick. Of course, if the question is "which religion?" the question can also easily by "why religion at all?"

That's an interesting point. I don't think the King intended for their to be a choice. It was just a change of the head of the faith from the Prelate to him dressed up in theological arguments. He wanted there to be no choice, hence the burning of heretics who made the sign of the three.

I wonder what the King's motivation was in having the bible Scriptures of the Five Gods printed and distributed. Did he not realise that if people read it themselves they might come to their own, different, conclusions about what the scriptures meant? Perhaps he underestimated the intelligence of his subjects or perhaps he hasn't really read it himself.

Also on the subject of choice I've heard it argued by bodies such as the British Humanist Association that teaching of comparative religion in schools, if done without bias to one faith tends to lead to more people becoming atheists. I guess it starts with spotting the contradictions and thinking, "well they can't all be right."
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #15 on: November 05, 2011, 10:22:00 AM »

In my mind, this story was about a setting encountering one of the beginnings of modernity: the introduction of choice into the matter of religion. For most of ancient history, people didn't get to chose. You had the religion of your parents, or the religion that was forced on you by the victorious invaders. Then modernity - with its ideas about rights and consciences and freedoms - showed up, and people started to imagine that they could pick. Of course, if the question is "which religion?" the question can also easily by "why religion at all?"

That's an interesting point. I don't think the King intended for their to be a choice. It was just a change of the head of the faith from the Prelate to him dressed up in theological arguments. He wanted there to be no choice, hence the burning of heretics who made the sign of the three.

Absolutely. And the Jews didn't expect that same choice to be presented to us when the Christian establishment started treating us like people. A lot of modernity's transformations came about unexpectedly.

As for the comparative religion leading to atheism thing, that's interesting. It's probably because a lot of religions are - In My Humble Opinion - still really bad at dealing with modernity. They don't market themselves for a world where you have that choice, and then when people are suddenly exposed to the variety of human beliefs, it totally blows their freaking minds and they find themselves questioning everything they have been taught.

Take the kids I work with, for example. They are so stunned by the fact that I'm no kind of Christian. They continually conflate Judaism with a kind of Christianity or with Atheism. They get even more confused by me being a liberal Jew. Again, they confuse theological openness and the things I believe that make my religion and spirituality compatible with science and decide that I must be an atheist.

I, on the other hand, was raised in the Reform Jewish tradition. In my temple we openly talked about the Torah as written by human beings attempting to process their experience of the divine rather than being handed down from heaven. We learned about other religions as the efforts of other peoples to do the same thing. I feel that this prepared me for a college majoring in religion - and critically studying Judaism and Islam, in particular - and an adult career of teaching science without blowing my mind. My idea of religion is modern, compatible with the existence of other points of view.

::clears throat, polishes fingernails, looks pleased with self::

Tongue
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slag
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« Reply #16 on: November 05, 2011, 02:22:58 PM »

I really don't think that science or knowledge destroy or hamper wonder.  I think that all kinds
of things are interesting when you take them apart.
I can however understand the perspective that it does. That's something I think you carry with you from childhood.
It's just what I found funny was that, here we are in a forum discussing "fantasy" of all things,
and as soon as I make a crack about science, I get hit with fact after fact after fact after fact.
Like this is a CNN or TED forum.
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"Just remember what ol' Jack Burton does when the earth quakes, and the poison arrows fall from the sky, and the pillars of Heaven shake. Yeah, Jack Burton just looks that big ol' storm right square in the eye and he says, "Give me your best shot, pal. I can take it."
ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #17 on: November 05, 2011, 02:28:20 PM »

I really don't think that science or knowledge destroy or hamper wonder.  I think that all kinds
of things are interesting when you take them apart.
I can however understand the perspective that it does. That's something I think you carry with you from childhood.
It's just what I found funny was that, here we are in a forum discussing "fantasy" of all things,
and as soon as I make a crack about science, I get hit with fact after fact after fact after fact.
Like this is a CNN or TED forum.

That wasn't really what I was going for. What I meant was that plenty of things we do understand are wonderful and fantastic and - dare I say it? - magical.

And again, it seems like you're treating it as a given that knowledge erodes wonder. "That's something I think you carry with you from childhood." I've got to tell you - in my recollection, there is nothing at all magical about being ignorant and powerless. That's not to say that my childhood was full of nothing but misery and pain (though there were moments...), but the world wasn't great because I didn't know stuff. It was great in spite of the fact that I didn't know stuff.

I dunno, man. If you think that science hampers wonder, just own it. I'm not criticizing you for it. I'm just a bit annoyed when you write that you don't feel that way, then sneak it in sideways anyway.
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slag
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« Reply #18 on: November 05, 2011, 03:02:16 PM »

I JUUUST wrote that I don't think that science hampers wonder. That was the first thing I said.
I'm not trying to sneak in the fact that I don't.
I equate wonder to childhood because there are a lot of firsts in life that seem to come from that time, at least for me.
The first time I saw the grand canyon, the first time I saw an elephant, the first time I saw the city from the top of the empire state building.
There's that kind of sense of "WOW" that comes with those kinds of first that are similar to times in adulthood,
the first time you see images from across the stars from the Hubble, which I didn't have as a kid,
the first time I saw the digital readout of my father's brain, or the first time I realized just how bad ass water bears really are.
I said nothing about a child's inability to take care of him/herself or reliance on others having to do with it. That's you putting words into my
mouth trying to argue a point I never even brought up.
Wonder is wonder.
All I did was crack a joke that has nothing to do with the real world and you responded and are now defending yourself as if I took a cheap shot at your religion. Which is why I said that I kiss three fingers for science, and am now getting burned for it.
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"Just remember what ol' Jack Burton does when the earth quakes, and the poison arrows fall from the sky, and the pillars of Heaven shake. Yeah, Jack Burton just looks that big ol' storm right square in the eye and he says, "Give me your best shot, pal. I can take it."
InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #19 on: November 07, 2011, 11:28:10 PM »


I wonder what the King's motivation was in having the bible Scriptures of the Five Gods printed and distributed. Did he not realise that if people read it themselves they might come to their own, different, conclusions about what the scriptures meant? Perhaps he underestimated the intelligence of his subjects or perhaps he hasn't really read it himself.


Well, I could get all pedantic and bloviate about the historical motivations James I/VI vs. Henry VIII, but I think the reason is simply that the King simply wanted to send a great big "F... You!" to the Prelate. I doubt, given that what we hear of him, that he thought very deeply about the consequences.
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