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Author Topic: PC189: Limits  (Read 5013 times)
Talia
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« on: December 27, 2011, 10:09:27 AM »

PodCastle 189: Limits

by Donna Glee Williams.

Read by Tisch Parmelee (of the Watch your Language Podcast).

Originally appeared in Strange Horizons. Read the text here.

When did Len first see how far the path would take her son? No Far Walker had been born in Home Village for many years. But everyone knew Shreve Far Walker, from Third Village Down, who often passed through as she carried loads between High and Low. When nightfall caught her near Home Village, she would stay over, taking dinner and giving back news. She wasn’t by nature a talkative person, but she understood the duties of a guest. Len would crowd with the others to hear Shreve’s account of the Far Villages.

So Len had some notion of the life of a Far Walker, though her own range was a modest seven villages. When Cam began to show unusual aptitude for climbing high and descending very low, she wondered. Like all parents, Len had observed Cam closely from his earliest tottering steps as he followed her to First Village Up. She had shared discreet smiles with the other parents as their young ones tried on the new costume of adulthood to see how it would fit them, daring each other to range ever farther from Home Village on spurious errands

There would be a jaunt proposed, a clamor of assent, and a rush like a group of startled goats when Cam and his friends hurried off. No packing or planning was needed as they carried no real loads and it was understood that they would stay in whatever village they were closest to when night fell. Families who housed a youth from another village tonight knew that their own children would find food and a pallet where they needed it tomorrow, and the balance would be kept.

Rated PG.

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
« Last Edit: January 03, 2012, 06:31:25 AM by Talia » Logged
InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #1 on: December 27, 2011, 11:45:44 PM »

Wow, actually listening to a story on the release date!

I liked the geography of the story, though it requires some thought, and the mother-son nature of the story. I do wish it had more of a resolution, though.
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« Reply #2 on: December 29, 2011, 11:43:10 AM »

The world-building was pretty cool. It almost seemed like a folktale from Mount Everest. Or the descendants of a lost mountaineering expedition and the civilization they built when they were left behind. I want to hear more about this world.
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« Reply #3 on: December 29, 2011, 05:17:54 PM »

I rather liked this one. There was a clever bit of world-building, used to support a nice story about growing up, growing out, and looking for a place to belong. I particularly enjoyed that there was never any explanation of the world - it just was what it was, and the people lived in it as best they could. The way all people do. Everywhere.
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« Reply #4 on: December 30, 2011, 01:47:10 AM »

My biggest issue with this story is that it just doesn't make sense to me that every character wouldn't know more about their world.  Given how much everyone likes to hear stories from travelers, and presuming that those travelers also get news from the villagers, I just can't see how word wouldn't have quickly spread that the ocean is indeed wet, and that the cliff does have a top.  I mean, the villagers at the highest and lowest cliff villages would know all about those topics, right?

And are the themes maybe a little too straight forward?  People spend their lives exploring the world and finding their place in it, before deciding whether to settle down and (literally!) tie the knot.

All that aside, it really was a strangely enjoyable tale which was narrated beautifully!  (Welcome, Tisch!)
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« Reply #5 on: December 30, 2011, 12:48:52 PM »

I didn't care for this story.  It didn't have enough meat. 

I found the worldbuilding so simplistic as to interfere with my suspension of disbelief.  Apparently they live on a one-dimensional line in a three-dimensional world, otherwise there would be villages in lateral directions instead of just up and down--it just makes more sense that way, to reduce the distance of goods needing to travel.  It just felt to me like a writing exercise more than a real world--"how simplistic can I make a setting?"  Even with this simple setting, it didn't really seem to take into account the social effects.  Word would spread through the villages as commerce spreads--even if no one ranges from top to bottom there would certainly be those at each village who range several villages up and several down.  I'm all for bizarre world if they make for interesting thought experiments, but it didn't seem like enough thought went into it here to make it feel worthwhile.

And as for the characters and the themes, they were also too simplistic.  It seemed like a pretty straightforward metaphor for a person trying decide between roaming and rooting. 

And the ending was more of an ellipsis than a period (or exclamation mark or question mark), it just kind of trailed off.

If any of these things had been compelling to me, then I could've gotten over the others, but  there was just nothing there that really intrigued me.
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Djinndustries
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« Reply #6 on: January 01, 2012, 11:30:35 AM »

I found this story a bit hard to focus on at first, but then after getting a bit further into the story, I started to see it as a reasonable model of my own frustrations with finding partners growing up, not being able to find one that could 'keep up with me'. Once I caught that parallel, I started to focus on the story, hoping that the author would pull out some sage nugget and give me the answer to all my problems in handy, 30 minute parable format. Such was not to be, and the ending gave me the same feeling of wet blanketness that Shel Silverstein's "The Missing Piece" gave me. Yes, yes, it's so nice that  SPOILER







The pacman protagonist of the story finds his missing piece, but then that callous bastard let's her go because he's can't quite sing the same way with the piece nestled into his empty, hollow heart. What a dick.




END SPOILER

So, yeah. Same feeling of...well, I guess it's nice that they both...get what they want...sort of?

I need answers, not realism!
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Lionman
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« Reply #7 on: January 01, 2012, 05:26:46 PM »

I thought the setting of this story was interesting.  I liked the dilemma the main character has.  It reminds me of the idea of being told that you've got to something in reserve, so you can make the trip back.  But when you do that, you never find out how far you can really go, you never know where your limit is.

I would like to hear more about the setting of this story, see more of the world unfold, find out just how tall things are, how far down the mountain things go...and discovering that there's more to the world than up and down, but side to side as well.
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Max e^{i pi}
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« Reply #8 on: January 02, 2012, 08:10:52 AM »

Everything previously mentioned about the world bothered me as well. (One-dimensional villages, total lack of real communication between them.) But another thing bothered me even more.
See, I occasionally go hiking, and I know firsthand that even halfway (or partway) up a mountain or cliff-face you can see out, laterally. That means that if there is an ocean at the bottom of the mountain you can see it from everywhere on the side of the mountain. Not just if you crawl to the edge of a rock and look straight down. In fact, that most often will not work.
OK, let's assume that the mountain is so high that it is shrouded in cloud. But we hear descriptions about the weather. Inside a cloud there is no weather.
So let's assume that there is a cloud layer bellow Home Village blocking the view, and only if you go down far enough you are below the cloud and can see out. But you still wouldn't have to crawl to the edge of a rock.
Then there is the painfully ego-centric geography of the story.
Let's suspend our sense of disbelief and accept the geography of villages on a line all up and down the mountain. What kind of stupid society names their own village Home Village and all the others n-up and n-down? Are all the villages called Home Village by their denizens? That must make commerce, news and traveling very confusing.
On the other hand, it is rather fitting that simple, not-thought-out one dimensional characters live in a simple, not-thought-out one-dimensional world.
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kibitzer
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« Reply #9 on: January 02, 2012, 04:16:07 PM »

Loved this one. Sure, the world-building and all was interesting but it was much less about making a fully-realised believable world than about the characters and their choices. In that respect, I experienced it more like a parable than a story and it was a beautiful pondering of limits, choices, consequences and rewards. Another winner!
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Djinndustries
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« Reply #10 on: January 04, 2012, 01:30:58 PM »

Everything previously mentioned about the world bothered me as well. (One-dimensional villages, total lack of real communication between them.) But another thing bothered me even more.
See, I occasionally go hiking, and I know firsthand that even halfway (or partway) up a mountain or cliff-face you can see out, laterally. That means that if there is an ocean at the bottom of the mountain you can see it from everywhere on the side of the mountain. Not just if you crawl to the edge of a rock and look straight down. In fact, that most often will not work.
OK, let's assume that the mountain is so high that it is shrouded in cloud. But we hear descriptions about the weather. Inside a cloud there is no weather.
So let's assume that there is a cloud layer bellow Home Village blocking the view, and only if you go down far enough you are below the cloud and can see out. But you still wouldn't have to crawl to the edge of a rock.
Then there is the painfully ego-centric geography of the story.
Let's suspend our sense of disbelief and accept the geography of villages on a line all up and down the mountain. What kind of stupid society names their own village Home Village and all the others n-up and n-down? Are all the villages called Home Village by their denizens? That must make commerce, news and traveling very confusing.
On the other hand, it is rather fitting that simple, not-thought-out one dimensional characters live in a simple, not-thought-out one-dimensional world.

Was it ever stated that they were on a mountain? I actually kind of imagined them as angels or some other kind of celestial where ever up and ever down, distances that were unwalkable by humans, were considered challenging and testing of limits. If you ended up so high that the air thinned in the troposphere (or whatever), and into the outer rings of God's presence (you know, keeping with the whole angelic hierarchy...thrones, principalities, seraphim, cherubim, blah, blah), maybe you'd find your limit that way, too.

I don't know. I didn't have much of a problem with geography as I took it, as some others said, as a parable, not literally.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #11 on: January 04, 2012, 01:50:36 PM »

I took this story to be a parable, and it worked for me as such. I also really liked the narration. Smiley
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Spindaddy
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« Reply #12 on: January 14, 2012, 06:20:11 PM »

I rather liked this one. There was a clever bit of world-building, used to support a nice story about growing up, growing out, and looking for a place to belong. I particularly enjoyed that there was never any explanation of the world - it just was what it was, and the people lived in it as best they could. The way all people do. Everywhere.

This.
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« Reply #13 on: January 20, 2012, 09:50:42 AM »

I enjoyed this story.  The setting was interesting, and the ambiguous ending redeemed what was otherwise a fairly straightforward allegory.  I like to think that Fox found a boat and carried on, and the two of them might meet somewhere on the other side.

For myself, I was slightly troubled by the "O woe is me!" attitude Cam had.  "Gosh, it's so hard being the most gifted person."  I'd be more sympathetic if, y'know, being gifted didn't involve having *gifts*.  I am leery of anything that lets the privileged bemoan their status, however slightly.  This is mostly a personal tic; I've blathered at length on my reasons for feeling that way several times previously, so I shan't belabor the point.

Good story, for the most part.  Y'all are overthinking the world; it's a magic place that doesn't have the same physical rules as ours does.  (And as for the "news" of the ocean and the top, well, that was totally in there.  Len KNEW about the ocean; she just hadn't seen it and didn't know anything about it.  The implication I got is that there were hundreds of villages between Len's home and the ocean, most of them several hours' walking apart, at minimum.  Anything they'd hear about either end of the mountain/cliff/whatever would have been garbled through at least five or six retellings, even assuming every span of 15 villages had someone as wide-ranging as the Far-Walker.)
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #14 on: January 20, 2012, 10:42:34 AM »

Y'all are overthinking the world; it's a magic place that doesn't have the same physical rules as ours does. 

Or the author was underthinking the world...  But we can disagree on that point.   Tongue
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eytanz
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« Reply #15 on: January 20, 2012, 10:57:37 AM »

Y'all are overthinking the world; it's a magic place that doesn't have the same physical rules as ours does. 

Or the author was underthinking the world...  But we can disagree on that point.   Tongue

Well, sure, we can, but how could you ever justify your position? I mean, saying the author was underthinking the world means that the author had to meet some sort of minimum standard of world plausibility. Where would such a standard come from?

I'm normally quite happy to rail against internal inconsistencies in a story, but I don't think there were any here. I'm also quite happy to wave the banner of realism for stories that lay some claim to being set in the real world or a real world analogue, but this one made no such claim.

I'm not saying that the story or world building is above criticism. But saying that the author was underthinking the world is not the same as saying that the world was underdeveloped - the latter is a story internal criticism, while the former is a statement about what is allowble in literature.
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #16 on: January 20, 2012, 12:54:27 PM »

Y'all are overthinking the world; it's a magic place that doesn't have the same physical rules as ours does.  

Or the author was underthinking the world...  But we can disagree on that point.   Tongue

Well, sure, we can, but how could you ever justify your position? I mean, saying the author was underthinking the world means that the author had to meet some sort of minimum standard of world plausibility. Where would such a standard come from?

I'm normally quite happy to rail against internal inconsistencies in a story, but I don't think there were any here. I'm also quite happy to wave the banner of realism for stories that lay some claim to being set in the real world or a real world analogue, but this one made no such claim.

I'm not saying that the story or world building is above criticism. But saying that the author was underthinking the world is not the same as saying that the world was underdeveloped - the latter is a story internal criticism, while the former is a statement about what is allowble in literature.

Okay, perhaps it would be better to call it an underdeveloped world (though I don't see why that phrase wouldn't be subject to the same criticism--is there a standard of how developed a world ought to be?)

But the comment "Or the author was underthinking the world..." was in direct response to scattercat's "Y'all are overthinking the world."  I think I understand what you are getting at, in that the way that I said it implied that there should be some accepted minimum standard of plausibility and this story did not meet the threshold.  Such a threshold doesn't exist (and never can exist in a generally agreed upon way).

But I would say that if you can to that conclusion then you must also come to the same conclusion about scattercat's original comment.  I found that the world was too simplified, and I was not able to suspend my disbelief as a result.  If my comment is flawed, then so is the comment I was responding to, because there is no minimum standard of suspension of disbelief in a reader, either.

So, either neither of the comments is flawed, in which case my rebuttal stands.  Or both of the comments are flawed, in which case my rebuttal is irrelevant anyway.

Ah, semantics.  Smiley

How about this:
"The world of the story was too simple for my taste because I found myself unable to listen to the story without focusing on the world's implausibility."
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eytanz
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« Reply #17 on: January 20, 2012, 01:03:11 PM »

Well, your comment and Scattercat's weren't entirely equivalent since he was talking about the people he was talking to, not on the author.

Quote
"The world of the story was too simple for my taste because I found myself unable to listen to the story without focusing on the world's implausibility."

That's a pretty sensible criticism; but I think it's not actually a criticism of the world development, but a criticism of the storytelling as a whole. The world building in this story existed to service the central themes of social vs. individual development and expectations. I don't think the world can stand on its own, but I don't think it's supposed to, either. If the themes weren't conveyed strongly enough to bouy the worldbuilding for you, I have no issue with you complaining about that.
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kibitzer
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« Reply #18 on: January 20, 2012, 11:31:24 PM »

For myself, I was slightly troubled by the "O woe is me!" attitude Cam had.  "Gosh, it's so hard being the most gifted person."  I'd be more sympathetic if, y'know, being gifted didn't involve having *gifts*.  I am leery of anything that lets the privileged bemoan their status, however slightly.  This is mostly a personal tic; I've blathered at length on my reasons for feeling that way several times previously, so I shan't belabor the point.

I didn't see it that way at all. (And I DID see where you said about the "personal tic" but I'll just say a bit on this one point Smiley. I saw Cam's thoughts more as trying to understand why folks wouldn't walk as far as he. The main thing was loss of companionship, not bemoaning superior skill. Leastaways, that's how I heard.
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« Reply #19 on: January 21, 2012, 07:04:06 AM »

I agree that the story was more about being alone than about being too gifted.  It was around the middle, though, when there was a line to the effect of, "Everyone is finding their limits.  When will I find mine?" and my initial reaction was, "Aw, poor little rich kid.  Enjoy what you effing have, you little ingrate, or else shut up about it and settle down."  If the character had been 13 instead of 20 at the time, I'd have been more forgiving in my instinctive response. 

By the end, the story was about Cam making his choice and embracing it.  It was just the petulance about Fox's initial departure that irked me. 
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