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Author Topic: PC190: A Window, Clear As A Mirror  (Read 5030 times)
Talia
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« on: January 03, 2012, 06:31:59 AM »

PodCastle 190: A Window, Clear As A Mirror

by Ferret Steinmetz

Read by Rish Outfield, of the Dunesteef Audio Fiction Magazine

Originally appeared in Shimmer

Malcolm Gebrowski returned from his job at the stamp factory to discover his
wife had left him for a magic portal. He stared numbly at the linoleum
floor of his apartment’s walk-in kitchen, all scuffed up with hoofprints,
the smell of lilacs gradually being overpowered by the mildewy stink of the
paper plant next door. All that was left of eight years of marriage was a
scribbled note on the back of the telephone bill.

He’d crumpled the note in his fist without thinking. He smoothed it out
against the refrigerator to read Julianne’s last words again:

Malcolm,
Remember when I said you could sleep with Dakota Jewel if she ever dropped
by? I sure hope so. ‘Cause if you had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity
to sleep with the most beautiful movie star in the world, I’d want you to
take it. And remember when you said that if I ever found a magic portal, I
could go?

Guess what? A magic portal opened.


Rated R for profanity, sex.

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
« Last Edit: January 24, 2012, 08:06:01 AM by Talia » Logged
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« Reply #1 on: January 03, 2012, 09:39:32 AM »

I think I'm supposed to say something about being king...and mention a mountain...or something.

Anyway...

I enjoyed this story quite a bit because of one, simple thing: It didn't have a 'they lived happily ever after' fairy-tale ending. The bittersweet ending suited this story very well.

I even liked the way the first part had kind of a "once upon a time" feeling in the tone, but by the end...that was gone.

Very well written, very well read.
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« Reply #2 on: January 04, 2012, 02:24:03 PM »

Oh I sniffled at the end of this.  It reminded be very much of Tim Pratt's excellent "Little Gods". Both stories do a subtle and commendable job of showing how there can be triumph after loss, even a bittersweet one.

Plus I have a particular fondness for supporting roles, and the men and women who have the ability to set their own desires and dreams aside to help others. Some might see Malcolm as weak or unmotivated or plain, but I see him as kind and heroic.
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« Reply #3 on: January 04, 2012, 05:42:51 PM »

I thought this was a really interesting story, though it verged a teensy bit on being self-indulgent here and there.  (I was, let us say, unsurprised when the author's notes DKT told us about indicated that the story morphed from a "what-if" to a very personal piece of apologia.)  That said, nothing wrong with having a personal connection to a story; it makes it feel very raw, very true, even when I blinked in confusion and said, "Why would you do that?"  I appreciated being able to empathize with a different perspective.

I'm with Rish, though.  This is a very sad story, pretty much all the way through.  I would never have pegged this as a comedy piece.  It was a little disconcerting, actually, having the funny voices for the wannabe elf and the auramancer, since the text seemed to want them to be just regular folks (if a little pretentious.)
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« Reply #4 on: January 04, 2012, 10:36:35 PM »

I liked the funny voices because it cut down on the heartbreak of poor hapless Malcolm. It's difficult for me NOT to feel for the poor shmoe, though it was nice to see him go through a process of growth through the story. I thought it was headed for "happily ever after" at the end, but I'm just as glad that it didn't.

I did like the first elf voice. Sounded a lot like Billy Crystal in "Princess Bride".
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« Reply #5 on: January 05, 2012, 11:01:58 AM »

I did find it somewhat refreshing that the narrative did not shy away from how sad fantasy geeks can be at times.

Pfft. "Telperien." Everyone knows that's a girl's name...
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« Reply #6 on: January 05, 2012, 01:03:29 PM »

I thought this story was incredibly depressing on many, many levels. The narrator was simultaneously tragic and pitiful - yes, it was tragic that he ended up married to such a ragingly selfish, ungrateful bitch as Julianne. I can't imagine what he ever saw in her. It was also tragic that the world of magic and beauty turned out to be such a shallow sham. However, it was pitiful that Malcolm was never able to transmute his sadness into rage and move on with his life.

Look, I'm all for finding yourself. You've got a lifetime - eighty years, give or take - spend them however the hell you want. However, when you make a promise you are bound and that's it. In the extremities of pain and grief, it might be forgivable, maybe even acceptable, possibly even laudable, to foreswear yourself. But, on the other hand, if you so hate the world that you'll leave it given half a chance (or you always wanted to go to Tibet and become a monk, or you really hate the idea of being faithful to one person, or whatever) STAY SINGLE!!!

In other words, I had zero sympathy for Julianne. She was a selfish jerk. You give up some dreams to pursue others, and if you can't stomach that, make different choices. Malcolm, I had a little sympathy for: he was a sad sack of slop who had the misfortune to marry a selfish jerk and lacked the self-respect to move on.

So, the story didn't really appeal.

Rish's narration, on the other hand, was excellent, as always.
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« Reply #7 on: January 05, 2012, 01:36:27 PM »

That was the part I had a hard time empathizing with.  Like, I don't understand the whole idea of "free passes," a la the "You can sleep with [famous actor/actress] if you get the chance and I won't hold it against you."  The "going to Faerie" pass seemed to be a spec-fic version of that.  If you really have something that's that important to you, then you should pursue that instead of making promises-with-exceptions and pretending that's what you want. 

I love the idea of getting to go to Faerie, myself.  Or to Mars.  Or any of a number of other things.  But I wouldn't leave my wife for them; that's why I made a promise to her, because I like her better than those things.  Heck, let's talk about something that really IS important to me: if I were offered the chance to become a successful writer - name recognition, self-sufficiency on writing profits alone, the works - at the cost of losing Angela, I would shrug and turn it down.  Writing is completely a part of who I am and what I do, and I'd continue to write no matter what, but Angela is worth more than that to me.  Heck, even if turning down the deal meant I'd never be able to write a decent story again, I'd still stick with Angela.  That's what promises *mean* to me.  It doesn't make sense, from my perspective, to make a promise if you know already the conditions under which you'd break it. 

Not to say I'm some kind of superior being who wouldn't ever break a promise no matter the situation.  I'm sure somewhere in my psychological profile are innumerable weaknesses that someone could use to make me love Big Brother or whatever.  But I don't know where they are, and they're not choices I would consciously make.  That's what's weird to me: the idea of pre-forswearing yourself, of promising with caveats.

I suspect a big part of my not grokking that concept would be because I'm not polyamorous in the slightest.  I nest.  I settle down like lead BBs in alcohol.  Some people can juggle these kind of multifaceted hierarchical loyalties, but it just confuses me.  Ferrett writes a lot about his lifestyle, and he seems to enjoy it, so more power to him, but honestly, most of his relationship blog posts are almost gibberish to me.  It's like people who enjoy the flavor of carrots: bafflement without malice; go in peace, yon dashing strangers. 

---

Thus, this story was interesting, and I could see that it was heartfelt, but I couldn't feel it myself.  Malcolm didn't seem to have a lot in common with Julianne, and he didn't seem to take any pride in himself.  The story posited that it was his refusal to give up his bond to Julianne that was his weakness, but to me, the more likely culprit was his dissatisfaction with who he was, his inability to claim his own identity instead of fading into the background - on purpose! - and then grousing that no one was paying attention to him. 

If he had become the omnipresent spear-carrier and embraced that identity because it suited him, that would be one thing, but he seemed instead to slip into it as a balm of oblivion, as a way to forget himself and his troubles.  Even at the end, he can't even identify himself to Julianne.  (Now, I can support his decision in that specific instance because it was clearly something that would have just upset her and disrupted her happiness at that point.  It would have been rude not to lie about who he was, but the lie is still symptomatic of the broader problem of Malcolm not liking who he is and constantly hiding behind a mask.  And honestly, if Julianne's happiness in Faerie was so fragile that a mere remembrance of who she used to be could destroy her, then it strikes me that she wasn't actually happy, either.  Basically, this is the story of two fundamentally unhappy people who find methods to conceal their unhappiness without addressing the underlying causes of their psychological problems.)
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« Reply #8 on: January 05, 2012, 02:13:40 PM »

I suspect a big part of my not grokking that concept would be because I'm not polyamorous in the slightest.  I nest.  I settle down like lead BBs in alcohol.  Some people can juggle these kind of multifaceted hierarchical loyalties, but it just confuses me.  Ferrett writes a lot about his lifestyle, and he seems to enjoy it, so more power to him, but honestly, most of his relationship blog posts are almost gibberish to me.  It's like people who enjoy the flavor of carrots: bafflement without malice; go in peace, yon dashing strangers. 

It's less about polyamory, in my mind, than it is about commitment. I have a friend who's poly (actually, 'Cat, she's someone you know, too) who is absolutely committed to her relationship with her husband. She loves him deeply and wouldn't leave him for anything. The weird juxtaposition of Malcolm and Julianne's "exceptions" struck me immediately. He gets sex with the most beautiful movie star in the world - ok, sure, I see the appeal. And then he goes back to his wife and they spend the rest of the lives together. She goes off to faerie and abandons him, never to meet again? What kind of jerk does that? What kind of jerk wants that? I just don't get it. It isn't about polyamory, it's about Julianne's failure to really commit to Malcolm, and Malcolm's pathetic settling-for.
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« Reply #9 on: January 06, 2012, 01:00:28 AM »

Relevant.
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« Reply #10 on: January 06, 2012, 05:02:47 AM »

Dakota Jewel??

All I could think of was Jewel Staite!

Mmmm. Jewel. Staite.

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« Reply #11 on: January 08, 2012, 10:02:11 AM »

Nerd.

 Tongue

All I could think of was Dakota Fanning, but that's only because I'm a perv.
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« Reply #12 on: January 10, 2012, 12:36:49 AM »

I really enjoyed this one. I could see where it was going, in terms of the premise and inspiration, immediately - the unsung plight of the one who's left behind from the magical journey. I dug it! And it was just cynical enough about real-world escapism to make me chuckle repeatedly.

I can't say I felt all that happy at the end - not because I found it sad, but because I didn't feel like it closed off the narrative very well and I felt kinda cheated that there was no real denouement - but otherwise, a fun spin.
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« Reply #13 on: January 10, 2012, 12:18:35 PM »

I thought this was a very well written story.  I do agree with scattercat, too, especially when he said "Basically, this is the story of two fundamentally unhappy people who find methods to conceal their unhappiness without addressing the underlying causes of their psychological problems".  Yes, I think that is true.  But to me they felt very real in their flaws.  I could believe that they were real people.  Generally I was rooting for him to find a way to move on with his life, and in that respect, he at least was freed of the ring at the end (hopefully he'll move on and not just become her pet).

I thought her deal with fairyland was much different than the "you can sleep with dakota" deal.  One is a permanent change, the other is fleeting.  One implies ending the relationship, the other one doesn't.  Which isn't a flaw with the story, I just don't see those two as even remotely comparable entities.

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« Reply #14 on: January 10, 2012, 11:32:17 PM »

One of my favorites so far, and the line about the wedding ring being "the smallest fetter" is one of the most bittersweet comments about how a wedding band may symbolize happy commitment to some and stagnant imprisonment to others. The story strikes me as a lesson about what you may want (or think you want) is not necessarily what you need (thus the perfect Douglas Adams quote at the end), and some of us find more satisfaction and contentment in helping offstage than being in the spotlight (...and yes, I did tear up a bit at the end).
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« Reply #15 on: January 12, 2012, 01:37:45 PM »

I really liked this one.
While the action of most of the characters were quit farcical or ridiculous (the commune or the people camped out in his backyard) ... their desperate longing for something better or different struck me as one of the things all of humanity shares. Heck, even the fairy actress shared it and she WASN'T human.

I guess I could just empathize (though maybe not sympathize) with the characters.
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« Reply #16 on: January 13, 2012, 04:21:02 PM »

I guess I just can't relate to the "get out of jail" agreement between the husband and wife... I guess if I turn sideways and hop on one foot I can see how it could be farcical, but honestly I agree with Rish that it's a pretty sad story. Speaking of which, I really enjoyed his reading as usual. Smiley
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« Reply #17 on: January 14, 2012, 06:15:30 PM »

I thought the story was rather interesting and the reading was absolutely excellent. I've never quite understood the whole silly "free pass" notion that some people have in their relationships, but I always though that was some sort of joke. Usually its something so ridiculous the likelihood of it happening is bordering on the impossible. That movie "Indecent Proposal" springs to mind, though it isn't exactly the same thing.

Personally I could sympathize with both of the main characters, but I disliked the ending. I had hopes they would discover each other again rather than the unfettering and freeing of both of them.
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« Reply #18 on: January 15, 2012, 11:00:48 AM »

     I found the story most interesting and as far as relationships go, it rang true in that when one person loves more in the relationship and the other person is just lonely, then the one that loves less is always going to jump through the first magic portal that opens.

     What I found more interesting were the different personal feelings that this story brought out in the posters in this thread.  That's the true "magic" of a good story...when we all identify with some aspect, and all the aspects are different.
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« Reply #19 on: January 15, 2012, 06:15:52 PM »

A new twist on fairy land. I don't know if I would go if a portal opened, but I am still in the touchy feely less than
a year with my boyfriend. As a younger women I was convinced I needed the spot light. Though I am still a little loud and a
little colorful not to attract attention, I love being the techy I truly was meant to be. I will always be the spot light in my boy's
eyes, but I'm truly happy being a supporting role in his life as much as I am in the spot light.
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« Reply #20 on: January 22, 2012, 01:22:54 PM »

I did enjoy this story, though I didn't get choked up about it. To me, it didn't feel like they had made the agreement in earnest - more like a joking conversation:

Her: "Well, if you ever meet Dakota Jewel, you have a free pass to sleep with her."
Him, with rolling eyes: "Yeah, and if a portal to the Sunlit Lands opens up, go ahead through."
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Balu
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« Reply #21 on: January 22, 2012, 07:29:48 PM »

A fantasy story with unicorns and fairies that wasn't gay.

We should have this one shot, stuffed and mounted over the mantlepiece.
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« Reply #22 on: January 22, 2012, 10:48:59 PM »

What a wonderfully backhanded.... compliment?
Maybe you'd like to start thinking about what you are saying and how many people you are insulting before you post.  It would be greatly appreciated.
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« Reply #23 on: January 23, 2012, 06:38:15 PM »

"Free passes" are bullshit if reality ever hits. If someone actually HAD the opportunity to sleep with Dakota Jewel, they should know better (unless it's a poly relationship) that their wife isn't gonna like it even though "she said" it was a "free pass." Because it's not free if it's real and suddenly likely to happen, is it? Ditto portals. Nobody agrees to that stuff actually thinking it might happen.

Though hell, I want out into a portal RIGHT NOW. But I'd be a jerk if I hopped into a portal and was married and couldn't take the dude along. That would not be fair and right. As someone else said, promises.

Mostly I just felt sad listening to this (well, duh) because it always sucks to watch someone pine and chase after someone who doesn't love them and isn't worth it. But I did like the use of Dakota in this one. That was surprising.
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« Reply #24 on: January 24, 2012, 05:47:14 PM »

What a wonderfully backhanded.... compliment?
Maybe you'd like to start thinking about what you are saying and how many people you are insulting before you post.  It would be greatly appreciated.


Not really. This author did take the tiredest tropes in the genre, and he did make them into something fresh and new.

You'd have to have a pretty thin skin to find that insulting.
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Talia
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« Reply #25 on: January 24, 2012, 06:04:37 PM »

What a wonderfully backhanded.... compliment?
Maybe you'd like to start thinking about what you are saying and how many people you are insulting before you post.  It would be greatly appreciated.


Not really. This author did take the tiredest tropes in the genre, and he did make them into something fresh and new.

You'd have to have a pretty thin skin to find that insulting.


The objection was over your choice of words more than anything. Even if it wasn't intended that way, the first statement you made could be interpreted in a few pretty negative ways.  (Assuming you meant it the most innocuous interpretation - I haven't myself noticed a swath of fairy and unicorn stories starring gay protagonists, but some may exist..).
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« Reply #26 on: January 24, 2012, 06:09:25 PM »

What a wonderfully backhanded.... compliment?
Maybe you'd like to start thinking about what you are saying and how many people you are insulting before you post.  It would be greatly appreciated.


Not really. This author did take the tiredest tropes in the genre, and he did make them into something fresh and new.

You'd have to have a pretty thin skin to find that insulting.


The objection was over your choice of words more than anything. Even if it wasn't intended that way, the first statement you made could be interpreted in a few pretty negative ways.  (Assuming you meant it the most innocuous interpretation - I haven't myself noticed a swath of fairy and unicorn stories starring gay protagonists, but some may exist..).

I haven't the slightest clue what Balu means when s/he sees "gay" in stories, except that s/he sees it all over the freaking place.
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Talia
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« Reply #27 on: January 24, 2012, 10:19:21 PM »

Just a reminder to please remember Rule No. 1 even when someone says something potentially objectionable.
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« Reply #28 on: January 25, 2012, 03:44:12 AM »

I haven't the slightest clue what Balu means when s/he sees "gay" in stories, except that s/he sees it all over the freaking place.

I think that in this case Balu literally meant "A fantasy story with unicorns and fairies that wasn't about homosexuality". Regardless of Balu's prior posting history, it was an unfortunate word choice because stories don't have sexual orientations; a story isn't "gay" or "straight", though a story may be about gay themes.
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« Reply #29 on: January 25, 2012, 03:55:15 AM »

I can't quite decide if I entirely enjoyed this story, but what I do know, is that I think it was one of those stories that went beyond just being entertaining and had a lot of depth to it. I found it rather challenging. I really did appreciate the way the light-hearted writing was covering up a lot of conflicted emotions. And the reading was excellent. But I'm not sure I like where Malcolm's journey took him, and I'm finding it very hard to express why. I might give it some time and return to it and see if a second listen/read will help me clarify my thoughts.
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« Reply #30 on: January 25, 2012, 02:00:23 PM »

I haven't the slightest clue what Balu means when s/he sees "gay" in stories, except that s/he sees it all over the freaking place.

Gay is a pretty common synonym for lame. It is difficult to see how anybody who read this story could think that the word related to the protagonists sexuality.

Apart from anything else, the thing was about a man trying to reconnect with his wife.
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« Reply #31 on: January 25, 2012, 02:23:40 PM »

I haven't the slightest clue what Balu means when s/he sees "gay" in stories, except that s/he sees it all over the freaking place.

Gay is a pretty common synonym for lame. It is difficult to see how anybody who read this story could think that the word related to the protagonists sexuality.

I really don't think you should use gay as a word for lame. While there are people who are actually gay out there in the world, using "gay" for "lame" is pretty insensitive, especially since there are so many perfectly reasonable words for lame. For example:

  • Lame
  • Stupid
  • Dumb
  • Bad
  • Inadequate
  • Boring
  • Poorly Done

And so on.

Honestly, "gay," in that context, is similar to saying "jewed" to mean "cheated." Would you be as blithe about saying that someone who becomes violent and angry is "so black?" Would it be appropriate to mutate "latino" into something that means, I don't know, something about creeping into somewhere one doesn't belong?

Bottom line: it's crude and cruel to boil an entire group of humans down to a single adjective that reflects what you imagine to be that group's least attractive trait and then use that adjective in a negative way.

Quit it.
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« Reply #32 on: January 25, 2012, 02:24:36 PM »

I haven't the slightest clue what Balu means when s/he sees "gay" in stories, except that s/he sees it all over the freaking place.

Gay is a pretty common synonym for lame. It is difficult to see how anybody who read this story could think that the word related to the protagonists sexuality.

Apart from anything else, the thing was about a man trying to reconnect with his wife.

Next time just use "lame" or some other term if you would. Using 'gay' in that sense reads like a slur. Sorry to seem picky, but it bothers me.
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« Reply #33 on: January 25, 2012, 03:06:14 PM »

It is difficult to see how anybody who read this story could think that the word related to the protagonists sexuality.

They were trying to give you the benefit of the doubt, hoping you hadn't used the word in the sense you did.
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« Reply #34 on: January 25, 2012, 04:04:25 PM »

It is difficult to see how anybody who read this story could think that the word related to the protagonists sexuality.

They were trying to give you the benefit of the doubt, hoping you hadn't used the word in the sense you did.

Exactly. I was giving the one translation of what you said that seems to me to be within the realm of acceptability.
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« Reply #35 on: January 28, 2012, 02:59:22 AM »

I loved this story. I don't know how anyone would see the ending as him as the unicorn becoming her pet... she finally set him free, and he'll continue, a bit less broken but content, helping others reach their dreams now that he's realised he doesn't have any left.
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« Reply #36 on: February 23, 2012, 11:51:24 AM »

This one was okay. I agree what the woman did was pretty selfish, but on the flip side, I think he was blind to what she wanted as well. Or maybe I'm reading too much into the line "You were right...it's probably better not to have kids." Sounds to me like she wanted kids at one point, but he talked her out of it, and that was the point where she started craving more to life than he was capable of giving. But that's just my opinion.

The sad thing though was that instead of moving on, he was so fixated on her that he forced himself to change into something else, not for his peace of mind, but to try to understand her. By the time he found her, he had completely lost himself. Very sad.

I loved the bit with the fey actress. Any actress that sleeps with a knife sounds cool. Would love to see more of her.
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