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Voting has started for the Podcastle Flash Fiction contest. Anyone who has made at least one post should be able to see the stories down in the Arcade.

New groups are posted every two days through the end of April.

Author Topic: Pseudopod 205: Gulls  (Read 15761 times)

Bdoomed

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on: July 31, 2010, 10:44:06 PM
Pseudopod 205: Gulls


By Tim Pratt
Read by Tina Connolly

A high fence of weathered wood ran along the right side, partitioning the beach for the people in the hotel. The fence ran for a distance even into the water before giving up hope of division. Harriet heard happy shouts and laughter from the other side. It was a gleaming white hotel with balconies on the back; she could see the top floors rising over the fence, much better than the ramshackle crammed-in house with rusty showerheads and sand in the mattresses. Same water, she thought, squelching her envy, they get the same beach we do.

But this was a sad little beach. Grady surged like a live wire, pulling away and eager to be in the grey-green water, but she held on and stepped with distaste around broken beer-bottles and chunks of styrofoam. The horizon was infinite and curved but the air stank of fish.



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Millenium_King

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Reply #1 on: August 02, 2010, 09:12:42 PM
This one gets a lukewarm response from me.  Not badly told, certainly from a technical point of view, there are few flaws.  Never tough to follow.  Never confusing or indulgent in metaphor.  Well done subtlety (particularly the very subtle implication of Grady's remains).

There were a few odd turns of phrase which I did not enjoy:

"bikini's of broken glass" - just what does that mean anyway?

"50 years typed things she did not understand and fed her cats" - these sound way too connected.  It would have been better to just be clear: "for 50 years she spent her days typing up reports she didn't understand then coming home to a small apartment, feeding her cats and falling asleep in front of the TV."  Or something like that.

"...and [Grady] streaked." - Maybe it was just me, but the proximity of this with all the descriptions of strip-clubs and wet T-shirt contests made "streaked" take on a different meaning.  I thouhgt it a clumsy choice of words when "ran" or "bolted" would have worked just as well.

Finally, my biggest critique was that I saw the ending coming a mile away.  The "sweet" smelling meat and the similarity of the people instantly recalled the metaphor used earlier (about friends who are friends, and friends who just want to consume you).  I knew we were in store for some cannibalism.

The problem was mainly that this story was about 50% characterization, followed by about 50% action - but, as I mentioned, I knew where the action was leading.  Put together, I felt the story was about 100% dull.

And, FYI, cooked people smell like pork.  I would have assumed she would have misidentified the meat, rather than been unable to place it.


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kibitzer

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Reply #2 on: August 03, 2010, 12:14:02 PM
"bikini's of broken glass" - just what does that mean anyway?

I heard "bikinis and broken glass"


Unblinking

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Reply #3 on: August 03, 2010, 01:33:53 PM
I also had the wrong image come to mind with the word "streaked"--definitely not the best word choice.

This story was okay, toward the bottom of my ranking of Pratt stories, though I didn't hate it (hey, when you've published as many stories as he has, you get to be compared against yourself a lot!).  The ending was just too predictable, between the title and the explanation of the friends who only want to feed on you.  Good imagery, but it just didn't go anywhere unexpected.



Millenium_King

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Reply #4 on: August 03, 2010, 03:56:22 PM
"bikini's of broken glass" - just what does that mean anyway?

I heard "bikinis and broken glass"

Haha - Ah!  That does make more sense!  I must have misheard.

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ElectricPaladin

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Reply #5 on: August 03, 2010, 05:05:57 PM
I had none of the problems that anyone described. I found the reference to working 50 weeks a year and feeding her cats to be lyircal and streaked is a perfect way to describe small children go from where you want them to be to somewhere else like a bullet. Seriously.

Anyway, I thought this story was actually too close to reality to be horror. Everything that happened in this piece is true. It could really happen! In America the rich really do eat the poor, and they use the flagrant images of their superiority to do it, keeping the poor locked into a system that doesn't benefit them. And for that matter, have you ever been picked apart by suburban housewives? They can be vicious, especially when there are issues of class acting in the background.

</commie sarcasm>

Anyway, I thought this story was really great, deliciously horrible, and perfectly paced. It didn't matter that I knew what was going to happen because each moment of the story was perfectly chosen. Five out of five zeppelins.

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Millenium_King

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Reply #6 on: August 03, 2010, 09:22:17 PM
Anyway, I thought this story was actually too close to reality to be horror. Everything that happened in this piece is true. It could really happen! In America the rich really do eat the poor, and they use the flagrant images of their superiority to do it, keeping the poor locked into a system that doesn't benefit them. And for that matter, have you ever been picked apart by suburban housewives? They can be vicious, especially when there are issues of class acting in the background.

</commie sarcasm>

Haha - My college professors would be proud.

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heyes

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Reply #7 on: August 04, 2010, 04:10:10 AM
There was a lot that I enjoyed in this story.  Harriet reflecting on her own life both through her own eyes and through her perception of Grady's life.  There was a great line too, about the women not having stretch marks, about emerging perfect after giving birth.  Lots and lots of depth in that reflection. The horror was elegant, nice, and worked for me because I wanted Harriet to come out of the story okay.  I had empathy for her because she came across as being a real person, having depth as well as flaws. It is because I care for her, for Grady, for their situation that the end is horrific.

This story puts together a lot of elements from what has been coming down the pipes lately, and is a very nice finish to the summer PP selection.
« Last Edit: August 04, 2010, 02:27:49 PM by heyes »

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kibitzer

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Reply #8 on: August 04, 2010, 08:01:42 AM
Even I saw the ending coming a mile off for this one. Not like me at all.

I didn't feel any connection with the MC or her son. Strange. In fact, by the time she met the BBQers I was saying "hurry up already" under my breath. And when she couldn't see her golden-haired cutie, well...


Listener

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Reply #9 on: August 04, 2010, 12:16:46 PM
Not my favorite Pratt story. Too much exposition, I felt, trying to get us to care about Harriet so we'd feel for her when Grady and she got eaten... but I didn't.

Good reader, but not a great choice for this story. She sounds too young.

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zoanon

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Reply #10 on: August 05, 2010, 07:23:14 PM
i loved the similarity between the dead jellyfish on the first beach and the remains of Grady's scalp on the second.



Dairmid

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Reply #11 on: August 06, 2010, 12:39:41 AM
Certainly not one of Pratt's strongest works, but I like how the horror sneaks up from behind the mundane life of the protagonist. And then the horror; the perfect bodies, and the perfectly white teeth shining in in perfectly tanned faces is monstrous in normal human, let alone in, whatever those things were.

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Scattercat

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Reply #12 on: August 11, 2010, 03:09:26 AM

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deflective

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Reply #13 on: August 14, 2010, 06:34:12 AM
Even I saw the ending coming a mile off for this one.

aye, i was hoping that he was building up all this expectation just to leave us hanging and finish with something psychological.  sorta structure the entire story around a common horror analogy and then quietly shift gears so that we're left with the real horror instead of the rich-eats-poor trope.

i really liked the 'fifty weeks of typing things she didn't understand and feeding her cat' line, thought it captured the way that life passes in a blur if you let it.
« Last Edit: August 14, 2010, 06:35:50 AM by deflective »



Loz

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Reply #14 on: August 14, 2010, 07:16:57 PM
Didn't like it at all. This is one of the occasional problems I've had since Pseudopod started up. If we had a story like this on Escape Pod back in the day, then the fact that you wouldn't necessarily be expecting a horror story until you're right in the thick of it would make it more surprising and effective. But going to a horror story podcast and listening to a horror story, well indeed, there aren't many options for where your journey is going to take you.



FrankOreto

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Reply #15 on: August 17, 2010, 03:31:57 PM
Didn't like it at all. This is one of the occasional problems I've had since Pseudopod started up. If we had a story like this on Escape Pod back in the day, then the fact that you wouldn't necessarily be expecting a horror story until you're right in the thick of it would make it more surprising and effective. But going to a horror story podcast and listening to a horror story, well indeed, there aren't many options for where your journey is going to take you.

I liked this quite a bit. Yes, you knew where it was going fairly early.  But, dang that was some good writing that brought you there. It kind of demonstrates how a very simple idea can be shaped when the writer is really on top of his craft.

As far as the venue giving the game away. I don't know if there's a way around it with almost any medium. Very few readers go in with no hint of what's coming.  Cemetery Dance, Weird Tales, Asimov's, Mystery Digest. The needs of marketing usually destroy any suspense as to what the over-arching tone of a story will be.
     I agree it would be cool to come on a horror tale of this type (meaning one that doesn't scream Boo! from the first sentence) not expecting anything.  The experience would be greatly enhanced.  But to be honest, searching my mind it's almost never happened to me. The few times I've experienced something close is when reading an author whose choice of genre style was well known who decides to try something different. A Stephen King romance, or the children's stories of Thomas Ligotti. (not real examples by the way.)
     Perhaps someone should start "Keep'em Guessing Weekly". A random story a week with no clue what genre it might be.   It would expand my horizons I'm sure. But if I got two romances and a straight fiction piece all in a row I'd doubt I'd stick with it.

Now that I think of it, there are the mixed genre formats like F&SF that will sneak a spooky one in when you're expecting a space ship.  And of course the stories here that people posting complain belong in one of the other pods.  So maybe I don't know what the hell I'm talking about.



eytanz

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Reply #16 on: August 18, 2010, 12:20:15 AM
This is one of the occasional problems I've had since Pseudopod started up. If we had a story like this on Escape Pod back in the day, then the fact that you wouldn't necessarily be expecting a horror story until you're right in the thick of it would make it more surprising and effective. But going to a horror story podcast and listening to a horror story, well indeed, there aren't many options for where your journey is going to take you.

I agree. And this story was hurt by this more than most, because really most of the beginning is designed to let us think of the aunt and her nephew as people and empathize with them, and is not directly relevant to their fate. But since I was expecting something awful to happen, and wasn't expecting either the aunt or her nephew to be the perpetrators of the awful event, I figured they must be introduced just to be victims, and that made me ignore all their other character traits.

If this would have been posted on Drabblecast (which could justifiably be renamed "keep them guessing" as suggested by the previous poster ;) ), or in the early days of Escape Pod when it was still cross-genre, I would have probably thought of this as a rather good story. On pseudopod, it felt unsatisfying.



kibitzer

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Reply #17 on: August 18, 2010, 02:54:30 AM
This is one of the occasional problems I've had since Pseudopod started up...

I agree...

Me, I'm not so sure. I feel this falls firmly into horror and as such, I would have felt the same on any 'cast. Depends a lot on what you want out of horror, or how you define horror.


eytanz

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Reply #18 on: August 18, 2010, 09:31:31 AM
This is one of the occasional problems I've had since Pseudopod started up...

I agree...

Me, I'm not so sure. I feel this falls firmly into horror and as such, I would have felt the same on any 'cast. Depends a lot on what you want out of horror, or how you define horror.

Oh, no, that's not what I meant. This was not at all about definition. This, to me, is 100% horror. The pseudopod problem here isn't that it isn't a good fit to the podcast.

The problem is that the story would work better, in my opinion, if I didn't know it was going to be horror when it started.  That was why I (and Loz) were arguing that it should be on a podcast that has both horror and other genres. It would still, certainly, be horror. But it would have been easier to get sucked into the story if expectations weren't pre-set by the fact that it was on a horror podcast.



Unblinking

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Reply #19 on: August 18, 2010, 01:45:07 PM
This is one of the occasional problems I've had since Pseudopod started up...

I agree...

Me, I'm not so sure. I feel this falls firmly into horror and as such, I would have felt the same on any 'cast. Depends a lot on what you want out of horror, or how you define horror.

Oh, no, that's not what I meant. This was not at all about definition. This, to me, is 100% horror. The pseudopod problem here isn't that it isn't a good fit to the podcast.

The problem is that the story would work better, in my opinion, if I didn't know it was going to be horror when it started.  That was why I (and Loz) were arguing that it should be on a podcast that has both horror and other genres. It would still, certainly, be horror. But it would have been easier to get sucked into the story if expectations weren't pre-set by the fact that it was on a horror podcast.

That makes some sense, it would feel a little less predictable then.  For some stories, the pre-labeling of horror is cool because I am trying to figure out where a normal-seeming story will take a 90 degree turn into dread, but when the horror of it is fairly predictable, that's not such a benefit.



kibitzer

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Reply #20 on: August 19, 2010, 02:53:16 AM
The problem is that the story would work better, in my opinion, if I didn't know it was going to be horror when it started.  That was why I (and Loz) were arguing that it should be on a podcast that has both horror and other genres. It would still, certainly, be horror. But it would have been easier to get sucked into the story if expectations weren't pre-set by the fact that it was on a horror podcast.

Ok, yep, that does make sense. Got it.


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Reply #21 on: March 02, 2011, 09:12:46 PM
Good reader, but not a great choice for this story. She sounds too young.

I guess they took her up on her offer to read when PP published her Turning the Apples. Not sure I agree with you but I can see your point. If you haven't yet, pop over to PodCastle and check out her reading of The Mermaid's Tea Party. Delightfully awful story and she was perfectly cast for that one.


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Listener

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Reply #22 on: March 03, 2011, 09:29:28 PM
Good reader, but not a great choice for this story. She sounds too young.

I guess they took her up on her offer to read when PP published her Turning the Apples. Not sure I agree with you but I can see your point. If you haven't yet, pop over to PodCastle and check out her reading of The Mermaid's Tea Party. Delightfully awful story and she was perfectly cast for that one.



Oh, don't get me wrong, I really like Tina Connolly's readings as a whole. I just didn't think her voice fit this character.

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justenjoying

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Reply #23 on: January 15, 2012, 09:40:48 PM
All I hear in my head when thinking about gulls is "Mine, Mine, Mine" from Finding Nemo and now this story. I
loved how the love, the outsider feeling in our own family can make us wonder so easily from the heard. How the reptilian
mind of a toddler can make everything feel okay in their smile and the world is ending in a jump from a rock. This was
brilliant in how we can so easily let our selfs be picked apart by others while we are trying to focus on other matters. Kindness
isn't always so sinsere.
« Last Edit: January 21, 2012, 07:01:45 PM by justenjoying »



Cheshire_Snark

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Reply #24 on: January 18, 2012, 10:03:36 PM
This story was actually the one that put me off Pseudopod for a few months... Not that it was a bad story at all, but because it made me so uncomfortable - so I guess that means it did really well as a horror story! I lasted until she lost sight of the boy on the fenced-off beach.
But that was due to some of my own baggage rather than the story itself - I didn't even make it to the end. I once lost sight of my 18-years-younger-than-me brother while on holiday at the coast (we were in the hotel swimming pool, but still - I blinked and he was *gone*), and it's something I still get chills about, 7 or 8 years after the event.
As some of the other commenters have said, knowing that this was a Horror Story meant that I was preconditioned to expect the worst for the characters. My memories of finding Ronan under the water (he was fine, and came up coughing and spluttering, but those few seconds were bloody horrible) just meant I really, really didn't want to find out what happened. So, full marks for setting up a realistic atmosphere at the beginning, I suppose :)