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Author Topic: Pseudopod 270: A Revelation of Cormorants  (Read 3659 times)
Bdoomed
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« on: February 24, 2012, 11:31:53 PM »

Pseudopod 270: A Revelation of Cormorants

By Mark Valentine.
Mark Valentine has written a biography of the Welsh author and mystic Arthur Machen (Seren, 1990) and TIME, A FALCONER (Tartarus Press, 2011), a study of the diplomat and fantasist ‘Sarban’. His stories of an aesthetical occult detective were recently brought together in THE COLLECTED CONNOISSEUR (Tartarus Press, 2010). He edits Wormwood, a journal of the literature of the fantastic, supernatural and decadent. Mark’s latest project is a book of short stories, SECRET EUROPE (Ex Occidente Press), due in early 2012, jointly with fellow author John Howard.

Read for us by the unflappable Ian Stuart! (he cannot be flapped!)


“‘Cormorant, from the Latin for “sea-raven”. The Tudors saw the bird as a symbol for gluttony: Shakespeare refers to hungry Time as a cormorant. It may have gained this reputation because of its proficiency at catching fish. Milton, however, invested the bird with a dark glamour: he likened Lucifer sitting in the Tree of Life to a cormorant, no doubt because of the bird’s habit of standing with its black wings spread out to dry. The satanic image stuck. The occultist and poet Ludovic Horne wrote of his “Cormorant days/dark and sleek”. The atheist essayist Llewellyn Powys refers to the birds as “satanic saints” in Parian niches on the chalk cliffs of Dorset, but he celebrated them too as manifesting the ecstasy of the moment, as they plunge into the sea after the silver-scaled fish of their dreams. Conan Doyle alludes to an untold Sherlock Holmes case of “The Lighthouse Keeper and the Trained Cormorant”. Isherwood cites them in a nonsense poem. Folklore about them is much barer than the literary record.”



Listen to this week's Pseudopod.
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« Reply #1 on: February 26, 2012, 07:31:43 AM »

Sorry, but this was another one I just couldn't finish. Despite an excellent reading I just couldn't stay interested and ended up skipping ahead to the outro.
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« Reply #2 on: February 26, 2012, 08:14:09 PM »

I quite enjoyed this one.  It seemed somewhat of a character sketch.  Otter, (was that his name?) the poor guy, was pretty much a useless individual.  Hardly an individual, really, until the very end.  I loved the line about getting too close to creating his quotation, which he absolutely mustn't do.  Leave the quotations to the more notable people of the past rather than striking out on new ground on his own account.  The horror in this one was also very tame, very natural, very mundane as well.  It is the horror that we are never privy to.  The horror we only read about the next day "man drowns in tide" or "man falls off cliff".  Bravo!

And wonderful reading!  Totally felt a Discovery Channel, Blue Planet vibe.  Tongue
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« Reply #3 on: February 26, 2012, 09:19:43 PM »

I loved this one, its bleak, matter-of-fact, everyday quality.
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MuseofChaos
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« Reply #4 on: February 27, 2012, 05:24:07 PM »

I couldn't help but remember "Old Man and the Sea" with this story, a quiet little personal horror, a quiet little personal triumph. A found this story a refreshing and pleasant change of pace for Pseudopod.

Also the sound effects were FANTASTIC - minimalistic, but they added SO much to such a subtle story. :-)
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« Reply #5 on: February 28, 2012, 09:48:43 AM »

I enjoyed this reasonably well.  It's not one of my favorites, but I read it to the end and I was interested.  I wish something had happened that I didn't expect, though.  From the warning to watch the tide, I figured the tide would get him, and it did.  His final note in his notebook was amusing "I have come to the conclusion".  Presumably he meant to write more but was not able to, but it's a pretty clever last words as is.  Yes, yes you have come to the conclusion.  Especially in the context of being at the end of a compilation of study notes.

I couldn't help but remember "Old Man and the Sea" with this story, a quiet little personal horror, a quiet little personal triumph.

Ugh, I hate that story.
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« Reply #6 on: March 04, 2012, 11:50:55 PM »

I couldn't get into this one at all. From the very first paragraph when I realized we were having an encyclopedia entry read to us, I phased out, and then I just kept thinking, as I tried to care, "Really? Birds? That's what this is about?"

*shrug* I guess I'm just not a cormorant fan.
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« Reply #7 on: March 05, 2012, 08:13:53 PM »

So what does a ghost herder do, exactly? Are the hours good? What about the pay?

I'd work it out for myself, but I'd fear that I was crossing the line between inspiration and rip-off.

Ghost herder. Brilliant.
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« Reply #8 on: March 06, 2012, 03:27:53 AM »

I thought this was pretty good. The bit I liked where he was remembering a questionnaire for a radio interview because for a moment I thought it was some self-reflexive future thing going on and it was hinting at (what I guess is) the standard questions sent to authors from pseudopod. But then the author would have to know it would be accepted before it was submitted.
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« Reply #9 on: March 06, 2012, 09:19:26 AM »

I thought this was pretty good. The bit I liked where he was remembering a questionnaire for a radio interview because for a moment I thought it was some self-reflexive future thing going on and it was hinting at (what I guess is) the standard questions sent to authors from pseudopod. But then the author would have to know it would be accepted before it was submitted.

Basing a story on the market it's sent to is not unprecedented.  I've gotten at least one story at Drabblecast that referred to the Drabblecast in a way that wasn't easily interchangeable with other markets, just read a story in Analog that was the same.  If it works, it could work well, but it does limit the effectiveness of your story if you DON'T get the acceptance, and it limits the chance at reprints.  Tongue
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« Reply #10 on: March 07, 2012, 05:27:15 PM »

"A bookish man drowns in the ocean when he fails to pay attention to the changing of the tide."

A death resulting from stupidity is not horror; it is Darwinism.
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« Reply #11 on: March 08, 2012, 09:18:28 AM »

"A bookish man drowns in the ocean when he fails to pay attention to the changing of the tide."

A death resulting from stupidity is not horror; it is Darwinism.

Well, only if one dies of stupidity before breeding and spreading your genes, but point taken.  Smiley
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« Reply #12 on: March 09, 2012, 02:28:31 AM »

"A bookish man drowns in the ocean when he fails to pay attention to the changing of the tide."
A death resulting from stupidity is not horror; it is Darwinism.

The ramifications of Darwinism are fairly horrifying to those folks prone to navel-gazing and enthusiastic speculation (the sort of thing most people do all the time, as far as I'll ever know).  But that's beside the point. 

I interpreted this story as having little to nothing to do with his death.  It's very much about the horror of his life.  If I remember correctly, the author didn't even bother to describe if the bookish man is even killed off at the end, so the character's looming death throughout the narrative is less a vital action in the plot and more a symbolic reiteration that he's wasted much of his life.  Horror's the dreadful thing as it approaches, but in this case, death isn't what's approaching.  I figure it's a little doubt, a great deal of regret, and the awful realization that there is very little time to make up for all the wasted time (illustrated by the character's vain attempt to jot something down in his notebook at the end of the story).

I'd say the story's a bit less terrifying than odd monsters jumping out of the dark, but that dawning realization of "something's-gone-wrong" present in all quality horror is not absent in this piece.
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JesseLivingston
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« Reply #13 on: March 10, 2012, 09:59:08 PM »

While I appreciated the intention of "The Burning Servant," this one was much more my style. I thought it was rather brilliant. I agree that the horror didn't really come from impending death, but I'm not sure it came from a wasted life, either. After all, writing books isn't an inherently useless activity. I think the (admittedly very subtle) horror came from the protagonist's relentless self-obsession. He never seemed to actually regret his life, because I think he was too prideful for that. His life may have been severely limited by his dedication to academic scholarship, but I don't think he ever realized it.

More than anything, this reminded me of an Edward Gorey drawing. Some wan individual obsessed with books wanders out into the world and gets what's coming to him. I loved the descriptions of the cliffs as bookcases; even when he went out into nature, he couldn't stop seeing everything as academic. This was especially apparent when he started to compose his answer to a future questionnaire before knowing whether or not he would actually survive.

The words he scribbled down at the end were confusing in the audio format (I don't think they would have been in print). Did he write, "Myself: I have come to the conclusion." meaning that he had finally found it appropriate to quote himself, and that he had come to the conclusion of his life? Did he write, "Myself: I have come to the conclusion..." meaning that he meant to or did write more, but we aren't privy to what it was or would have been? Or did he write, "Myself, I have come to the conclusion." meaning that he had come to the conclusion that a cormorant is no different from himself?

The reason I thought it might be the last one is that the story said he wrote it as the entry for "cormorant" in his notebook, suggesting that he had decided to define the bird as “myself.” The irony, of course, would be that even in making this existential revelation, he’s completely self-focused. The horror is that even when we see ourselves as connected with other living things, we still can’t escape our own egos.

More like this one, please.
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« Reply #14 on: March 10, 2012, 10:32:19 PM »

Quote
The words he scribbled down at the end were confusing in the audio format (I don't think they would have been in print). Did he write, "Myself: I have come to the conclusion." meaning that he had finally found it appropriate to quote himself, and that he had come to the conclusion of his life? Did he write, "Myself: I have come to the conclusion..." meaning that he meant to or did write more, but we aren't privy to what it was or would have been? Or did he write, "Myself, I have come to the conclusion." meaning that he had come to the conclusion that a cormorant is no different from himself?

And the answer is: number 4

(*whispering* *muffled riffling of notes*)

There is no number 4, ahhhh.

It was, in fact, number four:  "Myself, I have come to the conclusion..." which effectively means the same thing as you have for #2 (although I love the fact that in audio it can also sound like both #1 AND #3, I actually chuckled aloud as I finished the story for the first time, because I'd already decided by the halfway point that I was going to buy it, so the multiple possibilities of the last line were just a cherry on the sundae)

“He loved the extensive vaults where you could hear the night birds and the sea breeze; he loved the craggy ruins bound together by ivy, those dark halls, and any appearance of death and destruction. Having fallen so far from so high a position, he loved anything that had also fallen from a great height.”
Gustave Flaubert, “Dream Of Hell” (1837)
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« Reply #15 on: March 12, 2012, 08:46:10 AM »

While I appreciated the intention of "The Burning Servant," this one was much more my style. I thought it was rather brilliant. I agree that the horror didn't really come from impending death, but I'm not sure it came from a wasted life, either. After all, writing books isn't an inherently useless activity. I think the (admittedly very subtle) horror came from the protagonist's relentless self-obsession. He never seemed to actually regret his life, because I think he was too prideful for that. His life may have been severely limited by his dedication to academic scholarship, but I don't think he ever realized it.

I agree that writing books isn't an inherently useless activity, but to me it seemed that his role was even more limited than that.  At one point in the story he considers making a quote, but he refrains from doins go because he thinks there are better people to make quotes.  He is a writer who is afraid to write anything that didn't come directly from someone else--that line struck me as sad.

The words he scribbled down at the end were confusing in the audio format (I don't think they would have been in print). Did he write, "Myself: I have come to the conclusion." meaning that he had finally found it appropriate to quote himself, and that he had come to the conclusion of his life? Did he write, "Myself: I have come to the conclusion..." meaning that he meant to or did write more, but we aren't privy to what it was or would have been? Or did he write, "Myself, I have come to the conclusion." meaning that he had come to the conclusion that a cormorant is no different from himself?

I loved the ambiguity.  The "..." after all wouldn't have been written by him if he didn't have time to finish, because he wouldn't have had the time to write an ellipsis either.  I found it funny and sad that after all that time, and at the cost of his life, he comes to an inspiration and EVEN THEN it's not entirely clear whether he was making a clever joke at his own expense or if he had some actual conclusion he wanted to write but which he never was able to.
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« Reply #16 on: March 13, 2012, 11:44:43 PM »

I agree that writing books isn't an inherently useless activity, but to me it seemed that his role was even more limited than that.  At one point in the story he considers making a quote, but he refrains from doins go because he thinks there are better people to make quotes.  He is a writer who is afraid to write anything that didn't come directly from someone else--that line struck me as sad.

Oh, definitely. I thought he was a pretty pathetic figure. Not someone I want to emulate.

Thanks, Sgarre1, for the clarification! Definitely still an ambiguous ending, which I like.
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« Reply #17 on: March 16, 2012, 07:17:31 AM »

This was a really nice, thoughtful piece.  I love the echoes of inaction that shape and doom the protagonist's life.  The lack of supernatural agency was a nice touch, after all the ominous hints throughout the opening.
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« Reply #18 on: April 05, 2012, 02:58:16 PM »

There was actually a section of seaside cliff I used to climb on as a child where I always had the vague worry that this sort of thing could happen to me.  I really loved how personal this story was.  He had so much time to contemplate his impending death, and it was well-foreshadowed, but we all know the newspaper will read "Bookish man drowns in ocean," as the earlier poster so eloquently put it.  This aspect of the story really speaks to me, it's tragic and a bit scary, but it just makes me think about all the deaths where we don't know the full story or the personal horror involved with the more mundane drowning headline.

I think I'm already planning to vote for this in next year's Best Story polls.  Of course, Pseudopod still has 3/4 of a year to keep one-upping themselves.
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« Reply #19 on: April 05, 2012, 08:47:37 PM »

Speaking of all the unknown deaths, has anyone else heard of this phenomenon?

The phenomenon dubbed "lonely death" or kodokushi (孤独死?) is a growing occurrence in Japan. The term translates to "Persons who lived alone, die alone." Their bodies lie in places undiscovered for long periods of time, and because of this, thick, dark stains (the residue of liquids excreted by a decomposing corpse) shaped like a human body are left where their bodies once lay. [1][2] Kodokushi has become a nationwide problem in Japan.

I ran across it on Wikipedia, and it made me think of this story.
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