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Author Topic: PC200: In the Stacks  (Read 16348 times)
WinBear
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« Reply #20 on: March 18, 2012, 08:45:28 AM »

Through a convoluted chain of events, I just stumbled onto Podcastle and this was my first episode. I thought the full cast recording was great and wasn't too distracted by the audio variances during the very engaging story. My main complaint was the distortion on the female co-host's bits at the beginning and end of the story.
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Riach
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« Reply #21 on: March 18, 2012, 02:34:51 PM »

Loved this story!  and having it read by an ensemble was a nice change and a great way to celebrate your 200th.  and yes, it was a "typical" dungeon crawl, but since when is that not fun?

and since i just realized that i hadn't done my yearly donation yet, i just did that to add to the celebration.

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BlueLu
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« Reply #22 on: March 18, 2012, 07:42:27 PM »

You could really tell that everyone involved was having a blast.  I thought it was a great choice for PodCastle's 200th.  Congratulations!  And welcome, WinBear, you've stumbled on a great podcast.
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Lena
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« Reply #23 on: March 19, 2012, 09:36:02 AM »

I really enjoyed this one!  It seems like so much of recent fantasy, especially that which gets nominated for stuff, takes itself so seriously and avoids humor and fun.  Maybe I've just been grabbing the wrong fiction lately, but that's the way it feels to me.  So I loved to see this fun and humorous action-packed story.  Was it a dungeon-crawl?  Sure, but it was an interesting dungeon, not just a LotR clone.  Good stuff.

I definitely did think the whole idea was very similar to Pratchett's L-Space, but at the same time I don't believe I've ever read a Discworld story where L-Space was the primary setting or where the library itself is a major antagonist.  So I didn't see it as covering too-familiar ground, but rather exploring some aspects of a cool idea that Pratchett hadn't ever focused on (at least not in the books that I've read).

The Library also reminded me in many ways of the Labyrinth in Weis and Hickman's Death Gate Cycle, although this was built as a book repository rather than a prison it behaved rather similarly. 

And I really enjoyed the full-cast recording.  I know those are a hell of a lot of work to put together properly, and especially when you're committed to such a regular production cycle, that can be hard to do.  One of the reasons I really like the Dunesteef podcast is because of their full cast recordings.  So it was great to see this one.  Great story to choose for it too with enough fun characters to spread the love.  Each time a new voice popped up, I got excited all over again--Wilson Fowlie and MK Hobson as the experienced librarians, and of course DKT would be the student who goes to the dark side.

The resolution with the vocabuvores was a good idea, one that I hadn't seen coming.  Once he got started feeding it I was wondering if he would overfeed and cause it to bloat up like an engorged tick and make it pop from all the sudden ingestion.  Good stuff!

Anyway I'm probably the only one who after listening spent time considering that this trap actually invites people into it by not telling others what happened. The sheer fact that they keep why certain people die in this test a secret ensures that young minds will assume they were the first to think of it, that is at the very least questionably moral..

I think that was precisely the idea, and if that trap works, they've done a service for all of society!  If they are teaching students who are very high on ambition and skill and very low on scruples, it is for the safety of the whole society to find these people at some point.  In other worlds, people who have turned to the dark side (like Anakin Skywalker or Tom Riddle) have more opportunity to blend into the society as adults and alter things until they have an opportunity to seize real power.  This society is self-aware enough to realize that these sorts of people will inevitably come through the system, and it has a method to catch them before taking over the world. 
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Max e^{i pi}
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« Reply #24 on: March 19, 2012, 04:51:55 PM »

Love the story, loved the full cast recording.
The episode was long enough, I won't bore you with more text.
The Library also reminded me in many ways of the Labyrinth in Weis and Hickman's Death Gate Cycle, although this was built as a book repository rather than a prison it behaved rather similarly.  
I hadn't thought of that, but now that you mention it, YES!
I think the term is "low level malevolence".

Also, I would very much like to see the Librarian knuckling around in there.
« Last Edit: March 20, 2012, 08:35:35 AM by Max e^{i pi} » Logged

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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #25 on: March 19, 2012, 10:42:57 PM »

Hail, hail, the gang's all here!!! GREAT full cast reading. And I could *almost* identify everyone on hearing them.

Ironically enough I was listening to this while returning books to a library. Though not one quite so ... interesting.

Always like Scott Lynch (ok, that's pretty much only on the impression of "Lies of Locke Lamora", but that's a great impression) and I'm glad he didn't fall into the trap of Librarian stereotypes. I also liked entering the library was made to sound like entering a modern prison. Which is really what it was in a way.
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #26 on: March 20, 2012, 11:13:43 AM »

"Tonight we will get drunk! In the human fashion!"

Damn, but I want that on a t-shirt.

This story had everything that makes ElectricPaladins happy: magic that is mysterious and magical and dangerous even though some of the characters have some facility with it, badass librarians, lizardmen, fantasy driven by the characters and their foibles and relationships, stirring confrontations in interesting environments, and compellingly weird and frightening antagonists that don't rely on tired fantasy tropes. Basically, this story was very nearly perfect in every way.

There was one its bitsy teeny weenie purple polka dotted nit-pick (that he wrote on the forums that day): I am getting heartily sick of the "character at a university of magic who can't do magic worth shit." I was only mildly amused by it the first time I saw it, and my amusement drained away precipitously thereafter. Nobody struggles through medical school in order to become, at best, a hilariously incompetent doctor. The very idea of a "hilariously incompetent doctor" is actually kind of horrifying. Why do we assume that magicians are any different? If you aren't any good at something - if you lack the brains, guts, dedication, or talent - why in the name of the Mother of Lizards would you continue to beat your head against it? Why would the teachers, mentors, and administrators of a place of learning allow a person to do that? Or if a character were to actually continue in such a situation, wouldn't that be a choice worthy of emotionally real exploration, rather than a gag?

I suppose that a second, somewhat larger nit (perhaps a one-eyed one-horned giant purple nit?) is that the character of Las doesn't seem to develop much. I would have liked him to actually grow in terms of power, confidence, and style. Instead, Las bore up awesomely against the horrors of the library and continued to self-deprecate and self-doubt his way to the end, at which point his sorry hide was saved by one of the aforementioned badass librarians.

Between Las's "hilarious" magical incompetence and failure to appreciate his own worth, the story had a certain emotional... what's the word I'm looking for? Immaturity? Unreality? Insincerity?

"AAAAAH" *SPLAT!*

Um, anyway. Yeah. So.

Basically a great story. It was full of great stuff. The emotional content was a little flat for me, which is a significant flaw, but it's one that I didn't really note until the story was over, so I suppose it wasn't that bad. Here's to another 200 episodes (and more!) of the weird, the wily, the wondrous, and the... um... listened to on the way to Work. Yeah. That will do.

And while we're at it, here's to me getting a story published on PodCastle.

What? It could happen.
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« Reply #27 on: March 20, 2012, 11:37:45 AM »

There was one its bitsy teeny weenie purple polka dotted nit-pick (that he wrote on the forums that day): I am getting heartily sick of the "character at a university of magic who can't do magic worth shit." I was only mildly amused by it the first time I saw it, and my amusement drained away precipitously thereafter. Nobody struggles through medical school in order to become, at best, a hilariously incompetent doctor. The very idea of a "hilariously incompetent doctor" is actually kind of horrifying. Why do we assume that magicians are any different? If you aren't any good at something - if you lack the brains, guts, dedication, or talent - why in the name of the Mother of Lizards would you continue to beat your head against it? Why would the teachers, mentors, and administrators of a place of learning allow a person to do that? Or if a character were to actually continue in such a situation, wouldn't that be a choice worthy of emotionally real exploration, rather than a gag?

That didn't bother me, for some reason.  Perhaps because it didn't seem to be intended for humor, but rather to increase the level of challenge for the character to make it through the trials and tribulations without the equivalent of a magical gun.

And as far as comparing to a hilariously incompetent doctor, that's not how I thought of it either.  Magic is all-pervasive in this society by the sound of it.  Sure, there are roles like librarian that are dangerous and where a competent person, but one would hope that those roles would have an extensive interview process and apprenticeship to prove your skills before you have to stand alone.  There are probably many roles which are less critical and which can be performed by a person of lesser skill, and at which a person of greater skill would probably not deign to spend their time doing.

Rather than being equivalent to a doctor, I pictured it as being more equivalent to a computer programming major.  I know some people who graduated with the same computer science degree as I did who really had not enough competence to deserve the degree--somehow always managing to partner with someone who is willing to carry them through development projects.  And I know other people who were repeating the same engineering class for the 4th time and if they ever did pass I doubt they'd really grasp it, they would probably just get it enough to squeak by with a barely-passing grade.  I can't say that I'm very happy that these people got their degrees while coasting on the efforts of others.  At the same time, when they got out into the working world their skill level should've become obvious rather quickly.  There are many applications where bad software would be dangerous such as missile guidance or medical implants, but if the engineering of those kinds of life-critical devices are set up properly then someone who doesn't know what they are doing will be filtered out rather quickly or not hired in the first place.  Instead they might still be able to get other less dangerous jobs.  I see the same being the case here.  I don't think Laslo will ever be a librarian.  He might be more gruntwork to maintain household cleaning spells or some such thing.  But that doesn't mean that he can't find work, and again it didn't seem to me that this was supposed to be funny.  I thought it reflected reality in certain fields relatively well.

And while we're at it, here's to me getting a story published on PodCastle.

What? It could happen.

Hear, hear!  After 28 rejections, none of which made it past Ann Leckie, I can't say I feel much hope for myself.  More luck to you!
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Max e^{i pi}
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« Reply #28 on: March 20, 2012, 12:03:41 PM »

Actually, that whole final sequence of the stupidly ambitious student biting off more than he can chew and getting the life sucked out of him was rather redundant. I mean, really, what was the point of that? Listening to it at the time I was all "What is going on now? Why isn't the story over?"
Just cut out Cas's whole mysterious object thingy and stick with his gung-ho enthusiasm of the library. Why couldn't we have ended with everybody covered in vocabuvore goo heading out to get drunk in the human fashion happily confident that they have completed this trial successfully, and celebrate their continued existence on the mortal plane and their newfound camaraderie?
That final scene didn't allow for further character development, was disassociated from the main plot and added nothing at all to the story as a whole.
Not to mention the holes people have been poking in it in this thread.

If the story had ended about 5 minutes early it would have been absolutely perfect. As it is it was still very, very good.
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« Reply #29 on: March 20, 2012, 12:10:01 PM »

... I forgot to mention:  at the mention of vocabuvores I thought there'd be mention of the subspecies verbivores in there somewhere... 
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #30 on: March 20, 2012, 12:13:13 PM »

... I forgot to mention:  at the mention of vocabuvores I thought there'd be mention of the subspecies verbivores in there somewhere... 

And I forgot to mention that the only disappointing thing about the vocabuvores is that the person that said the word still had it once the vocabuvores were done. Imagine how horrifying it would be if they didn't.
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« Reply #31 on: March 20, 2012, 12:30:08 PM »

Imagine how horrifying it would be if they didn't.

Ooooh. I like that idea. Smiley
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« Reply #32 on: March 20, 2012, 06:59:36 PM »

Congratulations on the 200th episode (if  a little belatedly)!
I enjoyed the full cast reading. It was a little bumpy at the beginning, but I got into it fine, once they entered the library.
The story was enjoyable as well - I especially liked the two librarians, they were way cool. (The fact that I loved Master Molnar's voice might have added to that impression.) Lazlo and Casimir were fine, though Lev and especially Yvette stayed a bit flat. I approve of the twist at the end - there was so much foreshadowing about Casimir's character that something had to happen and this 'trap' was a really clever thing to do, quite believable.
As for the labyrinth of books, I kept thinking of "The City of Dreaming Books" by German author Walter Moers, which is a very whimsical fantasy adventure tale playing with all kinds of book, library and literature motives. And yeah, looks like there's an English translation available.
« Last Edit: March 20, 2012, 07:12:25 PM by Reed » Logged
Max e^{i pi}
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« Reply #33 on: March 21, 2012, 03:38:10 AM »

... I forgot to mention:  at the mention of vocabuvores I thought there'd be mention of the subspecies verbivores in there somewhere... 

And I forgot to mention that the only disappointing thing about the vocabuvores is that the person that said the word still had it once the vocabuvores were done. Imagine how horrifying it would be if they didn't.
I'd actually marveled at the elegance of having a food source that can simultaneously be consumed by everyone.
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« Reply #34 on: March 21, 2012, 12:44:03 PM »

Not much I can add to the praise being heaped on this.  I loved the story, loved the full cast reading, loved just about everything.  Interestingly enough, the most clipped bits were Peter's own lines, and there could have been more spacing with many parts of dialog, but like others have said, it smoothed out once they entered the library. 

Now I really want to start playing Ars Magica again. 
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #35 on: March 21, 2012, 12:59:23 PM »

That didn't bother me, for some reason.  Perhaps because it didn't seem to be intended for humor, but rather to increase the level of challenge for the character to make it through the trials and tribulations without the equivalent of a magical gun.

And as far as comparing to a hilariously incompetent doctor, that's not how I thought of it either.  Magic is all-pervasive in this society by the sound of it.  Sure, there are roles like librarian that are dangerous and where a competent person, but one would hope that those roles would have an extensive interview process and apprenticeship to prove your skills before you have to stand alone.  There are probably many roles which are less critical and which can be performed by a person of lesser skill, and at which a person of greater skill would probably not deign to spend their time doing.

Rather than being equivalent to a doctor, I pictured it as being more equivalent to a computer programming major.  I know some people who graduated with the same computer science degree as I did who really had not enough competence to deserve the degree--somehow always managing to partner with someone who is willing to carry them through development projects.  And I know other people who were repeating the same engineering class for the 4th time and if they ever did pass I doubt they'd really grasp it, they would probably just get it enough to squeak by with a barely-passing grade.  I can't say that I'm very happy that these people got their degrees while coasting on the efforts of others.  At the same time, when they got out into the working world their skill level should've become obvious rather quickly.  There are many applications where bad software would be dangerous such as missile guidance or medical implants, but if the engineering of those kinds of life-critical devices are set up properly then someone who doesn't know what they are doing will be filtered out rather quickly or not hired in the first place.  Instead they might still be able to get other less dangerous jobs.  I see the same being the case here.  I don't think Laslo will ever be a librarian.  He might be more gruntwork to maintain household cleaning spells or some such thing.  But that doesn't mean that he can't find work, and again it didn't seem to me that this was supposed to be funny.  I thought it reflected reality in certain fields relatively well.

Here's the thing, though: you wouldn't include a hilariously incompetent computer programmer in a high-tech IT action thriller or New Media posthuman near future sci-fi. I mean, you might include an incompetent programmer - maybe the main character has some asshole foisted on him by politics or whatever - but the guy's incompetence would be taken seriously rather than played for laughs. It would get someone killed, or nearly so, or spell the character's own demise. For some reason, though, stories about magic don't take themselves - or perhaps it's the very premise of magic itself - seriously enough.

I also don't really like the comparison of magic to computer science, at least not for this story. Part of the appeal for me was that the author went to so much effort to make at least part of the magic - the library itself - well, magical.

In my opinion magic suffers from a serious over-abundance of a concept I'll steal from ghost stories: explanation of the machinery (you can find the original concept here: http://novelnovice.com/2011/07/05/the-revenant-elements-of-the-ghost-story-gothic-novel/). In ghost stories, you don't (usually) get extensive explanations of the mechanics of the underworld, the exact powers and abilities of ghosts, and so on. You get people grappling with something they don't - can't - understand, which will never be properly explained to them. Some fantasy stories take the same tactic - I mean, does anyone ever really explain where Gandalf's powers come from?

With modern fantasy has come the custom of the, to kidnap from roleplaying "Player Character" magician. A perspective character who can wield magic. And suddenly the machinery is getting explained left and right. This isn't bad, exactly. I mean, I probably like Brandon Sanderson a lot more than the next guy. But, I do think magic loses something when it's comprehensible.

In this story, the magic - at least, the magic of the library - is never explained. It's magical. It's weird. It just plain is.

It's magic without explanation of the machinery, and I loved it.

Now, say what you want about how complicated and magical computers are - and how special it makes you :-P - but that machinery is still pretty explained to me. There are stories where the comparison would have been apt, but I don't feel like it worked for In the Stacks, and that's part of what I liked about it.
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« Reply #36 on: March 21, 2012, 01:38:46 PM »

Re: Hilariously incompetent wizard/doctor/programmer...

This is a fascinating aspect that never occurred to me until you guys underscored it by shining a light on it using this story. I recently was explaining to a friend of mine why I loved the show Eureka, and the only negative aspect of the show that I couldn't get past--the part that kept yanking me bodily out of the universe of the show--was the incompetence of the Fargo character.

It is exactly what you guys were talking about. Here's a guy who is undeniably a genius. Someone so smart, he can nearly destroy the universe several times in each season. And yet he's dangerously incompetent at the same time.

But everyone puts up with it. Everyone in the world of that show just...ignores his total incompetence. In the "real world," he would have been fired the first time he killed someone or caused a rift in space-time or accidentally created a sub-universe that threatened to take over our own.

I have to wonder how often it shows up and we just...sort of gloss over it.

I wonder if that's on tvtropes, yet... *cautiously approaches tvtropes.com like a proto-human touching the monolith...*
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« Reply #37 on: March 21, 2012, 06:51:27 PM »

As for 'mediocre magic users': The vibe I get (in this story) is that magic is still special enough that even being mediocre at it  is something you can build a career on. Probably most people in the school aren't better than Lazlo and Lev. Still they have a talent that gives them a definite advantage over people who can't do magic at all and that shouldn't go to waste, so they'll be trained. (And obviously their education contains some other stuff as well - at least fighting.)
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Max e^{i pi}
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« Reply #38 on: March 22, 2012, 02:39:37 AM »

The problem there (leaving magic incomprehensible) is that as soon as you have people learning to be magic users, whether by apprenticeship or in a university, you need to make it comprehensible. If it isn't comprehensible then the entire premise of your story falls apart.
That is why I particularly like the programmer analogy.
Programming has rules and concepts and you can break everything down into smaller bits and understand each bit separately and then put it all together in a new way and create something new.
Most programmers don't grok the full comprehensibility of what they are doing, but it works anyway. Some mediocre programmers occasionally churn out magnificent code that works, which they don't fully understand why (has happened to me a few times Tongue).
To the non-programmer it's all so much gobbledygook, but to the initiated it makes perfect and elegant sense.
Just like magic.

Oh sure, you can have some kinds of magic that are inherently incomprehensible, just like I will never understand the coding behind Skynet. But that doesn't detract from the main point: if people are going to learn to use magic, you must somehow impress the idea that it is understandable. And the best way to do that is to (somewhat) explain the machinations.
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« Reply #39 on: March 22, 2012, 07:13:19 AM »

Lots of praise already for this one.  I just want to add my props to Peter Wood's audio work.  That must have been an absolute beast to put together.  Well done, sir.
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