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Author Topic: PC207, Giant Episode: Hope Chest  (Read 5013 times)
Talia
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« on: May 08, 2012, 01:23:30 PM »

PodCastle 207, Giant Episode: Hope Chest

by Garth Nix

Read by Mur Lafferty (the Mighty, Mighty)

Originally Published in Firebirds, edited by Sharyn November.

One dusty, slow morning in the summer of 1922, a passenger was left crying on the platform when the milk train pulled out of Denilburg after its five minute stop. No one noticed at first, what with the whistle from the train and the billowing steam and smoke and the labouring of the steel wheels upon the rails. The milk carter was busy with the cans, the station master with the mail. No one else was about, not when the full dawn was still half a cup of coffee away.

When the train had rounded the corner, taking its noise with it, the crying could be clearly heard. Milk carter and station master both looked up from their work and saw the source of the noise.

A baby, tightly swaddled in a pink blanket, was precariously balanced on a large steamer trunk on the very edge of the platform. With every cry and wriggle, the baby was moving closer to the side of the trunk. If she fell, she’d fall not only from the trunk, but from the platform, down to the rails four feet below.


Rated R: Contains violence.

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
« Last Edit: May 30, 2012, 08:27:09 AM by Talia » Logged
unkillable
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« Reply #1 on: May 08, 2012, 04:20:51 PM »

WOW! What a great story! It compelled me to sign up for the forums.

It combined so many cool elements. Nix captured some of the essence of Stephen King's Dark Tower without turning it into a bloated sprawling epic. This story captured my imagination and I'll be thinking about it for days or longer.

Thanks.
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jenfullmoon
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« Reply #2 on: May 09, 2012, 05:20:22 PM »

I recently read Firebirds and was excited to see this story go up--it was one of my favorites. Blows you away, no? Awesome story! Mur did a good job with it too.
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Father Beast
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« Reply #3 on: May 09, 2012, 08:56:36 PM »

Very nice, I enjoyed it all the way through. It was only afterward that I realized what it is...

It's a superhero origin story. It even has the costume. I was ready to write up a Guide to the Marvel Universe entry for her.

It's still great!
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Pirvonen
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« Reply #4 on: May 10, 2012, 11:31:14 AM »

All dictators are evil entities from outside the human species.
No human will ever do anything evil except when under the spell of the evil non-human entities.

AAGGGHHH! Yechh, yechh, yechh.

To have such a trite moral tacked unto a well-crafted story makes me unfortunately angry. This is exactly the kind of exeptionalism that helps keep people unprepared and unobservant. In real life dictators rise from the ranks of the normal people, and the normal people live normal lives most of the time even when wearing the black-and-red uniforms. The lunch mobs went home to have a nice evening with the little kiddies, they were not hypnotized or otherwise magicked.

If the setting had been more fantasy without such direct finger-pointing correlatives to mundane history, I probably would not have felt this annoyed. So I'm illogical.

(Well-crafted story, although I didn't feel much connection with any of the characters. Well-written, though, and I even liked the pacing.)
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danooli
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« Reply #5 on: May 10, 2012, 05:08:28 PM »

In real life dictators rise from the ranks of the normal people, and the normal people live normal lives most of the time even when wearing the black-and-red uniforms. The lunch mobs went home to have a nice evening with the little kiddies, they were not hypnotized or otherwise magicked.

But, I don't want to listen to a story about normal people.

I loved this.  Every thing about it.  I want to follow Alice May on her all of her journeys, especially if she stays on that train.  I want to know who her parents were (I thought, for a moment, that the Master was going to be her father) and I want to know why they sent her to Denilburg.  I even want to watch the movie.

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Lionman
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« Reply #6 on: May 10, 2012, 08:17:30 PM »

I liked the way this was put together, it's a great story.  There was only one thing in the aftermath of it that left me thinking I might have liked it more...  If I hadn't been left with the feeling we won't hear more about this young lady and what heroics she goes onto accomplish.
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Pirvonen
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« Reply #7 on: May 11, 2012, 09:35:40 AM »

Quote
But, I don't want to listen to a story about normal people.

Sure, I have no problem with that. I like to listen to a story that is not thinly veiled re-telling of mundane events, too.

I do not want to listen to a story that coddles normal people into believing that they will never ever do anything bad; after all, magic only happens in stories, and people are only doing bad things if they are put under a spell.
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yicheng
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« Reply #8 on: May 11, 2012, 12:33:31 PM »

First, the story was well-crafted.  I liked the young heroine and the idea of taking up the mantle of Annie Oakley as a superhero.

However, I had a very strong visceral dislike the central theme of fate as an invisible and nigh irresistible force pulling the characters around like some sort of cosmic puppet-master.  In particular, when matched with the obvious images of Hitler and the National Socialists (apparently arising out of a Great Depression American Despotism), I felt quite angry at the implication that somehow human beings were not responsible for their own actions, and that the Nazi's somehow spawned out of a demonic "other-ness" out of nowhere, and that the only thing to save us was apparently some sort of angelic superhero that also came out of nowhere.  In a way this kind of predestination pretty much absolves everyone in the story from any sort of real guilt or merit.  Nobody was evil, not even the "Master", since he was apparently just a pawn of evil.  By corrolary, nobody was good either, not even Alice May, since she was just the body that happened to hold the guns.  It's a terribly pessimistic and depressing universe to live in.

More over, I think it's implication about the real-world Hitler and Nazi-ism is both short-sighted and dangerous.  Opinions differ of course, but reading about atrocities like those perpetrated during WW2 (or more recently in Rwanda), my take-away was that it's not demons or monsters, or "evil" that performed those deeds.  Perfectly normal people (like you or me) made the rational decision to kill their acquaintances and neighbors.  Other perfectly normal people (also like you or me) made a rational decision to risk their own lives to try to save those people.  That's perhaps the scarier truth.  After all, if the universe was full of random irresistible forces pulling us every which way, then why bother to take responsibility for anything? 
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BlueLu
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« Reply #9 on: May 12, 2012, 02:20:53 PM »

All dictators are evil entities from outside the human species.
No human will ever do anything evil except when under the spell of the evil non-human entities.

AAGGGHHH! Yechh, yechh, yechh.

To have such a trite moral tacked unto a well-crafted story makes me unfortunately angry. This is exactly the kind of exeptionalism that helps keep people unprepared and unobservant. In real life dictators rise from the ranks of the normal people, and the normal people live normal lives most of the time even when wearing the black-and-red uniforms. The lunch mobs went home to have a nice evening with the little kiddies, they were not hypnotized or otherwise magicked.


While I will NEVER use the word "yechh" to describe a Garth Nix story (partly because I don't know how to pronounce it) I do have to agree somewhat.  I felt like Nix had to turn everyone into hypnotized, pure-evil zomboids to justify Alice May's kill fest.  Of her neighbours! And her sister! Of course I've heard and enjoyed stories that were both more violent and more morally ambiguous, but I don't think Nix landed hard enough on the moral ambiguity of a 16-year-old girl killing the local butcher, baker and candlestick maker with (mostly) impunity.  Yes, she was a little appalled with herself, but mostly she just shot, got on the train, and didn't look back.  It left me a bit cold.

All that said, I was psyched to hear Dave say Nix has a new book, which I will definitely buy and read since Nix is (still) one of my favourite authors.
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Lena
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« Reply #10 on: May 13, 2012, 09:44:04 AM »

I felt like Nix had to turn everyone into hypnotized, pure-evil zomboids to justify Alice May's kill fest.  Of her neighbours! And her sister!

And you just put into words one of my chief discomforts with zombie fiction.
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #11 on: May 13, 2012, 11:26:32 AM »

No, Dave. Sorry. Not Samuel L. Jackson. Uma Thurman.

To those objections over the nature of our protagonist, and the antagonists, I would say that entire story is beyond mere human control. More than once, Alice May feels she has no will of her own once she put the dress on. This reads like a battle between good and evil on an elemental level, with humans - all the humans - as puppets. And in the end Alice May is subsumed by it, even though she survives.
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Pirvonen
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« Reply #12 on: May 13, 2012, 12:03:48 PM »

(...) entire story is beyond mere human control. (...) This reads like a battle between good and evil on an elemental level, with humans - all the humans - as puppets.

That would have been a thoroughly interesting story to read! Now we see nothing of the battle between elemental good and evil, be see only the thinnest superficial "let's go and kill them all, oh we have to have an excuse to do it". Like somebody else said, this is not what one usually expects from a Nix story.
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #13 on: May 13, 2012, 12:20:03 PM »

I liked this one a lot, at first, but Nix lost me when he totally deprotagonized the main character. Look, I really enjoy the theme of how heroism can be kind of deprotagonizing, how over time the hero can gradually come to feel that s/he is less the star of the story than just the actor fate picked to fill a necessary role. It was done well in The Lord of the Rings. It was done well in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. It was done well in practically everything Brandon Sanderson has ever written. But in this story, Nix took it just a little too far. The main character starts to feel like her choices were made for her, long ago? Awesome. The main character has to struggle with a magical "blessing" that bypasses her free will to some extent? Pretty neat. The main character is reduced to little more than a zombie with executive control over the proceedings? Not cool.

The climax of the story was written in passive voice. Alice isn't sad that she chose to kill her neighbors. Alice isn't sad that she had to kill her neighbors. She isn't even sad that she felt she had no choice (when we all know that you always have a choice). No - she seems sad that they were killed, as though by someone else. It's a moral dodge, and a step too far.

That said, all the themes were spot on. I enjoyed the building horror of the Servants of the State and the gradual reveal of what they really were. I enjoyed the echoes of our own history. I really liked the sense of inevitability and mythology of the piece, the way that everything from the designs on the guns to the train to the Master's little monologue seemed merely a part of a larger story, an epic beyond our time and our world, that we were not going to get to read.

But I didn't like the way Nix approached the theme of the hero's deprotagonization by her own story. It was just too heavy-handed.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #14 on: May 15, 2012, 03:20:24 PM »

I both loved and disliked this story.

I loved the description of her arrival in town and the her childhood was explained succinctly yet in enough detail to feel real. I particularly liked how her instincts took over as soon as she touched the items in the hope chest. At that point it seemed like she was unlocking a previously forgotten skill set and for me that's a fun alternative to a matrix-style download. I was able to really tap into the sense of wonder over the chest that I'm sure Mr. Nix was going for.

However, once her hands and the guns in them starting acting against her will and she was powerless to do anything but come along for the ride? Not my cup of tea. I've never heard of "deprotagonizing" as such, but I have to agree with ElectricPaladin that it went too far down the free will/automaton continuum.

Interesting that this is the second EA story in recent memory to deal with a girl whose humanity is taken from her as she is forced to commit awful acts of violence.
« Last Edit: May 15, 2012, 03:22:18 PM by Devoted135 » Logged
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« Reply #15 on: May 16, 2012, 08:29:03 AM »

"Deprotagonize." That's a good word. I might steal that.

 Wink

I was a little underwhelmed by the story, for that very reason. Characters weren't really developed. Alice May was the hero because she had a box full of hero stuff. Not-Hitler was the villain because he dressed in black and made people kill each other. That's about as much motivation as we get. I felt like a lot of stuff got left out. Important stuff.

There were a few details floating around in the background I enjoyed. The mention of the aging Emperor in Washington, whom I can't help but feel was named Theodore the Magnificient. Offhand references of magical technology we don't have in our world (tantalum miners?) And of course, the distinctly American image of the shining star and the Winchester Peacemaker, coming to dish out some old-fashioned frontier justice. The small-town Sheriff raised to a mythological figure, who will simply get on a train and fade into the West when her job is done.

And the political philosopher in me can't help but see the allegories. Fascist dark wizard arises in Middle America, corrupting our society! How do we combat such evil? With reason and compassion? With faith and common sense? Nah, we'll just shoot him. That's how we deal with your fancy East-Coast ways round these parts, partner!
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« Reply #16 on: May 17, 2012, 12:07:29 PM »

BUY AND PODCAST ALL THE LONG STORIES!

Seriously, can we get some more that are only 30-40 minutes long? My backlog is bad enough as it is -- almost 30 episodes alone from the StarShipSofa familiy.

I think this story had a good setup. However, once Alice May reached the train and ended up fighting the villain, it kind of lost me. I knew she was going to win, and since she'd already killed her sister, I knew she'd achieved the requisite amount of loss for a genre story. She wouldn't lose the Boss Fight.

The whole thing with the dictator and the soldiers and such were a little too broad-brush of a set of villains. I needed something a little rounder. Also, things took too long to get going and by the time Alice May put on her superhero outfit, we didn't have time for her to be a small hero before she became a big one.

Overall, decent.
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« Reply #17 on: May 18, 2012, 09:17:42 PM »

This was some excellent writing, but it was a disappointing story.  The story of Alice May growing up, the setting, and the creeping influence of Servants of the State was just beautifully crafted and had me fully engaged.  The story entirely lost it for me though as soon as she starts shooting.  As soon as Alice May starts shooting she dies as a character.  She is replaced by a gun slinging robot totally devoid of emotion that kills dictators because that is what it was programmed to do.  As she guns down random mind controlled citizens and her sister without a twitch of feeling it becomes clear that Alice May isn't even trapped in a robot killing machine, she is just dead, body and soul.  The story wouldn't have been significantly changed if she had been vaporized when she put on her shinny star and a robot assassin teleported in to go do some killing.

If she had only been either enraged, fearful, horrified, vengeful, or upset in response to gunning down zombie citizens and her sister, I would have enjoyed this a lot more.  I wouldn't even mind her being transformed into a Roland-esque ( from The Dark Tower) badass that will stomp on anyone to win if she was rationalizing and choosing her actions, but she wasn't even rationalize her actions, much less choosing them.

Finally, I found the big bad she faced to have been disappointing.  A little mind control here and there is fine, but this guy wins just by flat out mind controlling everyone who looks at him?  Eh, it is a cop out.  It means that no one is responsible for their actions.  If he can just mind control literally everyone, I don't even understand why he is bothering to kill and intimidate people.  I much preferred the Servants of the State that rose to power due to economic hardship, incompetent rule, intimidation, and maybe a little mind control over the one that arose because the big bad can mind control millions of people at once.

The writing really was excellent, as was the build up, but the execution of the action really hurt a story that I thought I was going to really like.
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« Reply #18 on: May 25, 2012, 08:40:42 AM »

A reborn Annie Oakley vs. an American Hitler?  What's not to like?  Well, actually I didn't like it, but that shortest of synopses makes it sound incredibly awesome.

My main problems with the story (most of which have been mentioned already):
--What ElectricPaladin calls the "deprotagonizing" of Alice.  It wasn't so bad when she first put on the uniform and she knew almost instinctively how to use the guns and such.  At first that struck me as inherited memory, but if you inherit memories you can still make your own choices.  Then the guns started shooting people without her intervention, and I got annoyed that she isn't even responsible for these actions.  If she were working the guns, and she had decided to shoot people than that would've been a major character choice, a major climactic moment, that she's willing to kill all these people to stop the mind controller from spreading his plague around the world, but as it was she just kind of sat through the rough ride and moved on.  Then she confronts her sister, and the leader has planted this exactly BECAUSE he believes she will never shoot her sister.  What a great opportunity for a character-building moment.  She has to either choose not to kill her sister and suffer through the consequences of not nipping this dictator in the bud, or to commit sororicide for the good of the world.  But then she makes her decision to spare her sister, using all of her will to pull the gun away and ultimately fails, thereby completely robbing the moment of having any great effect--"I did all I could, but dammit it just wasn't enough, so my sister died through no fault of my own and I still saved the world."  It seemed like the scenario was specifically designed to spare Alice of any guilt whatsoever, despite the fact that this was what her formidable opponent's major advantage over her was--his power over her sister.
--I didn't like that it absolved the leader and all of his followers from guilt by making them agents of some overpowering evil force from beyond our world, and by making them no match for the good force from beyond our world.  I think a reason that this bothers me is that it seems to provide a moral, but one which I don't agree with, but also it chooses a fantasy explanation for a behavior that is much more horrifying and powerful in reality.  In the story, an evil and nigh-unstoppable mind controlling evil force can reach out and move us around like puppets but which will inevitably be stopped by the even more unstoppable mind-controlling good force that can reach out and move us around like puppets.  I find that much less horrifying and powerful than the reality:  The most horrendous acts in history were committed by human beings.
--This is the lesser of my quibbles, but I felt it was all pretty predictable from the early moment when the mysterious orphan appears--my immediate guess whenever that happens is that they are a chosen one destined to save some portion of the world from evildoers.  I'd like to occasionally read a story about a mysterious orphan who turns out to NOT be destined to save the world.

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childoftyranny
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« Reply #19 on: May 25, 2012, 12:25:44 PM »

I'm going to be difficult and move in exactly the opposite direction of pretty much everyone, I think that the complete lack of control makes this a perfect hero deconstruction. In a way that I felt that Watchmen and other similar pieces miss because they try and make the heroes seems real and complex. Deep down when we looking at our heroes their actions were always predetermined. There was only one way they could act due to expectations, due to design, due to who was writing their scripts. Heroes generally had that inviolable moral compass so they would always be hunting down the right person, villain, slimy thing. This story strips away the cover that makes the heroes feel personable rather than the robots they always turned out to be in the end. This felt like one of those stories that wasn't meant to be subtle nor fulfilling.
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