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Author Topic: PC220: Iron-Eyes And The Watered Down World  (Read 4904 times)
Ocicat
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« on: August 08, 2012, 10:17:01 AM »

PodCastle 220: Iron-Eyes And The Watered Down World

by Saladin Ahmed.

Read by Cheyenne Wright.

Originally published in Saladin Ahmed’s blog.


Zok Ironeyes stared at the tilecard table before him and cursed softly as Hai Hai clacked down the Dragoness tile with a gloating grunt.

Hai Hai looked up from the table and locked her shiny black eyes on the innkeeper, her nose and whiskers twitching. The scraggle-haired, red faced fool avoided Hai Hai’s gaze with the shame of a man who’d been caught staring. Zok couldn’t fault the innkeeper’s curiosity. The man had probably seen only a handful of rabbitmen in his life, for few of Hai Hai’s people ever made it this far south. But if the proprietor of the preposterously-named King’s Crest Inn didn’t watch himself, he was like to get his nose broken at least. Hai Hai wasn’t one to indulge untraveled bumpkins’ gawking.

Rated R for language and violence.

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
« Last Edit: August 28, 2012, 10:11:08 AM by Talia » Logged
danooli
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« Reply #1 on: August 09, 2012, 05:55:48 AM »

This isn't on my iTunes feed.   Huh  (Luckily I can listen on my phone with Beyond Pod though!)
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chemistryguy
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« Reply #2 on: August 09, 2012, 06:22:22 AM »

Sword and sorcery seems core to fantasy fiction, but these have actually been some of my least favorite stories.  I read a LOT of Conan in my teens and watched those and other barbarian movies, but what drew me into Podcastle (and its sister podcasts) was the ability of the authors to develop characters in which I could get emotionally invested.

That being said, the first half of this story wasn't too bad.  I wanted to know more about the character Hai Hai.  How many more things do we share in common with this other race and what are some more differences.  The story read as if it were one in a series, so it seemed possible in the beginning that we might find out more later.



Spoiler Alert



The ending just crashed and burned for me.  Of course it's ironic that Zok's son turns out to be a scrawny wimp, but I found this revelation and the contrived dialogue with his deceased wife to be totally unsatisfying.

And now he's going to give up the mercenary business and become a dad?  There wasn't enough character development to determine all of Zok's hidden motives, but this just seemed WAY out of place.

I can't say how I'd end it because I simply don't have enough information about these people.  Seems to me that he'd hang around the town for a bit, grow resentful and then hightail it out of there.  But then I'm the eternal optimist.
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DKT
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« Reply #3 on: August 09, 2012, 08:48:44 AM »

This isn't on my iTunes feed.   Huh  (Luckily I can listen on my phone with Beyond Pod though!)

Huh. We'll look into this. Thanks.
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danooli
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« Reply #4 on: August 09, 2012, 10:21:00 AM »

Still listening, but I wanted to add more killer bunnies! Who can forget the "cute and fuzzy bunnies " from the classic John Cusak film "One Crazy Summer"? Man, I love that stupid movie...
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #5 on: August 09, 2012, 02:00:44 PM »

Loved it.

I've begun to enjoy sword and sorcery more as I get older. Maybe I'm doing it backward. Maybe it's the "don't give a sh!t" attitude of the main characters. Dunno. Don't really care. But that's that.

Thank the God of Podcasts for bringing back Cheyenne and pairing him with Saladin Ahmed, with a story involving a cranky macho swordsman, a drug-addled priest, and psychotic... bunny.... Ok, that was a problem at first, but I'll get back to that. I really liked how the characters fit together, and the human depths of the characters (even the inhuman one). That is why the ending worked for me. These are characters with realistic and completely understandable flaws, and the revelation of Zok's infidelity casts a different light on everything before it involving his devotion to Freya. Is the world "watered-down" because of Zok's age, or the "fallen" nature of the world, or is Zok deeply disappointed in himself? This sort of internal reflection is common is Ahmed's stories, and I like it.

And I would love to hear earlier stories about these three, if this is the last.

Now... about those bunnies. I have to admit, I went "Oy!" when I heard Dave mention rabbits. Oh, God, what is Saladin thinking? But I had enough faith in him to continue on and I'm glad I did. I mean, cat-people and lizard-people are such an S&S troupe-- why NOT bunny people (I even caught what I thought was a clever reference in the term "cunny" which of course is a rabbit-derived term, part of humanity's long history of naming our genitals with animal terms)?

And Dave, I remember Jax in the original publications of those comics (I'm old), thanks for reminding me. He was a favorite character, even if that story arc is a blatant rip-off of Magnificent Seven and therefore Seven Samurai, and even though at the time I thought he was silly as well. But, yes, still better than Jar-Jar.

And how could you NOT mention Watership Down?Huh
« Last Edit: August 10, 2012, 10:56:25 AM by InfiniteMonkey » Logged
Pirvonen
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« Reply #6 on: August 10, 2012, 05:15:45 AM »

Good entertainment value. Although I was at times listening for the clatter of GMs and players' dice. The twist at the climactic scene was not exactly what I expected, and in other respects, too, worth listening.
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danooli
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« Reply #7 on: August 10, 2012, 06:00:30 AM »

I am a huge fan of bunnies, even when they rampage my vegetable and flower garden.  That said, I was also a bit taken aback by the thought of Rabbit people.  However, my well placed faith in both Saladin Ahmed and PodCastle didn't fail me.  Great story.

To disagree a bit with chemistryguy, I think the love that Zok kept alive for his wife made the ending work for me.  Freya asked him to take the boy in, as a last favor to her, so of course he does.  In fact, in a way this is sort of the third sacrifice story in a row at PodCastle.  "Insect Joy" was an obvious sacrifice, in "Circle Harp" we saw an old woman leave her old and beloved harp for one she likely will never play, and here we see Zok giving up his lifestyle (profession, I suppose) to raise his son.  Cool.
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chemistryguy
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« Reply #8 on: August 10, 2012, 06:13:00 AM »

And how could you NOT mention Watership Down?Huh

Good God, YES!  How did I manage to forget this one?  Bunny psychology, sociology, and mythology explained.   
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« Reply #9 on: August 10, 2012, 09:08:18 AM »

This story was okay.

As some others, I wasn't real enthused at the thought of bunny people.  Unlike others, I didn't really get over it.  The only time that seemed to matter was that Hai Hai's fast metabolism helped her recover quickly from the drugged drink.

Oddly, I had a complementary reaction to chemistryguy's.  I found the first half very dull, like the slow beginning to a D&D campaign that the Dungeonmaster is never quite managing to get into the exciting stuff.  Let's hang around the tavern with no particular thing to do.  Oh noes, we got drugged, let's go kick some ass.  All just typical tropes except for the bunnymann which didn't make sense to me--bunnies are not known for their psychotic fierce battling nature.  I just learned yesterday that apparently rabbits can't vomit.  Not that that has anything to do with anything.  But thanks, You Don't Know Jack, for enriching my life with such tidbits.

I found the second part much better when the demon visage appears and it turns out to not be a cookie cutter D&D campaign after all.  I liked that he gave up his stereotypical D&D campaigning life to try to be a dad--that made the story real to me, not all the bluster and bluff that came before.

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benjaminjb
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« Reply #10 on: August 10, 2012, 04:36:03 PM »

Other bunny fantasy:
Others have already mentioned Watership Down, so let me mention Bunnies and Burrows (the Watership Down-inspired RPG) and Gamma World's mutant bunnies (Hoops); and, what the hey, Usagi Yojimbo.

This story:
I really like Saladin from a few interactions on twitter and his interviews on podcasts; and I've really liked some of his previous work; so I wanted to like this, but I didn't. The opening does have a "roll to save" quality, which I don't mind as long as the narration avoids words that mostly pop up in bad "I wrote down my campaign" fantasy (clad, thews, etc.). And there's something fun about the whole drama relating to something that at first seems like it's just part of the gritty character description; that is, the dramatic twist here has to do with sex.

But there's something so strange about the whole Rube Goldbergian set-up that the dead wife puts into action: steal ring, drug drinks to make sure that husband attacks innkeeper and get info from him, ignore deaths along the way, still pretend to be demon all the way through, and then present the true story in a monologue.

There's a clever twist there, which I expect from Saladin Ahmed, but the delivery could've been cleaned up some.
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Seekerpilgrim
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« Reply #11 on: August 11, 2012, 11:12:43 PM »

I really liked this one. As much as I like science fiction and fantasy, sometimes it seems the authors have a chip on their shoulders, feeling like they have to prove they are "legitimate" writers creating "authentic" fiction, and we get high fantasy or multidimensional science fiction that tries too hard to make a point and ends up tripping over itself. Occasionally, we need a good old fashioned hack and slash to cleanse the palate, and this story did the trick. I felt like I'd just been dropped in the middle of an ongoing D&D campaign (as was mentioned earlier), and that was fine with me. The use of archetypes (fighter/cleric/thief) was refreshing, perhaps because literature HAS swung so far the other way to be intellectual (convoluted?), and I instantly wanted to know about their pasts, how they met, etc.

I was pleasantly caught off guard by the final act, and though others may complain how uncharacteristic it would be for Zok to drop his sword and become a dad, I'd argue that it made sense because of his obvious love for his wife; he made the promise for her sake, not his son's (he even says he's not sure this is what he wants, but it's what he needs to do). Also, who said he has to give up his lifestyle? I picture him teaching Sorgo how to be a man (something not done nearly enough these days), and in HIS world that would mean learning how to fight (and kill), wenching (a man has needs, as Zok was fond of saying), and forming lasting friendships (ANOTHER thing that seems rarer these days).

So yes, it was a bit cliché, and Hai Hai seemed to be thrown in as a clear reminder that this was a FANTASY story (she could have been replaced with a human and nothing would have been effected, unless the fact that she had around 45 offspring was a deliberate attempt at foreshadowing the discovery of Zok's own son from such dalliances), but the mixture of "the problems with men and society these days" and "you have a child you didn't know about, now man up and take responsibility" themes are rare in fantasy, and so worked well and seemed refreshing. In fact, I'd like to hear more from Zok and Sorgo, as well as Hai Hai and Malovic, in the future.
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« Reply #12 on: August 14, 2012, 09:46:34 AM »

One of the things that impressed me most about this story was how all of the seemingly insignificant details turned out to be important by the end. Usually you don't have to pay attention to the inept serving boy or the "reproducing like rabbits" backstory, but in this case the author managed to pull it all together. It probably also helped that I never played D&D so I'm immune to the gut reaction that other listeners seem to have had.


And how could you NOT mention Watership Down?Huh

And I have to reiterate this. Smiley
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Listener
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« Reply #13 on: August 17, 2012, 09:43:07 AM »

I was whelmed by this story. Neither over- nor under-, just whelmed. It seemed more like an introductory piece to a novel than anything else, where we'll soon have the training montage for Sorgo, followed by Zok's "eyes are opened by his son's tenderness" scene and, in the end, Zok is killed but Sorgo finds out that Hai Hai and the priest are the real targets so he goes on a quest...

Basically, this story was exactly what Dave's final quote was -- you think you reach the end, but that is where the story begins.

The reading was good, although -- and I don't know if this is a function of the editing or the recording -- Wright's readings sometimes feel like voices are dropped in after, like he goes through the whole thing and then goes back and covers the "standard" voice with whatever character voice he chooses. Maybe I'm just tuned into noticing those things.
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« Reply #14 on: August 18, 2012, 02:59:58 AM »

Last time you ran one of Saladin's stories, I asked for the book. Throne of the Crescent Moon was delivered. I'm going to make the same demand. Where's the book for these characters and this world?!?

This was an excellent story, but I would like to see the characters develop along a more natural arc. This is why I'm asking for the book (again). The development of Zok from bloodthirsty, fearless killer to accepting father of a wimp was a little to sudden for me. I get it, though. His beloved, deceased wife asked him to do something, so he unquestioningly does it. This was well-established and set up nicely, but was still a bit abrupt.

Despite this one flaw in the story, I still love what I heard in the tale.

Good job, Saladin!
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benjaminjb
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« Reply #15 on: August 18, 2012, 09:29:55 AM »

Does anyone else hear "Iron-Eyes" as "ironize"?

Or maybe it's a takeoff on the song "Bright Eyes" from the Watership Down movie?
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #16 on: August 18, 2012, 12:39:01 PM »

The development of Zok from bloodthirsty, fearless killer to accepting father of a wimp was a little to sudden for me. I get it, though. His beloved, deceased wife asked him to do something, so he unquestioningly does it. This was well-established and set up nicely, but was still a bit abrupt.


I would defend this by pointing out that Zok's outlook and feelings about the boy (and the world) are predicated on something we, as the audience, aren't aware of, this overwhelming guilt about being unfaithful to this woman he loved. Once we know that he's wracked with guilt, his bitter feelings about he world around seem a bit misdirected. Also, for me at least, it explains his sudden turnaround on the subject of fatherhood.
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pixelante
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« Reply #17 on: August 19, 2012, 03:34:26 AM »

I am finally caught up with my listening so while the podcast is relatively current I don't feel like a threadomancer trying to resurrect it with my comments.

I was really getting into episode 220, after the Rashida Smit's sleepy narration of 221 The Circle Harp I was looking forward to the change of pace and I was really liking the story. Sure it wasn't deep and meaningful, but then it didn't have to be, sometimes a rollicking, cheesy adventure is what I'm craving over some high brow concept piece. Yet the end died with a whimper. All through the episode Zok quite evidently despised the soft life of the southerners, yet he was giving it up when it was all too obvious that what his son needed was the discipline that a mercenary life could provide him, by the sounds of it zok wasn't even planning to return to his native lands either. A poorly contrived ending to what could have been an otherwise enjoyable story.
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« Reply #18 on: August 20, 2012, 09:38:31 AM »

Does anyone else hear "Iron-Eyes" as "ironize"?

Or maybe it's a takeoff on the song "Bright Eyes" from the Watership Down movie?

I might have, except that the only text I saw of the story was the title on my iPod screen, so that probably translated it for me.  Smiley
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flashedarling
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« Reply #19 on: August 22, 2012, 02:41:16 PM »

I liked this story, it was a tabletop roleplaying session brough to life. There is always that one player .... "You want your two weapon ranger to be an anthropomorphic bunny? *Shrug* Ok, you are a bunny person". So despite a rather contrived plot I enjoyed it.

Sadly I have to agree it failed to stick the landing. The explanation from the dead wife was way too long and contrived and could have conveyed the same information with a fourth of the space. Sometimes its better to just say "That night... with her sister...." and let the reader connect the dots. I was also disappointed that he gave up his barbarian lifestyle just like that. I get the analogy but really, this is a swords and sorcery story. I'd much rather read about troubles a barbarian has teaching a soft city boy the hard ways of his people (obviously leading to a reversal where the soft-skills of the son save the day when straight aggression would make things worse) until the father and son come to understand one another. Cliched? Maybe. But this was a story full of such tropes and in the end, that's what we are here for.
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