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Author Topic: Pseudopod 297: Of Ants And Mountains  (Read 7828 times)
Bdoomed
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« on: September 01, 2012, 12:13:05 AM »

Pseudopod 297: Of Ants And Mountains

by Charlie Bookout

“Of Ants And Mountains” is an original to PSEUDOPOD. Charlie says “I visited the nearby city of Joplin, Missouri last year just after an EF5 tornado destroyed much of it. And before long, this story began to slither its way into my head.”

Charlie Bookout lives with his family in Gentry, Arkansas—a creepy little town that’s a stone’s throw from the hillbilly infested Ozark Mountains. He’s one of several rural artists who have converted Gentry’s old mortuary into a studio devoted to independent music and film. He began writing in 2011 and has had stories featured at Silverthought Online and in The Washington Pastime. The artists’ website is at Mortuary Studios, and Charlie’s music can be purchased at his CD baby website.

Your reader this week is the Paul Tevis, who you may know from Podcastle.



“‘I thought it would be worse,’ I said as we ascended College Lane. ‘But it’s…’ My words caught in my throat. I stomped the brake pedal. Directly in front of us was a red minivan that had come to rest on its top. It was crumpled like tissue paper and was bleeding fluids onto the street. And beyond it was what old Mrs. Cropley must have already seen. The devastation was complete: bricks and cars and furniture… all jumbled together as if some great machine had bit into the earth and churned away for miles. No landmark was recognizable. Here and there the trunk of a tree remained, denuded of its bark. There were fires burning in half a dozen places. And there were people, everywhere in the streets, all in a hurry and accomplishing nothing. From a distance, they looked like ants searching for a pheromone after someone smashed their hill.”


Listen to this week's Pseudopod.
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Bdoomed
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« Reply #1 on: September 01, 2012, 11:13:43 AM »

Mountain, king, me, etc.

I don't know how I didn't see the twist (ha, get it? Because its a twister) coming, but I totally didn't.
Bravo, Mr. Bookout, bravo.

I Love the idea of a natural disaster that solves a problem.

I forgot to mention, I loved the reading. For some reason, Paul's voice reminded me at times of Steve. Smiley
« Last Edit: September 02, 2012, 10:17:19 AM by Bdoomed » Logged

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Scattercat
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« Reply #2 on: September 03, 2012, 01:04:48 AM »

This one just wasn't for me.  As soon as the story harped on about how young the girlfriend was, I said, "I bet she's some kind of youth-sucker.  She's too much of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl for a horror story otherwise."

Beyond being predictable, which can be a neutral or even a positive quality, I disliked this story because it was a thematic jumble.  The protagonist's personal crisis didn't mesh with the horror element in the slightest; it's pure happenstance that he's the one dating the evil witch.  The war imagery felt like a grab for pathos, and it didn't work for me; it was bland and formulaic, like a retread of things people often say about war rather than a visceral evocation of the feelings involved.  Beyond feeling flat, though, the war doesn't inform anything that happens; we might as well have had a retired postal service employee or former veterinarian for a hero for all the difference it made. 

For instance, "It's hard to tell who the bad guys are" is one of those banal things people say in wartime, which I could forgive except that the way it's used in the story makes no sense.  The girlfriend was actively lying about who she was and concealing her handiwork, so of course it's hard to detect that she's a bad guy.  There's no blurring of lines here, no confusion about whether one is doing the right thing, no struggle to retain humanity in an extreme situation; the girlfriend is straight-up wicked witch evil, doing bad stuff for the sake of being bad.  The only reason the protagonist has any hesitance in attacking her is because he's been dipping his wick there for months.  She's a cardboard villain, without much depth or deeper meaning to her, and her particular brand of villainy is a total non-sequitur to the rest of the story.  I mean, if we'd seen some hint of a dark side in the hero, some talk about enjoying the killing he did in war, about seeking it out later in bloodsports or some such and restraining himself only with difficulty from pushing beyond the limits, then there might have been some tie-in.  Or if the hero's flashbacks had focused more on a regret for passing time, a fervent desire to regain youth and vigor, such that he might be tempted by the idea of getting mystic vitality even at a terrible cost, that could have worked, too.  But there's nothing; it's Sea Lion and Squirrel.

Between the uninspiring villain and the undramatic flashbacks, this one was a total flop for me.
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Bjarki
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« Reply #3 on: September 03, 2012, 06:37:48 PM »

I agree with scattercat on the manic pixie comment but the flashbacks made it interesting about the formation of the "hero" of the story... As for the new twist on the Elizibeth Bathory aspect of the villain, it seemed that it could have been more fleshed out... But what do I know? I am a country hick who works through the night...
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« Reply #4 on: September 06, 2012, 06:02:57 AM »

I think scattercat summed it up pretty well.  I kept waiting for some kind of buildup and was disappointed.

Also:  I don't think the reader worked for this reading.  Nothing against Paul, I've enjoyed his readings in other podcasts, but he was just too upbeat.  The protagonist in the story is witnessing events that leads his thoughts back to war and killing.  Maybe it helps when you have a sexy 70 year old girlfriend.

Anyway.
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« Reply #5 on: September 06, 2012, 08:41:17 AM »

Scattercat summed it up pretty well for me.  Especially about the war elements not tying in well with the rest of the story.  Not much else to say I guess.
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NoNotRogov
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« Reply #6 on: September 09, 2012, 10:51:59 PM »

The mundane feel of the story did work, though, and the letters from his time in Korea were relevant despite his ruminations in them not being thematically linked in a strong way to the central conflict of the story, because they were letters to his sister and strongly establishing the relationship between him and her. It was as good a way as any to establish an emotional weight to that conflict, his desire to find his sister or at least bring her killer to justice, in a short story that didn't have the space for big flashback scenes with her in them.

But back to the bit about the mundane nature of the story; the fact that the story clearly mentioned and yet completely downplayed the occult elements of the plot and even the direct threat of the antagonist, worked really well, especially because of how played up the mindbending horror of the tornado's aftermath. 83 dead and the neighborhood reduced to wasteland was more evocative than a more violent, disturbing situation between the protagonist and Sandra could have hoped to be. And the letters from Korea fit in with the motif of the pictures found in the wreckage and uploaded to the facebook page/memorial Sandra set up. The tornado has uncovered all of these things from the past, both physically (the pictures) and emotionally (his Korea letters to his sister Muriel), which all together gives a very specific texture to the basic plot device of a natural disaster as a way to shake up the pattern or show the evidence of a serial killer. And the reversal, that Sandra is hoping to use the tornado which uncovered so much of everyone's pasts in order to cover up her own activities, to dispose of the bodies in the wreckage, wouldn't be nearly as notable and interesting if it wasn't directly clashing with the rest of the thematic swing of the piece, the uncovering of the past.

An ordinary guy and his ordinary ruminations on his ordinary life cross paths with something extraordinary, and the extraordinary horror is only really horrific in the light of the completely ordinary horror of the natural disaster all around them. This story works because it isn't about the horror elements of the supernatural or a protagonist's inner demons, it works because the horror of the story is entirely mundane - a natural disaster kills a lot of people, and a man's sister was abducted. The story is about that, even the protagonist has no interest nor typical reveal or understanding of the supernatural element before the story resolves. It is mentioned and he completely disregards it and reacts the way an ordinary person would confronted with the mundane horrors all around him.
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Sgarre1
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« Reply #7 on: September 10, 2012, 07:09:54 AM »

Quote
The mundane feel of the story did work, though, and the letters from his time in Korea were relevant despite his ruminations in them not being thematically linked in a strong way to the central conflict of the story, because they were letters to his sister and strongly establishing the relationship between him and her. It was as good a way as any to establish an emotional weight to that conflict, his desire to find his sister or at least bring her killer to justice, in a short story that didn't have the space for big flashback scenes with her in them.

Many thanks for saying it.
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« Reply #8 on: September 10, 2012, 12:57:10 PM »

If that was the goal, I think it would have been better (and really, a lot more poignant) if the letters were just... letters.  Letters about his life, about hers.  Conversations, not updates from a war.  War tend to overshadow things.
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« Reply #9 on: September 11, 2012, 08:07:57 AM »

I dunno, I’m somewhat conflicted with this one. On the whole “Of Ants & Mountains” was lacking as a story, yet I found the prose (especially some of the descriptions) to be beautifully crafted. If anything, it was the tight writing that kept me listening. And I suppose part of me really was hoping for a twist or surprise to come crawling out of the narrative. Unfortunately, one never did.

As others have stated, we all knew who the villain was the moment she entered the room. If a story’s driving theme is, "It's hard to tell who the bad guys are," that better damn well be true. Another issue I had was the whole Korean War aspect. In theory the letters could (and should) have worked well as an ominous counterpoint to the present. Problem was, this guy didn't sound anything like a Korean War vet. If anything, the letters sounded as though they’d been penned by someone serving during Vietnam. Also, in terms of realism, those letters probably would have ever made it past Army censors, not intact at least.
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« Reply #10 on: September 11, 2012, 08:36:40 AM »

Also, in terms of realism, those letters probably would have ever made it past Army censors, not intact at least.

Interesting point, makes me think of Yossarian.
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« Reply #11 on: September 11, 2012, 11:12:16 AM »

Also, in terms of realism, those letters probably would have ever made it past Army censors, not intact at least.

Interesting point, makes me think of Yossarian.

Notice how the two best pieces (imo) of war fiction (Slaughterhouse 5 and Catch 22) just throw logic to the wind?

I might've even gone so far as to say war itself is illogical...but that would be inciting political debate, so I won't. 
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eytanz
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« Reply #12 on: September 16, 2012, 11:56:16 PM »

I thought the war letters and the contrast between the war and the tornado were really well done and taken together make an excellent story.

The serial killer plot, however, made no sense to me and didn't work at all. Especially once a totally unnecessary supernatural element was introduced, which to me was like the moment in which I was made suddenly very aware that this is a story and not a real person I'm listening to.

It seems to me that the tornado gave ample reason for the protagonist to be concerned about the life of his sister and to evoke the horrors of his past. I just don't see why there was any need for there to be a serial killer, or for there to be a twist.
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« Reply #13 on: October 08, 2012, 03:44:17 PM »

If that was the goal, I think it would have been better (and really, a lot more poignant) if the letters were just... letters.  Letters about his life, about hers.  Conversations, not updates from a war.  War tend to overshadow things.

When he came back from Korea and lived down the street from his sister again, why would he continue to write her letters?

I think this story would have greatly benefited from a multimedia presentation, as each segment of the story could have been broken up with a couple of the "found photos" along with the "found letters" that we get in audio. I took the letters as someone posting them as "found" after his sister's place blew apart.
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