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Author Topic: PC225, Giant Episode: The Cage  (Read 8062 times)
Talia
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« on: September 11, 2012, 11:10:23 AM »

PodCastle 225, Giant Episode: The Cage

by Jeff VanderMeer.

Read by MarBelle, of the Director’s Notes blog, audio and video podcast.

Originally appeared in City of Saints and Madmen.

“Tell me about the cage,” Hoegbotton said suddenly, surprising himself. “The cage up there”—he pointed—“is it for sale, too?”
The boy stiffened, stared at the floor. Outside, his father, brother, and two sisters were being burned as a precaution, the bodies too mutilated to have withstood a viewing anyway..
A reflexive sadness ran through Hoegbotton, even as he noted the delicacy of the silver engravings on the legs of a nearby chair and the authentic maker’s mark stitched onto the cushioned seat.
He smiled at the boy, whose gaze remained directed at the floor. “Don’t you know you’re safe now?” The words sounded ludicrous.
The woman turned to look at Hoegbotton. Her eyes were black as an abyss; they did not blink and reflected nothing. He felt for a moment balanced precariously between the son’s alarm and the mother’s regard.
“The cage was always open,” the woman said, her voice gravelly, something stuck in her throat. “We had a bird. We always let it fly around. It was a pretty bird. It flew high through the rooms. It— No one could find the bird. After.” The terrible pressure of the word after appeared to be too much for her and she fell back into her silence.
“We’ve never had a cage,” the boy said, the dark green suitcase swaying. “We’ve never had a bird. They left it here. They left it.”
A kind of rapturous chill ran through Hoegbotton. The sleepy gaze of a pig embryo floating in a jar caught his eye. Opportunity or disaster? The value of an artifact they had left behind might be considerable. The risks, however, might be more than considerable. This was the third time in the last nine months that he had been called to a house visited by the gray caps. Each of the previous times, he had escaped unharmed. In fact, he had come to believe that late arrivals like himself, who took precautions and knew their history, were impervious to any side effects.


Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
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Kaa
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« Reply #1 on: September 12, 2012, 12:26:07 PM »

Thanks for the warning, Dave, but I just could NOT make myself pay attention during that list, and I never really got it back until well into the story. I restarted it...and got lost again at about the same spot.

And the end. Um. Am I the only one who thought, "I listened to 90 minutes of this story, and this is the pay-off?"

Not a huge fan of this one.
« Last Edit: September 12, 2012, 02:51:14 PM by Kaa » Logged

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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #2 on: September 12, 2012, 02:11:05 PM »

I'd like to personally thank Podcastle for making sure that I feel absolutely no doubt about my decision to move house from the cold, wet, dark confines of San Francisco to the relatively warm environment of Oakland. Seriously - I spent most of yesterday evening staring suspiciously at the patch of black mold on our ceiling, daring it to do something shifty. I have Simple Green and I'm not afraid to use it! I got it for stripping minis, but I'm not afraid to go all fungicide on your fuzzy black ass!

I never have trusted fungus. Creepy, parasitic, scavenging, spore-growing little bastards. I mean, it's no picnic being an animal - we eat death, too; only plants are innocent - but at least most animals I know have the decency to make at least a desultory effort to kill their food first.

Ok, sure, except for parasitic animals. But screw them, anyway. I have my biases and fungi are creepy!

Anyway, I loved this story. I loved the atmosphere of Ambergris and the growing madness of the main character. I did not object to the list at the beginning - or the generally meandering style of this story - because I thought that it was actually very tightly written. The obsessive specificity, combined with the horrific and deeply wrong nature of what was being described, was the edge of the knife that pried me off of the real world and set me loose in Ambergris. Every word of The Cage was precisely the word that it needed to be; it was the world those stories described that was wrong, unnatural, off-kilter, and dangerous.

The pacing was, likewise, perfect. The way The Cage unfolded was almost Grecian in its tragedy. All Hoegbottom needed to do was realize that he had gone too far, too deep, and turn away... but we all knew that he wasn't going to do that. And by the end, he knew it, too. It's that moment that I find most delicious in a story - the moment that you realize that your worst enemy was always yourself.

And yet, like my favorite horrors, this was a story that believed in heroes. Hoegbottom couldn't save himself - he was damned from the moment he laid hand on The Cage - but he could save his wife. And damn it, he did!

On the other hand, I can't argue that this story didn't have one flaw. It's beginning to bug me when authors write things that at first glance seem terrible and atmospheric and creepy, but on further consideration don't actually mean anything. Words are supposed to mean something. I mean, seriously - "a dark light?" "Bright eyes that hinted at the memory of catastrophe?" What is that supposed to mean? The point is that it takes me out of the story when I realize that the narrator is describing something in a way inconsistent with the way people actually think of things.

Neil Gaiman is a great example of an author who almost never does this - The Cage's opening list is a good example of a story that dips into it.

Anyway, the long and the short of it is that fungi have now replaced tentacled horror as my go to "something is wrong here." And my wife and are pulling up stakes and moving to Morrow, and there will be no more conversation about it.
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Father Beast
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« Reply #3 on: September 12, 2012, 07:42:35 PM »

OK, this clearly should have been on pseudopod. I know folks say that a lot, especially when there is a lot of gore, but I think this is the first time I've said it.

I know that fantasy and horror are not mutually exclusive, but as I understand it, they are defined quite differently. Fantasy (and Science Fiction) are defined by content. That is, whether there is something fantastic in the story. And yes, there is fantastic content in this story. Horror, on the other hand, is defined by intent. That is, the story is intended to cause uneasiness or dread in the reader, generally by identifying with the feelings of the protagonist. That is also the case here, as the protagonist spends over half the story in gibbering terror, and most of the rest in stomach churning uneasiness. That is the very definition of Horror, as I understand it.

I do not go for Horror, I do not listen to pseudopod. I don't have a beef with people who do, but it's not my cup of tea.

My beef with this story is, while it is a fantasy (it has fantastic elements), you have to view them through the protagonist's muddy goggles of terror and madness, making the fantastic elements all but unviewable.


Humm... moving on...

I really tried to get interested in the mystery surrounding his memories of his father, but the crazier he got, the more I lost interest. I honestly lost track enough that I don't know what the resolution of that mystery was, and there is no way I'm going back to try and pick it up.

I am also annoyed by writers who hide something important because the viewpoint character doesn't want to think about it. It seems a cheap trick to me.

Not up for a relisten.
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chemistryguy
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« Reply #4 on: September 13, 2012, 07:08:48 AM »

OK, this clearly should have been on pseudopod.

Totally agreed.



I had a difficult time getting into this one.  Maybe because it sounded very much like something written by Poe.  A slowly creeping horror, a growing madness and an attention to creating the right mood.

But rather than feel the suspense, I just got depressed listening to the dreary sounding world in which the protagonist lived. 

This story has put my humors off kilter and induced an acute case of melancholia.  I think I need a tonic.
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John_in_Calgary
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« Reply #5 on: September 13, 2012, 01:25:19 PM »

I think this story is one that would be better to read on paper then to listen to. The audio and reader were excellent, but the author liked to give us large blocks of descriptive text and lists of things that often ejected me way out of the story as I just waited for the wall of data to come to an end and the story to pick up again.

About 50 minutes in we get a large block again and without the warning that it would be over soonish I found it very very hard to get through. In fact it took two tries.

As for it being on Pseudopod... I find this story is more at home in podcastle.
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John_in_Calgary
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« Reply #6 on: September 13, 2012, 01:40:08 PM »

Just read some of the other comments here.

I honestly didn't really get a horror vibe out of this. Especially not a Poe note.

It was very much a fantasy world to me. A world with a little fungus growing in the corner and it is that fungus that we watch, but very much a fantasy world all the same.
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #7 on: September 13, 2012, 03:10:40 PM »

Every time someone whines "this should be on Pseudopod" I have to fight the urge to reply "you should be on Pseudopod." Or Escape Pod. Or whatever. Look, people - genre is not a matter of right and wrong. Genre is fluid, mobile, and alive - like your internal organs once the greycaps have gotten to you. One man's horror is another man's fantasy. One man's science fiction - it's got space ships! - is another man's soft and squishy space fantasy.

Stop whining about it. Comment on the actual qualities of the actual story you just actually listened to.
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Talia
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« Reply #8 on: September 13, 2012, 03:59:46 PM »

Aw be nice. Smiley

People can argue about what is isn't horror or fantasy until the cows come home; because its subjective there are times when the opinions of those choosing the story will differ from the listeners. It's just the nature of the beast if you want a story podcast to be nice and diverse.

That being said, phrasing one's objections as "this should be on PodCast XYZ!" is problematic, because it can be read either as a suggestion of action (..and the chances of someone going "Oh, you're right!" and removing it and uploading it as a PseudoPod story instead are nil) or as a statement of opinion (the more likely true meaning - a briefer way of saying "In my opinion this would be a better fit over at PodCast XYZ").

Anyway, back to the story, folks. Smiley




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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #9 on: September 13, 2012, 04:49:27 PM »

Aw be nice. Smiley

Grumble grumble. In my day. Get off my lawn.
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« Reply #10 on: September 13, 2012, 04:50:12 PM »

Aw be nice. Smiley

Grumble grumble. In my day. Get off my lawn.

Yeah! You're stepping on the shrooms, man!
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chemistryguy
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« Reply #11 on: September 13, 2012, 05:43:28 PM »

Quote
Every time someone whines "this should be on Pseudopod" I have to fight the urge to reply "you should be on Pseudopod."

I think I'm already there.

Don't get the impression I can't get behind things that are difficult to categorize.  S'why I like Drabblecast so much.  As Talia mentioned, it would have been better to phrase it in the from of an opinion, but I don't think there are very many facts inside of a forum based around fantasy stories.  It's nice to be nice though.

Kaa and I did give our thoughts on the story itself.  What I forgot to mention is that although I was not a fan of the story/style itself, it was solidly written and the reader fit well with the atmosphere it was conveying.  Not my cup of cola, though.
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Father Beast
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« Reply #12 on: September 16, 2012, 08:24:39 AM »

Ok, so admittedly the story is Fantasy. And Horror. And Science Fiction. My problem with the story is that the fear elements effectively drowned out the fantastic elements to the degree that the fantastic parts could not be perceived very well.

What exactly were the fantastic parts? Umm..., there were fast growing mushrooms everyone was afraid of.... That's it, I'm out.

What I meant by my opinion was that this story would probably be better suited to an audience that enjoys that feeling of dread.
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« Reply #13 on: September 16, 2012, 12:15:48 PM »

Honestly, in your case, I think saying it's horror and you didn't like it because it disturbed/scared/upset you is totally valid. That's not to say I relish the "Is this really fantasy or horror or SF or whatever" debates. But I'm sorry I didn't give you more of a warning in the intro.
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« Reply #14 on: September 16, 2012, 01:19:53 PM »

I've read this story twice (because I've read through "The Weird" twice.  That book is awesome.)  I like it a great deal, although it isn't my favorite from that gravity-based murder weapon of a tome.  High marks all around, I think; the atmosphere is delicious and awful.

I gotta disagree with Electric Pally on the description thing; as long as it's not overdone, I enjoy a good non sequitur or logically impossible descriptor.  I find the tension of the nonsense highlights the emotional content.  It only grates if it's clear that it is the result of incompetence rather than deliberately inappropriate use of words.  (One encounters some amazingly quirky phrases in the slushpile sometimes.)
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« Reply #15 on: September 16, 2012, 02:03:12 PM »

Non-fiction has rules.  Fiction does not.

Yep. Non-fiction doesn't have to make sense. But people require their fiction to make sense. Go figure. Smiley
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« Reply #16 on: September 16, 2012, 05:45:25 PM »

I've read "City of Saints and Madmen" and I honestly didn't enjoy it. I expected I should, given that the book was recommended by China Mieville (one of my favorite authors), but I just could not get into it, and I've had a lot of trouble getting into anything else I've read (or heard) by VanderMeer. So, in essence, I saved myself 90 minutes -- which is fortunate, given that everyone here has heard my issues with longer episodes.

Perhaps next time.
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« Reply #17 on: September 17, 2012, 12:39:25 AM »

I'm going to stick my head up and explain why it annoys me when people argue about a piece's genre.

Genre is subjective. It really is. There are some narrow bands at the extremes of the genre where it's pretty unambiguous, but everywhere else? Pure subjectivity. One man's horror is another woman's fantasy, or sci-fi, or whatever. Now, subjectivity isn't a bad thing, but no one ever seems to say "that story was great! Only, it should have been on *WHATEVER*pod." They always say "man, that sucked - why wasn't it on *THAT*pod instead of *THIS*pod?"

So, combine subjectivity and implicit value judgments and what do you get? Endless meaningless meandering!

When I read "this story was so pseudopod! How can you disagree? Look at the dread, the horror, and the bad ending!" what I see is "wow, this story was bad. Look at the badness! There was badness, badness, and at the end - badness!"

This is different from talking about almost anything else about a story. You can talk about a story's positive and negative qualities, or the effectiveness or lack of effectiveness of a given narrative trick, because those topics acknowledge their subjectivity. The whole referring-to-objects-in-horrible-ways-that-don't-match-how-people-talk-thing is disruptive and pretentious to me - Scattercat likes it. We can talk about that.

However, saying "this story belongs in that other genre!" as code for "this story wasn't what I wanted!" isn't a conversation starter. It's a conversational black hole.
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« Reply #18 on: September 17, 2012, 12:19:42 PM »

I really liked the way the catalog of things being described at the beginning put me into this story.  So often when stories start out with things happening in a setting I know nothing about, I feel like I'm missing something until I get far enough in that I've gathered enough information to feel immersed in what's happening.  The way this cataloging of things through the eyes of Hoegbottom put me there and transformed into events taking place as he moved to the people in the room really worked for me.

I enjoyed every minute of this dank, dreary, spore filled world, especially the ending scene on the balcony which also generated vivid imagery for me.  I'm left wishing for a few more plot details though, like how the great silence relates to the greycaps.  Did all of those people disappearing somehow turn into the greycaps, or were they around before that?  If so, why did that happen? Maybe I missed something.  Maybe not.  Those rivals of his were another aspect that I would have liked elucidated more, because I thought that would have been an opportunity to make the response to the cage gifting fitting to a character we knew something about.  These bits I can easily fill in with my own designs, but the detailed portrayal of the setting is priceless and irreplaceable to me, so I really appreciated it.

Narrator was a perfect fit too, I thought.
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« Reply #19 on: September 18, 2012, 12:29:38 AM »

I really enjoyed this one, but not particularly for its perceived horror / fantasy / whatever elements. The fungus was an excellent creepy antagonist (I especially enjoyed the scene where Hoegbotton attempts to scrub it away for good), and the giggling, sweating solicitor was chilling, but what I mostly enjoyed about this story was the portrayal of a largely cowardly man completely and utterly out of his depth. Hoegbotton gets deeper and deeper into a horrible situation, lies to his devoted wife, allows his employee to go home and die alone, attempts to sacrifice his rival to save himself, but to me never seems evil or malicious. He is just a man struggling to keep his head above water in a situation growing more impossible by the minute. Instead of asking for help, he keeps everything to himself and suffers for it. He clearly loves his wife very much, but seems to think keeping her in blissful ignorance is the only way to protect her. I loved the portrayal of such a weak-willed, opportunistic and inadvertently dastardly man. Hoegbotton pays attention to the delicate engravings and authentic maker's mark on a potential acquisition while feeling a twinge of sadness at the burned bodies of its previous owner's family. He's not without empathy, but seems to have his priorities wrong. He has a fierce love for his wife which only slightly outweighs his fairly ruthless instinct for self-preservation. He fights hard to keep his world on an even keel at the expense of others. In other words, he is a mass of contradictions and a refreshing choice for a central protagonist. I loved him.

I agree with Scattercat about the quirky descriptions. I felt that the phrase dark light was used very deliberately, and thought it drew my attention and maybe slightly pulled me out of the story, I listened to it a couple of times and it feels right to me. I think I'm all for a bit of suspension of the instinct to scoff at "bad" writing if it fits and is done with honesty.

I thought the list that opened the story was really interesting. Lists in general just intrigue me and, like ioscode says, this one was a great way of introducing the world of the story. By the end of it, I felt immersed in a place that had some very weird stuff in it.

I was waiting for the inevitable comments that this story should have been on Pseudopod and was disappointed. Putting everything in strictly defined little boxes for the win!

Stop whining about it. Comment on the actual qualities of the actual story you just actually listened to.

Amen, brother!
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