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Author Topic: EP361: Ashes on the Water  (Read 2284 times)
Talia
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« on: September 13, 2012, 04:06:31 PM »

EP361: Ashes on the Water

By Gwendolyn Clare

Read by Mur Lafferty

Originally appeared in Asimov’s, 2011

---

I hoped that Ranjeet’s friends were as disreputable as promised.  Ranjeet himself was late, of course.  I’d asked him to park his car out on the road and meet me behind the house–my cousin is, shall we say, out of favor, and I couldn’t afford to get caught with him.  So I sat on the dry, cracked ground in the shadow of the house, waiting where Father wouldn’t think to look for me.  A meter away, heat rose off the sun-baked earth, wavering like water, as if the dormant land dreamed of monsoon season.  I shut my eyes against the image.  For years now, each summer has come harsher than the last.

Soft footsteps in the dirt, and Ranjeet strolled around the corner of the house, calling, “You’ll never make it across the border, kid.”

I stood up and brushed the dust off my jeans, annoyed. Seventeen and he still calls me a kid.  “Why don’t you say that a little louder?  I don’t think the neighbors could hear you clearly.”


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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Listener
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« Reply #1 on: September 14, 2012, 07:17:26 AM »

King, mountain, etc.

I feel average about the story. I didn't love it; I didn't dislike it. It didn't stretch my expectations or horizons, and it didn't have any glaring errors that I can point out. Mostly, it was just... there. It was published in Asimov's and reprinted here, and that's two professional markets, so clearly it has something, but as George Hrab sang, "we don't know what that something really is." -- where "we" is "I".
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Dem
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« Reply #2 on: September 14, 2012, 07:45:23 AM »

That's pretty much my view. It's beautifully written, lyrical and articulate, but without much substance beyond an apocryphal vision. All dressed up and nowhere to go.
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DoWhileNot
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« Reply #3 on: September 16, 2012, 06:20:05 PM »

The story is simple - a girl's quest to give her sister a proper burial.  The setting is what makes this a science fiction story: an India without rivers.  The language is beautiful and pulled me into the dream easilly and kept me there through the whole story.

My big question came later - was this a story where the point was to experience the growth of the main character as she achieves her goal, or was the story more an adjenda driven story meant to impress in the reader that global warming is going to destroy everything to the point where you can't even bury your dead in the old traditional way?

I think maybe the answer is a little of both.  The main character did seem to grow a little, especially when she began thinking of the future of her village again, but that growth seemed to be more a reflection of her search for water rather than acomplishing her quest.  I know that she had to find water to bury her sister, but the story seemed to be more about the lack of water than the of the burial. 
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scpasson
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« Reply #4 on: September 17, 2012, 02:33:06 AM »

spoiler alert

The reading threw me on this one.  Both the language in the story and the reader felt distinctly American.  The slang used was modern American tech slang.  Later when the protagonist had to use English this far South it made the contrast even more apparent.  Normally I don't care who reads a story as long as it is read well which it was, but in this case I kept transplanting the story to a now desert Napa valley. 

Once I heard that they had vacationed by the ocean, I knew she would go to the ocean again and I wondered why that wasn't the plan all along.  Her future goals seemed naive, but she is 17 so being naive is totally reasonable. 

It was a very real story where grief was real and repressed at the same time.  The heroine seemed so focused on the river when no one saw the necessity of it.  She wanted a ceremony to give her permission to move on, but the closure she gets doesn't really feel real either because burying someone doesn't take away the grief, but it was an action that she could complete to tell herself she had done enough and it was time to move on.

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MontanaMax
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« Reply #5 on: September 17, 2012, 07:49:52 AM »

*spoilers*

I really enjoyed this story - and the reading. The language chosen by the author painted the world picture very clearly in my mind, and I'd love to read or hear more in this universe. But as much as the description of the impact of global warming on India grabbed my attention, the characters were what really hooked me. The very human ways that the protagonist and her mother dealt with their grief and loss were compelling, and the quest felt very genuine. I half expected when she arrived at the dry river bed that she would simply leave her sister's ashes there in hope for when river's return, but was very happy when the story changed to one of hope rather than stopping where hope was lost.
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Litch
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« Reply #6 on: September 18, 2012, 03:58:52 AM »

One thing that bugged me was Mur's pronunciation of "Jojoba" (probably because I used to live in Tucson)

It's "ho-HO-ba",  it's an O'odham word that was originally written down by Spanish priests.
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matweller
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« Reply #7 on: September 18, 2012, 07:53:06 AM »

It's "ho-HO-ba",  it's an O'odham word that was originally written down by Spanish priests.

Oh Tucksun....

If it was a J written by Spaniards, wouldn't it be "yoyoba" then?
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Cutter McKay
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« Reply #8 on: September 18, 2012, 12:12:33 PM »

**Spoilers**

I found this story to be very bland. Like Listener said, it didn't stretch my expectations or horizons. I think the biggest problem I had was the complete lack of any strong opposition. Sure, there was some opposition, but each trial was so easily overcome that it barely felt like opposition at all: She can't get to the river near them, so she gets some forged papers (with little to no effort), she easily crosses the borders, finds a river, but it's dry, so she moves on until she reaches the ocean, and it's done. There is never any point where I felt like she might actually fail in her quest. I didn't fear for her, I didn't feel for her.

Had there been real trials for her at each junction, ie. guards who wouldn't let her pass despite her forged papers; the journey to the ocean being nigh impossible due to distance or physical impairments; threats of losing he sister's ashes, or having them taken away; in other words if I had felt like she actually had to work for her goal, and that reaching the ocean at the end was a real victory for her, I may have been more drawn into this story. But there was nothing to make me care.

The story was well written, descriptive, and solid (Not overly wordy or anything), it just held little for me. I don't regret listening, but it's not one I'm likely to recommend to others. It has been professionally published, twice now, so perhaps I'm just missing the point.

Also, I prefer my sci-fi to be a little more sci-fi. Just because a story is set in the future, doesn't mean it's science fiction.
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« Reply #9 on: September 18, 2012, 12:40:09 PM »


If it was a J written by Spaniards, wouldn't it be "yoyoba" then?

<pedant> The spanish 'J' is what is known as a "voiceless velar fricative" and there is no direct English transliteration that truly represents the sound. To say it right you have to close the back of your throat a bit more than when you say an "h" sound. It's like the 'ch' in the Scottish 'loch' & German 'kuchen' or the 'חֲ (h)' in "hannukka". </pedant>

But don't forget it is not a spanish word, it is an O'odham (pima-papago) word and they use a more glotteral "h" sound.
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Scatcatpdx
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« Reply #10 on: September 18, 2012, 04:44:20 PM »

How you say meh or boring in punjabi.

What I see here was not Science Fiction but a bland  fiction piece of a girl trying to bury her sister in a drought stricken land. The story had very little it.
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CryptoMe
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« Reply #11 on: September 19, 2012, 12:59:02 AM »

Another piece of enjoyable fluff.

Two weeks in a row. Huh.
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Myrealana
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« Reply #12 on: September 20, 2012, 11:18:07 AM »

The descriptions of the settings and characters in this story are what ultimately sold it to me. The plot was a little thin, but the richness of the world made up for it.

Sometimes, I'll take form over function. So sue me. Smiley
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« Reply #13 on: September 20, 2012, 05:36:27 PM »

Yes.  Bland is an excellent description of how I felt about it.  Not a bad story (I agree with Dem that it was lyrical), but there was nothing to it and I think the problem could well be that it felt really easy for whatever her name was.  I'm gonna get a fake passport and go to the ocean to scatter my sister's remain. "Okay, done, that was easy."  I never felt any fear or despair.  When she cried on the dry riverbed, I felt nothing for her.

And, I agree with scpasson, it also felt like it was taking place in the American west.  I didn't really have that foreign feel.

**Spoilers**

I found this story to be very bland. Like Listener said, it didn't stretch my expectations or horizons. I think the biggest problem I had was the complete lack of any strong opposition. Sure, there was some opposition, but each trial was so easily overcome that it barely felt like opposition at all: She can't get to the river near them, so she gets some forged papers (with little to no effort), she easily crosses the borders, finds a river, but it's dry, so she moves on until she reaches the ocean, and it's done. There is never any point where I felt like she might actually fail in her quest. I didn't fear for her, I didn't feel for her.

Had there been real trials for her at each junction, ie. guards who wouldn't let her pass despite her forged papers; the journey to the ocean being nigh impossible due to distance or physical impairments; threats of losing he sister's ashes, or having them taken away; in other words if I had felt like she actually had to work for her goal, and that reaching the ocean at the end was a real victory for her, I may have been more drawn into this story. But there was nothing to make me care.

The story was well written, descriptive, and solid (Not overly wordy or anything), it just held little for me. I don't regret listening, but it's not one I'm likely to recommend to others. It has been professionally published, twice now, so perhaps I'm just missing the point.

Also, I prefer my sci-fi to be a little more sci-fi. Just because a story is set in the future, doesn't mean it's science fiction.

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Magic Smoke
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« Reply #14 on: September 20, 2012, 10:45:21 PM »

The narration made it a little difficult for me to enjoy the story. Most of it was great, but the mispronunciation of the Hindi words and Indian names kind of threw me off a bit. Now I have no idea what goes into the narration, or what time constraints you guys have to work with, and I don't want to sound stuck up, but I think it would help if you guys consulted with someone just for a few minutes with the foreign pronunciations. As in, "Hey, how do you say this word?" I'm sorry, that came of as sounding really pretentious. I'll show myself out.
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chemistryguy
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« Reply #15 on: September 21, 2012, 05:25:45 AM »

Quote
Yes.  Bland is an excellent description of how I felt about it.  Not a bad story (I agree with Dem that it was lyrical), but there was nothing to it and I think the problem could well be that it felt really easy for whatever her name was.  I'm gonna get a fake passport and go to the ocean to scatter my sister's remain. "Okay, done, that was easy."  I never felt any fear or despair.  When she cried on the dry riverbed, I felt nothing for her.

Pretty much this.
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Gamercow
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« Reply #16 on: September 25, 2012, 05:25:44 PM »

I liked this one more than most, apparently.  I enjoyed her journey, and I enjoyed the stories of the plants and crops and seasons.  I enjoyed the family scenes, and the way she grew on her journey to become a young woman with her own life, rather than just a younger sister. 

I would LOVE to hear this story read by an Indian woman.  As truly enjoyable as Mur's voice is, having that authentic accent would have really put this story over the top for me.
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #17 on: September 26, 2012, 01:33:39 AM »

I too liked this story for its depiction of the narrator's life. And I was mildly horrified with the dry river. And the simple notion that everything else must be better a little farther away.

I have a memory of momentary mental objection to one of the pronunciations of the Indian words. But I do like listening to Mur narrate.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #18 on: September 28, 2012, 02:46:13 PM »

I quite enjoyed this story. It was really great to hear a story that highlighted the culture of the characters, and explored how people might struggle to maintain their cultural identity in the face of both environmental and technological changes. So often SF stories seem to assume that in the future we won't have a culture worth mentioning, or that Earth's population will have homogenized so much as to make all culture a bland amalgamation. Like oatmeal.


I would LOVE to hear this story read by an Indian woman.  As truly enjoyable as Mur's voice is, having that authentic accent would have really put this story over the top for me.

I have to agree with this.
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #19 on: September 30, 2012, 12:58:56 PM »

There's a thing that I see a lot in speculative fiction these days - there have been other examples here on Escape Pod, but I can't be bothered to find them right now - and it's starting to aggravate me. This story was a good example. Here is how this thing goes:

In the future, things will change. The brown, ethnic people will have a hard time with these changes. Presumably, the white people will just be getting along in some other corner of the setting because they have a modern, rationalistic world view that wil make it easier for them to adapt. But the brown people, what are they going to do? They struggle and they strive, and they manage to re-enact a version of their quaint ethnic rituals despite the extremity of their times. Victory?

Ugh.

I'm not saying that you never see stories of white people in the future struggling to adapt to a changing world - though it is interesting that these stories rarely pick a specific European cultural motif, but instead present a monolithic view of the dominant culture. However, the fact that these stories always view the conflict as personal rather than cultural is meaningful. It's part of a general trend of "othering" - making the outsider non-dominant group the one that's "different" while assuming that the dominant group is "same," even though of course both are equal relative to each other.

I'm also not saying that this story was bad, exactly. I'm sure there are lots of individuals of all colors and creeds who will have a hard time with the future. It's kind of like that comment I made on a Pseudopod story at some point last year: the metanarrative is getting monotonous. And in this case, a little bit racist.

This story on its own merits, though? It was ok. Didn't thrill me - didn't bore me.
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