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Author Topic: PC226: The Hand of God  (Read 3029 times)
Talia
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« on: September 18, 2012, 01:42:56 PM »

PodCastle 226: The Hand Of God

by Erica Satifka.

Read by Dave Robison, co-host of The Roundtable Podcast.

First appeared in On the Premises, read the text there.


From the roof of his house, Andrew can see everything in the town of
Pandora. Right below is his yard of wispy yellow grass that breaks at
the touch. A little ways down is the dead creek, a stinking, mucky
place. And above him, always, is the hand of God. Briefly, he trains
his flashlight on the underside of the hand, studying the lined,
grayish flesh. Then he stares back toward the outskirts of town,
peering through his binoculars at the mushroom farmer’s trailer.

The farmer makes a drug. Andrew’s not supposed to know about the drug,
and he certainly isn’t supposed to take it. But the farmer’s daughter
goes to school with all the other kids, so word gets around. He must
have mixed a new batch. The townspeople are lined up all the way back
to the old Sunoco station, their headlamps making a broken ant trail
in the ever-present dusk.


Rated R for drug use, disturbing imagery.

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
« Last Edit: September 18, 2012, 01:45:27 PM by Talia » Logged
chemistryguy
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« Reply #1 on: September 19, 2012, 06:14:01 AM »

I have to agree with you Dave.  I like me some story that tries to get inside the motives of God or other such unfathomable entities.  The Parable of the Shower was one of my favorite podcasts.  I struggle with what I believe, and I'd still classify myself as an atheist, but being brought up Catholic has hard-wired me to look for signs of a god.  I have much to say on the concepts of faith, God and religion, but this isn't the place, so I'll leave it at that.

The first part of story had me.  God is a huge, unknowable power.    There's no reason given why the hand descends on the town.  He isn't killing them, but he doesn't seem to be doing them any favors either.  The young boy planning escape from small town life takes on new meaning when it involves trying to squeeze between the cracks of The God Almighty.  Just fantastic.

It also made perfect sense that there would be a booming market in the psychedelic 'shroom industry.  I was dead certain that the farmer's daughter was referring to a mind trip when she says the drug would take you outside of the Hand of God.  When it is revealed that people are actually traveling to the outside world, I was disappointed.  Some things should be left to the reader's imagination, and the WWIII monster-zombie-whatevers ruined the party for me.

The whole thing would have worked much better had the ending been left more ambiguous.


p.s.  It also struck me weird that the boy was surprised by the number of bugs outside the hand.  Lift any rock that's been sitting there a while and see what crawls out.

p.p.s.  Did anyone try digging under the hand?









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Moby Click
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« Reply #2 on: September 22, 2012, 12:34:11 AM »

I felt like I was just starting to get into this story and then it ended on me! I was really enjoying the way the drug element came together with the fantastical parts of the story, and then the next thing I knew the PodCastle music was playing. Maybe the next part of the plot was obvious and didn't need to be stated; things were kept silent and uncertain like the hand itself, but I still felt a little disappointed at the abruptness of the conclusion.

Like chemistryguy, I thought the unknowable nature of the hand of God was interesting. As a child I was raised religious, but left it all behind at 16. The only concept of a God I can get behind is an unknowable, unpredictable force like the hand. I don't believe in a higher power that "interferes", so to speak, so the being that gets involved in this story for reasons unknown is an interesting one. Ambiguity is one of the things that really makes a story stay with me, and that was the case here. I also enjoyed the brief foray into high school peer pressure, drug taking, friendship groups, outsiders, and all the stresses and strains of the education system. A great foundation of well-observed reality for the fantasy elements of the story to take off from.

P.S. For an amazing ambiguous ending, check out Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso's Spaceman comic, which just concluded recently. Can't stop thinking about it.
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Myst
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« Reply #3 on: September 23, 2012, 02:36:26 PM »

I had a hard time identifying with the protagonist here. He made his vow to never take the drug then just a few pages later he is practically begging the mushroom growers daughter to give it to him. It even seemed like he had a plan but we never saw any of it on screen. I like the world and would like to see more of it. The struggle of  human nature against a all powerful god is a powerful plot, and I as a human like to see the humans come out on top and become something more.
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« Reply #4 on: September 24, 2012, 09:52:28 AM »

I didn't mind any of the unanswered questions in this one.  I would have been nice however to have had a few sentences early on of good description of the physical logistics of the hand.  It took me a while to figure out a picture in my mind of how big the hand might be and where/if it touched the ground.  I got it eventually though.  While the mutated humanoid enemies thing was a little surprising, I liked how it played into the townsfolk being on a mission rather than simply junkies.
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #5 on: September 26, 2012, 01:27:35 AM »

What got me about this story was the pusher-girl. On some level she must know what she's doing to these kids, what she's sending them to. What's going on in her head? How can she justify her actions to herself?
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chemistryguy
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« Reply #6 on: September 26, 2012, 06:11:35 AM »

I had a hard time identifying with the protagonist here. He made his vow to never take the drug then just a few pages later he is practically begging the mushroom growers daughter to give it to him. It even seemed like he had a plan but we never saw any of it on screen.

His plan?  To become emaciated enough to slip between God's fingers?  It wasn't ever going to happen and deep down he knew it.  When a real solution was presented to him he took it.  He was young and desperate.  His actions made perfect sense to me.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #7 on: September 28, 2012, 03:01:24 PM »

I feel like this story does a 180 degree turn halfway through the narrative. First, we have the story of a kid who is stuck in his (drug-ridden, clique-ridden) town and trying desperately to get away. Then, we have a post-apocalyptical story of townspeople banding together to fend off the monsters who are threatening their town. I like both of these stories, and the concept of the Hand of God entrapping/protecting the town is a cool one, but I think the transition between the two was a little too abrupt for me.
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Scattercat
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« Reply #8 on: September 28, 2012, 08:51:31 PM »

I came here to say about what Devoted 135 said.  I was really intrigued by the Hand and the deteriorating small-town politics during the end of the world, and I expected the story to end with the protag wriggling outside only to find a devastated nuclear wasteland or something similar.  I thought the story was pushing the "Drugs'r'bad" angle a little hard, especially with the farmer's daughter.  (And in one scene, she's an untouchable queen, the center of an adoring court of hangers-on, then in the next, he's able to buttonhole her on the playground without anyone noticing or putting up a fuss?)

The changeover bothers me, though.  It negates all the interesting tension and dynamics of what went before.  Once I got over my shock that the drug apparently actually DOES take you outside of the Hand (which seems both arbitrary and kind of not very interesting), it's a little weird that everyone in town apparently decided to play along with the fiction that the drug is, well, a drug and not a gateway.  I get why his parents would tell him it's bad (because they want to keep him safe under the Hand), but why would all the other adults do the same thing?  And with the same cover story?  No one tells their kids the truth, or at least mentions the truth in an unguarded moment?  And why do the kids worship Delia if taking the drug just teleports you into Lovecraft's "Thing in the Moonlight"?  That seems like a hard drug to "hook" a bunch of kids on.  ("First one's free.  After that you run away screaming and never come back because oh my god what IS that THING!?!?")  If it's just supposed to be a hallucination, then why the heck would he imagine "real" grass that he's never seen and fabricate monsters that no one ever mentioned before?  And how did Delia and his parents know what he saw?

I dunno.  I guess technically those are unanswered questions, but they're not the kind I like.  I'm wondering what on Earth the author intended with the whole first half of the story if they were just going to flush that all away for a completely different tone and premise instead of wondering "what if" at the premise.  I loved the inscrutability of the Hand, but the awkward recontextualization of a bunch of hopeless addicts into the Last Best Hope for Mankind (with all the prior drug trappings left inexplicably in place) just weirded me out.
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« Reply #9 on: September 30, 2012, 12:40:43 AM »

“As I shivered and brooded on the casting of that brain-blasting shadow, I knew that I had at last pried out one of earth's supreme horrors-one of those nameless blights of outer voids whose faint demon scratchings we sometimes hear on the farthest rim of space, yet from which our own finite vision has given us a merciful immunity.” HPL-TLF

The lesson here is the search for knowledge is certain to lead to madness.
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« Reply #10 on: September 30, 2012, 01:16:37 AM »

I really liked this story. I liked the slow picture that develops as the main character begins to grow up and find out what's going on. I loved how almost every assumption he had made is placed upon it's ear. On the other hand, once you find out what's on the other side of the hand ambiguity disappears. I think it's clear that the hand is protecting the town from the mutants outside. I don't think sentience is in question; just whether or not they could really win.

Even the "Drugs are Bad" story the adults were handing the main character made sense to me. On a drug level because parents who've taken drugs don't want to make it too okay for their kids and worry about their safety.  On a story level because parents want to protect their kids from the hard truths of life and sometimes lie about stuff. After all, kids who swear they'll never take drugs do end up doing it sometimes.

The daughter of the mushroom farmer was very recognizable to me from the torture days of my grade school. I did wonder if the boy thought he could fit through the cracks in God's fingers because someone else had done so. That's a story in and of itself.

Just one thing...God has fingerprints? Don't they form in the womb? Oooooo, now there's a thought...

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chemistryguy
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« Reply #11 on: October 01, 2012, 11:45:48 AM »

Just one thing...God has fingerprints? Don't they form in the womb? Oooooo, now there's a thought...

Regardless of where they form on humans, God decided to manifest himself in the form of a familiar, protecting hand.  The fingerprints were a just part of that "illusion". 

He could have chosen any number of other body parts, but probably figured it would be best to stick with the usual.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #12 on: October 01, 2012, 10:38:00 PM »

Just one thing...God has fingerprints? Don't they form in the womb? Oooooo, now there's a thought...

Regardless of where they form on humans, God decided to manifest himself in the form of a familiar, protecting hand.  The fingerprints were a just part of that "illusion". 

He could have chosen any number of other body parts, but probably figured it would be best to stick with the usual.


Okay, now I have this terrible image in my head of "The Armpit of God".  Shocked
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« Reply #13 on: October 02, 2012, 07:50:05 AM »

Just one thing...God has fingerprints? Don't they form in the womb? Oooooo, now there's a thought...

Regardless of where they form on humans, God decided to manifest himself in the form of a familiar, protecting hand.  The fingerprints were a just part of that "illusion". 

He could have chosen any number of other body parts, but probably figured it would be best to stick with the usual.


Okay, now I have this terrible image in my head of "The Armpit of God".  Shocked

I really wish my mind had gone somewhere that innocuous.
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Talia
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« Reply #14 on: October 02, 2012, 08:21:56 AM »

Just one thing...God has fingerprints? Don't they form in the womb? Oooooo, now there's a thought...

Regardless of where they form on humans, God decided to manifest himself in the form of a familiar, protecting hand.  The fingerprints were a just part of that "illusion". 

He could have chosen any number of other body parts, but probably figured it would be best to stick with the usual.

Okay, now I have this terrible image in my head of "The Armpit of God".  Shocked

I really wish my mind had gone somewhere that innocuous.

Haha yeah, my mind "went there" too. And now I can't stop giggling.

What, you're just under a hand? You've got nothing to complain about, people... Tongue
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« Reply #15 on: October 02, 2012, 08:36:39 AM »

Just one thing...God has fingerprints? Don't they form in the womb? Oooooo, now there's a thought...

Regardless of where they form on humans, God decided to manifest himself in the form of a familiar, protecting hand.  The fingerprints were a just part of that "illusion". 

He could have chosen any number of other body parts, but probably figured it would be best to stick with the usual.

Okay, now I have this terrible image in my head of "The Armpit of God".  Shocked

I really wish my mind had gone somewhere that innocuous.

Haha yeah, my mind "went there" too. And now I can't stop giggling.

What, you're just under a hand? You've got nothing to complain about, people... Tongue

Imagine another community where the ill wind that blows nobody anything good really IS an ill wind...
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« Reply #16 on: October 02, 2012, 08:52:20 AM »

I can just imagine some of the entries we're going to get when we do open up the PodCastle Flash Fiction contest now...
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« Reply #17 on: October 29, 2012, 12:06:40 PM »

Ooh, I love me some concrete yet inexplicable manifestations of God in the real world.  Loved it, in general. 

At the beginning of the story I was suffering from quite a bit of conclusion about the proportions and location of the God-hand.  At first, I thought it was hand-size and hovering over just this kid's head.  Then I thought it was town sized but suspended in the air like a cloud.  Then I realized its cupping the town protectively, closing off ground access on all sides.  It took me way too long to realize that, and along the same lines I didn't realize that they were all growing shrooms for food because the hand was blotting out the sun.

I really dug it in general, with the shrooms and the hand and whatnot, and him trying to escape.  Then at the end, I had the same reaction some others had where it suddenly felt like a completely different story when the outside world was revealed and they were given a similar drive.

"First one's free.  After that you run away screaming and never come back because oh my god what IS that THING!?!?"
Yeah, my one problem I had with the story was that.  Generally the "first one's free" business model works if it's something that you feel you can't do without.  If there weren't the mutants out there, being able to bask in sunlight would certainly be such a draw, both for psychological reasons, and for vitamin D deficiency.  But with the mutants, it's a pretty terrible model.

To save my liking of the story, I'm going to go with an interpretation that I suspect was not intended by the author, that the shrooms are making everyone hallucinate, but that they're a psychically shared hallucination so that they're all seeing the same thing and interpreting it the same way.  Yeah, I don't that was intended, but then I can be more happy with how the story went if I pretend that's what was intended.
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LaShawn
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« Reply #18 on: December 03, 2012, 01:10:38 PM »

To save my liking of the story, I'm going to go with an interpretation that I suspect was not intended by the author, that the shrooms are making everyone hallucinate, but that they're a psychically shared hallucination so that they're all seeing the same thing and interpreting it the same way.  Yeah, I don't that was intended, but then I can be more happy with how the story went if I pretend that's what was intended.

That's what I wondered too. Outside really doesn't exist--the shared visions are simply something for the townspeople to do. Pretty depressing, really.

Writer's brain that I have, I found myself thinking of the Hand of God itself. Did they dig beneath it? Could they tickle it? Cut through it? Okay, that last would be pretty gross, but still....

I guess I was more intrigued by the hand itself rather than the mushrooms.

ETA: Whoa, great ending quote, Dave!
« Last Edit: December 07, 2012, 12:30:25 PM by LaShawn » Logged

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