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Author Topic: PC230: Little Better Than A Beast  (Read 9654 times)
Ocicat
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« on: October 17, 2012, 02:10:51 AM »

PodCastle 230: Little Better Than A Beast

by T.A. Pratt.

Read by Marguerite Croft.

Originally published in Those Who Fight Monsters, edited by Justin Gustainis


Marla picked up a letter opener shaped like the grim reaper’s scythe. “So I was supposed to get this a week or ten days ago?”

“Thereabouts,” Granger said, head bobbing, happy they were in agreement.

If I could fire him, or have him committed… But Granger was a powerful magician, in his way, and even if he wasn’t much use to the city’s secret shadow government of sorcerers, he mostly stayed out of the way in the park, and his elementals had been formidable warriors in last winter’s battle against the nightmare-things. She considered reprimanding him for not bringing the letter on time, but it would be like hitting a puppy fifteen minutes after it pissed on the carpet — the poor thing wouldn’t even understand what it was being disciplined foor.

Marla used the letter opener to pry up the wax blobs and unfolded the envelope, which wasn’t an envelope at all, but just a sheet of paper folded in on itself. The message wasn’t very long, but it said everything it needed to.

She came around the desk, shouting “Rondeau! I need you!” and clutching her dagger of office. This was going to be a bloody afternoon.


Rated R: Contains Language, and Monster

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
« Last Edit: November 07, 2012, 11:02:36 AM by Talia » Logged
Cutter McKay
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« Reply #1 on: October 17, 2012, 03:22:32 PM »

Well, I would expect nothing less from Tim Pratt. This was a fun tale. I like the idea of the sorcerer just dumping the monster from the past on the unsuspecting future. I also really enjoyed the sorcerer's completely bigoted and sexist attitude and Marla's way of dealing with him.

The only issue I had with the story, and maybe it's a hole that was plugged and I just missed it, was: If the Sorcerer went out into the woods by himself, without telling anyone his plan, and then never returned because he accidentally got caught up in his own time-travel spell... who wrote the letter warning the future? I doubt the sorcerer would have written it before he left because he had no idea he wouldn't be coming back. And if I heard correctly, he didn't tell anyone else of his plan, so no one like his assistant could have written it either. If it was explained in the story, someone please clue me in because I missed it.

Even still, that minor plat hole didn't detract from the overall satisfaction of the story. And I admit, I don't usually get into urban fantasy because of the almost requisite Bad-A attitudes of all urban fantasy MCs. It usually gets on my nerves. But not in this one. Well done, T.A.P.
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« Reply #2 on: October 17, 2012, 03:31:41 PM »

I'm with Cutter.

Actually, a better way to put it would be "I'm in the same direction as Cutter, but much further along."

I hated Marla as a protagonist - with that kind of attitude, she'd make a far better villain. Marla is far from "a benevolent ruler." She's a malevolent, cruel, spiteful bitch who dooms someone to life imprisonment for the awful crime of disagreeing with her. Is the fact that he was racist and sexist supposed to make it ok to lock him in a single freaking room for the rest of his freaking life? That goes beyond cruel and unusual punishment into the wildly amoral, the blatantly sadistic, the crazy, and the villainous. Where's the novel where all the other magicians rise up against Marla's insane rule and put her down like a mad dog?

That said, I didn't like the time-lost magician any better - he was just differently obnoxious. Honestly, I would have preferred a story where Marla and he were forced to deal with each other more, came to see that each embodied the others' flaws, and both grew from the experience. Of course, that would require a degree of self-reflection (and, you know, depth) that neither character possessed. There wasn't any growth in this story, just power flexing its muscles. If I want to see that, I can just tune in to the real world.

I don't think that badass and amoral main characters is a necessity for urban fantasy. Check out Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. The series is certainly flawed in a variety of ways, but the protagonist, Harry Dresden, is not a generic amoral urban fantasy badass. Oh, sure, he tries to pretend he is from time to time. In reality, though, Harry Dresden is a very complicated character who has thinks about his choices and their consequences, struggles to do the right thing, and grows from his mistakes. I didn't see any of that in Marla Mason, and this story suffered for it.
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« Reply #3 on: October 17, 2012, 05:27:08 PM »

Check out Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. The series is certainly flawed in a variety of ways, but the protagonist, Harry Dresden, is not a generic amoral urban fantasy badass...

Heh. I'd actually argue that Harry Dresden is a dumbass. Which is waaaaaaaaaay more frustrating for me. But fair enough Smiley (FWIW, I don't think you're supposed to take Marla's line "Don't let anybody tell you I'm not a benevolent and enlightened ruler" at face value.)

Cutter, I think you mentioned that you were relatively new to PodCastle? If so you, I can't recommend checking out the backlog of stories we've run by Pratt enough. I'm sure there's plenty of disagreement as to what the best is, but that's half the fun Smiley (This thread might prove helpful for searching.)
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #4 on: October 18, 2012, 12:35:02 AM »

Check out Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. The series is certainly flawed in a variety of ways, but the protagonist, Harry Dresden, is not a generic amoral urban fantasy badass...

Heh. I'd actually argue that Harry Dresden is a dumbass. Which is waaaaaaaaaay more frustrating for me. But fair enough Smiley (FWIW, I don't think you're supposed to take Marla's line "Don't let anybody tell you I'm not a benevolent and enlightened ruler" at face value.)

Wow, we really have different tastes.

The funny thing is, all throughout this story, I had a very interesting relationship with your intro.

At first, I though "wow, this story doesn't seem interesting at all - Dave's making Marla out to be really unsympathetic."

And then it turned into "good thing I didn't let Dave's intro turn me off to the story. Marla's not so bad."

And finally. "Oh, God. She's just as bad as I thought. I wish I hadn't listened to this story."

I agree that Dresden starts out as a dumbass - no argument here. However, I think he grows into something more interesting. Which brings me around to having some patience for this story, because I suppose if you took a snapshot of early Dresden - especially in the context of a short story-sized slice of his adventures - he might seem like an uninteresting putz. Ultimately, though, I think I prefer uninteresting putzes who grow up to malicious sadistic villains who grow souls. The latter can make a good story, but you have to work a lot harder to get me invested, initially. It needs to be made clear to me that I can expect the character to be judged, to grow.

I think what bothered me most is that in this story, the author seemed to be cheering Marla on. There were no nods to the heinous immorality of her actions - at least, no substantive nods. No one got in her way, which left me thinking that either they feared her, or they were just as bad. If there had been even a single character with the guts to stand up to Marla and even a single moment of her reflecting on her choice, I could have swallowed this story as the start of something, part of her journey towards humanity.

As it was, it seemed like a dictator and her fan club, written by the president of the fan club, and it really bothered me.
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« Reply #5 on: October 18, 2012, 06:02:37 AM »

If this was your first intro to the Marlaverse, I can see where you wouldn't "take" to her right away.  She certainly is a flawed character, she might even be the first to agree.  But she does have depth.  And don't take my word for it, read the books and see for yourselves.  There's obviously much more room for growth and introspection.  (And, you may get a bit of what you are looking for, ElectricPaladin...)

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« Reply #6 on: October 18, 2012, 10:21:20 AM »

This was my first introduction to Marla Mason. I can definitely see where ElectricPaladin is coming from, but I didn't react nearly as strongly, probably because I seem to have instantly hated the chauvinistic pic way more than he did.

The solution (for both the beast and the chauvinistic pig) seemed to come too easily, so I think the story could definitely have used another 10-15 minutes full of the two/three of them fighting it out. Maybe this would allow the councilwoman and other sorcerers to originally welcome the chauvinistic pig and try to incorporate him into their circle. Marla would hate it and perhaps be challenged to see how she shares some of his flaws, but eventually all would decide that he needs to go. Because he's a chauvinistic pig. Roll Eyes
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« Reply #7 on: October 18, 2012, 10:38:34 AM »


Wow, we really have different tastes.


Heh. Well, yeah, probably. Such is life.  Grin

And look, I'm not trying to be overly harsh on Dresden. I get people love him and those stories, and that's cool. I don't, but I can kind of appreciate them, and certainly get their appeal.

Here's the best way I can sum up my own tastes.

I've read a couple of the Dresden books and a couple of the short stories. In the second book, toward the end, he has the drop on the villain - a Very Bad Guy, and Dresden gets to monologuing, while holding a gun on the dude. Of course, I know where this is going as I'm listening, but I'm still screaming inside my head: Just shoot the guy - before he totally gets the drop on you, Dresden!

But of course, the bad guy gets the drop on Dresden, because Dresden doesn't shoot.

Marla would have shot first.

As for entertainment value, etc., I think it's completely fair to judge this story on its own, because that's how it's presented. But I don't know that it's fair to contrast Dresden's character arc over the expanse of a whole lot of novels and short stories to Marla's arc (or lack thereof) in a single short story.

(And a little disclaimer - I always feel as awkward as hell discussing the stories in these threads instead of being a fly on the wall. Hopefully it's just me and I'm not being totally awkward. If I am, apologies - and I'll back out. Not my intention to make the conversation weird, or kill it.)
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« Reply #8 on: October 18, 2012, 12:20:23 PM »

Personally, what this story is opening up for me is the question of what makes a character too morally dark for me to sympathize. I also find it interesting how different characters get viewed differently based on... I don't know.

For example, take the eternal pseudo-hero Thomas Covenant. He's basically a jerk (the phrase Asshole Leper Hero comes to mind). He even - famously - has an attack of rage and helplessness and sexually assaults someone. A lot of people lose sympathy with him at that point and stop reading the series - and even though I love the series, I can't really blame them. Covenant's crime is a tough one to read past, and even when told that he regrets it and spends pretty much the rest of his life trying to atone.

Then we have Marla Mason, who is - I am given to believe - wildly popular. However, what's the real difference? I'd argue that her actions in this story are roughly morally equivalent. She doesn't use (as much) physical violence, but she exerts humiliating power over someone, completely removing his ability to influence the course of his own life, forever. One could even argue that what Covenant does is ultimately less bad - his victim, at least, has a chance to put her life back together (she never really does, but that's a different story).

Author's Note: I don't actually want to get into that argument - I'm not entirely sure, myself - and I don't think it's the point. Comparing shades of moral atrocity is ultimately kind of boring and pointless, and besides, that would totally derail the thread.

The difference for me is that Covenant is reflective and tormented. He does something seriously wrong. It's treated as a terrible act by everyone around him. We get a chance to look inside his head, at the hellish vistas his act opens up inside him. He spends a long time trying to fix it for others, and finally, trying to fix the thing inside himself that led him to do something like that. Mason - it seems at this point - is not. For me, that's the real killer.

Now, I know you could argue that this is a short story, and the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant is a series. That's fair. And, if all I'd read of Thomas Covenant was the rape incident, I'd probably have not read any further. Reading what came before it gave me the inertia to read what came after. I accept that Marla Mason might be in the same category. If my to-read pile wasn't so big, I'd even pledge to read Marla Mason next and find out for myself. As it stands, I'll say that she isn't off my list, but neither, realistically, is she likely to be next.

What I find interesting, though, is the audience's reaction to the story Pratt actually wrote. Pratt clearly knows his audience, because it seems like most people buy Marla Mason as a hero, even after a story like this. Even after a short story like this. The same isn't true of many readers after half a novel, in Thomas Covenant's case.

I wonder why.
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« Reply #9 on: October 19, 2012, 12:18:14 AM »

What I find interesting, though, is the audience's reaction to the story Pratt actually wrote. Pratt clearly knows his audience, because it seems like most people buy Marla Mason as a hero, even after a story like this. Even after a short story like this. The same isn't true of many readers after half a novel, in Thomas Covenant's case.

For me, it makes her a cartoon character: they slam their adversaries, throw them on spikes and make them explode. And oddly, the adversaries tend to survive the treatment that would be of utmost cruelty if taken literally.

And that's the problem with this story. The premise -- sexist and racist 400 year old master sorcerer comes back to the present -- is an interesting one, and the story & characters had enough depth to make the 2-dimensional cartoon reading impossible. Therefore, I was disappointed. It's a bit typical for Pratt, and sometimes actually works. "Another end of the empire" had a lot of exaggerated violence -- though that civilization's trajectory was towards less of it -- but was enough of a humorous tale to be entertaining nonetheless. Sometimes, his stories are sweet in a shallow way, and he's a bloody good storyteller. Sometimes, the moral ambiguity serves to interrogate the audience. But often enough there's this bad aftertaste of interpersonal conflict just being resolved in a pat and ultimately objectionable manner.
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« Reply #10 on: October 19, 2012, 02:37:17 PM »

I generally enjoy Tim Pratt's work, but I tried to read the Marla Mason series, got halfway through the first one, and put them down forever, pretty much because of what ElecPal pointed out here: Marla is a horrible person whose company I do not enjoy and whose actions I find reprehensible, and the narratives she lives in don't ever seem to notice.  If anything, they seem to think she's put-upon and showing admirable restraint when she does what she does.  It's like watching Fox News, and it makes me feel similarly tired and angry at the same time.

(RE: The Dresden Files - I like them, but they're pretty schlocky, and honestly I'd rather have read the Lieutenant Murphy Files, if such a thing existed.  I resent rolling my eyes at Harry's maudlin self-pity less than I resent trying to root for someone who appears to have no moral compass beyond pragmatism.)
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« Reply #11 on: October 19, 2012, 04:48:08 PM »

This is what I love about this place and humanity in general.  Things one person loves, the next person is lukewarm about, and the person after dislikes.  I know I've said it before, but I love the character of Marla Mason.  She is unapologetic and harsh and violent, yes.  All reprehensible traits.  But she's written in a way that makes me forgive her for some of them.  Her motives are generally genuine.
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« Reply #12 on: October 19, 2012, 06:39:54 PM »

It's like watching Fox News, and it makes me feel similarly tired and angry at the same time.

This is a very good way to describe how this story made me feel. It's looking into an entire world that's unself-consciously ethically off-kilter from mine. It's like reading one of those old sci-fi stories where the manly male scientist calls his secretary sidekick "kitten" and pats her on the butt without permission, and this is treated as not only right and proper, but evidence of his manly vitality and virtue. My modern brain is like "wtf?" Or, it's like that book I read where the villain is the survivor of incredible parental neglect, raised by his jerk dad after his mom ran off with her boyfriend, and then by a series of uninterested relatives after he died, and his only crime (at least in the beginning) is having a bit of a mad-on for the main character, his bastard half-brother. I'm expected to buy that he's doomed to become a scenery-chewing monster, but actually I just feel sorry for him and want to know more about his point of view. Or, it's like that Bram Stoker horror I tried to read, but couldn't continue, because I got too distracted with the narrator's obsession with how dark skinned (and therefore, clearly, degenerate and dangerous) the villain's sidekick was.

There's a moral hole in the story, and eventually I fall into it and can't go on.

When it's a single note in the story, I can tolerate the dissonance. When it's a big deal - the origin of the story's main antagonist, the conclusion of the story's main conflict - it becomes too much for me to ignore.
« Last Edit: October 19, 2012, 06:41:42 PM by ElectricPaladin » Logged

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« Reply #13 on: October 22, 2012, 06:47:32 PM »

I have no complaints about the story, except for how Marla dealt with Malken in the end, which everyone else is already discussing. The reason I’m posting here is to complain about the lack of scene breaks in the reading. I had no other problems with the reading (well, inconsistent name pronunciations, but that’s easy to overlook), but plowing through the end of one scene into the next, no indication that time has passed and we’re somewhere else now—that’s a real problem for me.

EA, please insist that your readers pause a moment between sections, or insert silences in the recording before posting it. It’s very confusing when you have no idea that it’s suddenly later.

Of course, this is all assuming that the story itself has breaks. If it didn’t, then everything I said here applies to Pratt rather than the reader.
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« Reply #14 on: October 22, 2012, 07:54:04 PM »

While I enjoyed this fine, I did think the "I'm going to lock this guy up as a madman" was morally dubious. About as morally dubious as sending a terrible monster into the future so that our descendants have to deal with it (and depending on your political leanings--and if you're American--I'm either hinting at the coming storm of climate change or the debt). So, sure, Marla was like the first sorcerer: willing to do anything to get her way and protect her vision of the city.

Now, whether you think this story is advocating Marla's position or critiquing it, is another matter.

More troubling to me, from a narrative standpoint, was that the solution to the Beast problem felt a little deus ex. We heard a little bit about the technomancer, but it's kind of just spring on us.

Now, there's a nice parallel/reversal in how Marla deals with these living relics: both the wizard and the Beast would like thing to go back to how they were when they were in charge, but only the Beast gets to live out his fantasy. Why not just hook up the wizard to a world where white men have all the privilege? Would he fight that utopia?

I think that's one reason why people are reacting so strongly to Marla's solution with him: the monster gets a fantasy, but the wizards is getting punished for having out-of-date thoughts about what sort of world he wants to live in.
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« Reply #15 on: October 22, 2012, 09:31:24 PM »

I think that's one reason why people are reacting so strongly to Marla's solution with him: the monster gets a fantasy, but the wizards is getting punished for having out-of-date thoughts about what sort of world he wants to live in.
My thoughts on this: The “monster” isn’t a monster. He’s just a beast, as everyone calls him, an animal (though this is debatable). He’s not evil, he just is. Malken, however, kind of is a monster, at least from the other characters’ point of view. They probably took him out like that so that he wouldn’t have a chance to attempt to take Marla’s position by force, which he would probably have been more than capable of and willing to do. In their eyes, he deserves to be locked up, while the beast just needs to be prevented from killing folk.

As I’ve said, though, I still disagree with how they handled the situation in the end.
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« Reply #16 on: October 23, 2012, 12:05:09 PM »

This was my first exposure to Marla Mason.  I've heard her name so many times, and somehow I got it in my head that she is a noir detective--just the name sounds very noir-ish I guess and I've been hearing it in Tim's biographies for years.  So that took me a little time to come to terms with, no fault of Tim's.

Interesting idea for the story, having an old-time sorceror tossing the beast ahead several hundred years.  

This is the Marla Mason I've heard people saying is so awesome?  She's a psychopath dictator.  She didn't even resolve the beast conflict, that was the technomancer guy.  All she did was "solve" the problem with the sorceror.  Which wasn't really a problem to begin with.  I mean, yes, the guy is sexist, racist, and just generally an a-hole, but he wasn't a danger.  He was just annoying.  He threatened to take over her position, but it was clear (or seemed to be anyway) that he would never get away with any attempt to do so.  It seemed clear that everyone was on Marla's side from the beginning (presumably because they'd wee their pants just at the thought of what she'd do to them at the first voiced opposition), and that Malken was a loudmouthed jerk, but an impotent one.  His very impotence in this modern environment is a fitting punishment enough. He's used to being in charge, he isn't.  He's used to having certain ideals held high that now everyone around him considers backwards and wrong.  He has no power, and I thought that was kind of funny and fitting, and his discomfort at having to find a way to fit into this society fit even better.  

And then Marla had him committed, while someone else was resolving the actually dangerous adversary, and the tone of the narrative made me think I was supposed to cheer this behavior on, for some reason?  WTF?

The fact that the beast was handled offscreen by a minor character, coupled with the choice of the title, made me think that Malken was supposed to be the main antagonist, and I just didn't agree with that in any way. He's annoying, and pathetic, but he is a poor antagonist.

Sooo...  The Marla Mason books have now slipped a ways further down my endless reading stack.  Maybe this was just a poor introduction to the character, but when you publish a standalone story based on your novel character, you have to keep in mind that if she comes off badly in the story, you might be pushing people away from the book rather than drawing them in.

Which is too bad, because Tim Pratt is still my favorite short story author, and his novel Briarpatch was awesome.  I was hoping Marla Mason would likewise be up my alley.

(And a little disclaimer - I always feel as awkward as hell discussing the stories in these threads instead of being a fly on the wall. Hopefully it's just me and I'm not being totally awkward. If I am, apologies - and I'll back out. Not my intention to make the conversation weird, or kill it.)

It's just you.  Stick around.  Pull up a chair.  As long as you don't shoot sewage from your hands, you're welcome to be here.

« Last Edit: October 23, 2012, 12:07:02 PM by Unblinking » Logged
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« Reply #17 on: October 23, 2012, 02:50:48 PM »

I'm still on the fence about whether we're supposed to cheer Marla on here or recognize her abuse of power...

But I was just listening to some other Tim Pratt stories--"Cup and Table" and "Captain Fantasy," and I feel there's a strong theme running through them of "Does the ends justify the means?" This is explicit in "Captain Fantasy," where the narrator wonders about the lies told him by his secret masters (they master secrets) and he comes down firmly on the side of "Yes, sometimes eggs have to be broken to make omelets/old sorcerers have to be incarcerated to protect the future."

But still, does that character's feelings capture the theme of the story?
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« Reply #18 on: October 23, 2012, 03:45:47 PM »

Personally, what this story is opening up for me is the question of what makes a character too morally dark for me to sympathize. I also find it interesting how different characters get viewed differently based on... I don't know.

For example, take the eternal pseudo-hero Thomas Covenant. He's basically a jerk (the phrase Asshole Leper Hero comes to mind). He even - famously - has an attack of rage and helplessness and sexually assaults someone. A lot of people lose sympathy with him at that point and stop reading the series - and even though I love the series, I can't really blame them. Covenant's crime is a tough one to read past, and even when told that he regrets it and spends pretty much the rest of his life trying to atone.

Then we have Marla Mason, who is - I am given to believe - wildly popular. However, what's the real difference? I'd argue that her actions in this story are roughly morally equivalent. She doesn't use (as much) physical violence, but she exerts humiliating power over someone, completely removing his ability to influence the course of his own life, forever. One could even argue that what Covenant does is ultimately less bad - his victim, at least, has a chance to put her life back together (she never really does, but that's a different story).

Author's Note: I don't actually want to get into that argument - I'm not entirely sure, myself - and I don't think it's the point. Comparing shades of moral atrocity is ultimately kind of boring and pointless, and besides, that would totally derail the thread.

The difference for me is that Covenant is reflective and tormented. He does something seriously wrong. It's treated as a terrible act by everyone around him. We get a chance to look inside his head, at the hellish vistas his act opens up inside him. He spends a long time trying to fix it for others, and finally, trying to fix the thing inside himself that led him to do something like that. Mason - it seems at this point - is not. For me, that's the real killer.

Now, I know you could argue that this is a short story, and the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant is a series. That's fair. And, if all I'd read of Thomas Covenant was the rape incident, I'd probably have not read any further. Reading what came before it gave me the inertia to read what came after. I accept that Marla Mason might be in the same category. If my to-read pile wasn't so big, I'd even pledge to read Marla Mason next and find out for myself. As it stands, I'll say that she isn't off my list, but neither, realistically, is she likely to be next.

What I find interesting, though, is the audience's reaction to the story Pratt actually wrote. Pratt clearly knows his audience, because it seems like most people buy Marla Mason as a hero, even after a story like this. Even after a short story like this. The same isn't true of many readers after half a novel, in Thomas Covenant's case.

I wonder why.

I know you said you don't want to have this discussion, and I don't want to derail the story thread either, but you did bring it up.

Covenant rapes a young woman - someone who (at least in the first book, IIRC - I never made it into the further books) showed him compassion, did not threaten him, and was essentially innocent.

Marla had a sexist, racist, dangerous sorcerer committed. Someone who threatens Marla (and the Chamberlain) with violence because of their sex and race.

So, no, I'd argue that the two actions are not at all morally equivalent.

FWIW, in the series Marla goes to hell (or at least the underworld) and does have to wrestle with the demons of her actions. (That said, I do agree this story should be able to stand on its own, and don't think that knowledge should affect whether or not you like/dislike the story.)

I'm really fascinated by the divide on Marla's actions in this thread, and would love to hear more thoughts on it.
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« Reply #19 on: October 23, 2012, 05:58:25 PM »

I know you said you don't want to have this discussion, and I don't want to derail the story thread either, but you did bring it up.

Covenant rapes a young woman - someone who (at least in the first book, IIRC - I never made it into the further books) showed him compassion, did not threaten him, and was essentially innocent.

Marla had a sexist, racist, dangerous sorcerer committed. Someone who threatens Marla (and the Chamberlain) with violence because of their sex and race.

So, no, I'd argue that the two actions are not at all morally equivalent.

What I was talking about was the pure moral weight of the actions involved, independent of the circumstances. Some might say you can't talk about actions in that way, but I think it's at least interesting to try. If you want to talk contexts, the situation becomes a lot more complicated. If you weight their actions against the contexts, both characters benefit. Marla was imprisoning a potential rival who had at least implied violence; Covenant was mentally ill at the time of his crime. I don't know that either is an excuse.

The biggest difference I see is that Marla's action was tactical, with definite benefit for herself and a potential benefit for others, while Covenant's action was born rage, confusion, and demented self-hatred. Again, I'm not entirely sure that Marla wins the high ground in that comparison, either.

What I was interested in was considering the actions, independently: sexual assault vs. life imprisonment. Independent of context, I think they're comprable enough that I don't want to get into it at all and refuse to get into it. I'll tell you right now that I'd rather be raped than be in prison, kept there by people who treat me like a lunatic, for the rest of my life. [Requisite privilege disclaimer: I totally accept that someone who's been there - or, being female, lives under the threat of sexual violence - might feel differently. If you want to claim to be female (this is the Internet, after all) and let me know, feel free to chime in.]

The point I was trying to make is that really, I'd rather not have either happen to me, thank you very much if it's all the same to you, because they're both pretty awful. At the very least, whichever you think is worse, I don't think there's a huge moral gulf between these two atrocious actions. What interested me at the time was that the story (and, until then, the audience) was treating Marla like a victorious hero, rather than as a tortured anti-hero. That was interesting (and, truth be told, a little warped, in my opinion).
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