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Author Topic: EP367: Lion Dance  (Read 2071 times)
eytanz
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« on: October 25, 2012, 04:38:08 PM »

EP367: Lion Dance

By Vylar Kaftan

Read by John Chu

Originally appeared in Asimov’s (2012)

---

I knew Wing’s idea was stupid.  But we were all so goddamn sick of quarantine that it sounded great anyway.

“Chinese New Year on Halloween night, huh?” I asked him.  We sat on his broken futon and some folding chairs, passing a bottle of Captain Jack among the eight of us.  Someone leaned on a car horn outside our apartment.  When they didn’t stop, my buddy Matt leaned out the window and swore at them in Mandarin.  Matt was loud–even a flu mask didn’t muffle his bellowing.  I swear, even though every restaurant in San Francisco Chinatown had been closed since February, tourists still cruised the streets.  Even a pandemic couldn’t stop them completely.

“Dude.  Someone will shoot us,” said the guy from 4B, who I think was named Jimmy Li.  We all lived in the same nasty building on Grant Street above a dim sum place owned by our slumlord.  I knew Matt, who’d invited me, and my little brother Jian of course.  Wing lived here in 3A.  I’d just met the Chao twins who had different haircuts, and then Jimmy and some dude Xiang.  At twenty-three, I was pretty sure I was the oldest guy here.

“That’s the point,” said Wing heavily, as if he’d explained this a hundred times when he actually hadn’t.  “We’ll be in costume.  First off, all the riots will be in the Mission, so that’s where the cops will be.  Second, no one’s going to shoot a New Year’s lion.  Dude.  It’s Chinatown.  All the old cops here are superstitious.  Can you imagine how much bad luck it would bring?  Even if some cop got itchy on the trigger, he’ll think about it long enough for us to run away.”

“No one’s shooting anyone,” said Matt.  “For God’s sake, this isn’t Montana.”  He pushed his mask aside, swigged the Jack, and passed it to Jian.  I snagged the bottle out of his hands.  No freaking way would I let my little brother drink from that bottle.  Who knew where the other guys had been?  They might pull off their masks and drink, but damned if I let my little brother do it.  Jian glared at me, but didn’t fight back.

I passed the bottle to Wing.  “They might shoot if things get out of hand,” I said.  “It’s Halloween.  Everyone’s twitchy.  But you’re right, I heard a bunch of people are gonna swarm the Mission.  That’s where the cops will go.”

Wing took another swig.  He wasn’t wearing a mask; that was only Matt and Jian and me.  Wing went to the kitchen and reappeared with a stack of well-used disposable cups and washed straws.  He swiped an unopened bottle of Jose Cuervo off a shelf and handed it to me.

I thanked him and poured myself way too much tequila.  I knew I wasn’t supposed to peel the mask off, even for a minute, but it’d been a bad week.  My parents were getting evicted and Jian’s antivirals were out of stock everywhere.  Pissed me off–HIV drugs did crap against the flu, but people were desperate and they got prescriptions from quacks.  So my little brother might develop full-blown AIDS thanks to those selfish jackholes.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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loyaleagle
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« Reply #1 on: October 26, 2012, 01:30:41 AM »

This was one of my least favorite stories of late.  I found the main character not only a somewhat stupid person, but also the kind of stupid person I wouldn't like spending a moment in the presence of.  The slang and constant exclamations broke up the flow the dialogue to the point where I was constantly distracted.  I enjoyed the idea of a lion parade through the quarantined streets of a city, but that joyous scene (thankfully devoid of most of the distracting lingo) shortly fell away in the face of the author's ham-handed attempts to discuss gay culture, disease, and the nature of friendship. 

I should also add that a lot of my ire toward this story may derive from the audio narrator.  I found the stilted reading somewhat distracting, but it also reminded me of somebody I don't particularly like in real life.  The fusion of the voice and that particular way of speaking brought out that real-life character in my mind.

Hate putting up such a negative post, but this one really put me over the edge.  Sad
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Schrodingrr
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« Reply #2 on: October 26, 2012, 01:45:30 AM »

--I'm kinda in the same boat as loyaleagle here, on just about every point. It's unfortunate, because I enjoy most of the work done by Vylar Kaftan, so my expectations were higher going into this piece than they might have been, had the author been unknown to me.  Undecided
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backwoodsnerd
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« Reply #3 on: October 26, 2012, 11:42:41 AM »

In general I am a huge fan of society altering disaster stories, especially when they involve pandemics because that is one of the greatest fears for the future that I have myself.  I tried to get into this story the whole time, but just couldn't.  The dialogue was stilted and the characters felt kind of one dimensional.

The item that drove me to post on here though is the fact that they seem to imply that Montanans are a bunch of gun-toting rednecks.  While I won't deny that the majority of people here do own firearms (myself amongst them) and that there is no shortage of rednecks here, most of us are functional members of modern society.  Besides, when you can trade with your neighbors for moonshine you don't have to drive all the way into town to break into a liquor store.
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Cutter McKay
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« Reply #4 on: October 26, 2012, 11:44:49 AM »

Well, I'm going to take the opposite side of this debate. I actually like this one. Unlike loyaleagle and Schrodingrr, I didn't see ham-handedness in any aspect of the story, and I've been the first in stories past to take issue with obvious agenda pushing on things like homosexuality.

In this tale Jian wasn't gay so that Kaftan could push gay rights. He was gay to explain his HIV, which is the central danger of the story. I quite liked that Kaftan didn't spend time discussing whether it was right or wrong of Jian's parants to kick him out, or whether Jian struggled to fit in with this group, or any other moral issues associated with gay rights. Jian being gay was just a part of the story like Bo being straight was. The dilemma at the end, of Jian delivering the message from Steve to Gary would have worked just the same as if it had been Steve and Mary, but it wasn't pointed at like, "Look, these two guys are gay and married!" No, it was just the way it was. I guess I'm saying that I appreciated that Kaftan could write gays into his story without having to constantly point to the fact that they were gay, like so many other authors do.

I really enjoyed the imagery of the Lion Dancing, (Naive American here never knew those were lions. I'd always assumed dragons.) The Halloween setting was fun. For a moment I thought the zombies were going to turn out to be real zombies and this was going to turn horror quickly... I did find it a bit convenient that the unexpected riot gave them the perfect opportunity for Jian to sneak into the hospital to see Gary. It was like he wasn't planning to deliver the message, but decided to since they were there.

And I liked Bo's decision at the end to stop hiding and be more proactive in society.

I do agree that the stilted reading was annoying, though.
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loyaleagle
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« Reply #5 on: October 28, 2012, 12:19:08 AM »

Well, I'm going to take the opposite side of this debate. I actually like this one. Unlike loyaleagle and Schrodingrr, I didn't see ham-handedness in any aspect of the story, and I've been the first in stories past to take issue with obvious agenda pushing on things like homosexuality.

In this tale Jian wasn't gay so that Kaftan could push gay rights. He was gay to explain his HIV, which is the central danger of the story. I quite liked that Kaftan didn't spend time discussing whether it was right or wrong of Jian's parants to kick him out, or whether Jian struggled to fit in with this group, or any other moral issues associated with gay rights. Jian being gay was just a part of the story like Bo being straight was. The dilemma at the end, of Jian delivering the message from Steve to Gary would have worked just the same as if it had been Steve and Mary, but it wasn't pointed at like, "Look, these two guys are gay and married!" No, it was just the way it was. I guess I'm saying that I appreciated that Kaftan could write gays into his story without having to constantly point to the fact that they were gay, like so many other authors do.

I really enjoyed the imagery of the Lion Dancing, (Naive American here never knew those were lions. I'd always assumed dragons.) The Halloween setting was fun. For a moment I thought the zombies were going to turn out to be real zombies and this was going to turn horror quickly... I did find it a bit convenient that the unexpected riot gave them the perfect opportunity for Jian to sneak into the hospital to see Gary. It was like he wasn't planning to deliver the message, but decided to since they were there.

And I liked Bo's decision at the end to stop hiding and be more proactive in society.

I do agree that the stilted reading was annoying, though.
Hmmmm, I think you make some good points here.  As I mentioned before, I did like the lion idea, along with its fusion with Halloween.  A set-piece of those two cool images would have been awesome to me, personally. 

Unfortunately, I felt like the "message at the end," was a case of the author saying...."oh and at the end...they were all robots...from the future!"  Obviously the ending wasn't that jarring, but it did feel like the things I liked about the story -- a lion dance to revive a wounded city, a halloween zombie mashup, some of the pandemic stuff -- were just abandoned for something else.  There was some early foreshadowing of a "wounded comrade," dead or dying in a hospital, but I felt that was also somewhat transparent/ham-handed. 
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Thunderscreech
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« Reply #6 on: October 28, 2012, 01:34:52 PM »

I was convinced the zombie flash mob would turn out to be actual zombies.

* Halloween
* Some dressed as hospital staff
* So many out during curfew
* A killer flu variant

I was in tenterhooks waiting for their dance to turn bloody, well done misdirection! 

In the end, I liked the story about him unknowingly helping the city morale an spirit building while convinced he wasn't doing anything positive.  He's performing a service but still doesn't realize it at the end, that was refreshing (to not have some realization spoonfed I the reader). 

The reading was difficult to listen to.  I appreciate the time and energy volunteers put into contributing recordings, but the pauses and pacing were jarring.  Nichevo, story was still interesting.
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chemistryguy
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« Reply #7 on: October 30, 2012, 06:06:37 AM »

This one didn't do it for me.  I can't put my finger on it, but it goes beyond the echoy, stilted reading.

Quote
The slang and constant exclamations broke up the flow the dialogue to the point where I was constantly distracted

Yes

Quote
characters felt kind of one dimensional

Yes

Quote
The item that drove me to post on here though is the fact that they seem to imply that Montanans are a bunch of gun-toting rednecks

And yes.  This irritated me as well.

I understand how the main character is supposed to be experiencing some personal growth, but in the end it just felt rather hurried and insincere. 

I'd have preferred that the zombies were real and would have munched on the small offering of brains available.
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #8 on: October 30, 2012, 08:58:21 AM »

I listened for about 25 minutes.  I liked the idea of teenagers stealing a lion costume and performing an impromptu mini-parade during city-wide quarantine.  But after 25 minutes, that's about all I'd gotten out of it, and nothing much seemed to be changing, just continued mini-parade.  It's possible that I missed something in there.  The reading was rather flat, which combined with my perception of nothing new happening, kind of lulled me, but whenever I came aware of the story again, it still appeared that nothing had changed.  So I gave up.

I kept thinking of Podcastle 182 "Rising Lion -- The Lion Bows:  http://forum.escapeartists.net/index.php?topic=5594.0
Mostly because I couldn't remember the title of that other story, and in my mind I could've sworn it was called "Lion Dance" (obviously not).  At the beginning I was wondering if I'd somehow gotten the wrong story!
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« Reply #9 on: October 30, 2012, 10:10:15 AM »

I listened until the riot, then read the rest myself.
The story was... disappointing.
When the narrator got the Red Lion of Courage I was hoping for some great foreshadowing and something a little larger than a half-assed resolution. Even if it did come from a lion's ass.
I liked the image of the zombie flash mob and the lion dance in the streets of a quarantined city. Something about the human spirit, that despite, or because, of all that people still need to do human things. And that includes goofing off on Halloween.
But really, that was the climax of the story for me.
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jenfullmoon
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« Reply #10 on: October 30, 2012, 03:10:50 PM »

The item that drove me to post on here though is the fact that they seem to imply that Montanans are a bunch of gun-toting rednecks.  While I won't deny that the majority of people here do own firearms (myself amongst them) and that there is no shortage of rednecks here, most of us are functional members of modern society.  Besides, when you can trade with your neighbors for moonshine you don't have to drive all the way into town to break into a liquor store.

Keep in mind these are Chinese folks from San Francisco talking in this story. They probably don't know any better.

I am non-Chinese, from the Bay Area but not SF, and have spent a fair chunk of time in Montana because I have relatives there/from there. I'd probably assume they were all rednecks if I hadn't been there too. Mostly Montana seems the same to me as other places, other than (a) there's not a whole lot to do there (or at least there's little to nothing in the tiny town my dad is from), (b) the cuisine seems to be typically fried chicken and spaghetti-- I love those foods, but even I OD'd on 'em after awhile--and also, do not eat Chinese food in Montana, and (c) well, you don't really see anyone there who isn't white. As for redneck jokes, my dad loved redneck jokes and passed that love on to me, but he preferred to make fun of West Virginia rednecks (where my mom's family originates from) instead. Ooookay then.

Anyhoo, Montanans probably seem completely foreign to these kids, and vice versa. Didn't raise a red flag to me. But if you want to make jokes about guns, we should be making them about Arizona, because last time I went there, apparently most folks have guns!

I actually liked the story, mostly the joy of the kids finally roaming the streets again as a lion and having a good time being kids. Even Jian, who supposedly shouldn't be doing that (or much of anything). He was worthy of being the red lion of courage, as these things go. And Bo realizing he could go out and do stuff worked for me.

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SF.Fangirl
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« Reply #11 on: October 31, 2012, 08:45:42 PM »

I'm in agreement.  This story never got going for me and it kind of veered from one plot to another.  I'm a fan of biological terror, pandemic and was disappointed when that turned out to be meer background.  The Lion parade went on too long and then abruptly ended.  I too thought the zombies might turn out to be be real, and then I guess we get to what was the point of the story, but even then, even though Jian yelled "For Steve" at the start and suggested they go dance in front of the hospital, his visit to Gary still seemed unplanned because they snuck in while the impromptu riot occured.  Without the riot, would Jian have gone in?  And Jian's lie about why he wanted to go into the Gary's room was another pointless misdirection (in the plot) that was explained away.  Bo's personal growth also seemed to pop up out of nowhere because he wasn't moved by Jian delvierying the message at Gary's bedside. 

It was almost too long which I feel odd saying because I have thought the recent episodes could do with being longer, but there wasn't enough tight plot for the length.  It kind of felt like silly teenage shenanigans happened and then Bo learned a lesson.
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loyaleagle
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« Reply #12 on: November 01, 2012, 11:02:51 PM »

I'm in agreement.  This story never got going for me and it kind of veered from one plot to another.  I'm a fan of biological terror, pandemic and was disappointed when that turned out to be meer background.  The Lion parade went on too long and then abruptly ended.  I too thought the zombies might turn out to be be real, and then I guess we get to what was the point of the story, but even then, even though Jian yelled "For Steve" at the start and suggested they go dance in front of the hospital, his visit to Gary still seemed unplanned because they snuck in while the impromptu riot occured.  Without the riot, would Jian have gone in?  And Jian's lie about why he wanted to go into the Gary's room was another pointless misdirection (in the plot) that was explained away.  Bo's personal growth also seemed to pop up out of nowhere because he wasn't moved by Jian delvierying the message at Gary's bedside. 

It was almost too long which I feel odd saying because I have thought the recent episodes could do with being longer, but there wasn't enough tight plot for the length.  It kind of felt like silly teenage shenanigans happened and then Bo learned a lesson.
This is a very concise way of saying all that *I wanted* to say in my first post.  Agreed.
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Myrealana
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« Reply #13 on: November 05, 2012, 10:31:48 AM »

The stilted, overly-articulate reading killed this one for me. If the story itself had felt more engaging from the beginning, I might have been able to overlook that, but I didn't care enough about the characters to overlook the voice.
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CryptoMe
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« Reply #14 on: November 05, 2012, 11:41:50 AM »

I am with Cutter McKay on this story. I liked the way the characters were themselves, and decidedly didn't push any agenda (this was no more about gay rights than it was about Chinese rights, or teen rights, or citizen's rights, etc.). I also really liked that the story was so casually told from the perspective of a non-"white" culture. There was a lot of interesting detail that enriched my understanding of the culture in a natural and entertaining way. And the Asian exclamations and such were part of this, so I thought they were great.

I am also perplexed by the criticism of the narration. Yes, the equipment could have been better, in that the echo was rather annoying. But I don't feel that the narrator's presentation was all that stilted or halting. There was a potential twinge of an accent, which I though added texture and authenticity to the piece. I know many people who were born in North America, but who grew up in ethnic enclaves and so speak English with odd pronunciations in some words or letter sounds (think Sgt. Batista in the TV show Dexter with his very soft "L" sounds).  Also, I really liked that the narrator sounded like he was pronouncing the Asian words correctly. I don't speak either Mandarin or Cantonese so I have no idea if the words were pronounce correctly, but at least they didn't sound to me like they were being butchered, and I appreciated that.
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Talia
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« Reply #15 on: November 06, 2012, 08:44:33 AM »

The reading came across perfectly fine to me. All the commentary on it has astonished me.

I guess it depends on where/how one listens, I suppose. 99.9% of the time when I'm listening, I'm on my iPod in the car.

Liked the story in general.
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Listener
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« Reply #16 on: November 06, 2012, 09:06:36 AM »

I really wanted to like this story, but after listening for about ten minutes my interest was not held and I had to move on.

No problems with the narration; wouldn't mind hearing this reader again.
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #17 on: November 06, 2012, 09:44:46 AM »

The reading came across perfectly fine to me. All the commentary on it has astonished me.

I guess it depends on where/how one listens, I suppose. 99.9% of the time when I'm listening, I'm on my iPod in the car.

Liked the story in general.

I listen in the car too, most audio quality problems go by me unnoticed.  This was more that the reader seemed fairly flat, which I may not have noticed either except in combination with nothing new happening for 20+ minutes.
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chemistryguy
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« Reply #18 on: November 08, 2012, 02:49:45 PM »

The reading came across perfectly fine to me. All the commentary on it has astonished me.

I guess it depends on where/how one listens, I suppose. 99.9% of the time when I'm listening, I'm on my iPod in the car.

Liked the story in general.

I listen in the car too, most audio quality problems go by me unnoticed.  This was more that the reader seemed fairly flat, which I may not have noticed either except in combination with nothing new happening for 20+ minutes.

Flat and with pauses thrown in that made it look as though he were having a difficult time with the reading. 

Story aside, when I'm aware at all times that I'm being read to, it's not enjoyable.
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« Reply #19 on: November 08, 2012, 08:19:52 PM »

That was a really fast turnaround, I just got that issue of Asimov's and it's already in audio???

I was digging the part about the dancing and having fun, then the story took a bit of a downer turn.
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