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Author Topic: PC232: Skulls in the Stars  (Read 3037 times)
Talia
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« on: October 30, 2012, 08:45:32 PM »

PodCastle 232: Skulls in the Stars

by Robert E. Howard.

Read by Norm Sherman (of the Drabblecast).

Originally appeared in Weird Tales, January 1929.

There are two roads to Torkertown. One, the shorter and more direct route, leads across a barren upland moor, and the other, which is much longer, winds its tortuous way in and out among the hummocks and quagmires of the swamps, skirting the low hills to the east. It was a dangerous and tedious trail; so Solomon Kane halted in amazement when a breathless youth from the village he had just left, overtook him and implored him for God’s sake to take the swamp road.

“The swamp road!” Kane stared at the boy. He was a tall, gaunt man, was Solomon Kane, his darkly pallid face and deep brooding eyes, made more sombre by the drab Puritanical garb he affected.

“Yes, sir, ’tis far safer,” the youngster answered to his surprised exclamation.

“Then the moor road must be haunted by Satan himself, for your townsmen warned me against traversing the other.”

“Because of the quagmires, sir, that you might not see in the dark. You had better return to the village and continue your journey in the morning, sir.”

“Taking the swamp road?”

“Yes, sir.”

Kane shrugged his shoulders and shook his head.

“The moon rises almost as soon as twilight dies. By its light I can reach Torkertown in a few hours, across the moor.”

“Sir, you had better not. No one ever goes that way. There are no houses at all upon the moor, while in the swamp there is the house of old Ezra who lives there all alone since his maniac cousin, Gideon, wandered off and died in the swamp and was never found–and old Ezra though a miser would not refuse you lodging should you decide to stop until morning. Since you must go, you had better go the swamp road.”

Kane eyed the boy piercingly. The lad squirmed and shuffled his feet.

“Since this moor road is so dour to wayfarers,” said the Puritan, “why did not the villagers tell me the whole tale, instead of vague mouthings?”

“Men like not to talk of it, sir. We hoped that you would take the swamp road after the men advised you to, but when we watched and saw that you turned not at the forks, they sent me to run after you and beg you to reconsider.”

“Name of the Devil!” exclaimed Kane sharply, the unaccustomed oath showing his irritation; “the swamp road and the moor road–what is it that threatens me and why should I go miles out of my way and risk the bogs and mires?”

“Sir,” said the boy, dropping his voice and drawing closer, “we be simple villagers who like not to talk of such things lest foul fortune befall us, but the moor road is a way accurst and hath not been traversed by any of the countryside for a year or more. It is death to walk those moors by night, as hath been found by some score of unfortunates. Some foul horror haunts the way and claims men for his victims.”


Rated R for violence and MONSTERS.

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
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chemistryguy
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« Reply #1 on: October 31, 2012, 06:16:22 AM »

First off, I feel the need to apologize for my role in labeling earlier episodes as being more suited to Pseudopod than Podcastle.  You shouldn't have to rationalize why a story is chosen for one podcast over another. 

Second, in answer to your question M K Hobson, what might our grandchildren find offensive about writing of today, I'd put forth the idea of male bashing.  I'm not sure how deeply this permeates into writing, but I get the sense of how acceptable it is in other media and society in general.  Men are forgetful, hairy creatures that can occasionally be taught some level of sensitivity, but will probably be forever limited by the narrow scope of what is relevant to them.  Being male, I can attest that many of the stereotypes are based on truths, but you'll never hear my wife explaining something I've done (or not done) based on my gender.

On to the story

For as much as I've dismissed S&S, this wasn't too bad.  The writing was over-the-top theatrical, but taking the time period into account, Howard played it well.  I liked that the reasons for some of Solomon's actions not entirely clear to him, but were explained more thoroughly to the reader/listener.  I also dug the concept of battling an ethereal foe by sheer force of will.  I wouldn't mind hearing more about this character.
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« Reply #2 on: October 31, 2012, 10:30:03 AM »

To be honest, while I have heard of the character of Solomon Kane, I have never taken the occasion to read a Solomon Kane story.  This was a lot of fun!  I like the fact that when given a choice of which path to take, and being warned of the dangers of the moor road, Solomon's response is "Adventure, the lure of live risk and drama" and "A strong man is needed to combat Satan and his might.  Therefore I go, who have defeated him many a time".  With confidence and righteous purpose like that, it is hard not to follow along.  I'm glad I did.  Very fun!

There was a small part of my that wished Marvel's Man-Thing would come along to lend a hand, but that is a very specific and personal wish, especially since this story predates Marvel comics.


Admin note:  Dave's Ichabod story may be a couple days late for Halloween, but it will be appearing on Journey Into... very soon.
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« Reply #3 on: November 01, 2012, 08:52:19 AM »

I enjoyed this.  The only Robert E. Howard I've read/listened to was the Conan story that ran here, so this is the first Solomon Kane story I've come across.  It was straightforward, and written in a very... expansive way, I guess I'd call it.  But it fit the time, and fit the subject material.   It seems like Robert E. Howard liked demigod type humans, sort of like Beowulf, who have no supernatural powers, but they just can't help but kick ass nonstop.


On the topic of what stances we take now that people will cringe at in 30 years, that's a tricky one to answer.  I feel like society has been moving in the direction of acceptance of more groups of people as time goes on.  The two things that I think:
1.  I think that homosexuality and gay marriage will be much more widely accepted, and gay marriage bans will be seen as we see 1950s race segregation laws.
2.  Although I think we're moving in the right direction in most cases, I don't think that every group has caught up to each other yet.  I still see some institutional sexism at work, not on any verbal level, but it seems like the upper administration expects the few women in the office to arrange food for meetings, clean up messes, that kind of thing, even when not specific to their occupation.  I think that will lessen and will look ridiculous in retrospect.
3.  This isn't so much true of the current time, but of a decade or so ago, women didn't get an even chance at comedy.  I thought I hated Cheri Oteri on SNL, but I think I just hated the roles she was given.  I don't think that was a prejudice that I had--if you're funny you're funny--but the comedy roles for women were often not that great.  Hilarious women like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Kristin Wiig have done a lot to even that bar.
4.  I think that we're moving in the right direction, but in some cases I feel like reactions to criticisms of people of groups that have worked hard to achieve equality can sometimes be too strong as a matter of course.  To the point where I'm a little afraid to criticize certain people  publicly as a result, even if I think they have faults worth criticizing.Especially when those individuals have spent much of their fame proclaiming "Look at how much our society has advanced, because I have become so popular with the public and I'm of this less-advantaged-group", then criticisms of that person is too often seen as criticisms of that group.  I think that will be looked at with scorn--if we are to view people by who they are, then criticisms of them should not be seen as criticisms of their demographic.
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mkhobson
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« Reply #4 on: November 01, 2012, 11:23:48 AM »

To answer my own question (it would have made the intro too long to do so there) ... I think in 30 years we'll likely all cringe at fictional depictions of our culture's current fetishization of consumerist consumption (books like "Confessions of a Shopaholic," frex.) With resources diminishing and the necessity of exploitative labor practices to feed the demand for "cheap" consumer goods, my guess is that we're going to look back with horror at our own wastefulness and irresponsiblity.

Just my $0.02,

Mary
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #5 on: November 01, 2012, 11:26:13 AM »

To answer my own question (it would have made the intro too long to do so there) ... I think in 30 years we'll likely all cringe at fictional depictions of our culture's current fetishization of consumerist consumption (books like "Confessions of a Shopaholic," frex.) With resources diminishing and the necessity of exploitative labor practices to feed the demand for "cheap" consumer goods, my guess is that we're going to look back with horror at our own wastefulness and irresponsiblity.

That totally makes sense.
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dragonsbreath
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« Reply #6 on: November 01, 2012, 03:16:00 PM »

I would like to respond to the call to discuss classic literature seen through modern sensibility. I dislike disclaimers. To assume that a reader / listener is not intelligent enough to discern that literature written during a different time, in a different culture may contain words and phrases that may be offensive to contemporaneous audiences only perpetuates the notion that literature should be cleansed for modern consumption. Really good literature, and for that matter art in general, should never be constrained by the need to filter out that which may offend. For authors of yesterday and today, sanitizing their artworks beckons mediocrity. How dull would Huck Finn be if the modern lens of political correctness trumped an American classic. In Mark Twain's time the issues of slavery and the rights of men and women were of great importance, ultimately leading to a bloody civil war. For him to avoid this in fear of offending future generations of readers, would be a great loss.

Lets hope that future generations do not look back at the literature and art of the early 21st century with disgust at the politically correct mediocrity of the time. 
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« Reply #7 on: November 01, 2012, 03:55:48 PM »

I would like to respond to the call to discuss classic literature seen through modern sensibility. I dislike disclaimers. To assume that a reader / listener is not intelligent enough to discern that literature written during a different time, in a different culture may contain words and phrases that may be offensive to contemporaneous audiences only perpetuates the notion that literature should be cleansed for modern consumption. Really good literature, and for that matter art in general, should never be constrained by the need to filter out that which may offend. For authors of yesterday and today, sanitizing their artworks beckons mediocrity. How dull would Huck Finn be if the modern lens of political correctness trumped an American classic. In Mark Twain's time the issues of slavery and the rights of men and women were of great importance, ultimately leading to a bloody civil war. For him to avoid this in fear of offending future generations of readers, would be a great loss.

Lets hope that future generations do not look back at the literature and art of the early 21st century with disgust at the politically correct mediocrity of the time. 

I think you've maybe misinterpreted Hobson's question/suggestion? She isn't asking that anything be cleansed/censored/sanitized. She is suggesting that when we shoot forward 50-100 years, we'll look back at some of the stuff that seemed pretty standard in fiction, and be a perhaps made a little bit uncomfortable by some of what we read.

(FWIW, Huck Finn was published about 20 years after the American Civil War.)
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dragonsbreath
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« Reply #8 on: November 02, 2012, 05:05:16 AM »

True. But the setting of the story is pre-civil war when slavery was still in practice.
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« Reply #9 on: November 02, 2012, 08:33:41 AM »

I didn't hear any suggestion for censorship.  When she was referring to Robert E. Howard's other work that might be less than palatable by most people today, there's no attempt to make that unavailable.  And when I hear that kind of thing, I tend to immediately seek it out to see what all the ruckus is about after which I might very well say, "Yup, this is pretty much unreadable".  If nothing else, it can help gain a perspective on historical points of view.  But that's a far cry from saying that we shouldn't be able to read them.

At the same time, I can understand why Podcastle might not run some of those that went against modern sensibilities, but that's not censorship, that's just our editors trying to pick stories that will be entertaining for today's audience.  They're shelling out money to pick things that will keep up the quality of the podcast, and so that's the kind of choice that they have to make one way or the other.
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benjaminjb
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« Reply #10 on: November 02, 2012, 09:18:47 AM »

I'm a pretty big R. E. Howard fan--and since I'm now living in his own West Texas wastelands (no improv comedy!), I'm planning on taking the short trip to Cross Plains and Brownwood, if anyone needs any pictures of where he grew up.

As for Solomon Kane, he's a curious character: an indomitable warrior, in the Conan mold, but with this weird suicidal/depressive streak--same as Conan, really, with his "gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth," except without the mirth. Like, Kane might be a good guy to have fighting on your side, but not too close to you and not afterwards. (Shades of the typical Western gunslinger hero, whose skillset puts him outside the community that he saves.)

As for the racism, I think Howard, like Lovecraft, is a little more complicated than we tend to think of racism. (For one thing, they have a different notion of what constitutes distinct races, a la "No Irish Need Apply.") And there are stories of his that present a slightly different view of his racial politics: several of his horror Southern stories involve recognizing the horror of slavery and the humanity of the black slaves--even if that humanity comes out in a desire for revenge. I'll add that Solomon Kane has an African witch doctor associate who often helps him fight off monsters; and if the vision of an African witch doctor treads into unfortunate racial stereotype territory, it is an interesting for its positive view of him. Stereotype Puritan and stereotype witch doctor, kicking ass together--maybe that's progress.

I can't say for sure what future generations will find untenable in our own fiction and media; I have such a strong sense of what I want that it's hard for me to separate out. I'd like people to be offended/confused by all sorts of casual homophobia, sexism, racism, trans-phobia. Wouldn't it be great if people looked back on "women can't be funny" the same way we look back on 1800s medical texts on black slaves that diagnose their desire to be free as a medical condition?
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benjaminjb
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« Reply #11 on: November 02, 2012, 01:53:13 PM »

Although I really want to stress the "who knows what will look silly/terrible" in the future. I still get a little chill when I read the part in Neuromancer where Case walks past a bank of payphones that all ring once, though part of that chill is probably anticipation of the nearing obsolescence of everything I know. Payphones! "the color of television, tuned to a dead channel"! Capitalism!
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Max e^{i pi}
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« Reply #12 on: November 05, 2012, 02:04:42 AM »

I think that in the future people will look at this era's political map with scorn. Sort of how we look at theocracies, dictatorships and communism. I'd like to hope that we are headed in the direction of a meritocracy, and in 50 years we will look like the sort of idiots who chose their leaders based on a popularity contest. "Hah! Those primitive morons! They thought the most popular person was the right one for the job." *snicker*

As for the story, I love reading ye-olde-fiction. I have a rather extensive collection of 19th and early 20th century authors. (Well, extensive considering where/when I live) And this one was great. It's fun to sometimes put aside contemporary fiction and read something that is written in a style that no longer exists. Expansive is the word I'd use, and that's why I go to that era's fiction.
As for the reading, I always love it when Norm reads. I think he could read me the telephone book (they still have those, right?) and I'd enjoy it.
Also it would sound dark and creepy.
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« Reply #13 on: November 05, 2012, 09:44:48 AM »

Although I really want to stress the "who knows what will look silly/terrible" in the future. I still get a little chill when I read the part in Neuromancer where Case walks past a bank of payphones that all ring once, though part of that chill is probably anticipation of the nearing obsolescence of everything I know. Payphones! "the color of television, tuned to a dead channel"! Capitalism!

Oh, man, yeah. Thinking about the way Neuromancer's become...not obsolete, but is the future of some alternate universe instead of our own makes me a bit sad.
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« Reply #14 on: November 05, 2012, 09:45:57 AM »

I think that in the future people will look at this era's political map with scorn. Sort of how we look at theocracies, dictatorships and communism. I'd like to hope that we are headed in the direction of a meritocracy, and in 50 years we will look like the sort of idiots who chose their leaders based on a popularity contest. "Hah! Those primitive morons! They thought the most popular person was the right one for the job." *snicker*

I really hope you're right.
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« Reply #15 on: November 06, 2012, 09:14:39 AM »

I didn't connect with the story and moved on shortly after the mention of the old man's house in the swamp.

What will our children/grandchildren find "wrong" with our writing? Probably the fact that it's linear, that all stories aren't in some sort of interactive/app format. Probably that we make such a big deal about not making a big deal about non-heterosexual non-monogamous relationships. Probably that we made such a big deal out of audio-drama, since they'll be in self-driving cars on their way to work and will be able to watch videocasts of stories made in Flash and AfterEffects CS41. Probably the fact that so many of them use terrorism as a "bad guy" and that East Asians are the villains.
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« Reply #16 on: November 11, 2012, 10:47:50 AM »

I think with all the apocalypse fiction out there, the future will look back and wonder why we were so glum. That or it will be after the apocalypse and they will either be holed up in a prison and picking off zombies or herding other humans into a larder. Or maybe just growing corn and sheep.
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« Reply #17 on: November 12, 2012, 06:54:08 AM »

I think with all the apocalypse fiction out there, the future will look back and wonder why we were so glum. That or it will be after the apocalypse and they will either be holed up in a prison and picking off zombies or herding other humans into a larder. Or maybe just growing corn and sheep.

Or maybe as humanity plugs more and more into technology we'll find ourselves staring at the funny looking squiggles and not know what they mean.
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« Reply #18 on: November 12, 2012, 04:18:26 PM »

I've never heard of Kane before, so it was really interesting to see this side of Howard's writing. It was definitely a great choice for the Halloween episode, suitably dank and creepy but still an optimistic ending. Interesting that Gideon came back as a corporeal ghost filled with hate. Nowadays I suspect he'd be a vegetarian vampire willing to make one very important exception...

Which brings me to my prediction: vampires. and zombies. but mostly vampires Tongue
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« Reply #19 on: November 14, 2012, 08:37:09 PM »

Although I really want to stress the "who knows what will look silly/terrible" in the future. I still get a little chill when I read the part in Neuromancer where Case walks past a bank of payphones that all ring once, though part of that chill is probably anticipation of the nearing obsolescence of everything I know. Payphones! "the color of television, tuned to a dead channel"! Capitalism!

Oh, man, yeah. Thinking about the way Neuromancer's become...not obsolete, but is the future of some alternate universe instead of our own makes me a bit sad.

I read Neuromancer again a year or so ago... The whole series has become something obsolete and soooo wrong as far as the science part is concerned. But as it was written on a typewriter by someone who was only barely aware of the tech I think it was never overly correct as far as the science goes.

Looking at the story itself I quite liked it. Not all of the 'classic' fiction is something I enjoy. People who point to 'Nightfall' as great fiction puzzle me. But I am also aware of some of the uncomfortable places that the later stories go.

I hope my son gets as uncomfortable with some of the terrorist fiction that game out last decade. I am already uncomfortable with a lot of it, so we shall see what he thinks in time. Currently at 2 he still can watch a Thomas the Tank engine and Friends episode without screaming about the obvious foreshadowing and lazy repeating of story structure. I only make it through by adding 'air quotes' around elements so make the stories a little darker. The 'children' need their 'toys' on time or they will be 'upset.'
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