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Author Topic: EP371: A Querulous Flute of Bone  (Read 12021 times)

eytanz

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on: November 24, 2012, 09:20:53 AM
EP371: A Querulous Flute of Bone

By Cat Rambo

Read by Elizabeth Musselman

Originally appeared in TALES FROM THE FATHOMLESS ABYSS
---

Wherever, whenever wealth accumulates enough to create the idle, one finds those who collect things.

Such collections vary. Some catalog every cast off bit of flesh or chitin they shed. Others look outside themselves for art, or titillation, or an oblivion in which they can forget everyday life.

Collections may consist of the most mundane objects: string, or chewed up paper, or broken teacups, for example. Or they can take on outré forms: dioramas made of nihlex bone (considered contraband in certain areas), or squares of cloth exposed to the Smog, prized for the oracular patterns of dirt left deposited on the fabric, or the tiny aluminum snowflakes said to have fallen into the world during an Opening over a century ago.

Aaben was such a collector. S/he was one of the geniod, whose gender varies according to mood, location, and other private considerations, and who are known, in the face of great trauma, to forget who they are and become entirely different personalities, their old selves never to be resumed or spoken of. Some races adulate them for this, while others mock them. Such excesses of reaction have driven the geniod to keep to themselves, not by law, but preference.

Aaben was an oddity in its own preferences, for it was willing to travel, to go farther than most of its race, driven by the desire to augment its collection, choosing to focus only on its quest.

The items it sought, ranging up and down the Tube in expeditions funded by two sets of indulgent grandparents and a much less indulgent set of parents, were things that could be considered metaphors for the world and the state of those in it. In this pursuit, it followed the strictures of the philosopher-king Nackle, who described the emotions that such objects evoked in the beholder in one five hundred page monograph, and the intellectual effect of such exposure in a second, even longer work, followed by a six volume set of explanatory footnotes and addendums.


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eytanz

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Reply #1 on: November 26, 2012, 03:05:20 PM
I found this one hard to connect with - the main character seemed to have the emotional maturity of a 13 year old, and his competitor was manipulative and nasty. I'm certainly not adverse to character-based speculative fiction, but this is a story about a jerk being undermined by a bigger jerk in the fight for an affections of a girl (I'm giving the story a pass about the way the girl was presented because it was so clearly from an unreliable POV).




Cutter McKay

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Reply #2 on: November 26, 2012, 05:05:12 PM
I'm still on the fence about this one. I didn't not like it, but I'm not entirely certain I that liked it either. Early on I expected it to turn out that Trice was a plant from Corint to throw Aaben off the trail of the artifact. I was glad it didn't turn out that way, but having Corint steal Trice out from under Aaben was just as dastardly.

I did enjoy the concept of the geniod, where they are neither sex until something forces the issue. It was interesting to see Aaben switch from "it" to "he" the instant he saw Trice, and interesting to see that Corint went the other way, changing into a "she" for much the same purpose.

I guess what I had the hardest time with was the academic telling of the tale. The whole story is set up as a dry reading of a history book, which does fit the setting and characters, but by the same token comes across as the dry reading of a short story. I found myself losing focus, my mind wandering during many sections of the story as the narrator drifted off on tangents of worldbuilding that really slowed the story down.

So, overall I give it a "Meh", which I guess is an upgrade because I didn't particularly care for the Cat Rambo story, EP355: Grandmother, nor did I vote for her story in the recent Escape Pod Flash Fiction contest. Apparently I am not within Cat Rambo's target audience.  :-\

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cDave

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Reply #3 on: November 26, 2012, 05:13:53 PM
A reverse of my Springtime for Deathtraps comment.

Just because something is set in a tube with various levels, that doesn't make it Science Fiction.
I'd say this was straight up Fantasy, of the "indeterminate reality of magic" type.

Too much left unanswered to be a satisfactory ending for me:
Do we have a unreliable narrator and Corint was telling the truth at the end, or was Corint lying to get the girl, or maybe to get the artifact?

I did like that the ending was no-one made a big fuss about gay marriage.



chemistryguy

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Reply #4 on: November 26, 2012, 05:28:09 PM
Seemed more fantasy than scifi to me as well, but I learned not to squabble when the story is good.  Problem was that it wasn't very good.  As Cutter says above, I found myself losing track from time to time. 

Someone tell me if I misinterpreted the idea, but it sounded as though artifacts were tracked down based solely on the emotions they invoked.  The hunter doesn't know what the object is, but they do know it will elicit the same anger of one who loses a dollar in the Coke machine and a slight hint of frustration which might also be experienced by seeing someone get to that excellent parking space before you do.  Just a bit too subjective for my tastes.

I did like the symbolism of the rearranged bone flute.


Unblinking

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Reply #5 on: November 26, 2012, 05:34:33 PM
I liked this story all right, not my favorite.  I didn't care for the title which seemed to make the flute much more vital to the story than I really considered it.  I don't disagree with Cutter's and eytanz's negative reactions, but I found it entertaining enough, particularly trying to figure out whether or not these mythical emotional source objects actually exist or whether they're just a figment of the religion.  I like how open-ended the story is.  I can see at least three valid interpretations:
1.  The girl has no artifact.  The girl is a good cook for the reason's her parents say. The artifacts may or may not actually exist, but in case, she does not have one.
2.  These artifacts do have meaning, and the girl does have one, but the rival is just using a long con to get it.  The rival has succeeded in wooing her to learn her secrets and dumps her at a later stage.  In the retrospective section at the end, the narrator says that he has never returned to where the two of them live together, which seems to imply that they DO live together, but he never says whether he just assumes they have stuck together or whether he has evidence.
3.  These artifacts do have meaning, and they do have the effect that they promised.  But one of the aspects of the artifact of Appreciation is Newfound Love.  Although these two consider themselves objective observers of their philosophy, the real appeal is that they can catalog and experience these emotions.  But Newfound Love is such an appealing lure that by seeking it out they have caused themselves to abandon their general collecting pursuit because they Appreciate what they have rather than endlessly seeking what they don't.  (This is the interpretation that I prefer, makes sense in context, and is amusing to me)

I read this one for the first time a few weeks ago in Cat Rambo's Near+Far story collection.  Was interesting to hear it in audio, and to go through the story again.  Since I knew how it ended I was watching for clues of it.  Was particularly interested in the parent's reaction of encouraging sympathy which makes sense given what the rival was saying about him.  

I did like that the ending was no-one made a big fuss about gay marriage.

Kind of gay marriage anyway--she might become male or neuter at some point in the future again.  I'd think the interspecies aspect would be more problematic.  




eytanz

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Reply #6 on: November 26, 2012, 05:42:58 PM

I did like that the ending was no-one made a big fuss about gay marriage.

Kind of gay marriage anyway--she might become male or neuter at some point in the future again.  I'd think the interspecies aspect would be more problematic.  


Wait, I thought they were the same species (and thus, that the girl herself is not necessarily locked into her gender). There was some discussion about how the girl compared to the aesthetic ideals of the species, and the villiage was close to where the protagonist grew up. Did I misunderstand?



Unblinking

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Reply #7 on: November 26, 2012, 05:58:00 PM

I did like that the ending was no-one made a big fuss about gay marriage.

Kind of gay marriage anyway--she might become male or neuter at some point in the future again.  I'd think the interspecies aspect would be more problematic.  


Wait, I thought they were the same species (and thus, that the girl herself is not necessarily locked into her gender). There was some discussion about how the girl compared to the aesthetic ideals of the species, and the villiage was close to where the protagonist grew up. Did I misunderstand?

I thought she was human, but I'm not sure if that came from the text or my own interpretation.  It seemed that these two were fairly rare in their willingness to venture outside of their species, and I thought that they were outside of their species here.

EDIT:  It looks like I was completely wrong.  From the text:
Quote
Paradoxically, the trail led Aaben upward and back to a geniod village, Halahalka the Minor.
  The geniod are the gender-shifting race, and they keep to themselves in general, so a geniod village is presumably full of geniods.  I guess I just thought that these two were the only 2 geniods in the story, maybe because they were the only "its" and the only ones whose gender shifted.

In that case, a same-sex marriage is even LESS of a problem, because sex in this race is very plastic.  Same-sex today, different-sex tomorrow.
« Last Edit: November 26, 2012, 06:01:49 PM by Unblinking »



Cutter McKay

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Reply #8 on: November 26, 2012, 08:46:04 PM
EDIT:  It looks like I was completely wrong.  From the text:
Quote
Paradoxically, the trail led Aaben upward and back to a geniod village, Halahalka the Minor.
  The geniod are the gender-shifting race, and they keep to themselves in general, so a geniod village is presumably full of geniods.  I guess I just thought that these two were the only 2 geniods in the story, maybe because they were the only "its" and the only ones whose gender shifted.

In that case, a same-sex marriage is even LESS of a problem, because sex in this race is very plastic.  Same-sex today, different-sex tomorrow.

Yeah, I missed that as well. I had assumed she was human, so it was a same-sex relationship. Interesting that she didn't change sexes at all throughout the story. At least, not that we saw. For all we know, Trice became male the moment Corint proposed, or perhaps Corint changed. Aaben never saw them again, so we have no reference. As I said earlier, this was my favorite aspect of the story, the species that changes gender on a whim. Brews some interesting thoughts in my mind...

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flashedarling

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Reply #9 on: November 26, 2012, 09:17:22 PM
I could get Corint snatching up Trice just to spite Aaben but then giving up hunting and settling down seemed to go beyond spite. I suppose Corint must have started the relationship to screw Aaben then fell in love with Trice her/him/itself? I mean it was a sad story given that not only did Aaben lose the girl but also any enjoyment he got from his original profession but I still had a problem puzzling this one out. I suppose the message was "Sometimes you just get screwed and it breaks you. Leaving you with nothing left except a broken heart that will never be quite the same again".

I guess the point is that it was sad and unfair just like real life? I just found it unsatisfying and the implication that maybe artifacts weren't real just made it worse. I guess what made it bad for me was the "And then Aaben never found happiness again, the end". If the author had left it a little bit more open ended, maybe left it open to the possibility that Aaben would get over it I would have liked it better.



Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #10 on: November 27, 2012, 08:52:26 AM
There was one line in the story that made it all work for me. I'm paraphrasing here, but it was something about the fact that humans don't have the same emotional control as the Genoids, but they do have much better intuitive logical leaps.
Without that line the whole story would have been downright awful.
Someone mentioned in this thread that the protag had a low emotional maturity, others mentioned that he was stupid or a jerk or that the other one was... these things bothered me too. But then the line about less logical leaps came and it all made sense. These are aliens. Of course their thinking doesn't make sense to me.
I still didn't like the story very much because I was more caught up in trying to picture the world they live in from the few small hints that were dropped here or there. I then spent a lot of mental effort imagining such a world and my mind entirely wandered off and by the time I came back to the story it was over but I didn't miss anything.
So, overall I give it a "Meh"
Works for me too.

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chemistryguy

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Reply #11 on: November 27, 2012, 12:53:54 PM
These are aliens. Of course their thinking doesn't make sense to me.

Very good point.  Just human enough to conclude that their thinking would match our own.  How human of us.

Counterpoint: There is no one human way of thinking.  "Everyone is someone else's weirdo."


Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #12 on: November 27, 2012, 01:31:24 PM
These are aliens. Of course their thinking doesn't make sense to me.

Very good point.  Just human enough to conclude that their thinking would match our own.  How human of us.

Counterpoint: There is no one human way of thinking.  "Everyone is someone else's weirdo."
Yes, but since the mind behind that way of thinking is human, it should be possible to at least understand someone else's way of thinking. Just because I don't agree with everything you think doesn't mean that I can't understand why you think that way.
For example: I have a certain methodology of doing certain things (yes, this is a very broad example). Suffice to say that I do things in a certain order, and you would choose to do them in a different order. I may not agree with your methodology, but I could understand why you would do it that way.
However, these aliens are truly alien. I can't be expected to understand how or why they think things.

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Unblinking

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Reply #13 on: November 27, 2012, 03:07:07 PM
I could get Corint snatching up Trice just to spite Aaben but then giving up hunting and settling down seemed to go beyond spite. I suppose Corint must have started the relationship to screw Aaben then fell in love with Trice her/him/itself?

I'm still not totally sure.  I haven't ruled out Corint doing it out of spite.  We don't actually KNOW that she settled down.  Aaben seems to assume that.



chemistryguy

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Reply #14 on: November 27, 2012, 05:29:25 PM

Yes, but since the mind behind that way of thinking is human, it should be possible to at least understand someone else's way of thinking. Just because I don't agree with everything you think doesn't mean that I can't understand why you think that way.


I think there are plenty of instances in which the thoughts of another are totally incomprehensible to me.  There are certain moral codes I hold true and can't imagine how anyone else could feel differently.  And yet they do.  That is alien to me, and at that point there is no understanding.  I can only agree to disagree.


lowky

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Reply #15 on: November 29, 2012, 12:14:09 AM
Not a bad story, not great but the title made me think of Censored


cDave

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Reply #16 on: November 29, 2012, 10:24:41 AM
Too much left unanswered to be a satisfactory ending for me:
Do we have a unreliable narrator and Corint was telling the truth at the end, or was Corint lying to get the girl, or maybe to get the artifact?

I'm reading some China Miéville short stories at the moment, and it's made me want to add to this.

A story with ambiguity and confusion at it's heart can have ambiguous ending and work really well. Similarly a story where it makes go back and re-think everything you've read. But this story wasn't structured like either of those.

--
A reverse of my Springtime for Deathtraps comment.

Just because something is set in a tube with various levels, that doesn't make it Science Fiction.
I'd say this was straight up Fantasy, of the "indeterminate reality of magic" type.

I've heard the phrase "fantasy, with a science fiction attitude" used a few times in recent years. For instance last night Paul Cornell was talking about his upcoming "London Falling", and said something along the lines of:
Quote
Avoiding spoilers, this book doesn't have a werewolf in it. But if it did, the coppers would be asking, "Well how does that work then?" and breaking down all the rules, to understand it.

This story just doesn't have that attitude. The artefacts at the centre are mysterious, and there's no interest expressed in attempting to understand that mystery. This was Science Fiction with a Fantasy attitude.



Corcoran

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Reply #17 on: December 02, 2012, 06:42:17 PM
I didnt understood the story, got no grasp on the main charakter, this was just words passing by



SF.Fangirl

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Reply #18 on: December 02, 2012, 10:12:18 PM
Just because something is set in a tube with various levels, that doesn't make it Science Fiction.
I'd say this was straight up Fantasy, of the "indeterminate reality of magic" type.

I thought this very same thing.  This feels like a fantasy story during the iterminable first half of the story full of world-building.  I am a sci fi and not a fantasy so I did not enjoy this story much.  It may have been a nice story, but it's not really the kind I like.



SF.Fangirl

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Reply #19 on: December 02, 2012, 10:30:48 PM
I didn't understood the story, got no grasp on the main character, this was just words passing by

I agree to a point.  I hated the first half (the world-building before the plot got started) because it was confusing.  I think it may have been confusing because it was so boring that it didn't hold my attention. I very nearly stopped it because it was just words with no meaning just passing by. (An awesome description of how I felt when I almost turned off the story.)  I was more interested in the main character's growth in the latter half and then was confused by the ambiguous ending. I really thought the rival was befriending the girl just as a ploy to find the artifact. It was not clear to me that the girl was of the same race so as the artifact hunters so I didn't consider romance as a possibility between two women especially since despite a few sci fi hints the culture had a very old-fashioned sensibility.  I think cDave had a good quote to describe my problems with this ambiguous ending - it just didn't work.  I wanted some closure.  I haven't deleted the story of my mp3 player yet because after the whiplash ending I thought I might try to re-listen because I thought I might have missed something that would have given me the closure but in reading these comments I think not.  It is just an unsatisfactory ending



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Reply #20 on: December 03, 2012, 12:45:38 AM
The protagonist's world is one steeped in philosophical contemplation. Aaben is so preoccupied with the ideas of philosopher-king Nackel that it has lost touch with the interests of regular folk who are less cerebral than it in their approach to life. Aaben walks around in a detached state of self-absorption that blinds it to the possibility that there may be no pragmatic basis for its artifact-centred world view. The story is of great interest because of the metaphoric nature of the artifacts Aaben pursues. The objects it collects are similar in their heuristic effects to the unique passions and pursuits that motivate any thinking life form.

[Edited for gender ambiguation.]
« Last Edit: December 03, 2012, 01:12:14 AM by Ed »

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cDave

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Reply #21 on: December 03, 2012, 12:02:10 PM
I hated the first half (the world-building before the plot got started) because it was confusing.  I think it may have been confusing because it was so boring that it didn't hold my attention. I very nearly stopped it because it was just words with no meaning just passing by. (An awesome description of how I felt when I almost turned off the story.)  I was more interested in the main character's growth in the latter half and then was confused by the ambiguous ending.

I actually quite enjoyed that first half, but I'd found myself subconsciously treating it as a puzzle. There was nowhere near enough information to visualise the world (which I usually do while reading), so each little hint of weirdness (classic "the door dilated" type throwaway details) caused the world itself to change in my mind. Very true to the flexible natures of the characters genders, and (now that I think of it) highlighting the fixed nature of its obsession.



Devoted135

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Reply #22 on: December 03, 2012, 02:17:28 PM
I had a hard time following the initial world-building, so just let it provide the bare bones (there are rivals looking for artifacts) and the general atmosphere. As others have said, the second half was much easier to follow the basic plotline, but I feel like the story lost momentum and eventually just fizzled away. That said, ambiguous endings are not my favorite.



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Reply #23 on: December 11, 2012, 02:33:28 PM
Trying to orient myself as to the frame of the story during an exposition about an alien religion-philosophy was rough. At about the 15-minute mark I got engaged and enjoyed the bites of world building sprinkled in. It ALMOST makes me interested in listening again. However, my backlog is large enough that I don't think I could justify the satisfaction to time return on investment.

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CryptoMe

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Reply #24 on: December 14, 2012, 07:43:11 AM
I had a real problem with the end of this story. As Corcoran pointed out, it left me with a case of whiplash.

In addition, the point of the flute, both in it's original and rearranged forms was completely incomprehensible to me. So, that didn't help my enjoyment of the story and its ending. If someone (hint, hint chemistryguy) could help out with this, it would be greatly appreciated.

I did like the symbolism of the rearranged bone flute.