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Author Topic: PC240: Seeking Captain Random  (Read 3374 times)
Talia
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« on: December 26, 2012, 12:49:59 AM »

PodCastle 240: Seeking Captain Random

by Vylar Kaftan

Read by Laura Hobbs

Originally published in Interzone. Check out the awesome art work Hobson mentioned here.

Dreams tell you what you really believe, deep down.  But sometimes it takes a while before you understand them.

“When I climbed the hill of bones, the shaman was waiting for me,” Darren said, stirring Nutrasweet into his herbal tea.  “Except now he was a giant rat.  Like ten feet tall.”

Darren’s always told me about his dreams.  Ever since he quit his office job to write comic books full time, his dreams have gotten weirder.  I figure he’s really dreaming about how to pay the rent next month, though I can’t see what the giant rat has to do with anything.  I was probably more worried about Darren’s rent than he was, even though we weren’t roommates anymore.

Around us, the coffeeshop was nearly empty.  We sat at our usual table–the four-seater with room for my wheelchair.  Darren’s backpack and bike helmet occupied the extra chair.  The late-September sunlight stretched through the window like it wasn’t ready to leave.  I asked, “So did the rat-shaman have the sword ready for you like he’d promised?”


Rated R: Contains some strong language.

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
« Last Edit: January 16, 2013, 09:40:52 AM by Talia » Logged
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« Reply #1 on: December 26, 2012, 04:47:58 PM »

I'd just gotten out the shower when I started listening.  It was a rather interesting story, playful at times and relatively intriguing at other times.  The major plot twist changed the mood greatly in ways I wasn't expecting.  It hit me right in the chest cavity.  I could almost relate to it, last year during the summer of 2011 I lost a friend of mine unexpectedly.  He was only a year older than I so it goes without saying Vylar Kaftan and Laura Hobbs had my undivided attention.  The events that unfolded from then on kept me going though and the ending actually gave me a bit of a laugh.  Overall, I don't think there could have been a better story to come out of PodCastle to cap off the end of 2012.  Thanks for the good times and I can't wait to see what 2013 has in store for this third of the Escape Artists.

Last, and most definitely not least, a whole hearted thank you to Dave Thompson for the wonderful words at the end of episode 240!
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« Reply #2 on: December 27, 2012, 01:14:09 PM »

Not a bad story at all, but I had trouble relating to it as a genre piece.

The protagonist was a self described skeptic who went through a series of really tough experiences and began to wrestle with her need to believe in the afterlife.  Eventually she went seeking for experiences of the miraculous and found them.  After all, she was LOOKING for Captain Random for a while before she found him.  She checked her credit card activity to assure herself it wasn't a dream, but that's a long way from establishing the facts of her perceptions.    She had the experience she craved, the one that 'proved' there was more to dreams (and, by extension death) than she previously believed.  Absolutely as convincing as the die.

A nice, evocative piece.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #3 on: December 27, 2012, 03:18:02 PM »

Wow, talk about a punch to the gut. Of course, I knew to expect that from Vylar Kaftan... I definitely find myself wishing there was a point or purpose that I could hang onto, but something tells me that is absolutely intentional. I guess that's appropriate for a story that rests so much on randomness and uncertainty.
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #4 on: December 28, 2012, 12:47:45 PM »

I was not fond of the anti-athestic bent at the end. It's one thing to have a skeptic's notions about the world challenged; it's another to have skepticism challenged.

I wasn't too crazy about the reading, either; I found it at bit too hesitant.

I did like the characters and the set-up for the most part, esp. the narrator, and the artist, both of whom were recognizably real.
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FireTurtle
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« Reply #5 on: December 29, 2012, 01:06:11 PM »

I really want me some of those swimming fish lights. Not so much the Escher's Burning House of Cards. Loved the "one tiny step sideways from reality" feel of things. Unlike everybody else is didn't really hit me "there". Don't know why, chalk it up to individual differences, I guess. I found it just to be a really good story-type story. A tale, if you will. Perhaps that is because of my history of Really Weird Dreams in my own life, I was more fascinated by this aspect than anything else. (Last night I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to get a nice old black man to find a warm wool sweater to wear for the coming zombie/vampire apocalypse- we settled on a nice cream colored one with brown and orange snowflakes.) Anyway...I liked it. 
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« Reply #6 on: December 31, 2012, 10:53:27 AM »

This story didn't do much for me, maybe it's more for people who can relate to it's events more personally.  Maybe the day in the normal people's lives kind of story just isn't what I'm looking for in fantasy fiction.  I think when Darren went missing would have been a good time to really turn the fantasy on in the story with something interesting instead of making the story about death and how it made someone irrational.  I liked the episode closing quotation a lot though.
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Unblinking
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« Reply #7 on: January 02, 2013, 10:24:42 AM »

I didn't get the point of this one at all.  In the first part of the story I just kept wondering why it was so important to him to interpret the dream man--the fact that you're so focused on him will ensure that he will keep coming back.  That's especially true for someone who obsesses about speculative fiction for hobby/occupation--you spend all day thinking up weird crap, of course it's going to be in your dreams too.

After he died I didn't really get the point of searching for the random guy, and when she found him I didn't get what she thought she was going to learn.  Seriously , what was the poitn of all that?

So I guess the tale was too random for me.
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« Reply #8 on: January 02, 2013, 08:03:48 PM »

I didn't get the point of this one at all.
Ditto, my friend.

I cannot say honestly that I have any idea what happened in this story. I enjoyed the protagonist, her world view and opinions, she felt like a very real person to me. But that was the extent of my enjoyment. Unblinking has already touched on the main points of my confusion and dislike. I'm still struggling with the literal presence of these dream objects, such as the sixer and the actual presence of Captain Random. Maybe I wasn't listening close enough, but I just didn't get it.
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« Reply #9 on: January 03, 2013, 06:48:04 AM »

I didn't get the point of this one at all.
Ditto, my friend.

I cannot say honestly that I have any idea what happened in this story. I enjoyed the protagonist, her world view and opinions, she felt like a very real person to me. But that was the extent of my enjoyment. Unblinking has already touched on the main points of my confusion and dislike. I'm still struggling with the literal presence of these dream objects, such as the sixer and the actual presence of Captain Random. Maybe I wasn't listening close enough, but I just didn't get it.

Me as well.  Very random, as is life.  That's about all I could take out of it.

On a lesser note, when I picture burning, warped playing cards, Escher isn't the first artist that springs to mind.  However, a Google search reveals an abundance of Escher playing cards.  I suppose you could light them on fire if you're in the mood for some randomness.

The outro was what hit me.  A very poignant look at what life is and how we continue to keep doing what we're doing.  All the best to you, Dave, in 2013.
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« Reply #10 on: January 03, 2013, 10:08:33 AM »

I'm not sure this was really a knock on atheism. It may be hard to believe in randomness and coincidence, but a good skeptic finds it harder to believe in anything else. Her faith was shaken and she went through a period of questioning while mourning, which is not terribly uncommon. Did she actually experience something supernatural, or was she just looking so hard for something to convince herself that she just thought she did? What is the ultimate outcome of her crisis of faith? Does she eventually return to full skepticism?

I wasn't incredibly moved by either this story, or Vylar's "Christmas" story that Escape Pod ran a while back, so I'm not sure what to think about her work. That being said, I really enjoyed her story What President Polk Said over on Toasted Cake, but that pushed my Bierce button.
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« Reply #11 on: January 03, 2013, 11:43:00 AM »

I was not fond of the anti-athestic bent at the end. It's one thing to have a skeptic's notions about the world challenged; it's another to have skepticism challenged.

Dawkins forbid!  This is not a personal statement against you Infinite Monkey, but this statement made me laugh.  If this story had the MC questioning her religious views, nobody would bat an eye.  But questioning skepticism?  That's going too far.  Sorry, it just tickled my funny bone.

As for the story itself, it was mildly entertaining.  I like the recurring random guy in dreams idea.  It could make for a fun plot, but this story was more about loss and coping, which is valid.
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Wilson Fowlie
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« Reply #12 on: January 04, 2013, 01:22:28 PM »

I was not fond of the anti-athestic bent at the end. It's one thing to have a skeptic's notions about the world challenged; it's another to have skepticism challenged.

Dawkins forbid!  This is not a personal statement against you Infinite Monkey, but this statement made me laugh.  If this story had the MC questioning her religious views, nobody would bat an eye.  But questioning skepticism?  That's going too far.  Sorry, it just tickled my funny bone.

It didn't strike me as questioning skepticism; it sounded more like a repudiation of it, as though she had proof of God or something. "Everything I claim to believe in crumbled under pressure. ... All my paper-thin rationalizations collapse into ash like a burning house of cards."

It irked me, too, and I had to remind myself that it's a fantasy story and scenes like those at the end of the story don't actually happen in the real world, so what she calls 'rationalizations' would actually continue.

Even though it's unpleasant or scary to think of simply ending ("That's what scares me more than anything else: when I die, it's done. Over."), that doesn't mean it isn't true. With the evidence we have for any other scenario (hint: none), any other belief is the real rationalization.
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« Reply #13 on: January 04, 2013, 06:45:58 PM »

Wait, no. She neither questioned nor repudiated skepticism. Her decision in the end was entirely consistent with a skeptical outlook. She was given empitical data pointing towards the existence of the supernatural, and based her decisions on the evidence, not on authority.

There's a strand in popular culture now that equates being skeptical with scientific nihilism - you have to reject *everything* or you're not skeptical enough. Or, more commonly, you have to reject everything except the stuff that the person advocating skepticism to you at the moment believes in. That's not what skepticism is. Being a skeptic means refusing to take things as given just because you are told them. It does not mean refusing to actually make conclusions about the word one is living in.

Now, one may question whether the evidence is good enough to justify her conclusions, but that is a different matter. We don't have to accept her conclusions about the world she lives in. We certainly don't have to accept her conclusions as applying to the world we live in. But it's no fairer to say that she abandons skepticism than to say that Frodo Baggins was gullible for believing a piece of jewellery had magical powers.
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« Reply #14 on: January 04, 2013, 07:07:31 PM »

We certainly don't have to accept her conclusions as applying to the world we live in. But it's no fairer to say that she abandons skepticism than to say that Frodo Baggins was gullible for believing a piece of jewellery had magical powers.

Very true, and I almost - but not quite - got there in my second paragraph.

Really, I should have re-read better, noticed the inconsistency, and gone back and changed my opening to be more consistent with where I ended up. After all, in the story, she basically did have proof - or at least strong evidence - of God, or something like God, existing in her universe.

Maybe that's what bothered me. Middle Earth is enough different from my world that magic rings and wraiths don't bother me. But the setting in this story was too close to the real world, so that the appearance (revelation?) of a God entity at the end didn't feel like part of building a different world, so much as, "See? God!" for this one.
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« Reply #15 on: January 05, 2013, 11:34:31 AM »

Wait, no. She neither questioned nor repudiated skepticism. Her decision in the end was entirely consistent with a skeptical outlook. She was given empitical data pointing towards the existence of the supernatural, and based her decisions on the evidence, not on authority.

But that's not what she does. She leaps from skepticism to belief and that this incident not only negates her worldview but confirms others.


There's a strand in popular culture now that equates being skeptical with scientific nihilism - you have to reject *everything* or you're not skeptical enough. Or, more commonly, you have to reject everything except the stuff that the person advocating skepticism to you at the moment believes in. That's not what skepticism is. Being a skeptic means refusing to take things as given just because you are told them. It does not mean refusing to actually make conclusions about the word one is living in.

That's what she should have done.

She's been given something, evidence of something beyond her preconceptions. She doesn't know what it is, but it is something. Now she should investigate that. I'm not saying she should reject *everything* - that's *not* skepticism. That's just arrogance. Now, this event could confirm a supernatural force, and might even confirm proof of the existence of God. But it doesn't for me; that's my complaint. She's leaping from "whoa, something strange!" to "there is a God, and I am wrong and lonely for my skepticism". And I just don't see the points between that.

Now, one may question whether the evidence is good enough to justify her conclusions, but that is a different matter.

Not for me. That is the matter.

We don't have to accept her conclusions about the world she lives in. We certainly don't have to accept her conclusions as applying to the world we live in. But it's no fairer to say that she abandons skepticism than to say that Frodo Baggins was gullible for believing a piece of jewellery had magical powers.

See, I see that as exactly what she's doing. Skepticism is not disbelief, it's questioning. And she has stopped questioning.
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« Reply #16 on: January 05, 2013, 12:26:59 PM »

I think we could probably argue all day about skepticism, what we would have done in her place, or what she should have done when her skeptical disposition was confronted with something hard to explain.

But here's another question: is there anything in her character that would explain this switch that people are reading here? (I'll be honest, I listened to the story, but it made so little impression on me that I'm not sure I could summarize it for you. Does she really start out from a position of skepticism and end with a total belief in something spiritual?)
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« Reply #17 on: January 06, 2013, 03:08:46 AM »

This story is bloody brilliant.

And no, she doesn't become a Jesus Freak at the end for no reason.  She says up front that she believes nothing without evidence; at the end, she has evidence that there is a power beyond what humans can understand or control, and that power is personified yet still unapproachable and fundamentally (by definition, even) incomprehensible.  It's perfectly in character for her to overthink this and feel the onset of despair; her belief in a constant, provable, and comprehensible world has been shattered. 

This was, for me, just the right level of speculative; not so much as to become a morality play, but sufficient that the symbolic interchange is clear and strongly meshed with the physical level of the story.
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« Reply #18 on: January 09, 2013, 09:50:38 AM »

And no, she doesn't become a Jesus Freak at the end for no reason.  She says up front that she believes nothing without evidence; at the end, she has evidence that there is a power beyond what humans can understand or control, and that power is personified yet still unapproachable and fundamentally (by definition, even) incomprehensible.  It's perfectly in character for her to overthink this and feel the onset of despair; her belief in a constant, provable, and comprehensible world has been shattered. 

Really?  All that was in that story?  I didn't get that at all.  Talking to a stranger who looks kind of like someone you know and who says weird things that kind of make sense--this does not a higher power prove, to me at least.  It never seemed like anything more than just a weird dream inspired by his own talk of weird dreams, which she is overanalyzing in a similar fashion to how he had done when he was alive.
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« Reply #19 on: January 10, 2013, 11:50:54 AM »

During their conversation, Captain Random turns into the Southern motorist who died; the implication is that that tragic event was also "him," insofar as he is chaos and randomness personified.  He "controls" everything (because he is Randomness), and the tragedy of the story and the reason for the protagonist's despair is that despite that implication, everything is still meaningless because no one can understand Captain Random; as soon as you perceive him, he becomes part of the pattern; as soon as you comprehend him, what you have is no longer Randomness.  It's like the worst of both worlds: God is real, but the universe is still just uncaring chaos.

If you want to insist on the non-magic interpretation of her conversation with Captain Random, then you certainly can, but the story still makes internal sense.  In the first section, she harps repeatedly on how she believes what she can see and observe, how she trusts what she can interact with (if nothing else).  By the end, she has "observed" Captain Random and spoken with him.  You, from the outside, might say that it was likely a hallucination, but it clearly felt real to her (and she emphasizes that she checked her credit card records to confirm that she didn't dream the whole day).  It's hardly out of character for her to take her observations at face value and extrapolate the same framework I described above.
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