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Author Topic: PC247: The Three Feats of Agani  (Read 4382 times)
Talia
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« on: February 13, 2013, 08:52:36 AM »

PodCastle 247: The Three Feats of Agani

by Christie Yant

Read by Stephanie Morris

Originally published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Read it here!

A girl sits cross-legged in the dirt before the unlit pyre, her face dotted with yellow clay and her dark hair unbound. The girl has just seen her ninth summer. The man on the pyre is her father. The old woman at her side, bent and gray, is no relation.

The girl does not cry. She looks at the pyre with coal-bright eyes, her jaw set, her fists clenched. The pyre is covered in the flowers of the season: purple, blue, and yellow. Their scent is carried on the breeze. She fidgets with the curled edge of her tunic as the aurochs horn sounds in mourning, and she knows she will never enjoy the scent of summer flowers again.

The three of them—the girl, the old woman, and the corpse—sit in silence while the sun traces its slow arc across the sky. The girl knows that this silence is expected of her. She is satisfied with it, because if she is not silent then she will scream. She does not know the right word for the anger she feels, the rage and wanting in her heart that threatens to burst from her chest and lay waste the entire settlement and everyone in it, seek out the men who ambushed and murdered her father. There is a word for it, but it is taboo to her people, and never expressed.

If she knew the right word, she would say that what she wants is vengeance.


Rated R. Contains violence and disturbing imagery.

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #1 on: February 13, 2013, 10:17:36 AM »

Woot!  This is my #1 pick for Best Story of the Year, I nominated it for both Hugo and Nebula. 

I'll relisten and add more comments later.  Smiley
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chemistryguy
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« Reply #2 on: February 13, 2013, 11:22:29 AM »

Wow.  I'm at somewhat of a loss of words for this one.  After it had finished I had goosebumps.  Goosebumps, I tell you!

In the end I can't really say which side of the fence I'm standing on, but my heart tugs for the young girl.  She just loses her father and then is expected to take in the teachings of a lifetime in the course of an evening.  Dangerous stories indeed.  How could she not be swayed to follow a god who brings results instead those who do nothing.  

And the old woman can see what's happening.  It brings fear to her heart and yet she continues.  Pouring her words into an unreceptive ear.  Or rather an ear that is hearing only what it wants to hear.

Wow.  Just wow.  Wow.

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« Reply #3 on: February 14, 2013, 08:55:26 PM »

This was indeed a most excellent story.
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« Reply #4 on: February 15, 2013, 08:17:19 AM »

I... am not sure how I felt about this one. The storytelling was good, certainly, and interesting, but for whatever reason this kind of fantasy just doesn't grab my interest. Except for the ending, when the girl prayed to Agani -- but even that's kind of trope-ish (young character doesn't understand why adults are doing something that is smart to them but seems stupid to her and of course she's in the right). I guess stories like this just don't resonate as much with me, for whatever reason. That said, the worldbuilding was excellent and the writing was good as well.
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #5 on: February 18, 2013, 03:22:36 PM »

I think the little girl is going to be trouble in a few years. Perhaps that's why they don't tell the stories all at once.
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benjaminjb
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« Reply #6 on: February 18, 2013, 03:46:11 PM »

I enjoyed this story and the accumulation of dread. However, I had some trouble with the set-up of this culture as I understand it: they have three ritual stories they tell at very precise life-changes (puberty, marriage, family death)--and there's no formula for dealing with these life-changes out of order? Does death rarely come prematurely to these people?

Also, I've done very little studying of oral cultures and folktales, so I could be totally wrong about this; but while I enjoyed the three feats stories, they didn't sound very "oral" to me. Like, there wasn't enough repetition or formulaic phrases, the kind of things that help people remember stories.

(Then again, is this purely an oral culture? I thought it was, but now looking back on it, I'm not sure I had any reason to assume that.)
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flashedarling
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« Reply #7 on: February 19, 2013, 01:58:02 PM »

For some reason I got the impression (was it called out specficially?) that after her father died she was an orphan. So this would be the only chance to do the family death story. As for dealing with a premature death of both the mother and father, I think that probably happens rarely enough that they just tell all the stories and let the kid figure it out in their own time. I'd even bet for the most part it works, in general the kid might not get it but "If you don't watch your tongue then ZOMBIES" is probably enough to scare the kid from doing anything inappropriate. What went wrong here was the girl got the whole lesson when she was in just the right mindset of anger and hate that disproportionate revenge sounds like a good thing.
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« Reply #8 on: February 20, 2013, 10:13:50 AM »

(Then again, is this purely an oral culture? I thought it was, but now looking back on it, I'm not sure I had any reason to assume that.)

I don't think there was anything in the story to indicate that it was purely oral.  I also don't think there was anything in the story to indicate that it wasn't.  I have no idea!

Even if they do have written language, the storyteller makes it very clear that these stories are very carefully doled out to those who are deemed to be at the appropriate lifestage.  They don't want them slipping about willy-nilly, which is always a danger if you write them down.  If you restrict these stories to only be told orally then someone must be accountable for each sharing of the story.
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« Reply #9 on: February 20, 2013, 10:36:03 AM »

I rarely listen to a story podcasted twice.  Usually I just skip to the outro the 2nd time and then move on to another episode.  But since this is one of my favorites, I listened again.  I really love this story.

The gods of this story just made me so angry.  For the first story, the gods refuse to act.  In the second story all the gods do is to pray to Agani for him to swoop in and save their sorry butts, and then to criticize him for the method which he used to save them.  Perhaps this could be forgivable if the gods were simply impotent.  But these gods are not powerless--the third story illustrated that they drive their peoples to war against each other, a war which none of the people care about in the slightest.  The gods don't care who dies, they just require that blood be spilled on their behalf.  They won't lift a finger to save their own people, but they have no problem expending effort to drive their people to die for reasons the people don't care about.

And keep in mind, too, that these stories are the stories told by the followers of those gods.  If the stories have been skewed as stories typically are, they will skewed in favor of the storyteller.  If the gods STILL come out looking so terrible in the result, consider how much worse the reality might have been!

This story, to me, is about the birth of a revolution.  I think that the girl will work with Agani to drive the fat complacent gods from their thrones and raise Agani up as the new dominant religion.  What gives these gods the right to rule?  Even in their own stories they rule because it is right for them to rule, and there is no other justification.  It brings to mind the French Revolution.  The kings say "we rule because we are of noble blood and it is right for us to rule."  The peasants say "Let's see what that blood looks like spilled on the streets."

It also brings to mind the question of true parentage.  The gods claimed they formed the people (though we don't actually know if that's true) and therefore the gods are the ones to whom the people owe their allegiance.  But they have apparently done nothing for the people in the meantime.  It makes me think of a parent giving up their child for adoption for whatever reason, someone else adopts that child and raises them for 18 years.  Who is the parent there?  No matter whose loins the kid sprang from, that adoptive parent is the one who spent a couple decades of their life tending to the child's needs.

The stories specifically warned against Agani's anger, but anger is not always a negative emotion.  Anger is the driving force behind much social change, civil rights movements in particular.  And that's again why I believe this is the start of a revolution.  There is anger in the people that has been suppressed even as they are bleeding for no reason on the battlefield.  This girl has found her anger, and she has called up Agani from it.  Others will follow her.  The secret story of how Agani became a god is a great nod at further world that we don't see.  It wouldn't surprise me if the girl herself became a god as part of the revolution, because she seems to be a born leader, and will find followers.

Perhaps this story speaks so much to me because I am a skeptic at heart.  I see Agani, and I see the other gods, and only Agani has an obvious tangible effect on the world, and he is the only one who acts to protect those who pray to him.  It's clear to me who, if anyone, deserves the prayers in that setting.
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« Reply #10 on: February 20, 2013, 11:45:12 AM »

Brief point: The blood goddess was NOT one of the gods of the people in the story; her people attacked the gods' people at her behest, whereas the people's peacable gods would rather not have had a fight at all.  At least some of your anger is misdirected.
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« Reply #11 on: February 21, 2013, 09:57:44 AM »

Brief point: The blood goddess was NOT one of the gods of the people in the story; her people attacked the gods' people at her behest, whereas the people's peacable gods would rather not have had a fight at all.  At least some of your anger is misdirected.

Hmmm... looking back at the text, I think I misheard one of the lines "The Earth did not care whose blood painted the ground red; the blind and empty eyes that stared up at the rising sun belonged as much to their people as to ours."  I thought that had said that the GODS did not care whose blood, not the EARTH.

In that case I guess the gods are either entirely impotent or can't be bothered to act for any reason.  Which isn't as reprehensible as them raising a finger only to make their own people die.  But they still make me angry.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #12 on: February 21, 2013, 11:01:13 AM »

Oh man, this culture is about to get their boats rocked so hard! The very stories that are supposed to teach people how to conform to society's expectations and not question anything that they are taught have the exact opposite affect on the young girl. I agree with chemistryguy that the old woman can see that her stories are backfiring and is scared but required to see her task to completion. Chilling indeed.
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« Reply #13 on: February 21, 2013, 11:48:53 AM »

This story interested me because the legends of Agani were pretty typical old-myth stuff, with asshole gods doing asshole things to each other and their pet humans.  The old woman was telling the myths with a different perspective, a focus on the moral lessons drawn from the stories by a liberal and peaceful society.  The girl was hearing the myths with the simpler ears of a child and thus hearing them only the way they were likely originally told: "Rah, us!  Our god beat up Bear, he beat up your gods, and he beat up death.  You goin' down!"  It was, to borrow the mythology with which I am most familiar, a modern liberal New Testament trying to tell stories to someone listening in the Old Testament. 
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« Reply #14 on: February 22, 2013, 12:19:14 PM »

I enjoyed this story a great deal. I've been a classic free-rider on the podcast for a little while but this one spurred me off the sidelines to comment. Perfectly illustrates the power of the genre. Kudos
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« Reply #15 on: February 22, 2013, 04:18:07 PM »

This story interested me because the legends of Agani were pretty typical old-myth stuff, with asshole gods doing asshole things to each other and their pet humans.  The old woman was telling the myths with a different perspective, a focus on the moral lessons drawn from the stories by a liberal and peaceful society.  The girl was hearing the myths with the simpler ears of a child and thus hearing them only the way they were likely originally told: "Rah, us!  Our god beat up Bear, he beat up your gods, and he beat up death.  You goin' down!"  It was, to borrow the mythology with which I am most familiar, a modern liberal New Testament trying to tell stories to someone listening in the Old Testament. 

As someone who studied the Hebrew Bible at an undergraduate level, I think your characterization is a bit off. There's lots of "our god beat up bear, our god beat up your god, you goin' down!" in there (by the way, I'm stealing that), but there's lots of other stuff, too.

That said.

I do agree that the most interesting part of this story was how the little girl completely missed the freaking point. Grandma was all "don't reach too far, don't let bad things that happen to you make you bitter and evil" and little girl was all like "I can has zombie dad?" That's mythology for you.
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« Reply #16 on: February 23, 2013, 12:16:10 AM »

The Hebrew Bible is not the Old Testament in any way other than the most superficial.  I shouldn't be the one telling you that.  :-D  There are at least two millennia of pretty radically divergent theology at work there, even beyond the mangling that translation to English creates.

But yes, I was simplifying fairly heavily and focusing on the occasions when YHWH either beat people up directly or told His people to go beat someone up while He held them down.  I would argue that a modern, liberal Jewish theologian probably also gets some very different messages from those stories than a member of one of the nomadic warlike tribes from whose oral tradition they originated. 
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« Reply #17 on: February 26, 2013, 02:22:51 PM »

I do agree that the most interesting part of this story was how the little girl completely missed the freaking point. Grandma was all "don't reach too far, don't let bad things that happen to you make you bitter and evil" and little girl was all like "I can has zombie dad?" That's mythology for you.

This.

The whole time I was like, old lady STFU, because you so are going to be the beginning of the 4th Feat.
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« Reply #18 on: February 26, 2013, 03:44:34 PM »

The Hebrew Bible is not the Old Testament in any way other than the most superficial.  I shouldn't be the one telling you that.  :-D  There are at least two millennia of pretty radically divergent theology at work there, even beyond the mangling that translation to English creates.

But yes, I was simplifying fairly heavily and focusing on the occasions when YHWH either beat people up directly or told His people to go beat someone up while He held them down.  I would argue that a modern, liberal Jewish theologian probably also gets some very different messages from those stories than a member of one of the nomadic warlike tribes from whose oral tradition they originated. 

True and true, but I majored in this and loved it, but now I teach science. I don't get to argue about stuff like this too often!
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« Reply #19 on: February 28, 2013, 08:25:02 AM »

I really liked this story.  Agani was brutal and effective enough that he was a very believable anti-hero that could also be a very attractive hero to others.
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