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Author Topic: PC251: Throwing Stones  (Read 3551 times)


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on: March 14, 2013, 07:04:56 PM
PodCastle 251: Throwing Stones

by Mishell Baker

Read by Elizabeth Green Musselman

Originally published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Read it here!

In the city of Jiun-Shi the third shift was known as the goblin watch, but some of us were not very watchful. I, for one, was so absorbed in the daily details of living a lie that it took me three months to learn that one of the regulars at the Silver Fish Teahouse was a goblin. By the time our paths collided three years later, I had been promoted to third-shift manager, and my lie had been promoted to widely established fact.

Often during my shift I furtively watched him where he sat in his guise as a human poet and scribe-for-hire. Sometimes he was alone, his narrow shoulders slumped over a crisp rectangle of paper, his fine writing brush held in his gaunt left hand. Usually there were women at his table asserting their dominance, half-offended and half-fascinated that a man would bother to educate himself so thoroughly. To their credit, he looked the part of that second-class citizen of the Empire of Ru, the human male. But I—a liar smug in my knowledge of another’s truth—pitied those women who approached him in ignorance and waded in out of their depth.

He always remained tranquil, even as suitors playfully mocked him and threaded their fingers through his bird’s-nest hair. His sharp indigo eyes were always open, even when a woman leaned in to kiss his mouth. He never corrected those who treated him as a common plaything, but without fail a more experienced patron would whisper the secret into her sister’s ear just slightly too late to keep the poor woman from becoming infatuated.

Rated R. Contains sex.

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« Last Edit: March 20, 2013, 05:54:28 AM by DKT »


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Reply #1 on: March 16, 2013, 02:39:35 PM
I enjoyed the setting and pacing of the story, the build up to the reveal that the main character was actually cross dressing and the kinship that created between them and the goblin was handled well. I also appreciated the reversal of gender roles being a simple mirror image imagining and the story reminded me a bit of LeGuin's writing. I also get that the main character is straight and cis-gendered, but where are all the LBGT people? Wouldn't the main character have found some kinship with them? I find it impossible to imagine that the goblin would have been ignorant of the LBGT component of this world and would have questioned the main character about it to a greater extent than just asking if he was ashamed of his genitals. While I could see the main character having the sort of revulsion towards the LBGT segment of their culture that you often see in people who are deeply closeted, it's never mentioned.

One other observation, the sex scene is quite disturbing and I'm still not sure that the main charter was even capable of giving consent given the nature of the gender roles in this culture.



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Reply #2 on: March 17, 2013, 01:54:16 PM
I enjoyed the complete sexual inversion of the pseudo-Chinese society we are told about, and the re-occuring motif of pools and water (flowing water is often pointed out as the strongest of things among Taoists, as it wears down rock), as well as our narrator's destiny to "throw stones"...


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Reply #3 on: March 17, 2013, 11:46:37 PM
Wow, that went places I did not anticipate. At all. But, in a good way. Quite a sensual tale, and while I did find the goblin sex a little rape-y, I think it was presented in such a way that it was appropriate to the story and not prurient.

I loved that the MC isn't some sweeping hero, but a person trying to do one small thing that may end up having sweeping effects. I also loved the idea of a goblin ostensible studying a culture for millennia but really waiting for just the right person to use as a lever against the status quo. Fascinating.

“My imagination makes me human and makes me a fool; it gives me all the world and exiles me from it.”
Ursula K. LeGuin


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Reply #4 on: March 20, 2013, 02:35:58 PM
Wow, that was quite the story. Some of it made me a bit squeamish, but it was so well done and the story was so strong that I could overlook those parts. One part that I was really struck by is the extreme patience exhibited by both the goblin and the main character. Both have a BIG DREAM that they want to see accomplished, and both are willing to bide their time and take every tiny step required to see their plans through to the end. Quite the contrast to our fast-paced, make-it-happen-now culture.

I also get that the main character is straight and cis-gendered, but where are all the LBGT people? Wouldn't the main character have found some kinship with them?

Based on the extremely delineated gender roles/dominance/submissiveness, I got the distinct impression that in this alien universe there simply isn't an LBGT community. Remember, the main character is attempting to be the first pebble thrown. Also, even if a LBGT culture existed, I imagine that associating with them would have immediately blown the whole plan to pieces.


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Reply #5 on: March 22, 2013, 06:06:58 PM
That is, there are probably LGBT people, but at many points in history it has not been wise to openly ally oneself with them (nor even to risk allying oneself with them in secret).  This world certainly does not seem terribly open to the idea of blurring the gender boundary.


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Reply #6 on: March 26, 2013, 05:41:42 PM
This story did not strike me as one meant to be LGBT, but rather as an underlying story about going against the grain, trying to not merely make change, but be change, prove that the stereotypes are untrue.  This isn't an idea that belongs to one group of people alone, like LGBT, but to all groups of people who are thought of as second-class citizens, in whatever way they aren't 'normal.'  Think about the episode Let That Be Your Last Battlefield, or the writing of The Sneetches.

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Reply #7 on: March 30, 2013, 01:04:18 AM
I wasn't a big fan of the world building here!  I think "women are the stronger gender" has been done much better elsewhere.  If men are supposed to be the submissive sex in this society, why is the first character we meet a man who gets women to kill themselves over him?  It was very misleading.  In theory, it seemed like a neat world, but not in execution.

The story itself, as it has been noted, went some interesting directions.  I agree that the affair was sensual and convincing, but my goodness, the main character has a serious case of ennui.  The protagonist just doesn't seem to do very much!


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Reply #8 on: April 17, 2013, 03:54:09 PM
Well,  the 'man' in question was actually a goblin in male disguise using his charms to draw women to him for experimentation purposes, so there you go.

I already heard this story before through Below Ceaseless skies, and it was lovely to listen to it again. I agree with Lionman in that it isn't so much about gender issues, but more about challenging the status quo and rebelling, not through outright measures, but from inside the system. Going about day to day mundane activities in a taboo form isn't the most glamorous form of rebellion, but in this story, it worked very well. I particulary found it interesting that when the main character did get the female form, he gets lax in his duties to the point that he gets fired from the teashop. I wonder if that was because with the threat of being found gone, he could afford to get lazy.

I would love to hear how his time as a seer goes.

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Reply #9 on: May 28, 2013, 12:58:39 PM
A lot of interesting ideas in this story.  I generally liked the interaction between the goblin and the cross-dressing man, and how they could play off of each other.  It's been long enough since I listened that I don't really remember how it ended but overall it left a good impression.


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Reply #10 on: July 11, 2013, 09:39:00 PM
I, for one, really enjoyed the world-building in this story.  Yeah, the gender inversion isn't totally new, but that isn't what was the most interesting.  The most interesting thing to me was how the chaotic society of the goblins interacted with the very ordered, strict society of the world.

"Throw stones" is exactly the sort of theme I love, and it worked really well here.  I don't care to see any more of the world, the knowledge that the protagonist is going to eventually upset the balance is enough to make me happy.  It's like the beginning of a common story where I love the build-up and am disappointed with the "payoff" without the disappointing payoff, so it pays off in completing the setup, hence making me happy while going longer might have made me indifferent.

I found the tattoo thing very powerful/moving.