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Author Topic: PC267: Western Chow Mein Red Dawn  (Read 9116 times)
Talia
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« on: July 03, 2013, 09:36:43 AM »

PodCastle 267: Western Chow Mein Red Dawn

by Lavie Tidhar.

Read by Bob Eccles.

Originally appeared in Fantasy Magazine in November of 2011. You can read the text there.

The strangers came under a red half-moon to Three Blind Sisters. They wore strange clothes – stiff-looking black and tan suits of foreign design, with black hats and carefully-manicured beards. On their belts they carried guns. All but their leader, who dressed casually and carried no weapons, and who had an easy smile.

‘He is so handsome,’ the boy’s sister said. They were watching the men ride past the three Blind Sisters who gave the village its name. The stone statues, ancient guardians of this small, distant place, stared at the men without seeing. Their power had weakened over generations: now they were little more than mute stone, and no one in the village could remember them ever speaking.

The boy felt a tingling at the tip of his fingers. He saw with his inner eye: the leader rode unarmed because his power was great. The aura of Qi around him was unmistakable. Unease made him close his fingers into a fist. The man, passing close to them, glanced casually their way: his eyes locked on the boy’s for one long, uncomfortable moment. Then his gaze shifted to the boy’s sister, and the smile flared up like a small sun.


Rated R for violence.

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
« Last Edit: July 24, 2013, 01:15:54 PM by Talia » Logged
Max e^{i pi}
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« Reply #1 on: July 03, 2013, 12:15:30 PM »

Woohoo! MK Hobson intro!
Can we have a podcast where she just talks about all of the things?

Anyway, about the story.
Lavie Tidhar is a hit or miss for me. Some of his stories I like, others I don't. This one was pretty much meh. It was interesting and all, but now, 8 hours after listening to it, I remember.... just the story. Nothing emotional or particularly great. I enjoyed the intro a lot more than the story.
There was nothing wrong with the story, it was fine. I just didn't connect to it on any emotional level. I didn't feel invested in the characters or connected to any of them. The outcome was a foregone conclusion and was just a question of the details. It was a nice story and told well, but that's all.
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Moritz
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« Reply #2 on: July 07, 2013, 03:07:02 AM »

Woohoo! MK Hobson intro!
Can we have a podcast where she just talks about all of the things?

Anyway, about the story.
Lavie Tidhar is a hit or miss for me. Some of his stories I like, others I don't. This one was pretty much meh. It was interesting and all, but now, 8 hours after listening to it, I remember.... just the story. Nothing emotional or particularly great. I enjoyed the intro a lot more than the story.
There was nothing wrong with the story, it was fine. I just didn't connect to it on any emotional level. I didn't feel invested in the characters or connected to any of them. The outcome was a foregone conclusion and was just a question of the details. It was a nice story and told well, but that's all.

I agree, there wasn't anything noteworthy in the story, and the setting didn't catch me.
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evrgrn_monster
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« Reply #3 on: July 08, 2013, 07:27:19 PM »

This one didn't grab me either. I love me a good spaghetti western, and I can see this story playing with the familiar tropes and themes found in that genre, but I felt like it was a lukewarm attempt. It felt like a John Wayne movie with him wearing a Chinese jacket instead of a cowboy shirt, and that seemed like a detriment to the setting. The descriptions of the magic was same-sy, twirling fire, tingling fingertips, etc., and I felt that adding some variety to the types of magic or what could be done with said magic would've added the spice this story needed.

In addition, I was a bit confused over the bad guys' final lines, as it contradicted with the time-line set earlier. I thought the Europeans were only in the Three Blind Sister's village for a day? Did I miss something? The bad guy's motivations were also confusing. He seemed to do bad, evil things just for the sake of doing them, but then just left the main character alive. Why? Also, why add the neat effect with the Sisters' statues and not follow up with it? It seemed superfluous.

On a good note, I did like the character cooking chow mein in the desert. That was one of the few things that showed us the true setting of this piece, and I wish there had been more touches like it.
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« Reply #4 on: July 09, 2013, 07:28:30 AM »

I very much enjoyed Hobson's intro about Tidhar's steampunk fascism tweet.  I hadn't been at all aware of that conversation, but I do as a matter of course distrust any statement that uses "fascist" or "Nazi" as descriptors for things which do not self-identify with these terms, because I've yet to see them used in any fashion other than convenient pejoratives.

As for the story, not a fan.  Tidhar tends to be a miss for me, so I'm not surprised at this.  There were enough exciting things happening I probably should've liked it on some level, but the narrative never convinced me that I should care, and the flash and bang elements were all pretty standard magic tropes that weren't new and so weren't enough to occupy my attention.
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LadiesAndGentleman
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« Reply #5 on: July 09, 2013, 12:01:12 PM »

Sadly, I don't have much to contribute that hasn't already been said.

Despite the setting, this felt like a very boiler plate revenge story.  I've never read a Weird Western that's felt this normal.
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #6 on: July 14, 2013, 01:41:21 AM »

I liked the premise and set-up of the story... it just needed a little more.. umph.


In addition, I was a bit confused over the bad guys' final lines, as it contradicted with the time-line set earlier. I thought the Europeans were only in the Three Blind Sister's village for a day? Did I miss something?

Yeah, the Englishman took over the village and the mine, and the kid comes back years later to take him down. He's our government agent. But that was part of what I thought was lacking. He needed to be established as more of a badass to get that real spaghetti Western feel. This story is on the road to that, but it hasn't quite got there yet.

As for the whole "Fascism for nice people" rap on steampunk, yeah, that could have been phrased better. While I think I see the point, I agree with M.K. that the word fascism has become overhurled as an insult (I can go on at length along the same lines with "racist").

(though I'm sure someone else has prodded M.K. about Pol Pot, yes?)
« Last Edit: July 16, 2013, 08:02:50 PM by InfiniteMonkey » Logged
Scott R
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« Reply #7 on: July 16, 2013, 09:25:34 AM »

I would have preferred to have the editor's comments after hearing the story.
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« Reply #8 on: July 16, 2013, 10:22:51 AM »

I would have preferred to have the editor's comments after hearing the story.

Oh, um...

Yippie-ki-yay?

 Wink

I could've talked about imperialism, I guess? Oppression, and sticking it to the man? Or fireworks? Freedom? Maybe I should've. Sorry.
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« Reply #9 on: July 17, 2013, 06:55:17 AM »

:laugh:

Sorry, Dave.  Let me clarify:

I wish that MK Hobson's comments had been placed after the story rather than in front of the story.

For me, editor commentary on audiobooks is a bit like cover art for books.  It's multipurpose: it puts the story in the best light possible; it briefly addresses themes, motiffs, etc., in a way that allows the reader/listener to determine if the story is interesting to them; it creates a desire in the reader/listener to try the story out even if the themes don't necessarily appeal to them.

In short, editor commentary should sell the work.

MK Hobson's comments did not sell the work, but were instead a kind of audio-essay.  Which is fine-- as an afterword.  From my perspective, the audio-essay preempted audience expectations for the story, setting a tone that Tidhar may not have intended.  Aside from being a bit annoyed at the length of the monologue (I actually muttered, "Get to the story, already!"), I found myself referencing the audio-essay in the middle of Tidhar's text-- trying to line up Hobson's comments about steampunk, fascism, etc., with what I was listening to.

It was like being in Freshman English class all over again.  (Which experience, I hope, you're not trying recreate...)

I'd prefer to come to the work quickly, and with very little intellectual guidance.
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« Reply #10 on: July 17, 2013, 06:29:43 PM »

There were two elements to this story that caused me to not enjoy it. The first was the almost complete lack of names. For me, when a main character isn't given a name, it immediately distances me from him/her. I find I have a harder time relating to the protag when s/he is so... undefined, I guess, and I wonder if that's why so many others here have found the story lacking as well. In some stories this style is used to hide a reveal until the end, if the name would give away who the character was before the author intends. But that isn't the case in this story. Honestly, I can find no reason for Tidhar to NOT give us a name for either the boy or the villain. He did give the sister a name, but then immediately stopped using it and went back to referring to her as "the boy's sister". In the end, the pronouns grew tedious and I longed for a name.

"Call my name! Bastian, please!"  Cool

The other problem with the story was the lack of any real try/fail cycles. Yes, there's one at the beginning, when the boy attacks the villain and is defeated, but after that he grows up, meets the Shanghai Joe (who serves no purpose to the story that I can find), finds the mine, (yes gets captured, but it feels like that was his plan) easily picks his handcuffs, grabs the villain without any challenge, and then kills him, blows up the mine, and leaves. Nothing is challenging to him in any way.

Things, I did like about the story? The incorporation of illusion magic and lockpicking to succeed where true magic failed him; The idea of all the chi in the world running out; the campfire chow mein.

 
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« Reply #11 on: July 17, 2013, 06:53:29 PM »

There were two elements to this story that caused me to not enjoy it. The first was the almost complete lack of names. For me, when a main character isn't given a name, it immediately distances me from him/her. I find I have a harder time relating to the protag when s/he is so... undefined, I guess, and I wonder if that's why so many others here have found the story lacking as well. In some stories this style is used to hide a reveal until the end, if the name would give away who the character was before the author intends. But that isn't the case in this story. Honestly, I can find no reason for Tidhar to NOT give us a name for either the boy or the villain. He did give the sister a name, but then immediately stopped using it and went back to referring to her as "the boy's sister". In the end, the pronouns grew tedious and I longed for a name.


Oh, I think Tidhar did that aiming for the Spaghetti Westerness vibe of Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name trilogy. Obviously didn't work for some of our audience, but that's what I took it as.

 
:laugh:

Sorry, Dave.  Let me clarify:

I wish that MK Hobson's comments had been placed after the story rather than in front of the story.

For me, editor commentary on audiobooks is a bit like cover art for books.  It's multipurpose: it puts the story in the best light possible; it briefly addresses themes, motiffs, etc., in a way that allows the reader/listener to determine if the story is interesting to them; it creates a desire in the reader/listener to try the story out even if the themes don't necessarily appeal to them.

In short, editor commentary should sell the work.

MK Hobson's comments did not sell the work, but were instead a kind of audio-essay.  Which is fine-- as an afterword.  From my perspective, the audio-essay preempted audience expectations for the story, setting a tone that Tidhar may not have intended.  Aside from being a bit annoyed at the length of the monologue (I actually muttered, "Get to the story, already!"), I found myself referencing the audio-essay in the middle of Tidhar's text-- trying to line up Hobson's comments about steampunk, fascism, etc., with what I was listening to.

It was like being in Freshman English class all over again.  (Which experience, I hope, you're not trying recreate...)

I'd prefer to come to the work quickly, and with very little intellectual guidance.

Ah, I see now. Thanks for clarifying that Smiley

What we've done traditionally - and what we prefer to do is, is have an intro/host spot at the beginning that hopefully baits your curiosity in some way. This goes back quite a ways - one of the regular comments PodCastle received in the very beginning (before Anna and I were editing) was that the intros were too...maybe not spoilerish, but told too much about the story. Since then, we've tried to approach it as less Freshman English, and more Masterpiece Theater - to help you get comfortable before the lights go down. And then sometimes we talk about the story a little more afterward.

Everyone's different, but as a listener, I always enjoyed those first few minutes as a kind of "Welcome back."
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« Reply #12 on: July 18, 2013, 02:39:10 PM »

I like English class and support more things being similar to it.  ;-)

This story was... well, it was okay.  I have to agree with the complaints that the Asian culture elements seemed a little pasted on; it reminded me of several Japanese animation series in which the writers/animators have appropriated random bits and pieces of whatever they're pastiching but have not used them to say anything about the genre, instead just telling a very Japanese story but with cowboy hats or English tea sets or whatever.

I blinked a bit at the ending.  I may have been confused, but weren't the miners all arriving for work, going down to the mine?  And even if they weren't, what the hell are they going to do to feed their families without even a shitty oppressive job to work?  Did our hero just kill a buttload of innocents in order to have a dramatic explosion to walk slowly away from toward the camera as the credits roll?
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« Reply #13 on: July 18, 2013, 03:35:33 PM »

I have to rant about Tidhar's tweet before I can listen to the story. Right now I'm too mad. This is a shame, because I love the Gorel stories and others by Lavie Tidhar. We'll see if this can get me to the point where I can listen.

I have absolutely no patience for dismissing huge swaths of history as too bad to write about. There are no heroes in human history, at least not on the ethnonational scale. Rome and London and Washington take a lot of the blame for running roughshod over the rights and identities of others, but nobody comes out smelling like roses. South America's tribes were sacrificing and enslaving each other before Western imperialists gave them smallpox. China's emperors were doing their best - with the limited technologies of their time - to enforce totalitarian regimes before Britian even existed, let alone used opium to break the back of the Chinese resistance to their imperialism. I'm not trying to make the West out to be heroes - remember, THERE ARE NO HEROES - I'm just saying that humans have been cr@ppy to each other since time immemorial. Picking and choosing this time as too bad to write about is completely arbitrary nonsense!

What? Are we now limited to writing about the Inuits - one of the only human tribes in history to have a territory so sh*tty that they never even had to fight a war to defend it because nobody wanted it? Oh, no, wait, we can't do that either, because their culture is just as sexist, theocratic, and xenophobic as every other freaking human culture to come before and after it! Maybe we can write about those guys who welcomed Columbus. The were peaceful, and not xenophobic (much to their eventual regret). They were probably sexist, though. Practically everyone was.

It's just infuriating. Humans suck. We're getting better - extremely slowly, in patches, with great difficulty - but if you leave us alone we get up to all sorts of atrocious stuff. If you are going to disqualify time periods from being written about because the people in it were jerks, then congratulations: you have just disqualified all of human history from becoming the basis of speculative fiction subgenres.

I challenge you to come up with a single human tribe that hasn't sucked. Go ahead, find me a single victim that hasn't at some point victimized someone else.

I bet you can't do it.

I furthermore bet that even if you can do it, it's not a long list.

This is absolute bullsh*t, and Tidhar should be ashamed. Thanks for the takedown in the intro, MK.

Now, the question is... am I sufficiently unmad to listen to the episode yet? Hm... nope, still mad. Damnit! Hopefully it'll fade.
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« Reply #14 on: July 18, 2013, 06:09:10 PM »

I don't think Tidhar was saying that the Victorian era was particularly awful, but rather that Steampunk as a genre tends to take the monied English gentry as its heroes and models without addressing the horrible shit that went on to KEEP them monied. 

Sort of like pulp stories from the 30s were big on explorers and brave adventurers without addressing the part where white dudes were shooting brown dudes and stealing their national treasures basically 'cause they could.

It's not that you can't write about imperialism or imperialists, but that writing about them while glossing over the bad parts is pandering to the same sorts of impulses that have people in modern times rhapsodizing about the glorious 1950s and the Perfect American Family.  The point of the tweet being that there was no golden age, in other words, and pretending that there was is harmful. 
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« Reply #15 on: July 18, 2013, 06:24:59 PM »

I think it might be worth noting that Lavie Tidhar is the author of the Bookman trilogy, which is (at least ostensibly - I haven't read it myself) a steampunk trilogy.
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« Reply #16 on: July 18, 2013, 06:27:28 PM »

I extend my previous argument. Is it now necessary to look into every period one wants to write in, find all the bad stuff in it, and then laboriously use it to beat our breasts every time we write a period piece? Does every piece set in Imperial China now need to include something about how downtrodden the peasants were? It's ridiculous.

When a perspective is lacking in a situation in which that perspective could be present - such as non-European perspectives in steampunk - that must be corrected. Condemning an entire genre is an absurd oversimplification.
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« Reply #17 on: July 18, 2013, 07:21:09 PM »

I think another way to put it is this:

If we try to avoid historical myopia, every era was cr@ppy for someone. Is it required that everyone writing of (or in a style reminiscent of) any era include a mention of every group of humans for whom that era was lousy? No? Then where do you draw the line?

I'm not saying that "this genre is a myopic whitewashing of an era that was lousy" is not a valid critique. It is. Neither am I saying that a work of fiction that is, itself, a critical response to such a genre that points out the faults and blindspots of the genre is not a good thing. It's a great thing.

What I'm saying is that broad condemnations of entire genres are stupid, especially on these grounds, because if you extend the argument, the position is untenable.
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« Reply #18 on: July 18, 2013, 09:26:09 PM »

But like Dave said, Lavie Tidhar writes steampunk.  This isn't someone saying that something they don't like is crap and looking for reasons why.  I think he's saying exactly what you said was a valid critique: that steampunk is, by and large, myopic and involved in whitewashing.  He just did it in a somewhat clumsy way.
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« Reply #19 on: July 18, 2013, 11:47:11 PM »


I have absolutely no patience for dismissing huge swaths of history as too bad to write about.

I don't think Lavie Tidhar is saying that you shouldn't write about periods of history, but rather you shouldn't romanticize them, and certainly steampunk has more than a middling deal of that.
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