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Author Topic: PC272, Giant Episode: The Tree of Life  (Read 5125 times)
Talia
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« on: August 07, 2013, 07:40:17 AM »

PodCastle 272, Giant Episode: The Tree of Life

by C.L. Moore

Read by Dave Robison, of the Roundtable Podcast.

Originally appeared in Weird Tales, October 1936.

Over time-ruined Illar the searching planes swooped and circled. Northwest Smith, peering up at them with a steel-pale stare from the shelter of a half-collapsed temple, thought of vultures wheeling above carrion. All day long now they had been raking these ruins for him. Presently, he knew, thirst would begin to parch his throat and hunger to gnaw at him. There was neither food nor water in these ancient Martian ruins, and he knew that it could be only a matter of time before the urgencies of his own body would drive him out to signal those wheeling Patrol ships and trade his hard-won liberty for food and drink. He crouched lower under the shadow of the temple arch and cursed the accuracy of the Patrol gunner whose flame-blast had caught his dodging ship just at the edge of Illar’s ruins.

Presently it occurred to him that in most Martian temples of the ancient days an ornamental well had stood in the outer court for the benefit of wayfarers. Of course all water in it would be a million years dry now, but for lack of anything better to do he rose from his seat at the edge of the collapsed central dome and made his cautious way by still intact corridors toward the front of the temple. He paused in a tangle of wreckage at the courtyard’s edge and looked out across the sun-drenched expanse of pavement toward that ornate well that once had served travelers who passed by here in the days when Mars was a green planet.

It was an unusually elaborate well, and amazingly well preserved. Its rim had been inlaid with a mosaic pattern whose symbolism must once have borne deep meaning, and above it in a great fan of time-defying bronze an elaborate grille-work portrayed the inevitable tree-of-life pattern which so often appears in the symbolism of the three worlds. Smith looked at it a bit incredulously from his shelter, it was so miraculously preserved amidst all this chaos of broken stone, casting a delicate tracery of shadow on the sunny pavement as perfectly as it must have done a million years ago when dusty travelers paused here to drink. He could picture them filing in at noontime through the great gates that——

The vision vanished abruptly as his questing eyes made the circle of the ruined walls. There had been no gate. He could not find a trace of it anywhere around the outer wall of the court. The only entrance here, as nearly as he could tell from the foundations that remained, had been the door in whose ruins he now stood. Queer. This must have been a private court, then, its great grille-crowned well reserved for the use of the priests. Or wait—had there not been a priest-king Illar after whom the city was named? A wizard-king, so legend said, who ruled temple as well as palace with an iron hand. This elaborately patterned well, of material royal enough to withstand the weight of ages, might well have been sacrosanct for the use of that long-dead monarch. It might——


Rated PG.

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
« Last Edit: August 30, 2013, 07:51:40 PM by Talia » Logged
Vanamonde
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« Reply #1 on: August 07, 2013, 10:25:00 AM »

The 'Protecting Project Pulp' podcast covered this story in episodes 22 and 23.
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DKT
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« Reply #2 on: August 07, 2013, 11:19:24 AM »

They did. We did it in one episode, and I like our reading better Smiley

I'm not sure how much of a cross-over our audience has with Protecting Project Pulp (obviously some!) but I'm happy for this classic story to have as big of an audience as it can get.
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Moritz
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« Reply #3 on: August 07, 2013, 12:52:22 PM »

10 seconds? I never really counted while listening though.

I love space fantasy and space opera, as it gives new twists to the classic faux-medieval settings of fantasy, so I'm quite happy about this month's theme. I actually have the collected stories of Moore's Northwest Smith series but never had the chance to read them, so this was a nice introduction. It's always good to know your roots, even if those roots are a bit... dated. The language of 1930s pulp writing is just so long winded for modern day senses... 
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DKT
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« Reply #4 on: August 07, 2013, 01:12:16 PM »

Oh, for the contest you're not supposed to count the seconds. You just make a guess prior to listening to the story Smiley
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Moritz
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« Reply #5 on: August 07, 2013, 03:27:38 PM »

Oh, for the contest you're not supposed to count the seconds. You just make a guess prior to listening to the story Smiley

That's exactly what I did. I just meant that after making the guess I didn't check...
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DKT
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« Reply #6 on: August 07, 2013, 03:36:27 PM »

Ah, cool Smiley That's kind of what I suspected, but wasn't sure.

For those just catching up, a certain adjective is used a lot in this story, and so Peter suggested we make a game out of it, allowing users to guess the shortest time span between the usages of "queer", you win some kind of prize - at least an honorary title, possibly something more labor intensive. But you have to make your guess before you listen to the 77 minute narration Smiley

Play/comment on!
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Father Beast
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« Reply #7 on: August 07, 2013, 07:37:58 PM »

I had a guess of seven seconds. I was counting on someone saying, "Queer..... Very queer.

But seriously, I know that some words have changed meaning over the years, but because you warned us about "Queer", I was blinded to learn that the Foozle's name was Fag!
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Father Beast
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« Reply #8 on: August 07, 2013, 07:45:40 PM »

On to the story....

I found that this had a very similar feel to "The Phoenix On The Sword". Did they have the same narrator?
<checking>
Ok, different reader. Still, it sounded quite similar. I guess the reader does make a difference. Some people have suggested that Audible should have a version of "Fifty Shades Of Grey" read by Gilbert Gottfried. Smiley

Anyway, having been primed by the Foozle's name, and the initial overly sensual description of the first time the tree touches someone, I was sensitized to the pornographic type language used in the mass sacrifice seen, and made me see it as a mass rape. I was disturbed, and not in a good way.

After that, I suppose there was no chance of me enjoying the rest of the story. Sorry.
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Liminal
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« Reply #9 on: August 07, 2013, 10:08:17 PM »

I was blinded to learn that the Foozle's name was Fag!

It was "Thag", not "fag".
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Mouseneb
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« Reply #10 on: August 07, 2013, 10:49:58 PM »

My guess is 45 seconds Cheesy Back to listening!
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« Reply #11 on: August 08, 2013, 11:21:00 AM »

I gueess 7.3 seconds. The intro sure did a great job of making this story sound fun. I'm looking forward to diving in.  Here I go...
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Kaa
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« Reply #12 on: August 08, 2013, 09:37:02 PM »

The queer, tapestried, blurry brightness of the terrible, mad, whispering trunk seemed somehow a terror; a fabulous danger as the luminous, deadly priestess hid within the twilight branches of horror.

So...yeah. The word 'tapestried' leapt out at me (a lot) and I had to come home, find the text, and just do a word distribution of it. Smiley

It was well-read, and quite fun to hear a story I'd never heard of before by an author I'd never heard of before. The style in vogue back then is so florid and purple by today's standards, I had a hard time taking it seriously, especially when it started the Lovecraftian part at the end. Where it was an indescribable terror so horrible and indescribable, that he could scarcely describe the indescribable, horrible terror...

I was unsurprised to hear the word 'gibbering' make a welcome appearance, but disappointed when 'non-Euclidian' did not join it.

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Lionman
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« Reply #13 on: August 08, 2013, 10:10:55 PM »

I still have like 7 minutes left to listen to, but it's the epilog of the tale, I suspect.

Was it just me, or did anyone get the feeling like this was written to feel more like a bodice ripper, penny dreadful?  While I know it was written three quarters of a century ago, the choice of words and structure of their use gives me the feeling of being a bit older, say the late 1800's, but so much more forward thinking than that age.

This was penned in the same decade as War of the Worlds, Dr. Seuss...we hadn't even discovered Pluto when this story was written.  So, in the modern thought and literature, it feels mismatched to what I might expect to hear the from the writing.  As a result, it made me feel like I actually had to listen, give thought to, and translate in my brain, just what was being read.  There was much more exercising of the listener in this story.

What I would like to see, is a modern telling of the same story.
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flintknapper
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« Reply #14 on: August 09, 2013, 01:41:36 PM »

I tend to like more modern fiction and to like smaller audio pieces. So I had a lot of caution going into this one and to be honest, it was what I expected. It wasn't a bad tale it just didnt really speak to me. The dated writing style and language really distanced me from the piece.

I like what Lionman said in that it would really fascinating to listen or read a modern retelling of the same story.
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evrgrn_monster
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« Reply #15 on: August 10, 2013, 12:20:42 AM »

I personally loved this story. Granted, I am a biased when it comes to A) older stories, B) giant episodes, and C) science fantasy, so I was pretty much doomed to like it. I agree, I got a definite Conan feel from this one, but I love me some sword and sorcery, so that was by no means a bad thing. Actually, I felt like this was a nice mix of Hyperion, Conan, and Lovecraft; masterfully crafted, a tad wordy (this is from the era of paid by the word prose, I believe) and steeped in legend and mythology.

Getting all the comparisons out of the way, I think this was a great choice to launch us into the month of science fantasy. I feel like with pieces like this, it is necessary to really let go of modern cynicism and just get lost in the world that's being described. Is it a bit overly flowery by today's standards? Sure. For my part, I think it's actually a bit refreshing to have a place completely described, from the way the blade of grass bends to the sound tiny men make when fearing for the life of a stranger. I wouldn't want it all the time, by any means, but sometimes it's nice to just have everything out on the table in full detail. Purple prose doesn't have to be a dirty phrase.

I was also a fan of the ending. He's been through this terrible near death experience, but you have no idea if he's even clear of the initial danger that made him literally jump feet first into that experience in the first place. Smart choice for the author, especially since she ended up making him a serial character. Leaves me wanting more, that's for sure. What happens next? Only the next adventure can tell!
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Cynandre
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« Reply #16 on: August 11, 2013, 11:41:21 PM »

I've decided I will look into more of C.L. Moore's Work. H.P Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard's influences were indeed there.
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jk_jackel
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« Reply #17 on: August 13, 2013, 04:23:13 AM »

Wow. This certainly travelled the genres. From the science fiction space patrols on Mars and force guns to the fantasy staples of magical glades, priestesses and enchanted trees all the way to the horror of all-consuming inter-dimensional beings.

I have to say though, what got me really hooked into the story was Smith. He struck me as some kind of turn of the century space faring Indiana Jones and the author leaves just enough hints at his character to intrigue... Who is chasing him? Why? And my favourite, what background of violence allows him to break free of Thagg.

Glad to hear there are more stories featuring him! I will be checking them out.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #18 on: August 17, 2013, 12:47:15 PM »

Influenced by Howard and Lovecraft, indeed! Cheesy

This was a ton of fun and a great way to kick off science fantasy month. Granted, I don't think I was meant to be laughing during the whole scene featuring Thagg, but... And I agree that I really liked Smith as a main character. To take another Harrison Ford example, this felt like throwing Han Solo into a Lovecraft story and seeing how he'd react. Smiley
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #19 on: August 23, 2013, 01:15:32 AM »

To me it seemed more like what you'd get if you ran Edgar Rice Burroughs and H.P. Lovecraft together at high speed.

And while the story is enjoyable, I can tell this was paid by the word. It's just unnecessarily bloated in places.
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