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Author Topic: PC276: Juan Caceres in the Zapetero's Workshop  (Read 6756 times)
Talia
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« on: September 10, 2013, 07:41:01 AM »

PodCastle 276: Juan Caceres in the Zapetero’s Workshop   

by Derek Künsken

Read by Roberto Suarez (of the Trailerclash podcast)

Originally published in When the Hero Comes Home 2 anthology

Juan Caceres swayed triumphantly back into San Pedro Sula on a Wednesday.  Hours had passed, but the foggy, laughing dizziness from the ogre toe he had snorted had not worn off.  He stumbled from the bus station and weaved between angry white taxis jamming the narrow streets.  Old goblin ladies trundled wooden carts of soup, mango and tortilla.  They hissed and watched with yellow eyes, so that he could not sneak fingers around an unwatched tortilla.  His stomach ached.

Begging for food would not work, dressed as he was in all his goblin finery.  He traded his white school shirt for a stained t-shirt to a kid whose goblin sickness had wrapped his fingers in fine scales.  Another kid, huffing into a bag of ground pixie, traded Juan Caceres his old shorts for the school slacks.  Only the kid’s fingers had gone green.  There was still time for him.

“Get yourself some more ground pixie, brother,” Juan Caceres said.

The fingers of Juan Caceres the trickster were smooth and brown.  Goblin sickness might chase him, and thick-skinned police and fork-tongued social workers might roam the streets like predators, sweeping up unwary kids, but Juan Caceres was too clever.


Rated R: Contains Pixie Dust and F-bombs

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
« Last Edit: September 25, 2013, 10:34:36 AM by Talia » Logged
Procyon
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« Reply #1 on: September 10, 2013, 09:53:02 AM »

Loved this one.  Loved the intro, the narration, the plucky main character, the idea of pixie-dust-addled, part-goblin ragamuffins hanging around Pizza Hut, the vile troll/cobbler, everything.  Am I just a sucker for reimagined fairy tales?  Who knows, but this one was delightful.  Makes me wonder what sort of adventures Juan got into escaping from that detention center!
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chemistryguy
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« Reply #2 on: September 10, 2013, 10:06:45 AM »

I gotta say, this one confused me.  I understand that it's essentially a fairy tale, but details really bothered me.

First off, what's up with pixies?  You can used them for shoe repair, or just snort them for a short-lived magical high?  I'll suspend disbelief (this is a fairy tale after all) and accept that grinding up a pixie turns them into a powder.  But instead of doing a few lines of pixie dust, you have to warm it up and snort the gooey result?  Pixie heroin?  Who's regulating this stuff and why aren't there more crystal pixie labs sprouting up all over the place?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought Juan was concerned with the dog because he couldn't use magic against it.  But then what does he do?  He rubs some pixie material on the dog's nose (probably cut with baby powder at that) and the dog Peter Pans itself into the night sky.  Just a side note, but I also doubt that the mutt was having enough Happy Thoughts to achieve flight.

There was a lot more that bothered me, but I've spouted enough criticism.  I've tried not to be a total ass and most likely failed, but this story just got under my skin and I couldn't stop listening.

</rant>

 
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DaveQat
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« Reply #3 on: September 10, 2013, 11:02:01 AM »

I'm the 2nd no vote on this one. Reaaaaaally hated a number of details. The protagonist was an obnoxious little shit who repeated himself far too often, a lot of the details didn't make sense, and I get that fairy tales are supposed to be dark and grim and nasty, but the repeated theme of child rape just REALLY rubbed me the wrong way.
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idiggory
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« Reply #4 on: September 10, 2013, 12:42:54 PM »

I can't say I enjoyed this one.  I couldn't connect to the story or the protagonist at all.  However, I am willing to accept that this could be due to a cultural disconnect.

But I have to be honest and say that part of me is actually a little insulted for this story.  A lot of the details were grotesque and depraved without any attempt made to excuse their presence in the form of higher value.  They were presented in the story purely for the shock value, and in a manner that really didn't do justice to the actual issues.

Considering this was clearly a story about refusing to give up childhood, even though the ages of the characters are not discussed, we're left with a story about a boy essentially being blackmailed by a pedophiliac rapist (who also sicked his dog on him) and then bartered manner of death with an enslaved person (as the pixie was clearly capable of higher order thought) to escape his own fate.

I can't comment on whether or not these are tropes typically found in Latin American literature, but I have to admit it I seriously hope so. I'm a relatively new listener to the pod cast, having only listened to about 36 episodes while commuting over the past month or so.  But I have to admit, I can't say I'm convinced I should continue.  The intro for the Grim Dark episode a while back specifically mentioned rape as a problem with that part of the genre.  That they'd then host an episode where the threat of rape is the most constant source of tension for a little boy is more than a little disconcerting.

But, to get back to the episode, even if the pedophiliac aspect wasn't present, I really couldn't connect to it at all anyway.  Juan was a distinctly unlikable character, and he certainly didn't have much in the way of character development.  I never felt like I was going deeper into who he was, and I never found myself wanting to see more of this world he lived in.

Definitely a strong miss for me.  I'm really happy this wasn't the first week I started listening, as there would have been no chance of me coming back.

I will note that I enjoyed the narrator, though I'm positive the tone of this story did not do his capabilities justice.
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Procyon
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« Reply #5 on: September 10, 2013, 01:52:31 PM »

Considering this was clearly a story about refusing to give up childhood, even though the ages of the characters are not discussed, we're left with a story about a boy essentially being blackmailed by a pedophiliac rapist (who also sicked his dog on him) and then bartered manner of death with an enslaved person (as the pixie was clearly capable of higher order thought) to escape his own fate.

It's true that all of this is in the story.  Given the harsh reaction that you and others have expressed, I feel no small need to defend my description of this story as "delightful."  In addition to the atrocities you mention, the kids in the story are basically addicted to drugs (magical drugs, but drugs nonetheless) and thieves.  Yet when I was listening to it, I didn't feel revulsion or horror.  I was rooting for the picaresque, trickster hero.  I think the reason is the story's tone.  On the surface level, it is told as a fairy tale, where violence and the threat of violence happens to children and magical creatures with alarming regularity.  The Zapetero is essentially the wicked witch: a half-blind, cackling buffoon who stumbles through Juan's tricks.  I don't know about you, but at no point was I scared of him or afraid for Juan's fate.  The trickster had him well in hand -- I even imagined he'd gone through an ordeal similar to this one before.  Juan's associates, the other kids, are like the Lost Boys: scallywags that mean no real harm and afraid of growing up.

Consider Juan's reaction to hearing the Zapetero's price for the pixie dust.  He's completely unfazed, and immediately flips it around to his own advantage.  As you say, he's being blackmailed with the threat of rape!  Yet the story doesn't dwell on it, offers no details, just leaves it hanging in the distance as the shadow of a threat.  Narratively, the Zapetero might as well have said he'd take "five of your toes" or "half your soul" or "your pretty little eyes."  It's the "or else" if Juan fails, which we know he won't.

Compare this to the treatment of grinding down the pixies.  Now, this did kind of give me the creeps.  The author gives loads of details: the kind of tools used, the sounds of bones turning to dust, the cries of the pixies.  But I don't think it's there just for shock value.  Juan, who's used pixie duet all his life, is finally seeing how it's made.  And it horrifies him, too.  He feels regret for all he's huffed. Not enough to change his mind about his mission, or to make him think of a way to trick the Zapetero without grinding any pixies himself -- which I do think would have made for a better ending -- but enough to show he's not a totally uncaring monster.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that in stories about kids, especially old Brothers Grimm type ones, there's a lot of stuff that seems really bad if you just list it all out, but is ameliorated in the telling by the tone.  Each person has their own threshold over which it's too much to enjoy, I'm sure.  But for me, this story was on the safe side of the line.
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idiggory
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« Reply #6 on: September 10, 2013, 03:03:49 PM »

I'm not sure I can agree that it wasn't over the line, but I'm certainly willing to agree that perception of the events would change radically depending on how much you were brought into the story.

I suppose the best way I can phrase it is to point out another growing-up story where it was included, which is Sundae's story.  There, the rapist was depicted in a way similarly disassociated from the horror of the crime, but the horror of the crime remained intact in the prose.  I suppose the best way I can express it is that no other crime could have taken its place in Sundae's story, but I feel like any number of lesser evils could have been used in this piece of fiction to equal effect.  To me, it's like the story was originally written with Juan doing labor in the shop for two weeks, and then in the editing phase that was changed to sharing Zapetero's bed.  It was jarring to me.

But I'm also willing to concede that perception would likely change radically depending how much a story sucks you in.  I can't say this episode really did that much for me; I was always a spectator, and never along for the ride in Juan's quest.

In this case specifically, I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt that the evil would take on a new light if you were really connecting to the prose.

I'm also willing to accept that no story is going to appeal or suck in everyone.  I certainly hope that the experience of this one is different for those that get absorbed by it, and I certainly hope that's most of the listeners.

But thank you very much for the response.  And I certainly appreciate your argument, even if I don't come to the same conclusion (subjective matters being what they are, and all).
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DaveQat
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« Reply #7 on: September 10, 2013, 04:06:19 PM »

I was rooting for the picaresque, trickster hero.  

That's a real YMMV point there... You heard picaresque and trickster, I heard immature asshole avoiding things like... education.  Wink
« Last Edit: September 10, 2013, 04:08:17 PM by DaveQat » Logged
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« Reply #8 on: September 10, 2013, 04:11:10 PM »

I'm a relatively new listener to the pod cast, having only listened to about 36 episodes while commuting over the past month or so.  But I have to admit, I can't say I'm convinced I should continue.

As someone who's listened to Podcastle since #1... Please, do stay around. There's some amazing stuff around. Go back and listen to a story that, if I recall correctly, was pretty much universally acclaimed, like http://podcastle.org/2009/01/08/pc038-in-the-house-of-the-seven-librarians/, which will just about charm your socks off. I think that was the first "driveway moment" Podcastle for me, but I've treasured that story ever since.
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danooli
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« Reply #9 on: September 10, 2013, 04:16:51 PM »

I just want to say that the discussion so far in this thread has been extremely thought-provoking, intelligent, and so polite despite the difference in opinion.  I love it so much, my heart has grown three sizes.

So, yeah...the story.  I lean more towards the Procyon side than the idiggory side of the spectrum.  I thought of it as a sort of ridiculous fairy tale, and I don't mean that in any negative or derogatory way.  I mean, Juan Caceres as a character is just so...colorful? Vibrant? Larger-than-life? I think ridiculous may be the word.  He's great! I think that there is enough silliness and enough lightness in this story (I mean really...snorting ogre toes?) that the dark aspects (including but not limited to the child-rape threat and the obscene Pixie grinding) didn't affect me as much as a story like Sundae did.  Sundae was an emotional journey that this story just wasn't, but they're not trying to be the same, even if they are both growing up stories.  (And, speaking of Sundae...Matt F'n Wallace retweeted one of my tweets today! Squee!)

Anyway, I enjoyed this story, but not as much as this discussion so far.  Please, carry on.
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Procyon
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« Reply #10 on: September 10, 2013, 05:37:14 PM »

I suppose the best way I can express it is that no other crime could have taken its place in Sundae's story, but I feel like any number of lesser evils could have been used in this piece of fiction to equal effect.  To me, it's like the story was originally written with Juan doing labor in the shop for two weeks, and then in the editing phase that was changed to sharing Zapetero's bed.  It was jarring to me.

This I totally agree with.  Its narrative impact was essentially nil and the reader is left to see it in the light of whatever emotional context happens to be floating around at the time.  What was jarring for you was for me equal parts "wow!" and "whoa, harsh."  Which may indicate that I've been desensitized to this sort of thing (not something I'd be proud of) but has at least some origin in my connection to the story and its tone. 

But Zapetero's price/punishment really could have been anything.  And as you say, rape and its treatment can be a really thorny area in this genre (and fiction in general).  And by basically ignoring the implications of having rape in his story, its inclusion does seem very clumsy.  Any number of other things in the author's Bag of Darkness would've probably raised the overall grimness quotient of the tale as desired, but also maybe turned fewer people away.  Maybe not enough people, given the other complaints brought up in this discussion, but that's the breaks.

Thanks for your response as well.  It's really interesting to read and talk about everyone's response to the story.  And while each of our immediate, visceral reactions to the piece won't change, seeing it from different angles definitely deepens my understanding.
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idiggory
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« Reply #11 on: September 10, 2013, 05:40:49 PM »

Quote
Thanks for your response as well.  It's really interesting to read and talk about everyone's response to the story.  And while each of our immediate, visceral reactions to the piece won't change, seeing it from different angles definitely deepens my understanding.

And the very same to you.
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Shawn
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« Reply #12 on: September 10, 2013, 07:23:10 PM »

I hesitate to comment here because what I have to say is self-referential, I am not trying to tell anyone how they should feel just offering my experience, plus I want to keep it simple:
I recognize that this is fantasy but based close enough to a reality for that reality to be pertinent - I'm not sure what this story is trying to say about the lives of street kids but for me it wasn't at all what I experienced. I worked for 2+ years at a rescue center for street boys in east Africa. Some of the details definitely draw from street life - the details about huffing and how it relates to shoes (and cobblers) is close to the truth - they mix shoe glue (like rubber cement/modeling glue) with gasoline and breathe that directly from a bottle or soaked rag. It numbs and stupefies them, takes the edge off the fear and hunger and discomfort. the life is incredibly harsh and yet desperately monotonous - there is rage and rape and disease and insanity - children as sexual slaves to other children and children sleeping in piles like puppies huddled together for warmth in filth and... i do not want to keep going - but I cannot enjoy anything that even hints at romanticizing the lives of these kids - there is no truth in it.

Wow, sorry to be such a downer - this story was a downer for me plus made me feel angry and protective for the boys, some of whom are men now with their own children, some of whom are dead. I still know these young men - all of them would have chosen scales and a chance to kick around a soccer ball any day. But the life and habits are also remarkably addicting - and i did feel that this story got some of that across - its a story worth telling and this is a fantasy take on it - I'm not back tracking but do want to be fair and balanced.
Maybe its not as harsh in the area where this author worked - I don't know. Once I was looking at a magazine with some of the boys, it had pictures of street kids from Brazil in it and the boys started laughing, when I asked why one said "wah! I can beat this boy and take his shoes." And yes it was true, the kids in the pictures had shoes, but still I don't think they would choose that life. It isn't never-never land - though the chance of them never growing up is pretty high.
Sorry about the novel, I guess I got a little worked up.
« Last Edit: September 10, 2013, 07:26:52 PM by Shawn » Logged
InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #13 on: September 10, 2013, 10:42:49 PM »

While I appreciated the fable-like quality of this story, there was one little thing that drove me barking nuts.

It was the constant repetition of the phrase "I am Juan Caceres, the boy who snorted ogre toe!" This happened so often as to seriously irritate me. As though *I* had snorted the ogre toe.

And we all know the rating should have been for mangled pixies.

I think any drug use didn't both me as I'd just finished the last two seasons of The Wire.
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chemistryguy
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« Reply #14 on: September 11, 2013, 05:45:26 AM »

Quote
Thanks for your response as well.  It's really interesting to read and talk about everyone's response to the story.  And while each of our immediate, visceral reactions to the piece won't change, seeing it from different angles definitely deepens my understanding.

And the very same to you.

Ditto Smiley

@Shawn

You've added a very interesting viewpoint to the discussion.  No need to apologize. 

Quote
While I appreciated the fable-like quality of this story, there was one little thing that drove me barking nuts.

It was the constant repetition of the phrase "I am Juan Caceres, the boy who snorted ogre toe!" This happened so often as to seriously irritate me. As though *I* had snorted the ogre toe.

It irritated me as well, but fit with the fairytale style.  Every time Juan makes his boast, it sounded similar to the gingerbread man taunting with his "run, run as fast as you can.  You can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man!" 

Of course the GB man got his comeuppance and I really couldn't figure out what happened at the end of this story.
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flintknapper
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« Reply #15 on: September 11, 2013, 01:56:03 PM »

Note to self: If I am ever lucky enough to have one of my New Mexico fiction tales read on podcast, I need to get Roberto Suarez to read it. That guy was great!

Great story to boot! Bizarre. Glad to see the pedophile got what was coming to him. I love the mixture of Hispanic Culture with traditional fairy tales. The drug references were just completely off the wall too!

However, I may be bias. I too snort ogre toe!
« Last Edit: September 13, 2013, 01:26:05 PM by flintknapper » Logged
Djinndustries
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« Reply #16 on: September 12, 2013, 04:22:28 AM »

Quote
While I appreciated the fable-like quality of this story, there was one little thing that drove me barking nuts.

It was the constant repetition of the phrase "I am Juan Caceres, the boy who snorted ogre toe!" This happened so often as to seriously irritate me. As though *I* had snorted the ogre toe.

It irritated me as well, but fit with the fairytale style.  Every time Juan makes his boast, it sounded similar to the gingerbread man taunting with his "run, run as fast as you can.  You can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man!" 

I can think of many stories where repetition adds weight, "I killed seven with one blow!", for example.

Or repetition in poetry/song:

I am a stag: of seven tines,
I am a flood: across a plain,
I am a wind: on a deep lake,
I am a tear: the Sun lets fall,
I am a hawk: above the cliff,
I am a thorn: beneath the nail,
I am a wonder: among flowers,
I am a wizard: who but I
Sets the cool head aflame with smoke?

 I got a kick out of it and the reader's roll of 'ogre toe' made it pretty fun for me. Bring on the ogre toe

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Salul
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« Reply #17 on: September 15, 2013, 01:00:38 PM »

<I can't comment on whether or not these are tropes typically found in Latin American literature>

I can.

They're not.

I also did not enjoy the story, largely for the same reasons that have already been mentioned - which have little to do with its cultural flavor. More generally, I admit that most of the stories that have been featured in PC and EP which offer a 'Hispanic' cultural twist to them either irritate me or turn me off.
This is probably because I am Latin American, hence I read a lot of original scifi/fantasy in Spanish, and I just don't identify it with the often clumsy (as in heavy-handed, in-your-face) expressions of Hispanic ethnicity/culture/heritage that some writers weave into stories like this one. Think of 4th or 5th generation Irish-descended Americans expressing themselves as more Irish than Irish (or Asians, or any other culture area for that matter) and you get the picture.

This is a pet peeve, a personal statement, not an expression of superior cultural wisdom, so I appreciate that there are people who may like the extra-spicy guacamole in their mix. Ultimately, the quality of the narrative is not dependent on its cultural flavor.

As an aside, it would be interesting if Escape Artists considered presenting a translation of an original Spanish-language fantasy story sometime.
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There be islands in the Central Sea, whose waters are bounded by no shore and where no ships come...

Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany
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« Reply #18 on: September 15, 2013, 02:05:08 PM »



As an aside, it would be interesting if Escape Artists considered presenting a translation of an original Spanish-language fantasy story sometime.

Actually...

 Smiley
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Salul
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« Reply #19 on: September 15, 2013, 04:45:16 PM »

...looking for the 'like' button...

Thanks, Dave. For some reason I never downloaded that one.
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There be islands in the Central Sea, whose waters are bounded by no shore and where no ships come...

Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany
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