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Author Topic: PC282: The Sunshine Baron  (Read 2428 times)
Talia
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« on: October 16, 2013, 08:18:07 AM »

PodCastle 282: The Sunshine Baron   

by Peadar Ó Guilín

Read by Rob Haines

Originally published in When the Villain Comes Home.

Ah, Borquil, lucky Borquil. Many the balconies of his gilded mansion: north over the spice market; east where he sipped tea at dawn; west for opium. And south? Great Borquil _never_ looked south.

The sun shone on the Northern capital as it did every day. Borquil had seen to that. Had grown rich on it: the famous Sunshine Baron! By night, a gentle rain would patter over the fields and fill a few cisterns before sliding gently seawards on the Farg River, sweet-natured these days, ‘though its name meant “angry” in the old tongue.

“I calmed it all down,” muttered Borquil. “Me. They should be more grateful.”

The northerners _had_ shown gratitude at first. The king loved him. Whole provinces voted him honours and over the years, as Borquil grew plump and the nightmares disturbed him less and less, aristocrats welcomed him into their homes. “A foreigner no longer!” they said amongst themselves. “He is truly one of our own!” Sure, they found it odd how he refused to travel more than a day south of the Farg river,
but they too were rich enough to have ghosts they’d rather avoid. As the saying went: “no man lies in his own poop.”

But now, how inconvenient for poor Borquil! Revolution had come to the Kingdom of the North. His aristocratic friends were losing their heads in the streets outside. And the mobs had come for his blood too. The double doors leading to his courtyard splintered and buckled under a battering ram. He had perhaps an hour to live.


Rated R: Contains violence, disturbing themes and situtations.

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
« Last Edit: November 10, 2013, 11:27:13 AM by Talia » Logged
Procyon
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« Reply #1 on: October 16, 2013, 08:10:19 PM »

Disturbing, beautiful, harrowing depiction of man's inhumanity to man.  Listening to this story made me so, so glad that in our own world is is not possible to sell one's talents, youth, or soul. 

Also loved the way the author built up to showing us "the wall" for the first time, and how the Sunshine Baron got his name.  The thread runs through the whole story: the excuses he'd make to avoid visiting the south, the pains he took to never even look in that direction.  And when we do finally see what he has avoided for so long, it is breathtaking, in magnitude of both the devil's bargain he has made, and the regret he feels and tries to suppress.  The Baron is a terrible human being, but damned if he isn't human.
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bizbrig
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« Reply #2 on: October 16, 2013, 11:19:09 PM »

Would you buy someone's talent?
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #3 on: October 18, 2013, 01:22:06 AM »

Wow, Borquil's a real asshole.

Borquil's a perfect example of how people justify their own evil actions. But Borquil is just such a sniveling, mendacious, jackass that he's impossible to be a 'sympathetic' villain (and I don't think that was ever the author's intent); he really does deserve to be (in the memorable phase of Douglas Adams) the first with his back against the wall when the revolution comes.

Listening to this story made me so, so glad that in our own world is is not possible to sell one's talents, youth, or soul. 

Yeah, we just steal their land, freedom, health, and, occasionally, their sexual dignity.

(was I the only one who got a bit of a Game of Thrones vibe off this? Was it just because of the Wall?)
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DKT
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« Reply #4 on: October 18, 2013, 09:11:59 AM »

Hmmmm. The more I think about it, yeah - it might be more than just The Wall (although I think that is always gonna trigger AGoT for me). But also the duplicity of all the characters feels very Games of Throne-ish.
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« Reply #5 on: October 18, 2013, 09:23:06 AM »

The concept is frighteningly good and  Ó Guilín did a fantastic job with it.  If intangible things such as these were commodities,  I'd imagine there'd be plenty of people taking advantage of it in our world.
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Moritz
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« Reply #6 on: October 20, 2013, 10:46:56 AM »

I really liked the story and the idea of getting other people's talents. Morally grey or evil characters with good motivations are also great. What I really didn't like was how general some term were. It might be OK to talk about The North and The South, because real life cultures also do that, but "The Capital"? (there were a couple of more cases like this but I can't remember)
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #7 on: October 20, 2013, 11:06:33 AM »

I really liked the story and the idea of getting other people's talents. Morally grey or evil characters with good motivations are also great. What I really didn't like was how general some term were. It might be OK to talk about The North and The South, because real life cultures also do that, but "The Capital"? (there were a couple of more cases like this but I can't remember)

In Chinese, Nanjing and Beijing mean Southern Capital and Northern Capital, respectively. Tokyo is "Eastern Capital" in Japanese.
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Moritz
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« Reply #8 on: October 20, 2013, 12:42:39 PM »

I really liked the story and the idea of getting other people's talents. Morally grey or evil characters with good motivations are also great. What I really didn't like was how general some term were. It might be OK to talk about The North and The South, because real life cultures also do that, but "The Capital"? (there were a couple of more cases like this but I can't remember)

In Chinese, Nanjing and Beijing mean Southern Capital and Northern Capital, respectively. Tokyo is "Eastern Capital" in Japanese.

Sure, it works in my native language as well, the boroughs of my hometown are called "north city", "south city", and "east city", for example, but it doesn't mean you can have no proper names whatsover, which this story kind of did, apart from peoples' names.
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Lmrb19
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« Reply #9 on: October 22, 2013, 08:52:39 AM »

It took me a bit to understand that "Talents" meant magic and the like. Once I did and understand what it was he actually did. Yeah, it was a villainous character that you enjoyed listening about. I wish I could know more about the back story. How they came to that point. It sounds lovely but would love to see how Borquil actually is or how he turns to the "darker side," per se.

Borquil is like a metaphor of  Malfoy's future from Harry Potter; doesn't that sound like his character and personality once he got older?
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Procyon
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« Reply #10 on: October 22, 2013, 03:36:45 PM »

Listening to this story made me so, so glad that in our own world is is not possible to sell one's talents, youth, or soul. 

Yeah, we just steal their land, freedom, health, and, occasionally, their sexual dignity.
I'm certainly not trying to minimize the amount that people's land, freedom, etc., are lost to greed and imperialism.  If anything, I think my point is that greed is insatiable: it take everything it can out to the very boundary of what can be taken from one human by another.  And I'm thankful that there are some things, perhaps even minor things, like the ability to sing, that lie beyond that boundary.  There are enough people in our world that lack freedom, health, dignity, and property who would also be deprived of talents and souls were it possible to barter with these things.  That's all, I hope I wasn't misunderstood.
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zoanon
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« Reply #11 on: October 22, 2013, 08:40:10 PM »

in regards to selling talents, youth, and the like, I really fail to see the difference from real life, at least in some cases.
I currently work a minimum wage job, roughly $10 an hour where I am. when I am bored I calculate how many hours of my life it is going to take to buy something, I just spent 4 hours of my life on Thai food for example. it is just the way the world works, many people have to give of themselves to get anything.
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« Reply #12 on: October 23, 2013, 08:40:53 AM »

Interesting world, interesting magic system.  I wonder who exactly Borquil had to make a bargain with to make the storms say south?  I thought the story built up to that reveal very well, with him never looking southward and etc.  I found it amusing that the narration would refer to him as if the narrative were sympathetic to him, such as referring to him as "poor Borquil" but the way it was done was so offhanded it sounded to me like it was mocking him, as if you swapped in "self-pitying" for "poor".  I liked that.

The dynamic between him and his slave really made this story.  She gave her soul to him out of love and he... took full advantage of that at every opportunity.  Ouch.  And then he bargains away her voice, which seemed to be the primary thing he really valued in her besides her endless servitude.  At least she got freed in the end.

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Varda
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« Reply #13 on: October 24, 2013, 03:02:40 PM »

Such a great story, and my how depressing. Normally when a story sets up such a hate-able character, you can kick back, relax, and look forward to his inevitable and satisfying downfall. But even though Borquil technically is caught in the end, I was just left feeling sad about the whole thing, rather than satisfied. I think it's because, as others have pointed out, that what Borquil does is very much like what happens every single day in the real world: people exploit each other, and justice can only go so far to repair the damage done to their victims.

Borquil's brought to justice, and his slave is freed from her vow, but at the end of the day she's voiceless and has wasted her entire life in service to him, and that can't be given back. Hurray that she doesn't have to serve him in the afterlife (and I wonder: is this just a superstition exploited to keep slaves from leaving the vicinity of their masters' voices?), but man, what a Pyrrhic victory.
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« Reply #14 on: October 24, 2013, 09:36:42 PM »

This was a good story. I sort of guessed where it was going when they mentioned he was king, but had to act quickly. I really only made the connect because I have been reading bunch of different stories lately that all talk about how the king is connected to the land. Still, the big reveal still took me by surprise. I was glad that in the end Borquil will be punished, but it really begs the question... how deep can that rabbit hole go?

For example, say the southerners wanted to torture him for a thousand years. From the way magic works, it seems like they could literally just have a few people sacrifice a year or two of their life to keep him alive. Imagine that scene in Braveheart where they are torturing Wallace... and before he can die, they heal him back up just enough to keep him alive. Reminds me of some of the old Greek myths.
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« Reply #15 on: October 26, 2013, 04:04:33 PM »

This is probably one of my favorite stories this year for PodCastle. The magic system was something I have never heard of, yet something that totally makes sense. The main character was an unforgivable bastard who got exactly what he deserved, but who still felt, if not sympathetic, at the very least real and ultimately human. Everyone's motivations in this story were full and believable, and I loved how no one was fully good or evil. Just fantastic stuff.

More often than not, when a short story ends, especially speculative fiction stories, I always wonder, okay, what next? Many leave me wanting more, be it in the form of another short or an actual novel. This is not one of those, and I think that is a HUGE strength and testament to author's writing. This was a complete story. I felt completely satisfied at the end, and that was a great feeling. Granted, due to the story itself, I also felt depressed, hopeless, yet oddly vindicated, but those are emotions that I enjoy a story pulling out from me.
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« Reply #16 on: October 28, 2013, 09:05:38 AM »

And regarding Dave's comments about likeable characters.  That is a criticism that gets thrown around a lot, but at least for me I don't necessary have to LIKE the protagonist, but for a story to stick with me I should have someone or something to root for, someone to care about (whether I care about them having happy times or care about them getting fed into a thresher).  The most straightforward way to do this is to have a likeable character, someone who I want to see succeed against the odds--but certainly not the only way.  I think that when criticisms are leveled against a story, I think some criticisms can sometimes get generalized into things that are said so often so as to lose much of their meaning--"unlikeable character" is one of these, I feel.
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« Reply #17 on: November 12, 2013, 03:33:40 AM »

I really enjoyed the concept for the story, but the ending kind of disappointed me.  I get that we couldn't end with the slave woman still trapped, but it felt like kind of a cop-out; at the last minute, we get a quick bit of "justice" and redemption, but neither one felt very true to me.  Assholes with power tend to win in real life.  The baron's sudden change of heart (after ruining her entire life and stealing her freaking voice) was kind of abrupt and just didn't feel believable; if anything, I'd expect him to keep her locked in just to spite her to the last. 

I was also a little unhappy with how on-the-nose the correlations were: blond and hyper-capitalist country to the north; dusky-skinned black-haired wet...heads climbing over a border wall from the south; resentment of the way the north's appetites fueled the disruption and political dissolution of the southern country.  I dunno.  It felt like the story was waggling its eyebrows at me and waiting for me to gasp in appreciation of the cleverness of it all.

On the other hand, the high concept merits a lot more exploration, in my opinion.  I could see a whole anthology of stories set in this world.  For instance, it mentions the Baron buying his skin tone from someone; what if he decided not to give that unfortunate person his old skin tone in return?  What color would the colorless skin end up being?  What if you deliberately sold all of your presence and charisma?  Would you end up a nearly invisible non-entity, able to just quietly walk in anywhere?  Useful for a spy agency.  Heck, maybe there's a whole bevy of non-persons who have given their visual presence to their spymaster as collateral and who have to serve him/her for a certain amount of time before they get it back... 
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« Reply #18 on: November 18, 2013, 08:34:24 PM »

Overall, I enjoyed this one for many of the reasons others have given. No one was 100% good or evil, and all just wanted to have a better life than they currently were living. Mostly, I really felt for the slave woman, especially once he took away the one thing she had left to take any pride in.


On the other hand, the high concept merits a lot more exploration, in my opinion.  I could see a whole anthology of stories set in this world.  For instance, it mentions the Baron buying his skin tone from someone; what if he decided not to give that unfortunate person his old skin tone in return?  What color would the colorless skin end up being?  What if you deliberately sold all of your presence and charisma?  Would you end up a nearly invisible non-entity, able to just quietly walk in anywhere?  Useful for a spy agency.  Heck, maybe there's a whole bevy of non-persons who have given their visual presence to their spymaster as collateral and who have to serve him/her for a certain amount of time before they get it back... 

Such interesting ideas here. Smiley
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