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Author Topic: PC296: Ill Met in Ulthar (Featuring Marla Mason)  (Read 2426 times)
Talia
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« on: January 30, 2014, 10:06:00 PM »

PodCastle 296: Ill Met in Ulthar (Featuring Marla Mason)

by T.A. Pratt (Find out more about Marla Mason here!)

Read by M.K. Hobson

Originally published in Witches: Wicked, Wild, and Wonderful, edited by Paula Guran.

Dr. Husch slid the panel over the window shut as the beast continued battering against the door. “Don’t worry, it can’t get out. The interior of the room is lined with rubber, reinforced by magic. We used to keep a paranoid electrothaumaturge locked up there. There are no electrical outlets or light fixtures, either—when we found the creature in Barrow’s room, it had smashed the light bulbs, and was suckling at the outlets like a hamster at a water bottle.”

Marla took off the glasses and rubbed her eyes. “What is that thing?”

“Barrow calls it an arc-drake. The live in the haunted mountains called the Lightning Peaks, north of the Sea of Surcease, a vast lake of liquid suffering.”

“You sound like the trailer for a bad fantasy movie,” Marla said.

“Appropriate, as Barrow was a fantasy writer. Though he wasn’t a particularly bad one, especially by the standards of his time. He was a pulp writer, mostly, published alongside the likes of Clifford Simak, Doc Smith, Sprague de Camp, Marsham Craswell—did you ever read much science fiction and fantasy, Marla?”

“Not really. I was too busy smoking and having sex with boys. I was always more interested in this world than in imaginary ones.”

Husch sniffed. “As a sorcerer, you should be ashamed. Magic is the act of imposing your will on reality. But without imagination, what good is even the strongest will? So what if you can do anything, if you can’t think of anything interesting to do?”


Rated R. Contains, well, Marla Mason. Also violence and profanity.

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
« Last Edit: February 21, 2014, 07:32:22 AM by Talia » Logged
Just Jeff
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« Reply #1 on: January 31, 2014, 01:16:14 PM »

I'm not sure how much I'd like these stories if I were reading them, but with this narrator, yes. Oh, yes.
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Moritz
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« Reply #2 on: February 01, 2014, 01:24:22 PM »

I liked the general set up, but the kind of humor didn't quite work for me, a bit too meta in parts. Otherwise not bad.
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Varda
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« Reply #3 on: February 03, 2014, 09:16:23 AM »

You know, it took me a while to get into this one as I'm neither a Marla Mason nor Conan fan, but then I realized it was basically "Battle of the Author Surrogates", and suddenly I was REALLY into it! HA!! In this corner, we have Tim Pratt's Mary Sue with her uber-powers, trash-talking, and swirly cape! In the other corner, we've got Robert Howard's male power fantasy with his magic phallic weapons and mystical women wearing paste-on undies! Two go in, and only one leeeeeeaves! YEEEEEESSSS!

Yeah, I admit there was a lot of cackling on my part. I was rooting for Marla, and enjoyed her snark because Sword and Sorcery settings are so deliciously cheesy and ripe for the mocking.  Grin It also helps that I have this exact same fantasy just about every time I read a Conan-esque story (and yes, I know we're in for some Conan next week - I'm excited, if only because Graeme's readings consistently help me enjoy Conan far more so than when I read it.)

Also, congrats to Graeme on joining the Podcastle slush brigade! Cheesy
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danooli
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« Reply #4 on: February 04, 2014, 09:02:05 AM »

Congrats Graeme! When will you find time to sleep with all you do?? :-)

 Now to the story...I can just say I love Tim Pratt, I love M.K. Hobson and I love Marla Mason. This was bound to be a hit for me.
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« Reply #5 on: February 04, 2014, 10:02:59 AM »

I liked this one a lot better than the last MM story on PC. I did find Marla to be a bit overpowered in general, and she always has the perfect quip, but I got past that because she is an established character and I'm sure the first MM book covers this. (I haven't read it though.)

I really thought that Dr Hush would turn out to be evil -- and maybe she is. But I expected that she'd sent Marla in to win the key so she could have it and use it for the purpose of general unpleasantness, and she didn't. That felt like a place the story should have gone.

I caught a hint of Elric in this, with the spear that Barrow doesn't want to use because it causes great pain to him or something (I don't remember the one Elric story I read, but that was a part of it).

Overall enjoyable.
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« Reply #6 on: February 04, 2014, 12:08:32 PM »

I'm going to buck my own trend and say that I enjoyed it.  My grumpy-pants must be in the wash today.  And yes, I was one of the haters of the first Marla Mason story to run here.

This story showcased Marla's appeal much better, I thought, for one big reason:
1.  She actually participated in the outcome of the story.  In the other story, her minor character technomancer resolved the main conflict offscreen with no particular steering from Marla and she gets all the credit as the hero (ah the typical plight of the software engineer), and the only thing she really does is to frame the less dangerous but more annoying villain for being sexist.  In that story I felt like Marla was really only around to produce quips, but apart from that you could've replaced her with any leader competent enough to let her expert underlings do the real work and the story would've turned out the same.  
2.  All the clever quipping in the other story got on my nerves after a while.  This was exacerbated by her lack of actual effectiveness in that story, again, but might've been the case anyway.  Yes, I get it, she's clever.  Could she perhaps spend a little time doing something instead of spending all that time quipping?  Made me think of Tyler Durden:  "How's that working out for you?  Being clever."

So I was happy to see that the resolution depended on Marla in this story.  She took action, and the story's resolution depended upon the action that she took.  And while there was plenty of quipping, I wasn't bugged by it.  Perhaps because she was also kicking ass instead of just sitting on her administratively atrophied ass.  But probably also in large part because the REASON she is the best suited person for this job is because she is strong-willed enough to cut through the narrative trying to form around her and the quipping is all a part of that.  It was very clever to write the narration of the story as though Barrow were writing it as well, gave it a nice contrast between the purple over-the-top narration and Marla's straight talk.  

And bonus points for making a story in a series that actually justifies why the hero of the series is the best person to do the job.  It's her bloodymindedness that makes her capable of resisting the narrative the way no one else could.

I like how her straightforward honesty is what allows her to take the key as well and how the weakness in Barrow's own narrative dooms him to failure.  "Wait, what, I need a REASON to be on the quest???  It's a quest!  I quest because quest!  That should be enough for anyone!"  etc...  

I also thought it was hilarious that he went all Dark Lord when his quest was foiled because he was still trying to find a way to shape the narrative based on what had happened.  I'd be interested in reading a followup story if he managed to circumvent the obsidian door.


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Devoted135
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« Reply #7 on: February 12, 2014, 07:29:26 PM »

I really enjoyed this story as an over-the-top parody of sword and sorcery stories. Barrow and his imaginary world were hilariously purple and Marla was a great counterpoint to snarkily point out how ridiculous the whole premise was. As I mentioned in the last Marla Mason story, I'm not familiar with the series though I'm sure that I will check it out at some point. Marla seemed less ridiculous in this story than the last, possibly because her "task" was perfectly suited to her strengths and personality.
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Kaa
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« Reply #8 on: February 14, 2014, 02:56:46 PM »

I'm just going to go buy the first MM novel and read the damned thing. These dribs and drabs we're getting are giving me a delicious taste, but I long for a full meal. Smiley

Great story, for me, and I really like M K Hobson's voice, as well, so it all comes together nicely.

I'll probably hear M K Hobson reading it when I do get the book, however. This is not a bad thing.
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« Reply #9 on: February 14, 2014, 02:59:53 PM »

I'd suggest starting with Bone Shop, personally Smiley It was written later as a prequel, but it was ridiculous amounts of fun, and it felt very Pratt.
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« Reply #10 on: February 14, 2014, 03:10:25 PM »

I'd suggest starting with Bone Shop, personally Smiley It was written later as a prequel, but it was ridiculous amounts of fun, and it felt very Pratt.
I second this suggestion :-)
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« Reply #11 on: February 18, 2014, 02:08:20 PM »

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/timpratt/lady-of-misrule-a-marla-mason-novel
Kickstarter for the next Marla Mason novel just started today!
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ChairmanDances
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« Reply #12 on: February 18, 2014, 10:57:45 PM »

I've generally loved the Tim Pratt stories here and on Escape Pod (Cup and Table, We Go Back, Origin Story) but I haven't been able to get into the two Marla Mason stories.  One of the prior comments called this a "battle of the author surrogates" and I agree.  Marla seems just as much a trope (snarky, female with incredibly powerful but vaguely defined magic artifact that makes her unbeatable) - as her antagonist (brooding, male with powerful but bizarre magic weapon); just one for our times.

Aside from the characters, I found it hard to suspend disbelief when listening to the story.  My only exposure to MM has been the two stories on PodCastle, but would heroic fantasy be a popular genre in a world with magic? I'm assuming that the existence of magic is known to the general populace and this reminded me of Watchmen where superhero comics had been replaced with pirate comics.  It also seemed her victory was too much of a walkover.  Barrow has imagination (or at least knowledge of genre tropes) to keep up a narrative for years and enough power to bring what he imagines to life but is stymied by a wizard with some martial arts?   Maybe its meant to be a meta-comment on changes in Fantasy storytelling, but it didn't work for me.
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Sgarre1
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« Reply #13 on: February 19, 2014, 12:30:41 AM »

Quote
would heroic fantasy be a popular genre in a world with magic? I'm assuming that the existence of magic is known to the general populace and this reminded me of Watchmen where superhero comics had been replaced with pirate comics.


See also, Neil Gaiman's very funny "Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Nameless House of the Night of Dread Desire" which shows that the highest form of a fiction in a gothic-novel reality is kitchen sink realism...
« Last Edit: February 19, 2014, 08:50:29 AM by Sgarre1 » Logged
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« Reply #14 on: February 19, 2014, 10:00:53 AM »

Quote
would heroic fantasy be a popular genre in a world with magic? I'm assuming that the existence of magic is known to the general populace and this reminded me of Watchmen where superhero comics had been replaced with pirate comics.


See also, Neil Gaiman's very funny "Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Nameless House of the Night of Dread Desire" which shows that the highest form of a fiction in a gothic-novel reality is kitchen sink realism...

Also brings to mind "Biographical Notes To “A Discourse On The Nature Of Causality, With Air-Planes” By Benjamin Rosenbaum" by Benjamin Rosenbaum in which a writer name Benjamin Rosenbaum in an alternate steampunk-magic reality writes speculative fiction about impossible creations such as airplanes.
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« Reply #15 on: February 26, 2014, 02:40:26 PM »

This story was firmly in the category of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. This was good stuff. The combination of meta-narrative, purple prose, and modern style really nailed every note for me.

Picking out the nods were nice. Who were all the authors mentioned in the intro as well as the segment in the middle of the story? Lovecraft is an easy pick, considering the placement on the plains of Leng and the stories "Through the Gate of the Silver Key" and "The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath" and "Beyond the Wall of Sleep". Conan and Elric (Howard and Moorcock) are also quite evident.
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Myrealana
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« Reply #16 on: March 05, 2014, 12:57:07 PM »

Loved it!

Marla Mason is now my new favorite heroine.
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« Reply #17 on: March 21, 2014, 02:54:34 PM »

My only exposure to MM has been the two stories on PodCastle, but would heroic fantasy be a popular genre in a world with magic? I'm assuming that the existence of magic is known to the general populace and this reminded me of Watchmen where superhero comics had been replaced with pirate comics. 

Ah, no. And I see now that might not have been clear in the two stories - or at least not this story. But Marla's world is similar to Harry Potter's - magic exists, and is kept hidden from the Muggles.

(Sorry for coming to this late.)
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« Reply #18 on: April 28, 2014, 03:49:48 PM »

For some reason, I kept picturing Marla Mason in Barlow's world as Lina Inverse, another kick-ass, smart-mouth wizard. But that's okay, it made the story fun for me and gave me all the more reason to root for her.
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