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Author Topic: PC302: Feed Me the Bones of Our Saints  (Read 3146 times)
Talia
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« on: March 14, 2014, 08:38:38 AM »

PodCastle 302: Feed Me the Bones of Our Saints

by Alex Dally MacFarlane

Read by Eleiece Kraweic (Check out her voice acting work in Star Trek: Outpost, Star Trek: Excelsior, and Misfits Audio Productions!)

Originally published in Strange Horizons. Read it here!

Jump up! Take arms! Bare teeth!

We fight for these sands.

Sink iron knives and white teeth into their scented flesh, their soft city flesh, those stealers of our homes. This is our city now, this desert with its winds that scour our cheeks, its dunes that join us in song, its rare springs that we lap at so gently. We once gulped rivers of rubies and pearls; now they do and we will never be able to claim them back. We will not let them take this final city of air and graveyards from us! Jump up!

We fight for these sands with everything we have and sometimes we forget the feel of a sister’s shoulder beneath our heads, we’ve been so long without sleep–but today will be remembered for more than this.

Today we retrieve the bodies of our Saints.


Rated R. Contains foxes and violence. Revolutions are rarely bloodless.

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
« Last Edit: April 04, 2014, 07:44:03 AM by Talia » Logged
Just Jeff
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« Reply #1 on: March 18, 2014, 03:36:23 PM »

I passed on this one. Given the style, I guessed I was listening to some sort of opening passage or prologue. I listened to several minutes, but the style didn't change. I decided it was not something I could handle for 50 minutes, and skipped to the outro.
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slic
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Stephen Lumini


« Reply #2 on: March 22, 2014, 10:07:42 AM »

I'm a bit surprised by the lack of comments.

I thought the story had some excellent ideas and explored an interesting point not often covered - the museum curator who wanted to preserve the "lost culture"  - Best intentions and paths to hell and all that.
I did have trouble following some of it, in part because the audio quality was not the best and I was driving, so sometimes I had to faze out from the story.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #3 on: March 22, 2014, 01:02:48 PM »

I'm also surprised!

I had a fairly difficult time finding my footing in this story, mostly because there were many unfamiliar names. I couldn't keep the pairs straight, much less which was woman and which was fox. I also had a hard time with the question of who was the narrator. How did she have knowledge of events that she wasn't present for? Especially since all present were dead before the end of the story? Made me wonder about who exactly was telling me this story.

However, I enjoyed the story as a method of asking the sorts of questions that slic alluded to: is it better to create museums to preserve knowledge of a past culture or to leave the culture's sacred places alone but risk forgetting all knowledge of it? Of course, this question becomes much more fraught (and maybe much more simple) when the "past" culture in question is still in existence.

When it comes to Native American cultural items, we seem to have split the difference: if it was in a museum long ago then we'll leave it there, but any new artifacts (particularly human remains) are returned with all due respect.
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TrishEM
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« Reply #4 on: March 24, 2014, 03:34:51 AM »

I found the story quite involving. I felt a little bad for the museum curator's son, less so for the people who took over the city and hardly even believed anymore in the "desert people" from whom they stole it.

I don't really get the rage of the woman at her partner being shot, after they went on a dangerous mission and started killing non-soldiers, after all, except by viewing that as the "trigger" that unleashed all her slow-building rage at her civilization's slow death and the disrespect for it.

It's interesting what sparks the schism between the desert people, those who view using the (sun stones?) as the ultimate sin and those who don't care and are willing to sacrifice themselves to take down the enemy (although just one city of the enemy, so presumably they're not really saving their people).
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Unblinking
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« Reply #5 on: March 24, 2014, 10:06:08 AM »

I felt like I should've liked the story more, but I always felt great distance from it at all times.  The numerous names were part of it--I had trouble keeping track of who was who, which was compounded even more since I didn't remember who were foxes and who were women which made it trouble to really make an image of the scene without having to re-revise it over and over. 

I didn't really understand the social dynamic between the foxes and women, which made me feel like I never understood the characters well enough to really relate--their enemies used the denigrating term "fox-fuckers" but it was never really clear how they DO work with each other--is there literal fox-fucking?  Or do they interact in some other way?  They mentioned reproduction being tied in some way to when the suns cross each other, but I didn't understand what that means for suns to cross each other.

I felt like I was still trying to grasp the basics of the situation and social dynamic by the end.  I appreciate when a story has worldbiulding that makes me feel like there's much more to the world offstage but I never felt like I grasped what was onstage well enough to immerse in it.
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slic
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Stephen Lumini


« Reply #6 on: March 24, 2014, 10:16:16 AM »

I felt like I should've liked the story more, but I always felt great distance from it at all times.
I know just what you mean.  I considered it more my problem, but you make good points about the names and the mental images. 

Quick sidebar - when reading I absolutely hate it when characters are given similar names (Sauron and Saruman for example) or really odd names - I can understand part of the why, but it drive me crazy. I find audio makes it worse.
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Moritz
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« Reply #7 on: March 24, 2014, 11:24:25 AM »

I completely agree with Unblinking's post, nothing else for me to add. This might work better in printed form.
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Procyon
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« Reply #8 on: March 24, 2014, 01:26:24 PM »

I feel like this story was a textbook example of an author assuming that because a character feels something strongly, the reader will also feel that thing strongly. Jiresh clearly believes that she and her people have been the victims of a great injustice, but I had a hard time mustering anywhere near the amount of emotional intensity she's constantly emitting. The result, and this probably sounds bad, was that she just seemed kind of mentally unstable.

We hear a lot of talk about how beautiful and meaningful her people's cities were: carved stories, rivers of rubies and pearls, fields of gold, powdered sapphires. But, honestly, this made me think more of residents of Palace of Versailles dreaming of their lost riches than the odium of a long-suffering conquered people on the verge of extinction. Jiresh is so dense with hate and bloodlust it almost becomes comical. She asks someone for directions and imagines torturing him. She threatens a sobbing woman and child. I could only really react with bewilderment -- what had happened to make this person behave this way? Because some guards were mean to her?

From the museum incident and on, the distance between me and the story grew and grew. I wanted to, and felt like the author wanted me to, feel some kind of righteous fury but there was no spark. I didn't even get an overall "war is hell" or "the vengeful are consumed by their revenge" feeling -- just nothing. I liked the worldbuilding, I liked the idea of a fox-woman culture, but the actual plot just made me scratch my head.
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Varda
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« Reply #9 on: March 24, 2014, 02:33:24 PM »

This story really worked for me, so much so that it became the first 2014 episode I immediately re-listened to as soon as it ended. I agree that the woman/fox pairings were hard to follow on the first listen. I feel like I got a lot more out of it the second time around when I had a mental road map of the plot and characters.

There was a lot to love thematically about the story. I think the rage of the fox-women comes not so much from a cultural distinction as a class one. It's clear from the first half of the story that these women are in dire poverty, so much so that Jiresh and Iskree see prison gruel as an absolute feast, and gorge themselves on it during their imprisonment. It may very well be true that at the height of their civilization, this culture was not necessarily better than the one that replaced it, but whatever the past was, the present reality is that these are an impoverished, reviled, persecuted minority, slowly dying out on the desert's edge. And to add insult to injury, the graves of people that died only 50 years ago are being plundered and put on display for their betters to gawk at. Even today, it's controversial to display ancient human remains in a museum, and 50 years is hardly what I'd call "ancient". I can't imagine how I'd feel if that were *my* great-grandmother, and someone with not just a familial but a religious connection, as sainthood implies.

I know that the argument could also be made that preserving the sarcophagus and mummies in the museum *was* reverent, or at least well-intentioned, but I have mixed feelings about this. A couple years ago, I was in Munich, Germany and ended up at this cathedral where you can pay a couple of Euros to go down into the crypt. This particular crypt housed pretty much the entire royal line of Bavaria, which I was really excited about, because it included "Mad King Ludwig II", the guy who built crazy fairytale castles all over Bavaria, and one of my favorite Crazy People Of History. So I'm standing next to his sarcophagus, and I convince someone to take a picture of me "hanging out with Ludwig", and suddenly I'm struck with the absurdity and indignity of the whole thing. This guy's reward for being an Important, Revered Person is that a couple hundred years later, an American tourist will show up to take a smiley picture with his graveside for her Facebook wall. If a crazy lady and her fox had shown up right at that moment to chow down on Ludwig, while I don't think I deserved to die, maybe I would deserve to get scared shitless by history suddenly coming to life and demanding a little respect.

Given that, I loved how nuanced and ambiguous the ending was. It's a Pyrrhic victory for the fox-women, really. I liked the literal parallel between all-consuming rage, and the consumption of the bodies that they had set out to revere and protect to begin with. I can't imagine anything less reverent than saint-cannibalism. There's something really sad about it, that their choice was either to have their culture turned into a commodity for consumption by the majority, or to consume it themselves, and take everyone and everything to the grave with them.

Also: Lashawn, loved your intro!! I hope all the house-shuffling with the in-laws goes well. Smiley
Also also: Dave--The Ides--hahah, I see what you did there! Wink
« Last Edit: March 24, 2014, 03:07:26 PM by Varda » Logged

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Devoted135
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« Reply #10 on: March 24, 2014, 04:47:51 PM »

Also: Lashawn, loved your intro!! I hope all the house-shuffling with the in-laws goes well. Smiley

Oh right! I meant to also say that I really enjoyed your intro!  Cheesy
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ChairmanDances
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« Reply #11 on: March 24, 2014, 10:05:40 PM »

I feel like this story was a textbook example of an author assuming that because a character feels something strongly, the reader will also feel that thing strongly. Jiresh clearly believes that she and her people have been the victims of a great injustice, but I had a hard time mustering anywhere near the amount of emotional intensity she's constantly emitting. The result, and this probably sounds bad, was that she just seemed kind of mentally unstable.

We hear a lot of talk about how beautiful and meaningful her people's cities were: carved stories, rivers of rubies and pearls, fields of gold, powdered sapphires. But, honestly, this made me think more of residents of Palace of Versailles dreaming of their lost riches than the odium of a long-suffering conquered people on the verge of extinction. Jiresh is so dense with hate and bloodlust it almost becomes comical. She asks someone for directions and imagines torturing him. She threatens a sobbing woman and child. I could only really react with bewilderment -- what had happened to make this person behave this way? Because some guards were mean to her?

From the museum incident and on, the distance between me and the story grew and grew. I wanted to, and felt like the author wanted me to, feel some kind of righteous fury but there was no spark. I didn't even get an overall "war is hell" or "the vengeful are consumed by their revenge" feeling -- just nothing.

I agree - by the end I found myself rooting against her.  Jiresh is wholly oblivious of the lesson of her own people's past - the story she tells about the power of the bones of their saints involves another "people" whom Jiresh's wiped out over a field of gold.  No name, just "the enemy'.  It's hard to be sympathetic to her fears of her people being forgotten when they wiped out another in order to make their city prettier.

There were also some elements of the story that didn't seem to make too much sense.

It was unclear what the connection was between Jiresh's people, the twin suns and the powers gained through the bones of their saints.  Did they worship the suns?  Was it involved with reproduction?  Why did the bones of the saints give them powers so much beyond those of the saints themselves?
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Unblinking
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« Reply #12 on: March 25, 2014, 08:32:16 AM »

I feel like this story was a textbook example of an author assuming that because a character feels something strongly, the reader will also feel that thing strongly.

Well put.

There's something really sad about it, that their choice was either to have their culture turned into a commodity for consumption by the majority, or to consume it themselves, and take everyone and everything to the grave with them.

But the idea of saint-cannibalism didn't come from this conflict.  That had existed before.

I can't imagine anything less reverent than saint-cannibalism."

What about communion? 

Personally, in a metaphorical sense at least, I can't imagine anything MORE reverent than saint-cannibalism.  You literally are what you eat, you are made up of those things you consume, what better way to revere than to make the holy a part of you?  I would think that would be even more so for this group of people that is half animal.  What better way to serve your descendents than to provide food for the hungry and power to the weak? 

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Myrealana
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« Reply #13 on: March 25, 2014, 10:17:08 AM »

I just couldn't get into this story. The action felt distant and I found myself drifting as I listened. At about 15:00, I decided I was never going to care enough to focus.

This was a total miss for me.
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Whaletale
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« Reply #14 on: April 03, 2014, 09:06:07 AM »

I really loved this story. At first I found it confusing and a bit strange, and couldn't quite get a hold of what was going on, but by time our protagonists had reached the sacred burial chambers I was hooked! I loved the world building and the way the relationships between the humans and foxes were portrayed.

I know some posters had mentioned that they had difficulties understanding who the narrator was in this story. Personally, I felt that the narrator was the "Story-stones" telling us the tale of another "saint", and what will happen if you allow yourself to be taken over by blind fury and revenge. 
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #15 on: April 05, 2014, 01:06:12 PM »

Finally trying to jump back in the forums. Have fallen behind in the listening over the holidays, and even farther behind in foruming.

I agree with the people who just couldn't process this or understand the narrator's emotions.

To me it read like a screed. Why am I caring about these more oppressed exiled fox-women? Are they being oppressed only to be oppressed and so they can go all scorched-Earth in the last act?

An interesting contrast would be a movie I saw last night, "Little Big Man". The innocent victims in that are drawn more clearly and sympathetically than the fox-women here.
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Conejo Gordo
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« Reply #16 on: April 11, 2014, 10:07:47 PM »

Well written, nice sounding prose....BUT.  I really want to be open minded about this story, so I'll pose my thoughts as a question.  Were we to understand that our protagonist's culture DID, in fact kill their male children, rape their surviving adult males, and practice bestiality?  The only thorough description of their practices came from the derisive voice of their enemy, so I never fully understood that. If that was the author's intent for our heroes' idea of a good and normal social structure worth fighting and dying for, were we supposed to agree or support them...cheer for them?  If so, go ahead and count me out. Or (honest question) was there some fundamental literary component that I missed (I hope so)?  I found myself rooting for the antagonist and glad that the womens' culture burned out.  If man-hating zoophiles are the good guys, its not a story for me.  Any insights?Huh?
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Unblinking
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« Reply #17 on: April 15, 2014, 08:45:46 AM »

Well written, nice sounding prose....BUT.  I really want to be open minded about this story, so I'll pose my thoughts as a question.  Were we to understand that our protagonist's culture DID, in fact kill their male children, rape their surviving adult males, and practice bestiality?  The only thorough description of their practices came from the derisive voice of their enemy, so I never fully understood that. If that was the author's intent for our heroes' idea of a good and normal social structure worth fighting and dying for, were we supposed to agree or support them...cheer for them?  If so, go ahead and count me out. Or (honest question) was there some fundamental literary component that I missed (I hope so)?  I found myself rooting for the antagonist and glad that the womens' culture burned out.  If man-hating zoophiles are the good guys, its not a story for me.  Any insights?Huh?

I was wondering about the mechanics too, but I missed anything about baby-killing and man-raping, I thought they were a race that was naturally composed only of women and foxes.
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redsunshine
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« Reply #18 on: April 25, 2014, 08:58:14 AM »

I know I'm late to this game (busy semester finally slowing down a bit). I really enjoyed this story. I would like more stories from this world. I think that I've always enjoyed stories about cultures that didn't make it, though. I like thinking about the things that are assumed and how those things could have been very different if a different group had won. I understand that Jaresh's actions weren't lofty, but I guess most of the actions I see on a daily basis aren't lofty. The characters felt very human to me. I can appreciate the desire to have the world end with a bang instead of a whimper.
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Scattercat
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« Reply #19 on: May 13, 2014, 03:06:31 AM »

This story was surpassingly excellent.  I actually enjoyed that I lost track sometimes of who was a fox and who wasn't; the fox-women didn't seem to make any real distinction, so why should I?

The ambiguity and the refusal to coddle or explain is exactly what I love in a (well-built and well-written) story.  This was challenging and fascinating, and thought-provoking on multiple levels.
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