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Author Topic: PC305: Heartless  (Read 5263 times)
Talia
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« on: April 04, 2014, 07:44:46 AM »

PodCastle 305: Heartless

by Peadar Ó Guilín

Read by Veronica Giguere (Check out her audiobooks and ACX profile, if you want to hire her for voice work!)

Originally published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Read it here!

“No one asks for death.” This was the proud boast of the city of Kalegwyn. “No one ever asks for it.” Until Malern did. A bad move for her, as it turned out. She awoke on Castellan Garvinger’s operating table with his favourite surgeon elbow-deep in her chest.

“This is going to hurt,” said Garvinger from somewhere in the background. “Scream all you want.”

And she did. She couldn’t help herself, although she knew her cries were being conveyed magically to the people in the plaza beyond.

She screamed until something seemed to snap in her throat, and after that the best she could manage was a wheezing, bubbling sound that carried no hint of her former insolence.

The surgeon kept working, ripping and tearing. He made sure she could see everything. They had pointed a mirror at her chest and had pinned her eyes open.

Swinging from the roof hung a cage with Garvinger’s window witch inside. The creature babbled spells to keep Malern alive and conscious throughout the whole operation. Malern could not see its mad, warty little face, but now and again, cool drops of its sweat fell onto her fevered skin.

“Remember,” Garvinger told her, “you don’t have to die. You can be a witch instead.”


Rated R. Contains Graphic Violence, including Gore.

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
« Last Edit: April 25, 2014, 07:34:48 AM by Talia » Logged
Wilson Fowlie
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« Reply #1 on: April 04, 2014, 06:03:48 PM »

Sorry to Dave and Anna, but based on that excerpt, this is going to be the first ever episode of PodCastle that I won't be listening to. That scene is the sort of thing that I try to avoid by not listening to PseudoPod (and for me, worse than any of the - admittedly few - episodes that I narrated for them).

I know I could have kept this to myself, but I think this kind of feedback is valuable to the editors. And I believe I was civil about it. Smiley
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DKT
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« Reply #2 on: April 04, 2014, 07:16:14 PM »

YOU JERK!!!!

Nah, no need to apologize. That's why we do the ratings and that's why I posted that particular excerpt. I didn't want anyone to be surprised/shocked.

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lisavilisa
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« Reply #3 on: April 05, 2014, 06:31:51 AM »

Can you link to the podcast serial named "Broken" mentioned in the comments?

thanks.
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littlepossum
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« Reply #4 on: April 06, 2014, 03:45:21 AM »

Certainly hits uncomfortably close to home. Just replace 'magic carpet' and 'enchanted jeweled hair' with an iphone and $5 t-shirt. Sad
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bounceswoosh
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« Reply #5 on: April 06, 2014, 10:55:56 AM »

I loved this story. Especially the ending. That is all.
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DerangedMind
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« Reply #6 on: April 06, 2014, 01:53:21 PM »

Wow.  Just Wow.

This story did so much more for me than 'The Sunshine Baron' did.  I loved it.  Yes, it was dark, but it showed how (accurately I believe) the society turned in on itself, concerned only with the elite's pleasure, and cannibalized itself.  I felt that the world was well thought out and internally consistent. 

This one will be in my short list for my 'Best of 2014' list.
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Iamthelaw1979
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« Reply #7 on: April 07, 2014, 08:45:09 AM »

This was a truly fantastic story. I loved "The Sunshine Baron" because of its exploration of selfishness and self-interest, and this story took that theme and applied it to an entire town. I especially enjoyed the subtext of most powerful magic users, who were so eager to see the main character fail so that their own selfishness could find justification. The social critique was skillfully underplayed, so we weren't bludgeoned with it, but the image of powerful industrialists devouring their own progeny in order to maintain the hierarchy, the status quo, and above all, their own personal status, was staggering enough to make me enter this forum for the first time. I was reminded of the famous Goya painting of Saturn devouring his children; I suggest others look at it online, if you aren't familiar. The look on Saturn's face in that painting is the emotion I felt emanating from the most powerful denizens in this story. Truly chilling, and truly fantastic. Bravo.

I do hope, however, that we will receive some lighter fare next time.
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chemistryguy
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« Reply #8 on: April 08, 2014, 07:28:31 AM »

Truly the darker side of humanity.  You want to convince yourself that this is fantasy and people wouldn't actually be this way in real life.  We're better than those guys :p
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« Reply #9 on: April 08, 2014, 08:53:32 AM »

I greatly enjoyed the message of this story, although I felt that the telling got a bit muddled in the middle with Malern and Alyssa discussing it three times -- I kind of knew where that would end. Also, while I knew that Malern would somehow trick Garvinger, I was not expecting the spell that she had him cast.

One wonders if Alyssa will someday raise an army and return to the city to wreak revenge.
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kibitzer
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« Reply #10 on: April 08, 2014, 05:20:29 PM »

One wonders if Alyssa will someday raise an army and return to the city to wreak revenge.

Once she learns to harness the power of the two suns, she'll come back and burn the place to the ground.
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Fennel
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« Reply #11 on: April 08, 2014, 06:11:10 PM »

I was afraid to listen to this story at first because of the graphic nature of the excerpt, but, as the excerpt was the most graphic part of the story, I enjoyed it far more than I expected. I thought that the story built a beautiful little microcosm, and the fact that it only focused on one small part of the world helped the more far-fetched aspects of the piece. A system that would have appeared as hopelessly complex and self-defeating if applied to an entire world made a lot more sense when applied to this small hermit-kingdom. I also enjoyed that the story was an interesting combination of the celebration of the familial bond and an exploration of how those closest to us are sometimes our worst enemies. I wanted to slap Alyssa, but I understood the protagonist's love for her all the same.

My least favorite aspect of the story was the tone of the reading, unfortunately. Ms. Giguere's voice is beautiful, and she is talented, but she read the story in a kind of breathless tone that overplayed the drama of the piece and made the story feel melodramatic. I know it might just be my preference, but I find that the more graphic/dramatic a work is, the more you have to approach it with a tone that lets the drama stand for itself.  I think I recognize her voice from other podcasts, and I remember enjoying those, so this is more of a personal preference than a critique of the artist's work in general.
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Moon_Goddess
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« Reply #12 on: April 11, 2014, 08:47:34 AM »

Wow... That was horrifying.   Not in the psuedopod way, in the OMG look at myself way.

That was so dark and so wonderful.   

I never blamed Alyssa, she was afraid for her sister, say no way out of the system and would rather her sister live a while as a witch than be killed. 

Unlike others I never saw the ending coming,

As for the idea of Alyssa returning for revenge, I hope not, the town will self destruct on it's own honestly.  There's no force on the outside that could pose even a credible threat to it, but it's own greed is eating it alive from the inside and a more and more rapid pace.   They've consumed the foreigners for their power, they've consumed the poor, they turn on their own children, sacrifice their future for present benefit, and more and more they turn on their peers.   It's unsustainable.     I'd love the super dark follow up, of the last 2 free people in that town, battling till one of them's witch dies...   And then the last free person.   Alone with their witch...
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Devoted135
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« Reply #13 on: April 13, 2014, 10:42:31 PM »

Wow. This is why I love fantasy so much - you can take a completely unique, de-contextualized scenario and use it to point your finger right at the center of the human condition. It's brilliant, and heart-breaking. Thank you for sharing this story, PodCastle.
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« Reply #14 on: April 14, 2014, 08:35:45 AM »

Loved it loved it loved it. 

As others have side, I like how a fantasy setting can be used to take a real life situation and make one think more deeply about it, while ALSO at the same time being an entertainment in its own right.  This is the kind of story I point to when someone says that SF/F are just adolescent escapism, or that literary is the only way to examine the human condition.  By allowing unrealistic things to happen in the body of the story, you can have greater metaphors to examine what is really happening in the world.  Good stuff.

I got the impression that when the town started, the witch thing was an honest survival tactic, something that would allow them to survive in terribly harsh conditions while escaping from something terrible happening in the world. But by the time the story starts it's well beyond survival tactic and into terrible indulgence.  "I'm hungry for steak, let's bleed my son dry a bit more." 

I complained about a story that ended in suicide elsewhere, this is one of those stories where a suicide at an ending is meaningful to me instead of just being trite and irritating.  By letting her heart go unpumped at the end, she has given her sister a chance to live free of this terrible microcosm.  She herself cannot escape without dying because of the nature of her condition.

Damned good stuff.
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Moon_Goddess
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« Reply #15 on: April 15, 2014, 10:34:07 AM »

One thing to add, This really made me think of Dark Sun, and that is a good thing.
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« Reply #16 on: April 15, 2014, 10:39:33 AM »

One thing to add, This really made me think of Dark Sun, and that is a good thing.

(link is broken)
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FireTurtle
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« Reply #17 on: April 18, 2014, 10:15:13 AM »

I've been a commenting slacker lately so now trying to catch up.

I had mixed feelings about this one. I had trouble believing any society would willingly spend their children as capital in order that they might ride unicorns around a square and do similarly frivolous things. I do understand that a society might inadvertently lose the ability to obtain the necessities of life, however. After all, how many people (not including the small minority starring in weird reality shows and the folks in The Walking Dead) in the developed worlds could really survive without a supermarket? All that to say,
I can see the parallel but I think it went a little overboard for my suspension of disbelief.

As far as the interpersonal pathos of the two sisters, I was much more on board with that. I enjoyed seeing how their different priorities and personalities clashed but then ultimately drew them together. Powerful stuff.

I would really like to hear how the people outside their little imploding magical world viewed their situation and how the remaining sister adapts to "real life".

Overall, enjoyable.
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TrishEM
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« Reply #18 on: April 21, 2014, 08:07:52 PM »

Quote
I had mixed feelings about this one. I had trouble believing any society would willingly spend their children as capital in order that they might ride unicorns around a square and do similarly frivolous things. ...
But if you're not riding unicorns when everyone else is, you're just a peasant, and in danger of becoming a slave/wizard yourself. If you're not part of the problem, then watch out, you're part of the solution!
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Varda
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« Reply #19 on: April 23, 2014, 06:18:59 PM »

Wow. Oh wow. This story was so deliciously dark and brutal. I looooooooved it. It was SUCH an excellent pick, and my hearty thanks to the editorial staff for running it.

This is one of those stories where I'd love to know what the author had in mind while he was writing it. It's the type of story that could mean a lot of different things, depending on what exactly the magic system was intended to symbolize. I bet you could use it as a Rorschach test for readers, and it would reveal a lot about what sorts of things each of us considered unjust or ugly about the world. I think it works well as a class-based metaphor (where those with the most wealth literally consume those at the bottom of the, well, literal food chain.) It also works as a metaphor intergenerational politics, and how it's possible for older generations in a family to make decisions that permanently ruin the futures of a family's younger members.

The resolution was outstanding. The handpump heart was horrific as it was, but I had forgotten by the end of the story that it, too, would fail when they crossed the line to the outside world.
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