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Author Topic: PC332: Zeraquesh In Absentia  (Read 2616 times)


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on: October 09, 2014, 08:33:23 AM
PodCastle 332: Zeraquesh In Absentia

by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Read by Amal El-Mohtar

Originally published in The Dark, February 2014. Read it here.

In the city of Zeraquesh, each shadow is the shape of candlelight held still. A citizen leaving the comfort of roof and walls can expect to attract several hauntings at every corner turned. Such ghosts may be shed only under the light of anglerfish refracted through a prism. Most households keep at least one about.

The hunter has armed herself with a calligraphic blade refined in the stomachs of freedom fighters and a gun whose bullets invert probability. It is the second upon which she most depends, though it fires only under very particular conditions, in a unique location: but that is all right, for her purpose is singular. Neither is it a weapon of blunt force, for manipulating potential is a subtle art. Everything has to align just right. The chamber contains two bullets, no more.

For the moment she uses the blade, which spills couplets and proverbs so ancient they will cut through any armor and slice apart iron as easily as paper. That is how she makes an entrance for herself through the ziggurat walls, in negation of propriety, law, and good sense.

But she is used to having her way. The percussion of her footfalls lends surety to her path and the firebrand of her blade keeps the hauntings at bay. She climbs spirals, steps across roofs on which stone phoenixes and kirin nest, pushes through windowpanes in which faces not her own are reflected.

Rated R.

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!


  • Hipparch
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Reply #1 on: October 09, 2014, 01:35:34 PM
If anyone is curious (I was), this is the TedGlobal talk that MK Hobson spoke about: The Surprising Math of Cities and Corporations.

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Reply #2 on: October 09, 2014, 04:10:48 PM
Thank you, Kaa ... I was just swinging by to paste that link myself! Interesting stuff, huh?

Check it out, I've even got a signature now!


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Reply #3 on: October 09, 2014, 06:58:13 PM
Thank you, Kaa ... I was just swinging by to paste that link myself! Interesting stuff, huh?

I wish I knew. Alas, I've heard the first three minutes of it about 4 times, because I keep being interrupted by job duties. Le sigh. Maybe AFTER work. :)

I invent imaginary people and make them have conversations in my head. I also write.

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Reply #4 on: October 09, 2014, 08:17:46 PM
I couldn't keep track of who was speaking and therefore got no sense of the characters and who was doing what. A miss for me. Maybe if I read it instead of listening, it would be clearer.


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Reply #5 on: October 11, 2014, 06:09:45 PM
I loved every theme in the story. I loved every word of the story.

But, on the other hand, the story never really resolved into sense for me. I think there was a fundamental lack of clarity, which is endemic in speculative fiction that tries to create a lyrical feel.

But it was a beautiful, weird story, and I enjoyed it anyway.

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Reply #6 on: October 19, 2014, 12:16:09 AM
I felt interested in how Zeraquesh had managed to arrange to rescue herself (?), grow herself (?) into the transition the story describes. This story seemed like the last half of that larger tale. I also ended up being puzzled as to what the transition actually was. Metaphor and reality seem pretty tightly intertwined in this world, which was a really neat thing about the story, but made it a bit hard on audio to follow the train of events.


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Reply #7 on: October 20, 2014, 01:44:07 PM
Count me among those who liked the lyrical feel of the story, but who had some trouble following it on audio.  I know that I missed a lot of what made this story beautiful.

It actually shows me one of the issues that an audio fiction publication must have.  When you are producing written fiction, you can assume that your readers all come to the text at roughly the same level.  Sure, some may be sitting on a subway train, and some may be sitting in their study, but physically reading text requires a base level of concentration and dedication of senses that you can assume your reader is bringing to the text.

For a podcast, though, you are catching people at all different points on the attention/distraction continuum.  Some listen at home in peace with full attention.  Some, like me, listen while commuting.  Some listen while cooking dinner and keeping the toddler from attacking the dog.

As a commuter, I tend to prefer plot-driven stories that will help keep my attention even as I keep some decent part of my brain dedicated to not rear-ending school buses and the like.

But Escape Artists would be poorer if it only catered to folks like me.  Some of the best speculative writing is lyrical, and complex, and not plot-driven.  And it would be unfair to the writers, and to EA, and to the listeners who do listen in a 100%-attention kind of way to only provide plot-driven stories.

It must be a hard balance, and I think that EA strikes it pretty well across the three casts.  Even though that means that I know that I will sometimes hear a story that I end up missing out on the best parts of because of my choice as to how I listen.

(Finally, upon re-reading that, it looks like I am calling this story plotless.  I am not.  I am just using "plot-driven" as a shorthand to distinguish those stories where I think that the best parts of it are parts that reward a level of attention that I am just not able to give.)


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Reply #8 on: October 21, 2014, 02:23:37 PM
I generally liked what I heard, but the more lyrical end of the spectrum tends to lull me into a stupor where I pick only bits and pieces of the actual plot.  So... I am not really sure if I like the story or not, as a result.  The gun and the blade were interesting ideas at least--that's probably one of the purer interpretations of Chekov's gun that I've seen--it will be fired at an important moment, but it's useless for most anything else.


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Reply #9 on: October 23, 2014, 12:26:13 AM
This is one of those stories that feels more like a lyrical poem than a traditional story. It hit me at the right time and I really liked it. :) I feel like we were told just enough about the detective, and of course it was extremely satisfying for the Chekov's gun to go off right at the end. Nicely done :)