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Author Topic: PC319: America Thief  (Read 2571 times)
Talia
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« on: July 11, 2014, 08:39:41 AM »

PodCastle 319: America Thief

by Alter S. Reiss

Read by John Michnya

Originally published in Strange Horizons. Read it here!

I looked around the table. Most of the people there weren’t paying much attention. Lansky looked a little embarrassed, and Siegel shook his head. “You want me to find out if Chaim Goldberg can turn lead into gold, or if he’s running some sort of scam,” I said.

“Of course he’s running a scam,” said Lansky. “I want to know how he’s doing it.”

“My friend Meyer is unfortunately narrow-minded,” said Rothstein. “I am willing to entertain the possibility that he’s getting his gold through means that are not generally considered possible. Which is why I have entrusted this task to your care.”

“So you want me to find out where Goldbug is getting his gold from,” I said. “And?”

“No and,” said Rothstein. “Just that. It’s a simple job, and I’ll give you a thousand dollars for doing it.”

“A thousand dollars is a lot of money, Benny,” said Legs, putting his oar in. “Live things up a little, show your girl a good time.”


Rated R. Contains Mobsters and Magic.

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
« Last Edit: July 30, 2014, 07:28:33 AM by Talia » Logged
wundercapo
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« Reply #1 on: July 11, 2014, 12:44:26 PM »

Been listening for a while, but this is my first time on the forums.
I really liked the story this week. Good mix of gangsters, Jewish and immigrant life in New York, and of course magic. I thought the main character, Benny, was really fleshed out in his interactions, and especially in relation to the Goldberg kid (as himself, younger) and the relationship with his father. Excellent stuff. Makes me want to hear more about Benny and how he came to learn magic.

Also wanted to applaud the narration on this one. Sometimes they make or break stories, and I thought this one was spot on.

Looking forward to getting on here more and relating my thoughts on other stories. Till next time! Keep those stories coming. Love listening to Podcastle on my daily walks.
« Last Edit: July 11, 2014, 12:52:59 PM by wundercapo » Logged
slic
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« Reply #2 on: July 13, 2014, 11:13:30 AM »

Great story and great reading, John Michnya did a wonderful job of making distinct voices without making being fake.
After hearing Rumor of Wings, I enjoyed it so much, I went looking for more stories by Mr. Reiss.  So I had already read this story, but that didn't diminish the shine.  This story is not fool's gold :-)

"Is good you have principles, the problem is that they're stupid principles." Such a great line!

Besides the interesting characterization, and the lovely twist, I really liked how the story treated magic.  I don't know if there are official literary terms, but I dislike magic that works like wish fulfilment.  There should be a cost, and in this case, that it is subtle and hard to pin down is a good reason why few people but the desperate would not use it.

By the way, if anyone else is looking for more stories by Alter Reiss, I found links here, http://www.writertopia.com/profiles/AlterSReiss and even newer stuff here, http://www.freesfonline.de/authors/Alter%20S._Reiss.html

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wundercapo
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« Reply #3 on: July 15, 2014, 02:53:44 PM »

Besides the interesting characterization, and the lovely twist, I really liked how the story treated magic.  I don't know if there are official literary terms, but I dislike magic that works like wish fulfilment.  There should be a cost, and in this case, that it is subtle and hard to pin down is a good reason why few people but the desperate would not use it.

Totally agree with your note about magic. I did kind of wish there were more examples of magic actually being used, or that the main character was forced to use some. But otherwise, conceptually, pretty cool.
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #4 on: July 16, 2014, 08:29:38 AM »

A miss for me.

I don't know.  I generally found the character to be annoying, a caricature of every hard-boiled detective voice. 

I would've liked to see him actually use some magic, or be put in a situation where there is no appropriate solution between the two paths given to him by the mobster and the policeman.  But in the end it turned out that telling the truth worked for both sides and kept to his desire to tell the truth.  There was potential for tension in throwing the kid under the bus but even  though he talked about that a bit, it didn't seem like he actually ever considered sacrificing himself to protect the kid so I didn't really feel a dilemma from him at any point in the story.
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benjaminjb
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« Reply #5 on: July 17, 2014, 12:01:16 PM »

MSG Golem and now this--two Jewy stories in a row for me to sink my teeth into! It's like Hanukkah, minus 6 nights. Those were the nights when I got socks anyway.

I generally enjoyed this story. It is light in the magic department and he does skate past the plot crisis/decision point between the gangsters pretty easily; but then the gangsters are only part of his problem. The bigger problem, to me, seems to be his uncomfortable immigrant/native position, that identity crisis that you find in something like Portnoy's Complaint or Call it Sleep.

Except here, the crisis isn't just Jewish/American, but magician/rabbi (two professions orbiting around books and figuring out rituals) and magician/gangster (two professions on the fringe of society in their own ways). The central magical metaphor of "balance" seems like a good fit here, since the solution he finds is balance: satisfy two competing gangsters, while also satisfying an ethical call from the community and/or a version of his past self he sees in Goldbug (depending on how you want to parse that).

(Also, I like the story because now I get to drop the fact that my great-grandfather's saloon is listed as a gangster hangout (one of many many) in Albert Fried's excellent The Rise and Fall of the Jewish Gangster in America.)

Added: All that positivity to the side, I wish the story had gotten a little more specific about the magic being used as well as the book that's passed to the dad. As a kid interested in the weird side of history, I tended to associate alchemy with Christian and Christological magic; imagine my surprise to discover later that there was a fair bit of Kabbalah in alchemy; and that while most alchemists weren't Jews, a lot of alchemists were interested in Eastern (Jewish/Arabic) sacred/magical writing. So what book was it? Just the Zohar or the Sefer Yetzirah or something else? (Maybe something non-Kabbalistic at all.)
« Last Edit: July 17, 2014, 12:11:45 PM by benjaminjb » Logged
InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #6 on: July 18, 2014, 10:54:52 AM »

I liked the hard-boiled pulp fiction feel of this. I do read and watch a lot in this genre, so I like the fact this did not descend into parody.

I'm not used to magic in this period. I'm interested to see from the author where this goes and how far.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #7 on: July 22, 2014, 04:39:34 PM »

This was a fun one, and props to the narrator for so successfully incorporating so many accents and voices!

Like benjaminjb, I enjoy exploring the intersection between Judaism and mysticism, and this story had enough of that flavor to appeal to me. I agree that putting Benny in a situation where he was forced to make the hard choice would have raised the stakes, but maybe even having to use the gun to threaten Goldbug was pushing his sensibilities enough for him.
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aliceofwands
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« Reply #8 on: August 21, 2014, 12:25:04 AM »

What a superlative reading of a very engrossing tale. I particularly enjoyed Rothstein's tactic of "saving" a person as a resource to use for a fake favor later. I don't think I've ever seen that tactic in literature before, and it was so cool to see something original despite my many years of avid reading.
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Fenrix
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« Reply #9 on: August 22, 2014, 04:31:49 PM »

This was great stuff. I would totally be excited to hear more about this world. Not only was it interesting, but the dualities and the balance are great. This is also a fantastic gritty example of Chaotic Good.

I'm not sure we need a new sub-genre for this kind of story. Pulpy noir with magic seems to comfortably fit in the Weird category for me. If anything it's noir urban fantasy. My biggest fear would be someone would try to stick a -punk suffix on the genre, and noir is not compatible with a punk definition.
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SpareInch
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« Reply #10 on: August 23, 2014, 12:25:30 PM »

I'm not sure we need a new sub-genre for this kind of story. Pulpy noir with magic seems to comfortably fit in the Weird category for me. If anything it's noir urban fantasy. My biggest fear would be someone would try to stick a -punk suffix on the genre, and noir is not compatible with a punk definition.

It does sometimes seem like everything has to be something-or-other-Punk.

Actually, I have a strange audiobook on my bookcase called Barry Trotter And The Shameless Parody, by Michael Gerber. (I think that's how you spell his name. Not always easy to check when you can't see.) At one point, that story mentions magical gangsters called The Magi-Mob, and that's always how I think of these sort of stories now.

Magi-Mobster stories. Wink
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