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Author Topic: Pseudopod 398: Prince Of Flowers  (Read 3756 times)
Bdoomed
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« on: August 12, 2014, 12:09:23 AM »

Pseudopod 398: Prince Of Flowers

by Elizabeth Hand.

“Prince of Flowers” was Hand’s first published story. It appeared in Twilight Zone Magazine in 1988, was subsequently reprinted in The Year’s Best Horror and has appeared in various anthologies since then, as well as in her story collection LAST SUMMER AT MARS HILL. “Much of the story is drawn from my own experiences working at the Smithsonian Institution in the 1970s-1980s. I was at the National Air & Space Museum, not the National History Museum, but spent as much time in the latter as I could. In those days, a Smithsonian ID badge allowed you to access all areas — not any more, alas.”

ELIZABETH HAND is the author of numerous award-winning novels and collections of short fiction, as well as a longtime reviewer and critic whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Salon, and many other publications.

Your reader – Christiana Ellis – is an award-winning writer and podcaster, currently living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her podcast novel, Nina Kimberly the Merciless was both an inaugural nominee for the 2006 Parsec Award for Best Speculative Fiction: Long Form, as well as a finalist for a 2006 Podcast Peer Award. Nina Kimberly the Merciless is available in print from Dragon Moon Press. Christiana is also the writer, producer and star of Space Casey seasons 1 and 2, an audio-drama miniseries which won the Gold Mark Time Award for Best Science Fiction Audio Production by the American Society for Science Fiction Audio and the 2008 Parsec Award for Best Science Fiction Audio Drama. In between major projects, Christiana is also the creator and talent of many other podcast productions including Talking About Survivor, Hey, Want to Watch a Movie? and Christiana’s Shallow Thoughts. Space Casey Season 2, available at spacecasey.com will have just completed by the time this posts.

As mentioned by Al, please consider throwing a few bucks to the Bobby Lombardi Fundraiser.



“As she opened the box, dried flowers, seeds, and wood shavings cascaded into her lap. She inhaled, closing her eyes, and imagined blue water and firelight, sweet-smelling seeds exploding in the embers. She sneezed and opened her eyes to a cloud of dust wafting from the crate like smoke. Very carefully she worked her fingers into the fragrant excelsior, kneading the petals gently until she grasped something brittle and solid. She drew this out in a flurry of dead flowers.

It was a puppet: not a toy, but a gorgeously costumed figure, spindly arms clattering with glass and bone circlets, batik robes heavy with embroidery and beadwork. Long whittled pegs formed its torso and arms and the rods that swiveled it back and forth, so that its robes rippled tremulously, like a swallowtail’s wings. Held at arm’s length it gazed scornfully down at Helen, its face glinting with gilt paint. Sinuous vines twisted around each jointed arm. Flowers glowed within the rich threads of its robe, orchids blossoming in the folds of indigo cloth.

Loveliest of all was its face, the curve of cheeks and chin so gracefully arched it might have been cast in gold rather than coaxed from wood. Helen brushed it with a finger: the glossy white paint gleamed as though still wet. She touched the carmine bow that formed its mouth, traced the jet-black lashes stippled across its brow, like a regiment of ants. The smooth wood felt warm to her touch as she stroked it with her fingertips. A courtesan might have perfected its sphinx’s smile; but in the tide of petals Helen discovered a slip of paper covered with spidery characters. Beneath the straggling script another hand had shaped clumsy block letters spelling out the name PRINCE OF FLOWERS.

Once, perhaps, an imperial concubine had entertained herself with its fey posturing, and so passed the wet silences of a long green season. For the rest of the afternoon it was Helen’s toy. She posed it and sent its robes dancing in the twilit room, the frail arms and tiny wrists twitching in a marionette’s waltz.”





Listen to this week's Pseudopod.
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adrianh
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« Reply #1 on: August 12, 2014, 03:03:43 AM »

A little bit too much cow bell for me — otherwise fun ;-)
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Dwango
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« Reply #2 on: August 13, 2014, 01:38:33 PM »

Thank you for the monster story!  It's nice to have a creepy doll and orangutan woman covered in baby monsters(?) in the story.  Horror that is fantastical is a relief from the real horrors of life.

On the outro, the descriptions of the Museums in England reminds me of the way the Smithsonian used to look.  I live near D.C., and so I see the museums rather regularly.  Once, they were definitely museumy, with artifacts displayed on walls in an array of showing off as much of the collection as possible.  The displays felt old, as if they had not been changed in decades, and they were arranged in a categorical display of long descriptions and items, all packed next to each other, with the occasional diorama of the stuffed animals or mannequins in some scene, showing them as they were.  It felt like being in someone's attic with some eccentric flares such as the whale hanging on the ceiling.

Over the last two decades, the museums have been updating their image, having discovered sponsorship.  The ocean hall has become a Discovery channel place where multimedia has taken over the displays.  There are still exhibits, such as the giant squid actually on display in a big tank (dead of course, great subject for a horror story as it looks awful) but they are fewer and more selected for attractiveness as opposed to educational value.  They updated the mammal section with a section on human evolution from apes, defending the theory well, but it relies on more imagery of the evolution and less on artifacts.  Movies can be found through out and the biggest attraction is the IMAX theater.  I prefer the Air and Space museum in Virginia where the displays take center stage.  I guess trying to get kids attention from games and entertainment have taken precedence.  They have shut down our dinosaur wing to update it, so I guess I should get ready for mechanical dinosaur rides.

Eeeesh, I sound like a cranky old man.  Get off my lawn!

edit:  MORE COWBELL!  ;-)
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M10Achilles
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« Reply #3 on: August 13, 2014, 03:16:40 PM »

I really liked this story.  There is a sub basement under the city hall where I work.  It is filled with rooms and rooms of odds and ends.  I once asked the older gentleman who takes care of the building if I could have a large damaged piece of plywood.  He was hesitant and made sure that we filed multiple papers before I took it. 

About a week later he told me, with tears in his eyes how the first week he worked there, decades ago, how they made him destroy 3 brand new kitchen stoves to prevent them from being stolen.  He suprises me how much stuff lies there becoming historic artifacts. 
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Rhonda
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« Reply #4 on: August 17, 2014, 10:48:53 AM »

I loved the use of imagery in this story. I could almost feel myself walking through the musty hallways, full of boxes and crates of treasures. I say almost because I was mowing my lawn in the oppressive heat while I listened.

I'm new here, so perhaps I'm asking a dumb question, but what do y'all mean by "cowbells?"
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adrianh
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« Reply #5 on: August 17, 2014, 11:22:10 AM »

Quote
I'm new here, so perhaps I'm asking a dumb question, but what do y'all mean by "cowbells?"

It was a poor attempt at humour on my part. I found the musical gong used in the story a more than a little distracting, making it hard to understand the reader at several points. To understand the cowbell reference you'd need to be aware of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/More_cowbell ;-)
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albionmoonlight
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« Reply #6 on: August 18, 2014, 01:39:22 PM »

This is a story that would have been harder to write in 2014.  The main characters would have had cell phones--making it harder for one of them to just fall away lost into her apartment.  And her first step upon finding the Prince of Flowers would have been to go to Wikipedia to see what he was Smiley  In that sense, it is kind of a cool snapshot of the time right before ubiquitous hand-held computers/communicators.  A time when the idea of getting lost in a musty museum basement somehow seemed more doable than it does today.

Oh, and a time when someone on a museum assistant's salary could afford to live in not-yet-gentrified Metro D.C.

Also, I liked the way that the main character was drawn.  She was very strange, but not cartoonishly so.  Realistically strange, the way that I think a lot of people are.

Finally, I found the bells more distracting than mood-enhancing.  That, of course, is a matter of pure personal taste.
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« Reply #7 on: August 19, 2014, 07:27:36 AM »

I thought this story was quite good.  Big sprawling museums are a great setting for horror stories--The Relic is still one of my favorites, even after the movie was horribly executed.

I thought the mood was pulled off nicely, all the more effective for the fact that marionettes and flowers aren't inherently scary things to me, but if you focus on certain aspects of them then you can really bring out the creepiness.

The moral of the story is: Don't steal from museums.  Not because of ethical reasons, nor legal reasons, but because the object you steal might have an ancient and powerful curse upon it that will doom you forever.  (cue The More You Know theme music)

To understand the cowbell reference you'd need to be aware of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/More_cowbell ;-)

I've got a fever, and the only cure is more cowbell!
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TimWB
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« Reply #8 on: August 19, 2014, 08:25:01 PM »

I remember reading this back in '88 and thinking it was great then!
The read was superb!
Thanks Pseudopod, Ms. Ellis, and Ms. Hand!
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TrishEM
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« Reply #9 on: October 02, 2014, 04:23:25 AM »

She was stealing from the museum before she ever found the Prince of Flowers, and then she very quickly became a vandal for its sake, so I was basically rooting for some horrible fate to befall her. I just felt sorry for the other guy who got caught up in it.
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Whaletale
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« Reply #10 on: October 09, 2014, 12:11:30 PM »

I really loved this story. Great horror tale and great narration! I'll even go so far as to say I actually loved the bells! I think they added another level of creepy and when I started to hear the music in the background it put me on edge and started to make me anxious  Grin

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Fenrix
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« Reply #11 on: October 15, 2014, 10:48:57 AM »

Great story and awesome monster(s)! But I have always had a soft place in my heart for the Puppetmaster movies. This may very well be better.


This is a story that would have been harder to write in 2014.  The main characters would have had cell phones--making it harder for one of them to just fall away lost into her apartment.  And her first step upon finding the Prince of Flowers would have been to go to Wikipedia to see what he was Smiley  In that sense, it is kind of a cool snapshot of the time right before ubiquitous hand-held computers/communicators.  A time when the idea of getting lost in a musty museum basement somehow seemed more doable than it does today.


In 2014, these two would definitely be the sort that would text each other rather than walk down the hall. All she has to do is ignore his texts/snapchats/facebook posts and it's still plausible. He was a little stalkery, as his reactions went a little off the deep end. Also, I'm not sure how much of the concern was for her and how much was for himself. There was definitely something of the vibe where he was making deposits in the friend jar so that he could withdraw a relationship later. I liked that this conflict was a lot more nuanced than in Hand's novella "Cleopatra Brimstone" while grabbing everything good from it (the awesome museum vibe). I loathed that one passionately, but this story redeems the author. I'll add her to my "to read" pile.

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velocity
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« Reply #12 on: December 23, 2014, 12:22:10 PM »

so the puppets feed on human flesh?  then they make more puppets?  why are there flowers everywhere again? 
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« Reply #13 on: January 05, 2015, 09:54:59 AM »

I put this as #5 on my Best of Pseudopod 2014 list posted this morning:
http://www.diabolicalplots.com/?p=12662
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