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Author Topic: PC324: Without Faith, Without Law, Without Joy  (Read 3486 times)
Talia
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« on: August 14, 2014, 07:44:08 AM »

PodCastle 324: Without Faith, Without Law, Without Joy

by Saladin Ahmed

Read by Steve Anderson

Originally published in Rags & Bones, edited by Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt.

I do not know how he brought us to this land of blood and iron masks. I know only that I am a real
man trapped in a mad landscape of living lessons.

My brothers and I were spirited here from my home in…Damascus? Yes, praise be to God that I can remember that. The sound of the street-preachers, and the smells of the spice vendors’ stalls.
Damascus.

We were sipping tea in a room with green carpets, and I was laughing at a jest that…that someone was making. Who? The face, the voice, the name have been stolen from me. All I know is that my brothers and I suddenly found ourselves in this twisted place, each aware of the others’ fates, but unable to find one another. Unable to find any escape.

Now my eldest brother has been slain. And my next eldest brother has disappeared.

Who am I? I do not know how he changed our names. But in this world of lions and giants and the blinding shine of armor, I am called Joyless, as if it were a name.

It was not my name. It is not my name. But this is his place, and it follows his commands.


Rated R. Contains violence, including gore.

Editors’ Note: Saladin Ahmed’s house has flooded, and they’ve accrued thousands of dollars in damage. Click here to find out how you can help him and his family out.

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
« Last Edit: September 11, 2014, 11:16:07 AM by Talia » Logged
Varda
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« Reply #1 on: August 15, 2014, 10:38:09 PM »

This was one of the most beautiful and heart-wrenching stories I've heard or read anywhere in a LONG time. When I say it made me cry, I mean I teared up repeatedly throughout the whole thing. I was so wrapped up in the injustice done to the man called Joyless and his brothers, co-opted into someone else's story to be plot devices regardless of what they were actually like as people. And add to this the indignity of being stripped of your very name and forced to symbolize the very opposite of the virtues you have loved and treasured your whole life, just so the other guy can have his allegory line up neatly.

In the circles I run in, we often talk a lot about diversity and representation in literature, and why it's so, so important to include the full diversity of the human race in our stories. This story really nailed what's at stake in this conversation. People of color have historically been typecast as villains in much of Western literature, dating back to Spenser's "The Faerie Queene" and further back. It's even more well-documented in our movies, and how black actors are disproportionately cast as villains, while white actors dominate the hero roles. And then, over time, we start to associate "bad" with "people of color" and "good" with "white".

It reminds me of this very striking but simple photo experiment on Twitter, where black men shared pairs of photos of themselves, one that fit the "thuggish, dangerous" narrative they're often typecast in, and one that showed themselves as just a regular guy, living a normal and respectable life. Which photo is the real person? Is one more real than the other? If the media showed only one of those two photos, what would we assume we knew about the person? What story would we fit them into without having the other photo to tell a different story?

Saladin Ahmed's story reminded me of this problem. Is the protagonist the personification of Joylessness, as the Redcross Knight has decided he should be, or is he really a person whose life has always been defined by Joy, someone for whom Joy is actually his chief virtue? I guess it depends whose narrative you're trapped in.

Also, I don't think I can let a story that riffs on the Faerie Queene go by without briefly geeking out about the language used (I specialized in Old and Middle English lit when I got my English degree). Spenser was contemporary with Shakespeare (the Faerie Queene herself is an allegory for Queen Elizabeth I), and didn't actually live in a time when anyone spoke this way. He deliberately wrote it using a faux-archaic Middle English/Elizabethan English hybrid, importing some some archaisms and grammar elements to give it the right flavor. But it's not true Middle English. People during his day complained about how old-school it sounded, so I guess you can say in some ways, it's held up over time as being just as confusing as when it was written! It cracks me up. Smiley
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« Reply #2 on: August 16, 2014, 05:45:44 AM »

OK, so the brothers names were Abdullah, Abdul, and Abdul? Seriously?

Well, I suppose that isn't too much different from some families naming all their kids "John". Like brothers named John Paul, John James, and John Matthew. But every time I see somewhere that happened, I always think of that Dr. Seuss story about a woman who had 500 sons and named them all "Dave". It was in the Sneetches collection, I think.
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« Reply #3 on: August 16, 2014, 06:19:26 AM »

I loved the story. But the pronunciation of the names drove me nuts because they're French. I don't know if this was how the names would be pronounced in Shakespeare's time, but it did bug me. Otherwise I loved the reading.
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« Reply #4 on: August 16, 2014, 06:38:54 AM »

OK, so the brothers names were Abdullah, Abdul, and Abdul? Seriously?

Well, I suppose that isn't too much different from some families naming all their kids "John". Like brothers named John Paul, John James, and John Matthew. But every time I see somewhere that happened, I always think of that Dr. Seuss story about a woman who had 500 sons and named them all "Dave". It was in the Sneetches collection, I think.

Well, their names *had* been "Without Faith", "Without Law", and "Without Joy". So when their proper names were restored, they all again share the prefix "Abdul" which is "Servant of..." followed by their real defining attribute. So the MC goes from being "Without Joy" to "Servant of God the Loving". I think it's especially poignant that they get to reclaim their native language in addition to their true names.
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« Reply #5 on: August 16, 2014, 10:20:15 AM »

I do find the original choice of names rather telling.

Muslims don't share MY faith, there fore they are WITHOUT Faith. They do not live by MY religious laws, therefore they are WITHOUT Law. And they do not share MY culture or my religion, therefore they must be WITHOUT Joy.

I'm saddened to observe that there are many, of both Faiths, who still fervently believe that BS, even today. It would be so nice to be able to say this story was an insightful illustration of how things used to be, but alas, it's still how things are now.
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« Reply #6 on: August 18, 2014, 07:00:40 AM »

OK, so the brothers names were Abdullah, Abdul, and Abdul? Seriously?

Well, I suppose that isn't too much different from some families naming all their kids "John". Like brothers named John Paul, John James, and John Matthew. But every time I see somewhere that happened, I always think of that Dr. Seuss story about a woman who had 500 sons and named them all "Dave". It was in the Sneetches collection, I think.

Well, their names *had* been "Without Faith", "Without Law", and "Without Joy". So when their proper names were restored, they all again share the prefix "Abdul" which is "Servant of..." followed by their real defining attribute. So the MC goes from being "Without Joy" to "Servant of God the Loving". I think it's especially poignant that they get to reclaim their native language in addition to their true names.


That's awesome! That little bit of understanding adds a great deal of understanding to the story!
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Moritz
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« Reply #7 on: August 18, 2014, 12:01:29 PM »

For me, the story didn't quite work. I loved the concept of the story, and the idea of reappropriation of identity. I am not sure if it was the way it was written that I didn't like or the narration. Or maybe as someone who is an intercultural trainer and has a wife with an Arabic name (she is not Arabian though), this was too close home in the sense that I was overanalysing it and couldn't enjoy the story part.

OK, so the brothers names were Abdullah, Abdul, and Abdul? Seriously?

Well, I suppose that isn't too much different from some families naming all their kids "John". Like brothers named John Paul, John James, and John Matthew. But every time I see somewhere that happened, I always think of that Dr. Seuss story about a woman who had 500 sons and named them all "Dave". It was in the Sneetches collection, I think.

Well, their names *had* been "Without Faith", "Without Law", and "Without Joy". So when their proper names were restored, they all again share the prefix "Abdul" which is "Servant of..." followed by their real defining attribute. So the MC goes from being "Without Joy" to "Servant of God the Loving". I think it's especially poignant that they get to reclaim their native language in addition to their true names.


That's awesome! That little bit of understanding adds a great deal of understanding to the story!

If I remember the story right, the protagonist's name was 3abd ul-Wadud (the 3 is an almost unpronounceable Arabic consonant which looks like a 3), and the others were something like 3abdullah and 3abd ul-Hakim.

In the same sense, there are a lot of other phrases in the story that are clearly direct translations from Arabic, especially religious phrases, e.g "praise be to God" is subhanallah.
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« Reply #8 on: August 20, 2014, 09:58:21 AM »

It took me a little while to get into, I found the beginning kind of tedious as he's telling me that he's forgotten stuff, yes I get it.  I started being interested when the Saint showed up and there was some clear interpersonal conflict and to see how the Saint had subverted them into less-than-human monsters in the story.  It kept me very interested throughout the rest and I'm glad he didn't try to shoehorn in an ending where Joyless survives but at least he was able to regain something of himself and die on his feet.

I'm sure I'd have dug it even more if I had read the source material at any point.

The fantasy story itself was good, had plenty of action and a horrible villain to root against.  I think it also makes a worthy entry in the conversation about race and prejudice--particularly poignant right now with the stuff going on down in Ferguson.
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« Reply #9 on: August 25, 2014, 11:54:38 PM »

I loved the story. But the pronunciation of the names drove me nuts because they're French. I don't know if this was how the names would be pronounced in Shakespeare's time, but it did bug me. Otherwise I loved the reading.

I'm no expert but in the text of the Faerie Queene the names are rhymed with Old English "joy" and "destroy." It seems like the pronunciation used in the reading is correct. I'm trying to find a list of Old French vowels with recorded pronunciation but nothing is turning up on a quick search. Sad
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« Reply #10 on: August 26, 2014, 01:09:01 AM »

I really liked this one. It reminded me, of all things, of Onyx Path's Changeling: the Lost. Those poor bastards, stolen by some awful fairy, twisted and warped so that they can play some role in the fairy queen's endless pageant. I loved the way Joyless found a beautiful moment of triumph in recovering his name and his past. It was terrible and beautiful and sad.

Personally, I was kind of predicting that Red Cross would turn out to be another captive, just as tragic and hollowed-out as the three brothers. That's not what the author was going for in the end - and what he was going for was great - but I think it would have been cool.

In any case, it was brilliant and I loved it. I've pretty much never regretted listening to an Ahmed. He was also awesome on Ask Me Another Wink.
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« Reply #11 on: August 26, 2014, 10:31:42 AM »

Personally, I was kind of predicting that Red Cross would turn out to be another captive, just as tragic and hollowed-out as the three brothers. That's not what the author was going for in the end - and what he was going for was great - but I think it would have been cool.

Who says he's not?  He's also a character in the story written by someone else.  Just because he gets to be the "hero" doesn't mean he likes what he's doing.  The three brothers are all turned into something that is polar opposite of their nature, maybe Red Cross is really a compassionate pacifist that's been twisted by the narrative. 

I don't think that was necessarily what Saladin intended, but I think it fits with the story as told well enough.
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SpareInch
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« Reply #12 on: August 26, 2014, 01:12:26 PM »

I loved the story. But the pronunciation of the names drove me nuts because they're French. I don't know if this was how the names would be pronounced in Shakespeare's time, but it did bug me. Otherwise I loved the reading.

I'm no expert but in the text of the Faerie Queene the names are rhymed with Old English "joy" and "destroy." It seems like the pronunciation used in the reading is correct. I'm trying to find a list of Old French vowels with recorded pronunciation but nothing is turning up on a quick search. Sad

Firstly, I seem to recall the intro containing something about The Fairy Queen being deliberately written in a slightly corrupted form of English so that it had an old fashioned feel, even when it was new. Secondly, English is an extremely dynamic and changeable language with a thousand year history of borrowing and corrupting words from other languages. Loot, Smashing, Lug, Television, Banana... All of non-English origin. The usual rule of thumb is that once a word is in the English language, And the OED uses the criterion that it is used in a published work written in English, then Anglicised pronunciations are quite correct.  Wink
« Last Edit: August 26, 2014, 01:17:42 PM by SpareInch » Logged

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« Reply #13 on: August 26, 2014, 04:52:18 PM »

Man, was this story powerful.

I'm a big fan of stories build off other works, especially when they spin the tale in new directions that exist in opposition to the primary text in some way. While I haven't read Spenser's Faerie Queene, I may just because of this story.

Also I can't wait for book two of The Crescent Moon Kingdoms.
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« Reply #14 on: August 28, 2014, 11:36:55 AM »

I knew this was going to be good when I heard who wrote.  I just didn't know how good.  But holy crow, Saladin's blown it completely out of the park with this one.

There are a lot of very real, very important parallels between Without Faith and, well, a whole lot of newsworthy events lately, but what I kept thinking of during the story was that quote by Junot Diaz:

Quote
"There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves."

What Without Faith does, for me at least, is show the results of that denial - how a person can start to believe you when you deny them their complexity, their name, their humanity.  I don't feel it's a sign of weakness that Abdul Wadud's brothers fall before Red Cross, but rather that those pressures, both in Albion and the real world, are incredibly difficult to stand up to over and over again.

I know some other people felt that Abdul Wadud's memories slowed the pacing of the story, but ultimately they were crucial - these were memories of very universally human moments between family, an antithesis to the caricatures Red Cross was trying to render the brothers down into.  And I don't think it's a coincidence that Abdul Wadud had to remember both his brothers, his past, and his daughter, his future, in order to reclaim himself.  You have to know where you've come from AND where you're going, y'know?

Beautiful, beautiful work, Saladin.  This one's going to stick with me for a long time.
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« Reply #15 on: August 28, 2014, 09:56:53 PM »

Wow, I mean I guess I shouldn't be surprised at this point, but Saladin is such a good writer!

This story made me think about how important it is to not typecast people in our own lives. It can be much easier/simpler to "cast" people in various roles: boss, party girl, annoying neighbor, or even nice roles like heroic single mom or super-helper-friend. But in reality we are all so much more complex than that and those people are not just here to play a role in our story. I like finding out about people's stories and their hopes and dreams, and this story really emphasized the value of that to me. Smiley
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« Reply #16 on: August 29, 2014, 09:54:22 AM »

But in reality we are all so much more complex than that

Everyone except me.  I look like an annoying forum pedant and that's really all I am.   Cheesy 
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« Reply #17 on: August 29, 2014, 01:16:10 PM »

But in reality we are all so much more complex than that

Everyone except me.  I look like an annoying forum pedant and that's really all I am.   Cheesy 

LOL! Cheesy
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« Reply #18 on: August 29, 2014, 06:45:01 PM »

But in reality we are all so much more complex than that

Everyone except me.  I look like an annoying forum pedant and that's really all I am.   Cheesy 

Break free! Get away from Faerie and come back to Earth. We miss you. I promise, most of what you've lost will return to you if you get out of there. Follow your memories. Come back to us!
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« Reply #19 on: August 29, 2014, 10:27:07 PM »

But in reality we are all so much more complex than that

Everyone except me.  I look like an annoying forum pedant and that's really all I am.   Cheesy 

Break free! Get away from Faerie and come back to Earth. We miss you. I promise, most of what you've lost will return to you if you get out of there. Follow your memories. Come back to us!

Obviously, his true name is "Blinking". C'mon, Blinking, remember who you are!
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