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Author Topic: PC329: Araminta, or, the Wreck of the Amphidrake  (Read 9405 times)

Talia

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on: September 19, 2014, 01:10:39 PM
PodCastle 229: Araminta, or, the Wreck of the Amphidrake

by Naomi Novik

Read by C.S.E. Cooney

Originally published in Fast Ships, Black Sails, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

Lady Araminta was seen off from the docks at Chenstowe-on-Sea with great ceremony if not much affection by her assembled family. She departed in the company of not one but two maids, a hired eunuch swordsman, and an experienced professional chaperone with the Eye of Horus branded upon her forehead, to keep watch at night while the other two were closed.

Sad to say these precautions were not entirely unnecessary. Lady Araminta—the possessor of several other, more notable names besides, here omitted for discretion—had been caught twice trying to climb out her window, and once in her father’s library, reading a spellbook. On this last occasion she had fortunately been discovered by the butler, a reliable servant of fifteen years, so the matter was hushed up; but it had decided her fate.

Her father’s senior wife informed her husband she refused to pay for the formal presentation to the Court necessary for Araminta to make her debut. “I have five girls to see established besides her,” Lady D— said, “and I cannot have them ruined by the antics which are certain to follow.”

(Lest this be imagined the fruits of an unfair preference, it will be as well to note here that Araminta was in fact the natural daughter of her Ladyship, and the others in question her daughters-in-marriage, rather than the reverse.)

“It has been too long,” Lady D continued, severely, “and she is spoilt beyond redemption.”


Rated PG. Contains Pirates.

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!



SpareInch

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Reply #1 on: September 21, 2014, 11:16:49 AM
I love a good Swashbuckle!

I also like characters who take charge of their own destinies, even if that means flying in the face of convention. How many of us wish we had the opportunity to just cast off social expectation and become the captain of the ship of our own lives?

It will probably take me a while to digest this story enough to make any deeper comments than that, but I just wanted to say how much Araminta reminded me of the 18th century pirate, Mary Read, who, over the course of an astonishing life, was a sailor, a soldier, a privateer (Seagoing mercenary) and a pirate. Proving that women really can hack it in the most masculine of occupations.
« Last Edit: September 21, 2014, 11:19:14 AM by SpareInch »

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Matencera Wolf

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Reply #2 on: September 21, 2014, 04:19:40 PM
This story was a lot of fun to listen to and reminded me fondly of Robin Hobb's character, Althea Vestrit, from The Live Ship Traders.
The only thing I didn't enjoy was the telling of Captain Weevil's back story. It was a little too much exposition for my liking, and felt like a pause in an enjoyable tale.

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ElectricPaladin

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Reply #3 on: September 21, 2014, 04:28:41 PM
This story was a lot of fun to listen to and reminded me fondly of Robin Hobb's character, Althea Vestrit, from The Live Ship Traders..

I'm not fully done with this tale yet, but I had to get this off my chest... I hated the Live Ship Traders. So grimdark. So rapey. Urgh. I liked the first book, started to get uncomfortable with the second, and couldn't finish the third.

I'll come back when I've got something positive to say about Araminta. I'm sure I will - they just got shipwrecked, and I'm loving every second of it. Even the extended Captain Weevil tangent - it felt very much in style to me.

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Matencera Wolf

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Reply #4 on: September 21, 2014, 04:36:20 PM
Quote
I'm not fully done with this tale yet, but I had to get this off my chest... I hated the Live Ship Traders. So grimdark. So rapey. Urgh. I liked the first book, started to get uncomfortable with the second, and couldn't finish the third.

The beauty of fiction is that there is something for everyone out there, but I'm sure you will enjoy this story. Like I said, its a lot of fun.

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ElectricPaladin

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Reply #5 on: September 21, 2014, 11:00:30 PM
I LOVED THIS STORY with one tiny reservation. Swashbuckling adventure! Awesome evocative (and explicated just barely enough) setting! Compelling characters sort of - more on that later! Compelling and unique authorial voice! I was a roller coaster ride from start to finish, and I had great fun.

My only problem with the story is that I have a hard time being too sympathetic to the classic image of the pirate as the agenda-free rebel. As the story didn't shirk from, these people are also murderers, thieves, and rapists. I'm much more interested in pirates when they are closer to some of the more interesting historical pirates, people who stood for something (as opposed to against everything). These pirates were the survivors of failed revolutions or members of oppressed religious or ethnic minorities. I find their piracy more interesting because they have more of a respectable point of view. They aren't just parasites living well off the work of others - and sometimes killing and maiming them along the way - they're just still fighting a war that everyone else thinks is over.

Anyway, I loved the story as it was, but thoughts about what came before (and comes after) keep on intruding and ruining my fun. How many people has Captain Weevil murdered, how many women (and men) have his sailors brutalized, and all just because it was convenient for him and allowed him to fatten his purse? And what about Araminta? By the time she finally goes to her own bloody and watery grave, how many other lives will she have ruined because being a pirate was more fun and liberating than the other options available to her?

Are a pirate's actions less heinous when he's a Jew who survived the Inquisition and preys on Spanish shipping? When he's an escaped African slave who preys on European ships in the Caribbean? When he's a member of a failed revolution with a price on his head and a hope to inconvenience his conquerors for as long as he can? I don't know, it depends on the pirate, but it certainly makes the story more interesting and the matter less black and white.

But that's an aside. The story itself, for itself, was splendid. As I wrote above, I loved the setting and would desperately love to read more about it. The characters were interesting. The voice was unique and engaging. I don't have any complaints about the story I listened to.

But the story around that story... a bit of a turn off.

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Reply #6 on: September 22, 2014, 01:56:46 PM
I liked Araminta a lot.  She seemed like a plausibly un-noble noblewoman, who because of the way she was brought up was very comfortable playing the part of a nobleman.  I liked how she was more than happy to step up and take on a challenge.  I thought it was interesting how she used her minor magics to continue studying magic in plain sight by disguising the book as something else.  I thought I was going to like the story through and through.

But as the story went on, and as I contemplated the story after, I'm not sure I really liked it all that much in the end.

1.  ElectricPaladin's points about the stories surrounding this story are spot on. 
2.  What happened to her general study of magic after she started wearing the amulet?  I thought her interest in that study was very cool but it seemed to disappear after the amulet was worn.
3.  It seemed like she never faced anything that was really much of an obstacle to her.  Sure, some of the fighting was of some immediate danger but I never felt like her fate was ever in doubt or that it posed much of a challenge to her.  If she had actually been cross-dressing instead of using the amulet to change herself, then that would've been a major obstacle in and of itself--trying to maintain the guise of a man while in an enclosed space in the company of men, but the amulet gave an easy way out of that.
4.  I'm glad that she could take the amulet off and be herself in the end, but I felt like the use of the amulet kind of muddied the theme.  To make her way through the story she not only has to pretend to be a man but has to apparently BECOME a man during her time on the pirate ship to the extent that the apparent change in hormones has actually affected her body mass and stuff (at least that's what it seemed to be saying to me).  So, in retrospect it seemed that she wasn't a badass woman pirate, she was a badass man pirate.  Again, the amulet seemed to remove much of the actual social challenge she would've had to deal with, and it kind of seems that the way the story shakes out says a woman can't be a badass pirate--only a man can, because for the entire time she was a pirate in the story she was a man.  She got her own ship at the end and intended to captain it as a woman, but we don't actually see how that engagement goes, so doesn't really show much of anything.  I think the story would've been better if the amulet had not so compeletely changed her--if it had only been a surface illusion instead of changing her body and everything.




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Reply #7 on: September 22, 2014, 04:17:16 PM
This felt long to me but was so listenable and ended at just the right moment of wish-fulfillment. The theme and plot points go over well-traveled territory for historical fantasy but I never once felt like I'd fallen into a story that was only about class and breeding or pirate dRAARma. I do sort of wonder how one might put together the next installment of the story without immediately undoing the hero/ine's gains or making her a legendary horror of the high seas.

For a story of this kind I dreaded a large amount of flourish in the language and the reading, but C.S.E. Cooney's reading was underplayed perfectly. This is the key to reading aloud, folks! Let the language speak the emotion and the tone. When the reader adds their own emoting, it sounds overbearing. Reading aloud into a microphone is the aural equivalent of acting with the camera stuffed directly in your face. Every twitch and movement of the face or voice comes through at ten times life size. If you treat an intimate reading as though you are giving a speech, without a P.A. system, to a crowd of thousands, it is just going to drive people away. Give those dramatic readings on a stage in an auditorium, wave your arms about and make faces. When you're hunched over a microphone, though, your emotion will be most effective when it's the listener's own idea.

This was a very good job on some very good work!



Dwango

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Reply #8 on: September 22, 2014, 07:37:12 PM
Hmmm, more themed stories.  On the previous story, the protagonist runs off with bees, and this the protagonist runs off with pirates.  Both are trapped in a social structure they don't appear to control which is defining their lives.  Both need a magical ally to really free them.  Well culled.

I agree with the previous posters that Araminta seemed to get off pretty easy on facing her challenge.  I don't see how getting a magic ship to appear from a goddess that only favor's women is really overcoming her situation or facing the difficulties.  Maybe the wish is the only way in her society to overcome her situation and that is the point of the story.  What is interesting is that the city of that goddess is trapped under the seas where the winds fail to blow.  This is confusing as it appears the matriarchal society, worshiping the goddess, is frozen in time and lost to the sea.  I would love to know more about this city and why it is trapped, though it may have been mentioned in the story and I failed to catch it.

I think the character from "The Telling" was braver in her handling the situation as she had to overcome her fears and take risks to figure out her path in life.  She could have just accepted her fate and it would have been easier, more sure, but she actively reached out and learned the reality of her situation, with the guidance of the bees.   Araminta depended on the situation to change her fate, thought it did appear she had plans when she reached the colony.  We never see those plans unfold, but see her work with the situation and get freed without much of her effort, other than surviving the pirates with magic.



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Reply #9 on: September 23, 2014, 04:16:52 AM
My chief complaint is that this story ended just when I wanted it to continue. The author definitely left me wanting more.

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Reply #10 on: September 28, 2014, 01:54:21 PM
Did I hear that right? Amarantia got her handmaidens pregnant before running off to become a pirate?

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ElectricPaladin

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Reply #11 on: September 28, 2014, 04:19:23 PM
Did I hear that right? Amarantia got her handmaidens pregnant before running off to become a pirate?

Yeah, I noticed that... I think it was supposed to be a "we will gloss over this to maintain the prudish voice," but actually I think the author erred - too much gloss, too much uncertainty.

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Reply #12 on: September 28, 2014, 09:20:57 PM
Did I hear that right? Amarantia got her handmaidens pregnant before running off to become a pirate?

Yeah, I noticed that... I think it was supposed to be a "we will gloss over this to maintain the prudish voice," but actually I think the author erred - too much gloss, too much uncertainty.


The uncertainty didn't bother me. I'm just wondering if she played with the amulet a bit with her handmaidens while the chaperone was doing something else with the eunuch parked in front of her door. On my next listen I'll try to see where the saucy stuff was happening. Victorian (style) writing has some really naughty material, they just never tell you any of it.

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SpareInch

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Reply #13 on: September 29, 2014, 12:58:58 PM
Did I hear that right? Amarantia got her handmaidens pregnant before running off to become a pirate?

Yeah, I noticed that... I think it was supposed to be a "we will gloss over this to maintain the prudish voice," but actually I think the author erred - too much gloss, too much uncertainty.


The uncertainty didn't bother me. I'm just wondering if she played with the amulet a bit with her handmaidens while the chaperone was doing something else with the eunuch parked in front of her door. On my next listen I'll try to see where the saucy stuff was happening. Victorian (style) writing has some really naughty material, they just never tell you any of it.

Given that their mistress seems only interested in men with Rugby player's legs, I rather suspect the maids were enjoying the company of the sailors.

Maybe some of us need to retrieve our minds from the bilges?  :P

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Reply #14 on: September 30, 2014, 03:58:54 PM
Did I hear that right? Amarantia got her handmaidens pregnant before running off to become a pirate?

Given that their mistress seems only interested in men with Rugby player's legs, I rather suspect the maids were enjoying the company of the sailors.

That was what I assumed, too, at least in part because the chaperone wasn't hired to watch over them...

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Reply #15 on: September 30, 2014, 11:15:33 PM
Did I hear that right? Amarantia got her handmaidens pregnant before running off to become a pirate?

Given that their mistress seems only interested in men with Rugby player's legs, I rather suspect the maids were enjoying the company of the sailors.

That was what I assumed, too, at least in part because the chaperone wasn't hired to watch over them...


This makes more sense, but fits less well with the point in time during the story at which it was revealed. It also makes it an irrelevant detail rather than a subtle one, because this is a story about Araminta, not her handmaidens.

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MCWagner

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Reply #16 on: October 01, 2014, 04:22:32 AM
This story had me tied up in a couple knots.  At the opening, I found the lengthy interludes giving elaborate backgrounds to the characters to be awkward, but despite their somewhat clumsy length, it was my favorite part of the story as it managed a lengthy sidelong bout of worldbuilding.  I know a proper editorial attack on the story would've demanded excision or at least sizeable reduction of those backgrounds, but it really came off as a unique, fun little self-aware affectation; a style specific to the story that became quickly endearing.

My real trouble, though, is with the story's sexual politics.  (Let me be clear; I mean that specifically.  Not the politics of gender in this story, but specifically the politics of the sexual relations that take place.)  The main character dons the magical talisman in order to avoid rape and murder at the hands of the pirates.  However, he/she is converted to a man and bargains for passage with his implied ransom.  Couldn't he/she have bargained for the same as a woman?  An obvious reply would be that it would be naïve to think a woman aboard the pirate vessel wouldn't be raped anyway, except that the pirate captain apparently intended designs on the main character as a man, anyway.  But the truly confounding thing is that our main character, having (apparently) narrowly avoided being raped as a woman, proceeds (once drunk) to jump into bed with the very same potential rapist as a man, and enters into a lengthy physical, if not romantic relationship with him.  I've tried and can't really resolve this apparent contradiction without some really distasteful conclusions about the story.



ElectricPaladin

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Reply #17 on: October 01, 2014, 05:29:56 AM
This story had me tied up in a couple knots.  At the opening, I found the lengthy interludes giving elaborate backgrounds to the characters to be awkward, but despite their somewhat clumsy length, it was my favorite part of the story as it managed a lengthy sidelong bout of worldbuilding.  I know a proper editorial attack on the story would've demanded excision or at least sizeable reduction of those backgrounds, but it really came off as a unique, fun little self-aware affectation; a style specific to the story that became quickly endearing.

My real trouble, though, is with the story's sexual politics.  (Let me be clear; I mean that specifically.  Not the politics of gender in this story, but specifically the politics of the sexual relations that take place.)  The main character dons the magical talisman in order to avoid rape and murder at the hands of the pirates.  However, he/she is converted to a man and bargains for passage with his implied ransom.  Couldn't he/she have bargained for the same as a woman?  An obvious reply would be that it would be naïve to think a woman aboard the pirate vessel wouldn't be raped anyway, except that the pirate captain apparently intended designs on the main character as a man, anyway.  But the truly confounding thing is that our main character, having (apparently) narrowly avoided being raped as a woman, proceeds (once drunk) to jump into bed with the very same potential rapist as a man, and enters into a lengthy physical, if not romantic relationship with him.  I've tried and can't really resolve this apparent contradiction without some really distasteful conclusions about the story.

To be entirely fair, we don't know for sure that Captain Weevil is a rapist. We know that he likes to seduce young noblemen (and maybe the occasional young noblewoman - the text is unclear). There is no clear indication that if a potential paramour proves prudishly... damnit, ran out of p-words. Anyway, we don't know if they're attached to their virtue he doesn't just take it like a (decent) man and cope.

My assumptions about Araminta and her future of aiding and abetting rapists was more based on the fact that...

1) Although real life pirates were generally (with some notable exceptions) less vicious than imaginary pirates, that doesn't make them good people, and (awful) shit happened.
2) The fact that her family assumed she would need such extensive protection implied that traveling women being raped was a thing that at least sometimes happened.

But I think it's unfair to attach those assumptions to the person of Captain Weevil. I may sound like I'm contradicting myself, but I want to be clear that I was earlier referring to fantasy-souring conjecture, and additionally I was explicitly referring to all sorts of violence, including the violent infliction of painful death. The facts are that Captain Weevil threatened to kill the captain and (probably, most of) his crew and likes to seduce young noblemen (and maybe women?). We don't know that he's a rapist.

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Reply #18 on: October 01, 2014, 10:49:25 AM
I'd have to go back and listen to it, so correct me if I'm wrong, but was it really rape that was the issue, or was it sex generally? That is, that whole prizing of virginity thing as Araminta's marriage value would plummet if people couldn't absolutely guarantee she'd never been alone with a dude? That's what I got out of all the comically elaborate protections for her virginity when she boarded the ship--sleeping between two maids, with more servants at the foot of the bed, plus the amulet for in case "The Worst" happens. It's just as much about protecting her from any whiff of impropriety as it is about not being raped (I mean, I'm sure rape was on the spectrum of things they were concerned about, but I think things extremely far from rape were also of concern).

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Reply #19 on: October 01, 2014, 01:15:04 PM

I'd have to go back and listen to it, so correct me if I'm wrong, but was it really rape that was the issue, or was it sex generally? That is, that whole prizing of virginity thing as Araminta's marriage value would plummet if people couldn't absolutely guarantee she'd never been alone with a dude? That's what I got out of all the comically elaborate protections for her virginity when she boarded the ship--sleeping between two maids, with more servants at the foot of the bed, plus the amulet for in case "The Worst" happens. It's just as much about protecting her from any whiff of impropriety as it is about not being raped (I mean, I'm sure rape was on the spectrum of things they were concerned about, but I think things extremely far from rape were also of concern).


You forgot the eunuch sleeping outside the door.

Yeah, I agree it's more the seeming of impropriety and the related reduction in the value of her as marriageable chattel.

There was some clear indication that there was man-man love going on in the sailors' quarters. That being said, in a world of propriety, no one would ever admit that sort of thing goes on. In the world of society and propriety, turning Araminta into a man would protect her from having sex because homosexual encounters just don't occur.

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Reply #20 on: October 01, 2014, 01:53:35 PM
I also got the impression it was more to prevent impropriety than rape.  

There was some clear indication that there was man-man love going on in the sailors' quarters. That being said, in a world of propriety, no one would ever admit that sort of thing goes on. In the world of society and propriety, turning Araminta into a man would protect her from having sex because homosexual encounters just don't occur.

I didn't think it was necessarily because there was an assumption homosexual encounters don't occur.  But more poking fun at the comparison of the high value of female virginity vs male virginity in society at the time--since the medallion completely changes the equipment down there, I don't think it's unreasonable to think that her ladyparts are still virginal after she has a man-man sexual encounter.  After all, her ladyparts weren't even there at the time--they have an alibi!  If male-Araminta has sex, who cares, he's a dude and dude virginity is a thing to be discarded as soon as possible (is what they might have been thinking).

Also, if someone expressed doubt as to her virginity, it's possible that she might be physically examined to prove that virginity.  But if she was male at the time of sex, then I would guess her maidenhead would still be intact when she switches back.  And as a major bonus, I hear that lacking a uterus is a 100% effective form of birth control--that's a pretty damned huge advantage she has for sexual freedom for a woman of her time, especially a pre-marriage woman.  Not many people are going to believe you're a virgin if you clearly have a baby in your belly. 

Anyway, just a different take on why the amulet might be considered a protection from impropriety.



On a tangent, I wonder what would happen if she got pregnant and then put the amulet on?  Would she be a pregnant dude?  Would the baby disappear forever?  Would the baby just kind of be offstage until she turned back into a woman but then would come back when she did?  Maybe the amulet just wouldn't work for the duration of the pregnancy?
« Last Edit: October 01, 2014, 01:55:47 PM by Unblinking »



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Reply #21 on: October 01, 2014, 02:02:49 PM
No... I don't think that the amulet is meant as protection against impropriety. The amulet is, after all, voluntary. The whole point of Araminta's exile to the colonies is that her family is sick of her improper ways. The maids, the chaperone, and (to a lesser extent) the eunuch were all partly protection against a consensual encounter (have you ever tried to get it on with a eunuch looking at you? Totally kills the mood...) (ok, the eunuch at least was definitely also protection against a nonconsensual encounter... but I think he did double duty as part of her generally awkward disapproving entourage). Her family wasn't just protecting her, the were trying to control her... but they were also trying to protect her from what they saw as a clear potential for danger.

When Araminta was given the amulet, they didn't say "if you ever feel like you are about to consent to sex, put this on so you'll become a dude! That will make it ok." They said "put this on if the worst is about to happen." And for that matter, they gave it to her to put on when she felt like it. They didn't weld it to her neck and put a spell on it so if she ever got sufficiently turned on she would turn into a dude! The amulet was definitely a way to prevent her from being hurt.

Though, come to think of it, that would make a pretty hilarious premise for a fantasy rom-com. A well-intentioned but hopelessly backwards magician "blesses" a princess to become a prince whenever she's turned on, and she spends the entire story trying to hide this from the guy she's into (possibly while having confusing encounters as a guy on the side). Only finally when he discovers it, it turns out that this prince charming is bisexual and totally into boy-her also! And true love's first kiss breaks the spell. Because having your parts turn inside out every time you get randy would really suck, even if your prince is down with it.

You know, on second thought, I'm not sure this would be a fantasy rom-com. The more I read the premise above, the more it sounds like porn. Weird porn. Weird fantasy genderswapping porn. That said, I'm not sure that would be a bad thing...

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Reply #22 on: October 01, 2014, 02:15:41 PM
You know, on second thought, I'm not sure this would be a fantasy rom-com. The more I read the premise above, the more it sounds like porn. Weird porn. Weird fantasy genderswapping porn. That said, I'm not sure that would be a bad thing...

I'm sure there's a market for it.  :)



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Reply #23 on: October 01, 2014, 03:37:42 PM
You know, on second thought, I'm not sure this would be a fantasy rom-com. The more I read the premise above, the more it sounds like porn. Weird porn. Weird fantasy genderswapping porn. That said, I'm not sure that would be a bad thing...

I'm sure there's a market for it.  :)

Not only that, there's a Podcast for it! (Not just for that, I should point out, but it would fit perfectly there.)

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Reply #24 on: October 01, 2014, 03:39:40 PM

I didn't think it was necessarily because there was an assumption homosexual encounters don't occur.  


I didn't think homosexual people existed in Proper Victorian Society and the literature that reflected it. That makes the nod to the homosexual encounters actually happening more impactful drawing the line between fact and fiction.

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