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Author Topic: EP470: The Transdimensional Horsemaster Rabbis of Mpumalanga Province  (Read 8182 times)

eytanz

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EP470: The Transdimensional Horsemaster Rabbis of Mpumalanga Province

By Sarah Pinsker

Read by Amy Robinson

This story was published in the February 2014 issue of Asimov’s.

---

I. Options for an Imagined Pictorial Eulogy of Oliver Haifetz-Perec

IMAGE 1: The photograph depicts an unmade bed covered in gear and clothing. A military-style duffel, half filled, dominates the shot. A camera bag sits next to it, cameras and lenses and lens cleaners laid out neatly alongside.

IMAGE 2: Shot from the center of the bed. A shirtless man reaches for something high in the closet. He has the too-thin build of an endurance runner, his bare back lanky and muscled. There is a permanent notch in his left shoulder, from where his camera bag rests. A furrow across his back tells of a bullet graze in Afghanistan. The contrast of his skin and his faded jeans plays well in black and white. A mirror on the dresser catches Yona Haifetz-Perec in the act of snapping the picture, her face obscured but her inclusion clearly deliberate. Multiple subjects, multiple stories.

IMAGE 3: This photograph does not actually exist. A third person in the room might have taken an intimate portrait of the two alone in their Tel Aviv apartment, photographers once again becoming subjects. A third person might have depicted the way her freckled arms wrapped around his torso, tender but not possessive. It might have shown the serious looks on both of their faces, the way each tried to mask anxiety, showing concern to the room, but not each other. They have the same career. They accept the inherent risks. They don’t look into each other’s faces, but merely press closer. It would have been the last photograph of the two together. Eleven days later, he is beaten to death in Uganda. His press credentials, his passport, his cameras, his memory cards, and cash are all found with his body; it isn’t a robbery. Since the third option doesn’t exist, the last picture of Yona and Oliver is the one that she took from the bed: his strong back, her camera’s eye.

IMAGE 4: A Ugandan journalist sent Yona a clipping about Oliver’s death. A photo accompanies the article. It shows a body, Oliver’s body, lying in the street. Yona doesn’t know why anyone would think she would want to see that photograph. She does; she doesn’t. She could include it, make people face his death head on.

Instead she opts for

IMAGE 5: in which Oliver plays football with some children in Kampala, his dreadlocks flying, his smile unguarded (photographer unknown), and IMAGE 6.

IMAGE 6: The only photo in this collection which was actually taken by Oliver Haifetz-Perec, photojournalist. It is a portrait of Lutalo, the Ugandan gay activist he was there to meet. The camera’s gaze is unflinching, as is Lutalo’s. His pseudonym means “warrior.” The scar across his cheek and nose is the first thing that catches the viewer’s attention, traveling from upper left to lower right of his face, the natural path of any English reader’s eye. The lighting of the shot highlights the scar rather than diminishing it. Oliver was killed when he intervened in an attack on Lutalo, who managed to escape into hiding. This is a small comfort to Yona, the idea that Oliver’s murder was not meaningless. She holds it to her chest when she tries to sleep at night. She wonders why Oliver stepped in, when he had always sworn by his journalistic objectivity, and if she would have done the same. She has always thought of herself as a witness, though she knows that her presence is in itself an imposition on the scene. The photograph of Lutalo is the last one on Oliver’s memory card.


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Dwango

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It took some time to get into this story, but I enjoy alternative storytelling methods.  The photograph descriptions made the scene visual as if my eye's neurons were firing off and showing me the look of each scene.  Is it really much difference from a scene's description, by calling them out as photos?  For me, yes, as it created a separation of action and voice from scene.  The story made a dual impression, which the final photo could exploit in summing up the story and Yona's struggle.

The photos get used well in her dealing with the horrible death of her husband.  The images show her the horror of the death, but the images can change the view of reality.  As she hides the picture of his brutalized body, she avoids that truth for the other truth of the beauty of his life.  Just as she takes the pictures of the tribe, which she may hide the truth of who they really are by hiding the disappearance.  You may not be able to change the images in the photos, but you can change how you choose to see them.

This story and 'The Law of Gravity' both deal with loss, another theme?  Yona is much closer to her lost love than Noah was.  He didn't really even know the woman he lost and the loss is difficult for him to interpret or begin to grieve.  Yona is definite grieving and I really appreciate that she continues living and doing her work as she grieves.  The moments of pain and suffering along with moments of wonder in her job really work well, though I don't know if I could do it.  Its active as opposed to Noah's drifting and hand-wringing, where his is more reacting and getting his footing on his feelings.  It was as real to him as the world he was in.
« Last Edit: December 02, 2014, 08:39:00 PM by Dwango »



Chairman Goodchild

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Fantastic voice work on this one.    I work as an English teacher in Japan, and often when I switch between giving a few clarifications in Japanese and then switching back into English, I find myself speaking Japanese with a terrible American English accent, and then switching back to American English with a Japanese accent.  Here, the narrator switches accents from American to Australian to African and back to American in a few seconds flawlessly.  That's some pretty amazing stuff. 

Unless I missed something, it's interesting that nothing in the story suggested that the protagonist or her husband were Australian.  Maybe it was the whim of the narrator?  Anyway, it worked and I'm not complaining.

I liked the story, too.  I'm reading The Long Earth series by Stephen Baxter and Terry Prachett, and this story seems like it could be part of the same setting.  The rules of trans-dimensional travel seem completely the same. But where did that tribe go when they vanished from our own universe?  And if they could take anything they were holding when they traveled, could they take someone with them as well? 

Quote from: Dwango
The photograph descriptions made the scene visual as if my eye's neurons were firing off and showing me the look of each scene.  Is it really much difference from a scene's description, by calling them out as photos?  For me, yes, as it created a separation of action and voice from scene.  The story made a dual impression, which the final photo could exploit in summing up the story and Yona's struggle.

I completely agree.  Telling the story from photographs, both real and imagined, was a really bold and experimental narrative choice, and it was very well-done here.  All-around, a very nice story and an excellent production. 



matweller

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Not Australian, South African. They can be easy to confuse. But the narrator lived in South Africa for a while, so I trust her ability to mimic.



Varda

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I think Yona and her husband were Israeli, so the narrator was swapping between an Israeli accent, American, and South African, all of them quite good. I think it's probably one of the best narrations of the year--that was some amazing, killer work by Ms. Robinson. :D

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SpareInch

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Not Australian, South African. They can be easy to confuse. But the narrator lived in South Africa for a while, so I trust her ability to mimic.

So it was supposed to be South African? I was a little confused there because I was sure the character was Israeli.

Whatever. It was still better than I could do. Everyone always says my Welsh Boyo accent sounds like Pakistani.

I did find the opening passage a little strange, but not switch off the podcast strange, and as the story went on and the photo descriptions kept coming, they became just part of the experience. Learning which moments get kept as snapshots helps you to understand what was important to the character.

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mercury

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Speaking as a South African, I'm afraid the accents in the narration bounced me right out of the story. I got back into it by making two mental adjustments before continuing listening:
  • Yona and Oliver were two antipodeans who had made Aliyah.
  • Odwa was an expatriate working in South Africa.

That left me a over critical for a bit* but I got back into the story in time for the finale. In the end the story interested me enough to make this comment and do a bit of searching. Turns out it gets a mention in the academic literature here. For others who are interested, the article is "Guilt, guns, girls and ghettos: Adjacent futures in selected post-apartheid fantasies" by Molly Brown in Tydskrif vir Letterkunde vol. 51, no. 2.



*As an example, a Nikon D4's shutter release is noticeable, so why use a Leica to hear a shutter and get the horses' attention?
« Last Edit: December 08, 2014, 07:49:36 PM by mercury »



Fenrix

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I really enjoyed the narration. The accents were not perfect, but the differentiation and pathos was great.


It took some time to get into this story, but I enjoy alternative storytelling methods.  The photograph descriptions made the scene visual as if my eye's neurons were firing off and showing me the look of each scene.  Is it really much difference from a scene's description, by calling them out as photos?  For me, yes, as it created a separation of action and voice from scene.  The story made a dual impression, which the final photo could exploit in summing up the story and Yona's struggle.


The photograph frame helped my visualization by getting me to create a static mental image. I could set the central piece whereupon individual parts came into focus as the author added details. This allows for a much more detailed visualization than for an active scene.

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albionmoonlight

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I wanted more Transdimensional Horsemaster Rabbis.  I do not think that we spent enough time with them.

Also, regarding the outtro.  I agree with Al that, in general, people should spend more time living their lives and less time documenting them.  But the protagonist here was a photojournalist.  She is one of the few people to whom that advice should probably not apply.  I do agree with her decision at the end.  But it was very specific to her immediate situation.  In general, I think that journalists should report more and participate less.



Listener

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I hate to be That Guy, but this really felt like it belonged on Podcastle.

As for the accents -- I know a lot of South African Jews, so I was totally on board with Yona's voice.

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hardware

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As much as this was an interesting concept to build your idea around, and was decently executed, it felt like the whole tribe story was really incidental and not too much of consequence apart from some rather shallow philosophizing in the end. The part dealing with the loss of the lifepartner worked the best, but when the story insisted on telling me stuff instead of showing it I must admit to zoning out from time to time.



Unblinking

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I liked it.  I thought the photographic framing device was very effective--managing to give a complete description of a moment without completely killing the pace, giving us a sense of what is important to the photographer without telling us everything.  The puzzle of the vanishing tribe is a cool element too. 

And the narration was really great, though admittedly I'm not familiar enough with the accents presented to gauge their authenticity with any accuracy.

I hate to be That Guy, but this really felt like it belonged on Podcastle.

As for the accents -- I know a lot of South African Jews, so I was totally on board with Yona's voice.

As a reader, I'm happy to hear any kind of speculative on any of the podcasts.  As an author, I would never have considered sending this story to EP--I've had more SFnal stories bounced for not being SFnal enough.  Maybe I should broaden the set of stories that I send.



bounceswoosh

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Reply #12 on: December 16, 2014, 04:41:00 PM
I have an important question. We're any rabbis actually in the story? I didn't notice any; just a pseudo-Hebrew community.



Unblinking

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Reply #13 on: December 16, 2014, 05:05:32 PM
I have an important question. We're any rabbis actually in the story? I didn't notice any; just a pseudo-Hebrew community.

I don't think there were.  I feel like title was intentionally trying to sound absurdly juxtaposed, but it is a little strange that just the one word is actually incorrect.



Varda

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Reply #14 on: December 16, 2014, 05:35:23 PM
I have an important question. We're any rabbis actually in the story? I didn't notice any; just a pseudo-Hebrew community.

If they're all transdimensional horsemaster Jews, the odds are good at least a few are transdimensional horsemaster rabbis, right? :)

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Fenrix

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Rabbis has two syllables and makes for better flow in the title, so I'm okay with that. However, now that you're making me parse it and consider the title as part of the whole package, I find other issues. Titles of this sort tend to set me up for whimsy, which was not what was delivered. Another example of this is "The Discriminating Monster’s Guide to the Perils of Princess Snatching". Both of these set me up for something much lighter than what we received.


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Unblinking

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Reply #16 on: December 16, 2014, 08:21:39 PM
If they're all transdimensional horsemaster Jews, the odds are good at least a few are transdimensional horsemaster rabbis, right? :)

Depending on how close they actually are to to Judaism as we'd recognize it.  They noted some similarities, but didn't get into the structure of the clergy.  In a few years these researchers might be able to tell us.

Rabbis has two syllables and makes for better flow in the title, so I'm okay with that. However, now that you're making me parse it and consider the title as part of the whole package, I find other issues. Titles of this sort tend to set me up for whimsy, which was not what was delivered. Another example of this is "The Discriminating Monster’s Guide to the Perils of Princess Snatching". Both of these set me up for something much lighter than what we received.

Fair point.



matweller

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rab·bi - ˈraˌbī/ - noun
a Jewish scholar or teacher, especially one who studies or teaches Jewish law.
a person appointed as a Jewish religious leader.



InfiniteMonkey

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[have a job where I'm on the phone most of the day, can't listen to podcasts, and the commute's too short. So, catching up]

By an odd quirk of fate, I listened to this coming home from a Hanukah party…. seemed fitting.

The last line really makes me wonder what's going on, both with the Horsemasters (who seems to be sort of an inter-dimensional Brigadoon) and Yona. Are they traveling to the stars? From the stars?



Devoted135

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What a poignant story! I thought that the author handled the tragedy of loss and the difficulties of trying to continue on very well. The descriptions of the photos worked very well for me, and I liked the element that some were noted to have been ultimately excluded from the exhibit.

I have to agree that the title is a bit of a tease. :-\ Hand-waving aside, there could have been a *warning: rabbis not included.* And the horsemasters themselves were a fascinating, but minor element of the story.



MasterZap

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Reply #20 on: January 10, 2015, 10:50:18 PM
Holy setup without a payoff, Batman!

I couldn't care less about our photographers...  Tell me about the transdimensional horse masters!!


Love the narration,  but the story and it's feeble attempt to be poignant left me unfulfilled due to just ditching and awesome premise just for a cheap unsuccessful attempt at emotional resonance.

Someone please write the story actually about the title...

/Z



ElectricPaladin

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This story kind of reminded me of a fantasy novel idea I've head kicking around in my head for about the last decade. It involves people who can teleport, and it turns out that it's thanks to the flees they catch from their dogs (who can also teleport), and the plot is kind of a rip-off of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, only with teleportation.

I might finish start it some day.

Anyway, I liked this one. It was charming and sad. I agree that not a lot happened, but this is one of the rare cases where that didn't bother me, though the lack of a conventional plot is part of what stopped it from being a huge favorite of mine.

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CryptoMe

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I'm with MasterZap, more transdimensional horsemasters please.
For me, they were the story and I just didn't get enough of them....